Economist 8/18/15

  1. When the University of British Columbia (UBC) resumes classes in September it will for the first time offer a course for credit in Cantonese. That seems an unremarkable decision by a Chinese-language department that claims to be the largest in North America.Cantonese was widely taught at Canadian and American universities 30 years ago, says Ross King, head of UBC’s Asian-studies programme. That is because most Chinese immigrants came from Hong Kong and southern China, where it is the main language. But the economic rise of mainland China, whose official language is Mandarin Chinese (or putonghua), is pushing Cantonese off the streets and out of the academy.Cantonese is not about to die out. About 62m people speak it, as many as speak Italian.
  2. NORTH KOREA will go back in time on August 15th, turning back its clocks by half an hour to establish its own time zone. It seems appropriate for a country that venerates its past: the hermit kingdom already has its own calendar, with years counted from 1912, the birth year of its founder and “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung.Not all such changes stand the test of time: think of France’s failed attempt to introduce a ten-hour clock and an entirely new calendar after the revolution of 1789, to emphasise the break with its monarchist past.By order of the Roman Senate, the month of July was so named in honour of Julius Caesar, when he reorganised the calendar starting in 45BC (709AUC, in the Roman calendar); August was later named after Augustus Caesar, which required the lengths of several months to be adjusted to ensure August was no shorter than July.
  3. Hugo Chávez turned the clocks back by half an hour in 2007 to move Venezuela into its own time zone—supposedly to allow a “fairer distribution of the sunrise” but also ensuring that the socialist republic did not have to share a time zone with the United States.Perhaps the strangest example is that of Turkmenistan under President Saparmurat Niyazov, who renamed all the months and most of the days of the week in 2002, even renaming April after his mother. The changes were reversed only in 2008, two years after Niyazov’s death. For its part, North Korea is shifting its time zone this week to reverse the imposition of Tokyo time by “wicked Japanese imperialists” in 1912.
  4. WHILE residents of Melbourne enjoy another year in the world’s most liveable city, according to the 2015 Global Liveability Ranking. The ranking, which considers 30 factors related to things like safety, healthcare, educational resources, infrastructure and environment in 140 cities, shows that since 2010 average liveability across the world has fallen by 1%, led by a 2.2% fall in the score for stability and safety. The most liveable places, notes the EIU, tend to be “mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density”, which explains the low ranking of near-megacities like London and New York and goes some way to explaining Melbourne’s continued place in the sun. Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth, Auckland, Helsinki, Zurich are the most liveable cities of 2015.
  5. On August 15th two of bitcoin’s five main developers released a competing version, or “fork”, of the software that powers the currency—a move, some fear, that may split bitcoin. The bone of contention is the size of a “block”, a batch of bitcoin transactions into which these are assembled before they are processed. Satoshi Nakamoto, the elusive creator of bitcoin who went offline in 2011, limited their size to 1Mb. That is enough to handle about 300,000 transactions per day—suitable for a currency used mainly by crypto-geeks, as bitcoin once was, but nowhere near enough to rival conventional payment systems. The likes of Visa and MasterCard can process tens of thousands of payments per second if needed.By how much and when to increase this limit has long been a matter of a heated debate within the bitcoin community. One camp wants to set the number much higher and do it soon.The other side, led by the other three main bitcoin developers, frets that increasing the block size hastily would lead to centralisation and turn bitcoin into more of a conventional payment system. This matters to bitcoin purists, who laud the currency’s decentralised approach of running a currency. Mr Hearn and Gavin Andresen, one of the dissenting developers, decided to press the issue by organising a referendum of sorts: they have called on “miners”, specialised nodes that assemble the blocks and mint new bitcoin, to install their new version, called “Bitcoin XT”.

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