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Mophie’s Samsung Galaxy S5 Juice Pack Gives You Ample Smartphone Life

Mophie has a new Juice Pack out, designed for the Galaxy S5. The case packs a huge 3,000 mAh battery within its glossy shell, which is slightly larger than the 2,850 mAh unit within the Galaxy S5 itself. True, you could carry around a spare battery for the GS5 and pop the back whenever you want more power, but the Mophie’s extra juice is just a switch away, and it includes passthrough charging, which is a lot simpler than changing out internal components.

The Mophie comes in a variety of colors, but the review unit I was sent is a glossy white. It’s like the Mophie battery packs you’ve come to know and love, with a curved back ensconcing the ‘baby bump’ of the spare powerhouse. Of note, however, is that this will significantly increase the pocket presence of your GS5, since at its thickest point it more than doubles the depth of the device.

It also adds length to the top and bottom of the 4.7-inch smartphone, giving it a physical footprint more akin to that of the new iPhone 6 Plus, but with a much chunkier profile. As you might expect, it also adds weight. But the trade-offs have immediately apparent value: You’ll likely get a full charge from empty from the battery pack, plus or minus a little bit depending. Given Samsung’s already impressive battery life on the GS5, you’ll find that can mean up to three or more full days of battery on a single charge of both the case and phone, which is game-changing when you’re using it on excursions.

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I’m reluctant to carry around the behemoth that the GS5 plus the Mophie becomes when combined Voltron-style too often, but for special cases like conferences it would be a veritable life-saver. Mophie’s typical commitment to quality shows here, too, with a battery that should last you more cycles than lower cost options from Amazon.

Mophie’s accessory will run you $99.95, so it’s worth considering whether you need this kind of gear in your life before laying down some cash, but if you find yourself seeing that red battery icon more often than you’d like, it’s still likely your best, most convenient choice for spare top-ups.

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The Rise of Rebittance
: Reinventing money transfers in the Philippines with Bitcoin

Luis Buenaventura is Head of Product at Satoshi Citadel Industries, a Bitcoin startup operating out of the Philippines.


Bitcoin advocates often emphasize that the cryptocurrency’s greatest impact will be on the “other 6.5 billion” people who have otherwise been excluded from modern financial tools and services. But far from being the magic bullet that Bitcoin appears to be on paper, bringing it to the mainstream in the developing world involves a multi-disciplinary initiative capable of surmounting some significant challenges.

Just last month, the Philippines gave birth to its 100 millionth citizen, a baby girl named Chonalyn. The headcount was largely symbolic; in truth, about a hundred other babies were being born at the same time around the country. It was however no accident that the press conference announcing the birth was held at Jose Fabella Hospital in Manila, a state-run center known for crowding mothers and their newborns five to a bed.

The population is growing by three babies per minute, and with the low-income brackets accounting for over 90 percent of our citizenry, it’s not altogether surprising that so many of us have to leave in order to find a reasonable wage. Indeed, the Philippines is the eighth largest source of immigrants in the world, and the third largest in terms of sending remittances back home. The flow of funds from the fifty or so nations where the Filipino diaspora has presence comes to about 10 percent of our country’s GDP.

You couldn’t write a more appropriate problem case for Bitcoin.

168295763 730x483 The Rise of Rebittance
: Reinventing money transfers in the Philippines with Bitcoin

With the average remittance cost from the US to the Philippines at 5.3 percent, Bitcoin is seemingly poised to crush the competition. That this isn’t already the case might be surprising to some (Bitcoin remitters in the Philippines have lowered that cost to just 1%), but the situation is actually far more complex than it appears on the surface.

Offline and face-to-face

With over 10 million Filipinos currently living outside the Philippines, spreading awareness about a Bitcoin-based alternative is no small task. The diaspora is scattered across many different regions, professions, and contexts, thus making a single broad educational campaign untenable.

Any promotions espousing the benefits of Bitcoin-powered remittance (more succinctly, “rebittance”) need to leverage the face-to-face nature of our various communities. Filipino migrant workers regularly congregate in parks, malls (Lucky Plaza in Singapore, World-Wide House in Hong Kong, as primary cases in point), and city squares around the world on the weekends, which will force most efforts to go offline with their delivery.

These environments were once described to me as “Sunday moshpits,” with a breathtaking number of people crammed into a single commercial venue for a single day to trade and socialise.

Within these “moshpits” operate a variety of small hyper-local remittance kiosks that cater exclusively to these city-specific hot spots. Most of them charge flat fees (anecdotally, US$5-6 for transactions of under $3,000) coupled with a small profit margin on the exchange rate (between 1 and 1.5 percent).

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: Reinventing money transfers in the Philippines with Bitcoin

When measured against these smaller competitors, the 1 percent transaction fee that crypto-powered remittance providers offer may not be perceived as a significant advantage. This is especially the case when one considers the inconvenience of actually exchanging your local currency for BTC in the first place.

Exchanging via BTMs

In the US and some EU countries, customers may be able to fund their Bitcoin wallets via a Coinbase-connected bank account, but in other areas the answer is not as straightforward. And if you can’t get BTC, then you can’t use it to make remittances.

The rise of Bitcoin ATMs (informally, BTMs) is a critical piece to this puzzle, as they provide a practical means of exchange that also happens to be highly visible to the general public. They represent hard focal points for Bitcoin interest in cities where the cryptocurrency is still largely an abstract concept for most people.

In truth, the single most important move that rebittance providers could make is to create partnerships with all the BTM installations around the world, ensuring that both the primary method for BTC acquisition, and the primary use case for Bitcoin are sitting right next to each other in the proverbial strip mall kiosk.

From USD to BTC to PHP

Once the BTC has been acquired by a customer, they fill out a recipient information form, aim it at the rebittance provider’s QR code, and bits come flying out of their wallet. The active part of the process (filling out the form and interacting with your wallet app) is a straightforward, 1-2 minute process. The passive part, waiting for that first blockchain confirmation, may take up to 10 minutes, but once it’s done, the sender needs only to sit back and wait for additional alerts via email.

Therein lies the magic of Bitcoin remittance. The transfer of funds has occurred through a publicly-shared resource — the blockchain network — and thus incurs none of the arbitrary costs associated with centralised systems such as Western Union, or Xoom, or good old ACH. Indeed, the direct cost of Bitcoin transfers is so small (about 4 US cents) that most businesses will simply absorb it.

Once the rebittance provider has confirmed the BTC transfer, the problem morphs into one of logistics. BTC has indeed made its way from the customer’s wallet to the provider’s, but the final recipient of the money transfer is expecting Philippine Peso.

To fulfil this, the provider exchanges the Bitcoin again, but this time for PHP, and then delivers it to the specified recipient. Sometimes this is as straightforward as making a deposit at a local bank, sometimes it involves working with local pawnshop cum payout centers, and still other times, it means engaging a delivery partner to take the funds directly to someone’s doorstep.

Rebittance as savings

The Filipino population is projected to double within the next 42 years — in about the same time it’ll take to spawn two new generations — and the strategies for providing education and healthcare for the next 100 million people are best described as a series of increasingly urgent question marks. Education currently accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s entire national budget for 2014 (US$6 billion out of US$50 billion), a ratio that seems reasonable until you look at the absolute figures.

168295729 730x483 The Rise of Rebittance
: Reinventing money transfers in the Philippines with Bitcoin

With about half of our population currently between the ages of 5 and 20, this implies a public education budget allocation of just US$15 per youngster per school month. (Comparatively, the United States set aside US$68 billion for its own youth population in the same year.)

Rebittance doesn’t address this issue directly, but rather seeks to optimise the private sector’s money transfer activities with the aim of freeing up more funds for other expenses — education and healthcare being at the forefront.

With the average Filipino remittance amount at US$250 per month, it’s likely that our collective activities in the Bitcoin industry will result in a savings of US$5 to US$8 per rebittance (or US$60 to US$100 per year). It isn’t a huge amount, but it is enough to cover the peripheral costs of public school attendance such as transportation and materials.

Whether or not the average low-income Filipino parent will make the “correct” decision and spend those savings in the right place is, ironically, a question of proper education, but the first step on this long road is to make those savings possible. Bitcoin’s core promise has always been that of financial freedom, and once we’ve checked off that rather significant box, we  can move on to the really world-changing stuff.

Image credits: Getty Images: 1, 2, 3, 4

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: Reinventing money transfers in the Philippines with Bitcoin

The First Four-Seater, Solar-Powered Vehicle Hits The U.S. Road

Stella, the first ever family sized road vehicle that runs on the sun has made its U.S. debut. The car took first place in the World Solar Challenge and won the Michelin Cruiser Class for completing a 3,000 kilometer journey from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia last fall.

While other solar-powered vehicles have been made for racing, the solar-powered Stella is the first vehicle made for road travel. A large solar panel sits atop the roof to power the car up to 500 miles on a single charge. Compare that to a Tesla Roadster, which can run on an electric charge for 245-300 miles.

The Netherlands team that designed the vehicle took Stella for a U.S. tour to help kick off National Drive Electric Week. They recently traveled up Highway 1 from L.A. to San Francisco, and I met up with them in SF to check out Stella.

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Uber has until the end of October to introduce two-step payments in India, or face a ban

Uber has until the end of October to change its payment process in India or risk being banned from operating there. That’s because the country’s reserve bank (the RBI) has issued new guidelines that require two-step verification system for certain card payments.

A directive relating to Card Not Present (CNP) transactions issued on Friday requires companies which automatically charge customers for goods — such as Uber and other taxi-booking services — to introduce a second, verification step that authenticates a payment before it is made. Uber currently requires all users to provide a credit card to use its service, which it uses to automatically bill in a single step after each ride is completed.

RBI has given companies until the end of October to make changes. Uber has previously said it will be flexible on payment methods in Asia – Mike Brown, its regional general manager in Southeast Asia, told us it could embrace cash payments and other new strategies – so it seems likely that it will do as required in order to comply.

India became Uber’s second largest market in terms of cities served last week, when it expanded into four new locations in a single day. The company has plenty of competition from local rivals though. Olacabs recently raised a $40 million funding round, while Meru Cabs (rumored $50 million) and Taxiforsure ($30 million) have also taken on cash from investors lately and have plans to expand.

We contacted Uber for comment, but did not receive a reply at the time of writing. We will update this post with any information that we receive from the company.

Update: Uber declined to comment on the news.

Image via Shutterstock

Mozilla is launching its first Firefox OS smartphone in India this week

Bubbly, Asia’s ‘Twitter for Voice,’ is not closing; instead sold to Indian mobile services firm

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UberPool Lets You Split Uber Fares With Other Passengers Along The Same Route

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In the ongoing war between Uber, Lyft, and all of the other me-too ride-sharing services, competitors are looking for any way they can better utilize their supply of drivers and reduce costs for their riders. Today, Uber is announcing UberPool, a new feature that will let you pick up other riders on the way to your destination and split the bill.

While the feature should do a lot to cut costs for passengers, not everyone will want to ride with a stranger in addition to the driver picking them up; Uber notes that the new feature also serves as a kind of “social experiment.”

Since there’s not much data about how people will react to the new service, Uber isn’t going to release UberPool across every market it serves. The company has begun rolling out a private beta, and starting August 15 a public beta will launch in the San Francisco Bay Area. Uber also notes that the company’s “friends at Google” will be joining the beta as early adopters, as they “share [Uber's] vision of a more energy-efficient world with less traffic congestion and pollution in our cities and are excited to be early adopters of UberPool.” This signals continued cooperation between the companies following Google integrating Uber into Google Maps for iOS and Android.

Getting more riders into a single car to make rides cheaper isn’t exactly a novel idea. In June we covered Hitch, a ride-sharing service whose biggest differentiator from Uber and Lyft was the fact that it tries to use software to maximize the number of passengers in a single car to increase driver utilization and reduce prices for riders.

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Google Adds Bitcoin Price Conversions

One fun Google trick is the ability to type in “5 Euro in USD” and get an acceptably accurate currency conversion in a few seconds. Now, however, you can get your BTC on by simply typing “price of bitcoin” or “X bitcoin to euro.” The feature rolled out yesterday as a reaction to Bing’s addition of BTC pricing in that search engine.

Google partnered with Coinbase to support BTC conversions, according to bitcoin news site Coindesk.

The ability to use BTC in queries follows Google Finance’s addition of a special bitcoin page on the site last June.

It’s one small step for Google, one giant leap for the obsessives who track every single apparent change in Bitcoin adoption.

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Mesosphere Grabs $10M In Series A Funding To Transform Server Management

Mesosphere, a Silicon Valley startup based on the open source Apache Mesos project, announced $10M in Series A funding today.

The funding round is lead by Andreessen Horowitz with help from Data Collective and Fuel Capital. This follows seed funding a year ago of $2.25M  from Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital and SV Angel.

The company wants to change how companies manage resources on servers inside the datacenter, based on the open source Mesos project by essentially allowing you to pool the all of the computing resources in a datacenter as a single machine, thereby distributing resources in a much more efficient manner (as the graphic above illustrates).

According to Matt Trifiro, SVP at Mesosphere, this is possible because of  containerization technology developed by Google. Building on Google’s concept,  Mesos allows system administrators to take complex applications that run at scale and use the resources of the entire datacenter as a single unit inside a container.

As Trifiro explained, this is markedly different from virtual machines, which break a single machine into multiple smaller machines. This has allowed system administrators to run applications in a much more organized manner by using the entire machine. He said that approach worked well when applications were relatively small, but as they got bigger and more complex, one machine, no matter how many smaller machines it was sliced into, was no longer sufficient.

Cloud applications that run at scale actually required the resources of more than one machine. The single container approach lets them use whatever resources they require, but while Mesos has been in production across a number of companies including Twitter, Airbnb, eBay and Netflix, the actual implementation remained highly complex and required skilled engineers to implement.

Mesosphere co-founder, Florian Liebert, say they saw an opportunity to simplify this and started Mesosphere. Among the first products it developed is a tool called Elastic Mesos, which lets system administrators create a fully running Mesos cluster in the Amazon cloud in just three steps, simplifying what had been a highly complex process.

But Trifiro says they won’t stop there. “We are bringing that level of simplicity and management to any target platform, from on-premises/private Ubuntu, Redhat, Debian, etc. to private clouds like OpenStack to public clouds like Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine and Digital Ocean,” he said.

What’s more, regardless of the underlying platform, it’s fault tolerant because if one machine inside the cluster fails, so long as there are available resources, Mesosphere’s product will simply transfer it to another machine without intervention from any human personnel.

The underlying administration tools, let you add different elements such as a web server, a web cache and a Hadoop cluster. In a traditional datacenter, these tools might be spread out across multiple servers in a highly inefficient manner that wasted much of the server capacity (as illustrated in the picture above).

Mesosphere fills up the space on one server before it starts adding applications to additional server space. If a job is running that requires a certain amount of  server resources, it will fill the available resource capacity on one server, rather than simply starting on the next available one.

Mesos was originally developed as a Ph.D thesis by Benjamin Hindman, et. al., at University of California at Berkley. Liebert was working at Twitter when he discovered this research and brought Hindman on board to help solve Twitter’s infamous ‘Fail Whale’ problem where when the servers were pushed beyond capacity, Twitter simply stopped working and displayed the Fail Whale graphic. Twitter open sourced much of the code, which became the Apache Mesos project.

Liebert says his company’s product works for large and small companies alike because it simplifies these highly complex activities and that allows every datacenter, regardless of size, to use its personnel and computing resources much more efficiently.

In addition to Elastic Mesos, they have other products including Marathon for large-scale orchestration, and Deimos for Docker integration

IMAGE BY Mesosphere

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