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Remember Bitcoin? Some Investors Might Want to Forget

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Last year around this time, a toy called a cryptokitty sold for $170,000. A real estate agent remade himself as CoinDaddy, producing cryptocurrency-themed music videos. The man behind a company called Ripple became for a moment richer than Mark Zuckerberg. Kids barely out of high school were buying Lamborghinis because of a crypto meme. Experts went on CNBC to say Bitcoin was going to reach $100,000 per coin.

For a few sweet months of 2018, all of Silicon Valley was wrapped up in frenzied easy money and a fantasy of remaking the world order with cryptocurrencies and a related technology called the blockchain. A flood of joy hit the Bay Area. The New York Times ran with the trend in an article with the headline “Everyone Is Getting Hilariously Rich and You’re Not.” It was temporarily true.

And just as the American public had been given every possible blockchain explainer that could be written, the whole thing collapsed. The bubble popped.

Today the price of Bitcoin — $19,783 last December — is $3,810. Litecoin was $366 a coin; it’s now $30. Ethereum was $1,400 in January; today it’s $130.

One recent crypto holiday party offered “broken Lambo dreams and an open bar to drown your sorrows in.”

This December closes out cryptocurrency’s most exciting year, ending in a terrible, sober headache of a winter.

At the meetups and the work spaces that remain, those who have stayed are calling this “the winter of crypto.” Believers say this is only “the trough of disillusionment,” pointing to a chart that posits all new technology goes through a similar trough before exploding into inevitable glory.

Those still chipping away at crypto dreams insist that this is all a good thing because only the serious ones, the true crypto believers, remain.

“It’s painful to lose money, but it’s a necessary step,” said Robert Neivert, an investor with the venture capital firm 500 Startups. “2018 was about moving from hype to product.”

This year, the blockchain industry — a subset of the cryptocurrency industry that would very much like to live on its own — went through a Cambrian explosion. But first, an explanation of the blockchain: A blockchain is a relatively new kind of database that was initially introduced with Bitcoin. It is not the digital currency. It is the underlying technology that helps manage the currency. Most important, it is decentralized so no one person, government or business controls it.

Blockchain became a solution for everything — blockchain for journalism, for pot, for dentists. At the kernel of it all was real technological progress and a growing understanding that this decentralized technology could transform financial systems. But the excitement spun out of control.

Even adding the word “blockchain” made stock soar. When Long Island Iced Tea Company changed its name to Long Blockchain Company, its stock went up 500 percent in a day. Scammers flooded the space, launching dubious new investment schemes called “initial coin offerings.”

The computing power needed to “mine” a Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency is now sometimes costing more than that coin is worth. Mines — actually, they are electricity-needy data centers — are shutting down. Images of electronics piled up on street corners are going viral. As demand for Bitcoin has dwindled, Bitcoin’s algorithm has adjusted and the coin has become easier to mine.

But this is actually good, crypto experts argue.

“The fact that miners are shutting down and difficulty is decreasing is a feature, not a bug, of bitcoin’s design,” the venture capitalist Arianna Simpson wrote on Twitter.

Some in the cryptocurrency business would just like the world to know that there are still people working on it. Julian Spediacci, a cryptocurrency investor in San Francisco with his twin brother, James, said he would like people to know that he is still alive and identifies as a HODLer, or someone who is not selling despite market fluctuations.

“A lot of people are reaching out, and they want to find out what happened to us, and if we’re still alive, so it’d be great to clarify that there are a lot of OG HODLers,” Mr. Spediacci said, using language common in the crypto industry to indicate he would remain an investor.

“I think we’re nearing a bottom,” his brother said.

Some of the friends they made have left town. The meetups are quieter. The most recent video from the community’s primary musical voice, CoinDaddy, né Arya Bahmanyar, is set to the tune of Beatles hit “Yesterday.”

But the Spediacci brothers continue. They say they are starting a new hedge fund. And that weekend there would be a holiday party at a new blockchain incubator, Starfish, run by Alicia Ferratusco. An incubator is a space where a group of start-ups work together, in this case working on blockchain technology.

“It’s called Starfish because when you cut off the leg of the starfish, it can grow back,” Julian Spediacci said.

Not everyone is struggling in the downturn. For lawyers, it is a new gold rush.

“Now that the market dropped, everyone is getting sued,” said Chante Eliaszadeh, a law student and the president of a blockchain law club called Blockchain at Berkeley Law.

She said the legal scene is pretty exciting right now. As the Securities and Exchange Commission cracks down, some scammers are trying to escape to Bali or Malta, where regulations are more lax.

At one holiday party in Palo Alto this year, the theme was “real.”

Organizers had pasted the motto — “Real People, Real Money, Real Deals” — on the walls, on boards, on slide shows and handouts.

Moderating a panel was Radhika Iyengar-Emens, a founding partner at a venture firm that specializes in cryptocurrency and blockchain start-ups called StarChain Ventures.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of real use cases,” Ms. Iyengar-Emens said. “And these guys will be here for those very real use cases.”

A use case would be a regular consumer’s being able to use a cryptocurrency to do something other than make a speculative investment.

The audience sat in folding white chairs. The snacks were Ritz Bits.

“What is QuarkChain?” QuarkChain’s founder and chief executive, Qi Zhou, asked the audience. “Next generation blockchain.”

Kerry Washington, a member of the Litecoin Foundation, which promotes Litecoins, gave a presentation about the year, in which the coin lost more than 90 percent of its value.

He talked about a big Litecoin summit this year, which on one slide he specified cost a quarter-million dollars. There, guests could buy candy with Litecoins. This showed everyone how useful Litecoin could be, he said.

The trouble was always that we already have something that lets us buy candy.

An ad played for something called Bitrue, a wallet. It was just a half-dozen people looking straight at the camera saying: “I trust Bitrue.”

And then Curtis Wang, the chief executive of Bitrue, stood up to announce a very special offer. He could promise investors a 10 percent annual percentage yield. There was scattered applause in the crowd.

Someone in the audience raised a hand and asked whether that was even legal to offer.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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