Charity shops see business boom as lockdowns end

Across the world people have been locked indoors due to social distancing restrictions because of the ongoing global crisis of the coronavirus COVID-19. It seems that many people have spent that time spring cleaning their homes, with donations to charity shops after the first lockdowns booming. With second and third lockdowns around the world finally lifting it seems charity shops once again are seeing record highs in sales. 

Robin Osterley of the Charity Retail Association (CRA) told the Observer newspaper in England: “We’re anticipating very strong trading when we open up.” Thoughts followed that there would be an especially high number of donations following the Christmas period, as well as people who may have found themselves having done slightly too much online shopping in the past year. 

With social distancing and lockdown restrictions in place to restrict the transmission of COVID-19, charity shops have had to keep their doors closed through most of the year as they were counted as unessential businesses. As a result, shops in the UK were reportedly losing more than 28 million gbp a month since March 2020

In the UK however reports to the BBC described queues outside of high street charity shops with people eager to get in and look inside. Save the Children was one charity that reported a roughly 100% increase in sales for the same period last year. Some suggest the demand comes from the rise in number of people out of work or with reduced income, while others look at the closure of highstreet shops and high online prices as one reason people may be scouring for a bargain. Increased awareness for sustainability could also be another motivating reason for people to be buying second hand and used items. 

There is potentially a mis-match between supply and demand however, as reports were that large amounts of smart clothes were donated, suggesting the trend for comfort loungewear seems set to continue.

New Fifty Pound note unveiled by the Bank of England

The Royal Bank of England has unveiled its latest new note now completing its switch from paper to plastic polymer notes. In late March 2021, the bank announced the new Fifty Pound note would shortly be released featuring the image of famous mathematician Alan Turing. 

Turing was instrumental to the Allies victory in World War Two in his work as a codebreaker. His work went on to be fundamental in the development of computer science theory and he is widely acknowledged for his role in developing now familiar concepts like algorithms. 

What should have been a story of Turing’s fantastically successful technological advancements however is marred by tragedy. Turing died by overdose in 1954 at the far too soon age of 41 years old. His death was categorised as suicide though there are those that dispute this claim. Things turned sour for Turing after he was outed as a homosexual and prosecuted as one. 

In 1952 Turing was accused of indecency with a 19 year old man and subjected to forced sterilisation as punishment. The shame and trauma from the ordeal sent him into a downward spiral. After his death he was pardoned by the Queen, and his story made into Hollywood fodder in the 2014 release The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Turing now features on the new Fifty Pound note song with the ominous quote: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.” 

Whilst only a small number of people currently report needing to use the Fifty Pound note, it is thought circulation of the tender will increase as inflation continues to cause the deflation of the British pound. 

Further concerns surrounding the use of currency come as a result of the ongoing coronavirus global pandemic of COVID-19 and people’s reluctance to use cash.

What is an NFT?

The art world has been going wild recently over a recent surge in interest surrounding NFTs. But what is an NFT? The acronym stands for non-fungible token. Yes, non-fungible… the basic meaning of this is, unlike bitcoin that can be traded for other bitcoin and you’ll have the exact same thing, an NFT is more like a trade of playing cards. This means you could trade something of equal value but end up with a different token at the end. 

The application of this type of blockchain technology to digital art has been heralded and critiqued widely. While some people see NFTs as a way to deprivigalise more traditional forms of art and open up the art market to those outside of its traditional centres, others cite moral and environmental arguments for why such cryptocurrencies are a bad idea. 

One particular argument against the use of NFTs for digital art is that it affects the experience of the viewer. A benefit of digital art currently is that it retains the aura of the original work with each viewing, unaffected by what number of copies it is. Some are arguing that inscribing an NFT to a work would fix an original of the piece in such a way that the aura of the work  subsequently viewed elsewhere as a copy would be destroyed, and experience of the audeineed diminished. 

The hype for NFTs in the artwork has increased so much that even high-end auction houses such as Christie’s have been getting in on them. Though initially traded between friends for at most $100 USD, a secondary market for digital artwork NFTs made from files such as MP4s, GIFs and JPEGS, has quickly emerged. 

The digital artist Beeple is the pseudonym of NFT innovator Mike Winkelmann who, until October 2020, had never sold a work for more than a hundred dollars. Come March 11th 2021, a recent digital collage from Beeple titled ‘Everydays – The First 5000 Days’ sold for a staggering $69 million USD at a Christie’s online auction. The price was far beyond the estimated $35 million and $15 million more than the painting Nymphéas by Monet which was sold via the auction house in 2014.

Giant shipping container blocks global trade routes on Suez Canal

The grand Suez Canal in Egypt has been blocked by one of the world’s largest shipping containers this week. In an extraordinary (almost) turn of events, the ship has been caught in the side of the canal as it tried to turn around. 

The news is not good for the global shipping industry which runs around 10 percent of its trade via the canal. As a result, the waterway is one of Egypt’s top earners in foreign currency, and one the country has invested in much over the years. The most recent investment in the canal’s structure by Egypt was in 2015 when the government of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi authorised a substantial expansion in the canal’s width to allow for it to accommodate larger vessels – like the one currently stuck. 

The Suez Canal provides one of the only direct routes from East to West and vice versa for trade shipping. The canal has been a crucial link in the global industries for natural gas, oil and shipping containers since it opened in 1869. The stuck ship comes only as the latest disruption to these international trades that have been already severely affected over the past year due to the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. 

The stuck ship is called the MV Ever Given and originated from Panama. It often carries trade between Europe and Asia via shipping container and is considered one of the world’s largest. The humongous container ship was grounded on Tuesday of last week, blocking traffic along the waterway ever since. 

The ship was trying to turn sideways in the canal although the reasons for why have remained a mystery to the Suez Canal Authority. The boat suffered a ‘blackout’ whilst in transit but the logistics company in charge of the ship have declined further comment. As of Saturday 27th March 2021 the ship remains blocking trade via the canal. 

Digital currency Ethereum reaches an all time high

Digital currencies have been making international news since blockchain pioneer currency Bitcoin reached an all time high at the beginning of 2021. Riding on the coat tails of Bitcoin’s success and the increased interest in digital currencies, online coin Ethereum has also reach a peak in its market value. 

As of Sunday February 28th 2021 on Ethereum coin was worth $1,380 United States Dollar after reaching highs of $1,960 United States Dollars on Friday 19th February 2021. In comparison, Bitcoin reached a peak of $57,849 United States Dollars on Sunday 21st February 2021, before a relative decline to $46,189 United States Dollars as of Friday 19th February 2021. 

The spike comes as more companies are becoming interested in the digital currencies as the number in circulation begins to reach towards its limitations. Bitcoin for example will only ever have a maximum of 21 million coins in circulation. There are currently 18.5 million coins that have been mined, meaning there are only 2.5 million coins left to be unearthed. With far more less to mine, there were 72 million Ether coins launched at generation point but only 18 million Ether have currently been mined. 

Interest in the online currencies was peaked when Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer and billionaire tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, tweeted on the subject. In a trend for stocks to rise on anything the cult celebrity figure comments on, Bitcoin and Ethereum proved no exception. He went on to comment that “That said, BTC & ETH do seem high lol”. 

Fuelling the speculation around digital currencies Musk also commented: “Money is just data that allows us to avoid the inconvenience of barter …” The remark came after a dramatic purchase by Tesla of $1.5 billion Bitcoins. The record purchase is one reason prices for the coin may have risen so high in early to mid February.

Gamestop caught in the middle of protest against hedgehfund shorts

In an unlikely turn of events this month, humble games retailer Gamestop has been caught in the middle of an spontaneous campaign protesting the practices of hedge fund managers in the stock market. 

So what happened?

Let’s begin at the beginning. The campaign to raise Gamestop’s shares began on Reddit. The reddit thread is called “WallStreetBets’ and a place for anyone interested in talking about the stock market or trying to pick up some tips. The users of this Reddit thread came together and decided to sell the Wall Street short-sellers on stock a message through a mass online protest where they would encourage the buying of Gamestop shares to artificially raise the price. In this fashion, hedge fund managers who were shorting the stock had the potential to lose incredibly large sums of money. 

Did it work?

The question of ‘Did it work?’ is a good one, and maybe we don’t quite know the answer yet. From an average of around $20 United States Dollars a share from Gamesop beginning in early October 2020, the stock price rose to a peak high of $357.51 United States Dollars on Wednesday 27th January 2021. Whilst prices reached a second peak of $325 United States Dollars on the 29th January 2021, they have since fallen and peaked again just over $100 United States Dollars since the end of February 2021. Whether the stock can be prevented from falling short ultimately remains to be seen. 

But what is shorting anyway?
Shorting in a term most of us know from Hollywood films such as ‘The Big Short’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, yet our understanding of what the term actually means might not go much further than that. What shorting means is the selling of stock not owned by the seller, which ideally then drops in value and the seller can buy back the lower priced stock, which if there is a significant difference, means lots of profit.

Alexa, are you a spy?

Amazon is attempting to address privacy concerns by attaching more privacy settings to its domestic spy bots Alexa and Echo. It’s still astonishing to me that anyone would voluntarily put such devices in their own homes (that used to be the job of secret police units), but maybe I’m just old fashioned. Speaking of which, there is nothing old fashioned about online courier quotes; nothing at all.

If you believe Alexa isn’t listening to everything you do while she’s “asleep,” you’ve got another think coming. (Yes, it’s “think,” not “thing.”) That bot is always active, always absorbing your words and storing them as data to be used as Amazon sees fit.

I know, I know, you have nothing to hide so you don’t care. If Amazon wants to record you having sex, so be it—you’re not bashful. But as Ed Snowden and others have pointed out, saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is akin to saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. Then again, free speech doesn’t seem to be very fashionable these days, so maybe that argument doesn’t resonate much anymore.

Last year Amazon laughably introduced voice controls that allows surveillance targets—er, users, to tell Alexa to “delete” their previous question or request, or even the whole day’s questions and requests! Yes, I’m sure the data is immediately and permanently wiped from Alexa’s memory and Amazon’s servers. Just like Instagram (Facebook) gets rid of your private messages and photos when you “delete” them …

Nevertheless we’ll play along here. Recently Amazon went a step further, allowing users to choose whether their voice recordings are saved by Alexa: you can do this by going to “settings” then “Alexa privacy” then “manage your Alexa data” then “automatically delete recordings.”

In case you were wondering, Amazon discourages the setting, stating that by letting Alexa save your voice recordings you give yourself a better and more personalised experience. And anyway, the transcripts of your voice recordings are still automatically saved for 30 days, at which point Amazon says they’re all deleted.

That reminds me, I’m trying to sell this bridge I just inherited. Super low price. Let me know if you’re interested in the comments section.

Bitcoin price peaks over $52,000 AUD

Bitcoin is an online currency that has been on the radar for many people for the past few years. Renewed interest in the digital currency has come about though this January 2021 as the online coin’s value has skyrocketed into the new year, and peaked at just over $52,000 Australian Dollars on the 8th January 2021. 

There are many speculations for the reasons behind the niche currency’s sudden peak, but rapid increases and decreases in the value of the online coin are not new. Other notable peaks occurred in 2013 and again in 2017, when Bitcoin’s price went from $5,000 USD to $10,000 USD in a matter of months. 

Jump to 2021 and Bitcoin’s surging popularity has seen a meteoric 40% rise in 2021, quadrupling its value for the same quarter last year. Prices rose steadily into early January before starting a predictable steady and continuing deterioration in price. 

Bitcoin dates back to 2008, when it was supposedly invented by Satoshi Nakamoto – a mysterious and as yet unconfirmed figure. The software was released at open-source in early 2009 in a transaction that took place a prearranged exchange between Nakamoto and an early Bitcoin user. 

Papa John’s pizza chain in the USA was the first business to receive a real world transaction of Bitcoin in 2010. A Bitcoin miner chose to spend 10,000 bitcoins on a pizza in Florida – a transaction that would now make the pizza worth roughly $460,000,000 AUD. 
At its origin the digital currency was worth less than $0.01 USD a coin at its conception at the beginning of 2010, only reaching $0.08 USD per coin in July. The value of the coin comes from its scarcity as only 21 million Bitcoins will ever be allowed to be mine. As of January 2021 there are just under 3 million coins left to mine meaning roughly 88% percent of all Bitcoins available are currently in circulation.

Rice farmers join in one of India’s biggest protests

Rice farmers in India have been making global news headlines over the past few weeks for taking part in one of India’s biggest ever protests. The rice farmers are in protest against changes to the law made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will significantly change the way they do business. 

The proposed changes to the law currently stand to affect the country;s 146 million farms. The current state run system is said by the Prime Minister to be having an effect of too much constraint on the selling of rice and agricultural industry. As an alternative, Mr. Modi is advocating for market-orientated reforms he believes would improve the rice farmer’s ability to do business in the free market. 

Many of the local rice farmers however feel differently. It is not unusual in India for a farm to be less than three acres in size, and local farmers fear that larger corporations will come in and buy up their smaller plots of land. Their biggest fear is that allowing intervention by these larger companies in this way, the overall price of rice will be lowered and severely affect their business earnings. 

In defiance and protest of the current regulations being overhauled, many rice farmers have chosen to burn their crops. This move comes as a reaction to the pollution response fine and prison time set up by the government, to punish farmers who burn their crops. The fine is up to 10 million rupees, which is roughly $176,000 Australian dollars. 
Protests so far have taken place all over the country, with marches in the capital of Mumbai, and other areas like New Delhi and Punjab. More tension is caused by the protest due to the ongoing coronavirus worldwide pandemic that is currently worsening in India, exacerbated by the gathering of crowds to protest, as well as air pollution caused by crop burning.

Music to my ears! Top headphones of 2020

Whether you’re looking to bring out the bass or some wireless freedom, shopping for headphones can be both a confusing and overwhelming task. So do not fear! We are here to bring you some of the best headphones of 2020, and bring some of those sweet, sweet sonic soundwaves to your eagerly awaiting ears. With 2021 fast approaching, what are you waiting for? Now is the time to upgrade your listening experience!

Headphone trends have taken some deviant turns in recent years. While a dancing black silhouette on a bright single colour pop background, ipod in one hand and swaying headphone wires dancing also was the aesthetic that made the early 00s Apple ipod advertisement iconic, the twitching wires seem a throwback to an almost ancient past. Since 2016 Apple has pushed its airpod wireless headphones into the foreground of the market, citing them as the newest development in audio consumer products whilst in reality utilising long available bluetooth technology. There have been many variations of both sport, recreational and professional headphones that have taken both large and small sized approaches according to the latest fashion trends. Dr Dre’s equally ubiquitous over-the-head beats headphones were all the rage upon their release in 2008, and the tug of war between overt and discrete headphone usage has been raging ever since. 

So what should I look for in 2020? For those wanting both sound quality and freedom for their, the Beats Powerbeats Pro have been a popular choice for many looking to get sweaty in their workout without fear of flooding their headphones to the grave. Elsewhere, Sony has proved themselves a consistent top player in the headphone market, and their release of the Sony WF-SP800N Wireless Earbud has proved no exception. The ergonomically designed headphones are made to sit snugly in the users ears while providing the highest sound quality for both work and play.