Issue 104

NFThe What?

Delivered on 15 March 2021 by Justin Pyvis. About a 4 min read.

Beeple – the alias of artist Mike Winkelmann – auctioned a piece of art last week that eventually sold for $69 million. Sums of that magnitude are not unusual in the art world, although this certainly was. You see, no art was actually sold: what was exchanged was a non-fungible token – or NFT – on the Ethereum blockchain.

This is CryptoKitties all over again, which are back, by the way: a flying Pop-Tart meme cat recently sold for $600,000.

The original Nyan cat.

At the end of the day, Beeple retains the original piece of art and the copyright to it. The buyer, an anonymous crypto investor who goes by the pseudonym MetaKovan, now owns a digitally autographed version of it. He reckons it's "worth $US1 billion":

When you think of high-valued NFTs, this one is going to be pretty hard to beat. And here’s why – it represents 13 years of everyday work. Techniques are replicable and skill is surpassable, but the only thing you can’t hack digitally is time. This is the crown jewel, the most valuable piece of art for this generation.

This is top-of-the-bubble kind of stuff, folks. Caveat emptor: buyer beware!

The UK is ditching GDPR

The GDPR – the European Union's 'General Data Protection Regulation' – is a bureaucratic behemoth of a regulation. So the UK is getting rid of it:

[Culture secretary Oliver] Dowden said that under the regime 'too many businesses and organisations are reluctant to use data – either because they don't understand the rules or are afraid of inadvertently breaking them'.

While its stated goal was to protect people's privacy in the wake of a serious of scandals involving the likes of Facebook, in practice it's so encompassing that it's nearly impossible to comply with unless you have an army of lawyers on staff.

On the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

The AstraZeneca vaccine is in trouble:

At least 10 countries including Italy and Norway reacted after Austria, and later Denmark, raised concerns over the possible side effects from two batches. While Europe’s medicines regulator said there was no indication of issues, it led to a spate of suspensions stretching as far as Thailand.
Europeans don't want AstraZeneca.

Politicians have done an atrocious job at selling the AstraZeneca vaccine. When they all lined up to get their jabs, they of course got the Pfizer vaccine. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, in classic German prose, said "I am 66 years old and do not belong to the recommended group for AstraZeneca [65 and younger]".

Really, Angela? That sends a clear message to the German (and other) people that some vaccines are better than others. It was a similar story in Australia, with the 52-year old Prime Minister Scott Morrison opting for the Pfizer vaccine to "by my own example today... to say to you, Australians, it's safe, it's important".

Bu*****t. If Morrison was actually interested in showing Australians it was safe and important and not just selfish queue jumping, he would have opted for the AstraZeneca vaccine, given the public trepidation surrounding it and the fact it's what his government decreed the majority of Australians will receive.

To be clear, the evidence suggests while the AstraZeneca vaccine is less efficacious than Pfizer or Moderna, it is perfectly safe (about 30 incidents from a group of around five million, which could just as easily be explained by bad luck). But politicians could not have done a worse job at conveying that information if they tried.

Space sovereignty

Space sovereignty is going to become a bigger issue in the very near future, with the rise of companies such as SpaceX's Starlink:

Myanmar's first satellite is being held on board the International Space Station following the Myanmar coup, while Japan's space agency and a Japanese university decide what to do with it.  

The $15 million satellite was built by Japan’s Hokkaido University in a joint project with Myanmar’s government-funded Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU). It is the first of a set of two 50 kg microsatellites equipped with cameras designed to monitor agriculture and fisheries.

Human rights activists and some officials in Japan worry that those cameras could be used for military purposes by the junta that seized power in Myanmar on Feb. 1.

The Trade Wars didn't die with Trump

Those hoping for a change of tact with a Biden Presidency appear to be out of luck:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday designated five Chinese companies as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks.

The FCC said the companies included Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co.

The there was this, from Bloomberg:

The Biden administration has informed some suppliers to China’s Huawei Technologies Co. of tighter conditions on previously approved export licenses, prohibiting items for use in or with 5G devices, according to people familiar with the move.

The 5G ban is effective as of this week, according to the people, who asked not to be identified to discuss nonpublic communications.

The rules create a more explicit prohibition on the export of components like semiconductors, antennas and batteries for Huawei 5G devices, making the ban more uniform among licensees. Some companies had previously received licenses that allowed them to keep shipping components to Huawei that the Chinese company may have then used in 5G equipment, while other companies were already subject to tighter restrictions.

The unintended consequences of the US administration's war against Chinese tech – Huawei in particular – are already emerging, with Qualcomm "struggling to keep up with demand for its processor chips used in smartphones and gadgets":

Demand for Qualcomm's chips has soared in the past months as Android phone makers seek to win over customers abandoning phones produced by Huawei Technologies Co Ltd due to U.S. sanctions. Qualcomm has found it hard to meet this higher-than-expected demand, in part due to a shortage of some subcomponents used in its chips.

In time, supply chains will adjust. But trade sanctions are not a free lunch. Biden looks set to pick up where Trump left off.

Issue 104: NFThe What? was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 15 March 2021.