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WTF is happening to crypto? – TechCrunch

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Four days ago the crypto markets were crashing hard. Now they’re crashing harder. Bitcoin, which hasn’t fallen past $6,000 for months, has dumped to $4,413.99 as of this morning, and nearly everything else is falling in unison. Ethereum, flying high at $700 a few months ago, is at $140. Coinbase, that bastion of crypto stability, is currently sporting a series of charts that look like Aspen black-diamond ski runs.

What is happening? There are a number of theories, and I’ll lay out a few of them here. Ultimately, sentiment is bleak in the crypto world, with bull runs being seen as a thing of a distant past. As regulators clamp down, pie-in-the-sky ideas crash and shady dealers take their shady dealings elsewhere, the things that made cryptocurrencies so much fun — and so dangerous — are slowly draining away. What’s left is anyone’s guess, but at least it will make things less interesting.

The bag holder theory

November was supposed to be a good month for crypto. Garbage sites like FortuneJack were crowing about bitcoin stability while the old crypto hands were optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. Eric Vorhees, founder of ShapeShift, felt that the inevitable collapse of the global financial system is good for folks with at least a few BTC in their wallets.

Others, like the Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, are expecting a bull run next year and said his company was particularly profitable.

Ultimately, crypto hype moves the market far more than it has any right to, and this is a huge problem.

So who do you believe, these guys or your own lying eyes? That’s a complex question. First, understand that crypto is a technical product weaponized by cash. Companies like Binance and Coinbase will work mightily to maintain revenue streams, especially considering Coinbase’s current level of outside investment. These are startups that can literally affect their own value over time. We’ll talk about that shortly. Ultimately, crypto hype hasn’t been matching reality of late, a major concern to the skittish investor.

“I think that the downturn is due to things not going up as much as people had wanted. Everyone was expecting November to be a bull month,” said Travin Keith, founder of Altrean. “When things indicated that it wasn’t going that way, those who were on borrowed time, such as those needing some buffer, or those in the crypto business needing some money, needed to sell.”

Tether untethered

Tether has long been the prime suspect in the Bitcoin run up and crash. Created by an exchange called Bitfinex, the currency is pegged to the dollar and, according to the exchange itself, each tether — about $2.7 billion worth — is connected to an actual dollar in someone’s bank account. Whether or not this is true has yet to be proven, and the smart money is on “not true.” I’ll let Jon Evans explain:

What are those whiffs of misconduct to which I previously referred? I mean. How much time do you have? One passionate critic, known as Bitfinexed, has been writing about this for quite some time now; it’s a pretty deep rabbit hole. University of Texas researchers have accused Bitfinex/Tether of manipulating the price of Bitcoin (upwards.) The two entities have allegedly been subpoenaed by US regulators. In possibly (but also possibly not — again, a fog of mystery) related news, the US Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into cryptocurrency price manipulation, which critics say is ongoing. Comparisons are also being drawn with Liberty Reserve, the digital currency service shut down for money laundering five years ago:

So what the hell is going on? Good question. On the one hand, people and even companies are innocent until proven guilty, and the opacity of cryptocurrency companies is at least morally consistent with the industry as a whole. A wildly disproportionate number of crypto people are privacy maximalists and/or really hate and fear governments. (I wish the US government didn’t keep making their “all governments become jackbooted surveillance police states!” attitude seem less unhinged and more plausible.)

But on the other … yes, one reason for privacy maximalism is because you fear rubber-hose decryption of your keys, but another, especially when anti-government sentiment is involved, is because you fear the taxman, or the regulator. A third might be that you fear what the invisible hand would do to cryptocurrency prices, if it had full leeway. And it sure doesn’t look good when at least one of your claims, e.g. that your unaudited reserves are “subject to frequent professional audits,” is awfully hard to interpret as anything other than a baldfaced lie.

Now Bloomberg is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department is looking into Bitfinex for manipulating the price of Bitcoin. The belief is that Bitfinex has allegedly been performing wash trades that propped up the price of Bitcoin all the way to its previous $20,000 heights. “[Researchers] claimed that Tether was used to buy Bitcoin at pivotal periods, and that about half of Bitcoin’s 1,400 percent gain last year was attributable to such transactions,” wrote Bloomberg. “Griffin briefed the CFTC on his findings earlier this year, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.”

This alone could point to the primary reason Bitcoin and crypto are currently in free fall: without artificial controls, the real price of the commodity becomes clear. A Twitter user called Bitfinex’d has been calling for the death of Tether for years. He’s not very bullish on the currency in 2019.

“I don’t know the when,” Bitfinex’d said. “But I know Tether dies along with Bitfinex.”

Le shitcoin est mort

As we learned last week, the SEC is sick of fake utility tokens. While the going was great for ICOs over the past few years with multiple companies raising millions if not billions in a few minutes, these salad days are probably over. Arguably, a seed-stage startup with millions of dollars in cash is more like a small VC than a product company, but ultimately the good times couldn’t last.

What the SEC ruling means is that folks with a lot of crypto can’t slide it into “investments” anymore. However, this also means that those same companies can be more serious about products and production rather than simply fundraising.

SEC intervention dampens hype, and in a market that thrives on hype, this is a bad thing. That said, it does mean that things will become a lot clearer for smaller players in the space, folks who haven’t been able to raise seed and are instead praying that token sales are the way forward. In truth they are, buttoning up the token sale for future users and, by creating regulation around it, they will begin to prevent the Wild West activity we’ve seen so far. Ultimately, it’s a messy process, but a necessary one.

“It all contributes to greater BTC antifragility, doesn’t it?,” said crypto speculator Carl Bullen. “We need the worst actors imaginable. And we got ’em.”

Bitmain

One other interesting data point involves Bitmain. Bitmain makes cryptocurrency mining gear and most recently planned a massive IPO that was supposed to be the biggest in history. Instead, the company put these plans on hold.

Interestingly, Bitmain currently folds the cryptocurrency it mines back into the company, creating a false scarcity. The plan, however, was for Bitmain to begin releasing the Bitcoin it mined into the general population, thereby changing the price drastically. According to an investor I spoke with this summer, the Bitmain IPO would have been a massive driver of Bitcoin success. Now it is on ice.

While this tale was apocryphal, it’s clear that these chicken and egg problems are only going to get worse. As successful startups face down a bear market, they’re less likely to take risks. And, as we all know, crypto is all about risk.

Abandon all hope? Ehhhhh….

Ultimately, crypto and the attendant technologies have created an industry. That this industry is connected directly to stores of value, either real or imagined, has enervated it to a degree unprecedented in tech. After all, to use a common comparison between Linux and blockchain, Linus Torvalds didn’t make millions of dollars overnight for writing a device driver in 1993. He — and the entire open-source industry — made billions of dollars over the past 27 years. The same should be true of crypto, but the cash is clouding the issue.

Ultimately, say many thinkers in the space, the question isn’t whether the price goes up or down. Instead, of primary concern is whether the technology is progressing.

“Crypto capitulation is once again upon us, but before the markets can rise again we must pass through the darkest depths of despair,” said crypto guru Jameson Lopp. “Investors will continue to speculate while developers continue to build.”



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SlashGear’s Best of CES 2021 – The Tech that Mattered

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It’s fair to say that CES 2021 was a tech show of firsts: no huge Las Vegas bonanza of gadgets and vast booths, but still plenty of news delivered up virtually instead. As always, the TVs were big, the laptops potent, and the oddball gizmos, well, odd. Read on for SlashGear’s best of this year’s show.

Best IoT/Smart Home Device: Philips Hue Wall Switch Module

Filling a gap that Hue fans have long been requesting, the Hue Wall Switch Module slips inside a regular light switch and gives it a connected upgrade. No more inadvertently cutting your smart bulbs off from the network, and better still it can be programmed to launch a specific scene. The smart home never felt so unobtrusive.

Best Ultraportable Notebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 514

Sleek, tough, and ideal for our new working-from-home and homeschooling lifestyles, the Acer Chromebook Spin 514 also has the advantage of being affordable. $480 gets you a brand new Chrome OS notebook, complete with support for Android apps and a 360-degree hinge.

Best Laptop: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2

Following in the footsteps of the expensive-but-lovely Galaxy Chromebook 2020, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 has plenty to live up to. It hits the mark with a more affordable price tag, the same head-turning style, and a new QLED display.

Best Tablet: Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable

Lenovo’s ThinkPad range might not be the first place you’d expect to find a tablet, but then the ThinkPad X12 Detachable is no ordinary slate. Resolutely focused on getting things done, it doesn’t stint on hardware and usefully includes integrated LTE, still a rarity on Windows PCs.

Best Gaming: OtterBox Xbox Gaming Portfolio

CES 2021 wasn’t short on potent gaming PCs, but it was OtterBox’s Xbox Gaming Portfolio that caught our eye. Intended to help make the most of Xbox game streaming, the range helps connect your phone to your Xbox Wireless Controller, as well as protecting it all in your bag. With next-gen consoles focusing significantly on game streaming, these are the sort of accessories no gamer on the go should be without.

Best Content Creation Tool: Sony Airpeak

Drone, meet pro-grade photography. The Sony Airpeak isn’t the first time we’ve seen high-level camera tech loaded up onto a drone, but it promises to bring it out of the realm of big-budget movie and into the hands of a wider range of content creators. Given Sony’s well-deserved reputation in Alpha camera image quality, it’s no surprise that filmmakers and photographers alike are excited.

Best Medical Device: Razer Project Hazel

Only after 2020 could a smart face mask cause such a splash. Razer’s Project Hazel is – for the moment – a concept, but given the reception the color-changing, modular face mask received, we’d be very surprised if it didn’t graduate to a full product in the company’s range.

Best TV: Samsung Neo QLED 4K

Bigger isn’t enough any more in TVs: picture quality is where it’s at, along with sleek design. Samsung’s Neo QLED 8K line-up isn’t quite as lavish as the company’s MicroLED sets, but that should make them much more attainable in 2021. They also come with the company’s clever solar-powered remote, doing away with disposable batteries.

Best Accessory: Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD Monitor

If you’re working from home, suddenly the screen on your laptop just may not be cutting it any more. Dell’s UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD Monitor isn’t small, but its 5k2k resolution is certainly a luxury most of us would like to sit in front of.

Best Smartphone: TCL Rollable/Scrollable Concept Phones

TCL may not be a household name in smartphones yet, but the company is aiming to change that. Its rollable and scrollable concepts look like science-fiction, but the company says it’s aiming to commercialize at least one of them, for those who demand a big-screen but in a more portable form-factor.

Best Wearable: Lenovo ThinkReality A3 smart glasses

Want a big monitor, but stuck in a tiny apartment? Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 smart glasses focus on adding functionality where it’s most useful, plugging into a Windows PC and allowing for up to five virtual displays to expand your desktop, regardless of the size of the desk itself.

Best Audio: V-MODA M-200 ANC headphones

Active noise cancelling headphones are a big deal right now, a bubble of peace amid busy homes. V-MODA’s M-200 ANC headphones may not be the cheapest example out there, but the company’s commitment to great audio quality and its flexible ANC system help them stand out of the crowd.

Best Automotive: Mercedes-Benz MBUX Hyperscreen

Car tech has come to dominate CES in recent years, and little catches the eye like Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX Hyperscreen. Replacing the whole dashboard with a series of sleek displays and touchscreens, it’s no glossy concept but a preview of what drivers of the upcoming EQS luxury all-electric sedan will get to enjoy.

Best of CES 2021: Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i

In a year where our homes suddenly had to double as offices, schoolrooms, and movie theaters – among other things – the idea of a device that’s similarly flexible is mighty appealing. Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i takes the unusual idea of its predecessor, an e-paper touchscreen on the lid of a convertible notebook with stylus support and lengthy battery life, and refines it. The result is not only one of the most striking notebooks at CES 2021, but also one which epitomizes the multitasking, multipurpose world we currently live in.

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Bluetti AC200P Power Station Review

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When it comes to batteries, you almost always have to make a compromise between power and size. That’s more true with portable batteries where mobility plays a more critical role. There are times, however, when the reverse is true and charging power becomes the deciding factor. The latter is true for Maxoak’s newest portable power station, the 2000Wh Bluetti AC200P, which uses the term “portable” very loosely, at least in comparison to other portable power stations. In exchange, however, you won’t have to make that many compromises in what or how many you can juice up with it.

Design

This thing is huge, no doubt about that. Of course, that may be expected if you noticed the “2000W” or “2000Wh” label that the Bluetti AC200P comes with. This is twice the capacity of the Jackery Explorer 1000, for example, but also has more than twice the features and output options.

At 16.5 x 11 x 15.2 inches and weighing 60.6 lbs, almost 27.5kg, the Bluetti AC200P is barely portable. Sure, you can still carry it with some effort, but it’s meant more to be carried to its final location rather than carried around everywhere. As if to emphasize that nature, There are no carrying handles on top, just handlebars at the sides.

The power station’s design is clean and utilitarian, with all the action happening only on the front side. That includes the LCD touch screen that not only shows battery stats but also lets you control some settings. Unfortunately, that screen is easily defeated by bright outdoor light, like the sun, for example. The top, as mentioned, is bereft of any carrying handles or any structure for that matter, leaving the surface clear and flat for the wireless charging areas.

Power

Power is the defining trait of the Bluetti AC200P and that comes via the 2000Wh battery inside as well as the High 2000W AC inverter. With the plethora of output options available, the power station makes short work of mobile devices, easily charging them hundreds of times if really needed.

It can also handle small appliances, including mini-fridges, something more portable power stations can only dream of.

The Bluetti AC200P also offers a variety of charging options for the battery itself, with solar charging advertised as the best method in both efficiency and economy. That said, that requires a separate purchase and a 400W wall charger will have to do.

You can also charge via a car charging cable and the Maxoak packages all needed cables, amusingly even the Solar Charging Cable.

It also bears noting that the Bluetti AC200P uses Lithium Iron Phosphate, a.k.a. LifePO4. This is the very same kind of battery used in electric vehicles for its reliability, safety, and long lifetimes even under higher temperatures.

Of course, the power station does have fans to keep things cool but they are pretty silent so you won’t have to worry about disturbing neighbors.

Output

All that power would go to waste, however, if the portable power station didn’t allow users to take advantage of it. Fortunately, the Bluetti AC200P is all about that but, unfortunately, this is also where it makes a few compromises, too.

The highlight, of course, are the six AC outlets available for anything, from that mini-fridge to that laptop that still doesn’t support USB-C charging, as long as they are OK sharing that 2000W output. There are two 12V/3.0A DC ports to complement it, a lone 12V/25A DC port, and a 12V/10A DC car charger port.

For mobile devices, you have four 5V/3A full-sized USB-A ports, none of which support any fast charging technology, like Qualcomm’s Quick Charge.

You’ll have to make do with the single USB-C charger that does output up to 60W of power, good enough for some lighter laptops. Other laptops, however, might trickle charge only at that rate and might be better off using the AC outlets instead.

Last but not the least, the Bluetti AC200P also offers two wireless charging pads capable of a shared 15W of power output. You’ll have to keep that in mind when using both at the same time. Unfortunately, placing devices can be a bit tricky as you have to really hit that small area where the charging coil is located underneath.

Wrap-up

With a 2000Wh LifePO4 battery and a total of 17 charging output options, the Bluetti AC200P 2000Wh Portable Power Station definitely exudes power and does its name justice.

It’s not without costs, of course, primarily the size and weight of the box, but it makes up for that in versatility. Then there’s also the $1,999.99 price tag that some might balk at. It is clearly a tool designed to meet a specific need and, fortunately, it does impress when it comes to meeting that need.

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GPD WIN 3 gaming handheld PC mixes old design with new hardware

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The success of the Nintendo Switch revived interest in portable gaming consoles and gave birth to some devices and smartphone accessories that tried to capitalize on that. Even before the age of the Switch, however, GPD was already trying its luck with dedicated Android gaming handhelds before stumbling upon a niche yet profitable portable PC gaming market. Its latest attempt is perhaps its most ambitious yet, cramming almost unbelievable specs into a design that looks like a blast from the past.

Those who have been following the tech market long enough may experience a bit of deja vu looking at the GPD WIN 3, the latest crowdfunded portable gaming PC handheld from the company. There is no mistaking it takes inspiration from the 2006 Sony VAIO UX and the small number of “slider” ultra-mobile PCs or UMPCs that tried to carve a niche during those days. Of course, the GPD WIN 3 applies some modern touches, starting with what’s running inside.

The contraption is powered by a Core i7-1165G7 (or Core i5-1135G7) with 16GB of LPDDR4X 4266 MHz RAM and 1TB of M.2 SSD storage, quite the powerhouse considering the size of the GPD WIN 3. There’s also the Intel Iris Xe graphics, the chipmaker’s somewhat discrete GPU and its latest attempt at making it big in PC gaming. There are, of course, the usual gaming buttons and joysticks flanking the touch screen while its special trick is the touch keyboard hidden underneath that same sliding screen.

There are, of course, certain compromises that have to be made with a gaming PC of this size and power. For one, the 5.5-inch screen maxes out at 1280×720 pixel in order to maximize the graphics hardware, allowing it to run games at moderate frame rates and decent settings but at lower resolutions. The keyboard, which lacks the tactile feedback of physical keys, is also best for brief text input only, for in-game chats, logins, etc.

Given this is pretty much a laptop in a small form-factor, it shouldn’t be surprising that the price tag is anything but small, too. The lowest you can get it on Indiegogo right now is $799 for the Core i5 option but you might want to consider throwing in $50 more for a dock that converts the GPD WIN 3 into a desktop, as long as you have a bigger screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. The campaign, which is pretty much a pre-order system, still has over a month left. Judging by how many already grabbed the highest $949 tier, however, it’s clear that this might also be GPD’s most successful product yet.

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