Uber Now Accepts Debit Card Payments in India

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Uber, the technology-based cab service provider, on Monday launched debit cards as an additional payment option for all users across the 18 cities that Uber operates in, in India.In July, credit card payments was re-introduced in India for all Android users, in partnership with MobiKwik. Now, users across iOS and Android platforms have the option to pay via debit/credit cards.

“Adhering to RBI regulations, there will be a two-factor authentication flow built into the app and users will have to enter either their online banking pin or their one-time password to request for a ride using their debit/credit card,” the company said in a statement.

Commenting on the new payment mode rollout, an Uber spokesperson said: “At Uber, we’re about making transportation as convenient and hassle-free as possible.”

“As we continue to focus on our mission to re-define urban mobility in India, riders will have the ability to chose from debit/ credit card payments, Paytm (digital wallet), and Cash (in 6 cities),” he added.

The company earlier said that it was allowing cash payments, too, in the six cities of Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kochi and Pune. The move assumes significance as Uber’s global business model does not allow cash transactions.

Last week, Uber was reportedly set to invest $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,404 crores) in India, which will bring its investment on par with that in China, the Financial Times reported. Uber said that this move would help its service reach 1 million daily rides by March 2016, the first time the company has set such target for India, FT said. Amit Jain, president of Uber India, said the company was “extremely bullish” on the Indian market and that it continues to see a 40 percent monthly growth, FT reported.

More Women Watching Online Porn in India

When it comes to watching porn online, women are slowly bridging the gap in India with as many as 30 percent of women in India now regularly visiting porn websites, says a new study.Last year, 26 percent Indian women were online searching for porn.

While lesbian porn was found to be the runaway hit among women, women across the globe are also watching more “hardcore” acts than men, revealed the study done by popular general interest website Pornhub in collaboration with New York-based news website, The Daily Beast.

The data came from nearly 40 million Pornhub users.

(Also see:  857 Websites Blocked for ‘Porn’, Triggering Furious Debate: 10-Point Cheatsheet)

Compared to the worldwide average of 24 percent female porn viewers an increase of one percent over the previous year, the Philippines and Brazil took the lead with 35 percent female viewers.

India and Argentina came in a close second with 30 percent female porn viewers.

Using high-tech analytics software, the study revealed that women are also more selective than men when it comes to online porn viewing.

“Women are spending more time watching porn – a worldwide average of 10 minutes and 10 seconds compared to men at just nine minutes and 22 seconds,” the results showed.

Japan presented the largest proportional gap between male and female porn viewers (83 percent male and 17 percent female).

Women in the US ranked pretty low (23 percent women and 77 percent male).

Nearly 24 percent of women in France visit online porn websites regularly.

Earlier, global research firm Pew Research Centre in 2013 surveyed the online viewing habits of 1,003 Americans and found that 25 percent of men admitted to watching porn in comparison to eight percent of women.

Drones to Control Man-Animal Conflict Around Indian Forests

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If things go according to plan, drones may soon come to the rescue of those caught in conflict with wild animals.Scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun have decided to use drone technology as a tool to control the increasing cases of man-animal conflict in and around forest areas.

“Besides regular surveillance of our wildlife, we have found that drones can also be used for conflict resolution. We can fly these machines at short distances on the periphery of our forests to track if any large mammal like a tiger or elephant has strayed into the nearby villages,” WII’s wildlife scientist K Ramesh, in-charge of the project, told PTI.

In cases where the villagers notice that a wild animal is lurking dangerously close to human habitat, they can inform the forest department who can fly a drone fitted withGPS device and hi-resolution cameras in the area to find out the exact location of the animal.

“It would then be driven back to the forest by officials,” Ramesh said.

According to experts, drones can be particularly useful in detecting movement of elephants which often create havoc in villages as they look around for food while crossing forests. Corbett Tiger Reserve’s field director Samir Sinha said technology like those of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will create a big difference in wildlife management.

“If you have an eye in the sky then it generates lot of information. We can plan intervention and protect both people and wildlife,” he said. Sundarban Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas said drones would be a force multiplier for them.

“We can scan an area of say about 15-20 sq km by sitting at one particular location. It will give us lot of information so the possibilities are endless,” he said.

Following trials at Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh, WII is improvising on its UAV’s to include additional features like night vision capability, landing capacity, increased duration, and speed of flights, etc.

“We are also changing the air frame so that it can fly in rains. We also want to add capabilities to load equipment like radio tracking device, etc,” he said.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had recently cleared a project by National Tiger Conservation Authority and WII to deploy drones in select forests around the country for monitoring and surveillance.

In the first phase, drones would fly in the forests of Panna, Jim Corbett National Park, Kaziranga, Sundarbans, and the Sathyamangalam forest of Tamil Nadu.

“We will start work as soon as we get a nod from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Home Affairs has already given us an NOC,” the WII scientist said.

Flying at an average speed of 40 km per hour, UAVs can reach a height of around 100 metres. In each site, 2-3 drones would be deployed. After getting trained, forest department personnel would use it according to their need.

The design and features of the machines would be customised according to the geography of the forest.

Sathyamangalam, for example, has hilly terrain while Sundarbans has dense coastal mangrove forests. The woods in Panna are interspersed with grassland areas

Political Consultant For Uber to Advise Other Startups

Uber, the ride-hailing app, seems capable of the impossible: fighting City Hall and winning.In its recent tussle with New York City, the company emerged victorious after an all-out media blitz against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who proposed and then dropped a plan to cap the number of cars that on-demand ride companies could put on the road.

Now, one of the advisers behind that campaign wants to bring his touch with government to other technology startups.

Bradley Tusk, a former campaign manager for New York’s last mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, is starting Tusk Ventures, a political consulting firm geared toward helping startups work with – and in some cases, beat back – government regulators.

His pitch: The wave of high-tech startups often is not so much creating new industries – like Google did with search, or Facebook with social networks – as it is disrupting existing ones.

And as Uber has taken on the taxi industry and Airbnb competes with hotels, new startups will not only need to contend with established businesses, but also with regulation from local governments.

“Venture capitalists haven’t really thought about having to deal with government and regulation,” said Edward J. Mathias, managing director of the Carlyle Group, an asset management firm, and an adviser to Tusk. “Now, it’s all over the place.”

Tusk started advising Uber in 2011, when it was worth far less than the $50 billion (roughly Rs. 3,20,275 crores) or so valuation that investors are now giving it.

In his deal with Uber, Tusk took equity as payment, an arrangement that has paid off handsomely for his existing firm, Tusk Strategies, which generally focused on publicly traded companies rather than startups. He plans to have Tusk Ventures, which will have a dozen employees, also take a stake in the early-stage startups it advises. Tusk Ventures will assume from Tusk Strategies the responsibility for advising Uber.

When Uber learned of de Blasio’s plan in June, Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive, called Tusk. Tusk helped form a plan to lobby City Council members and blanket the airwaves with television spots.

“He was closely involved on those ads,” said Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber in New York. “We’ve been fighting a lot of fights all over the world, but we haven’t done television ads before.”

In its ads and other efforts, Uber pushed a message that the company gave New Yorkers outside Manhattan, especially minorities, transportation and jobs they are otherwise denied.

“Let’s be clear: Uber wants to make money,” said Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham. “But Uber was able to make it about serving the outer boroughs, which is something that de Blasio campaigned on.”

Uber could afford such an ad run, because of its cash gained from its unusually huge fundraising rounds. Tusk said he will tell smaller startups to use a gentler touch with municipalities.

“If you don’t have to fight, you’re much better off not doing so,” Tusk said. “Because if nothing else, you’re expending a lot of resources.”

Take Zendrive, another company that Tusk Ventures is advising, which enables smartphones to monitor driver behaviour. (Tusk Ventures has three companies in its portfolio: Uber, Zendrive and General Assembly, a school that teaches technology skills.)

Tusk is telling Zendrive to talk to politicians and regulators not because they are about to try to stop Zendrive, but instead to introduce them to the technology. The hope is that someday, driver monitoring will be written into regulations on delivery or taxi fleets.

Intex May Invest Rs. 300 Crores to Double Revenues

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Indian handset maker Intex Technologies on Monday said it may invest Rs. 300 crores towards promotional programmes of its mobile phones and other products, aiming to double revenues to Rs. 8,000 crores this fiscal.The company roped in Tollywood actor Mahesh Babu as its brand ambassador for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Keshav Bansal, director Intex said it will be investing Rs. 1,500 crores in an upcoming plant at Greater Noida, and Research and Development in the next three years.

“The mobile phone vertical contributes about 75 to 80 percent to the overall revenues of the company. This year, we are looking at Rs. 8,000 crores from mobile business. For the marketing, we are looking at around Rs. 300 crores investment in the overall brand. Out of which, 85 percent would be spent on mobile only,” Bansal told reporters on the sidelines of announcement of new band ambassador for the states.

The company has four manufacturing facilities and expects to roll out smart phones from its Greater Noida plant in the next three to four months. The capacity of the plant would be 3.5 to 4 million handsets per month, Bansal explained.

“We are a zero debt company till date,” he said when asked about the investments required to achieve Rs. 8,000 crores turnover. The company’s revenues stood at Rs. 4,000 crores during the last financial year.

He said the company is growing at 100 percent rate year- on-year on the back of strong dealer network and launching of affordable phones with good features.

Google Hangouts Gets New Custom Invitation Options

Google has quietly rolled out a new feature to its Hangouts app that gives users control over how others get in touch. The new ‘customise invites’ option in Hangoutslets users choose to receive invites from people who have their phone number, those who have their email address, or everyone else.
hangouts_customise_invites_screenshot_ndtv.jpgThe new feature doesn’t require any app update and seems to be a server-side update that enables the new “customise invites” option.The new option can be found in settings of the Hangouts app under “How others get in touch with you.” On tapping the ‘Customise invites,’ users are given three options: people who have your phone number; people who have your email, and everyone else. All the three options further offer three ways for these people to contact you – can contact you directly, can send an invite, and can’t contact you.

Notably, the Hangouts app shows the default option for all three new ‘customise invites’ options as ‘can send an invite’.

Google back in May at a Reddit AUA (Ask Us Anything) session had revealed its role in assisting the US government in surveillance and disclosed it does encrypted Hangouts conversations but remained unclear on the use of end-to-end encryption. It later, separately clarified that Hangouts does not use end-to-end encryption.

In the post-Snowden world, end-to-end encryption (E2EE) has been a topic of concern with respect to various services that involve communication. While WhatsApp late last year added end-to-end encryption to its messaging service, there are still a few services that have still do not feature the same, which makes them susceptible to interception.

Reliance Arm Offers Direct Access to Amazon Web Services

Reliance Communications’ arm Global Cloud Xchange (GCX) on Friday announced a direct access to Amazon Web Services via its cloud platform.”Using our Cloud X Fusion, businesses can take advantage of our enterprise grade connectivity from 90 countries to connect their on-premise environment into anAmazon Web Services port over our global infrastructure,” GCX chief executive Bill Barney said in a statement here.

The Anil Ambani-led Reliance telecom major on July 21 announced its cloud delivery network in five cities in the country from which firms, state-run agencies and even individuals can get shared, data-related online IT support under one roof.

The five cities which have the cloud exchange nodes (Cloud X) are Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.

Through the Sydney-based GCX’s global network and its product portfolio, the cloud platform provides seamless, low latency connectivity across developed and emerging markets in the US, Europe, Gulf region and Asia.

“Cloud X Fusion is part of our proprietary platform built to combine the speed and power of fiber optics with agility, flexibility and cost-efficiency of ‘pay-as-you-go’ cloud computing; available globally and controlled by a simple-to-use user portal,” Barney said.

The Amazon Web Services direct connect enables enterprises to set up private connectivity between its platform and their data centre, office, or co-location environment to reduce network costs, increase bandwidth throughput and provide a consistent network experience than Internet-based connections.

GCX owns the world’s largest private undersea cable system spanning 67,000 route km, which, integrated with the Reliance Communications’ 200,000-km route of domestic optic fibre backbone, provides a global service delivery platform.

Budget Hotel Aggregator Oyo Rooms Raises $100 Million

Online aggregator of budget hotels, Oyo Rooms on Monday said it has raised $100 million (about Rs 630 crores), led by SoftBank Group. The funding round also saw participation of existing investors Greenoaks Capital, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed India.

Oyo will use the latest round of funding to implement new customer experience initiatives and build technology products, it said in a statement.

The firm had raised $25 million (about Rs. 157 crores) in its Series A in March this year. Its rivals include Tiger Global-backed Zo Rooms and Fabhotels.com (formerly Casa2Inns).

Launched in 2013, Oyo has a presence in over 70 cities with 12,000-plus available rooms. Their rooms start at Rs. 999 per night, unlike other hotel aggregators like Stayzilla, Triphobo, and Airbnb, the service claims to provide a standardised stay experience to business travellers. Using Oyo Rooms apps, customers can book hotel rooms with complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi with 24×7 customer service support.

“We are at the forefront of solving a problem of lack of predictability of experience across hotels in the country. Our vision is to provide a standardised experience,” Oyo Rooms founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal said.

Agarwal was the first Asian resident to get $100,000 (about Rs. 64 lakhs) as a Thiel Fellow in  2013.

Oyo operates in an asset-light hotel, tying up with existing hotels and “standardising the experience”

According to the company’s partner page, hotels that partner with the chain see a significant increase in occupancy levels and revenues. Oyo provides a partner app to optimise operational activities and lower costs. Does not charge a transaction fee from hotels, instead charges a flat percent fee on the total monthly revenue.

Mobile Game Developed to Help Schizophrenics Improve Episodic Memory

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A “brain training” iPad game developed in Britain may improve the memory of patients with schizophrenia, helping them in their daily lives at home and at work, researchers said on Monday.Scientists at Cambridge University said tests on a small number of patients who played the game over four weeks found they had improvements in memory and learning.

The game, “Wizard”, is designed to help so-called episodic memory the type of memory needed to remember where you left your keys several hours ago, or to remember a few hours later where you parked your car in a multi-storey car park.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, ranging from changes in behaviour through to hallucinations and delusions.

While some psychotic symptoms can be reasonably well treated with medication, patients often still have debilitating problems with memory and cognitive function, meaning they struggle to get back to work or stay in education.

There is increasing evidence that computer-assisted training can help people with schizophrenia overcome some of their symptoms, with better outcomes in their daily lives.

This study, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, found that 22 patients who played the memory game made significantly fewer errors and needed significantly fewer attempts to remember the location of different patterns specific tests.

They also improved their scores on the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale, which doctors use to rate the social, occupational and psychological functioning of adults.

Importantly, the patients also said they enjoyed the game and were motivated to play it across the eight hours of cognitive training. The researchers said this was important, since lack of motivation is a common feature of schizophrenia.

“We need a way of treating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as problems with episodic memory, but slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment,” said Barbara Sahakian from the department of psychiatry at Cambridge University.

“This proof-of-concept study…demonstrates that the memory game can help where drugs have so far failed. (And) because the game is interesting, even those patients with a general lack of motivation are spurred on to continue the training.”

Research Scientists to Share Data on Network Many Times Faster Than Internet

A series of ultra-high-speed fibre-optic cables will weave a cluster of West Coast university laboratories and supercomputer centres into a network called the Pacific Research Platform as part of a five-year, $5 million (roughly Rs. 31 crores) grant from the National Science Foundation.The network is meant to keep pace with the vast acceleration of data collection in fields such as physics, astronomy and genetics. It will not be directly connected to the Internet, but will make it possible to move data at speeds of 10 gigabits to 100 gigabits among 10 University of California campuses and 10 other universities and research institutions in several states, tens or hundreds of times faster than is typical now.

The challenge in moving large amounts of scientific data is that the open Internet is designed for transferring small amounts of data, like Web pages, said Thomas A. DeFanti, a specialist in scientific visualization at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, or Calit2, at the University of California, San Diego. While a conventional network connection might be rated at 10 gigabits per second, in practice scientists trying to transfer large amounts of data often find that the real rate is only a fraction of that capacity.

The new network will also serve as a model for future computer networks in the same way the original NSFnet, created in 1985 to link research institutions, eventually became part of the backbone for the Internet, said Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist who is director of Calit2 and the principal investigator for the new project.

NSFnet connected five supercomputer centres with 56-kilobit modems. In the three decades since, network speeds have increased dramatically, but not nearly enough to handle a coming generation of computers capable of a quintillion operations per second. This week the Obama administration announced that the United States is committed to creating what is known as the “exascale” supercomputing era, with machines roughly 30 times faster than today’s fastest computer, on what is called the “petascale.”

“I believe that this infrastructure will be for decades to come the kind of architecture by which you use petascale and exascale computers,” Smarr said. Increasingly digital science is generating torrents of data. For example, an astronomy effort called the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory, at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California, continuously scans the dark sky looking for new phenomena. Over all, the Palomar observational system captures roughly 30 terabytes (TB) of data per night. By contrast, a Library of Congress project that archives the entire World Wide Web collects about 5 terabytes per month.

In addition to moving data between laboratories, the high-speed network will make new kinds of distributed computing for scientific applications possible. For example, physicists working with data collected by the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland initially kept duplicate copies of files at many different computer clusters around the world, said Frank Wuerthwein, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego. More recently, he said, as high-speed links have become more widely available, experimental data is often kept in a single location and used for experiments by scientists running programs from remote locations, at a significant cost savings.

Further, the new network has been designed with hardware security features to protect it from the attacks that routinely bedevil computers connected to the Internet. Recently, one server at the University of California, San Diego, that was connected to the open Internet counted 35,000 false login attempts in one day, said Smarr.

The new network is an extension of an existing intra-campus effort by the National Science Foundation to create islands of high-speed connectivity for campus researchers. In recent years the agency has invested more than $500,000 dollars on each of roughly 100 campuses nationwide.