Half Baked

There are no advertisements in the paper. No online banners or television commercials. News of the cooking class that is held on the second floor of the old walkup on the corner of Maple and Elm spreads only by word of mouth.

Even those who frequent the butcher’s on the ground floor have no knowledge of its existence, despite the fact that the staircase leading to the second floor is right by the glass case filled with pink and glistening chops.

Dozens of people are in and out of the shop everyday but none has ever wondered why there are stairs in the middle of a butcher’s shop. In fact, they never even glance at it, acting almost like it isn’t even there.

***

Clancy Collins, on that particular Tuesday morning, was in a foul mood. She had been woken by a phone call from her mother, who had casually mentioned that Mrs. Simmons hadn’t seen her at church the previous Sunday. What exactly had she been so busy doing that she couldn’t spare an hour for the Lord? Mrs. Collins had mused, her pseudo-subtlety grating on Clancy’s nerves.

Clancy loved Bascombe but, in a town of only a couple of hundred people, privacy had no meaning. She had never been particularly religious but her mother was a Believer, one of those who believed in a deity that was more personal assistant than god.

If you were going to insist on believing in something, why couldn’t you just believe in being as good a person as you could be? Clancy didn’t hold with cryptic messages in century old books – they left far too many things open to interpretation. People tended to take advantage of open-endedness; people like her mother who felt no guilt in tweaking the commandments to suit her needs and, it seemed, to drive Clancy out of her mind.

“Milk, eggs, chicken sausages,” Clancy muttered to herself as she slammed her front door and pounded down the stairs. “Maybe a steak for dinner?”

Pushing open the door to the butcher’s, Clancy cursed the tinkling bell that heralded her entry. She had immediately recognized the blue-tinged wisps and cloud of a decade old Chanel that meant Mrs. Simmons was around.

Perhaps if she edged very quietly…“You’re looking very well Clancy dear,” she heard from behind her. Bugger.

“Very chipper,” Mrs. Simmons continued. “When I didn’t see you at church I could only assume you were unwell but it seems you’re feeling just fine despite ignoring Our Lord.”

Clancy backed up slowly as Mrs. Simmon’s accusing finger advanced, stumbling as the wall behind her gave way to an opening. Mrs. Simmons was enjoying the sound of her own voice and as she bent to examine a rather fine rack of lamb, Clancy turned and bolted up the staircase. Funny, she had never noticed it before.

She’d apologize to George later, Clancy thought to herself as she climbed the stairs to what she could only assume were the butcher’s private quarters. Turning the corner on the landing however, brought her into an airy room. Clancy had entered from the back; in front of her were six wide counters, each equipped with a stovetop, a large two-handled pot, several jars and a large tray of utensils.

Standing behind each counter was a person. Or at least, what Clancy could only assume were people. The woman at the counter nearest to her had her long flaxen her pulled up in a bun to reveal strangely pointed ears. And was it imagination or did the elderly gentleman turning to talk to the man behind him have a pig’s snout for a nose?

At the front of the room, standing between an industrial sized oven and the largest charcoal burning clay oven she’d ever seen, was a man. He was sucking furiously on the limp cigarette dangling from his mouth, his long, rather matted hair curling beneath his ears.

Clancy was about to speak when he seemed to notice her and grinned. Momentarily floored by his gleaming white teeth, Clancy flushed; she’d never seen eyes that green.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus…the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross”. Clancy frowned as the odd thought flashed through her mind.

The man was still beaming at her. “Hallo, here for the class?” he asked.

“Er, no I don’t think so. I’m sorry to intrude, I was just trying to get away…”

“From Mrs. Simmons, yes.”

How on earth could he have known that? Clancy frowned.

“I’m Jesus,” he continued, pronouncing it ‘hey-seus’. “I teach this cooking class. Stay and create with us. If nothing else it’ll give you a way to kill the time until she leaves.”

Before Clancy could respond, he had turned to respond to a question about the excessive use of guilt and it’s advantages. Clancy couldn’t help herself; she wandered to the nearest empty counter and peered at the introductory sheet.

Welcome faithless comrade! We know it can be tough. Faith is a big, abstract word and sometimes, you just need something to hold on to. Everyone’s got a special recipe. Get started with the questions below to create the perfect blend for YOU!

1. Where do you stand on guilt and how would you like to fund it?
2. Would you like a belief in the universe as a huge, beneficent organism or something a bit more complex to really impress with?
3. Don’t be afraid to be different – how would you like Wednesday as a sacred day?

As Clancy watched, a lady with translucent skin at the counter next to hers poured the bubbling contents of her pot into a clear plexiglass box, and using a long-handled pizza peel placed it inside the clay oven.

“You can’t have a half-baked religion,” explained Jesus, who had noticed her staring. “Things get dangerous when people get something that’s not done cooking; they have this nasty habit of trying to finish it themselves.”

More Than Simple Philanthropy: 5 Reasons Impact Investing Is Not For You

Want to make money while helping the people around you? Well, who doesn’t? Funds that promise to put money to work for the good of society are growing fast and impact investing is the hot new buzzword to throw around.

Impact investing is a form of socially responsible investing, in which investments are made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

According to Vineet Rai, Managing Director of social impact fund Aavishkaar, impact investing is one of the hardest areas to venture into. “Attitude is key,” says Mr. Rai, explaining that those focused either on making a profit or changing the world in a day would do well to stay away.

“Impact investing requires catalytic entrepreneurs who have the drive to challenge social dogmas,” says Mr. Rai. “In this field you’re focusing on creating jobs, introducing products or services in difficult areas and targeting low income people.

Those simply interested in philanthropy may find that impact investing requires more of an entrepreneurial drive than they imagined. According to Mr. Rai, large firms such as Unilever can make far more of a difference in terms of social betterment, simply because they work on a much larger scale than social impact organizations like Aavishkaar. However, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and impact investing have two very different end goals.

Larger firms may focus on helping artisan handicraft makers via CSR. Those working in impact investing would instead focus on helping those artisans become the owners of their business. In that sense then, says Mr. Rai, impact investing can be much harder than simply working a corporate job.

For example, in 2007 Aavishkaar invested 25 lakhs in Vaatsalya, which pioneered the idea of asset light hospitals, something no commercial investor was interested in at that time. Today, Vaatsalya has 15 hospitals and has raised $25 odd million. Similarly, Aavishkaar has also invested in Milk Mantra, the first investment in dairy in Orissa, and Mera Doctor which focuses on providing medical services to low income people in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Rai used to work in forestry until he realized he was looking to do more with his time.

“I had a degree in forestry so I was possibly the worst candidate for a venture capital position,” he explains. “I didn’t have any experience so I just started my own venture capital.” And considering he will have raised nearly $200 million by next year, impact investing seems to have suited Mr. Rai well.

In keeping with Mr. Rai’s advice then, here are five reasons not to go into impact investing.

1) You feel passionately about an idea:

We get it. You have been frothing at the mouth and feel a need to eliminate poverty, save women from being exploited and bring healthcare to all. Passion is good. It will help you muster up the courage to quit that well-paying job and get your friends, family and fools to invest in your idea.

But only passion is fleeting. Once the flames sputter do you have the gumption to fight all the familiar problems that entrepreneurs face? Hiring a team, raising follow-up funds, mundane paperwork and multiple initial ideas failing are common situations to find yourself in. If you lack entrepreneurial chops might as well go back to that comfy desk job right now.

2) Seeking a $357 million SKS Microfinance type IPO:

If you want to become a social entrepreneur because you want to make a pot of money, and are hoping for a big exit, you might want to think twice.

First of all, not all ideas make money: there are quite a few social enterprises that are not for profit, and the ones that are for profit aren’t always swimming in cash.

Remember that impact comes before investing and that profits, though vital for the survival of an organization, never come at the cost of impact.

3) Corporate life has left you jaded:

Ever hear of that corporate big shot who made millions and also attained peace of mind? Me neither. If all you are is frustrated, impact investing is probably not for you.

However, if you’ve given the corporate life a shot and put away a fair amount of savings, perhaps you’re ready for new, more meaningful challengees.

But keep in mind that becoming a social entrepreneur may not replace your need to substitute corporate drudgery with a challenging and meaningful second career. Most of your time will be spent trying to convince various stakeholders to invest, without corporate resources at your disposal.

4) You want to give back to society:

Founding a social enterprise is not the same giving to charity or volunteering your time. Unlike traditional entrepreneurship where it is easy to find a co-founder or two, social entrepreneurship is different. Most ideas are born in isolation, and unlike selling an e-commerce idea, finding a founder who will share the same vision is no mean feat.

Social entrepreneurs are a rare breed: most of them will give up family, friends, money: face ridicule, criticism, bankruptcy and still give up their dream. Unfortunately, an urge to give back to society is not all it takes to become a successful social entrepreneur.

5) You’re suffering from a mid-life crisis and now everything bores you:

Do not consider becoming a social entrepreneur if you haven’t done your due diligence. You might want to consider fixing the situation at work first before thinking of social entrepreneurship as a career. Or consider becoming an employee of a social enterprise before starting up on your own.

If you’ve read this far and still feel that impact investing is the right move for you, keep in mind that the social entrepreneurship eco-system in India is still in its nascent stages and there are two significant obstacles to be overcome.

First, to boost investments, entrepreneurs require strong support from s regulatory and financial perspective. In countries such as the United States, information about critical regulations is easily available. Comparatively, in India it is a very tough process for someone to enter this arena and make a significant difference.

Second, more is required on the research and development front. To drive research and development, the majority of the support in the form of funding, mentorship and ease of regulation needs to come from the government. Until this happens, investors cannot bear the risk to fund high-potential enterprises within this area.

Should Snapchat have rejected Facebook’s $3 bn offer?

As even the most transient users of social networks know, photographs are the fuel on which these networks run.

Snapchat is a mobile app service that allows users to send photos and videos to a controlled list of recipients. Users can set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps – between 1 and 10 seconds – after which they will be hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from the Snapchat server.

As pointed out in an excellent analysis from blogger Benedict Evans, Snapchat claims to process around 350 million photo uploads per day (as of September), the same rate reported for Facebook, which is probably why Mark Zuckerberg reportedly offered Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy $3 billion for the service.

You’d think that a company that has no revenue and certainly no profit would jump at the offer. But Snapchat’s founders clearly think the service is worth far more, because they promptly refused the offer. And they may be right – if Snapchat has 350 million daily photo uploads today, imagine what it could have in three years.

What is $3 billion in market value today? Twitter’s recent IPO can help us to come up with revenue analogs that may help put the question into context. We can then estimate how much top line Snapchat will have to earn to grow into its valuation at its current levels.

We begin with Twitter.

Twitter

Twitter, in the trailing 12 months leading to its final private quarter, had a revenue of $534.5 million. Twitter filed to go public at $26 per share. Using a fully diluted share count of 705,098,594, Twitter valued itself at $18.3 billion. The company opened instead at $45.10, valuing the firm at $31.8 billion.

Comparing those figures to Twitter’s top line, the company valued itself at 34.2 times its trailing 12 month’s revenue. The market valued Twitter at $31.8 billion, instead, or 59.5 times its trailing revenue.

We can now turn to Snapchat, and see where it will have to be if and when it goes public.

Snapchat

Younger technology companies are less focused on revenue than more mature firms in the market category. Therefore, the following comparison may be a bit unfair. However, we are simply using this as a tentative basis of comparison, as Snapchat’s valuation implies that it will eventually earn big time revenues.

Given that investors are willing to value Snapchat in the 10-figure range, comparing its metrics in this way to Twitter isn’t too mean.

For instance, Facebook valued Snapchat at $3 billion. According to techcrunch, Twitter’s value-to-revenue ratio was 34.2. This implies that Snapchat’s revenue deficit is at $87.7 million.

What value is there in calculating revenue deficit? Essentially, it shows how much progress the company has to make to be worth a money-losing valuation.

Investors that are betting on Snapchat are making one of two assumptions. First, that someone will either be stupid enough or scared enough to buy Snapchat for a valuation multiple of at least two. Or, that Snapchat is a killer business, and that it will best and blow past the above revenue ranges.

Scoff at the Snapchat valuations that are being tossed around and you will be told that there are so many ways for Snapchat to monetize. But Snapchat deletes the information that it could use to target advertisements (or so they say).

So is Snapchat really worth these crazy high numbers? It’s hard to say. At the moment, it doesn’t really seem like it. Clearly, its founders value Snapchat’s unknown potential far more than the proffered $3 billion.

This sounds like a familiar situation. Way back when in 2006, Mark Zuckerbeg too thought his company was worth far more than the $1 billion that Yahoo had then offered him, and he was right. Snapchat may be going down the same success path but at a time when new top rated apps sprout up each day, Snapchat’s wait-and-see approach may be one they will regret.

Everything You Want to Know About the Lightest Tablet in the World

Apple just announced its latest offering, the iPad Air. And while the new tablet may not come in gold or have a fingerprint sensor, its superpower lies in its near negligible weight.

While Apple’s tablet got its annual upgrade last year, it was nothing compared to the near complete re-haul that is the iPad Air. The iPad is now super skinny, with a batch of significant improvements that’ll carry it through the next year. Here’s what you need to know.

Design
Design has always been Apple’s forte and this latest offering doesn’t fall short. At first glance, there isn’t too much different about the Air. There’s a brushed metal backing, a power switch and volume buttons on one side and that lighting port and speaker grilles on the bottom. A new addition comes in the form of the new dual-mics at the top.

The Air is about 20% thinner than its predecessor but the most noticeable difference is the weight. As its name implies, the iPad Air is impressively light, clocking in at only about one pound (as compared to the previous 1.4).

Naturally, iOS 7 looks great on that Retina display. And with a new A7 processor chip, apps and the like all boot up in an instant.

The Inside
Inside, the iPad Air runs a new A7 system chip. For reference, this is the same 64-bit chip populating the iPhone 5S. According to Apple, the new chip means that, when compared to the original, the Air offers eight times faster CPU performance and 72 times faster graphics.

The new chip also introduces support for 64-bit architecture. Additionally, the CPU features an underlying improvement in architecture.

So what’s the takeaway here? The Air is noticeably faster and, despite the major cuts in width and weight, boasts the same 10 hours of battery life as before.

Last but not least, the iPad Air has Wi-Fi with MIMO that’s twice as fast as before and those dual built-in microphones we mentioned earlier that will help improve audio quality.

Camera
The iPad, even in this new light avatar, is nevertheless unwieldy when it comes to taking photographs.

The Air’s camera is still the same 5 megapixels. However, the 1.2 megapixel 720p FaceTime camera has been upgraded to a camera that can shoot in Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution.

On the software front, free and redesigned versions of core Apple apps, iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, GarageBand etc., have been reworked for iOS 7 and the iPad. Apple also announced that the software updates it releases on a regular cycle will now be free.

The Air is set to be released in a number of countries starting November 1 and will be available in space gray and black, and silver and white. Prices start at $499 (that’s about 30613 rupees at the current exchange rate) for a 16GB Wi-Fi version, with the cellular model coming in at $629 (about 38589 rupees).

Sunny Disposish II

Alice stepped lightly from one rock to another, her voluminous skirts tucked firmly in one hand with her other arm struck out to the side for balance. The Hatter had taken a roundabout path to the right, and so the trees and moss underfoot were of an invariably sloping nature. Sunlight tripped down through the leaves above to splay sharp angles on the floor, but the overall air was peaceful and pleasant rather than gloomy or unsafe in some way. She had never really been through these woods before: on the grounds near the true family estate everything was flat and centred around the coursing brook, but here things planed off into bits of mystery and potential in a rocky, unforgiving way.

She had not known in her youthful repose that the rabbit hole would take her somewhere else, but now she was choosing to follow in the path of madness manifest—which by the by, she thought with a sigh, she could now hear in the form of tangled talking points intermingled with a pause followed by his reactive laughter at the nonexistent joke therein. He was carrying on in quite a way with something or someone; Alice was loath to know who or what he had engaged on the topic of what turned out to be the ethics of hair growth on the Moon. Soon she caught a glimpse of orange running riot, obstructing the decency of a nearby glade, and came upon her unstable guide. The Hatter threw the rock in his hand across the clearing where it landed with a dry clunk and dusted his hands together.

“Decided to join us, I see, then?” He was sitting with his back to an odd tree looking up at her for all the world like he had been lost but not known it, and could not understand someone else’s irritated relief upon finding him. Alice, as it were, was not wholly sympathetic to his having left so quickly, and thought he looked a bit silly sitting with his arms around his knees, his hiked up eyebrows contrasting his shock of white hair, and a bland, wide smile across his face.
“I shan’t refuse the Duchess’s request for my presence,” replied Alice, releasing her skirts to modestly place and smooth them back around her for the proper effect.

“Oh, was that what that was?” he said, pushing and edging himself against the tree to awkwardly clamber to his feet, “I thought it was a laundry list—I did wonder why Duchess should put you in charge of mopping the curtains; you certainly aren’t tall enough.” He paused to assess her with an upturned eyebrow. Alice did not have a response to this and instead politely handed him his hat, which had become dislodged in the unsteady upward movement. He swept it onto his head with a pop three shades lighter than a champagne cork.

“Right, then,” happily continued the madman, who was now removing a large silver ring from one of his inner coat pockets. It was more of a small hoop, and had only a tiny sliver of metal hanging from the bottom. He jammed it into a knothole on the tree which had supported him previously, and pulled in a fluid motion that extended up to his shoulder and made him lean back on his heels. Slowly he seemed to drag a door out of thin air, one that creaked through every mashing fiber in the joists. It was an alternately satisfying and irritating sound that fluctuated as the door came ajar.

“I didn’t know this was here,” said Alice in soft wonder, peering into the darkness within and trying to discern what could be there. What surprised her, of course, was that it should be in the middle of the English countryside and not in that topsy-turvy world of endlessly illogical—or was it illogically endless?–tea parties and truculent courtiers.

“Well, it certainly wouldn’t be proper to bung you down a rabbit-hole, now would it?” said the Hatter, tilting his head off to one side and flashing his teeth charmingly. He tucked the large silver ring back into his coat and bent also to gaze into the portal. Alice looked down at her skirts—no, she would not have supported the idea of crawling down through slickly packed dirt and succulent roots all for a Duchess and quite possibly a fool’s errand—at this she frowned. She had few attachments to her gowns and the French lace at the bottom of her petticoat, but they were expensive and not worth ruining for the reenactment of a nearly forgotten childhood escapade. And then she remembered that although tree doors were reassuring enough, they were notably unpredictable in their ultimate destination. The fact that it was so dark within suggested that it either led anywhere or nowhere at all. Possibilities were becoming infinite, and with that grew Alice’s curiosity.

“How did it get here?”

“Because it needed to be here.”

“So it’s only here because of me?” she gestured lightly to the gaping maw before them. He flicked his hands in an upward circle and shrugged in reply.

“I don’t refuse requests from the Crown, either,” he said. This set something within him, and the Hatter stepped halfway into the door, nearly disappearing as the blackness there seemed to consume rather than shade him. He stepped backward again, his hands on either side of the outer jamb, and Alice watched him frown. He looked a bit odd like this, the freckles on his nose standing in their beige detail splattered in a friendly pattern—though it was unusual to qualify epidermal anomalies through the concept of personification—across his round nose and the faint laugh lines near his mouth cast into shadow by the sunlight from above.

“Isn’t there a room beyond?”

“No.” The Hatter was still staring into the tree and sounded surprised at his own discovery.

“What?” Alice too was surprised, but could not have explained why this feeling ran so deeply.

“While I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree,” said the Hatter, reaching into his coat once more to draw out and inspect the tiny chunk of metal, “This one has proven itself to be abominably rude—boorish, churlish, and dare I even say it, a stodgy codger. I expected better of you,” the Hatter finished at the tree, shaking his head.

Alice stared at him, her thoughts of reason gone kaput.

“What do we do?” she asked. A bird overhead was twittering in hysterical ire at something. The Hatter pulled a cup and saucer from his sleeve and slurped noisily before chucking them abruptly over his shoulder, where they crashed against a tree trunk and shocked the offending bird into bewildered stillness.

“We are going to plant ourselves here quite securely and give this blighter the opportunity to mash the old brain over what it’s done. Now: I’ll glare at it in fatherly disapproval whilst assuming a threatening stance; you stand akimbo and start listing reasons why it should be ashamed of itself in a shrieky voice.”

He proceeded quite accurately, apparently fully assured that she would follow in his wake. Alice pursed her lips with no intention of disciplining a tree with a giant hole in its side, and the two fell silent for a while, letting the sound of other overly buoyant birds above count out the seconds, minutes, and half hour.

“I shall not be able to sit here all afternoon, you know,” she finally said with a bit of loftiness, looking up from between her fingers where they were holding up her head.

The Hatter was now sitting on a rock near the tree as well, his fist pushing his cheek so that it squinched up into one eye. It was a look of enduring irritation but singularly faltering patience, and gave him the air of a six year old boy who has been denied a clockwork train or something. He gathered his mental faculties and began to glare with more pronounced determination. The tree was bravely stoic, however, and remained inert despite his best attempts at intimidation.

“This is becoming most trying, Mr. Hatter,” she said more loudly. Alice felt a curl begin behind her navel and realized she hadn’t eaten since early that morning. The pieces of light on the forest floor were shaded in sloping angles now.

He leaned his head forward and began to appear as like a sporting dog remarking upon a badly hidden quail. Concentrating. This was rather serious business. Serious business regarding a tree. And something about quails? The Hatter couldn’t remember now. Maybe a master painter would come along and see how gloriously concentrate he looked, pointing his round nose at something very important. He would paint in his masterly way, and both of them would make a ludicrous amount of money. He called it Apostatic Contemplation, which sounded rather good in an educated way, but also because the sound of the words together was crisp, yet soothing. Sort of like tea, really. The Hatter grinned briefly. Tea.

Conversely, and mere inches away, Alice was becoming rather put out by all of this. “I have absolutely no idea why you’ve come here, or even the point of this silly mission,” she continued.

“Brilliant,” he replied in self-adoration, and wondered if the Master would paint him holding his teapot. This would add an element of drama—because, who holds a teapot while glaring at a tree? It was a very clever consideration, he thought. But then, he was a very clever man. The Hatter stopped glaring for a moment to take up an expression of thoughtful happiness at this reassuring thought. Yes, he was awfully clever. That master painter would be along any minute and truly capture his victorious battle against a recalcitrant tree. But only if he won. Right, then, serious business. The Hatter repositioned his threatening stare, but forgot to remove the smile at that point and began to look like an iniquitous duck plotting the hunter’s gun-shaped demise.

Alice did not think so—she thought he looked more like a moron. “Staring at that tree for the rest of the afternoon does not help us, sir!” she finally cried in a most unladylike fashion. It was a reprehensible outburst from someone who knew better from the likes of M.E.W. Sherwood et cetera. The Hatter eventually turned his eyes on her and frowned oddly, as though he had recently discovered that the denied clockwork train was actually inside his head and its gears were beginning to churn.

“Well, what do you propose to do about it, then?” he said, a teasing tone creeping into his voice. “It’s not like you’ve been any great shakes of help in this, you know.” Alice was now veering dangerously close to full-on peckishness and incivility. She slapped her hands onto the rock beneath her and bloomed upward very suddenly.

“Fine,” she said, the word pinching between her lips with an emphasis on the F. Her accent took on a broad, insulting aspect. “If you want to waste a perfectly good afternoon and my time, I can just leave, you know. I shall go directly to the house, pack my things, and be on the evening train for Westgate, I assure you.”

His response was simply to look back at her, and this of course inspired Alice to a greater sense of indignation and subsequent rage. “Your precious Duchess should have figured out a decent way to get me back into that kingdom instead of putting you in charge of royally screwing up a simple plan!” Having thus ended this diatribe, Alice once more gathered her skirts and swung round at full force.

Only to smack into something straight before her. The forceful inertia of her heavy dress completed the circular upheaval, and she gasped in surprise and at having the wind knocked out of her as it pushed her further into the large brick wall which had suddenly, and somewhat improbably, materialized.

This was a rather surprising new thing, and Alice took a few moments to feel the hardened clay beneath her fingertips—it was certainly real, with rough white mortar separating the roan blocks, and even bits of dead plant growth clinging to both. This was nothing short of betrayal on the part of the forest, and Alice pressed her palms into the wall, her mouth slightly open in, well, shock.

“Ah, that clinched it,” said the Hatter from behind her. His voice was once more cheerful, and she turned her head without moving away from the blockade to see him gathering up his hat and looking about blithely. The Hatter stepped up the rocks toward Alice and the wall and put his hand out against it. “I’d forgotten that part,” he said, and smiled at her before sipping from a purple cup he slipped from his left pocket.

“I don’t understand; what happened?” The Hatter enjoyed the taste before he replied.

“You can’t want to be at home while you’re at home. If you’re knocking about the house at loose ends, surely you would want to be somewhere else?” He paused to sip his tea again and appeared to be waiting for her response.

” I …suppose… so,” she said in pieces, treading carefully lest the quiet brook turn to raging whitewater.

“Right, so if you’ve got off to that somewhere else, you aren’t at home, eh?”

“Yes, but–”

“We therefore can reasonably conclude that the only way you can want to be at home is if you’re at another destination, and that the only way you can be at another destination, then, is if you’re feeling a bit homesick. Thus, etc.–” and he waved his hand in a little circle triumphantly. It was very odd logic indeed.

“So we’ve already arrived,” said Alice, looking around her for signs of change—she supposed she would have known the place by red trees and purple grass, but saw no difference between the woods beyond the house and wherever they were now. There were no wild colours or sounds apart from the man beside her and the orange coat announcing—no, screaming, his presence at the top of its lungs.

“You arrived before you left,” replied the Hatter, who was inspecting the gaping tree once more. “And you must go forward before you can go back, I daresay, because where you are is where you’ve gone yet and shan’t go for a time still.”

Alice thought about this and was of the opinion that it would be better to not respond. Her desire to maintain form, dignity, and at the very least, sanity, had not blunted in degree. That, and she was quite starving.

“I’m trapped,” was all she said.

“No, no you’re not!” replied the man in a sweepingly reassuring way, sloshing the tea about. Alice felt the situation seemed perfectly obvious.

“How am I supposed to get back to the house with a wall here?” The Hatter palmed his arms out to either side and began to inchingly balance his way across a set of larger rocks that hedged the wall. Alice could but follow. The proxy garden path he led her down eventually revealed a gap in the bricking in the form of a green garden gate too tall to peer over. It lacked hinges and a latch.

“Through there, you see?” said the Hatter, “You pass beyond the garden gate, and there you are again.” Alice pressed the gate and met with no small amount of resistance. She felt like pushing against any of the rest of the brick wall.

“I don’t understand,” she murmured to herself.

“What isn’t to understand? You’ve passed beyond the -gate and now we have only to seek out the -party. Garden- are the worst kind; I do prefer a tea- but unfortunately they don’t go well with brick walls, rather tasteless except for the mortar which surprisingly has a bit of unexpected sweetness,” his voice faded as he disappeared from her view. Alice took one last look at the green door and followed at a soft clip.

Who was she to question something when she had willingly gone along with him? Or was it her right and duty as an individual to hold out against the tide of change and disruption? Could she trust the Hatter in his charge? He had a very trying nature that grated away at large chunks of her patience, but he did seem to have things well in hand for the moment, at least. Perhaps he did have some redeeming quality. Surely the Duchess felt as much, otherwise he would not be… she glanced about her person to find him rapping one of his knuckles against another tree before pressing his ear up to it. He would not be larking about in such a fashion if the Duchess had not felt there were some measure of responsibility to be drawn from his likely shallow reserves, she thought dryly.

“Has the tree changed? Nothing else has; I should think we were in England but for that wall.” She trod near, shifting her skirts and looking high into the silent trees.

“It is a room. Now, anyway.” He sounded very far away of a sudden, though he had drawn his head out of the portal.

“What’s inside?” She could hear herself, but it was as if she were speaking through a long tube, for there was something else she could hear, better than either of their voices though it was far off yet. It was the kind of noise that was a cross between a distant beehive and the noise one makes when blowing bubbles through a straw into a glass of milk. Of course she did not know the latter sound given her manners, but nevertheless would have categorized the combination of these as strange indeed.

“Come, then, let’s not be wasteful of the moment—I’m famished! Putting it splendidly, I declare: ‘What, and the soul alone deteriorates?’ Let us off to feasts and speeches, my good woman,” he cried, yanking her back into the clearing and the task before them.

“What–” was as far as she got before her question turned into a squeal of surprise as the Hatter pushed her into the tree and began to heave the door shut, slipping between the latch just as it closed of its own weight. It was very close inside, as Alice realized there was naught to the room but the circumference of the tree; she was pressed up against something that felt suspiciously like a garish velveteen coat blessedly missing its orange in the lack of light. Also there was something teapot-shaped making her left arm very uncomfortable. Lemon and cinnamon, she thought.

“What was that?”

“Hmm?” His voice was near but vague.

“That sound. What was it?” There was a clicking sound echoing around her like notches on a pair of circular bands twisting in opposite directions.

“Oh, all sorts of creatures live in these woods. Could be another animal,” he said.

“What sort, do you think?”

“I’m not the utmost authority on sounds and their sources; you’ll have to ask the Duchess, I’m sure she could find someone to… what’s-it-all, analyze and define it for you. Like a field book: The Official Aural Society’s Handbook to the Greater Noises of Eastern England and the Surrounding Underground. Frightful good title, if I may say so myself…”

“But what sort of—OW!” she screeched and began to jump up and down on one foot. This led to a loud and fierce altercation, hindered by their inability to see one another or actually move.

“Ow, you’re pushing me!” he hollered back.

“Well, you stomped on my toes!”

“Not my fault—your skirts are humongous!”

“So are your shoes!”

“My shoes are the apex of form and style; it’s that ostrich cage bolted to your backside that’s causing all the problems–” here there were squawking cries of outrage and indignation which he chose to ignore “it’s like another person in here, and these trees are only meant for two!”

“Well, if you wouldn’t stand so close to me maybe I could have some room to breathe!” He muttered something under his breath about women being filled with divine fire before extricating himself with a sigh of release followed by a loudly pointed gasp for air from between her bustle and the wall.

Alice squeezed her arm up close to her head and tried to fan herself, but got halfway there before she swatted his lapel. This would have prompted more exclamation points and dramatic accusations but for the fact that the Hatter was shifting purposefully, moving his arms around and apparently slapping at the walls in an effort to make something happen.

“I say, close to the Scroobious Road but not so far as the Lane, mind you,” called up the Hatter somewhere near her forehead.

“What are you doing?” she asked the air above her.

“Directional formalities,” it replied. “They haven’t got them so they interpret envisages yet, and you have to be quite clear otherwise they’re apt to just go slogging off anywhere they please.”

Alice blinked with her mouth open, again somewhat fish-like, but inhabiting a much darker part of the ocean. “Which would be fine otherwise,” said the Hatter in a strained voice (he was reaching upward to hit the walls some more for good measure) “Except for we need to be somewhere with due expediency.”

A long arc of light began to appear somewhere in front of her, and Alice felt the Hatter fall away as he leaned into the door and outer beyond. She blinked into the white there and stepped back onto grass and stones.

“Why, it looks just the same!” she cried, turning round to see him closing the portal for good. His shoulder straight-lanced against the tree, he paused from his leaning to glance around.

“No, we’re definitely close to the beloved table,” he called back. “Try walking forward a bit.”

She did so, stepping past a large tree, and there found a curving sidewalk in gentle esses painted blue and white. It continued in both directions, though she could not see where it led for the trees positioned at just the right curve. He was at her side, took her upper arm in hand and began walking her along.

“This is going to be a perfectly decent teatime, my girl,” he said blithely. They continued to careen back and forth across the bricking, weaving between trees with signs carelessly nailed to their bark. Find yourself over here, said one pointing to the left. No, you’re here, said the one next to it pointing to the ground. Quick, what’s that up there?! shrieked one pointing into the canopy of trees, where another sign waited with Made you look.

Bending at a low-hanging branch, Alice remembered how to stop as the Hatter pulled up short before a small box hedge. Craning her neck beyond she could see past the rectangular leaves another small path, painted dark purple, sketching its way further inward of the darkness. He swung the bush open like a picket fence gate, and Alice managed to squeeze through before he vaulted one leg and then the other over it.

The darker path itself led around another corner to open out onto a large lawn with a table spread out before a small house. The table itself was very large, but was without its customary myriad smoking teapots and saucers of jam—rather its creaking came from the severe oddity of having so many elbows placed upon it at the moment.

Clustered at one end were a group of people intently leaning toward the short side, engaged in deep conversation with the backs of their heads turned toward the path. Alice could not tell how many there were, for there were both ladies and gentlemen there, and where one woman’s skirts ended another man’s smoking jacket began. There was movement, and a break in the heads revealed a rabbit in a tailored coat with a bow tie standing on the flat top surface.

“HATTER!” he bellowed as a rabbit shouldn’t.

“HARE!” cried back the Hatter in amusement. The Hare put his paws behind his back and gave a few grave bounces forward to meet their steps. He gave Alice an up-down up-down glance and nodded.

“This the girl?” he said.

“Oh yes,” began the Hatter. He seemed poised to relate the entire account of what had transpired in hammock, glade, and lane, but the Hare cut him off at the knees with an articulate throat clearing and long-considered remark.

“Stand by to counsel and advise, my dear boy. The plot has thickened.”

“How?”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, thickened how? Thickened like gelatin or thickened like starch and water, except for that when you grab at the stuff it’s quite turgid but the instant you pause to ponder at life it turns back into water. I wonder if you could walk on it. The mind does boggle at a thing,” he said.

“Like gelatin,” said the Hare. “Setting quick and cold—and we’re mired in the middle of it.”

“Dear dear,” said the Hatter. The situation was gathering drama in a very dramatic fashion.

“What’s happened?” said Alice. The Hare gave her a quick glance.

“It’s quite bad,” said the Hare.

“How bad?” immediately countered the Hatter.

“Tensions are running high and words like mutiny and eggplant are being tossed about rather lightly in my opinion—I can’t hold these people for much longer.”

“My God, man, what is it?!” They leaned forward to hear what he had to say next.

“We’ve run out of cheese muffins.”

BBM vs WhatsApp: Battle of the Messengers

WhatsApp has made hay playing the newly cross-platform BBM while BlackBerry kept its popular messenger service, BBM, bundled with its devices. But, with the latter finally making the messenger available on Apple’s iOS and Android-backed devices, many might be wondering if WhatsApp will be able to hold on to its massive headstart. After all, more than 10 million downloads within 24 hours of BBM being launched for non-BlackBerry handsets cannot be ignored.

When Business Standard pitted the two applications against each other on various features, it appeared a close battle for supremacy was inevitable.

Set-up

WhatsApp creates an account on the basis of your phone number, while BBM uses alpha-numeric keys called pins. The former’s process is easy, as you don’t have to remember passwords while shifting to a new device. It just sends a verification SMS to your number and the app scans for it.

For friends whose numbers you already have in your address book, this works out very well — WhatsApp automatically tells them you are on WhatsApp too. On the downside, this means you have to give out your phone number to add a new friend. Also, you must pop your SIM card into a new device when switching to set up WhatsApp. This can be a hassle if you are using a secondary phone or temporary SIM.

BBM’s set-up doesn’t require you to input your number. Unlike WhatsApp, you have to start building up your BBM contact list from scratch. But while switching devices, you can back up your contact list to the cloud and then remotely restore it on a new device.

Contact management

It’s important to remember that adding a WhatsApp contact doesn’t just mean you need someone’s phone number; you also need them in your device’s address book. This means, you don’t get to choose who you want on your WhatsApp contact list — a reason for many users to stay away from this service.

However, WhatsApp has a full contact-blocking mechanism in place, like BBM. Of course, since the contact you decide to block has your phone number, a quick follow up on the other side over SMS or even voice calling is likely. But WhatsApp does have a way to mark contacts as favourites for easy access — a feature missing from BBM.

So far as adding contacts is concerned, BBM’s cryptic pins could be a hassle, but that’s not the only way to do it. There also are barcode scanning and straight email invites that are quite easy.

Neither service has a tag system to organise contacts into, say, work and personal groups, though both offer group chats.

Text chat

The core of both experiences is text messaging. Both provide typing and delivery receipts, though in slightly different ways. On WhatsApp, a tick mark next to your message means it has been delivered to the server while a second one means the sender has received it — that doesn’t necessarily mean the receiver has read it. BBM, on the other hand, ticks off when your message is sent to the server, a ‘D’ mark when it is delivered to the receiver and an ‘R’ when the receiver has seen it.

Though WhatsApp lets you know at the top when the user was last active, strictly speaking, only BBM has read receipts.

BBM also has a few extras tied in. Conversations can be copy pasted elsewhere and emailed. Depending on the kind of conversations you have, these could be features you might prefer to skip. But for many, it will come in handy.

File sharing

WhatsApp only shares pictures and video files, while BBM allows users to swap any file type. Both platforms can send contacts and location, too. BBM also allows groups of people to share images, but no other file type. On the upside, group pictures on BBM have robust caption, comment, and upvoting mechanisms.

Group chat

Both BBM and WhatsApp support group chats, but BBM’s offering is decidedly richer. Both allow sharing of images to a group, but, curiously, BBM groups don’t support video, location, or contact sharing. On the other hand, WhatsApp maintains file-sharing parity with one-on-one chat. But BBM makes up for the discrepancy with shared to-do lists and events, plus a much more fleshed-out user interface for accessing all that content. Groups on BBM can also host multiple separate conversations which is great for larger groups.

The real clincher for group chat on BBM are the channels. These allow users to anonymously subscribe to channels that broadcast all kinds of content. Direct chat can be enabled between channel owners and followers, too, which is good for promoting engagement and handling, such as giveaways or “office hours”.

Channel owners get metrics on traffic and a web interface for publishing updates — perfect for brand owners looking to reach new demographics. Though channels won’t be available on Android or iOS versions at launch, these should be arriving shortly after.

Voice and video chat

Both WhatsApp and BBM support the sending of audio snippets recorded directly from the device. WhatsApp certainly wins in its implementation of voice notes, but that’s trumped quite quickly by BBM Voice.

The quality of real-time VoIP on BBM is fantastic. Also, despite having a very snappy-looking push-to-talk implementation, voice notes sent cross-platform on WhatsApp were a little on the laggy side.

Though you can share video files back and forth on WhatsApp, there’s no live video chat. Again, BBM wins with stable video chat, and the newer addition of screen sharing.

Blackberry maintains that both these services will be offered free to Android and iOS users.

Emoticons and personalisation

BBM comes with 90 core emoticons. WhatsApp blows that out of the water with 189; and, many users might attest, a conversation that isn’t punctuated by numerous facial expressions is sorely lacking.

BBM also enjoys a few other points of personalisation that you won’t find on WhatsApp. For one, there’s the classic PING action — to give your friends a little nudge when they’re being slow to reply. WhatsApp, however, lets you swap in custom wallpapers for your chat windows which is a nice touch.

Status and profile

Both BBM and WhatsApp have profile structures that support custom status messages and profile pictures. The former scores for a busy icon option, and optional updates for what music you’re listening to in the native music player. BBM profiles can also be linked to apps, providing practical functions like updating your status with your latest Foursquare check-in. WhatsApp has an impressive selection of preset status messages, but that’s about it.

Bottom line

Both messengers have their own set of scoring features and a few flaws that these make up for. Assuming the iOS and Android versions keep feature parity, it might be safe to say BBM could edge past WhatsApp.

WhatsApp has had the time to polish its user interface, build a strong installed base and start implementing a mostly-complete feature set, but service is still sketchy and lacking in forward-thinking features.

The only real challenge BBM might face is being consistent with its service to convince the users already comfortable with other platforms to give BBM a shot.

Social Media and the Changing Face of Global Health Care

There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet. Sometimes, maybe all a mobile phone is good for is watching an endless loop of Nyan cat, but people and organizations the world over are putting rapidly evolving technology to better use — they’re using it to save lives.

Health care, with the advent of newer and better technology, is rapidly changing. Digital technologies are leading us toward a potential revolution in public health, which will enable people to live healthier lives and make better treatment decisions. For example, there are a variety of websites and apps for tracking diet and exercise, pedometers, accelerometers, and heart-rate monitors. Digital tools offer self-awareness, a way to turn action into change and to do it scientifically, rigorously, methodically. To do it in a way it’s never been done before — with data.

WHO? YEAH, THEM, TOO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the main advocates of using social media to manage global health crises.

WHO’s seminal social media event took place during the Japanese tsunami and the ensuing radiation crisis of 2011. When monitoring social media, WHO began to notice a trend — people were drinking antiseptic medicines containing iodine, which they believed would protect them from the effects of the radiation. Using their Facebook and Twitter pages, WHO, which has a separate social media team for exactly this purpose, were able to warn people against self-medicating, thus saving hundreds of lives.

Similarly, when WHO’s social media team revealed that people had switched from pure iodine to large amounts of seaweed and salt to protect against radiation, they rapidly sent out tweets, such as “Just like salt, #seaweed doesn’t have enough #iodine to protect you from #radiation & takes too long to absorb #globalhealth #japan.”

WHO now gets nearly 6,000 new followers on Twitter per week and about the same number on Facebook per month. These new followers and fans use social media to easily pass on essential information that WHO provides, as well as ask follow up questions about it. Thus, via social media, everyday people are now WHO’s public health ambassadors.

MEANWHILE, IN AFRICA

HP, along with partners Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING),Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and mobile network provider MASCOM have been helping fight malaria in Africa.

On average, by standard procedure, it can take three to four weeks to send a list of sick patients to a district health clinic and then to the Ministry of Health of a respective country. In turn, using mobile phones to report outbreaks of widespread diseases like malaria has reduced response time from four weeks to three minutes — the time it takes to send one text message. This means that almost immediately, the government can not only warn people in the area of the outbreak, but also dispatch essential provisions such as bed nets.

Similarly, health care workers in Botswana have been trained to use mobile devices to collect malaria data and report outbreaks to authorities. The collected data is then plotted on a geo-tagged map, providing health workers context for their responses.

The key goal for health care providers is to partner with the government and other organizations, ensuring that health care workers are able to effectively implement technology, rather than just provide access to it and allow people to use it as they will.

HP and CHAI have also started working with Kenya’s Ministry of Health and are in talks with Mozambique’s government to continue their expansion. Kenya’s government is already using the platform to track the spread of 11 diseases, including malaria. Botswana’s government hopes to add another 16 diseases in the near future, starting with multidrug resistant tuberculosis. Additionally, PING plans to develop a game-like mobile phone tutorial, to ease the training of new health workers.

AS FOR THE FUTURE

The take home point is that social media is now more mainstream and widespread than ever before. People rely more and more on Twitter and Facebook for their news but more importantly, through citizen journalism, they rely on other people.

As impressive as the current results are, the ideas are still simple — everyday technology being introduced in new places and used in new ways. There are however no limits to what technology can achieve. Currently in the works are mechanical exoskeletons, made by Ekso Bionics, that will enable people with major paralysis and spinal cord injuries to walk again. But there’s more — in the future we may be looking at an entirely digital nervous system. Nearly invisible wireless sensors on your body could continually monitor your vital signs, bandages would not just protect your wounds but watch them for signs of infection. Even the bathroom mirror would be able to calculate your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.

In the early 90’s, nobody would have believed how much we have achieved with the Internet today. With the proper tools, fundamental aspects of society can be completely transformed in extremely short periods of time and that time for health care is now.

Flowers for Now

Harriet sighed and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, as she peered up at the traffic light again. It was still red, like it had been for the past fifteen minutes. She looked around uncertainly, a bead of sweat tracing its way down her neck.

 

Hers was the only car on the narrow main street. God, she hated small towns. They were so insular, so content. Small towns for small people; she had read that somewhere and it had stuck. If she didn’t find her way back to the highway soon, she’d be stuck here for the night and that wasn’t a possibility she was prepared to accept.

 

This traffic light was definitely broken, she decided, switching into first. Besides, it’s not like there was anyone around to catch her breaking the light. Easing her foot off the brake, she let the car coast as her mind wandered two weeks into the past. The fight had been the worst they’d ever had and she’d come home from the corner grocery to find Joel’s suitcase gone from the closet, along with most of his clothes. He hadn’t even bothered to leave her a note.

 

Her mother, upon hearing the news had muttered something about the ineffable game of life, before returning to her knitting. As far as Harriet could tell, the only game her life could be was an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who wouldn’t tell you the rules, and who smiled all the time.

 

As she turned left before a sign that informed her she was leaving Pleasantville and wished her a lovely day, with five exclamation points (the sure sign of an insane mind), Harriet found herself smelling the unmistakable smell of goat. It was so strong she could practically touch it.

 

It was a zoo. Johnson’s Wonderful World of Animals, as the hand-painted sign proclaimed. Before she had even realized she was making the decision, Harriet had pulled over and was walking toward the entrance. The zoo was, unsurprisingly, empty. So empty in fact that a stray tumbleweed wouldn’t have gone amiss. What was with small towns and heavy silences, Harriet wondered as she peered in at a couple of monkeys who lay languidly in their patch of sun.

 

“Harriet doesn’t much like people,” said a voice behind her.

 

Spinning around, an acid reply at the ready, Harriet found herself facing a tall man with a shock of strawberry blonde hair. His eyes were a deep navy and were trained on her face.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

He pointed to the nearest monkey: “Harriet, our only female. She’s pretty shy. Here, though, this might help,” he continued, holding out a handful of boiled nuts.

 

“No thanks, the way my day’s going, she’ll probably mistake my fingers for those nuts,” Harriet said, turning away from him. But not before she had noticed that his eyes crinkled when he smiled. Her nana had always said that crinkles were the way to tell a real smile from a forced one.

 

She could feel his gaze on the back of her neck and immediately reached up to loosen her waist length hair from its bun.

 

“You know, I have a surefire remedy for a bad day,” he said, coming forward to stand beside her. As he spoke, he fed the monkeys who had lined up to greet him, and Harriet noticed his fingers were long, with square tips. His tanned, densely veined arms spoke of long days in the sun and lots to do. They were reassuring somehow, far more real than Joel’s pale, restless fingers.

 

She snapped out of her reverie when she realized he was looking at her questioningly. She hadn’t heard a word he’d said.

 

“I’m sorry, I was a thousand miles away,” she said, shooting him a quick smile as an apology.

 

He was still looking at her and the directness of his gaze made her cheeks hot.

 

“I was introducing myself and explaining about my remedy, but perhaps it’s better to show rather than tell,” he said with a grin of his own. “Although I’ve been told you shouldn’t hope to kiss someone whose name you don’t know, so I’ll repeat the part where I told you my name was Matthew.”

 

“And you think you’re going to kiss me do you?” responded Harriet, flirting despite herself.

 

“Well, I think I have a shot, at least,” Matthew said. Harriet fought to stop the corners of her mouth lifting into a smile. His easy confidence and the kindness in his eyes made her lightheaded.

 

“Come on,” he continued, spinning her around and leading her to a large glass structure. It had been hot outside but the heat inside the building was solid. Harriet was immediately flushed but it was the beauty of the place that really took her breath away.

 

Plants covered every surface and ivy climbed the walls, the heat making the air shimmer in hues of green. Neon hued flowers dotted the viridescent scene and blue-winged butterflies spun lazily, as if drunk on the beauty of their environment.

 

“I had no idea you could have this sort of tropical plant life in Ohio,” said Harriet, looking around awestruck.

 

“I like it because it helps me remember that, when you least expect it, life can show you something beautiful,” Matt said, handing her an orchid, his fingers brushing hers; a silent question, an invitation to a better place.

 

Harriet paused. Here was something unexpected indeed. Here was a man who was smiling at her, his eyebrows bunched slightly together in a way that was already familiar, and she was happy. It was just a little spark. A tiny, spark of potential happiness, hesitant to come out into the open, but there it was.

 

And he had given her a flower. Scared and feeling slightly selfish, Harriet wondered how much more he had to give. For right now though, she decided, a flower was enough.

Bitcoin: A Primer

If you’ve been following the news at all, chances are you’ve come across headlines discussing Silk Road. If you’re like most people, chances are you skipped right over it – Miley Cyrus ripping on the US government was far more enticing.

Last week, the FBI took down Silk Road, an underground online marketplace that many people used for drug-related and other illegal activities. In the process, they froze over 26,000 Bitcoins that were being held for customers as they made their transactions. Needless to say, people are not pleased.

Bitcoin, first introduced in 2009, has recently started gaining traction. With the Silk Road controversy raging hard, here’s a primer on the digital currency that may be the new way to conduct transactions online.

What is Bitcoin?

The origin of Bitcoin has been attributed to a pseudonymous developer known only as “Satoshi Nakamoto”, who called it a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system.

Bitcoin is a purely digital currency, which means it has no tangible notes or coins. It’s completely decentralised, which means that there is no central authority, only a network of contributors and freedom enthusiasts.

Why is the advantage of using Bitcoin over other, traditional forms of payment?

Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you need to transfer a sum of money to an individual online. Let’s also say that you don’t possess a bank account – according to the Wall Street Journal, close to half of India’s 1.2 billion population don’t – or you do not wish to reveal your financial identity in executing a particular transaction. When dealing with traditional currencies, this would be a serious impediment to your transaction.

That’s where Bitcoin comes in. All you need is an internet connection, and you can complete the transaction using Bitcoin. Also, it’s completely and totally anonymous.

Currently, there is a huge demand for buying bitcoins anonymously due to ever-increasing government regulations, private agency intrusions and discrimination against alternative currencies.

Okay. You’ve got my attention. So how does Bitcoin work?

To put it simply, Bitcoin works a lot like email. Download a Bitcoin wallet, which will generate your unique Bitcoin address (essentially an alphanumeric key that will be the only means to identify you). You can disclose this address to your friends so that they can pay you or vice versa.

Bitcoins are kept in a digital wallet which you can keep in your computer, or on a website online, which will manage and secure your wallet for you.

What’s more, you can use Bitcoin software on top of Tor to prevent anyone from tracking your IP address – total anonymity guaranteed.

I don’t really understand. Can you walk me through how to buy Bitcoins?

The closest thing Bitcoin has to an industry leader is Mt. Gox, a Japanese website that acts as a real-money exchange between bitcoins and more established currencies.

To use the Mt. Gox exchange you have to submit photo ID and proof of residency before you can create an account. Once you have signed up for an account you will be able to wire money directly into the exchange’s bank account. You then need to create an “Ask” or “Buy” order and buy the appropriate amount of Bitcoin (BTC) at the current exchange rate.

Another alternative is using a website such as BlockChain, which offers a simple three-step, anonymous way to begin trading in bitcoins. All you need to get started is an email address and password of your choice. Once you create a free Wallet with BlockChain, you receive your Bitcoin address (the alphanumeric code mentioned above). You can then click the “deposit with cash” button and enter the amount you wish to buy.

However, remember to always be cautious when dealing with online exchanges.

You can also mine bitcoins. Mining, or generating, is the process of adding transaction records to Bitcoin’s public ledger of past transactions. Unless you have some pretty intense computer skills, this isn’t easy or recommended.

Okay but what can I buy with Bitcoins? Can I convert them back into tangible cash?

You can send Bitcoins to a person, buy goods on sites like BitcoinstoreFoodler or Bitcoinwireless, or donate to non-profit foundations who accept it, such as Wikileaks, P2P Foundation, Operation Anonymous etc.

Another way to spend bitcoins is to exchange them for gold, another investment. One important thing to keep in mind: It’s hard to convince someone who has never heard of Bitcoin before to accept it as payment.

In the short term then, the value of bitcoins isn’t driven in any way by the actual use of Bitcoin in trade. It’s driven by speculators who see it as an investment that’s going to rise in value.

Can you convert bitcoins back into cash? Technically, yes. If you can find someone to conduct an in-person transfer with, you can send them your bitcoins while they give you cold hard cash.

If you can’t arrange an in-person exchange however, you’ll need a bank account. And if you’re okay with using a bank account, well why get bitcoins involved in the first place if you aren’t a Bitcoin speculator?

The concept of Bitcoins still sounds awesome. Why aren’t more people using them?

Well, unless you’re a technolibertarian or a Bitcoin opportunist, the appeal of Bitcoin is still revealing itself.

The problem with Bitcoin comes down to why Silk Road was shut down. Complete anonymity under the guise of privacy just doesn’t work, because people take advantage of it to conduct illegal transactions.

There’s also a whole host of other issues – it’s easy to shut down (as exemplified by Silk Road) and widely deflationary (because there is a fixed supply of bitcoins, a lot of people can’t get their hands on it).

It’s also highly volatile (in 2013 itself it was valued at $8 to 1 Bitcoin and as of October 8, the Mt. Gox exchange rate was about $137 a Bitcoin). Your two bitcoins might be enough to buy a cheap laptop today and maybe just a box of cookies the next. Not to mention that most people don’t have much faith in a payment system started by an anonymous hacker.

There’s also one rather glaringly obvious challenge – how do you buy enough bitcoins to make it a stable, usable currency? Unless bitcoins are issued and simply handed out, people will need to buy them. With money. See the problem? It defeats the purpose.

So I just read this entire article for nothing?

Well, no. For one thing, you’re a lot more knowledgeable about bitcoins.

Further, it’s hard to completely dismiss anything that has garnered such a rapid following. Silk Road, just one of many websites that use bitcoins, had 957,079 registered users who did 1.2 million transactions between February of 2011 and July of 2013.

Undoubtedly, there are still a number of obstacles to overcome before Bitcoin really catches on. For innovative entrepreneurs however, opportunities abound.

Will Oyster revolutionise e-reading?

Those who think fondly of ye olde video rental stores are few and far between. With the advent of Netflix, video rental chains like Blockbuster and its comrades were soon forgotten. So too in the world of books – sales of “real” books have been limping along for a while now, with many wondering how long they can soldier on.

With the recent double whammy launches of Oyster Books (essentially Netflix for books) and Amazon’s Kindle Matchbook program (which bundles every book bought from Amazon.com since the early 1990s with that title’s e-version), we have to wonder: are we just begging for the end of the printed word?

According to one estimate from the LA Times, the total revenue generated from eBook sales in the U.S. topped $3 billion in 2012, which equates to a 44% jump from the year before. Meanwhile, across the pond, eBook sales in the UK quietly turned in a record year, leaping 134% from 2011 to 2012.

Evidence of the rapidly growing popularity of e-books is not hard to come by and Oyster is cashing in. While e-Readers and digital books are hardly in short supply, Oyster wants to create the first, real dedicated subscription service for books, while offering the same kind of personalized, social content discovery one has come to expect from Netflix and Amazon.

Oyster’s model is straightforward. For a monthly fee of $9.95, subscribers get access to a library of 100,000 titles, with offerings from big name publishers such as HarperCollins, Melville House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Workman. From there, members can peruse its library, check out recommendations from its Editorial Staff if in need of some guidance and be off and reading with a few quick taps.

Much like Netflix, Oyster allows readers to peruse its library by genre and title, while offering suggestions on what’s getting buzz in the news. As with most recommendation services, the more active you are within the app, the more you read, the better its recommendations become.

There are two main concerns being raised.

First, how is Oyster structuring its deals with publishers? Are publishers or authors being paid every time their book is selected or is the content being paid for up-front? The answer here isn’t clear just yet.

Second, is Oyster really impinging on bookstores’ territory? Not necessarily. If a bookstore’s business is books, it doesn’t automatically mean that everyone else whose business is books is a competitor.

It’s entirely possible that Oyster, currently only available for the iPhone, will simply provide a complementary service, since it’s strengths don’t really overlap with those of brick and mortar stores. For example, in regard to stores, there is physical ownership and front-listed print books, whereas Oyster model focuses on paid, back-listed, ebooks. From that perspective then, Oyster proves more of a threat to independent used book stores, which also focus on inexpensive, back-listed, pre-owned books.

The key advantage that Oyster has though is that it has homed in on the smartphone market. While most would assume that readers prefer tablets (or anything with a bigger screen) when they read, Oyster is counting on the fact that, unlike tablets, people always have their phones with them.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that Oyster is simply a rental service. Your monthly subscription buys you access to as many books as you can read in a month and nothing more. You don’t own any of the books you read.

While old-school bibliophiles can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that bookstores are safe (for now), Oyster undoubtedly presents an interesting new option for those with more flexible reading predilections.