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Tech Thursday Episode 3

Prophecies of VPN doom, 300,000 vanishing umbrellas, China leads in footsteps, and quantum satellite tests

07·13·2017

Quantum leap forward

The media has been all over China’s latest feat in Quantum Communication, with many (not accurately) gushing over the “teleportation” of a particle 500 kilometers into space.

The experiments involve China’s new quantum satellite, Micius, launched last year, intended to demonstrate that some form of quantum communication is possible.

Essentially, scientists have long known that you can “entangle” two particles and what happens to one affects the other simultaneously, with no gap in time–seemingly regardless of how far apart they are.

The latest tests show that the effect still holds, even when one of those particles is orbiting in space and another is on the surface. The results do indeed seem to be instantaneous, but keep in mind the particles didn’t suddenly transport themselves from one spot to the other—even though information, potentially, could. So decide for yourself whether “teleportation” is the right word here.

Ministry denies VPN ban

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that China was planning to block all VPNs that haven’t been approved by authorities by February 2018. The order sent to telecom giants like China Unicom and China Mobile, who handle all the internet infrastructure, telling them to crack down on unlicensed VPNs appeared to indicate a new—potentially final—solution to the menace of Facebook.

Many skeptics have pointed out the difficulties of actually implementing such a measure: While directly blocking VPNs might be difficult without crippling the internet entirely (as has occurred in Xinjiang in the past), it’s still possible to ramp up existing attempts to choke overseas connections. The situation, suffice to say, is messy.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has denied the Bloomberg report, referencing a January edict on as their most up-to-date official restrictions on the internet. The authorities state they won’t hinder “legitimate” VPN access, but the definition of “legitimate” is what is under question.

“Trade or multinational enterprises, if they require leased lines or other methods to access the internet abroad, can turn to authorized telecommunications entities,” an MIIT spokesperson stated, adding that the January notice won’t affect the “normal” operations of companies.

Which, of course, still leaves individual VPN users—and companies that might not make the cut for VPN approval—very uncertain as to their fate. In other words, business as usual.

Dudes, Where Are My Umbrellas?

Bike-sharing startups have been all the rage in China lately, so it stands to reason that another tool often needed on the go—the umbrella—should be able to use the same model. Right?

This was the thinking behind Sharing E-Umbrella, which rolled out 300,000 umbrellas across 11 cities in April. At a cost to the company of about 60 RMB per umbrella, the plan was to have docking stations where people could retrieve umbrellas with a smartphone, much as they might with an e-bike.

Company founder Zhao Shuping doesn’t seem to have ironed out all the kinks though–there don’t seem to be adequate mechanisms to ensure the umbrellas are transferred between people and there is no penalty for just taking them. So people just took them. All 300,000 in fact have basically disappeared.

Zhao still wants to roll out 30 million more umbrellas across the country, but hopefully he’s tweaking the business model.

A step ahead

China came first in recent rankings of the world’s most active countries, tracked by the number of steps walked each day by a smartphone fitness app. The Chinese walked an average of 6,289 steps per day, with Japan (6,010) and Spain (5,936) walking behind.

Somewhat bafflingly for those familiar with dodging sidewalk traffic, potholes, and missing paving slabs, the Stanford researchers analyzing the data released a statement saying that a key factor in the amount of steps walked was how friendly cities are for pedestrians—car-focused cities take heed.

 

Cover image from 365kp.com

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