Explainers

Basics of cryptocurrency: Risks and benefits

Should you buy in on the craze?

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For a while, cryptocurrencies became the talk of the town across the internet. People all over the world saw the potential of what is essentially “virtual money,” starting a frenzy of investments, theories, and yes, memes — particularly towards one of the more popular cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin.

But do we really understand the power these cryptocurrencies yield, and how such power can affect the whole world over?

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are virtual currencies that are exchanged online with no interference from anyone, not even the government. These currencies, through their language of cryptography, contain secured information and are exchanged through a recording system known as a blockchain.

No one regulates the exchanges and no one controls how much of the cryptocurrency should be out there, but the blockchain keeps all of the exchanges transparent and fair for everyone. Think of it as openly sharing your share of a pizza to a friend in exchange for money, with your other friends keeping track of the exchange. Your friends make sure that you have a slice of pizza to give, your friend has the money he promised you, and that these items are actually from each of you and not from someone else.

Because of the creation of numerous cryptocurrencies all over the internet, a virtual market has been created for people who are interested and invested in these virtual currencies to trade among themselves. Groups of people have also made an effort to produce their own cryptocurrencies from their computers through cryptomining. Cryptomining, much like regular mining, is creating cryptocurrency tokens (an online version of coins) and putting them into the blockchain to be traded; it’s printing your own money, except it’s done from a computer and shared online.

In Bitcoin, for example: People who want to contribute to its blockchain to earn some share of the cryptocurrency would go through activities such as cryptomining. Despite it being one of the primary activities for creating and gaining Bitcoin, it’s also one of the more expensive ways of doing so since most cryptomining setups require computers with the most up-to-date hardware and processing speeds. Any person who wishes to do cryptomining would spend a ton of money just for the necessary hardware — all just to mine their own Bitcoin.

Where did the hype come from?

The tailend of 2017 (October to December) saw people get into a frenzy towards cryptocurrencies and its perceived value — a frenzy driven by growing interest. People had started to not only be invested (pun intended) in learning about cryptocurrencies in general, but they also searched “Bitcoin” a whole lot.

With more people understanding cryptocurrencies, investments towards such virtual currencies (particularly towards Bitcoin) increased, thereby expanding the market by a whopping 1,200 percent. Imagine getting 15,000 shares on your Facebook post about your dog within two days – that’s how quickly it blew up.

Another phenomenon that contributed to the rise of cryptocurrencies is the creation of initial coin offerings (ICO). An ICO is a public, unregulated way of earning funds for cryptocurrencies and is widely used by startups to bypass the usual fundraising activities for capital; ICOs are much like crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe), except no one controls how the funding goes.

ICOs are usually distributed in Bitcoins; these will be used to start projects or applications that people create but initially have no money to operate. Because people have new ideas and the Internet is one of the faster ways to have the idea develop and spread all over, more and more people would go through ICOs to fund their projects instead of getting bank loans or using their own money.

Effects of cryptocurrencies

The impact of these cryptocurrencies take on a grand scale, especially from an economic context. People continually join the hype towards cryptocurrencies, so much so that it drives demand for them. Participating in online trading for cryptocurrencies is faster than those in the stock market, and is easily accessible by people since it is unregulated.

As such, governments are pushing for cryptocurrencies as a means for payment to add convenience for customers, especially those with plans to go paperless with their money. The Indian government, for example, is learning to embrace Bitcoin within their monetary system after taking in measures against tax evasion in black markets; they are also looking into regulating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well in the near future.

The risk of partaking in cryptocurrencies lies in its greatest feature: an organic form of virtual currency. Because no entity has any control of cryptocurrencies — including governments — these virtual currencies are prone to online attacks (most common form of attack: hacking), which rapidly hamper their growth and reduce their value significantly. With a large number of people currently trading cryptocurrencies online, the risk of hackers increases significantly, causing these people to lose more money when worse comes to worst.

Another threat posed by its greatest feature is that people would abuse the high interest rates and entice new investors to purchase tokens. Because there is no body to regulate the trading online, people engage in scams to take advantage of new investors who are not guided properly in the virtual currency market — despite it being heavily secured by cryptography.

Participating in the schemes makes the trade unfair, even with efforts to make things equal for everyone. One example is the Bitcoin Savings and Trust Ponzi scheme in 2011, which was shut down in 2012 due to the perpetrator, Trendon Shavers, being accused of raising 700,000 BTC — all from new investors who didn’t know any better.

Cryptocurrencies at present

At the moment, Bitcoin remains to be the top-traded cryptocurrency within the market, valued at US$ 151.1 billion — in spite of its decline over the past few months. Countries are starting to either accept Bitcoin as part of their national economies or reject Bitcoin and its risks. Litecoin, which was dubbed as an alternative to Bitcoin, is not performing as well as Bitcoin within the past month, culminating in a so-far failing venture with digital wallet service Abra. Ethereum, one of Bitcoin’s closest competitors, has quickly risen due to its value to customers.

There are countries in the world that think that cryptocurrencies can bring them out of total economic collapse and keep the country afloat. Venezuela, for instance had released its own cryptocurrency, Petro, after its own national currency lost its value. Other struggling nations such as Iran and Turkey are looking to follow suit, but would need enough investment to get the necessary equipment for creating their own cryptocurrencies.

Should you be worried? Do your research, familiarize yourselves with terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, and always proceed with caution.

Even with the possibility of countries going paperless with their currencies, there are some that still fear its effects and have not wholeheartedly embraced cryptocurrencies. Despite the aforementioned efforts from the Indian government to shift to cryptocurrency-based payment methods, the Reserve Bank still finds engaging in cryptocurrencies illegal, to the point of barring banks from engaging in them. Reports of ransomware spreading in the United States, hacking computers used for mining Bitcoin raise security concerns for people investing in Bitcoin.

Should you be worried?

Whether you are currently investing in cryptocurrencies or not, the risks of such virtual currencies will remain to be there as long as other people keep increasing their investments towards them. The value of these cryptocurrencies continue to be unstable to this day, especially with the hype slowly dying down due to people learning more and more about cryptocurrencies and their possible (and real) dangers.

The call for people who wish to invest in these cryptocurrencies is to practice caution. Do some research, get to know more about the terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, look at news reports — with the internet at your disposal, it’s better to know what you’re getting into, should you want to get into it. Anyone who wishes to create their own cryptocurrency might want to start saving up as early as now for all the hardware.

Should you be worried? Yes, to an extent, but it helps to be prepared.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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