Material purchases can bring happiness

With holiday shopping season in full swing, everyone’s looking for the perfect gift. For those who like to shop, there’s good news: Material things can bring happiness. In a recent study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers have shown that material purchases, from sweaters to skateboards, provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas experiential purchases, like a trip to the zoo, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.

The majority of previous studies examining material and experiential purchases and happiness focused on what people anticipated about shopping or remembered about items and experiences. The University of British Columbia’s Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn wanted to know how people felt in the moment, say the first weeks with a new sweater or tablet computer. To answer this question, they assessed the real-time, momentary happiness people got from material and experiential purchases, up to five times per day for two weeks. Material purchases consisted of items such as reindeer leggings, portable speakers, or coffee makers, and examples of experiential purchases were a weekend ski trip, tickets to a hockey game, or spa gift cards.

By having people record their thoughts in the weeks following their purchases, as well as one month after their purchases, the researchers showed that material and experiential purchases bring happiness in two distinct flavors. Material purchases bring repeated doses of happiness over time in the weeks after they are bought, whereas experiential purchases offer a more intense but fleeting dose of happiness. Additionally, when people looked back on their purchases 6 weeks after Christmas, they felt more satisfaction about experiential purchases.

“The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires,” says Mr. Weidman, “Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room. The concert will provide an intense thrill for one spectacular night, but then it will end, and will no longer provide momentary happiness, aside from being a happy memory. In contrast, the new couch will never provide a thrilling moment to match the concert, but will keep the owner snug and comfortable each day throughout the winter months.”

As you go forth in your holiday shopping this season, either for yourself or others, think about what form of happiness you want, before making a purchase.

Things you should never gift anyone on Christmas

Christmas is less than two weeks away and let’s be honest, you probably haven’t even started shopping. That’s OK. What isn’t OK is waiting until the last minute and buying a bunch of lame gifts so you can cross all the names off your shopping list. Don’t be that person. Christmas gifts aren’t something you HAVE to buy. They’re an opportunity to connect and strengthen you relationship with someone. Look at it this way: If you don’t want to be around to see someone’s face when they open your gift, then it’s probably lame. But just in case you still need some guidance, here are 10 things that are totally unacceptable to give as as christmas gifts — NO MATTER WHAT.

1. TIE

The fact that the tie industry has tricked so many people into buying a tie for the man in their life on just about every major holiday is subliminal advertising at its finest. Don’t be one of those lemmings who marches into Macy’s in desperate search of the perfect-patterned tie to go with your Pop’s pinstripe suit. If you’re dead set on buying somebody a piece of cloth that hangs around their neck, consider a stylish scarf or neckerchief they’ll be stoked to wear.



It doesn’t matter if it’s an antique, or if it says “Best Friends Forever” on it, or if you crafted it out of driftwood you collected on some deserted beach. Please, do not give people picture frames for Christmas. Instead, consider a piece of unique art, framed or otherwise, or perhaps a thoughtfully curated photo book of your favorite moments together.


Wine is for dinner parties. Whiskey, scotch and rare, small-batch rums are for gifting. But mostly just scotch. That is all.


As a general rule, you probably shouldn’t do too much Christmas shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Nothing says “I don’t know anything about you, so here you go” like a bag full of chemicals. Instead, consider gifting someone a relaxing massage, or, if you have the coin, some spa time.

5. MUG

Just like picture frames, the variety and customizability of mugs will make them a tempting gift for the not-so-savvy shopper. I mean, everybody drinks coffee, right? Well everybody shits too, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to find a 24-pack of Charmin Ultra Soft under the Christmas Tree, does it? Instead, get, like, a tiny bit creative and buy somebody a rad tea set or maybe a practical but stylish tumbler or thermos.


Look, you really have no idea if somebody is going to like a certain scent enough to consistently spray it on their body. Even worse, they could be allergic. And if you already know somebody likes a certain type of perfume or cologne, what’s the point of buying more? You’re sort of just helping them stock up. You might as well get them a year’s supply of toothpaste while you’re at it.


Hopefully you’ve learned by now that personal hygiene products do not make for good Christmas gifts. But just in case you haven’t, no, you do not want to buy somebody a small, battery-powered, vibrating device with which they can trim their nose hairs.


If you’re giving somebody socks and underwear, then you probably know them well enough to to know what type of socks and underwear they like, which means you shouldn’t be giving them socks and underwear. You’re better than that. Take it up a notch and get them literally anything else.


Fruit cakes were once in style. Then they were out of style. Now you might think they’re in style again because gifting one would be ironic. But you would be wrong. That would just be stupid. And even if somebody you know enjoys the hell out of fruitcakes, frankly, you should still not get them a fruitcake — unless you’re a time traveler going back to the 1960s.


Paperweights were once useful because computers didn’t exist. That was a long time ago. Today, “paperweight” is a term applied to any seemingly interesting doodad that is so useless it must be assigned a function. Hence, it becomes a paperweight. But really, it’s a piece of crap you probably bought in a gift shop somewhere, and you should not subject an innocent person to the poor tastes that plagues most of us during impulse purchases.

Bank of America is trying to load up on patents for the technology behind bitcoin

Bankers may not think bitcoin will ever go fully mainstream, but they clearly believe there is value in the technology that powers such cryptocurrencies, known as blockchain.


On Dec. 17, the US Patent office published 10 blockchain-related patents filed by Bank of America in July 2014. The patents haven’t been granted yet, but the filings demonstrate the bank’s interest in using blockchain technology to revamp its backend operations, which, like other financial institutions, are largely paper-based.

The wide-ranging patents cover everything from a “cryptocurrency transaction payment system” which would let users make transactions using cryptocurrency, to risk detection, storing cryptocurrencies offline, and using the blockchain to measure fraudulent activity. (The blockchain is essentially a publicly available ledger that’s distributed to everyone within a network.)

Bank of America had no comment.

Financial institutions are quickly ramping up their research efforts around blockchain technology. Last week, IBM, JPMorgan, the London Stock Exchange, and Wells Fargo announced the Open Ledger Project, a new consortium that will focus on allowing businesses to easily build their own blockchain technology. Bank of America is a part of a consortium led by blockchain startup R3 that’s developing blockchain technology to be used in financial markets. The Aite Group estimates that banks have invested $75 million this year on blockchain tech, a figure the research firm forecasts will grow to $400 million in 2019.

Other financial institutions have been building up their blockchain-related intellectual property. Goldman Sachs filed a patent for its own cryptocurrency, SETLCoin, that would allow traders to execute and clear trades in real time.

It’s hard to speculate what Bank of America will do with these patents, if anything. But Coindesk notes these patents could be hinting at BofA working on a complete network based on blockchain.

Facebook and Google are fighting it out in Indian villages for the ultimate internet supremacy

Two of the world’s largest internet companies, Google and Facebook, are fighting for internet supremacy in Indian villages.

 On Dec. 16, Google CEO Sundar Pichai—on his first overseas visit as the new head of the search giant—addressed a packed ballroom in Delhi. Dressed in a casual grey shirt and jeans, the Indian Institute of Technology graduate spoke about how India is going to be central to Google’s expansion plans in the coming years.
 “Over the next three years, we plan to help more than 300,000 villages across India go online,” Pichai told a gathering of hundreds of journalists and developers in New Delhi.

With this rural push, Google is now on the battlefront with another internet giant, Facebook, to tap one of the largest internet user bases in the world. These firms are fighting it out to increase their usage—and, in turn, revenue—as Asia’s third largest economy offers them unprecedented opportunities.

“Companies want to improve their top line (revenue) and to drive this growth, new markets will be the key. If you want to have 30-40% growth, then markets like India give you the opportunity to do that,” Ravi Gururaj, chairman of India’s software industry body Nasscom’s product council, told Quartz.

“India is one of the world’s largest untapped markets,” he added. “And unlike China, which is a closed garden wall, India is open. And as India grows, companies will also improve their share of the pie. If you look at the return on investment, India has one of the highest for companies and therefore, it is a smart move to build a massive user base.”

India is forecast to have 426 million users online by June 2016, making it the second biggest in the world, even beating the US. And this despite the internet penetration in the country of 1.2 billion being less than 20%.

The push for rural India

In the past year, several global tech moguls have tried to woo Indian users—and the government.

Both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella have visited India and met prime minister Narendra Modi to discuss their ambitions and plans. Zuckerberg has met Modi twice and also hosted him at Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley earlier this year.

Pichai himself is also likely to meet Modi during this trip to India. The two had last met in September during Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley. At the event, Pichai reiterated several of Google’s plans for rural India: Android keyboards in 11 languages and Wi-Fi across 100 railway stations in India by 2016a nod to the growth of mobile-first internet users in the country.

Google will also launch a “tap to translate” program soon. Under this feature, a user will be able to translate an image or text to their own native language even without internet access. The scheme is likely to be rolled out next year.

“Regional languages are super important for us,” Caeser Sengupta, vice president of product management at Google told Quartz. “The next generation of users coming online, they are much more familiar and comfortable with their native language.”

In addition, Google is currently working with the government to roll out its ambitious balloon program, named Google Loon, which forms a large communication network using balloons in the earth’s stratosphere. This is specifically to provide connectivity in rural villages.

“By 2018, more than 500 million users will be online in India, from all 29 states, speaking over 23 languages, Rajan Anandan, a Google executive in India and Southeast Asia said. “But in 2020, over 30% of mobile internet will still be from 2G connections. Google has been on a long journey in India to build products that connect more people, regardless of cost, connectivity, language, gender, or location.”

Google versus Facebook

But Google is not going to have it easy in India, given Zuckerberg’s aggressive push for, a free, limited internet for the subscribers of Reliance Communications.

Facebook has already established itself as “the internet” in several other parts of the world, and rural India may not be an opportunity that Google wants to miss on—considering the sheer number of Indians that are expected to use the internet for the first time in the coming years. While a Facebook spokesperson told Quartz that the social media giant isn’t competing with anyone, and merely wants to help billions of people come online, net neutrality activists say that the service violates the spirit of an open internet.

With, Facebook is “desperately trying to make the poor of India into a market segment which does not use Google,” says Mahesh Murthy, co-founder of Mumbai-based venture capital firm Seedfund.

Like Google, Facebook has also been investing to localize for India. The social network is already available in 11 Indian languages, according to its website. These include Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi, among others. Facebook also has atranslation application for improving existing translations into regional Indian languages or help the network translate to other languages.

While it is too early to say who will the internet in India—especially since both the companies have to tackle the lack of internet infrastructure in the country—the war cry has been sounded. As Murthy said, the two companies are “playing a game of high-stakes chess.”

Pakistan’s army is building an arsenal of ”tiny” nuclear weapons—and it’s going to backfire

Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal and, within the next five to ten years, it is likely to double that of India, and exceed those of France, the United Kingdom, and China. Only the arsenals of the United States and Russia will be larger.

In recent years, Pakistan has boasted of developing “tactical nuclear weapons” to protect itself against potential offensive actions by India. In fact, Pakistan is the only country currently boasting of makingincreasingly tiny nuclear weapons (link in Urdu).

Pakistanis overwhelmingly support their army and its various misadventures. And the pursuit of tactical weapons is no exception. However, there is every reason why Pakistanis should be resisting—not welcoming—this development. The most readily identifiable reason is that, in the event of conflict between the two South Asian countries, this kind of weaponization will likely result in tens of thousands of dead Pakistanis, rather than Indians. And things will only go downhill from there.

Why would Pakistan want “the world’s smallest nuclear weapons”?

In late 1999, Pakistan’s general Pervez Musharraf (who took power of Pakistan through a military coup in Oct. 1999 and remained in power until 2008), along with a tight cabal of fellow military officials began a limited incursion into the Kargil-Dras area of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. While planning for this began in the fall of 1998, by the time Pakistani troops were discovered there in May of 1999 Pakistani forces had taken territory that was several miles into India-administered Kashmir.

Because the Pakistanis had the tactical advantage of occupying the ridge line, India took heavy losses in recovering the area from the invaders. The so-called Kargil War was the first conventional conflict between India and Pakistan since the two conducted nuclear tests in May 1998. International observers were wary that the conflict would escalate either in territory or aims, with the potential for nuclear exchange.

Fearing such escalation, then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif sought support from China and the United States. Both were adamant that Pakistan respect the line of control, which separated the portions of Jammu-Kashmir administered by India and Pakistan.

Under international pressure and branded an irresponsible state, Pakistan withdrew its forces from Kashmir. It initially claimed that the intruders were mujahedeen—but this was later found to be pure fiction. While Pakistan was isolated internationally, the international community widely applauded India’s restraint. The Kargil War provided the United States with the opportunity to reorient its relations away from Pakistan towards India, while at the same time, demonstrated to India that the United States would not reflexively side with Pakistan.

In retrospect, the Kargil war catalyzed the deepening security cooperation between the United States and India. It also galvanized a serious rethink in India about its domestic security apparatus, intelligence agencies’ capabilities, and overall military doctrine.

Crucially, India learned from this conflict that limited war is indeed possible under the nuclear umbrella. In Oct. 2000, air commodore Jasjit Singh, who retired as the director of operations of India’s air force and headed India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses until 2001, laid out the lineaments of an India’s limited war doctrine. However, no apparent effort was made to make this a viable military concept immediately and India persisted with its defensive posture. In late Dec. 2001, Pakistani terrorists from the Pakistan-backed military group Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked India’s parliament in New Delhi.

In response, India’s government began the largest military mobilizationsince the 1971 war, which resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. Just as the crisis was subsiding, another group of Pakistani terrorists, Lashkar-e-Taiba, attacked the wives and children of Indian military personnel in Kaluchak, Kashmir. India again seemed poised to take military action but ultimately backed down. The crisis was officially defused after India held elections in Kashmir later that fall. Pakistan concluded that its nuclear arsenal had successfully deterred India from attacking.

As Walter Ladwig has written, analysts identified several problems with India’s posture during that crisis. First, the Indian army took a long time to mobilize which gave Pakistan time to internationalize the conflict and to bring international pressure to bare upon India. Second, the mobilization of India’s strike corps had no element of surprise. Even Pakistan’s modest surveillance capabilities could easily detect their movements, and given their “lumbering composition,” could quickly discern their destination. Third, according to Ladwig, India’s holding corps’ were forward deployed to the border but lacked offensive power and could only conduct limited offensive tasks.

In response to these collective inadequacies, and the prospects of enduring threats from Pakistan, the Indian defense community began formalizing what came to be known as “Cold Start.” Ladwig, who wrote the first comprehensive account, claims that the doctrine aimed to pivot India away from its traditional defensive posture, and towards a more offensive one. It involved developing eight division-sized “integrated battle groups” that combined infantry, artillery, and armor which would be prepared to launch into Pakistani territory on short notice along several axes of advance.

These groups would also be closely integrated with support from the navy and air force. With this force posture, India could quickly mobilize these battle groups and seize limited Pakistani territory before the international community could raise objections.

India could then use this seized territory to force Pakistan into accepting the status quo in Kashmir. While Indians insist that this doctrine never existed, other analysts discount Indian demurrals and note slow—but steady—progress in developing these offensive capabilities. Irrespective of India’s protestations, Pakistanis take “Cold Start” to be a matter of Quranic fact.


Worried that its primary tools of using terrorism fortified by the specter of nuclear war, and fearing that India would be able to force acquiescence, Pakistan concluded that it could vitiate “Cold Start” by developing tactical nuclear weapons. As Pakistan’s former ambassador the United States and current ambassador to the United Nations,Maleeha Lodhi, explained, the basis of Pakistan’s fascination with tactical nuclear weapons is “to counterbalance India’s move to bring conventional military offensives to a tactical level.’’

Pakistani military and civilians often boast of their fast growing arsenal of the world’s smallest nuclear weapons and routinely update the world on the progress of the short-range missile, the Nasr, that would deliver this ever-shrinking payload.

Why should ordinary Pakistanis care?

While Pakistanis overwhelmingly applaud their army’s continued efforts to harass India in pursuit of Kashmir—a territory that Pakistanwas never entitled to but fought three wars to acquire by force—there are numerous reasons why Pakistanis should be more sanguine, or evenalarmed by Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons.

The first reality that should discomfit ordinary Pakistanis is that there is really no such thing as a “tactical nuclear weapon.” Even the smallest so-called tactical nuclear weapon will have strategic consequences. (Simply calling them “battlefield nuclear weapons” does not obviate this serious problem.) If Pakistan should use such weapons on India, there is virtually no chance that India will be left responding alone. The international community will most certainly rally around India. The response to Pakistan breaking a nuclear taboo that formed after the Americans used atomic bombs on Japan will most certainly be swift and devastating.

Second, as Shashank Joshi, a war studies researcher at the University of Oxford, has argued, these weapons do not have the military benefits that Pakistan’s military boasts, yet they exacerbate the enormous command and control challenges, including the possibility that nefarious elements may pilfer them once they are forward deployed. For one thing, tactical nuclear weapons do not have significant battlefield effects on enemy targets. For another, it is not evident that these weapons are in fact capable of deterring an Indian incursion into Pakistan.

Third, while Naeem Salik, a former director for arms control at Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Directorate, has said that Pakistan has shifted away from merely doctrinal thinking towards “actual nuclear war fighting,” such thinking is hardly viable for the simple reason of faulty math.

Even if, for the sake of argument, one assumes that Pakistan deploys its one hundred odd weapons of 15 to 30 kilotons at India’s major cities, it is unlikely that Pakistan would be able to deploy all of these weapons to conduct a “splendid first strike,” by which Indian capabilities are completely destroyed.

Moreover, it takes considerably fewer weapons of similar magnitude to utterly destroy Pakistan. Pakistan has thoughtfully concentrated all but three corps in central the Punjab region, which is also its most populous province and the country’s industrial and agricultural center. In short, Pakistan will cease to be a viable political entity while India, though grievously hurt, will survive as a state. Even if Pakistan obtains a functioning triad and retains launch capabilities from submarines, they will be launched in defense of a state that, simply put, no longer exists.

There is a fourth problem that should disquiet Pakistanis perhaps even more than the triggering of the destruction of their country through the deliberate or inadvertent use of their micro-weapons—these tactical nuclear weapons are intended to be used first against Indian troops on Pakistani soil. According to a conference report by the Naval Post School, which hosted Pakistan’s military and diplomatic officials, one Pakistani luminary opined that the “Nasr creates a balancing dynamic that frustrates and makes futile the power-maximizing strategy of India.”

He envisages the Nasr’s shells being used to carry atomic explosives that would annihilate advancing Indian armored thrusts in the southern deserts and blunt Indian advances toward major Pakistani cities, such as Lahore. Retired military general S. F. S. Lodhi, in the April 1999 issue of the Pakistan Defence Journal, laid out four stages of escalation in Pakistan’s use of tactical nuclear weapons which aligns with this view as well.

The consequences of Pakistan nuking itself to keep the Indians out should disturb Pakistanis. According to calculations by Jaganath Sankaran, Pakistan would have to use a 30-kiloton weapon on its own soil, as this is the minimum required to render ineffective fifty percent of an armored unit.

Using Lahore as an example, a 30-kiloton weapon used on the outskirts of the city could kill over 52,000 persons. As Indian troops move closer to Lahore and as the population increases, such a weapon could kill nearly 380,000. Sankaran notes, as an aside, that this would “genuinely destroy a larger battalion or brigade.” Consequently, many more Pakistanis would be likely to die than these horrendous figures suggest.

All of sudden, Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons don’t look so fun for any Pakistani who thinks through the math.

Fifth, Pakistanis should be derisive of this new weapon in the national arsenal because it cannot do what the army promises: protect Pakistan from an Indian offensive. Would any Indian military planner take seriously Pakistan’s threat to use nuclear weapons on its own soil when the casualties are so high? Pakistan may have been willing to eat grass to get its nuclear weapons, but is it willing destroy its own center of gravity to maintain its ability to harass India with terrorism over territory to which it never had any legal claim? If the Indians do not take this threat seriously, how is it a deterrent against them? What additional deterrent capability do these weapons afford Pakistan that its strategic assets do not that compensates for the enormous risks they convey?

Finally, if India took Pakistan’s threats seriously, it does not have to invade Pakistan to coerce the country’s leaders to detonate one of these weapons on its own soil. Presumably simply looking adequately likely to cross the international border and threaten a major Punjabi city could provoke a “demonstration detonation.”

I am not encouraging a nuclear Armageddon upon Pakistan; rather expositing the limited utility that these weapons confer upon Pakistan.

Even if Pakistan fully inducts these weapons in its arsenal, it still has an army that can’t win a conventional war against India and nuclear weapons it cannot use. This leaves only an industrial farm of terrorists as the only efficacious tool at its disposal. And given the logic of the above scenario, India and the international community should consider seriously calling Pakistan’s bluff. The only logical Pakistani response to a limited offensive incursion is to accept the fait accompli and acquiesce.
So far, the West has seen Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as a proliferation threat rather than a security threat. The implications of this has largely been appeasement. The United States, worried that Pakistan’s weapons may fall into the hands of non-state actors or that Pakistan will once again reopen its nuclear weapons bazaar to aspirant nuclear powers, perpetually argues for engaging Pakistan diplomatically, militarily, politically, and financially. In essence, Pakistan has effectively blackmailed the United States and the international community for an array of assistance exploiting the collective fears of what may happen should Pakistan collapse.

In recent months, some US White House officials have even argued for a potential nuclear deal to reward Pakistan for making concessions in fissile material production, limiting the development and deployment of its nuclear weapons among other activates to address Washington’s proliferation concerns. Unfortunately, Washington has yet to seriously formulate punishments rather than allurements to achieve these ends, even though Pakistan has shown no interest in making such concessions.

There are reasons why the United States and the international community should begin to see Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as a direct security threat. For one thing, these nuclear weapons have always been intended to allow Pakistan to harass India through the use of militant proxies. Consequently, Pakistan has become an epicenter of Islamist terrorism.

Had Pakistan not had these nuclear capabilities, India could have sorted out Pakistan some time ago. Moreover, the critical time period for Pakistan’s nuclear program was in the late 1970s, when Pakistan was on the threshold of obtaining a crude weapon. (We now know that Pakistan had a crude nuclear weapon by 1984 if not somewhat earlier.) The United States even sanctioned Pakistan in 1979 for advances in its program.

The United States relented in its nonproliferation policy with respect to Pakistan after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Reagan, after getting sanctions waived in 1982, began supporting the so-called mujahedeen produced by Pakistan for use in Afghanistan. (Pakistan actually began its own jihad policy in 1974 on its dime without US assistance.)

Saudi Arabia matched America’s contributions. While al-Qaeda is not truly the direct descendent of the Afghan mujahedeen, there can be little doubt that the structures built to wage this jihad gave birth to the group. Had the United States remained focused on nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and used a different strategy in Afghanistan, a wholly different future could have been realized.

As tensions between the United States and Pakistan deepen, and as Pakistan’s arsenal expands and permits it to target US assets in South, Central, and Southwest Asia, the United States should begin considering Pakistan’s proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles as a direct threat to its security, rather than merely a proliferation problem to be managed.

Zimbabwe is making the Chinese yuan one of its legal currencies

The Chinese yuan may soon be used as legal tender in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s finance minister has said China and the southern African country are negotiating plans to increase local usage of the yuan. The two countries are also discussing the cancellation of $40 million worth of debt that Zimbabwe owes to China, its largest investor.

Last year, Zimbabwe added China’s official renminbi to its basket of currencies, which includes the US dollar, British sterling, and the South African rand, considered legal tender. The yuan has not yet been approved for public transactions. Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after hyperinflation rendered the Zimbabwean dollar worthless.

The first step, according to the country’s finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, is that Chinese tourists would be allowed to pay for services in yuan. Zimbabwe would then be able to use that to pay off its remaining debt to Beijing.

The yuan has been making inroads on the continent. Kenya and South Africa both host clearinghouses that enable investors and traders to conduct transactions between local currencies and the yuan without going through the US dollar first. In June, almost a third of paymentsbetween South Africa and Greater China were settled in Chinese yuan, up from just 10.8% in 2014. Last year, Ghana began allowing banks tosell yuan. Now that the International Monetary Fund has admitted the yuan into its benchmark currency basket, some expect more central banks in Africa to include the currency in their foreign exchange reserves.

The goal of easing usage of the yuan is increasing bilateral trade, namely helping African countries export more to China. When Kenya launched its yuan clearinghouse in Nairobi this year with the National Bank of Kenya, the bank’s managing director Munir Mohamed said, “Africa should make sure that the renminbi is internationally accepted for conversion from renminbi and vice versa in order to balance trade between Africa and China.”

But doing more transactions in yuan may do little to help China and Africa’s already large trade imbalance. China accounts for a little over 20% of imports to Africa but only about 15% of exports from the continent to China. Over the past year, those exports have fallen while Chinese exports to the continent are increasing.

In Zimbabwe, despite its growing trade with China, the yuan may still be far from being a commonly used currency. Even though South Africa is one of Zimbabwe’s largest trading partners, the US dollar, not the rand, is still the most used currency, as highlighted by Gift Mugano, a trade expert at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, when Zimbabwe added the yuan to its basket of currencies last year.

“Very interestingly, currency issues are so psychologically influenced, economic agents may not be comfortable to just accept one currency overnight when they were used to the US dollar. This is a complex matrix which the RMB will face in Africa,” Mugano said.

WordPress 4.4 Out Now, Makes All Images Responsive & Adds Embeddable Posts

WordPress has released version 4.4, the latest update to its uber-popular content management platform. The company says this release is named “Clifford” in tribute to jazz musician Clifford Brown.

Evan Lorne /

Much more importantly, WordPress 4.4 offers a couple of new features to make your website a little more mobile-friendly and potentially more visible on other WordPress blogs and websites.

  • Responsive Images: All images uploaded into WordPress are automatically made responsive, so they’ll adapt in size to different devices and browser dimensions. “You don’t need to do anything to your theme, it just works,” the announcement says.
  • Embeddable Posts: WordPress is expanding its embeddable content options, which include the ability to embed a WordPress article from one site onto another WordPress site. From the announcement: “Simply drop a post URL into the editor and see an instant embed preview, complete with the title, excerpt, and featured image if you’ve set one. We’ll even include your site icon and links for comments and sharing.” WordPress 4.4 also adds embed support for Cloudup, Reddit Comments, ReverbNation, Speaker Deck and VideoPress.

WordPress 4.4 also brings with it the new “Twenty Sixteen” theme, the company’s annually updated default theme. As you’d expect, it’s responsive. And there are a number of updates to the backend that developers will want to know about; those are detailed on the 4.4 codex page.

Google’s Angular 2 Framework Hits Beta

Angular 2, Google’s framework for building mobile and web apps in HTML and JavaScript, is now in beta.

Google first announced Angular 2, which represents a significant (and controversial) break from Angular 1, in September 2014. Since then, it’s gone through an alpha and developer preview. By applying the ‘beta’ label to Angular 2, Google basically says that it believes the framework is now ready for developers who want to build larger applications with it. Google itself already used it to build large projects for AdWords, Google Fiber and Google’s internal GreenTea CRM system.

angular-2-codeWhile Angular 2 still focuses on building web apps, it’s worth noting that Angular 2 now also allows developers to build cross-platform native apps for Android and iOS with the help of NativeScript and React Native.

Another area Google focused on is speed. According to Google, Angular 2 renders and updates pages up to eight times faster than Angular 1.

There are still a couple of improvements Google plans to make to Angular 2 before its final release. The team says it plans reduce the framework’s binary size, for example, and to add improved international support and support for animations. The team also plans to work on Angular 2’s documentation, improve startup and runtime performance, and add more material design components to the framework.

As Google engineering director Brad Green tells me, the team made a number of small changes to the framework over the course of the latest testing period. “In one recent breaking change, we switched from kebab-case element names to camelCase names so that developers can use the same name in their templates as they do in JavaScript,” he tells me. “We also realized that the new world of JavaScript requires a number of tools and processes that can slow down development.  From transpilers to build tools to minifiers to continuous integration scripts to deployment.”

Green also told me that Google’s decision to write Angular 2 in TypeScript — which was originally developed at Microsoft — has been well received by developers and many now plan to write their own Angular 2 apps in TypeScript, too, it seems. “We’d assumed most folks would want to continue using ES5,” he said. “We were surprised that the majority of folks said they’d be using TypeScript.”

He also noted that the team recently launched the Angular CLI project to help encapsulate all of these new tools into a command line tool.

Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

There was a time when songs used to come packaged together as things called “albums” that you had to listen to in order. This created an indelible link between the songs placed near each other on a record, tape or CD. To this day, if I hear Aerosmith’s Magic Touch — off of the still incredible Permanent Vacation — I expect to hear the familiar strains of Rag Doll coming in close on its heels.

Watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens is like listening to one of those beloved albums. It’s at turns comforting, thrilling and full of feeling. But it’s also very, very reminiscent of both A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. So familiar that you will find yourself listening for the strains of certain plot points to come wafting in, and they always do. As a reset of the franchise and a rebirth, some familiarities are both expected and not unwelcome, but the tributes are so thick on the ground that they could trip up long-time lovers of the series. Not so thick, however, that they will much bother newer viewers, or those raised on the prequels.

The Force Awakens somehow manages to be fresh in a way that feels nostalgic, but the freshness never quite turns the corner into innovation outside of a few pivotal scenes. And yet, it works.

Characters, At Last

Where The Force Awakens does shine incredibly well is the strength of its new characters, which are the best Star Wars has had in decades. Aside from the handful of principals that people had to keep track of in the prequels, it was sadly lacking in new characters that we were able to latch onto and really care about. This new Star Wars delivers four that absolutely destroy every time they’re visible on screen. And the actors that play them can all act their asses off.

Rey, a powerful female force in Star Wars that requires no white knighting, is in full possession of her own agency. She is the culmination of what Leia could have been in the original trilogy if they weren’t so busy seeing what the men were up to. Rey, abandoned on a desert planet that is not Tatooine even though it basically is, waits for the return of her family and scrapes by an unbelievably tough existence, without ever complaining a bit. She’s a loner, a pillar of her own strength, and never loses sight of her goals. Not only that, but throughout the film she teaches herself the skills she needs to survive and executes on them (mostly) without assistance. Not out of stubbornness or anger, but out of sheer competence.

It doesn’t matter that I have a daughter, I love to see this kind of purpose-driven parts for women either way — but it does warm the cockles of my heart to think that she will be able to grow up with a Star Wars that features a character like Rey at its core. Her journey is the most fully realized in this film, and it’s made very clear to us that she will be the pivot point for episodes to come.

Daisy Ridley portrays Rey with a willful, physically adroit capability — open emotionally, but not naive. This is a girl who has been stuck on a backwater, but she’s no neophyte. Ridley manages the balance between street tough and caring friend in Rey so cleverly. She’s absolutely magnetic on screen and got the biggest crowd reactions of any character in our preview screening. Ridley is a discovery, captivating at every turn, whether she’s emoting or in the thick of combat.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..©Lucasfilm 2015

John Boyega as Finn, originally a Stormtrooper with a number for a name, is equally delightful. Funny, cocky, unsure and chivalrous even when he doesn’t need to be. A black main character with a lightsaber and a leading-man charisma is a second welcome nod to a more diverse Star Wars universe — and it pays off in spades because Boyoga is even more entertaining here than he was in Attack The Block. Sporting a slightly broad American-ish accent, Boyega holds his own in scenes with Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Ridley.

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