Do bigger brains equal smarter dogs? New study offers answers

Do bigger brains equal smarter dogs? New study offers answers

Bigger dogs, with larger brains, perform better on certain measures of intelligence than their smaller canine counterparts, according to a new study led by the University of Arizona.

Larger-brained dogs outperform smaller dogs on measures of executive functions — a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for controlling and coordinating other cognitive abilities and behaviors. In particular, bigger dogs have better short-term memory and self-control than more petite pups, according to the study published in the journal Animal Cognition.

“The jury is out on why, necessarily, brain size might relate to cognition,” said lead study author Daniel Horschler, a UA anthropology doctoral student and member of the UA’s Arizona Canine Cognition Center. “We think of it as probably a proxy for something else going on, whether it’s the number of neurons that matters or differences in connectivity between neurons. Nobody’s really sure yet, but we’re interested in figuring out what those deeper things are.”

Canine brain size does not seem to be associated with all types of intelligence, however. Horschler found that brain size didn’t predict a dog’s performance on tests of social intelligence, which was measured by testing each dog’s ability to follow human pointing gestures. It also wasn’t associated with a dog’s inferential and physical reasoning ability.

The study’s findings mirror what scientists have previously found to be true in primates — that brain size is associated with executive functioning, but not other types of intelligence.

“Previous studies have been composed mostly or entirely of primates, so we weren’t sure whether the result was an artifact of unique aspects of primate brain evolution,” Horschler said. “We think dogs are a really great test case for this because there’s huge variation in brain size, to a degree you don’t see in pretty much any other terrestrial mammals. You have chihuahuas versus Great Danes and everything in between.”

Horschler’s study is based on data from more than 7,000 purebred domestic dogs from 74 different breeds. Brain size was estimated based on breed standards.

The data came from the citizen science website Dognition.com, which offers instructions for dog owners to test their canines’ cognitive abilities through a variety of game-based activities. The users then submit their data to the site, where it can be accessed by researchers.

Short-term memory was tested by dog owners hiding a treat, in view of their dog, under one of two overturned plastic cups. Owners then waited 60, 90, 120 or 150 seconds before releasing their dog to get the treat. Smaller dogs had more difficulty remembering where the treat was hidden.

To test self-control, owners placed a treat in front of their seated dog and then forbade the dog from taking it. Owners then either watched the dog, covered their own eyes or turned away from the dog. Larger-breed dogs typically waited longer to snag the forbidden treat.

Horschler and his colleagues controlled for whether or not the dogs had been trained. They found that larger-brained breeds had better short-term memory and self-control than smaller dogs, regardless of the extent of training the dogs had received.

In the future, Horschler said he’d like to do comparative studies of cognitive abilities in different breed varieties, such as the miniature poodle and much larger standard poodle, which are essentially the same except for their size.

“I’m really interested in how cognition evolves and how that arises biologically,” Horschler said. “We’re coming to understand that brain size is in some way related to cognition, whether it’s because of brain size specifically or whether it’s a proxy for something else.”

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Not all saturated fats are equal when it comes to heart health: Cardiovascular risk of diets rich in saturated fats found in meats and the benefits of plant-based and dairy alternatives

Not all saturated fats are equal when it comes to heart health: Cardiovascular risk of diets rich in saturated fats found in meats and the benefits of plant-based and dairy alternatives

The type of saturated fats we eat can affect our risk of a heart attack, according to a study published in the International Journal of Cardiology. People whose diets contain relatively little palmitic and stearic acid — saturated fats composed of 16 or more carbon atoms (longer-chain saturated fats) that are typically found in meats — and eat plant-based proteins instead have decreased chances of myocardial infarction. Moreover, individuals who eat more saturated fats with 14 or fewer carbon atoms (shorter-chain saturated fats) that are typically found in dairy products have lower risk of myocardial infarction.

“Our analysis of the diets of large groups of individuals in two countries over time shows that the type of saturated fats we consume could affect our cardiovascular heath,” explained lead investigator Ivonne Sluijs, PhD, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands.

The study investigated whether saturated fats with chains varying in length from 4 to 18 carbon atoms are associated with the risk of developing a myocardial infarction. Data from approximately 75,000 people in the UK and Denmark were analyzed. Of these two groups, nearly 3,500 people experienced myocardial infarction in the period between the study’s initial outreach and follow-up 13 years later (in Denmark) and 18 years later (in the UK).

“We found that eating relatively little of the longer chained saturated fatty acids and consuming plant-based proteins instead was associated with a lowered risk. Substitution of those saturated fats with other energy sources such as carbohydrates did not affect the risk to develop myocardial infarction,” said Dr. Sluijs. Although diets vary by nationality and other factors, the most frequently consumed saturated fat is palmitic acid, with 16 carbon atoms, followed by stearic acid, with 18 carbon atoms, both of which are found in meat products. Consumption of saturated fats that have shorter carbon atom chains and are present in dairy products is less prevalent.

Since the 1960s, when diets high in saturated fat were linked to elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol and coronary heart disease, dietary guidelines recommended restricting saturated fatty acids across the board. In recent years, research studies have raised some questions about what was considered established evidence. Inconsistent findings have pointed to the possibility that different types of saturated fats have different effects on cholesterol levels and the development of coronary heart disease. Despite the fact that their study’s findings support this hypothesis, Dr. Sluijs and her fellow investigators recommend proceeding with caution before changing dietary guidelines:

“Our study only allowed us to draw conclusions on the level of associations between saturated fatty acids and the development of myocardial infarction. We do not know whether those fatty acids are actually the cause of differences between the occurrences of myocardial infarction we observed. To further explore this, we need experiments in which the consumption of saturated fatty acids is more controlled and, for instance, compared with consumption of unsaturated fatty acids,” she noted.

“The study is applaudable for its large size, prospective cohort study design, and detailed assessment of diet and lifestyle factors. In addition, it is among the few studies that specifically examined individual saturated fatty acids in relation to coronary heart disease risk and compared with different macronutrients,” commented Jun Li, MD, PhD, and Qi Sun, MD, ScD, both at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA, in an accompanying editorial. They also noted a few limitations of the study and thus called for cautious interpretation of the overall null results for the primary saturated fatty acids.

Dr. Li and Dr. Sun advise that shifts in fat intake should align with the recommended healthy dietary patterns, which emphasize limited intakes of red and processed meat and added sugars, lower salt intake, replacement of refined grains with whole grains, and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables.

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The online conference that might change video games for good

The online conference that might change video games for good

Language is a tool, and just like any tool, it has equal capacity to inflict both good and bad on the world. Language is a beautiful, human thing; the connective tissue that transfers culture, knowledge and critical information across borders and generations. It’s also a means of segregation and detachment, erecting invisible walls among neighbors and strangers alike, impeding coexistence on a global scale.

It’s that second function — the divisive one — that inspired developer Rami Ismail and voice actor Sarah Elmaleh to produce a conference for game creators that removes language as a barrier to entry. Gamedev.world is billed as the first truly global online games conference, with plans to host 48 hours of expert panels and live Q&A sessions on Twitch, YouTube and Mixer, translated in real-time into English, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. (French and Hindi are under consideration, too.) It’s all scheduled to take place later this year.

“If games can be played by anyone, and made by anyone, we want to make sure everyone feels like they truly belong here,” Ismail told Engadget. “Speaking to someone in a language they understand seems like a good start.”

Gamedev.world speakers will hail from across the globe and they’ll give talks in their native tongues, while the conference itself will be accessible for anyone with an internet connection and a viewing device, potentially opening up the industry to underserved communities. The actual process of game development is largely homogeneous no matter where the programming actually takes place, but as Ismail explained it, context matters.

For example, he said English-speaking developers inherently understand the language of games. Game code uses words like “if,” “then,” “while” and “for” — common for anyone who knows English.

“If you don’t, these are abstract ideas and you don’t know what you’re typing besides what it does,” Ismail said. “If you use the Latin alphabet, you can modify that with a ton of work, but if you use, say, Cyrillic or Arabic, that’s often not an option because our existing technology wasn’t built on it.”

It doesn’t all come down to language, though. Developers outside of the major game-making hubs — the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada — often face obstacles that mainstream developers never have to consider.


Engare
Mahdi Bahrami

“If you’re an Iranian game developer, you can’t use American payment processing services because of the sanctions — so despite your incredible game, you can’t sell it using PayPal or on any of the larger stores,” Ismail said. “If you’re African or South American, importing a dev kit is cost-prohibitive because the major companies often don’t have headquarters there. In some places, the power might cut out for weeks at an end. In other places, getting access to the games press is practically impossible due to language difficulties, or access to the games events is impossible due to visas or language.”

It’s not impossible to create games in these regions, but it can be hard. Independent Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami infused his 2017 geometric puzzle game, Engare, with Persian text and Islamic art, and it’s won a handful of awards. South African studio Nyamakop launched Semblance on the Switch last year — it was the first South African game (and essentially the first African game, period) to ever hit a Nintendo console.

“The entry curve into being an indie game developer in South Africa is like a cliff face,” Nyamakop co-founder Ben Myres told Engadget at E3 2018. He said there were no resources, events or even contacts for developers in the region he called home, so Myres and his partner were forced to travel for months at a time. They added the cost of flights, food and lodging to their meager indie budget, not to mention all the lost development hours they undoubtedly racked up.


Semblance
Nyamakop

“You can make a game everywhere, but that’s about it,” Ismail said. “We want to change that last point: No matter where you are, your economical situation, your legal status, or what language you speak, we want there to be a games conference you can go to, learn from, and contribute to.”

The goal of Gamedev.world is to help diversify, not divide, the video game industry. It’s not a new mission for Ismail, who is one half of indie studio Vlambeer, and a creator of Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box and Nuclear Throne. The idea for a language-agnostic, global games conference actually took off in 2015 with the first “gamedev.world” showcase at the Games For Change festival in New York City. Ismail and Sarah Elmaleh, best known as the voice of Katie in Gone Home, organized that initial showing, too.

It goes even farther back than that, for Ismail. He said he grew up between two cultures, Dutch and Egyptian, and he remembered falling in love with video games as a kid, regularly playing as an English-speaking man shooting aliens, monsters or distinctly Arab-looking enemies.

“Why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?”

“It honestly didn’t bother me too much back then — I was a kid that got to play games — but when I started making games it started to bother me,” Ismail said. “Where were these other games? Wouldn’t it make sense that there’d be games that were the other way around? And why was the Arabic in all the games set in the Arab world wrong?”

These questions pestered Ismail more and more as he found success as an indie developer. He quickly realized the enormous influence that games could have over a culture, since they could connect with anyone, anywhere, through the magic of play. Playful activities, like kicking a ball back and forth with someone, didn’t require words, Ismail said. The video game complex could have been an inclusive field where people from different backgrounds communicated through the basics of play, but as it turned out, industry standards excluded a lot of developers and perpetuated stereotypes in the process.

“The best way to fix that seems to be to fix whatever structural and accidental boundaries might be in the way of more diverse creators,” Ismail said. “If game development is possible everywhere, what is stopping some territories and cultures from adding their voice to a language-less medium?”

“[It’s] a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers.”

Gamedev.world is an attempt to even out the playing field for aspiring developers anywhere on Earth. It’s a complicated undertaking rife with unforeseen issues and unconscious biases, so Ismail and Elmaleh have tapped a handful of collaborators to serve as an advisory board for the show. These include Brazilian developer and Pro Indie Dev founder Gabriel Dal Santo, The Molasses Flood founder Gwen Fey from the US, and Tunisian Global Game Jam board member Houssem Ben Amor.

“The scale of Gamedev.world is far larger than the Gamedev.world team could have predicted,” Ismail said. “Creating dependable, multi-language closed captioning, live, is a production effort the size of a large multinational broadcast, not a small team of game developers.”

Ismail and Elmaleh are moving ahead with Gamedev.world anyway. It’ll be hard — but so is game development, especially for folks outside of the major industry hubs.

“As I traveled the entire globe for the past decade, I’ve met game developers in the most incredible circumstances, in impossible contexts,” Ismail said. “Knowing how much effort game development takes in a country as cozy, organized, consistent, and safe as the Netherlands has given me so much respect for developers in places that might not have those privileges – these developers love games with a passion, or they’d find something easier and more welcoming to do.”

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Yamaha’s Sonogenic keytar is equal parts instrument and party trick

Yamaha’s Sonogenic keytar is equal parts instrument and party trick

Keytars, almost by definition, are charmingly goofy. How could they not be? They’re wearable pianos that lend themselves well to pageantry. Racks of meticulously prepped synths come with a sort of gravitas that doesn’t exist when keys are slung across a musician’s body, making the person as much a part of a show as the music. It’s all just a little more fun.

With the help of its new, $500 Sonogenic SHS-500 keytar, Yamaha is trying spread that fun around. For better or worse, the company is pitching it as a musical instrument for people who want to sound like serious musicians without actually having to practice for a few years first.

To be clear, the Sonogenic will do in pinch for gigs or more serious work: it’s lightweight and comfortable to wear, and its 37 keys felt easy enough to work with. There’s no shortage of controls here, either. Its neck is laden with familiar controls for pitch-bending and octave shifting, and a trio of dials and sliders to the right of the keyboard itself offer quick access to crucial effects.

You’ll also find thirty piano and synth voices (plus a couple drum kit options) to muck around with, and beyond that, the Sonogenic is meant to work just fine as a MIDI audio controller once it’s hooked up to your DAW of choice. All told, it’s a decently flexible little synth, even if it lacks the sort of flexibility and panache that other options might offer.

Yamaha Sonogenic SHS-500

Of course, if you’re the kind of player who gets a little tetchy about flexibility, this thing isn’t really meant for you. Yamaha is pushing the Sonogenic as a party trick of sorts for teenagers and millennials to turn to when they want to just start playing.

All of the really heavy lifting is handled by Yamaha’s clever companion app, which taps into your phone or tablet’s existing music library and tries to scan your chosen tracks to generate the right chord progressions. Curiously, all of this happens on the fly: there’s no Yamaha database to pull these chord progressions from once the app identifies the song, so it’s possible (if unlikely) that the app doesn’t get things exactly right. In any case, once the app figures out what you’re trying to play, it sends that series of chords to the Sonogenic via Bluetooth and offers cues on the connected screen when it’s time to jam.

Now, I’m not much of a musician, and I said as much to the Yamaha rep who gave me a Sonogenic to go hands-on with. My sense of rhythm, in particular, is garbage. Could this “Jam” mode help me feel like a professional musician? Well, yes and no.

Gallery: Hands-on with the Yamaha Sonogenic keytar | 5 Photos

Once your chosen song (in my case, Toto’s Africa) starts to play, there’s essentially no way to screw up. While in Jam mode, the Sonogenic stops acting like a standard chromatic keyboard all together — all you really need to do is mash on those keys in time with the rest of the song. It doesn’t matter where on the keyboard you decide to noodle; as long as you’re doing something, the Sonogenic makes sure it sounds like you know what you’re doing. My Africa cover was, let’s say, a little more avant-garde than I wanted, but at the end of it all, I still felt a mild twinge of success. I did it! I played an overrated 80’s standard on a keytar! Even the cold I was battling at the time couldn’t dampen that momentary buzz.

Would I have felt more accomplished had the Sonogenic and its app actually helped me learn to play the song normally? Absolutely. As it stands, the experience of “playing” a Sonogenic in Jam mode felt an awful lot like musical mimicry — it’s neat for a bit, but I could see the kind of fun this keytar offers ringing hollow and unsatisfying after a while. Somewhere in my parent’s house, there’s a VHS of me playing with a hideous toy guitar, gyrating on my chubby toddler legs, enthralled by the music I thought I was making. At the end of my time with the Sonogenic, I was left knowing that, musically, I hadn’t progressed very far from that moment.

I am, however, overthinking all of this. I mean, just look at this promo video Yamaha made for the Sonogenic. The keytar might work fine as a more traditional synth, but it’s also pretty clear that I am absolutely not the kind of unselfconscious young person Yamaha is targeting with the Sonogenic. You might not be either. There are good times to be had bouncing around with this keytar strapped to you, just as long as you abandon your hang-ups and embrace the pantomime.

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art, av, gear, hands-on, keytar, namm, namm2019, sonogenic, yamaha

Chris is Engadget’s senior mobile editor and moonlights as a professional moment ruiner. His early years were spent taking apart Sega consoles and writing awful fan fiction. That passion for electronics and words would eventually lead him to covering startups of all stripes at TechCrunch. The first phone he ever swooned over was the Nokia 7610, because man, those curves.


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Why a warmer world may equal a wetter Arctic

Why a warmer world may equal a wetter Arctic

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe, and as it does, it’s predicted to get wetter. But why? What mechanisms might drive these changes?

A new study looks to history for answers, examining what happened in the region during a period of warming some 8,000 years ago. The research finds evidence that in this ancient time, western Greenland became more humid, a trend that’s often linked to increased precipitation. The study further shows that two different climactic processes may have contributed to this elevated humidity. The processes are:

  • As the Arctic heats up, sea ice melts, exposing regional waters to sun, air and increased evaporation.
  • As the planet warms, humidity increases more in regions closer to the equator. This creates an imbalance in global humidity, and eventually, moist air from lower latitudes is drawn into the drier Arctic.

“We used geologic evidence to determine that both of these processes likely contributed to an increase in humidity in western Greenland when the region warmed rapidly 8,000 years ago,” says lead researcher Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, assistant professor of geology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “As such, both processes could be at play again today, contributing to possible future increases in Arctic humidity, and ultimately, precipitation.”

“We don’t have long or detailed written records of Arctic precipitation, so we don’t fully understand how precipitation might increase in response to warming,” she says. It’s an important area of study, she adds, because, “precipitation in the Arctic has complex interactions with climate, and it also impacts plant communities and affects how fast glaciers may shrink.”

The study was published this month in Geophysical Research Letters by a team of scientists from UB, the University of Massachusetts and Northern Arizona University. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Clues in lakebed mud

To learn about the climate history of western Greenland, scientists analyzed lakebed mud dating back thousands of years. This sediment contains organic matter — such as ancient leaf waxes, and compounds produced by bacteria — that reveal information about the region’s climatic past.

As Thomas explains, when it comes to leaf waxes, weather influences the chemical content of these waxes in ways that scientists can trace. Specifically, leaf waxes contain small amounts of a rare form of hydrogen called deuterium, and the concentration of deuterium can go up or down in response to factors such as humidity and precipitation patterns. (One example: In Arctic leaf waxes, deuterium concentrations fluctuate depending on whether precipitation originated locally or from clouds that traveled long distances from low latitudes to arrive in the region).

Chemicals called branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs), produced by bacteria, also hold clues about past climate. The composition of these compounds varies depending on the temperature of the surrounding environment at the time they were produced. As a result, scientists can use branched GDGTs to reconstruct prehistoric temperature trends, Thomas says.

These chemical indicators enabled Thomas’ team to investigate ancient humidity and precipitation trends in western Greenland as the region warmed some 8,000 years ago. The new research was based on leaf waxes and branched GDGTs found in a sediment sample that the team extracted from the bottom of Sikuiui Lake in western Greenland.

“These chemical indicators are fairly new tools, and they enable us to research ancient climate in ways that were not possible before,” Thomas says. “We can use these tools to investigate how humidity fluctuated in a region thousands of years ago, or whether storms in an area originated locally or far away. This is important because understanding what happened in ancient times can provide us with insight into what might happen today as the climate changes.”

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Why a warmer world may equal a wetter Arctic

Why a warmer world may equal a wetter Arctic

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe, and as it does, it’s predicted to get wetter. But why? What mechanisms might drive these changes?

A new study looks to history for answers, examining what happened in the region during a period of warming some 8,000 years ago. The research finds evidence that in this ancient time, western Greenland became more humid, a trend that’s often linked to increased precipitation. The study further shows that two different climactic processes may have contributed to this elevated humidity. The processes are:

  • As the Arctic heats up, sea ice melts, exposing regional waters to sun, air and increased evaporation.
  • As the planet warms, humidity increases more in regions closer to the equator. This creates an imbalance in global humidity, and eventually, moist air from lower latitudes is drawn into the drier Arctic.

“We used geologic evidence to determine that both of these processes likely contributed to an increase in humidity in western Greenland when the region warmed rapidly 8,000 years ago,” says lead researcher Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, assistant professor of geology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “As such, both processes could be at play again today, contributing to possible future increases in Arctic humidity, and ultimately, precipitation.”

“We don’t have long or detailed written records of Arctic precipitation, so we don’t fully understand how precipitation might increase in response to warming,” she says. It’s an important area of study, she adds, because, “precipitation in the Arctic has complex interactions with climate, and it also impacts plant communities and affects how fast glaciers may shrink.”

The study was published this month in Geophysical Research Letters by a team of scientists from UB, the University of Massachusetts and Northern Arizona University. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Clues in lakebed mud

To learn about the climate history of western Greenland, scientists analyzed lakebed mud dating back thousands of years. This sediment contains organic matter — such as ancient leaf waxes, and compounds produced by bacteria — that reveal information about the region’s climatic past.

As Thomas explains, when it comes to leaf waxes, weather influences the chemical content of these waxes in ways that scientists can trace. Specifically, leaf waxes contain small amounts of a rare form of hydrogen called deuterium, and the concentration of deuterium can go up or down in response to factors such as humidity and precipitation patterns. (One example: In Arctic leaf waxes, deuterium concentrations fluctuate depending on whether precipitation originated locally or from clouds that traveled long distances from low latitudes to arrive in the region).

Chemicals called branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs), produced by bacteria, also hold clues about past climate. The composition of these compounds varies depending on the temperature of the surrounding environment at the time they were produced. As a result, scientists can use branched GDGTs to reconstruct prehistoric temperature trends, Thomas says.

These chemical indicators enabled Thomas’ team to investigate ancient humidity and precipitation trends in western Greenland as the region warmed some 8,000 years ago. The new research was based on leaf waxes and branched GDGTs found in a sediment sample that the team extracted from the bottom of Sikuiui Lake in western Greenland.

“These chemical indicators are fairly new tools, and they enable us to research ancient climate in ways that were not possible before,” Thomas says. “We can use these tools to investigate how humidity fluctuated in a region thousands of years ago, or whether storms in an area originated locally or far away. This is important because understanding what happened in ancient times can provide us with insight into what might happen today as the climate changes.”

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What Millennials Need To Know About Cryptocurrency Exchanges

What Millennials Need To Know About Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Credit: Getty / Royalty Free

In the words of our country’s Founding Fathers, all [people] are created equal. But, in the world of fiat and monies, not all currencies are valued equally.

Influenced by market inflation, debt, interest rates, trading agreements, and of course, political stability, the balance between any two currencies is in a state of constant fluctuation, directly impacting its exchange rate. An “exchange rate” is the price of a nation’s currency in terms of another currency. For purposes of this article, they are quoted in values against the U.S. dollar (USD).

The Gateway To The Crypto World

There are two types of currency exchange rates—the spot exchange rate, or interbank rate, and the nominal exchange rate. From a consumer and traveler’s perspective, we often refer to the latter. The way in which we read and define an exchange rate is similar to how we measure cryptocurrency values against our own currency.

Lesson #1: Why Are You Entering Into This World?

For the novice, diving into crypto can be both exciting and overwhelming. Not only is there a need to decode the complexities of the technologies behind the currencies, but also a need in recognizing the difficulties associated with investing, trading, and monitoring them.

But, if you are entering the crypto world for the first time, there is one thing that is certain—you must understand how to trade and purchase.  Why? Not all coins are able to be purchased through fiat. Thus, you have to resort to using cryptocurrency exchanges.

If you are getting into the space to make a quick buck, you better know how to earn that quick buck. If, on the other hand, you are in it for a long-term gain (and most likely some loss), you need to understand how the market works, especially as it pertains to exchanges.

Lesson #2: What Are Crypto Exchanges?

With over 1,600 cryptocurrencies in existence, there are only a select few exchanges available, allowing holders to convert their fiat or paper currency into the crypto-base currency (“base currency”) they desire (Bitcoin, Ether, or Litecoin). Consequently, some coins can only be purchased by using these bases, and cannot be bought using a domestic currency, such as the USD.

It is for this reason that these three currencies (BTC, ETC, and LTC) are considered to be the “gateway” to the crypto world, and are identified as base currencies for cryptos.

In its most basic definition, cryptocurrency exchanges allow an individual to do three things:

  1. To exchange one cryptocurrency for another cryptocurrency;
  2. To purchase and sell a particular crypto coin(s); and/or
  3. To exchange and convert your fiat into another cryptocurrency.

Types of Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Before choosing an exchange, it is important to look at what it offers. There are three main cryptocurrency exchanges to be aware of:

#1 –Centralized Cryptocurrency Exchanges (“CEX”)

Similar to a traditional stock exchange, a centralized cryptocurrency exchange, or CEX, operates as the middle-man as between two parties. A “centralized” system means that one party is trusting another with some type of information, in this case, handling their money.

The exchange, upon receiving a user’s money, holds onto it as a bank normally would. As an investor monitors market prices of available crypto on a particular exchange, he or she may want to trade their fiat for another crypto (trading pair), and eventually place an order.

At this point, the exchange will find a seller(s) to match the buy, if they are selling, eventually, finding a buyer and completing the exchange. When the world of crypto exploded last year, platforms such as Coinbase, Robinhood, Kraken, and Gemini became extremely popular because it made it easy for fiat/crypto pairings.

There are also exchanges out there that only provide crypto to crypto pairingspurchasing or acquiring one crypto, by trading in another crypto. Examples include the popular Binance, Huobo, and Bitfinex.

But, more about trading pairs later on.

Maintaining Your Security

Since 2011, there have been over 60 cyberattacks aimed at cryptocurrency exchanges and other digital currency platforms. Renowned attacks including Mt. Gox (Japan, 2014), Bitfinex (Hong Kong, 2016), Coincheck (Japan, 2018), Coinrail (South Korea, 2018), and Bithumb (South Korea, 2018) continue to present a high potential for system crashes. But, what did each of these attacks have in common? The attacks were all targeted towards CEXs, attracting the attention of black hat hackers galore.

Taking into consideration the security vulnerabilities these centralized systems contain, the idea of decentralized projects and ventures has exploded with two goals in mindmaintaining security and removing intermediaries so as to provide for efficient, direct transactions.

On-Boarding the Novice

Looking at such a cyberattack such as Hong Kong’s Bitfinex exchange, I decided to take a look and see how the Hong Kong (HK) market is responding to the space since I last traveled there. One company, Coinsuper, recognizes the seriousness of maintaining strong internal security, operating in the heart of central HK.

Functioning as a “fiat to crypto” exchange, the platform allows for deposit and withdrawal in addition to BTC, ETC, LTC, and other popular token offerings. It has been consistently listed in the top fifteen exchanges by daily volume, globally, according to CoinMarketCap data.

With less than 2% of the Hong Kong population involved in the crypto space, I learned that there aren’t too many major “fiat to crypto” exchanges based in the Hong Kong/APAC region. Coinsuper aims to be the “on-ramp” for those individuals looking to on-board the space.

“As an exchange, in order to successfully utilize “fiat to crypto” conversions, you have to be prepared for regulatory scrutiny,” said Kenny Shih, Executive Director of Coinsuper.

“We pride ourselves on having this level of self-compliance within our framework; our head of the anti-money laundering (AML) division was also the former head of AML at HSBC Private Banking.”

But, the company’s team is worth bragging about. Its CEO, Karen Chen, is the former president of UBS (China) Ltd. and its COO, Dr. Anthony Ng, a former Managing Director of CITIC Futures International, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan.

When I asked Shih about the frequency of regulatory communication, he told me that they are in constant communication with both Hong Kong and Chinese regulators. “We want to be considered the model exchange out here, and thus, we are doing everything we can to follow the rules.”

While self-funded, they have since entered into strategic equity partnerships with ventures such as Pantera Capital and 8 Decimal Group. In its 7-month life span, the exchange currently offers over 50 tokens and is heavily focused on the “know your customer” (KYC) approach, providing 24/7 customer service. It previously hosted a successful initial public sale for the Metadium project, helping it to raise over 5,900 ETH over a period of five days.

Shih also told me that for young millennial investors, it’s important for them to embrace the online space as we all enter into what some call the “Web 3.0” phase of the net.

#2 –Decentralized Cryptocurrency Exchanges (“DEX”)

The introduction of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies into our markets is the result of society expressing its view that transactions should be decentralized, or more closely connected to the transacting parties, without the need for intermediaries.

Decentralized crypto exchanges, or DEXs, are created for the sole purpose of removing the middle man to any transaction. It is a marketplace where buyers and sellers come together and engage in transactions directly.

These peer-to-peer (P2P) systems such as Stellar DEX and Waves DEX, are much harder to exploit and/or hack. From what we’ve seen, more often than not, it’s the user who inadvertently locks themselves out of their account.

While these seem to be a much better alternative to CEXs, popularity is still weaning. The reasoning behind this is the lack of commodity and overall user support, which would help to attract a mainstream user base. Until this happens, DEXs will continue to offer low volume and low liquidity. Personally, I would like to see this continue to gain popularity.

#3 –Hybrids

Lastly, the hybrid crypto exchanges are designed to combine the benefits from both CEXs and DEXs. The focus on this is to provide privacy and security of a DEX. While the first hybrid exchange, Qurrex, was launched earlier this year, the space is still looking to tighten functionality up with both systems.

Lesson #3: Finding A Local Crypto Exchange That Accepts Your Domestic Currency

The number of available exchanges that accept fiat currency are limited in the number of coins readily available for purchase.

That is why a platform like Coinbase has become one of the most popular exchanges in the world, allowing investors to purchase Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, and Ethereum—all with their fiat. Other examples include Robinhood, Gemini, and Kraken.

Keeping in mind the limited options most local exchanges provide, investors instead, look to purchase a base currency (BTC, LTC, ETH) in order to then purchase other crypto, or altcoins.

Lesson #4: Going From One Crypto To Another

Since a user cannot purchase altcoins directly from an exchange that accepts fiat, more likely than not, the user will not be able to determine the value of the altcoin based off their domestic currency.

The term “trading pairs” describes a trade between one type of crypto and another. For example, if you were to look at the trading pair ETH/BTC, you’re looking at the potential to either buy or sell one for the other. A user can either buy Ethereum with Bitcoin, or sell Ethereum for Bitcoin, or vice-versa.

When trading crypto for crypto, it is extremely important to understand how these trading pairs work.

While not an economics lesson, be mindful of the potential tax implications associated whenever you convert one crypto to another crypto, or convert cash into crypto. Understanding why you are choosing to utilize one trading pair over another could be the difference between gaining and losing everything. Literally.

Lesson #5: Regulation

When utilizing exchanges, take note of where the platform is licensed to exchange in money transmission. For example, Coinbase, is licensed to engage in money transmissions in most U.S. jurisdictions. Additionally, it is registered as a “money services” business with FinCen. This is worth mentioning because late last year, the IRS entered into an agreement with Coinbase to share user account information with it.

The level of regulation differs with each exchange, so users should conduct their own due diligence when determining which platform may be best suited for their transacting needs.

We have already seen platforms like Binance and Kraken finding its way into the New York Attorney General’s Office for potential regulation violations. Back in February, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner, Brian Quintenz, expressed favor towards operators adopting self-regulatory standards to help police the space.

“I think a self-regulatory organization, or SRO, for cryptocurrency exchanges could spur the development of standards around cybersecurity policies, data retention, protection of customer accounts, trading practices and other issues.”

At the end of the day, it is still extremely important to take appropriate safeguards to ensure your wallet, key, and any other associated information are stored in a safe place. Additionally, be mindful of where you are going to purchase and/or sell crypto.

This space is a playground for black hatters looking to take you for a run for your money, so be smart and educate yourself first.

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