Image of a single suspended atom nabs science photography prize

A university student named David Nadlinger has won the top prize in a science photography contest held by UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council after capturing a photo of a single atom.

The photo, titled “Single Atom in an Ion Trap” shows a single atom suspended in midair. It was captured using a standard DSLR camera and shows the tiniest speck of a positively charged strontium atom. The atom’s place is being held by an electric field created by two metal electrodes. When illuminated with a blue-violet laser, as shown in the photo, the atom absorbed and reemits enough light to make it so an ordinary camera can capture it with a long exposure. For perspective on just how small this entire scene is, the distance between the ion and the electrode tips on either side is about two millimeters.

Nadlinger is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, and he traps atoms for his quantum computing research. He captured the image because “the idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the miniscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality. A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”

Other photographs that took home prizes in individual categories included a robot taking a selfie, a spherical soap bubble that shows fluid instability patterns, and a volunteer wearing an Electroencephalography (EEG) headset to record brain activity.

AI is helping seismologists detect earthquakes they’d otherwise miss

Oklahoma never used to be known for its earthquakes. Before 2009, the state had roughly two quakes of magnitude three and above each year. (Magnitude three is when things shake on the shelf, but before houses start getting damaged.) In 2015, this tally rocketed to more than 900, though it’s calmed since, falling to 304 last year.

This sudden increase is thought to be caused by the disposal of wastewater by the state’s booming fracking industry, and it’s caught seismologists off-guard. As a historically quake-free area, Oklahoma doesn’t have enough equipment to detect and locate all of these quakes, making it hard to investigate their root cause. “There are no major faults in Oklahoma so it’s just not something we would expect,” Thibaut Perol, a deep learning researcher who’s worked on this problem, tells The Verge. “And to understand what’s happening, we need a big, big catalogue of earthquakes.”

The solution proposed by Perol and his colleagues from Harvard University’s engineering and earth sciences departments is to use artificial intelligence to amplify the sensitivity of the state’s earthquake detectors, otherwise known as seismographs. In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, they show how effective this technique is — capable of detecting 17 times more earthquakes than older methods in a fraction of the time.

The method is similar to the voice detection software used by digital assistants like Alexa and Siri, explains Perol. It’s all about uncovering the signal hidden in the noise. With Alexa, that means listening out for your voice commands while ignoring the background sound of your home. And for seismographs, it means cancelling out the normal geological rumblings of the Earth (what’s known as “ambient seismic noise”) to spot the earthquakes that might be very small or far away. This way, scientists in Oklahoma can get more out of the data they already have.

To make this happen, Perol and his colleagues trained a convolutional neural network to recognize background noise, feeding it data from seismically quiet areas, like pre-fracking era Oklahoma and the geological dead-zone of Wisconsin. (The state has only really had one significant earthquake, and that was in 1947.) As with all neural networks, the software examines this input and learns to pick out common patterns. Once it knows what ambient rumblings sound like, it can remove these from the data, leaving behind the tiny earthquakes that had previously been hidden — like sea shells revealed by a retreating tide. As a bonus, the neural network is even able to identify the rough whereabouts of individual quakes by matching the patterns they created with historical data where a tremor’s location was known.

“With this method we are able to detect earthquakes of magnitude zero or minus one, and these are signals you wouldn’t be able to see with a human eye,” says Perol.

William Yeck, a seismologist at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), praised the work as “compelling and novel.” Speaking to The Verge by email, he noted that the neural network would best apply to “local earthquake monitoring efforts” — as in Oklahoma — “where there are high-seismicity rates.” Yeck cautions, though, that earthquake detection is only ever going to be a part of the puzzle. “Estimations of earthquake sizes and accurate event locations are also necessary,” says Yeck. “For the very small events that this technique detects, this will be challenging.”

If this neural network can be used more widely in Oklahoma applied, says Perol, it’ll help seismologists investigate the exact cause of the state’s earthquakes. There’s even some hope that it could predict earthquakes before they occur. This could be done by looking for patterns in the data; for example, finding times when a number of small earthquakes have happened in quick succession, triggering a bigger, potentially damaging quake.

The idea of using AI to predict — not just detect — earthquakes is an exciting one, but it’s not something that the whole seismologist community is confident about. (You can watch the video below for more info.) In Oklahoma at least, prediction isn’t as pressing as detection. But with the help of Perol and his colleagues’ neural network, this important work could get a boost.

The upside of awkwardness: writer Melissa Dahl explains why we cringe, and why it can be a good thing

It’s hard to fault anyone for thinking that awkwardness is to be avoided. The familiar, sinking feeling of knowing you’ve embarrassed yourself does not rank high on the hierarchy of desirable emotions.

Still, says journalist Melissa Dahl, there is something to be gained in embracing awkwardness — and the much-hated feeling can bring us together. Dahl, a senior editor at New York Magazine’s The Cut, is the author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, out today from Portfolio Books. She’s spent two years studying awkwardness, which means immersing herself in the psychological research, but also putting herself to the test by talking to strangers on the subway and reading her seventh grade diary in front of a crowd.

The Verge spoke to Dahl about how awkwardness is different from embarrassment and anxiety, what the research tells us about whether anyone is paying attention, different types of secondhand embarrassment, and what happens if we stop fearing those awkward moments.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

First things first: what made you interested in writing a book about awkwardness?

It’s a feeling that’s driven me insane for most of my life, but I started thinking about it more when I did this exceedingly silly story for Science of Us. A study came out by Nicholas Epley at the University of Chicago and a lot of people were reporting on it, saying, “If you talk to strangers on the subway in the morning before work, you’ll be happier.” I read that and I was just like, that cannot be true!

So I spent a week trying it and there was something really exhilarating about purposefully putting myself in this excruciatingly awkward situation. In the end, it did make me a little happier, and a little more attuned to moments where you can connect with people in ways I didn’t expect. That’s when I started to think, “Oh, there’s something interesting here.” Plus, the subject just cracked me up. There’s an inherent hilarity here.

Author Melissa Dahl.
Photo by Celeste Sloman

Almost everyone knows what it means to feel “awkward,” but when you think about it, it can be hard to define. How is awkwardness different from embarrassment, self-consciousness, anxiety, or even fear?

I had to think deeply about how to define awkwardness when I was invited to speak at this amazing tiny little psychology conference called the Symposium of Neglected Emotions. A lot of these feelings… overlap — there’s social anxiety and embarrassment in awkwardness — but I think awkwardness is self-consciousness with this undercurrent of uncertainty. You’re really aware of how you’re coming off to the world and then there’s an ambiguity about what to do next.

Embarrassment is a huge part of it, too. But embarrassment is like when you get pantsed in high school. I don’t think we’d call that awkward.

There’s not that much research on awkwardness, specifically, and the title of your book is “a theory of awkwardness.” So what is Melissa’s grand unified theory of awkwardness?

I’ve been calling it “cringe theory,” and I think the idea came through a story I did on why we cringe at the sound of our own voices. The topic has been written about all over. It’s about how I’m hearing through the bones of my own skull, which is different from what you’re hearing. But what interested me was why does that make us cringe?

And then I got obsessed with this idea that maybe we feel awkward when the “you” you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the way the world is actually seeing you. We like to think those two “yous” are one and the same, and sometimes they are, but sometimes they’re not. For example, if I’m feeling secondhand embarrassment for someone else, I think you could say it’s because they’re presenting themselves one way and don’t know they’re coming off another way. The psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory called it “the irreconcilable gap” between who you think you are and who the world is seeing.

So, your theory is that awkwardness is what happens when the “front” we put on collapses. You also talk about how we put on different fronts for different people and one thing that’s hard now is that these differences are coming together like when you’re Facebook friends with your grandmother, old professors, and colleagues. How do we build a role that can stand different audiences?

I don’t know if there is an easy answer, but maybe we can try to do it in the most honest way possible, and keep in our heads that we contain multitudes. It’s just going to feel weird sometimes.

For me, I’ve been running into this when promoting my book, especially on Facebook where it’s mostly friends and family and not professional. So maybe I can think of it as, “Okay, this is my place where I am more of a friend and family member, but those people care about me and about this thing that I’ve made too. That’s part of me.” It’s not such a bad thing to be fully formed humans in the work sphere and in the friend sphere. Maybe those were always kind of artificial boundaries anyway.

In the course of research, you read a lot of papers. What surprised you? What was most useful? You mention one paper on “anxiety reappraisal,” which is about how we can tell ourselves that anxiety is actually excitement. Anything else?

Anxiety reappraisal is one that has stuck with me. I really love the spotlight effect too, which is the idea that nobody is really paying much attention to you. Of course, you have to be balanced about it. With things like entering a party late or entering a meeting late, it’s not that people aren’t noticing you doing embarrassing things, but not as many as you think. It’s not “do whatever you want” — of course sometimes people are looking at you — but not to the extent that most of us think. That’s freeing.

We’ve been mostly talking about awkwardness in small encounters, but you have chapters in your book talking about the awkwardness we feel about big topics like race and disability. What can awkwardness in those situations illuminate for us?

Normally, when we say “awkward,” we do mean those little moments of saying something stupid, but I was so interested to see it applied to these gigantic matters. I once clicked on a video series about why we’re awkward and it was a video series about racial bias, which is not what I was expecting. Then, I found this campaign in the UK called End the Awkward, which is all about how non-disabled people lose their minds over how to interact with a disabled person.

As I was developing cringe theory, this usage started to make sense. If awkward is about the gap between how you think you are and how someone else is seeing you, these excruciating moments where we want to run away become a little signal of an opportunity for us to be better. In these cases, it’s useful information when your inner idealized person is not being perceived well. It’s worth considering that other person’s perspective and put yourself in their shoes and think, “I don’t know everything, I meant to say it this way and they took it this way and maybe they’re right.” In these moments when we feel so uncomfortable, we can get a little closer to the person we want to be.

And I think sometimes a conversation will end up being awkward. It’s unavoidable and it’s fine! We’ll live.

I talked to Alison Green, from Ask a Manager, and she says, either you have to have the awkward conversation or live with the feeling that’s bothering you and there are different degrees of living with that thing.

Over the course of the book, I started experiencing awkwardness to a lesser degree. My friends would talk about their boss and I’m just like, just talk to them! And they say, no, I can’t do that. But a little awkwardness is not going to be uncomfortable and is not going to kill us. “Just step back and lighten up” is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again.

You read your seventh grade diary out loud to audition for the show Mortified and also go to Tinder Live, where people, well, use the app live and roast people’s profiles. The experiences of secondhand embarrassment were really different for you you loved Mortified but felt uncomfortable at Tinder Live. Why the different reactions?

The two shows take place in the same venue, so that was surreal — the conditions are the same, swap one thing out. And it became a really interesting way to investigate the idea of secondhand embarrassment and vicarious awkwardness. I once wrote about this study on secondhand embarrassment where they found that people who experience this also tend to be empathetic, and I just felt unbearably smug thinking, I’m such a good person and that’s why I have this strong reaction.

And these two shows accidentally showed me the differences. We talk about empathy as if it’s a synonym for kindness and compassion, and it can be, but psychologists like Philippe Rochat say it’s an automatic human reaction: I’m understanding what you’re feeling because we are social animals and that’s how we learn to get along. His thought is that you can either process through contempt or through compassion. It’s uncomfortable if you’re feeling empathy for someone who is embarrassing themselves. You can shut them out and be like, “I am not that idiot on Tinder on this big projection screen” or you can say, “that’s me, too. I’m feeling this way because I have been a version of that idiot.”

It might be too much to ask that we always do this for each other, but it became interesting to me to, as often as I can, try to process embarrassment through compassion. And Mortified is such an exercise in that. It’s hilarious and it’s a mix of self-recognition and tenderness because you can see yourself in every person up there. I didn’t make a website devoted to Leo DiCaprio in 1998, but I can definitely connect that to my absurd love for Hanson at that age.

I was not expecting to spend two years researching awkwardness and come out the other end with this real “common humanity” vibe but that show and this idea of compassionate cringing is what that led to. It’s a really nice feeling. It can help reframe the idea of awkwardness as something that everyone has experienced, so maybe I can choose not to drown in it and I can learn from it. It makes the feeling a little less isolating and is a nice way of connecting with other folks through our mutual human absurdity.

Sonic weapons probably didn’t cause mysterious diplomat illnesses in Cuba, doctors say


After months of rumors, doctors have published the first detailed report describing the mysterious illness that struck US diplomats stationed in Cuba. While the source of the illness is still a mystery, the doctors say they’re “pretty certain” it wasn’t a sonic weapon.

Doctors examined 21 people associated with the US embassy in Cuba, and found that their symptoms resembled those caused by brain injuries — including headaches, sleep disturbances, and mood changes. But surprisingly, none of the diplomats showed any obvious signs of head trauma, according to a paper published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This is really concussion without concussion,” says study co-author Douglas Smith, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, in a podcast interview. Smith and his colleagues speculate that the diplomats’ illness might be an entirely new disorder, caused by some sort of shared environmental exposure in Havana. But other scientists warn against leaping to conclusions, since there’s still a lot we don’t know.

Starting in 2016, US diplomats in Cuba began experiencing an unusual collection of symptoms including vertigo, nausea, and hearing loss. All but one of the diplomats reported that they first felt ill after hearing strange noises or feeling air pressure or vibrations in their homes or hotel rooms. This sparked fears that diplomats were being targeted by “health attacks,” although the FBI couldn’t turn up evidence that these were occurring. (A biologist contacted by the US government identified the strange sounds as insect calls, ProPublica reported today.)

By the fall of 2017, 80 people linked to the embassy had been screened for similar symptoms, and the number of victims climbed to 24 people. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair evaluated 21 of the patients, and found that most of them were experiencing headaches and trouble sleeping. Many had trouble thinking, concentrating, and focusing their eyes — symptoms that worsened after exercise. Three patients had severe hearing loss. Brain imaging didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary. But nearly a year later, only seven of the 21 patients have been able to return to work full time, according to a JAMA news article.

There’s no known way for sound to cause such a serious assortment of symptoms, the study’s authors say. Instead, they suspect that the strange sounds the patients reported were a byproduct of whatever actually harmed them — kind of like the crack of a gunshot. The study’s authors don’t think infections, chemical exposures, or mass hysteria can explain the symptoms, either. “The simpler answer is that there’s something real here,” one of the authors says in a podcast.

Other experts, however, aren’t ready to rule out mass hysteria transmitted by word of mouth. For example, the study doesn’t clarify whether people whose illness started later on knew about the symptoms others had reported, an editorial points out. That could have made them more alert to those symptoms themselves. Also, the researchers evaluating the patients knew who the patients were — which could have biased their evaluations.

Still, today’s report is a step towards developing the diagnostic criteria that will be key to finding others experiencing the same symptoms. “This really is a public health matter and we have to be concerned that there could be other individuals out there who might have been exposed that we don’t know about,” one of the authors says. “People need to be prepared and I would say that our report is really just preliminary.”

Cuttlefish can put their camouflage abilities on autopilot to save energy

Not only can cuttlefish change the texture of their bodies to blend in with the ocean floor, new research shows that they can put this camouflage power on autopilot to save energy.

Scientists have long known that the cuttlefish — a relative of squid and octopi that lives on the ocean floor — can contract its skin and change its 3D texture into little bumps called papillae. By cutting open the cuttlefish, scientists in today’s study discovered the nerve in the body responsible for regulating these skin contractions and monitoring the creature’s efforts at camouflage. Most interestingly, the nerve can go on autopilot and “lock” the camouflage for an hour without using any energy. The results were published today in iScience, a journal published by Cell Press.

Interestingly, the nerve system that controls this autopilot power is very similar to the system that makes squid iridescent, so the scientists think they might have evolved from the same system. Next, they’re trying to find the link between these two systems and better understand the location of the neurons to figure out more mysteries of these ocean creatures.

JP Morgan Chase glitch gave some online users access to others’ accounts

Some J.P. Morgan Chase customers were able to access other clients’ personal information late Wednesday due to a glitch in the company’s online systems. The problem has been resolved, the bank said.

The glitch affected a “very low number” of customers, but personal information was revealed “as if they were an authorized user on the account,” according to Patricia Wexler, a spokeswoman for J.P. Morgan. The glitch mistakenly rerouted users to other clients’ accounts following login between 6:30 p.m. ET to 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, according to the spokeswoman.

J.P. Morgan could not confirm that no erroneous money transfers occurred as a result of the glitch, but said the chances of that were slim given the limited number of people impacted.

 JPMorgan building

Numerous upset customers took to Reddit and Twitter to complain about the account issue.

Wexler added that J.P. Morgan hasn’t received any reports of malicious money transfer as a result, but will work with customers on a case-by-base basis should such a situation arise. She added that the event was not a hack, but a technical glitch.

Five reasons 2018 could be the best year yet for cryptocurrencies

Ethereum and Bitcoin

In an earlier piece for CNBC, I explained why a potential cryptocurrency bubble could burst in 2018. Many people asked me afterward: If I’m so skeptical about the space, why am I invested in it?

Let me clarify. I’m someone who always calculates the potential upsides and downsides, and I think many people take unnecessary risks: They either invest too much or too little because they don’t do proper analysis.

So I want to highlight five reasons why 2018 might be the best ever year for cryptocurrencies and why I’m heavily invested in them.

1. The work on scaling issues

Bitcoin (BTC) is the most important cryptocurrency. Most government-backed money that goes in and out of crypto goes through bitcoin, so what happens to the original cryptocurrency affects the entire market.

The token’s market dominance stood at about 40 percent as of Wednesday. By my estimates, however, it’s clear bitcoin’s market dominance should return to 75 percent of the entire space.

I actually see a 150 percent potential upside in bitcoin for 2018.

Why? Well, BTC is still dominant. It has the biggest user base and the biggest industry. Still, it faces a challenge in scaling up for wider use.

Bitcoin now can’t handle more than six or seven (or, with the “Segregated Witness” protocol upgrade, it’s 12 to 14) transactions a second. Compare that with credit cards, which involve thousands of transactions per second, so the criticism about bitcoin’s ability to be useful at larger scales is understandable.

The scalability challenge results in high fees as well.

What is the solution? It is the so-called second-layer peer-to-peer off-chain networks. To cite an example, look at the Lightning Network. Created by Blockstream, the Lightning Network allows for transactions off the blockchain, thereby decreasing the transaction costs almost to zero and increasing the speed and scalability almost infinitely. And it’s just getting started. As you can see from this map, more and more nodes as well as channels are being established. It is growing exponentially.

In the coming months, we will see a sharp uptick in transactions and the use of more bitcoin in these channels. What’s more, the Lightning Network doesn’t have any fee.

In other words, second-layer networks solve the problems bitcoin faces — scalability and lack of liquidity. That could be a key reason why bitcoin surges this year.

At the end of 2017, I foresaw that bitcoin would drop as low as $5,000 — but it could potentially climb to as high as $60,000. Lightning Network will have a big impact on the potential upside.

There are also other second-layer projects like Rootstock that would allow computations similar to those of ethereum (a blockchain-based computing platform that supports another cryptocurrency named ether) to be done through bitcoin.

Exciting projects such as those could cause a significant spike in BTC. I would dare say in the realm of 60 to 70 percent with the potential upside of 100 percent — and maybe even more.

2. Large scale and more legitimate ICOs

Like last year, initial coin offerings (ICOs) will impact the ethereum network because ICOs usually require plenty of ether. That will buttress the demand for the platform’s digital coin. More legitimate ICOs will lead to greater interest in ether as we are already seeing with the billion-dollar ICO of messaging app provider Telegram and that of Kodak.

That means we could see a rise in the market cap of ethereum to $200 billion by the end of the year from less than $90 billion on Wednesday. The cryptocurrency’s price could possibly double to $2,000.

Though other platforms could see similar gains, I believe ethereum will be the main focus.

3. Regulation

Many believe regulations hurt markets, but that is a short-sighted perspective. In the long run, companies require rules for the sake of legal stability and certainty. Regulation gives users and institutional clients the confidence to invest.

We saw something similar when Japan started regulating bitcoin. The market dropped initially, but it rose eventually. Ditto in Australia.

Other countries could follow the same rule book — I think we are going to see something like that with South Korea and probably many others — but the market’s fate will be no different than after what played out in Japan and Australia.

4. A lot of execution and usability

There are several start-ups like my own that offer debit cards to help people spend their cryptocurrency holdings.

That means the number of users and merchants is set to increase sharply in 2018.

This would burnish the reputation of cryptocurrencies, with more and more companies trusting them. The firms that execute well this year will stand out and create a survivorship bias — where a few companies thrive and others fail, but people focus on the winners and ignore the losers.

Most start-ups bomb, but the spectacular successes of companies such as Facebook and Airbnb help mask those failures. Likewise, the success stories of a few entities in the cryptocurrency space will overshadow the negative news of several going bankrupt.

5. Institutional investors

The last reason why 2018 will be a stellar year for cryptocurrencies is that this will be the first year of solid institutional money flowing into the ecosystem.

It is estimated that $10 billion to $12 billion has so far flown into the crypto ecosystem, but that’s nothing compared to what institutional funds could invest. Since those first funds propped up the market to around $500 billion, the next $10 billion to $12 billion, which is peanuts for some funds, could double the market cap this year.

FCC’s reversal of net neutrality rules is expected to be published on Thursday

Chairman Ajit Pai speaks ahead of the vote on the repeal of so called net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, December 14, 2017.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to publish on Thursday its December order overturning the landmark Obama-era net neutrality rules, two sources briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

The formal publication in the Federal Register, a government website, means state attorneys general and advocacy groups will be able to sue in a bid to block the order from taking effect.

The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect.

Congressional aides say the publication will trigger a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on whether to overturn the decision. U.S. Senate Democrats said in January they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal, leaving them just one vote short of a majority.

Even if Democrats could win a majority in the Senate, a repeal would also require winning a vote in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority, and would still be subject to a likely veto by President Donald Trump. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

On Friday, a coalition of more than 20 state attorneys general and advocacy groups agreed to withdraw a protective petition filed in January that sought to preserve the right to sue.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said the office reached an agreement to withdraw “the original petition and will simply refile it once the final rule is published. Either way, our coalition of AGs is taking the FCC to court to challenge its illegal rollback of net neutrality.”

The December FCC order will be made public on Wednesday and formally published on Thursday, the sources said. A spokesman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did not immediately comment.

The approval of Pai’s proposal marked a victory for internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications and hands them power over what content consumers can access. (Disclosure: Comcast is parent of CNBC.)

Earlier this month, technology companies including Alphabet and Facebook threw their weight behind the congressional bid to reverse the Trump administrations plan to repeal Obama-era rules designed to protect an open internet.

Parody cryptocurrency just broke $2 billion for its market cap


A cryptocurrency that was created as a parody and named after an internet meme now has a market value of more than $2 billion.

Dogecoin crossed the $2 billion barrier on Sunday, around two weeks after it first touched the $1 billion level on Christmas day. The digital currency traded as high as $0.018773, putting its market capitalization at $2.12 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.

Data from the cryptocurrency site showed dogecoin’s current market value is about $1.98 billion — as of Jan. 8 at midnight — and traded at $0.017535 per token. That’s a roughly 69% increase compared to levels seen during Friday’s Asian trading session.

Last month, the virtual coin rose more than 400% and briefly topped $0.0107 in late December.

As of Monday, there were a total of 43 cryptocurrencies with a market cap above $1 billion. The largest of those, bitcoin, traded at $15,768.34 as of 1:15 p.m. HK/SIN, according to industry site CoinDesk. That put its market cap at around $264 billion.

Dogecoin is an example of an altcoin, which are peer-to-peer digital tokens that descended from bitcoin. The more popular ones include ethereum, which topped $1,000 for the first time on Thursday, and ripple, which saw a staggering 35,000 percent jump in its value last year.

Dogecoin, for its part, was created in 2013 and its mascot is a Japanese shiba inu dog popularized by an Internet meme that dates back to 2010. The creators of dogecoin positioned the virtual token as “the internet currency” that can allow users to easily send money online.

There are several ways to get dogecoins: Users can buy them at online exchanges, get tipped in the cryptocurrency and even mine them.

The Bitcoin phenomena experiences both record highs and lows this week, but…uhh, what the heck is it again? USA TODAY

The virtual currency’s meteoric rise in recent months has the project’s creator expressing concern about market excess. Jackson Palmer, the founder of dogecoin who left the team in 2015, told cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk that it was telling that the token saw such a sharp jump in price even when the project hadn’t released a software update in over 2 years.

The total value of cryptocurrencies is over $750 billion, according to CoinMarketCap, and bitcoin dominates around 34 percent of that market.

“The most significant contributing cause for altcoins to rise so parabolically is owing to the perception of ‘cheap’ coins,” Dave Chapman, managing director at Hong Kong-based commodities and digital assets trading house Octagon Strategy, told CNBC.

“The two most well known cryptocurrencies (i.e. bitcoin and ethereum) are considered too expensive for most new entrants. Despite being able to purchase a fraction of each, there is a real psychological barrier around owning something in its entirety,” Chapman added.

A buyer, he explained, would feel better knowing they own 2,000 ripple tokens, which would cost a little over $6,000, rather than owning less than half of a bitcoin at the same price.

Smartphone sales are slowing and here are two key reasons why

Global smartphone sales saw their first year-on-year fall in history, according to new data, with analysts blaming a number of new user habits for the decline.

Research from analyst firm Gartner Thursday showed a 5.6 percent drop in sales in the fourth quarter of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

Replacement cycle

Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner pointed to the lengthening of the replacement cycle as one cause. That’s a trend backed up by HYLA, a company that runs the smartphone trade-in programs for industry giants such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. HYLA has seen a number of trends emerge that may help explain the stalling smartphone market.

Only small improvements in smartphones now, even at high end: Analyst

Only small improvements in smartphones now, even at high end: Analyst   7 Hours Ago | 02:53

Device trade-in is playing an increasing role in all smartphone upgrades — and increasing the affordability of all devices — especially in the premium category. The company said data for 2017 showed U.S. consumers owned a device for 2.59 years, or 945 days before trading it in. That’s 78 days longer than in 2016 which came in at 2.38 years or 867 days. With users in a major market holding on to a better phone for longer, new device sales will inevitably suffer.

Meanwhile, some analysts suggest that consumers are holding onto their phones longer because their new devices are dramatically dropping in price shortly after purchase. Biju Nair, CEO at HYLA Mobile thinks the smartphone market may begin to emulate that of new cars. “Despite only being available for a couple of months, the iPhone X is now achieving just $600 at trade-in — highlighting the dramatic depreciation of high-end devices,” he told CNBC via email.


Consumers are also increasingly unimpressed with the frequency and diversity of new models. A lack of innovation and incremental benefits are failing to entice new buyers to the market, a better camera and better connection quality is no longer enough for potential purchasers to reach into their pocket.

Smartphone sales fall year-on-year for the first time   7 Hours Ago | 01:05

5G and the internet of things will be touted as the platform for the next spectrum of upgrades and features at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, but that’s still a way off from

being a smartphone savior. U.K. mobile analytics firm OpenSignal believes there is still life in the old 4G dog yet. CEO Brendan Gill said: “There is room for improvement in 4G as well. Telcos still need to invest in their 4G networks on an ongoing basis to provide a reliable and high-quality service to their customers.”

Apple’s micro financing options along with a strong trade-in market will continue to offer access and affordability to high-end devices. However, with Samsung launching a new flagship device to take on the iPhone X at Mobile World Congress, profit protection in a falling sales environment may mean the sky’s the limit for premium prices.