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There are thousands of blockchains, all out to improve the way some system works: international money transfer, medical record-keeping, supply chain-tracking, etc. Here’s the catch, though: most of them can’t talk to each other, making their data useful mostly within their own ecosystems.
Every blockchain works differently, and there currently isn’t a set protocol that can reliably transfer data between multiple chains. That’s likely to change, though, as there are projects currently working on everything from chain-to-chain transactions to an “internet of blockchains.” If they’re successful, the way that data moves around the world and how we control it could change on many levels.What’s wrong with isolated blockchains?
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Monero, Cardano, and all the other blockchains/cryptocurrencies are like islands, each of them with their own government, ecosystem, and population. The islands can see each other but don’t have any way to reach each other. Even if they could get across, though, they all have different languages and different writing and organization systems.
If an intrepid traveler made it to a new island and fell ill, that island’s hospital would need to create a new medical history for him, since even if he had happened to bring along his medical records, the new hospital wouldn’t be able to read them and port them over.
That’s why blockchain interoperability is one of the most important issues in the space today. Blockchains are really just a new kind of data storage, and if that data can’t move around freely between systems, it becomes exponentially less useful.
Imagine three banks, each on a different blockchain ecosystem, unable to directly transfer funds and customer information. That’s pretty inconvenient. Third-party centralized and decentralized exchanges do make it possible for people to easily go between cryptocurrencies, but coordinating smart contracts, decentralized apps, direct chain-to-chain transactions, and reliable data transfer is a lot trickier.What can we do with interoperable blockchains?
In its current form, the Internet lets you transmit any kind of data you want as long as you use standardized protocols, but what happens on either end of that network is up to the sender and the receiver.
Connected blockchains would look similar: a network that takes data from different blockchains, gets it to behave in a manageable way, and delivers it, not interfering with how either blockchain actually functions. This opens up a lot of possibilities:
Much like Facebook/Google login, we could have our identities stored securely on a blockchain and use them to create online and offline presences.
Allowing easy access, conversion, and transfer of data that would otherwise be fragmented and difficult to use, like disconnected supply chains or widely-distributed research data.
Creating conditions on one chain (such as a car insurance blockchain) that can read and respond to events on another chain (like a police report blockchain or an auto shop’s financial system).
Establishing a truly decentralized internet-of-things network, taking tons of inputs from different hardware and data systems and seamlessly converting between them as needed. Set your smart home to buy its energy in real-time from the cheapest green energy source available – maybe your neighbor’s solar panels are selling some excess power!What’s the solution?
We need to build bridges, hire translators, and figure out ways to get some very different systems to play nice with each other. The technical challenges here are massively complex, but we have a few main options:
1. Blockchain platforms/sidechains: There’s no shortage of projects that promise more or less interoperability if you build on their infrastructure, but generally, the catch is that you only get to connect to the other blockchains that are tapped into the same system. Given how many platforms are out there now, there’s very little chance that every project will fall in line behind just one or two of them. This is like building a new island with one system and telling everyone to move there.
2. Open protocols: This is essentially how the modern internet works. Everyone has generally agreed that there’s a good way to connect things, with TCP/IP, DNS, HTTP, and a lot of other standards being universally implemented and used. Since most blockchain projects aren’t likely to agree on and implement a single communication standard, the best way to make this work would be by implementing an internet-like communication layer that any chain can tap into and send data over.
Projects like Interledger are working on this right now. This is like building a bridge network and establishing trade agreements and a common second language between the islands.
3. Multi-chains/metachains/parachains/bridge chains: These are probably the most popular solution in development right now, with projects like Polkadot, Cosmos, Aion, ARK, Block Collider, and many others all throwing their hat in. Though the approaches differ quite a bit, the general idea is that you can build relays or bridges from each individual blockchain to some sort of hub, which is itself a blockchain.
The blockchain that initiates the action interacts with the hub, and the hub then interacts with the target blockchain, creating a sort of communication layer. This may turn out to be the most realistic solution, since it doesn’t require much from the blockchains themselves.
This is like building transportation hubs between the islands (airports, docks, etc) that come equipped with travel services designed to help visitors navigate unfamiliar territory.Not just for blockchain geeks
While the technical side of blockchain interoperability is a topic that only a few people will really get excited about, the long-run implications are far-reaching. After all, the internet was also a bunch of islands in the beginning – before TCP/IP was standardized in the 1980s, there was no single protocol sending data around, and it took a while for anything resembling the modern unified internet to emerge out of the fragmented intranets.
Blockchains aren’t as visibly revolutionary of a technology, but they’re already changing the way we think about data, both on the macro and on the personal level. As debates over data handling and control heat up, we may see a lot more user-friendly blockchain-based technologies popping up with solutions to streamlining our digital existence.
Image credit: Sky Islands, Palau archipelago
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Why 400+ Waffle House closures for coronavirus is a bigger deal than you think
Today Waffle House announced that they’ve currently closed 418 Waffle House locations in the USA, or the MOST LOCATIONS CLOSED AT ONCE, EVER. Due to the historically extreme resiliency plans put in place by the Waffle House organization, there exists an informal measure of disaster severity in the USA called “The Waffle House Index.” There are three levels of severity in this metric: Green (normal), Yellow (limited menu, crisis mode), and Red (closed for business).
The term Waffle House Index came to prominence in a Wall Street Journal article from the year 2011. Craig Fugate, Former Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spoke about two different measures of crisis for public assessment of a hurricane. One is called the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale – that’s not of much use to us at the moment.
#WaffleHouseIndexRed: 418 Waffle House restaurants closed. 1,574 open.
— Waffle House (@WaffleHouse) March 25, 2023
The other measure of the severity of a crisis, the Waffle House Index, shows how seriously a crisis should be treated. Normally all Waffle Houses are in the green – they’re open for business.
Waffle House locations across the United States have built a reputation for being open under harsh conditions. They want to be seen as a place where, basically no matter what, you can “still get a hot meal.” In the most extreme of circumstances, a Waffle House will go yellow – they’ll have a limited menu, but they’ll be open.
It is extremely rare that a Waffle House will go Red. Approximately 20% of Waffle House locations in the United States is in an area where conditions are so bad, they’ve gone RED. They’ve closed entirely – past the point at which they feel it’s safe to keep their doors open to serve food to citizens in crisis mode.
365 Waffle House locations closed would usually mean 365 locations at Level Red on the Waffle House Index.
But the index is for storm damage, where closing down is a proxy for severe damage & flooding.
It hasn’t been calibrated to a pandemic before.
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) March 25, 2023
In a release today from representatives of Waffle House, they announced the closure of 418 locations across the USA. “We want to acknowledge the great efforts of our associates, who work hard every shift to create a safe, warm and welcoming dining experience 24 hours daily,” wrote a Waffle House representative. “We are working hard to support them as we do our best to manage through this crisis.”
The previous record for closed Waffle House locations was during Hurricane Irma. They closed 157 locations, and 143 of those locations were back up and running in 2 days (or less) after the end of said storm. If this is serious enough for Waffle House to close, it’s serious enough for citizens of the United States to stay home and avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Stay tuned to our COVID-19 coverage and take a peek at our guide: Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources: What should I do? Who do I trust?
Seattle is a rapidly growing option among the roster of famous startup-friendly cities. Since it isn’t as sizable as San Francisco or New York, it can be easy to forget how many tech heavy-hitters call it home — Boeing, Microsoft, Concur, Bungie, Amazon, Expedia, Zillow, Tableau, Valve, REI, and Alaska Airlines, for example. What’s making the city an increasingly attractive tech community? (Besides the fact that rent prices aren’t quite as sky-high as they are in San Francisco, I mean).
Writing for Geekwire, Tren Griffin weighed in on the elements that a startup city needs and that Seattle has. Here’s a summary of the best points in his opinion piece:1. Its Neighbors Are Close Enough to Pitch In
Open working spaces; Apple HQ’s intentionally inefficient office layout; and the concept of Silicon Valley — they all rely on being close to others who have similar but different interests. Collaboration makes things happen. That’s why being near significant sources of venture finance is a big boost for an incubator city:
“Have a strong local venture capital community but do not fail to leverage something like the greatest pool of venture capital ever assembled, just two hours away by plane. Given that San Francisco is so close, there is no shortage of venture capital if you have the right team, have created a significant innovation, and target an attractive market.”2. The University of Washington
A good startup city needs a top-tier research university:
“As Warren Buffett says, if you’re sitting in the shade on a hot day it is because someone planted a seedling long ago. The number of seedlings like the Technology Alliance that Bill Gates Sr. planted in his community over the years is stunning.”3. A Culture of Community
Seattle’s history of moderately benevolent public figures meshes well with the tech community’s emphasis on public service and making the world a better place. There list of examples here is long enough to turn into some confusing word salad, but it’s pretty convincing:
“Develop business leaders who are also community leaders like Eddie Carlson, Jim Ellis, Mary Gates, and Bill Gates Sr., Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, Craig McCaw and his brothers, The Nordstrom family, Howard Schultz, Tom Alberg, Rich Barton, Jeff Raikes, Nick Hanauer, Pete Higgins, Mike Slade, Dan Levitan, Satya Nadella, Brad Smith.”
Pike’s Place and Dick’s Drive-In are also great examples of the small business culture that keeps the tech world healthy.4. Don’t Look Down on Startups
“The startup life is not for everyone, but the people who do work for one should be treated like everyone else. They are no better or no worse than anyone else. Many people would be surprised how many cities look down on people who work at startups.”
Seattle’s culture is definitely less focused on traditional or blue-collar jobs, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have room to grow. I’m from the Seattle area, and can confirm that people in the tech community can be just as pompous and arrogant as they are humble.5. It’s Still Young
This one sounds a little counter-intuitive: Of course the emerging startup city is going to be young. But being youthful is a great way to ensure that every startup matters. Startups need to produce a real product that people will pay real money for, and that’s easier for startups to remember when the culture that surrounds them is still a little on the skeptical side.
Bots waging war for years on end, silently and endlessly arguing over tiny details on Wikipedia is, let’s be honest, pretty funny. Automatons with vendettas against each other? Come on.
But as amusing as the idea is, anthropomorphizing bot wars ignores what’s actually important about their arguments: we didn’t know they were happening. Bots account for large chunks of the internet’s activity, yet we know relatively little about how they all interact with each other. They’re just released into the World Wide Jungle to roam free. And given that they account for over half of all web traffic, we should probably know more about them. Especially since these warring bots weren’t even malicious—they were benevolent.
A group of researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute looked at nine years’ worth of data on Wikipedia’s bots and found that even the helpful ones spent a lot of time contradicting each other. And more specifically, there were pairs of bots that spent years doing and undoing the same changes repeatedly. The researchers published their findings on Thursday in the journal PLOS ONE.
Wikipedia needs benevolent bots because it has about 40 million articles to manage in 293 languages. Those kind (human) souls who edit the pages for content can’t possibly keep up with all the little alterations that need to be made, so they create bots to do it for them. These bots add links to other Wikipedia pages, undo vandalism, flag copyright violations, check spelling, and carry out a host of other tasks that can be automated. This frees up the human editors to add information and make editorial changes that depend on more than basic grammar rules.
But sometimes two bots have opposing functions. Maybe they’ve been programmed to follow slightly different grammatical rules, or maybe they’re tasked with linking the same word to two different existing Wikipedia pages. Whatever the disagreement, every time one of them changes something on a Wikipedia page, the other will inevitably come along and revert it back. And they’ll keep doing that ad infinitum, because they’re bots and they’ll never get tired of it. Humans will eventually notice that they’re undoing the same mistake over and over and try to find a workaround. Bots won’t stop unless the humans who created them notice what’s going on. On a site like Wikipedia, though, you might never notice. There’s no top-down structure to the bots—they have to follow certain guidelines, but anyone can submit a bot—and once approved, it goes out and edits 40 million articles on its own. If it’s in opposition to some other bot out there, it’s up to the two creators to work it out. No one’s around to police you.
And yes, it’s fun to point out that the bots on German Wikipedia corrected each other far less than the bots on the Portuguese or English sites did. Insert German engineering and efficiency joke here. But that totally misses the point. The difference between Portuguese and German Wikipedia bots disappears when you account for how many more edits Portuguese bots make. More edits, more fights. And though there are more bot-on-bot arguments than there are human-on-bot arguments, it’s not because bots argue more than humans. It’s just that bots edit more.
In the end, any idiocy the bots have was baked in by humans. If they argue endlessly on Wikipedia or chat boards or Twitter, it’s because we made them that way. So don’t shoot the messenger (bot).
Excerpted from The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds by Jon Dunn. Copyright 2024. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Some birders feel uneasy about seeing hummingbirds at feeders—there’s a feeling that it’s somehow too easy. Real birding should be difficult and challenging, the sort of activity that involves hardship and infers some sort of superior caliber to the birders in question. Real birders, in the neotropics, suffer for their birds, and see them only fleetingly. For many years antpittas were the ultimate birder’s bird in South America—notoriously shy and skulking creatures of dense forest understory that asked a lot of anyone who wished to catch a glimpse of their kind. Admitting to enjoying hummingbirds could elicit scorn from their disciples. Hummingbirds? They’re just too easy. You just look for them at feeders. They’re plastic.
This condescension had dimmed somewhat in recent years, partly I felt as a consequence of the extensive worldwide use of playback of bird calls to obtain acceptable views of almost every species of bird and, in the neotropics, the burgeoning number of antpitta species that could now be guaranteed at feeding sites where locals scattered earthworms early every morning to the local antpittas’ considerable gustatory appreciation. If other, drabber bird families could be readily lured into the open by playback or seen at feeding stations, there was no shame in looking for arguably the most colourful and dynamic family of all at hummingbird feeders.
The monochrome jacobins that whirred and buzzed and jousted around me had a claim to fame that I would have to accept at its word, for it was one that I could neither see nor, in particular, hear for myself. I had come to the Brazilian forest armed with little more equipment than my binoculars and camera. When Claudio Mello, a behavioral neuroscientist from Oregon Health and Science University, visited the forest in 2024 he came armed with a battery of sensitive microphones and recording equipment usually used to record the high-frequency calls of bats, and a hypothesis he was curious to examine. Years previously, when conducting research in the region, he had heard a high-pitched sound on the very edge of hearing—a sound that he concluded, amidst the clamor of life in a Brazilian forest, probably came from a hummingbird rather than an insect or a tree frog. He could not, however, be sure of that—hence the microphones.
What Mello’s equipment recorded was nothing short of remarkable. The black jacobins were indeed uttering high-frequency calls—but at a level that beggared belief. Most birds hear in the range of two to three kilohertz. The human ear typically hears noises in the range of one to four kilohertz. The black jacobins, meanwhile, were repeatedly broadcasting calls above ten kilohertz and up to fourteen kilohertz, way beyond the regular range known for any bird, let alone a small hummingbird.
This was widely reported as black jacobins uttering the highest-pitched calls of any bird in the entire world. That was not strictly true, as Mello’s paper describing the black jacobins’ calls was careful to point out—that accolade appeared to belong to another hummingbird, the blue-throated hummingbird, whose song included elements that exceeded a mighty twenty kilohertz. However, there was no evidence that the blue-throated hummingbirds could hear anything beyond seven kilohertz, while the black jacobins’ high-pitched calls were not occasional elements in an otherwise normallypitched song—they were vocalizing almost exclusively above ten kilohertz.
One has to assume, therefore, that they can hear their own kind, but why have they evolved a call that was so far out of the range of hearing for the remainder of birdkind?
While black jacobins had elected to shout very loudly to catch one another’s attention, another hummingbird species had evolved to let their feathers do the talking. Anna’s hummingbird, the species that, in the US, is expanding its range north on the coattails of climate change, has a courtship display flight that at first glance is merely visually arresting—the male bird ascends some thirty meters into the air above his prospective partner, tucks his wings into his body, and then plummets in a fast dive towards her. He pulls up at the last possible moment, fanning his tail as he does so, and emitting a loud chirp noise.
Scientists, using high-speed video cameras, have established that the chirp is emitted not from his syrinx, or vocal organ, but instead from his tail. The outer tail feathers of the male Anna’s hummingbird have a trailing van that vibrates as the air passes through it at speed, creating the chirp sound—the birds are singing with their tails. If that were not marvelous enough, further study of the Anna’s hummingbird courtship dive has revealed that during the dive phase, the birds attain an average velocity of 385 body lengths per second, the highest known length-specific velocity attained by any vertebrate.
I had always assumed that peregrine falcons were the masters of the skies, but it transpires that a humble hummingbird can justly claim that title. The scientist behind this latter revelation, Christopher Clark of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, had a further revelation to make. He observed that at the point at which the hummingbirds pull up from their dive, their chirping tails fanned, they experienced accelerations almost nine times greater than gravitational acceleration. These forces are the highest known for any vertebrate species undergoing a voluntary aerial maneuver, with the exception of jet fighter pilots.
Fighter pilots, of course, have the benefit of special G-suits to help them to counteract the considerable physiological effects of pulling 9G. The Anna’s hummingbirds, on the other hand, have only a suit of feathers with a pleasing metallic raspberry-red gorget and head.
What does it mean to uplift and empower underrepresented artists? It entails much more than just giving them a platform. We must dig deeper, and actively spread the word about their work, pay respect to their journeys and their potential, and support their creative intelligence.
This May, in celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, SuperRare and Drue Kataoka are doing just that. The leading NFT marketplace and artist/technologist/activist and CEO Kataoka have teamed up to create a new exhibition entitled #TheGoldStandard to spotlight the vast contributions of Asian American artists in the digital art world.
A flyer for the #TheGoldStandard exhibition
Running the entire month of May, #TheGoldStandard features 10 artists that help refract the Asian American and global pan-Asian experience through their diverse practices. With this first-of-its-kind showcase, SuperRare is communicating the importance of the diverse populations that make up the NFT ecosystem, bringing Kataoka on board to spearhead the endeavor and drive the point home.
Since 2023, SuperRare has provided a stage for artists big and small. Although it may seem like a highly curatorial platform, SuperRare continues to earn accolades for its community-centric values and ventures aimed at supporting underrepresented artists.
“Asian Americans have played a critical role in turning the best-known digital franchises into household names, but they haven’t really gotten their just due. For the most part, they’ve been really toiling away in the shadows. We even have examples of some of these artists in the show: astonishingly talented, yet not as well-known as they should be.”
Kataoka hopes that #TheGoldStandard will help collectors find extraordinary underrepresented artists, bringing them well-deserved recognition in the process. She acknowledges that the NFT space, in general, could be doing better in both combatting racism and uplifting women and non-white artists, saying that it must not be a lone effort, but a multi-pronged approach.
“On one side of the coin, when we see racism, misogyny, or harassment, it needs to be called out right away,” says Kataoka. “The other side of the coin is: when we see great talent and brilliant artists and creators who are doing important work, we need to call that out too. We need to amplify them for the overall health of the ecosystem.”
While these types of amplification endeavors — even those running for a full month — can seem fleeting in the fast-paced NFT space, Kataoka has taken great care in curating an experience to address the lack of representation of Asian American artists in media, entertainment, and the arts. The #TheGoldStandard exhibition includes pieces minted by digital artists as well as scientists and researchers who are pushing the frontiers of what is technically possible in crypto.
“I spent a lot of time and care in putting this show together. I spent hours with each artist, talking with them and helping them select a piece so that the whole collection goes together and exposes the rich facets of Asian American art and artistic experience,” Kataoka tells nft now. “I really spent the time to figure out which piece would be the strongest foot forward that each artist could contribute to this unique opportunity.
Based on multiple biometric scans of Kataoka’s actual body and featuring various unique details and easter eggs, “Vitruvian Woman” is a marvel in and of itself. Yet the piece also perfectly rounds out #TheGoldStandard, which is named in reference to Asian skin, excellence, and of course, to the roots of cryptocurrencies (and crypto art) as the “new gold.”
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