MIT, Stanford and others to build blockchain payments network to rival VisaNet

Seven major universities are working together to develop a digital currency network that solves blockchain’s scalability and performance problems before public confidence in the technology erodes.

Funded by a Swiss-based non-profit organization, the cryptocurrency application, called Unit-e, and its blockchain-based payment system is expected to launch in the second half of this year; if successful, it would surpass even mainstream financial networks like Visa’s VisaNet in transactional capability.

The Distributed Technology Research Foundation (DTR) Foundation, the Swiss organization behind the new Unit-e cryptocurrency development effort, was formed to promote open distributed networking technology. In an academic paper, DTR explained the need to build a decentralized trust system “is broad and pressing.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkeley are among the institutions collaborating on the new payment network that will address performance, security and privacy of cross-border financial transactions. The effort was unveiled Thursday.

DTR researchers have written, and in some cases published in peer-reviewed publications, 10 research papers. In those papers, they describe a decentralized payment system as the “killer app” for blockchain, akin to what email was for TCP/IP.

“A lack of scalability is holding back cryptocurrency adoption, and DTR’s groundbreaking research is addressing this,” said Joey Krug, a member of DTR’s Foundation Council and co-chief investment officer at hedge fund Pantera Capital, a backer of Unit-e. “The Unit-e developers are turning this research into real scalable performance which will benefit a huge swath of decentralized financial applications.”

Unit-e cryptocurrency aims to achieve transaction “confirmation latencies on the order of 15 seconds for on-chain transactions, and 2 to 4 seconds for off-chain transactions,” DTR said in an academic paper published this month.

“Although some cryptocurrencies achieve comparable latencies today, they do so at the expense of decentralization,” DTC said. “A closely-related concept to latency is throughput – the number of transactions processed per second. We are targeting throughputs of 5,000 to 10,000 transactions per second.”

By comparison, Visa’s networks process about 1,700 transactions per second (TPS) on average, and more at peak load. When compared to blockchain-based networks, Unit-e theoretically leaves them in the dust. Bitcoin’s current average throughput is estimated between 3.3 and 7 TPS, and Ethereum reaches between 10 to 30 TPS, the researcher noted.

“Bridging this large gap is technically nontrivial and requires significant innovation,” the researchers stated in their paper. “As an aside, we note that the target throughput metrics are already at the physical limits of a typical modern P2P network; a 20Mbps network physically cannot handle substantially more transactions per second without making severe compromises (typically in security).”

DTR is not alone in its mission to boost the performance and scalability of blockchain. Earlier this month, start-up Devvio claimed its highly efficient distributed ledger protocol can address all the major problems facing blockchain networks, including scaling for global financial business by executing up to eight million TPS.

Unit-e uses a Proof of Stake (PoS) consensus algorithm that is vastly more efficient and computationally less taxing than Proof of Work (PoW), the algorithm used by the most popular cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and Ethereum. The researchers said their new protocol, called “Prism,” is able to “approach the limits of what is physically possible in a blockchain.” They then coupled the PoS consensus algorithm with new routing algorithms for payment channel networks.

In addition, Unit-e will use “entirely new ways of sharding,” a method of partitioning used to spread out the computational workload across a peer-to-peer network.

Prism blockchain MIT Stanford The Distributed Technology Research Foundation

Prism is a consensus mechanism that explicitly deconstructs the various roles that blocks play in a blockchain: logging transactions, proposing transactions and voting on other blocks.

Payment channel networks will act as “overlay networks” that use on-blockchain consensus to set up escrow accounts (or channels) between pairs of users, the researchers explained. The payment networks will allow Unit-e users to verify transactions instantaneously without waiting for confirmation from the blockchain.

“This significantly reduces confirmation latency compared to on-chain transactions; the main delay stems from passing the transaction to the recipient, which is a fast, point-to-point operation that can take as little as a second for direct channels,” the researchers said.

Prism blockchain MIT Stanford The Distributed Technology Research Foundation

Layer 1 technologies refer to the core blockchain; this includes everything from consensus mechanisms to data structures to the networking stack. Traditionally, the bulk of blockchain development and research has addressed layer 1. Layer 2  describes technologies that use an underlying blockchain to build applications.

PoS consensus algorithms are being explored by multiple blockchain standards organizations. For example, last year, Ethereum introduced a PoS mechanism on a testnet called “Casper” (as in Casper the friendly ghost).

The PoS consensus protocol creates “bonded validators,” or users who must place a security deposit down before being allowed to serve as part of the blockchain consensus or voting community. As long as bonded validators act honestly on the blockchain, they can remain in the consensus community; if they attempt to cheat the system, they lose their stake (their money).

Ethereum’s Casper PoS system would enable a consensus mechanism to process new transactions in about four seconds.

“In the 10 years since Bitcoin first emerged, blockchains have developed from a novel idea to a field of academic research,” Giulia Fanti, a lead researcher for DTR and assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement. “Our approach is to first understand fundamental limits on blockchain performance, then to develop solutions that operate as close to these limits as possible, with results that are provable within a rigorous theoretical framework.”

Unit-e uses a new sharing mechanism called “PolyShard” a storage and computation solution that grows more efficient with more users without sacrificing security, according to DTC. The key is that it mixes up data from different users and transactions in a way that still allows accurate data recovery.

Prism PolyShard MIT Stanford blockchain The Distributed Technology Research Foundation

PolyShard is a sharding mechanism that uses ideas from coding theory to simultaneously achieve optimal guarantees in security, storage efficiency and computational efficiency. The key is that nodes should not store replicated data; instead, they should store coded linear combinations of data.

To become a ubiquitous global payment system, Unit-e is designed to meet the five requirements in a fully-decentralized manner:

  1. Security. The system should prevent unauthorized or invalid payments from being executed.
  2. Latency. Transactions should be processed seamlessly, on the timescale of seconds.
  3. Throughput. The network as a whole should be able to confirm up to thousands of transactions per second.
  4. Usability. The system should be accessible at all times, offer low and predictable fees and a low cost of operating the network and provide a seamless and predictable user experience.
  5. Privacy. The system should prevent unauthorized parties from accessing transaction log.

“The blockchain and digital currency markets are at an interesting crossroads, reminiscent of the inflection points reached when industries such as telecom and the internet were coming of age,” Babak Dastmaltschi, chairman of the DTR Foundation Council, said in a statement. “These are transformative times. We are nearing the point where every person in the world is connected together.

“Advancements in distributed technologies will enable open networks, avoiding the need for centralized authorities,” Dastmaltschi said. “DTR was formed with the goal of enabling and supporting this revolution, and it is in this vein that we unveil Unit-e.”

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Hubitat Elevation review: This smart home hub keeps everything local, a noble but ultimately impractical goal

The Hubitat Elevation smart hub was born with noble intentions and the promise of total privacy, because it doesn’t rely on any cloud-based service. As the company asks, why put the security and convenience of your smart home in the hands of an unreliable internet—or a company that could shut down its service at any moment?

In stark contrast to the rest of the industry, Hubitat says its smart home solution is “100 percent local.” While you need to create an online account with the company to use it, once you do that, all your devices connect directly to the Hubitat, all processing is done locally on your home network, and all management takes place via a web-based interface served from the Hubitat Elevation directly, not from an online service.

If you’re concerned about hackers taking control of your smart home from afar, Hubitat has a security selling point in that all your information is stored locally, too. While your data is only as secure as your login credentials, at least it’s not at risk of a widescale hack against a cloud-based service.

Hubitat is the ultimate in tinfoil-hat-friendly, DIY home automation.

hubitat elevation google home Christopher Null

The Hubitat hardware is a small device that connects to your router via ethernet.

It’s an interesting concept, but does any of this really matter? Does Hubitat’s localized technology offer any other real benefits aside from better up time? Today’s major hubs and voice assistants have varying degrees of capabilities when the internet is down. SmartThings, for example, has a hybrid design that allows for some automations to complete (but not manual, on-demand control), while Alexa and Google Assistant are totally powerless when their host devices can’t access the internet.

With Hubitat, internet outages are largely irrelevant. Aside from the initial login (for which you can use a social media account), the only thing Hubitat uses your router for is to obtain a local IP address. Again, neither it nor your PC need to broadband access for the duo to communicate—or to control local smart home devices.

Hubitat works with a sizable number of products, primarily anything in the Z-Wave and ZigBee universes. It also has hooks for Lutron (including that company’s RadioRA 2, Serena, and Sivoia platforms) and a few other devices. (The first version of Elevation, released in mid-2018, required a USB stick to connect to wireless gear; the new version is smaller and integrates those radios directly.)

hubitat user interface3 Christopher Null

To do anything within Hubitat, you must first add an app for the device or service you wish to use it with, which you’ll select from this massive list.

In addition to that, Hubitat can connect to other devices that do rely on the web, including Nest, Alexa, Rachio, and Life360. Hubitat supports the IFTTT service, too. Again, while the Hubitat doesn’t rely on an internet connection to control local devices, you will need a live internet connection if, say, you want to tell Alexa to turn off a Hubitat-controlled light. Once you open that hole for the sake of convenience, you pretty much undo the security blanket that is Hubitat’s primary attraction.

Mobile sales fall again at Dixons Carphone

Mobile sales at Dixons Carphone continue to decline, but the company will be encouraged by increasing sales of electricals.

In its Christmas trading update, the UK’s largest mobile phone retailer said that like-for-like UK mobile sales had fallen by seven per cent – a figure it expected given lower sales of 24-month contracts.

The company seemed relatively content with that given that it had seemingly retained the same market share at a time when the market as a whole had contracted by eight percent.

Dixons Carphone results

Current CEO Alex Baldock said there had been “good” early progress in the implementation of its recovery strategy, with record “peak” sales of electricals as revenues rose by two per cent. Across the Group, which includes figures from international markets, revenues were also up two per cent.

“Peak trading was solid and in line with expectations, producing record sales against a tough backdrop,” he told investors. “In UK mobile, performance was as expected. Overall, our Peak trading was disciplined and well-executed, with stable gross margins.”

The company suffered a particularly difficult 2018. It started with the departure of CEO Sebastian James and CFO Humphrey Singer following a troubled 2017 in which profits fell considerably and continued with store closures and a significant data breach that saw millions of personal data records and payment cards affected.

A lot of its woes can be attributed to changing consumer habits. Carphone Warehouse is the UK’s biggest mobile phone retailer, but the market is saturating, and people are buying fewer phones. SIM-Only tariffs and SIM-free handsets are becoming increasingly popular and this is having an effect.  Margins are being squeezed and sales are flat.

Reset strategy

Baldock’s current strategy centres on a desire to “reset” Dixons Carphone’s relationship with operators so they are more sustainable and believes that combined with plans to improve its technology, train staff and offer credit services, the firm can revitalise its mobile business and drive online sales.

Aside from strong electrical sales – especially in large TVs and gaming – Baldock cited strong performances from its online channels and credit services as he seeks to return Dixons Carphone to growth.

“It will take time and much hard work to unleash the true potential of this business, but we’re on with it,” he added. “I owe a big thank you to 42,000 capable and committed colleagues for all their tremendous hard work to deliver this resilient Peak performance while getting our transformation underway.”

Dixons Carphone’s plan to renegotiate deals with mobile operators could be a challenging obstacle to overcome, however. Reports over the past few months have suggested that Vodafone, O2 and EE are unwilling to offer more favourable terms at a time when they are all heavily investing in their own retail presences. Three withdrew from the retailer in 2013.

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Windows 10 ARM shown running on an old Lumia 950 XL

Although Microsoft is killing off Windows 10 Mobile later this year, it might not mean the end of Windows 10 on smartphones, as a video is doing the rounds that shows Windows 10 ARM running on a Lumia 950 XL.

The video, by ADeltaX, which you can view below,  shows Windows 10 ARM, which is a version of Windows 10 that’s designed to run on laptops and devices that use smartphone-like hardware (including ARM processors), running on an actual smartphone – and a rather outdated one at that.

The ageing Lumia 950 XL has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 3GB of RAM, and judging by the video that seems to be enough to run Windows 10 ARM.

Running well

As you can see from the video, the Windows 10 ARM experience seems impressively smooth, with apps opening without issue.

This shows how versatile the Windows 10 ARM operating system is, and it should mean that it can run without issue on more modern ARM-based devices as well.

The video follows another that showed the original Fallout PC game running on Windows 10 ARM on the Lumia 950 XL.

So, for people who still want a Windows experience on a smartphone, Windows 10 ARM could be the answer – and the fact that it runs so smoothly on old hardware also bodes well for future Windows 10 ARM devices, including Microsoft’s rumored Andromeda dual-screen device.

Via Windows Latest

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Canon patents 5 new EF-M lens designs

The arrival of the EOS R and the accompanying new RF mount have left some observers wondering what’s going to happen to Canon’s other mirrorless system – EOS M – and whether Canon will continue support for its EF-M lens mount.

The good news for users of EOS M cameras is that, according to CanonRumors.com, it looks like Canon has applied to patent five new optical formulas for EF-M lenses. The less-welcome news for enthusiasts is that they’re all variable-aperture zooms, with no sign of a fast prime. 

So what lenses can we expect to see? According to reports they will be:

  • EF-M 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6
  • EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3
  • EF-M 18-130mm f/3.4-5.6
  • EF-M 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3
  • EF-M 15-130mm f/3.5-6.3

Canon already has a EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3, so it would appear that we can expect a new bundled kit lens to come with future EOS M cameras. Canon also has a EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 in its range, so the rumored EF-M 18-130mm f/3.4-5.6 sees another slight overlap.

These lenses are unlikely to excite many photographers, being very much at the entry-level end of the range, and the EF-M lens lineup is still missing some fast telephoto zooms and prime lenses. With the arrival of the RF full-frame mirrorless system, we’re not sure we’ll ever see those either. 

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Best headphones of 2019: Headphones for any budget in India

Best Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar’s round-up of the best headphones you can buy on any budget in 2019. 

Everyone is unique, which is why everyone has their own, personal taste in music making it all the more important to be equipped with the perfect pair of headphones.

Upgrading your headphones is a personal choice, but it’s an essential step if you want to move away from the cheap earbuds that your phone probably came bundled with.  

But, since there are so many categories of music, there are just as many options when it comes to headphones. Some people like the convenience of a wireless set while others prefer the reliability and audio quality of wired headphones. 

Then there are those who want in-ear headphones, while the rest prefer over-ears. 

A better pair of headphones will add a new dimension to your music, whether it’s more detail, added functionality or just more bass. 

It sounds like a lot. But that’s why we have a guide for the best ones. 

The headphones that you’ll find here have tons of features to help you get the most out of your music. These features range from wireless connectivity to noise-cancellation and come in the three major form-factors: in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones.  

We’ve selected the best headphones for each form-factor, and we’ve even picked out a budget option for each so that you should be able to find an excellent pair, no matter where your price point lies. 

Here’s a quick look at the best headphones in India right now:

If you already know which kind of headphones you’re looking for, then you can browse through our other, more specific, recommendations: 

1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

Your search for great sounding, good value headphones ends here

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A

GTX 1660 Ti could be 20% faster than GTX 1060 according to leaked benchmark

Rumors recently began circulating that Nvidia is about to launch a new graphics card – the GTX 1660 Ti, which is a Turing GPU without the ray tracing technology (RTX) of Nvidia’s recent graphics card, and now a fresh benchmark leak gives us an (alleged) glimpse of its power.

Assuming this leak, from the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark database, is indeed true, it shows that the GTX 1660 Ti scored 7,400 at 1080p (high) resolution, as spotted by prolific leaker TUM_APISAK (via Videocardz).

In comparison, the GTX 1060 recorded a result of 6,200, which makes the incoming GTX 1660 Ti almost 20% faster, and therefore in the same ballpark as the GTX 1070 – of course, assuming that the graphics card actually exists.

Naturally, exactly how exciting this result is depends on how much the new graphics card costs, so we can’t put things fully into perspective until we know that. The broad idea seems to pitch this GPU between the old GTX 1060 and the new RTX 2060.

Reported reveal

Nvidia will reportedly reveal the GTX 1660 Ti – and rumor has it there will also be a GTX 1660, which makes some kind of sense – at some point in February.

We’ll just have to sit tight and see, although the naming scheme of these alleged GPUs does seem rather odd (you would expect Nvidia to stick with its current naming convention and call these newcomers the 1160 and 1160 Ti).

The theory is that the GTX 1660 Ti will run with a TU116 GPU sporting 1,536 CUDA cores, backed by 6GB of GDDR6 video memory. So it looks to be a powerful enough offering, aimed at those who aren’t that bothered about ray tracing, and don’t want to fork out the substantial premium for an RTX model.

At any rate, whether this speculation turns out to be on the money, or not, Nvidia will surely be looking to introduce some form of more wallet-friendly GPU for this current generation.

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