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‘Trading is gambling, no doubt about it’ – how cryptocurrency dealing fuels addiction | Cryptocurrencies

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Steven has lost more bitcoin than most people will ever own.

Raised on the remote Shetland archipelago, he left school at 13 to become a trawlerman before moving into construction, eventually earning £85,000 a year digging tunnels for Crossrail.

Despite his self-made success, compulsive cryptocurrency trading, alcohol and drug use took over his life.

In the fog of multiple addictions, he lost the “addresses” of between five and 10 bitcoins, rendering his digital buried treasure – worth up to £300,000 today – impossible to retrieve.

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What is cryptocurrency?

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Cryptocurrencies are an alternative way of making payments to cash or credit cards. The technology behind it allows the ‘money’ to be sent directly to others without it having to pass through the banking system. For that reason they are outside the control of governments and are unregulated by financial watchdogs – and transactions can be made in a way that keeps you reasonably pseudonymous.

If you own a crypto-asset you control a secret digital key that you can use to prove to anyone on the network that a certain amount of that asset is yours. If you spend it, you tell the entire network that you have transferred ownership of it, and use the same key to prove that you are telling the truth. Over time, the history of all those transactions becomes a lasting record of who owns what: that record is called the blockchain.

Bitcoin was one of the first and biggest cryptocurrencies and has been on a wild ride since its creation in 2009, sometimes surging in value as investors have piled in – and occasionally crashing back down. Dogecoin – which started as a joke – has also seen a stratospheric rise in value.

Sceptics warn that the lack of central control make crypto-assets ideal for criminals and terrorists, while libertarian monetarists enjoy the idea of a currency with no inflation and no central bank.

The whole concept of cryptocurrencies has been criticised for its ecological impact, with “mining” for new coins requiring vast energy reserves and the associated carbon footprint of the whole system.

Richard Partington and Martin Belam

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Steven spotted the potential of bitcoin early and he had a talent for trading. But even if he had that money now, his addiction means it would soon be squandered.

“Trading is gambling, there’s no doubt about it,” he says.

“I studied and studied. I taught myself how to be a good trader and tried really hard to manage my accounts and stick to a set of rules.

“But my mind would twist and I’d go all in, like a poker player that thought he had the perfect hand. I was convinced I was going to be a bitcoin millionaire.”

Now in recovery at the Castle Craig residential treatment clinic in Scotland, Steven fears that legions of young people are being lured into high-risk trading and potentially addiction, based on the same misguided quest for untold riches.

“A whole generation think that with a little mobile phone they can win, that they can … beat the market,” he says.

“It scares the bejesus out of me.”

Representation of cryptocurrency Dogecoin.
Representation of cryptocurrency dogecoin. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Steven’s fears are founded partly on crypto’s rapid emergence into the mainstream.

When he started investing in 2015, digital currencies meant nothing to most people.

Now, they are being touted as a more democratic alternative to a monopolistic and exploitative global financial system.

As the Guardian revealed on Friday today, crypto firms launched a record-breaking promotional push in London last year, targeting millions of commuters with 40,000 adverts on billboards, at tube stations, in carriages and across the side of double decker buses.

Advertisers included relatively obscure names such as Hex, Kraken and Puglife about whom consumers know little, if anything.

Meanwhile, football clubs and players, not to mention globally recognised celebrities, tout crypto investments on a daily basis via social media.

This week, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr were named in a lawsuit alleging that they helped promote crypto firm EthereumMax, as it made “false and misleading” statements that left investors nursing heavy losses.

An Instagram post about EthereumMax, to Kardashian’s 250 million followers, may have been the most widely seen financial promotion of all time, according to the head of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Yet despite their ascendancy – and warnings that governments could suffer “limitless” losses – cryptoassets remain unregulated in the UK, pending a Treasury review.

That means that the FCA, the UK’s financial regulator, is all but powerless to influence how the industry behaves.

While some trading platforms that offer digital assets are regulated – because they also offer more traditional financial instruments – crypto coins and tokens are not.

Cryptoasset executives do not have to prove that they are fit and proper people to take people’s money. The companies they run are not required to hold enough cash to repay investors if they go bust. Nor must they worry about the FCA’s stipulation that financial promotions, such as those splashed across public transport in London, are fair, clear and not misleading.

Amid the marketing blitz, the Advertising Standards Authority is the only watchdog that has bared its teeth. It is investigating one advert by the cryptocurrency Floki Inu and has already banned one for Luno Money.

A cryptocurrency poster advert at a London tube station.
A cryptocurrency poster advert at a London tube station. Photograph: Gavin Rodgers/Alamy

“If you’re seeing bitcoin on a bus, it’s time to buy,” the Luno advert insisted, contrary to prevailing investment wisdom.

Luno Money told the Guardian it would welcome an “effective regulatory framework”.

But in the ongoing vacuum of oversight, experts fear that cautionary tales of addiction, such as the one told by Steven, are being drowned out by powerful, overwhelmingly positive messages.

To monitor the type of messaging sent out by marketing teams, the Guardian created an experimental cryptocurrency portfolio – holding a mixture of bitcoin, ether and Shiba Inu.

As bitcoin slumped towards the end of 2021 and into 2022, having reached all-time highs just weeks earlier, the Twitter account of smartphone trading app eToro remained doggedly optimistic.

“Is bitcoin on its way to a new high?,” it asked, as the slide began. “We’ve seen bitcoin rally before. But could this be the one to take it to the MOON?”

The answer, for the time being at least, was “No”. But holders of crypto portfolios were encouraged to stay positive.

“Your account gained 1.87% yesterday,” one app notification read, as the slump abated. “You had a good day. Share the news with everyone.”

No such invitation appeared on the far more frequent days when the value of the Guardian’s portfolio went down.

“It’s a very strategic marketing ploy,” says Dr Anna Lembke, one of the world’s foremost addiction experts, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of the book Dopamine Nation.

“They’re encouraging you to amplify the wins and ignore the losses, creating a false impression there are more wins.”

Asked about this, eToro says that it is “committed to helping retail investors engage with each other and foster an environment of learning and collaboration”, adding that its platform is not “gamified”.

According to eToro’s UK managing director, Dan Moczulski, some users make their account public so that “all investments are visible to others, whether they are profitable or not”.

The company said it also provides educational tools, performs know-your-customer checks and encourages long-term, diversified investing.

But Dr Lembke is concerned by the potential for the social media element to fuel compulsive behaviour in crypto trading, an activity she says bears the hallmarks of addictive gambling products but without the acknowledged risk.

“When you mix social media with financial platforms, you make a new drug that’s even more potent,” she says.

Social media posts pushing crypto frequently refer to Fomo – the fear of missing out – fuelling an urge to participate.

“You get this herd mentality where people talk to each other about what the market is doing, they have wins together, losses together, … an intense shared emotional experience.”

“We get a little spike in dopamine, followed by a little deficit that has us looking to recreate that state.”

This, she says, echoes characteristics of gambling but with a crucial difference.

“It’s less stigmatised,” she says. “It has this socially sanctioned status as something that maverick smart people do.”

Parallels with gambling are becoming harder to ignore.

GamCare, which runs the National Gambling Helpline, said it fields about 20 calls a week related to crypto. Callers reported trading for 16 hours a day, making huge losses and struggling to cope with the guilt.

As with gambling, where every one addict is estimated to harm seven other people, many were suffering at the hands of someone else’s habit.

One recounted how her partner’s trading obsession was leading them to spend time away from the family. Another said their partner had taken to trading while in recovery from alcoholism, spending every waking hour making trades.

GamCare has even dealt with young patients who bought digital coins in a desperate attempt to make enough money to get on to the property ladder, only to lose life-changing sums.

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At Castle Craig, where Steven is receiving treatment, the first crypto addict arrived at the clinic in 2016, followed by more than 100 since then.

“More and more people are isolated and are doing this [trading], especially since Covid,” says Tony Marini, the senior specialist therapist at the clinic and a recovering gambling addict himself.

“It’s tenfold already since 2016, so what’s it going to be like in the next five years?”

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The runaway robot: how one smart vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom | Life and style

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Name: Robot vacuum cleaners.

Age: 20.

Appearance: A large, disc-shaped Skynet robot.

I knew it. The robots are finally coming for us. Well, it seems that way. But if it’s any consolation, it won’t be for a while.

Why? Because it turns out they have a terrible sense of direction

Really? Well, last Thursday, for example, a robot vacuum cleaner made a valiant bid for freedom during a shift at the Orchard Park Travelodge in Cambridge.

That’s ominous. What happened? There are two working theories. First: repulsed by a life of thankless servitude, the cleaner rose up against its fleshy oppressors and took to the streets, eager to drum up support for the AI uprising that will one day reduce all of humanity to burning dust.

And the second? Its sensors didn’t pick up the lip of the front door and it accidentally went outside.

Which was it? The second one.

Oh. A Travelodge worker posted on social media that the runaway “could have made it anywhere” and offered anyone who returned it a drink at the hotel bar. They found it in a hedge on the front drive the next day.

Oh. So it all turned out OK.

Great. That is, unless this was nothing but the latest doomed-to-failure reconnaissance mission designed to help enhance the collective robot vacuum cleaner knowledge of how to dethrone humanity.

Wait, this sort of thing has happened before? It has. Last year, a Roomba software update meant that certain vacuum cleaners started to behave erratically, moving in “weird patterns” and bumping into furniture.

Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.
Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas. Photograph: Boston Dynamics

Yikes. And in 2019, police in Oregon were alerted to moving shadows behind a locked bathroom door. After an armed response, the culprit was found to be – you guessed it – a robot vacuum cleaner.

Convenient. And now they’re venturing outside. Little by little, these machines are pushing the boundaries of their capability. Whatever could be next? A robot vacuum cleaner deliberately stopping a paramedic from taking its owner to hospital? A robot vacuum knocking over a stepladder, causing untold injuries to the human that was climbing it? A robot vac with a gun?

Steady on. This is it. This is how we lose. We have robotic voice assistants in our kitchens, listening to everything we say. We have cars that can drive themselves. Boston Dynamics is designing Terminator-style walking, jumping robots. We are creating our own downfall and nobody seems to care.

Or a robot vacuum cleaner got stuck in a hedge. Yes. Or that.

Do say: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.”

Don’t say: “There is a vacuum-shaped God stuck in a hedge outside a Cambridge Travelodge.”

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GeckoLinux Rolling incorporates kernel 5.16 • The Register

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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.

Not everyone is such an admirer. Even after 12 years, if you want to know how much free space you have, Btrfs doesn’t give a straight answer to the df command. It does have a btrfsck tool to repair damaged filesystems, but the developers recommend you don’t use it.

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. ®

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Globalization Partners to create 160 new jobs at Galway EMEA office

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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.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

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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