Few would dispute that China’s recent crackdown on cryptocurrency trading and mining has contributed to the recent plunge in the value of bitcoin and other cryptos.
But while the argument rages about whether the volatility of cryptos is a sign of fundamental weakness or merely a bump along the road, the initiatives coming out of Beijing are being seen by experts as a sign of China’s attempts to incubate its own fledgling e-currency and reboot the international financial system.
The People’s Bank of China aims to become the first major central bank to issue a central bank digital currency. While the PBOC’s counterparts in the west have taken a more cautious approach, it has held trials in several major cities including Shenzhen, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hangzhou.
The benefits of an e-currency are immense. As more and more transactions are made using a digital currency controlled centrally, the government gains more and more ability to monitor the economy and its people.
The rollout is also seen as part of Beijing’s push to weaken the power of the US dollar, and in turn that of the government in Washington. China believes that by internationalising the yuan it can reduce its dependence on the dollar-dominated global banking system, just as its Belt and Road Initiative is building an alternative network of international trade.
Alarm in western governments is such that the threat posed by the digital yuan, which could put China out of reach from international financial sanctions, for example, was discussed at last month’s G7 meeting.
But another crucial motivation is the increasing alarm in Beijing at the size of the crypto industry in China, where a huge amount of cryptocurrency was being “mined” until the recent crackdown.
The threat of an unregulated alternative monetary system emerging from blockchain technology is a clear and present danger to the Communist party, according to observers.
Jim Cramer, a former hedge fund manager and CNN business expert, said the government in Beijing “believe it’s a direct threat to the regime because … it is outside their control”.
Seen from the perspective of central banks, cryptocurrencies are a threat to financial stability, argues Carsten Murawski, professor of finance at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and if digital currencies are to be developed then authorities want control.
“All central banks want to control them – the PBOC, the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank,” he says. “They have no interest in parallel currencies floating around. Some countries may not be too worried but in China it could be more of a concern.”
On Thursday, Fan Yifei, a deputy governor of the PBOC, said China was concerned about the threat posed by these digital currencies developed outside the regulated financial system. “We are still quite worried about this issue, so we have taken some measures,” Fan said.
The value of bitcoin shot up to a record high earlier this year of almost $65,000, having been worth less than $10,000 in the middle of last year, sparking a frenzy of interest in the cryptos as an investment to hedge against more traditional assets such as stocks and bonds. Comments by Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, that he would not allow bitcoin to be used to buy his cars added to the volatility and it is now trading in the low $30,000s.
But that has also attracted the attention of authorities such as those in China concerned about the largely unregulated market.
“In many countries it is completely unregulated – it is the absolute wild west,” says Prof Murawski, who also pointed out that there might not be the usual legal avenues to pursue if people thought they had been defrauded.
“So that’s another reason to control cryptos: to protect the consumer. Uninformed investors could lose a huge amount of money.”
In China, the rollout of the digital yuan has speeded up this year in tandem with the outlawing of crypto trading. In May, the PBOC banned banks from doing business or providing accounts for anyone trading in cryptocurrencies. It was followed by the outlawing of bitcoin mining in several provinces, including Sichuan. On Tuesday, China’s central bank warned companies against assisting cryptocurrency-related businesses as it shut down a software firm over suspected involvement in digital currency transactions.
Fan said on Thursday that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin had become “tools for speculation” and were bringing potential risks to financial security and social stability.
Online businesses have been allowed to prosper in China, but the government in Beijing has been ruthless in cutting them down to size if they appear to be getting too big to control. Jack Ma, the high-profile billionaire founder of the Alibaba empire, disappeared abruptly from public view for months last year, and his company was fined and ordered to downsize. Regulators have also targeted tech giants Tencent and Bytedance, the respective parents companies of WeChat and TikTok, and this week ordered ridesharing app Didi be pulled from app stores and launched an inquiry.
Dong Shaopeng, a senior research fellow at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said some online industries such as cryptocurrencies had reached an “alarming” size.
“It’s time for the government to block such transactions from capital sources, so that money will stop flowing from real industries to those transactions,” Dong told the Global Times.
Prof Murawski says yet another reason why China wants to clean up the cryptocurrency business on its own patch is the possible threat to the electricity system.
The process uses a huge amount of electricity and has tended to be set up in areas where cheap power is available. In China that has included Sichuan, which benefits from abundant and cheap hydro-electric power. But as profits rise thanks to the popularity of cryptos, governments may becoming less willing to allow miners to accrue huge benefits from a system that uses so much electricity it can threaten the stability of the power grid.
The crackdown on cryptos is not limited to China. Britain’s financial regulator said last month that Binance, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, cannot conduct any regulated activity and issued a warning to consumers about the platform.
Michael Saylor, co-founder of the business intelligence company MicroStrategy and one of cryptos’ biggest cheerleaders, recently bought an additional 13,005 bitcoins for roughly $489m at an average price of $37,617 per coin. And the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz just launched a $2bn crypto fund and announced it was “radically optimistic about crypto’s potential to restore trust and enable new kinds of governance”.
Most distros haven’t got to 5.15 yet, but openSUSE’s downstream project GeckoLinux boasts 5.16 of the Linux kernel and the latest Cinnamon desktop environment.
Some of the big-name distros have lots of downstream projects. Debian has been around for decades so has umpteen, including Ubuntu, which has dozens of its own, including Linux Mint, which is arguably more popular a desktop than its parent. Some have only a few, such as Fedora. As far as we know, openSUSE has just the one – GeckoLinux.
The SUSE-sponsored community distro has two main editions, the stable Leap, which has a slow-moving release cycle synched with the commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise; and Tumbleweed, its rolling-release distro, which gets substantial updates pretty much every day. GeckoLinux does its own editions of both: its remix of Leap is called “GeckoLinux Static”, and its remix of Tumbleweed is called “GeckoLinux Rolling”.
In some ways, GeckoLinux is to openSUSE as Mint is to Ubuntu. They take the upstream distro and change a few things around to give what they feel is a better desktop experience. So, while openSUSE has a unified installation disk image, which lets you pick which desktop you want, GeckoLinux uses a more Ubuntu-like model. Each disk image is a Live image, so you boot right into the desktop, give it a try, and only then install if you like what you see. That means that GeckoLinux offers multiple different disk images, one per desktop. It uses the Calamares cross-distro installation program.
SUSE has long been fond of less common Linux filesystems. When your author first used it, around version 5 or 6, it had ReiserFS when everyone else was on ext2. Later it used SGI’s XFS, and later still, Btrfs for the root partition and XFS for home. These days, it’s Btrfs and nothing but.
With GeckoLinux, these worries disappear because it replaces Btrfs with plain old ext4. There are some nice cosmetic touches, such as reorganised panel layouts, some quite nicely clean and restrained desktop themes, and better font rendering. Unlike Mint, though, GeckoLinux doesn’t add its own software: the final installed OS contains only standard openSUSE components from the standard openSUSE software repositories, plus some from the third-party Packman repository – which is where most openSUSE users get their multimedia codecs and things from.
We tried the new Cinnamon Rolling edition on our trusty Thinkpad T420, and it worked well. Because openSUSE doesn’t include any proprietary drivers or firmware, the machine’s Wi-Fi controller didn’t work right. (Oddly, it was detected and could see networks, but not connect to them.) So we had to use an Ethernet cable – but after an update and installing the kernel firmware package, all was well.
GeckoLinux did have problems with the machine’s hybrid Intel/Nvidia graphics once the Nvidia proprietary driver was installed. That’s not uncommon, too – Deepin and Ubuntu DDE had issues too.
This does reveal a small Gecko gotcha. Tumbleweed changes fast, and although it gets a lot of automated testing, sometimes stuff breaks. All rolling-release distros do. Component A depends on a specific version of Component B, but B just got updated and now A won’t work until it gets an update too, a day or two later.
This is where upstream Tumbleweed’s use of Btrfs can be handy. Btrfs supports copy-on-write snapshots, and openSUSE bundles a tool called Snapper which makes it easy to roll back breaking changes. This is a pivotal feature of SUSE’s MicroOS. In time, thanks to ZFS, this will come to Ubuntu too.
GeckoLinux doesn’t use Btrfs so doesn’t have snapshots, meaning when things break, you have to troubleshoot and fix it the old-fashioned way. If only for that reason, we’d recommend the GeckoLinux Static release channel.
Saying that, until we broke it by playing with GPU drivers, it worked well. Notably, it could mount the test box’s Windows partition using the new in-kernel ntfs3 driver just fine. Fedora 35 failed to boot when we tried that so that’s a definite win for GeckoLinux.
For Ubuntu or Fedora users who want to give openSUSE a go, GeckoLinux gives a slightly more familiar and straightforward installation experience. The author is especially fond of the Xfce edition and ran it for several years. The system-wide all-in-one YaST config tool in particular is a big win. ®
Recruitment tech company Globalization Partners is doubling its staff headcount in Galway to 320 in 2022 to aid its continuing growth.
Recruitment technology company Globalization Partners has announced plans to create 160 new jobs at its Irish base in Galway. The jobs boost will see the company double its Galway staff headcount to 320 in 2022. Jobs will be available across the board at the company’s Galway office, which serves as its EMEA centre of excellence.
The announcement comes following a major funding injection for the international firm. Globalization Partners recently raised $200m in funding from Vista Credit Partners, an organisation focused on the enterprise software, data and technology markets. The investment now values Globalization Partners at $4.2bn.
While its Galway facility will benefit from a major jobs boost, the company plans to continue to expand its share in the global remote working market. As well as the Galway growth, the company will also be expanding its teams in other locations.
Globalization Partners provides tech to other remote-first teams all over the world. Its platform simplifies and automates entity access, payroll, time and expense management, benefits, data and reporting, performance management, employee status changes and locally compliant contract generation. Its customer base includes CoinDesk, TaylorMade and Chime. The company’s new customer acquisition increased two-and-a-half fold from 2020 to 2021.
“Globalization Partners is uniquely positioned to capitalise on the massive opportunity we see ahead of us,” said Nicole Sahin, the company’s CEO and founder.
Sahin said her company’s combination of tech with its global team of HR, legal and customer service experts “who understand the local customs, regulatory and legal requirements in each geography we serve” were key to its success.
David Flannery, president of Vista Credit Partners said that the company’s role “in transforming the remote work industry has been truly remarkable.”
Flannery said that as a customer of Globalization Partners, his organisation had “witnessed first-hand” the company’s “best-in-class legal compliance, the quality of the user experience, and the deep expertise and support they provide,”
He added that the two companies would work to “further capitalise” on the “untapped” global remote working market, expanding their platform to new customers in new markets.
“Over the past decade, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our business, building our global presence and technology platform to support the evolving and complex talent needs of growing companies,” said Bob Cahill, president of Globalization Partners. “With Vista as our investment partner, we will be able to drive further growth and continue building innovative products to meet the increasing needs of our customers at scale.”
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But bear in mind that with more than one device, or person, using your connection simultaneously, including updates and downloads when idle, slower broadband packages can quickly get choked.
Reposition your router
If your broadband connection is fast enough but your wifi is weak, there are things you can do. If possible, move the router closer to the centre of the house, or towards the rooms in which you need the strongest signal. Keep it in the open, not in a cabinet, and away from solid and metallic objects.
And try to position it away from dense walls, particularly those made out of concrete blockwork or with pipes and wires running through them.
Check your settings
Most modern routers will automatically select the best settings for your home, but you can manually check using the web interface of your router accessed through a browser on a computer. Consult the help pages for your ISP’s router for how to do so.
Wifi operating at 2.4GHz uses a range of frequency “channels”, only some of which do not overlap with each other. To reduce interference from your neighbours’ wifi, switch to channel 1, 6 or 11, which do not overlap, and therefore are less likely to cause or suffer interference.
If you have a connection under 200Mbps, enabling prioritisation or “quality of service” for your key devices, might help. This stops other things from sucking up all the available bandwidth – it will prevent a game download on an Xbox cutting off a video call on your laptop, for instance.
Set a strong wifi password using at least WPA2 security, not the lowest WEP option. This will make sure no wifi thieves can log on to your network and steal your bandwidth.
Check your devices
An internet slowdown may be down to your devices rather than your router. For older computers, upgrading the wifi adapter may help. USB wifi 5 adapters cost under £15, while the latest wifi 6 models cost about £50, but you will need a compatible router to take advantage of the extra speed.
For a non-portable device, such as a media streamer or a console, use an ethernet cable if it is close to the router, as this will be faster and more reliable than wifi.
If you have about 40 devices connected at once, consider disconnecting unnecessary ones to help provide more bandwidth for those you need most.
Weaker routers struggle with lots of devices connected at once.
Extend the wifi reach
If your wifi can’t reach parts of your house you can extend the signal of your current router with add-on gadgets.
Powerline networking devices use your home’s power cables to transmit data. They typically cost between £20 and £70. They plug into standard electrical sockets with one connected to the router via an ethernet cable, and others placed about the home providing ethernet ports and/or wifi for your devices. The speed you get through them is dependent on the condition of your electrical wiring.
Wifi extenders (£25-70) do a similar thing, but simply connect to your router via wifi, then rebroadcast it for other devices.
A network switch (under £20) can add more ethernet ports to your router if you need to connect more devices.
Upgrade to a better router
Replacing your existing router is often the most effective way to improve your wifi, but is also the most costly. Before committing to a third-party router, speak to your ISP as it may be able to provide you with a more modern one for free. Virgin and other ISPs are currently rolling out more powerful wifi 6-capable routers.
Otherwise, there are broadly two options: a beefy single router with much more powerful wifi broadcasting ability than the cheap one provided by your ISP, or a mesh system, which uses a series of satellites dotted about your home to blanket it in wifi.
Both typically use your existing router as a modem and then broadcast their own more robust wifi network.
Single unit wifi 6 routers start at about £60 but can reach the hundreds for powerful gaming-orientated devices. They connect to your old ISP box via ethernet cable, which means they are often easier to place in a more central area of your home. Running a long ethernet cable under floorboards, carpets, behind skirting boards or picture rails, or just under furniture can help keep things neat.
Good wifi 5 mesh systems start at under £100 for a triple pack of satellites, which should be enough for most homes with connections under 200Mbps. For those with faster broadband, good tri-band wifi 6 models cost about £300.