Get Your Coins Moving: Some Parts of the US Face a Shortage of Quarters

Heidi Thorsen owns the coin-only laundromat "Lunar Laundry" in Seattle — and discovered an odd phenomenon, reports the Seattle Times. "Thorsen went to her bank to replenish her coin supply. But the bank was so short on change, she could only buy a few $10, 40-quarter rolls, and most often there were none at all..." Thorsen speaks for many in the local coin-operated economy, a diverse, somewhat old-school community of businesses and consumers that has been in a state of agitation since COVID-19 interrupted the normal cycle of coins. "It's something I have to think about all the time," says Queen Anne resident Dan White, whose apartment has a coin-operated laundry. Early in the pandemic, White had to frantically group-text friends to secure enough quarters for a weekend's wash... "People that aren't using quarters for a laundry machine have no idea that this is even happening." Indeed, the Great Quarter Shortage has exposed another social and economic divide as a subset of consumers and businesses must scramble to replace what COVID has made scarce. The result is a kind of two-bit black market, rife with clever workarounds and conspiracy theories, and no small amount of social friction... Technically, there is no quarter shortage, in Seattle or anywhere. The U.S. Mint produced nearly 24% more coins in 2020 than in 2019, despite a temporary pandemic slowdown, and continues to roll them out at "near record levels," according to Mint officials. The problem, federal officials say, is many of the roughly 55 billion quarters estimated to be in circulation have been stranded by the pandemic in places — under your couch cushions, say, or in your console coin holder — where the coin-operated economy can't touch them. It's a smaller, less visible version of the supply chain crisis, but with quarters instead of cargo containers. Early in the pandemic, many consumers and businesses stopped using physical currency out of safety concerns. Overall cash purchases in 2020 dropped nearly 27% compared with 2019, while the rate at which coins and bills change hands fell more than 70% — the steepest drop on record — and hasn't recovered, Federal Reserve data show. As coins accumulated in homes and handbags, retailers that were typically quarter-negative even before COVID went even further in the red and made even more frequent coin purchases from banks. Consumers, meanwhile, were also less frequently hauling in their caches of spare change to banks or coin kiosks. As the circulation of coins slowed, and as the reopening economy led banks to order more coins from the Federal Reserve, the country's central bank saw its own coin inventory fall below normal levels. In June 2020, the Reserve imposed a "temporary" restriction on coin orders by private banks that, despite a brief reprieve this year, remains in effect. Some banks restricted their own coin sales, even to big retail customers — and many still do. The bank is "shorting us on our order a lot," says Dave Garcia, assistant store director at Ballard Market, which, like many retailers, has suspended its own quarter sales to consumers... It's a problem for the "unbanked" without debit cards and the small-business owners who depend on them and "can't afford to upgrade to digital payments and the touchless economy." (And the article points out this includes laundromats, more than half of which are still coin-operated in the U.S.) The CEO of the Coin Laundry Association even tells the Times that some laundromats have resorted to installing a kill switch on their change machines, just so if noncustomers try to make change, "they just cut the power to the machine." The owner of the Lunar Laundry ultimately installed a digital system that lets customers pay through a phone app after scanning a washer's QR code. A bar owner in Seattle even believes a conspiracy theory that the government is prolonging the shortage to push everyone to digital currencies so their purchases can all be tracked. But in fact, the Times notes, "Solving the quarter crisis has become a top priority of the Federal Reserve, where a specially empaneled U.S. Coin Task Force is working to persuade Americans to spend those quarters and other coins back into circulation..."

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How a Dream Job Streaming on Twitch Can Become a Burnout Nightmare

"Streamers are not really known for hard partying..." writes the Guardian's videogames editor, after meeting the up-and-coming stars of Twitch. "I was instead astonished — and, honestly, worried — by how hard they worked." The woman sitting next to me told me that she streams for eight to 10 hours every day, and when she wasn't live she was curating her social media, responding to fans, scouting for brand partnerships or collaborations with other streamers; throughout our conversation she was visibly resisting the impulse to check her phone, where new stats and fan comments and potential opportunities were presumably stacking up. I asked what she does for fun and she seemed genuinely confused by the question. Playing video games for an audience for a living sounds like fun — and hell, there are many worse jobs out there — but it is also an ultra-competitive profession that attracts millions of aspiring kids with limitless energy and absolutely no concept of work-life balance. It involves extreme hours and intense pressure to be constantly available to the audience of viewers on whom they depend. And according to recently leaked Twitch data, the top 1% of streamers on its platform received more than half of the $889m (£660m) it paid out to creators last year; three quarters of the rest made $120 (£89) or less. Millions made nothing at all. I was not surprised, over the following years, to read story after story about these energetic young people — with what must have seemed like the best job in the world — burning out. When you are broadcasting yourself so much of the time, when your hobby becomes your job and your job becomes your hobby, and when your personality becomes your brand and your brand becomes your personality, what does life offline look like for you? Who are you when the camera is off? The fact is that, especially for up-and-coming streamers trying to make it in the crowded world of playing video games on the internet, the camera is almost never off. Sticking to a regular schedule is the best way to build an audience on Twitch, and those schedules regularly involve at least eight hours of continuous streaming, five days a week or more... The reasons for these ultra-demanding hours are simple: the more you broadcast, the greater your chances of being featured on Twitch's homepage, the more followers you accrue, and the more money you might eventually make. The article acknowledges that among Twitch streamers, "tens of thousands of creators make at least a livable wage. "It is no wonder, then, that many streamers end up obsessed with the numbers and graphs and invisible algorithms that determine their fate."

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Former Uber Employees Cleared of Illegal Spying

The New York Times tells the remarkable story of Uber's need for more intelligence gathering back in 2016: Uber was expanding aggressively into foreign markets. The pushback was swift and sometimes violent. Taxi drivers staged widespread protests, and in Nairobi, Kenya, several Uber cars were lit on fire and drivers were beaten. Competitors in China and India used sophisticated methods to collect Uber's data and undercut its prices. To fight back, Uber began to recruit a team of former C.I.A. officers like [Nick] Gicinto, law enforcement officials and cybersecurity experts. The team would gather intelligence about threats against Uber drivers and executives, and investigate competing companies and potential acquisitions. "They didn't know what was going on, on the ground," Mr. Gicinto said. "They recognized that they needed somebody who understood the human aspect of these things and understood foreign environments...." In addition to Uber's recruitment from the C.I.A., Google, Facebook and Amazon poached hackers from the National Security Agency to fend off cyberattacks, former Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to staff teams responsible for fielding law enforcement requests and former Pentagon officials to advise on defense contracts. A history professor at the University of Washington in Seattle tells the Times it's not at all unusual for tech companies to hire from the intelligence community, a long-standing practice to protect intellectual secrets. So for example, Uber's team "outsourced some of the projects to intelligence firms, which sent contractors to infiltrate driver protests... the team filmed Waymo's vehicles and scraped competitors' apps to collect pricing information." The men who gathered intelligence for Uber were supposed to be ghosts. For years, they were un-Googleable sentries, quietly informing executives about the actions of competitors, opponents and disgruntled employees. But the secrecy of the tightknit team ended abruptly in 2017 when one of its members turned on the others, accusing them of stealing trade secrets, wiretapping and destroying evidence. They flouted the law while carrying out Uber's dirtiest missions, their former co-worker, Richard Jacobs, claimed in an April 2017 email sent to top Uber executives. His lawyer followed up with a letter that said the team went so far as to hack foreign governments and wiretap Uber's own employees. But Mr. Jacobs's most damning allegations of illegal activity were not true. In June, nearly four years after his claims drew wide attention, he retracted them. In a letter to his former co-workers that he wrote as part of a legal settlement, Mr. Jacobs explained that he had never intended to suggest that they broke the law. "I am sorry," he wrote. "I regret not having clarified the statements at an earlier time and regret any distress or injury my statements may have caused." Gary Bostwick, a lawyer for Mr. Jacobs, declined to comment.... Testifying in court, Mr. Jacobs seemed to distance himself from some of the claims in the letter. He hadn't had much time to review it before his lawyer sent it, he said, and he wasn't sure if Mr. Gicinto and his other former co-workers had broken the law. "I did not believe it was patently illegal. I had questions about the ethics of it," Mr. Jacobs testified. "It felt overly aggressive and invasive and inappropriate." The Times reports that Uber had paid $7.5 million to cooperate with an investigation into Jacobs' allegations (according to legal filings), and while the findings were never made public, the co-workers accused in the letter "said they had been told that they were cleared of any wrongdoing... "In 2021, Mr. Jacobs settled the libel lawsuit by his former co-workers. The terms of the settlement are not public."

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‘Malicious Actors’ are Compromising Google Cloud Accounts, Installing Cryptocurrency Miners

CNBC reports: Cryptocurrency miners are using compromised Google Cloud accounts for computationally-intensive mining purposes, Google has warned. The search giant's cybersecurity team provided details in a report published Wednesday. The so-called "Threat Horizons" report aims to provide intelligence that allows organizations to keep their cloud environments secure. "Malicious actors were observed performing cryptocurrency mining within compromised Cloud instances," Google wrote in an executive summary of the report... Google said 86% of 50 recently compromised Google Cloud accounts were used to perform cryptocurrency mining. In the majority of cases, cryptocurrency mining software was downloaded within 22 seconds of the account being compromised, Google said.

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EU Complaint Accuses Microsoft of Anticompetitive Bundling of OneDrive, Teams in Windows

"Remember how Microsoft spent years in hot water in the late '90s and early '00s by forcing Internet Explorer on its customers?" asks ZDNet. "European open-source cloud company Nextcloud does." Now, with a coalition of other European Union (EU) software and cloud organizations and companies called the "Coalition for a Level Playing Field," Nextcloud has formally complained to the European Commission about Microsoft's anti-competitive behavior by aggressively bundling its OneDrive cloud, Teams, and other services with Windows 10 and 11. Nextcloud claims that by pushing consumers to sign up and hand over their data to Microsoft, the Windows giant is limiting consumer choice and creating an unfair barrier for other companies offering competing services. Specifically, Microsoft has grown its EU market share to 66%, while local providers' market share declined from 26% to 16%. Microsoft has done this not by any technical advantage or sales benefits, but by heavily favoring its own products and services, self-preferencing over other services. While self-preferencing is not illegal per se under EU competition laws, if a company abuses its dominant market position, it can break the law. Nextcloud states that Microsoft has outright blocked other cloud service vendors by leveraging its position as gatekeeper to extend its reach in neighboring markets, pushing users deeper into its ecosystems. Thus, more specialized EU companies can't compete on merit, as the key to success is not a good product but the ability to distort competition and block market access.... So, Nextcloud is asking the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition to prevent this kind of abusive behavior and keep the market competitive and fair for all players. Nextcloud is doing this by filing an official complaint with this body. In addition, Nextcloud has also filed a request with the German antitrust authorities, the Bundeskartellamt, for an investigation against Microsoft. With its partners, it's also discussing filing a similar complaint in France. Nextcloud is being joined in its complaint by several open-source, non-profit organizations. These include the European DIGITAL SME Alliance; the Document Foundation, LibreOffice's backing organization; and the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)... Numerous businesses are also supporting Nextcloud's legal action. This includes Abilian, an open-source software publisher; DAASI, an open-source identity management company; and Mailfence.

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Raspberry Pi Trading Could Go Public This Spring

"According to a report in The Telegraph, Raspberry Pi Trading, the arm responsible for the creation of the Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi Pico and the new Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W could soon be listed with a value of more than £370m ($493m)," reports Tom's Hardware: Raspberry Pi Trading has hired advisors from two investment banks, Stifel and Liberum to advise on floating the company in spring 2022. The news comes just a few months after Raspberry Pi received a £45m ($60m) investment from Lansdowne Partners and the Ezrah Charitable Trust which was used to fund the development of new products as demand increased during the global pandemic. A source close to The Telegraph has valued Raspberry Pi at a premium of $500m... "Obviously, the $45m we raised in September takes away some of the urgency around figuring out how we fund the future. On the other hand, we have great plans for what we are going to do over the next five years." Eben Upton, talking to The Telegraph.

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World Chess Champion Urges Quicker Games, Is Also Rich

CNN profiles Magnus Carlsen, the world's best chess player — and the state of the chess community today: Interest in chess spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, and again in October 2020 after the release of the Netflix series, "The Queen's Gambit." In the first three weeks after its debut, sales of chess sets went up by 87% in the U.S. and sales of books about chess leaped 603%, according to marketing research company NPD Group. Not since the 1970s, when American legend Bobby Fischer burst onto the scene, has the game captured the attention of the world like this.... Carlsen tries hard to be indifferent toward anything at all during the press conference and interview. But he does have strong opinions on how the game should be changed to make sure it holds the attention of the current groundswell of interested players. "I've been somebody who's supported having quicker games in the world championship for a long time," he said. "I think for people who are not into chess at all, who don't know anything about the game, you're more naturally attracted to quicker games." World championship games can last hours and often end in ties because mistakes are so rare... Carlsen's love of fast-paced chess isn't surprising, considering he is the current world champion in both "Rapid" and "Blitz" formats — games that generally last for 15 minutes or less. His tiebreak wins in previous championship games were both in the rapid format and there are numerous videos on YouTube where his quick thinking is showcased. Computers are now powerful enough to calculate billions of possible move combinations in seconds, ably deciding the best possible option. It makes preparation more exacting and less enjoyable, and Carlsen thinks quicker games would help solve that... Carlsen could rightly be considered the greatest chess player ever. He has been the world champion for eight years and holds the longest unbeaten run in history. He only trails Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov in weeks spent as the highest rated player. But the New York Times points out that Carlsen has done something none of his chess-playing predecessors have ever done. "He has leveraged his fame to become one of the chess world's leading impresarios. In the process, he has amassed a small fortune." Carlsen has several private sponsorship agreements, including with Unibet, a sports betting site; Isklar, a Norwegian water company; and Simonsen Vogt Wiig, a Norwegian law firm. But the main vehicle for his business ventures is Play Magnus, a company that he co-founded in 2013, the year he became world champion. Initially designed as an app that allowed users to mimic Carlsen's playing style and strength at different ages, Play Magnus has expanded, mostly through acquisitions, to become a company with a dozen subsidiaries. It now includes an online playing site, multiple teaching and training platforms, and digital and book publishing arms. According to Andreas Thome, Play Magnus's chief executive, the company has about 250 employees and about four million registered users of its products and proprietary learning programs. One year after it went public on the Euronext Growth Oslo stock exchange, Play Magnus now has a market capitalization of about $115 million. It is the only publicly traded chess company in the world. Carlsen's personal stake in the company is worth nearly $9 million, the Times points out — even as Carlsen is now competing in the world chess championship for a $2.24 million prize, where "as much as 60% will go to the winner." In the 14-game match, the first two games...all ended in a draw. "The result means there have now been 16 draws in a row in world championship games played at classical time controls," the Guardian pointed out, "dating back five years to game 11 of Carlsen's match against Sergey Karjakin in November 2016." And then the third game, played Sunday....also ended in a draw.

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Sony and AMC Offer NFTs to ‘Spider-Man’ Advance Ticket Buyers

Movie theatre chain AMC and Sony Pictures are giving away 86,000 Spider-man NFTs to people who buy/reserve tickets for December 16th's premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home. The special tickets go on sale tonight at midnight EST on the AMC web site and app (available only to people who've signed up for one of the chain's special perks programs like Stubs Premiere, A-List, and Investor Connect). "The movie ticket must be scanned at the theatre when the guest arrives for the movie," explains the movie industry site Boxoffice Pro. "If the ticket purchase is refunded or the ticket goes unused, or is not scanned, the NFT code will not be delivered." The Spider-Man NFT will be available to be redeemed at a dedicated site operated by WAX, an energy efficient, ultra-low carbon footprint blockchain and the first certified carbon neutral. WAX is the most utilized blockchain in the world processing 15 million transactions daily. Adam Aron, Chairman of the Board and CEO of AMC, commented: "Our AMC Theatres guests and our AMC Entertainment shareholders have been calling for AMC to get into the world of NFTs, and we couldn't imagine a more perfect way to start doing so than with our good friends at Sony Pictures." Over 100 NFT designs will be available (designed by Cub Studios), the announcement points out In a tweet Sunday, AMC's CEO said the idea came from the company's shareholders.

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Microsoft Builds New Green Data Centers in Wyoming, Invests in Wifi, Education, Roads

This week a Microsoft blog post announced the opening of two Microsoft data centers in Cheyenne. "The two new datacenters will be built with sustainable design and operations in mind," the announcement points out, "contributing to Microsoft's commitment to being carbon negative." Our current and new datacenters will use adiabatic cooling, which uses outside air instead of water for cooling when temperatures are below 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This process uses less electricity and up to 90 percent less water than other water-based cooling systems. We've already invested over $500K in sustainability grants to local organizations that help preserve Wyoming's natural environment including Crow Creek Revival that aims to promote, enhance, restore, and revitalize the region's key watershed. Building the data centers will also create 700 jobs "during peak construction," Microsoft adds. They're also â"investing in new water, sewer, and road infrastructure to create easier access to Bison Business Park, which will also support the growth of new businesses in Wyoming." Long-time Slashdot reader theodp shares more details: "I appreciate Microsoft's commitment to Wyoming and thank them for the benefits they have brought to multiple sectors of our economy," said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. "The incentives that set this train in motion are working." Sergio Loureiro, VP of Core Operations for Microsoft's Datacenters, suggested that Wyoming's children are also benefiting from the incentives and data center tax exemptions: "We've partnered with the Wyoming Department of Education to host ongoing computer science training for more than 30 school districts across the state," Loureiro explained, "impacting more than 60,000 K-12 students. "We're also collaborating with [Microsoft-backed] Code.org and the University of Wyoming to build the capacity of hundreds of K12 teachers to offer computer science education to thousands of students across the state. Microsoft's TEALS high school computer science program has also partnered with six Wyoming high schools to build high-quality computer science education for approximately 500 students in Laramie, Gillette, Douglas, Casper, and Buffalo." Microsoft also says they're investing over $350,000 to launch free WiFi at key community locations "helping more than 100,000 visitors and residents annually stay connected" — plus over a million dollars to launch three adult upskilling programs.

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How to Read a Jellyfish’s Mind

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed "a kind of genetic toolbox" for tiny one-centimeter jellfyfish, reports Phys.org. Specifically, the jellyfish "have been genetically modified so that their neurons individually glow with fluorescent light when activated." Because a jellyfish is transparent, researchers can then watch the glow of the animal's neural activity as it behaves naturally. In other words, the team can read a jellyfish's mind as it feeds, swims, evades predators, and more, in order to understand how the animal's relatively simple brain coordinates its behaviors. A paper describing the new study appears in the journal Cell on November 24.... Rather than being centralized in one part of the body like our own brains, the jellyfish brain is diffused across the animal's entire body like a net. The various body parts of a jellyfish can operate seemingly autonomously, without centralized control; for example, a jellyfish mouth removed surgically can carry on "eating" even without the rest of the animal's body. This decentralized body plan seems to be a highly successful evolutionary strategy, as jellyfish have persisted throughout the animal kingdom for hundreds of millions of years. But how does the decentralized jellyfish nervous system coordinate and orchestrate behaviors...? [T]hough the network of jellyfish neurons originally seemed diffuse and unstructured, the researchers found a surprising degree of organization that only became visible with their fluorescent system. Ultimately the researchers say they've identified "patches" of neurons that work together, and they now want to study how various "modules" of neuron groups are coordinating.

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