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Losing Depop to US ownership makes the British tech sector look secondhand | Apps

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Depop, the fashion resale app, has joined fellow British tech companies such as Arm Holdings and DeepMind in heading to a deep pool of investment outside its homeland.

London-based Depop’s acquisition by Brooklyn-based Etsy for $1.6bn (£1.1bn) last week came just days after Oxford-based WaveOptics, a maker of displays used in augmented-reality glasses, was bought up by the Santa Monica-headquartered owner of Snapchat for $500m.

Depop may not be of such strategic importance to the UK economy as the likes of Arm, or fellow chip-maker Imagination Technologies, both bought by foreign buyers. But its 30 million users – a number that has tripled in less than three years – are mostly under 26 and mark out the future direction of retail: more online, sustainable and social.

London crowed about securing the listing of Deliveroo, where the poor performance of the share price has reflected concerns about the welfare of its thousands of delivery drivers. Depop marked out a more hopeful future – but with it now in Etsy’s hands, British retailers have no obvious way of following the lead of John Lewis and then Marks & Spencer, which invested in Ocado, enabling both to buy their way into the fast-growing world of online grocery shopping.

Initially, Depop was a tale of triumph for the UK. Entrepreneur Simon Beckerman founded the company in Italy in 2011 but moved to London in 2015 after winning $8m in funding from Balderton Capital, the UK-based investment firm which has previously backed Betfair and the online lingerie specialist Figleaves.

The business now has offices as far afield as New York and Sydney, but is led from the UK, where it built its market from an aesthetic steeped in British fashion trends, from Burberry coats and chunky trainers fit for a Spice Girl to Y2K fashions born out of clubs in London and Manchester.

It taps into Generation Z’s obsession with “side hustles” – a way to earn money outside one’s day-to-day life. Trading in cast-offs is a rapidly expanding activity expected to grow 15-20% a year for the next five years, outgrowing fast fashion.

That growth is not only fuelling more established players such as eBay, but generating new entrants such as Vinted, Poshmark and The RealReal, which provide a challenge to traditional high street brands.

The resale market is becoming increasingly mainstream, with even the UK supermarket Asda trying out secondhand sections in stores, in partnership with Preloved Vintage Wholesale. Department store John Lewis, furnishings group Ikea and sports retailer Decathlon are all experimenting with resale businesses too.

Technology is enabling that growth, as parents sell baby clothes via Facebook and young people trade sought-after trainers from their own Instagram shops. Selfridges now has an outlet for vintage fashion specialist Vestiaire Collective, while handbag label Mulberry is refurbishing and reselling its used products online.

Etsy is to allow Depop to continue as a standalone business run by the existing team from London. That is some good news at least for jobs and knowhow in the UK, although with upstarts such as Vinted and Asos’s marketplace already on its tail, it’s not clear if Etsy will enable Depop to keep its edgy, underground feel.

The change in ownership also will not prevent young UK entrepreneurs developing, via Depop, skills in online selling, design and merchandising that could lay the foundations for new standalone businesses.

There is hope the UK can capitalise on their expertise to keep the resale sector on British shores, even if we can’t compete with the deep pockets of the US tech giants.

AMC cinemas become star of their own Wall Street drama

What do you do when legions of small investors are buying your company’s shares to use as a stick with which to beat Wall Street? The answer for AMC Entertainment – the world’s largest cinema company and owner of the Odeon chain in the UK – is to make sure they’re buying at least some of that stock from you.

AMC has become a focal point for amateur investors coordinating via Twitter and Reddit to buy shares in previously unpopular companies – called “meme stocks” – hoping to catch pantomime-villain hedge funds in a “short squeeze”.

When the same thing happened to GameStop, the US video game retailer was little more than a passenger in the proceedings.

AMC is trying to ride the tiger. In January, it escaped bankruptcy thanks to a $917m debt-and-equity cash-raising exercise. Now, instead of thinking about survival, it is capitalising on the surge in its stock price to issue more new shares at higher values that it could otherwise have achieved. It has even offered investors free popcorn.

Cash from new investors can be used to pay down some of the rescue debt and even to expand.

Last Tuesday, it sold stock for $230.5m to Mudrick Capital Management (a hedge fund, ironically), having previously raised $428m in mid-May, when the small-investor frenzy began lifting its share price. And on Thursday, it filed to sell 11.5 million more shares.

Speaking via Twitter, increasingly the platform of choice for market-moving statements, chief executive Adam Aron said this was “not mindless dilution, but rather this is very smart raising of cash so that we can grow this company”.

He is banking on vaccinations and a pent-up flurry of blockbuster movies to deliver a dramatic turnaround for a firm that looked like a total turkey just a few months ago.

Whether one sees the “meme stock” phenomenon epitomised by GameStop and AMC as an exercise in futility, borderline market manipulation, or a welcome piece of anti-Wall Street online activism, Aron seems to have found a solution that works for AMC. It may not be long before his own cinemas are showing the movie.

Exxon chief on short leash after shareholder uprising

ExxonMobil’s chief executive, Darren Woods, has has the dubious honour of overseeing probably the most calamitous period in the oil giant’s history since taking the reins a little over four years ago. Under his watch the company has lost a third of its market value, been ousted from the Dow Jones index, and reported its first annual loss since Exxon and Mobil merged in 1998.

But it is Woods’s handling of ExxonMobil’s first major shareholder rebellion that is likely to raise questions over his future at the helm of America’s biggest oil company. Engine No 1, the upstart hedge fund that toppled three senior business figures from the Exxon board last week, did not target Woods. But its boardroom coup has been seen by industry observers as a clear indictment of his leadership.

Engine No 1 put forward four alternative board members after accusing Exxon of failing to adapt to the climate crisis – and the company’s largest shareholders agreed. Investors may be willing to forgive Woods for inheriting a difficult situation before the Covid-19 oil slump, but his failure to set a future-proof vision for navigating the transition to low-carbon energy has become deeply worrying for its long-term institutional stakeholders, which include some of the biggest money managers in the world.

Woods survived the boardroom battle because a greater concern – over the short term – would be losing the chief executive at a time of major upheaval for the board, and when existential decisions for the company still hang in the balance. Shareholders voted in favour of his position on the board at the annual meeting, but the disruption has assured that this future will be far tougher than he expected.

Before next year’s meeting, Woods will need to prove that he is up to the challenge, and set out a clear future for one of the world’s biggest climate polluters in a net-zero-carbon world. The chief executive may be down, but he is not out. Yet.

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

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To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon’s lava tubes • The Register

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Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”

Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge. 

“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.

One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.

Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.

Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth. 

The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.

Robots and lava tubes

The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.

Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.

The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts. 

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”

The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas. 

If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.

Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.

And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®

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Here are the Royal Irish Academy’s newest members from STEM

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14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.

Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.

This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).

Future Human

“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.

“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”

Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.

Linda Doyle, TCD

Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.

Geraldine Boylan, UCC

A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.

Mary Cannon, RCSI

Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.

Rónadh Cox, Williams College

One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.

Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council

Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.

Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway

A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.

Fiona Doohan, UCD

Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.

David Jones, QUB

A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.

Patricia Kearney, UCC

Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.

Mairead Kiely, UCC

Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.

Hannah McGee, RCSI

McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.

James P O’Gara, NUI Galway

A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.

Stefan Oscarson, UCD

Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.

Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD

Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.

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