Onfido, the AI-based ID verification platform, raises $100M led by TPG

Contactless transactions have become a major priority at a time when people all around the world are minimising their contact with others outside their households to slow down the often-insidious spread of the novel coronavirus. But if a lot of the consumer focus lately has been on things like payments or deliveries, that’s overlooking the fact that the “contactless” paradigm has been a big trend for years already.

Today, a London-based startup building tools to enable virtual identity verification — that is, a way of verifying you without requiring in-person, face-to-face interactions — is announcing a big round of funding.

Onfido, which uses AI to “read” a person’s identity documents and then uses facial recognition and other datapoints to verify that a person is who she or he says they are online — customers for its tech include major banks, government bodies, and businesses doing recruitment: any organization running parts of its processes virtually — is today announcing that it has raised $100 million.

It plans to use the money in a few ways. First, to expand its existing business, which has been growing especially strong in the US. Second, to fill out its ambition of building an alternative “identity verification” layer of the internet to replace credit bureaus, Facebook logins and other established channels. And third, to work on a new set of use cases that are now being talked about even more because of the pandemic, ranging from virtual voting and passport/visa applications through to secure ways of carrying out contact tracing to track the spread of a virus without compromising user privacy.

Ultimately, across all three, the aim is to solve what it sees as a long-standing problem on the internet and digital platforms overall: verifying people are who they say they are, and doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise a user’s privacy and security.

“Identity is broken and needs fixing,” Husayn Kassai, the CEO and co-founder, said in an internet. “That’s been a large part of our focus, and as time goes on, our processes in digitisation, privacy and security have been proven out in parallel with how the world is shifting.”

The round is being led by TPG Growth, the deep-pocketed firm that has backed the likes of Airbnb and Uber (which both run the kinds of businesses that need the kind of identity verification services that Onfido builds) over the years with billions of dollars of investment.

Onfido is not disclosing its valuation with this round but Kassai confirmed that it is definitely an upround. Onfido has now raised $200 million in total, with its last round — $50 million almost exactly a year ago — including Microsoft, Salesforce and SBI (once a SoftBank affiliate, now apparently separate) among the investors.

Kassai said that he started raising this round in January, just as the novel coronavirus was kicking off in China and eventually everywhere else around the world. The final stages of this deal were all done virtually. Between then and now, he said that business — already growing at a healthy clip — has picked up a new, urgent set of verticals that need to consider faster and safer ways to identify and verify users.

Onfido’s business up to now had largely been focused on helping rapidly scaling businesses like transportation-on-demand companies to help add on more drivers to their books while making sure they pass all their safety and other checks. More recently, organizations in healthcare, remittance and payments and non-profits verifying people who want to volunteer in relief efforts have emerged as key customers. These have respectively spiked 4x, 1.3x and 6x in recent weeks. The idea is that organizations using Onfido can speed up the time it takes to identify people to get them enrolled into healthcare services, or sending money, or helping those in need.

“About 750,000 people have volunteered to help the NHS in the UK,” he said, referring to the effort that the UK government set up to get more people to deliver medications and food, and help out hospitals in non-clinical capacities. “That’s great, but why wait for weeks to be verified? If you can sign up for a bank in moments why do you have to wait a week [or more] to help in a health crisis?”

While Onfido continues to build out this aspect of its business — R&D based in London, with a lot of the business team in California — Kassai said it is also working on trials of new kinds of identity and verification services that are still in development.

In essence, these are concepts for verifying without physical presence that have been considered for a while now for other reasons — be they more convenience for users, or cost-cutting, or to keep better digital track records of a process — that have taken on a new sense of urgency during the current pandemic.

Specifically, there are trials underway for working on secure, virtual voting; helping to verify people for passport and visa applications remotely; and ways of doing contact tracing of users for those trying to track and contain outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, or whatever virus comes next on the horizon.

The idea with these, Kassai said, is that there needs to be a way of identifying users without requiring them to share personal or other sensitive details every time, and that’s where the company’s ambition in building an “identity layer” comes in: if a company like Onfido can verify a user once, and then discard the information, it can then simply have a record of the person and not require documents or other personal information each time.

This is the theory, at least. There will be a number of regulated industries that will still have to hold on to personal information. But at a time when security breaches have chipped away at our various personal details and led to a vast wave on online crime — identity fraud is the most commonly committed crime in the US, Onfido points out, and one of the fastest growing in the world, with $2 trillion of related money laundering resulting from that — this could be a compelling idea to consider.

“Onfido’s use of AI to develop market leading tech is extraordinary,” said Mike Zappert Partner of TPG Growth, in a statement. “There is enormous demand for secure and simple identity verification and authentication across major sectors and we see Onfido becoming the new standard for digital access. Their team has done a remarkable job in a relatively short period of time, and we look forward to partnering with them to continue their momentum into new use cases and geographies.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/15/onfido-the-ai-based-id-verification-platform-raises-100m-led-by-tpg/

What Method?: The Different Ways An Actor Can Train by Jessie Fahay

Book Summary:
There are many methods an actor may choose to study. What do all of these methods really do for the actor’s instrument? Is there a method that works best for you? Which one speaks to you? Where should you look for instructors who teach these methods? This short and practical guidebook gives you the nuts and bolts of four pinnacle training methods, sample exercises for each method, examples of actors who have used these methods, the places where you can find these methods being taught, and further in-depth literature on each method. The next steps are up to you.

Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2WxfHmj

Reviews:

“Fahay has a positive, forthright tone to her words of wisdom coming from experience. She acknowledges that acting and performing is hard work and takes a great deal of practise. At times it may even seem painful, but she says it isn’t, because “our work is something we love doing.” Fahay offers four major types of training that may fit in any combination for any type of performer. She also acknowledges what methods certain recognizeable actors have regularly used so that a prospecting actor can see where he or she may fit. Finally, Fahay has a composite of resources for aspiring actors to look into but never fails to recognize that constant practise and experimenting is the key to fulfillment. Bravo to her debut effort. This is an essential tool.”

Author Bio:
Jessie Fahay is a New York based actress, singer, producer who is out make a difference through artistic expression. With extensive experience in Personal and Professional growth, she is constantly researching and questioning human behavior. She has attained an MBA and MFA and is the proud founder of the award-winning performing arts company, RIPPLE EFFECT ARTISTS, which has been in existence for 10 years, employing Equity Actors and using the Arts to raise awareness and funds for Human Rights Initiatives. For project updates, visit www.jessiefahay.com or www.rippleeffectartists.com.

Now Is A Good Time To Relearn How To Play

The world is suddenly uncertain and a lot of us are just sitting at home watching the Coronavirus pandemic play out on our screens. For most of us, there’s nothing we can do to slow the spread of the virus so there is going to be a lot of downtime in our future. If you’re an American or a product of America’s culture (like me!) you’re probably noticing pressure to use this time to be “productive”. Maybe you even have a list of things you’d like to finish while you’re homebound. This is a post about how you should do that.

A few months ago I took up watercolor painting. I had dabbled in oil painting a few years ago but I really hadn’t even drawn or doodled since my high school art class days. Painting went about how you’d expect for a beginner: at first I was mediocre, and then I improved. Most days if I spend time painting, I notice how good it feels to slow down and enjoy how it feels to have a hobby you just do for leisure. There is no race to run, no one to grade my skills, no deadline for becoming a painting master. I just paint what I feel like painting, for the purpose of the pleasure I feel when I do it.

I didn’t expect that taking up a new hobby would accomplish anything. I was just looking for a way to fill my time. I started painting a lot of self-portraits and I’ve noticed it’s helped my body image get a lot healthier. When I’m trying to paint a realistic looking portrait, I have to look at lines and colors and shapes. I realize how differently shaped people’s faces, bodies, and features are. I’m not looking to judge what I see, I am curious about how to observe and transport it onto a sheet of paper.

My brain figured out a way to make my time productive without me having to do anything. I didn’t know I needed to work on my body image, or that painting self-portraits would help me do just that. When we do anything that challenges us and gives us time for reflection, we move forward. Unstructured ‘play’ time helps my mind relax and have time to think through stressors and problems I’m having in a way that more visually active activities like watching TV or scrolling through the internet do not allow. Things bubble up to the surface. I learn about my values and goals. I learn what I’m like under pressure and what causes me to give up on a challenge versus push through.

A few years ago I quit the gym. I was never a workout fanatic but I liked to go and take classes. I loved planning for the gym even more. The problem was that I had such an all or nothing approach to working out that it really wasn’t fun for me. Everything related to working out was about counting and burning calories and pushing myself to show up every day and meet all the goals I was tracking. I never just went and then did what I felt like doing. As I focused on recovery from an eating disorder, I realized I had to take a break from working out altogether as I was no longer capable of doing it without focusing on numbers or weight loss. I would have never thought that someone could go to the gym for pleasure. But humans thrive when we are challenged, even our bodies love that temporary stress of a challenging workout. Now that my brain is functioning a little better (thanks therapy!) I’ve been able to dip my toes into working out in a healthy way. I do what is pleasurable for me.

Most days what feels good for me is just walking my dog around the park near my house. Other times it’s doing a video on YouTube or walking up and down my stairs. I am always paying attention to how it makes me feel. By following what feels good to me I am learning to listen to my intuition. I have the space to listen to what my body is hungry for rather than having a need to do a prescribed workout every day because it happens to be part of a 30 day challenge or because it will burn the amount of calories I ate for dinner.

The more I slow down enough to do things like this — because I am curious about them or because it pleases me — the more I feel I am remembering a very human part of me that has become numbed by constant stimulation. I feel more confident because I’m trusting myself. I know now that I am an authority about what is good for me. I don’t need to follow someone else’s plan or have a goal. I don’t have to steer the river. Wherever my find myself, if I listen enough to take the next right step, I will get to where I want to go.

The global pandemic we are in right now is a challenge, to say the least, which means that it is also an opportunity. For most of us, we are being asked to slow down and stay home. I wonder if you can use this time to engage your curiosity and try to remember what it was like to be a kid and do things just because they felt good. What would it feel like to just idly play?

You only need a pen and paper to let your mind wander. Maybe you just need to journal or doodle. Maybe you used to knit and it’s time to explore that again. Try to be willing to trust yourself, that you don’t have to have a plan or an intention, it’s enough just to do something for leisure and pleasure. Maybe this is the right time to binge read all of John Douglas’ books and become an expert on the criminal mind. Whatever the most authentic part of you has been craving, I hope you indulge while you’re social distancing. You deserve to do things just because they feel good (you know, things that don’t harm yourself or others), and you’ll get a lot of useful information about your wants and needs in the process.

Related

Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/christine-stockton/2020/03/now-is-a-good-time-to-relearn-how-to-play

Has the Coronavirus Killed the Techlash?

Hi, all, and welcome back to Plaintext. The dumbest thing that happened to me this week was that during an open Zoom session in which Sarah Frier and I were talking about our books, some retromingent troll took over screen sharing to bomb us with images that would turn the stomach of an 8chan-er. People, be kind. And turn off screen sharing in public meetings. Also, make sure you keep getting this newsletter by subscribing to WIRED. Even if you don’t, though, our deep coronavirus coverage is free. It’s our way of being kind.

The Plain View

Mark Zuckerberg sounded tired. Conducting a press call on Wednesday, Zuckerberg, who is normally chipper when announcing fixes to problems, seemed subdued when announcing a series of moves designed to provide coronavirus information and suppress misinformation, on his platform. I guess he’s entitled to exhaustion, leading a company of 45,000 employees, most of whom (including himself) are now WFH, and dealing with problems like a potential rise in toxic content because his contracted content moderators can’t do their jobs.

Despite his downbeat demeanor, Zuckerberg has at least one thing to celebrate: Facebook has gotten rare kudos for its responses to the pandemic, and perhaps even more significantly, more people are using it for the kinds of meaningful interactions that Zuckerberg has been promoting for a long time.

Could this be a turning point? For more than three years, Facebook has been unable to switch the narrative for some—namely, the press, Congress, regulatory bodies, and Sacha Baron Cohen—as being a toxic force in society. The company is the poster child for what is known as the “techlash,” or the reaction to the overoptimistic, and arguably naive, embrace of tech founders and their creations as idealistic digital revolutionaries. Now that our lives are dominated by these giants, we see them as greedy exploiters of personal data and anticompetitive behemoths who have generally degraded society. Before the pandemic, there was every expectation that those companies would be reined in, if not split apart.

But the deus ex machina of an overwhelming public health crisis has changed things. The pandemic may have the effect of a justifiable war waged by an embattled president with low popularity. While Big Tech’s misdeeds are still apparent, their actual deeds now matter more to us. We’re using Facebook to comfort ourselves while physically bunkered and social distancing. Google is being conscripted as the potential hub of one of our greatest needs—Covid-19 testing. Our personal supply chain—literally the only way many of us are getting food and vital supplies—is Amazon.

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Who knew the techlash was susceptible to a virus?

The pandemic does not make any of the complaints about the tech giants less valid. They are still drivers of surveillance capitalism who duck their fair share of taxes and abuse their power in the marketplace. We in the press must still cover them aggressively and skeptically. And we still need a reckoning that protects the privacy of citizens, levels the competitive playing field, and holds these giants to account. But the momentum for that reckoning doesn’t seem sustainable at a moment when, to prop up our diminished lives, we are desperately dependent on what they've built. And glad that they built it.

Time Travel

In a rare 2013 interview with then-Google CEO Larry Page, he addressed regulation and how it could have potentially killed the company:

“Consider our own history. When we started Google, it wasn't really obvious that what we were doing wouldn't get regulated away. Remember, at the time, people were arguing that making a copy of a file in a computer's memory was a violation of copyright. We put the whole web on our servers, so if that were true, bye-bye search engines. The Internet's been pretty great for society, and I think that 10 or 20 years from now, we'll look back and say we were a millimeter away from regulating it out of existence.”

Ask Me One Thing

Shelly writes, “With Elon Musk's new brain chip coming out this year, what will be done regarding ethics, law, etc.? Are we prepared for this?”

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Thanks, Shelly, and I’m sure you’re not asking this just because you’ve written a sci-fi thriller with this question at the heart of it. I think that the brain-machine interface is a genuine contender for the data platform of the future, though it may take a very long time. Look, we’re all kind of cyborgs already, with our omnipresent phones—they just haven’t been hooked up for the final mile. But I believe we should proceed with extreme caution when applying neural context to law, particularly criminal justice. I defer to Bob Dylan on this: “If my thought dreams could be seen/They’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Spare me the blade!

You can submit questions to mail@wired.com. Write ASK LEVY in the subject line.

End Times Chronicle

I think this prize goes to the tweet sent by the governor of Utah on Wednesday, reporting that the coronavirus hotline was down because the state health lab was hit by a 5.7-magnitude earthquake outside of Salt Lake City.

Last but Not Least

This weekend, a tweet about a preprint on the use of the revolutionary gene-editing tool Crispr to fight coronavirus got my attention. When I looked into it I found a promising long-term approach, but no panacea.

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Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant has been warning us about pandemics—in books, TED talks, and the movie Contagion—for decades. Here’s what he’s saying now that the nightmare has arrived.

Brilliant is optimistic that an antiviral might prove effective against Covid-19. The buzz in Silicon Valley is that chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, might be the one. Adam Rogers explores.

That’s it for today. See you next week, though it will probably feel like a month has passed by then.

Don't miss future subscriber-only editions of this column. Subscribe to WIRED (50% off for Plaintext readers) today.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/plaintext-has-the-coronavirus-killed-the-techlash/

FBI asks for Yellowstone photos to help find Lori Vallow’s 2 missing kids

Read more: https://www.foxnews.com/us/fbi-asks-for-yellowstone-photos-to-help-find-lori-vallows-2-missing-kids

Learning to Quit by Suzanne Harris and Paul Brunetta

Book Summary:

Set yourself free from smoking. Strategy trumps willpower!

Personal stories paired with moving photographic portraits. Empathetic, non-judgmental advice to stop smoking for good.

Have you tried to quit smoking, only to find yourself reaching for a cigarette again and again? Tired of feeling bad about your health and making promises to the ones that love you? Set a “learning” mindset and reframe these past quit attempts as trial runs. It’s not your fault that you are a smoker. Nicotine is incredibly addictive, but you can beat it! Your amazing life as a non-smoker lies just around the corner.

This book provides the friendly, positive support you need on your quit smoking journey. Simply by reading this book, you’ll take an extremely important step to stop smoking cigarettes and end nicotine addiction. Every person’s journey is different, and yours is unique. The work that you’re embarking on is shared by the 24 people interviewed for Learning to Quit. Join millions of ex-smokers around the world who have broken free from tobacco.

What’s inside the newly expanded and updated second edition:

  • Frank and honest interviews with ex-smokers
    •Positive support to meet your quit smoking goals
    •Customizable and proven quit smoking plan
    •Strategies to survive your first week without cigarettes
    •Overview of smoking cessation medicines and quit aids
    •Information on vaping and eCig alternatives
    •Advice on how to get through your quit smoking detox
    •An easy explanation of how nicotine addiction takes control
    •Tips for dealing with urges
    •An extensive health information index
    •How to talk to loved ones about your quit smoking plans
    •Where to find a smoking support groups
    •A brand-new mindset for managing relapse
    •Moving portraits of ex-smokers by photographer John Harding
    Becoming a successful non-smoker is about strategy, not willpower. Maybe you tried Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, but can’t make quitting stick. Trying to stop smoking cold turkey is one of most difficult and least effective ways to quit. Relying on willpower or piling on guilt doesn’t work. More than fear or negativity, clear and positive motivations for change move us toward freedom from smoking. This book gives you the best ways to quit smoking.

BONUS: You’ll not only learn how to quit smoking; the medical section will equip you with vital health information. Learn how smoking effects your lungs, heart, brain, mood, weight and pregnancy. Explore different smoking cessation medication options. Feel inspired learning how quickly your health and quality of life will improve after you smoke your last cigarette. Learn more about the vaping controversy, plus vaping dangers and health risks.

Suzanne Harris, RN, NCTTP and Paul Brunetta, MD cofounded the Fontana Tobacco Treatment Center and are both former smokers. They’ve offered assistance to over 1000 smokers seeking help. They specifically developed Learning to Quit share the action plan, knowledge and support you need to take control of your health.

This book is not just about becoming smoke-free, it’s also about change; it’s about radically changing your life by ending a huge relationship–your tobacco dependence.

This book includes access to an entire library of free resources, including quit plans, mindset exercises, nicotine dependence tests and more!

Book Link – https://amzn.to/2xq5VJd

Reviews:

Kirkus

Two experts on tobacco treatment—Harris, a nurse, and Brunetta (Pulmonary/Univ. of California, San Francisco), a doctor and lung cancer specialist—collect former smokers’ stories of how they quit and offer strategies for others who’d like to break the habit.

While working together at the San Francisco Medical Center’s Chest Clinic, Harris and Brunetta bonded over their passion for helping patients quit smoking. Together, they founded the UCSF Tobacco Education Center, which hosts a stop-smoking program and a weekly Freedom From Smoking Support Group, and they build on what they’ve learned from those experiences in this new edition of a 2018 book. They begin with brief profiles of former smokers they met through the support group, photographed by Harding (Streets of Discontent, 2018, etc.), then move on to 235 pages of engaging personal stories by members. Their former smokers had different reasons for quitting, so the accounts vary widely. Each story, however, explores an open-ended question like, “Who would you be without cigarettes?” or “What is your denial story?” in an effort to motivate and inspire readers. For example, one former smoker’s “denial story” was that she believed incorrectly that she could not have a heart attack because she didn’t smoke very much, remained active, and was a woman. The book subsequently asks readers to think about their own denial stories and provides space in which they can jot down their notes on the subject. The authors go on to explore how smoking relates to health, covering topics like the effects of smoking on lung function and of nicotine on the brain. There’s also a timely section on vaping and e-cigarettes. Throughout the book, there are helpful images by debut illustrator Marhofer and tables featuring such things as a comparison of the temporal cortexes of a smoker and nonsmoker and information on nicotine replacement therapies. Useful as that information is, the personal stories—told in former smokers’ own words—are what set this book apart from other guides to quitting smoking. Readers who would like to hear from real people who have successfully quit smoking will benefit from it.

A smoking cessation guide with inspiring personal accounts by people who have stopped.
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/suzanne-harris/learning-to-quit-how-to-stop-smoking-and-live-free/

Author Bios:

Suzanne Harris in Her Own Words

When I first started smoking in my early teens, I felt grown up and powerful. Awkward, shy, and taller than all my classmates, I used cigarettes to mask my discomfort and find my place as a rebel. Years later as a nurse working in an inpatient cancer unit, I found that smoking had become a terrible burden and source of shame. I instinctively tried to abuse myself into stopping, berating myself for being stupid and weak; why else would I continue to do something that was in such conflict with being a good nurse and mother?

In finding my way to becoming a non-smoker, I developed some of the skills that are now in the pages of this book. Then, in 1984, I had the great good fortune to secure a position in an outpatient clinic in San Francisco, including working in the county hospital chest clinic for people with pulmonary diseases. There I saw the terrible toll smoking took on the health and psyche of our patients. I saw in my patients the same fear, defiance, and shame that I had felt as a smoker. So my experience first as a smoker and subsequently as a nurse has given me a dual perspective on tobacco dependence.

For me, stopping smoking involved developing a different relationship with myself, a relationship of love and respect rather than bullying and low self-esteem. And for the people I have worked with and learned from over more than 30 years of working in the field, a key for most has been to identify something they wanted more than a cigarette, and to go after that. In the process of that redirection, they came into a kinder relationship with themselves, just as I did.

Over the years, colleagues have expressed surprise that I would continue to find the work of a tobacco treatment specialist to be so engaging. In fact, the process of becoming non-smokers is rich with opportunities for transformation and empathy. Because smoking is interwoven with so many aspects of a smoker’s life, removing that thread opens a person to experiencing parts of themselves that have been ignored or unexplored. People discover strengths and gifts they did not know they had. I derive deep satisfaction supporting the single most important change a person can make to ensure a better future for themselves and the people they love: stopping smoking.

Paul Brunetta in His Own Words

My first cigarette at age nine was such a powerful experience that I can clearly remember it decades later. For kids, watching adults smoke creates a certain fascination with cigarettes and sends a strong signal that it’s what adults do. I remember Marlboro Man billboards and other positive images of smokers that were reinforced through TV and print advertising and movies in the 1970s as I grew up. In high school, I looked forward to smoking at beer-filled weekend parties. It strengthened a bond with one of my best friends, Brian, as something we shared that our other friends didn’t. Later, as an undergraduate in an intense pre-med program at Johns Hopkins University, I began to smoke regularly and realized that I was addicted. It took many attempts to stop, but with a high level of motivation I eventually did and developed a lifelong interest in nicotine addiction and tobacco related disease.

In my Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship at UCSF, I came across a kindred spirit in an amazingly talented and dedicated nurse named Suzanne Harris. Suzanne and I worked together in the Chest Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, and, together, we cared for a constant stream of patients with tobacco-related COPD and heart disease and lung cancer. This was mirrored in my rotations through the VA hospital taking care of great veterans who had survived battles for our country but were sickened by long-term tobacco use. Suzanne ran a Group at SFGH, and I asked to sit in. It was one of those moments when you realize you’re in the presence of a master doing something very difficult but making it seem effortless. As a former smoker, Suzanne was uniquely able to connect with people in Group with such profound and non-judgmental empathy, but was also able to guide them toward the next step in a quit plan. When I joined the faculty in the Thoracic Oncology Program focused on lung cancer, early detection, and tobacco education, we were able to find some limited funding from the Mt. Zion Health Fund to create the Tobacco Education Center and hire Suzanne part-time. I eventually left this position to work in biotechnology as Suzanne continued Group. And, years later, in 2009, a fantastic Group participant named Jeannie Fontana generously donated seed money that allowed for the creation and ongoing survival of the Fontana Tobacco Treatment Center.

Suzanne and I have been working on this book in one form or another for more than 10 years. We hope you gain a deep understanding of these people on their journey toward better health. And Part 2 of the book has health information and smoking cessation medication knowledge in clear language that can be critical on your own journey away from nicotine addiction. We hope this book is useful to anyone looking to improve their health or improve the lives of a loved one who is dealing with nicotine addiction.

More info: http://www.learningtoquit.com/about-the-authors/

You can start reading Learning to Quit for FREE at www.LearningToQuit.com/free

 

Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai sentenced to ten years in Chinese jail

Hong Kong (CNN)A Chinese court has sentenced Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison for “providing intelligence” overseas, in a case that is likely to reignite international criticism of Beijing’s treatment of its critics.

Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who went missing in late 2015, before resurfacing in Chinese police custody. Known as the Causeway Bay Books disappearances, all five of those missing were linked to a Hong Kong bookstore owned by publisher Mighty Current, best known for gossipy titles about China’s ruling elite, including President Xi Jinping.
Gui, who was the owner of bookstore, disappeared while visiting his holiday home in Thailand. He later reappeared on Chinese state television, confessing to an alleged drunk-driving incident more than a decade earlier. According to state news agency Xinhua, Gui was sentenced to two years in jail but left before the sentence could be carried out.
    His televised confession later became a symbol of what human rights advocates say is the Beijing government’s increasingly repressive measures to clampdown on dissent — including overseas abductions, televised confessions, and ignoring consular rights even for those with foreign citizenship.
    He briefly reappeared in 2017, only to be seized a few months later in January 2018 by Chinese agents aboard a train while with Swedish diplomats.
    According to his daughter, Angela Gui, he had been diagnosed with progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS and was on his way to see a Swedish doctor at the embassy in Beijing.
    “At one of the stops before Beijing, there were about 10 men in plainclothes that came in, and said they were from the police — and just grabbed him and took him away. After that, I have not heard anything,” she said at the time.
    China eventually confirmed Gui had been detained in February 2018, saying he had broken Chinese law.
    The detention of Gui, who was born in eastern China but became a naturalized Swedish citizen in the early 1990s, has led to increased tension between the two countries, with China publicly warning Sweden not to interfere in the case. The Swedish government has yet to comment on Tuesday’s ruling.
      The Ningbo court document noted that Gui had requested the restoration of his Chinese citizenship in 2018, presumably while in jail.
      His case has alarmed many overseas Chinese, especially those critical of the Beijing government, who have acquired foreign citizenship. Despite its own law that bans dual citizenship, Chinese officials have insisted someone like Gui is considered “a Chinese national first and foremost.”

      Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/25/asia/gui-minhai-china-hong-kong-sentence-intl-hnk/index.html

      Clive Cussler, prolific author and sea explorer, dead at 88

      (CNN)Clive Cussler, the bestselling author and sea explorer, died on Monday, his family announced in a Facebook post.

      In the Facebook post, wife Janet Horvath said it had been a privilege to be with the author over the years.
      “I want to thank you, his fans and friends for all the support, for all the good times and all the adventures you have shared with him,” she wrote. “He was the kindest, most gentle man I ever met. I have always loved him and always will. I know, his adventures will continue.”
        In his lifetime, Cussler was known for his books about underwater shipwreck discoveries — both fiction and nonfiction.
        He published more than 50 during his career, two of which were later made into movies — “Raise the Titanic,” released in 1980, and “Sahara,” in 2005. His books were published in more than 40 languages in over 100 countries, according to his website.
        But Cussler wasn’t just a novelist. He was so passionate about maritime discoveries, he even started a nonprofit dedicated to them — National Underwater and Marine Agency — a volunteer foundation dedicated to “preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts,” the website reads.
        Most of the financial support for the organization came from book royalties, the website says.
        The organization has located more than 60 significant shipwrecks.
        Cussler was credited with leading an expedition that in 1995 located the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. The Hunley, which was found off Charleston, South Carolina, was a Confederate submarine during the Civil War. It was later raised and is undergoing conservation.
        The Friends of the Hunley paid tribute to Cussler on Wednesday.
        “His love of adventure will be missed by all. Today we honor a life well-lived. Godspeed sailor,” the organization said.
          Cussler spoke with CNN in 2002 about his books and maritime searches. What explains his passion, he was asked.
          “The mystery, of course, the intrigue and the history. I’m a history nut. I never say anything, but I got a Ph.D. in maritime history,” Cussler said. “But it’s the challenge, I think. Because if you are successful, it’s a great feeling of achievement. In my case, if it’s lost, I’ll look for it.”

          Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/us/clive-cussler-dead-trnd/index.html

          True Grit author Charles Portis dies aged 86

          Landmark western authors most famous novel gave John Wayne an Oscar-winning role, and inspired the Coen brothers

          Charles Portis, the reclusive author of the western True Grit, in which a 14-year-old girl sets out to avenge her fathers murder, has died at the age of 86.

          Portiss brother Jonathan told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the writer died on Monday in a hospice in Little Rock, Arkansas. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.

          Stephen King said that Portis was a true American original, while the governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson said he will be remembered for generations to come. And we are proud of the way he showcased our beautiful state.

          Born and educated in Arkansas, Portis served as a sergeant in the US Marine Corps during the Korean war before becoming a journalist, writing for papers including the New York Herald Tribune. He left journalism in 1964 to write full-time, publishing his first novel, Norwood, in 1966. About a Texan who sets out for New York, meeting his true love, the second shortest midget in show business and a chicken on the way, it was described by Entertainment Weekly as a glimpse of how a 20th-century Mark Twain might write.

          True Grit followed in 1968, telling of how 14-year-old Mattie recruits deputy marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man she believes to have grit like her, to help find the man who shot her father. People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her fathers blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day, it opens, with typical deadpan humour. A film version followed in 1969, starring John Wayne in an Academy Award-winning performance. A second version in 2010, starring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, was directed by the Coen Brothers.

          He had this great amount of success with True Grit. I think it didnt sit well with him, Jonathan Portis told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He didnt like to attract attention. He was comfortable around his friends, but shy around strangers. He preferred to go as an unknown person because he was a people watcher. He would hear snatches of conversations or see people who had a particular look and he would take note of that. Youd see them in his books.

          Donna Tartt described True Grit as a masterpiece in a foreword to a recent edition of the novel, adding that no living southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the south as artfully as Portis does. When the book was first published, Roald Dahl declared it: The best novel to come my way for a very long time. What a writer!

          Portis wrote three more novels: The Dog of the South, published in 1979, Masters of Atlantis (1985) and Gringos (1991). He went on writing short fiction, non-fiction and a play, and won multiple lifetime achievement awards over the last decade.

          Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/18/true-grit-author-charles-portis-dies-aged-86

          All ‘The Witcher’ content you can gobble up once you finish the Netflix series

          The Witcher is no longer only for gamers and fantasy-book buffs.

          Thanks to Netflixs adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowskis beloved novels, a new group has joined the fandom. As fans new and old plow their way through season one, however, many are thirsting for more.

          Thankfully, Geralts story has been around a long time. Since the first Witcher book hit shelves in 1990, heaps of content has followed. From the books to video games, comics, card games, and more, the world of The Witcher is vast.

          Youve finished binging The Witcher.Now what?

          With season two at least a year away, viewers can pass the time with the rest of The Witcher world.

          Fans of reading can enjoy Sapkowskis full series, along with several graphic novels. Gamers can play through three award-winning Witcher video games. Lovers of YouTube explainers can binge dozens of videos digging into the lore, characters, and more.

          There might just be enough Witchercontent out there to get you to 2021.

          The Witcher books

          Lets begin with the books that started it all.

          Over two decades, Sapkowski released eight separate books chronicling Geralts adventures. The series begins with The Last Wish, a collection of six short stories that precede the main novels.Sword of Destiny follows a similar format, featuring several stories involving major The Witcher characters. Fans can enjoy Season of Storms, a sidequel, at any point, but it may work best as the third book in the series. Then readers will get into the meat of Geralts story with Blood of Elves.

          The next four booksTime of Contempt,Baptism of Fire,The Tower of the Swallow, and The Lady of the Lakeall follow Geralt and Ciri. Filled with magic, creative beasts, a war-torn continent, and an overarching question of morality, this series is absolutely worth a read. Thankfully, it is available in essentially every format, including on Audible.

          The Witcher comics

          In the mid-90s, Geralt moved to a new format with a series of six comic books. Then, in 2013, Dark Horse Comics announced a series titled The Witcher based on the video games. Dark Horse made the series in conjunction with developer CD Projekt Red.

          The original serieswhich Maciej Parowski, Bogusaw Polch and Sapkowski adaptedis much harder to come by. This is likely because an entirely Polish team created it, and it didnt reach the prominence of Geralts other stories. Still, if you are willing to do the legwork to track it down, its almost certainly worth enjoying for hardcore fans.

          The Road With No Return begins the Polish series, followed by Geralt, The Lesser Evil, The Last Wish, The Bounds of ReasonandBetrayal.The Dark Horse series has four story arcs and 19 issues so far, beginning with House of Glass. Fox Children came next, followed byCurse of CrowsandOf Flesh and Flame.

          The Witcher video games

          The Witcher video games were, for many, an introduction to Geralts world. While Sapkowskis books have experienced a revival thanks to the storys newfound popularity, the games have long known massive fame.

          The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has won more Game of the Year awards than any other game. Many consider it the greatest video game ever made. Its predecessors are fantastic entries as well, but if you only play oneWitchergame, make it the third.

          Despite the third installments overwhelming fame, each Witcher game has been received well. It would take far too long to list all of the awards each game won, but suffice to say most gamers will find something to love in every Witchertitle.

          You can purchase The Witcher games through the officialWitcheronline store or the Steam store. You can find the second and third games through the Microsoft store, but the first title is a bit harder to come by. Several expansions and add-ons also exist, so long as youre willing to shell out the extra cash. Particularly considering the massive, rich world of The Witcher 3, youll loose full days playing these fantastic games.

          The Witcher card game

          Buried in the intriguing storyline, complex gameplay, and stunning world of The Witcher 3 is a shockingly popular card game. While traversing the world as Geralt, players will occasionally come across towns and cities. There, you can engage in a simple card game called Gwenta game within the game, if you will.

          The Witcher 3 is not the first game to slide a simple secondary game into its main story, but it may be the most successful. Games likeAssassins Creedand Red Dead Redemption 2have used a similar formula, but no in-game entertainment has come close to gathering the following Gwent has. You can find the card game in a variety of formats, from digital to physical.

          YouTube explainers

          Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of Geralt and Sapkowskis rich world, people have been dissecting theWitcher story for years. That means YouTube is absolutely littered with Witcher breakdowns, character explainers, deep dives, and in-depth looks at the magic systems.

          If youre looking about the characters, magic systems, or beasts in the wide Witcher world, YouTube has something for you. A few dedicated experts have been beefing up theirWitcher knowledge for years and would love nothing more than to share it with you.

          Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/the-witcher-books-comics-games/