Posts Tagged ‘open-source’

12
May

Your Vote Doesn’t Matter

by adminadam in home

A Brief Treatise on the Futility of Mainstream Political Action and the Promise of Smart Contracts and Cryptographic Governance

Before I touch on new techniques available to the aspiring political entrepreneur I would like to set the scene with a bleak but informative view of the poverty of our modern, mainly American, political system (not to exclude anyone!).

Public opinion has no statistically-significant impact on public policy in the United States, whereas special interests can block any bill they dislike whilst, more often than not, getting the OK from congress for their own bills.

Unless you are one of the power elite your vote, your political opinion doesn’t matter.

And while the creator of this video would have you believe that there are ways to fix this broken system, I view things more cynically. I would like to make corruption illegal, don’t get me wrong. But I have a feeling that a movement to do so would be co-opted. I see that power elites corrupt and undermine popular political movements and figures on the daily. I see that they control the media and manipulate and sculpt our attention, too. They do this, as Noam Chomsky described, by encouraging lively debate within narrow bands of opinion:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Thus we are diverted from meaningful, profound discussions on a full-range of important issues. Instead, we seem to either A) partake in the spectacle of superficial, divisive debates orchestrated by Puppet Authority Figures on either delimited side of the argument, B) switch to thinking about the next pressing issue, “in other news…”, or C) take hit after hit of interminably-juicy celebrity gossip. The populous is dumb and it has been made dumb with brutal efficiency. But this is not the only reason that I have doubts about the promised, this-time-it’ll-be-different, Represent-Us Revolution, the plan for which you might be led to peruse if you watched until the end of the above video.

Let’s take a moment to review the basic situation here in America, and then I’ll tell you why I am not going to bother with this or any other mainstream progressive reformist movement for political change in the foreseeable future:

  1. Like they say in the video, politicians have been bought and sold for at least 40 years in the United States. The people that run the country are in bed with the people that run the largest corporations, and only the power elite get their policies enacted with anything more than a jackpot-lottery-ticket-winning success rate. We are dealing with a more-or-less self-sustaining, self-correcting system, a well-oiled machine.
  2. The American people are uneducated and ignorant of the workings of the machine. In fact, they are prevented from getting an education — at least insofar as they are given no regular opportunities to get exposure to nuanced, unbiased debates on wide-ranging, un-preselected topics. Americans don’t necessarily inherently value intellectual pursuits or learning in general either as far as I can tell. And yet we are impoverished not only in terms of knowledge and understanding…
  3. The American people are impoverished through excessive taxation (upwards of 50%) and the intentional and unchecked inflation of their currency by the Federal Reserve Banking System; hence, they have not the money or time to care about fomenting political change. Our mental and financial resources are drained in other nefarious ways as well, like through the attention-grabbing, counterproductive drug war.
  4. America is constantly at war — no, it’s not just with drugs — and the dispossessed (on both sides of the world) are the ones footing the bill.
  5. We know that if we speak out about corruption, warmongering, taxation, coercion, the broken health-care system, or the destruction of the environment, that we are more likely to be scrutinized by Five Eyes Intelligence Agencies. Although we may not care on average as Americans that we are being spied upon, Edward Snowden and others have worked tirelessly to bring it to our attention. Those that do care and are politically and technically savvy enough perhaps know better now the extent of the surveillance and understand better the design of the Panopticon, feel its chilling effects more profoundly in their bones. It is a scary time to promote and make plans for radical, political and economic deviations from the status quo. But that fear… Perhaps it is the sign that we are entering new territory. So what would moving forward actually look like?

On to the root of the issue of how to — or how not to — create change:

The problem with Occupy, the Tea Party, Revolution.us, and the next dozen yet-to-be-shouted-from-the-rooftops Movements fed up with the status quo is that their solutions regularly rely upon established practices, methods, and institutions. They march, write, phone-in, text, plead, promote, proselytize, fund-raise, and propose legislation. Surely for their supporters, seeing a Movement Member interviewed on the nightly news is exhilarating. And it happens to some extent — perhaps just enough to satisfy this need for a broad-enough-but-still-divisive rhetorical theater in the media as Chomsky described. But my problem with these movements isn’t the limited penetration they achieve into the information-feeding troughs of the average American television viewer or web surfer. My lack of faith in their projects has little do to with their paltry track records for bringing about lasting change, in fact.

My problem lies in the reliance on third-parties in general. By third-parties I mean other groups or individuals on whom the success of the movement, or the achievement of a redress of grievances, relies. Ultimately, if some vaguely socialist democratic movement, let’s say, were to gain power, overthrow and oust the power elites, fix the broken law/financial/environmental/societal system on their own terms, what would it amount to? Obviously we can assume their victory means just what I said, that they’ve achieved what they wanted. But now we’re left with another problem, if not a bigger problem: There is a new power elite, a new administration, a new congress, a new constitution, new third-parties, and new points of failure. Reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed serves as a firm reminder of the necessity of constant revolution in radical political projects. All these movements, these configurations of human capital, sadly — no matter how virile, impassioned, or disciplined — suffer from the tendency in human-dependent systems towards a centralization of power. Ultimately, this leads to their decay. I — and I believe I speak for many of my readers as well — grow weary of this kind of karmic political cycle, the investment of large sums of energy, getting the ball rolling, only to have its energy siphoned off steadily in an entropic process of attrition and a cutting of supply lines for the movement. So I ask myself if there is a better way to structure our political system. But then I have problems with democracy itself, you see… The whole thing may need to be reworked. But allow me to explain…

What’s the problem with democracy?

It’s not only about centralization and corruption for me. Here’s my problem with democracy: In the first place, in a majority-rule country like ours, at most half of the country (consider especially how few people actually vote) is able to elect the representatives and enact the policies favorable to it. Secondly, those representatives are not bound by contract to deliver on their election promises. And we could even forgive their transgressions — on both sides — those voters who were duped, those elected officials prevented from carrying out ‘the will of the people’ in one way or another. The point being no one need take the blame; this system functions (if you can call it functional) with or without consent, with or without consensus, but more often than not without either in terms of the what the whole country wants. And our media have us believing that this is the best we can do. We swallow this lie and preach it to the heathens that suggest anything else might be better. Meanwhile we swim with sharks in the shark tank, trying to lobby and protest the measly scraps of food we manage to procure as we twist and turn to avoid being eaten ourselves…

Are you telling me there is a way to 1) guarantee that policies get carried out and 2) prove that consent has been obtained from all constituents? Is there a system less vulnerable to fraud, less dependent on malleable and often unscrupulous political intermediaries?

Enter smart contracts. This is what I believe we will use to obviate corruption even if we also succeed in making corruption illegal. So support revolution.us if you want to, but know that we have the tools today to start to programmatically restructure politics or even build alternative, parallel political and legal systems. Cryptographic Governance will allow us to make the shift from being reactive to being proactive in trying to fight corruption. So how does this work, and what are smart contracts?

Let’s let Andreas Antonopoulos, Bitcoin Protocol Champion Extraordanaire, begin. Note this is a highly technical intro; rest assured, further elucidation of the ramifications of what’s being said is forthcoming.

Of course, only in the last 20 seconds or so of this verbose description of smart contracts do the non-monetary applications of this Bitcoin protocol contract scripting language receive mention.

Effectively, what Andreas is saying is that wills, trusts, and other types of agreements can be encoded using this new programming language found in the Bitcoin Protocol to be carried out without (and despite) human intervention given that certain constraints are met.

While we will want to apply this technology to politics, his first example of how a financial transaction can be secured and managed automatically through a smart contract is illustrative:

Basically, amount $XXXX will be transferred from Company A to Company B IF AND ONLY IF:

  1. Company A signs the transaction to release the funds
  2. Escrow Company C signs off on the transfer, verifying Company B has fulfilled their end of the bargain and that Company A has the available funds in their wallet
  3. The transaction is dated after January 1, 2015, and
  4. The NASDAQ is at 2500 points

A will could be carried out along the same lines, and with it the deeds to an estate transferred, a hitherto encrypted message to the heirs unlocked, and the deceased’s collected private records expunged from all electronic databases, assuming an approved doctor’s death certificate has been uploaded to proofofextistence.com according to predefined criteria.

I think you can see where this is going. Any policy, the rules of governance of any entity, business or political, if they can be defined clearly enough, can be made to execute “no matter what anybody wants to happen.” To paraphrase from Andreas Antonopoulos, the diffuse power inherent in these decentralized technologies is much less corruptible than centralized power. The mayor would no longer keep the keys to the city, but would be given access to them IF AND ONLY IF. You can imagine myriad things as well, I am sure. But just for fun let’s say the mayor gets to use the mayoral limousine IF AND ONLY IF his klout score is above 80, his budget is in the black for the year, and 3 or more proof-of-existence photos of him playing with children in the park have been uploaded to the town webpage during the last 30 days. (A bit silly of a set of definitions, for sure, but that’s what the citizens of Ogdenville decided on!)

This is the world that you and I and our community members can build, leaving the oligarchs out of it. We will not wrest control from the power elites; we will innovate around them (without their permission). This is the future of bitcoin-secured smart contracts and cryptographic governance that I envision.

Take a look at a few noteworthy projects already up-and-coming in this space:

  • Counterparty is a platform for free and open financial tools on the Bitcoin network. Counterparty tokens can be used for a wide range of purposes and act as their own cryptocurrency, while still running on the Bitcoin blockchain. Unlike ordinary bitcoin, custom tokens can be used to issue dividends, confer voting rights, as electronic tickets, access to content, and more. Counterparty offers multisignature wallet addresses, which require signatures from more than one Bitcoin private key in order to spend their funds, allowing for flexible consensus-building systems to be built.
  • Ethereum calls itself a “platform for decentralized applications” and promises to make writing smart-contracts simple and efficient. One such fascinating project to emerge from the Ethereum-sphere is Augur, a “fully-decentralized, open-source prediction market platform, intended to revolutionize forecasting, decision making, and the manner in which information consensus is collected and aggregated”. Read more about Augur at augur.net. Etherparty is an intriguing user-friendly platform written using Ethereum to make writing smart-contracts easy for non-programmers.
  • Blockstream is another project and future platform with similar goals to Counterparty and Ethereum: Making smart-contracts and digital asset management easy and secure. They plan to use a feature of Bitcoin called sidechains to create two-way pegs between bitcoin and other assets or tokens. These assets and tokens in the sidechain can be comprised of anything: digital ballots, contracts, representations of other real-world currencies, the sky is the limit. The main-selling point with Blockstream is the tie-in with Bitcoin’s superior network hashing power — something that makes Bitcoin prohibitively expensive to attack.
  • Colored Coins and the Open Asset Protocol is another protocol for tying assets and digital keys to a subset of bitcoin to be transacted over the Bitcoin network. Applications include companies issuing shares in the form of ‘colored coins’, which could then be traded frictionlessly through the Bitcoin infrastructure. Also, a bank could issue colored coins backed by a cash reserve. People could then withdraw and deposit money in colored coins, and trade those, or use them to pay for goods and services. The Blockchain becomes a system allowing us to transact not only in Bitcoin, but in any currency by linking it to a set of colored coins. Additionally, locks on cars or houses could be associated with a particular type of colored coins. The door would only open when presented with a wallet containing that specific coin. This protocol is already being utilized by NASDAQ to “expand and enhance the equity management capabilities offered by its Nasdaq Private Market platform”. This will allow for greater efficiency in the issuance, transfer, and management of private company securities within the Nasdaq ecosystem.

Other noteworthy projects include:

  1. Lighthouse for decentralized crowdfunding (think: uncensorable, distributed community project donation pages),
  2. Open Bazaar for decentralized online marketplaces (think: uncensorable, distributed farmer’s markets),
  3. Maidsafe and Storj for secure P2P information storage (think: Dropbox but no one can spy on you or take down your data; it is distributed in encrypted shards and spread throughout the internet), and
  4. BitLendingClub and BTCjam for microloans to/from anyone anywhere in the world.

The future is looking pretty bright all of a sudden. But it is incumbent upon us — particularly those of us with the skills and resources available — to help build out these systems and make it happen. We need to maintain and improve upon our already-powerful open-source, cryptographic algorithms. We need to fight to encode privacy and our god-given human rights into the very fabric of the world. Edward Snowden said so himself. It is actually part of what spurred him on in divulging the crimes of the NSA and other government agencies:

“While I pray that public awareness and debate will lead to reform, bear in mind that the policies of men change in time, and even the Constitution is subverted when the appetites of power demand it. In words from history: Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography.”

[From Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State]

Snowden’s goal for us is to create a more free and equal internet. In an earlier interview with Laura Pointras, Snowden explained:

“The shock of this initial period [after the first revelations] will provide the support needed to build a more equal internet, but this will not work to the advantage of the average person unless science outpaces law. By understanding the mechanisms through which our privacy is violated, we can win here. We can guarantee for all people equal protection against unreasonable search through universal laws, but only if the technical community is willing to face the threat and commit to implementing over-engineered solutions. In the end, we must enforce a principle whereby the only way the powerful may enjoy privacy is when it is the same kind shared by the ordinary: one enforced by the laws of nature, rather than the policies of man.”

By implementing these new cryptographic systems, we may move one step further towards what Snowden envisioned: distributed and secure math-based ecosystems that enhance our privacy and allow us to innovate further in all areas — in government, in finance, in communications and journalism, etc. Even if you inherently trust our government — kudos to you for reading this far, by the way — I would argue that the price of non-action here is great: Dictators around the world, future corrupt leaders of America, they all stand to benefit if citizens are denied these tools.

Another of my idols in this space is singer/songwriter/activist Tatiana Moroz, creator of the song, “The Bitcoin Jingle” (see further below). She speaks about the importance of these new kinds of projects in liberating us. In her talk just below, she describes her journey of hope and betrayal, a tale of a loss of innocence, a growing political cynicism. She fell first for presidential candidate Dennis Kuchinich, and then later for candidate Ron Paul, only to be disappointed at their negligible impact (some would say the negligible impact they were allowed to have) in American politics. She later learned about how the Federal Reserve controls and fuels the political machine under which we suffer. But then she found a new source of hope and light in the currency and technology platform known as Bitcoin.

Although I enjoy her talk immensely, concerning the creation of the first pro-artist digital currency, Tatiana Coin — amongst other innovations and insights she shares — it’s not strictly necessary to watch till the end. [Jump to the 19:00 minute mark for the meat of the discussion on smart contracts.] I think you get it. I think you see that people are talking. People like Tatiana, Andreas, and Edward are fired up — and they want you to join in the fight. Greater transparency in government, a reigning in of corruption, proper implementation of secure protocols, the funding of important projects, the re-installation of our civil rights, and perhaps most importantly: the fueling of people’s curiosity and desire to experiment, to live in a wondrous and endlessly-fascinating world. That is their call. And that is the promise of smart contracts and cryptographic governance.

The Bitcoin Jingle, by Tatiana Moroz

SOURCES:

1. Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspective on Politics, 2014. http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

2. Washington Post, “Rich People Rule!” 2014.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/08/rich-people-rule/

3. Washington Post, “Once again, U.S. has most expensive, least effective health care system in survey,” 2014.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/06/16/once-again-u-s-has-most-expensive-least-effective-health-care-system-in-survey/

4. Forbes Opinion, “The tax code is a hopeless complex, economy-suffocating mess,” 2013.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrenzel/2013/04/04/the-tax-code-is-a-hopeless-complex-economy-suffocating-mess/

5. CNN, “Americans pay more for slower Internet,” 2014.
http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/31/technology/internet-speeds/

6. The Atlantic, “American schools vs. the world: expensive, unequal, bad at math,” 2013.
http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/american-schools-vs-the-world-expensive-unequal-bad-at-math/281983/

7. Sunlight Foundation, “Fixed Fortunes: Biggest corporate political interests spend billions, get trillions,” 2014.
http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2014/11/17/fixed-fortunes-biggest-corporate-political-interests-spend-billions-get-trillions/

23
Dec

The Extropy of Bitcoin

by adminadam in articles

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a highly extropic virtual currency and payment platform. It is resistant to entropy, theft, political corruption, and market manipulation (i.e. arbitrary inflation).

Here is an under-two-minute Bitcoin intro video from weusecoins.com:

What are Bitcoin’s novel features (both as a currency and as a technology)?

  • The coins themselves cannot be burnt or destroyed, nor can they be stolen (if encrypted and backed-up properly). Coins can also be stored offline in a paper wallet or an indestructible, encrypted aluminum wallet.
  • Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer, decentralized currency and banking/ledger system with no single point of failure.
  • It has worldwide appeal and utility; different people are interested in it for different reasons and all can participate freely.
  • A whole cryptocurrency ecosystem has evolved from it. See: Litecoin, Namecoin, or Anoncoin for examples of this.

What are its downsides commonly thought to be?

There are a number of arguments leveled against Bitcoin. Most posit that it will either be rendered null or that there are no legitimate uses for it. Briefly, here are a few of the more common arguments:

  1. That governments and banks will soon feel so threatened by it that they will shut it down.
  2. It’s volatile; it’s difficult to speculate on; it’s not a good investment.
  3. Only criminals and tax-evaders use it. (And/or high frequency traders.)
  4. It’s not accepted anywhere; you can’t really use it for anything.
  5. It would fail if the internet went down.

Now to examine these arguments.

First, that someone or some entity might shut it down:

Bitcoin cannnot be shut down by any authority as could Napster, or Wikileaks, or even the Pirate Bay for that matter. It is completely decentralized and has spread around the world. It is not dependent on ICANN or any centralized protocol or institution controlled by any one entity. I don’t think any conceivable level of coordination could remove enough copies of the peer-to-peer software necessary to run it — existing on many millions of devices around the world at this point — in order to shut it down. Also, as we move forward people are increasingly meeting in person to exchange bitcoin and other coins for cash, meaning that 3rd party bitcoin services (like Coinbase or Mt. Gox) are non-essential to obtaining cryptocurrencies.

Recently China declared that Bitcoin would not be accepted as currency there and that 3rd party Bitcoin/Renminbi exchanges would have to shut down at the end of 2013. This caused the prices to halve as there was great excitement and a surge of interest in Bitcoin in China previously. And while it will be harder for Chinese people to get and sell potentially, it certainly doesn’t spell the end for Bitcoin around the world. For example, Germany accepts it, as do the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, France, and others. (I expect even in China it will continue to play some, albeit marginalized, role.) Note also: Swiss lawmakers are considering treating it as they would any other foreign currency as we speak.

Second, on the volatility, the usefulness for investment purposes:

It is difficult to speculate on, but less so, I believe, if you think in longer time frames than does a high-frequency trader.

BTC price history - all time - to Dec 11, 2013

Looking at this chart of the all-time price history of Bitcoin (above), we can see a number of big peaks and valleys, but the general trend is up — in a big way. It is new and subject to an extent to hype and speculation (as is any new commodity or currency, of course). One glance at the overall trajectory, however, and it appears to be more of an exponential trend than a linear one. I cannot conceive of traditional commodities or other physical currencies growing in this fashion, and believe it is only possible with a digital, peer-to-peer, distributed, low-barriers-to-entry system such as Bitcoin. Take a look at this all-time price history with weekly (instead of daily) price points and tell me that the growth is not astonishingly exponential in appearance…!

BTC price history - all time - to December 2013

I think over the long term the value will continue to increase. If we look at a few examples of how Bitcoin (and the underlying protocol) are already being used I think it will become obvious why its value — and the value of other cryptocurrencies — is likely to increase over time.

Who uses it, where, and for what:

Bitcoin is a freely accessible, open-source, distributed, digital currency. That means that anyone with a smart phone or computer and internet access can use it. This ease-of-use and convenience may allow for it to supersede conventional payment and banking technologies, like paypal, moneygram, and bank transfers. As there is no bureaucracy involved, coins can be transferred to anyone, from anyone, at any time and for any reason. All this within minutes. All this without fees.

Here’s a few example uses:

  • Trade sanctions can be bypassed. Cubans in the US can send their families money without hassle.
  • Money can be sent anonymously (and if not then at least pseudonymously) over the internet for the first time in history. For more on the issue of true anonymity and the technical discussions surrounding it see: Zerocoin.
  • Woodlank Patchwork, a new micronation which is both an enclave and an exclave of Japan, has chosen Bitcoin as its official currency.
  • WordPress users can pay with Bitcoin.
  • Reddit accepts it for advertising, tipping other users, and other promotional uses.
  • Shopify allows merchants to accept it.
  • OKcupid accepts it for premium services.
  • Nesbit’s Fine Watch Service (near me in Seattle) accepts it.
  • Seattle-based Accountable Moving & Storage accepts it.
  • Cheapair.com accepts it for purchasing plane tickets.
  • Khan Academy accepts it for donations.
  • Tesla accepts it for the purchase of their electric cars.
  • Virgin Galactic recently sold their first ticket into space purchased with Bitcoin.
  • See CoinMap.org and useBitcoins.info for 1000’s more locations worldwide where Bitcoins are accepted.

Here, additionally, are some fascinating non-monetary uses:

  • Proof of Existence allows users to anonymously time-stamp and create a record of a document’s existence. The cryptographic signature of this time-stamp is then stored for all time in the Bitcoin blockchain, the redundant, distributed ledger of transactions. With this you can certify that a given document/idea/etc exists without the need for a central authority. Think patent/copyright office, but peer-to-peer and open-source. Also, think censorship-proof publishing platform. Proof of Existence is built on top of the Bitcoin protocol.
  • Namecoin is an ‘altcoin’, an alternative cryptocurrency with features that distinguish it from Bitcoin. Namecoin is specifically designed to create an open-source, distributed DNS network. While most every website you would visit currently is ultimately controlled by ICANN (who assigns domain names like thrivenotes.com), Namecoin is creating an alternative, decentralized system, whereby censorship will be impossible, and anyone will be able to create and host a website without risk of it being removed from the internet by ICANN or other influential parties (See: Homeland Security domain name seizures). Namecoin is a fork of the Bitcoin source-code.

What if the internet went down? Are there any other security issues to be aware of?

Besides the fact that the whole internet going down would be disastrous for everyone and all internet-based services, consider the following way in which Bitcoin could possibly even survive or thrive were the net to go down:

In an amazingly ambitious announcement, Bitcoin Developer Jeff Garzik declared his intention to launch cubesat Bitcoin nodes into space to store extra redundant copies of the blockchain in case of certain types of attack or internet outages. This apparently would cost only around $2 Million to do and would provide an additional layer of extropy (higher-order, complexity, and resiliency) to Bitcoin. I find this just fascinating. Perhaps Bitcoin would be okay..!

Regardless, I would like to provide some additional details on the security of the Bitcoin ecosystem, but thought it best to leave it to the experts for this one. Here is some useful Q&A from the Bitcoin Security FAQ:

Is Bitcoin secure?

The Bitcoin technology – the protocol and the cryptography – has a strong security track record, and the Bitcoin network is probably the biggest distributed computing project in the world. Bitcoin’s most common vulnerability is in user error. Bitcoin wallet files that store the necessary private keys can be accidentally deleted, lost or stolen. This is pretty similar to physical cash stored in a digital form. Fortunately, users can employ sound security practices to protect their money or use service providers that offer good levels of security and insurance against theft or loss.

The best way to be safe is to be sure of who you’re dealing with (trusted exchanges, for instance, are a good place to start) when purchasing, and then to store your wallet encrypted (with an 8+ word password, for example) in multiple (that is, 3+) locations.

Hasn’t Bitcoin been hacked in the past?

The rules of the protocol and the cryptography used for Bitcoin are still working years after its inception, which is a good indication that the concept is well designed. However, security flaws have been found and fixed over time in various software implementations. Like any other form of software, the security of Bitcoin software depends on the speed with which problems are found and fixed. The more such issues are discovered, the more Bitcoin is gaining maturity.

There are often misconceptions about thefts and security breaches that happened on diverse exchanges and businesses. Although these events are unfortunate, none of them involve Bitcoin itself being hacked, nor imply inherent flaws in Bitcoin; just like a bank robbery doesn’t mean that the dollar is compromised. However, it is accurate to say that a complete set of good practices and intuitive security solutions is needed to give users better protection of their money, and to reduce the general risk of theft and loss. Over the course of the last few years, such security features have quickly developed, such as wallet encryption, offline wallets, hardware wallets, and multi-signature transactions.

I love this line: a bank robbery doesn’t mean the dollar has been compromised. So perfect. I feel this is very important to consider in discussions of crytocurrencies: ‘Is this a local vulnerability that’s been exploited, or a global/universal one tatamount to the annihilation of Bitcoin (et al.)?’

Could users collude against Bitcoin?

It is not possible to change the Bitcoin protocol that easily. Any Bitcoin client that doesn’t comply with the same rules cannot enforce their own rules on other users. As per the current specification, double spending is not possible on the same block chain, and neither is spending bitcoins without a valid signature. Therefore, It is not possible to generate uncontrolled amounts of bitcoins out of thin air, spend other users’ funds, corrupt the network, or anything similar.

However, a majority of miners could arbitrarily choose to block or reverse recent transactions. A majority of users can also put pressure for some changes to be adopted. Because Bitcoin only works correctly with a complete consensus between all users, changing the protocol can be very difficult and requires an overwhelming majority of users to adopt the changes in such a way that remaining users have nearly no choice but to follow. As a general rule, it is hard to imagine why any Bitcoin user would choose to adopt any change that could compromise their own money.

Consensus-based, democratic, open-source projects FOR THE WIN.

Is Bitcoin vulnerable to quantum computing?

Yes, most systems relying on cryptography in general are, including traditional banking systems. However, quantum computers don’t yet exist and probably won’t for a while. In the event that quantum computing could be an imminent threat to Bitcoin, the protocol could be upgraded to use post-quantum algorithms. Given the importance that this update would have, it can be safely expected that it would be highly reviewed by developers and adopted by all Bitcoin users.

Just imagine: Quantum-Encryption-Protected Bitcoin. What would we call it? QuBitcoin? Bitcoin-Cubed? 5th-DimensionalCoin? Whatever form it takes, whatever it’s called, I love their assertion that Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Developers will continue to develop and maximize the extropian potential of these liberating technologies — even in the face of quantum-supercomputer highway-robbery-attempts.

TL;DR – What about Bitcoin?

  • You can send money to anyone, anytime.
  • It can’t be shut down by governments.
  • It can’t be controlled by corporations or the Federal Reserve.
  • It may be protected from other conceivable, future forms of interference through the use of space-based redundancy satellites.
  • And you can buy everything from a cup of joe to an electric car with it.
Seems pretty awesomely versatile, valuable, and revolutionary to me!

bitcoin-logo-3d

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17
Nov

Debian 7 with XFCE

by adminadam in articles

As you may know, the last time I wrote about Extropian Linux Operating System Distros I examined my top two choices of Debian and openSUSE. Why were they my top picks? Well, to start they both have strong communities of developers. Additionally, they are stable distros with long support cycles — not as long as CentOS, mind you, but I digress — these long support cycles mean that each version of the operating system will last and be well supported for a long time, probably two to four years, if not longer.

Both Debian and openSUSE are independent projects as well, which I quite enjoy. None of that opt-out spying and 3rd-party profit-motivated collusion that you get with Ubuntu.

My top two choices are also both predicated on user-friendliness. None of that Arch & Gentoo command-line installation stuff. Sweet and simple installs for me.

Recently, I’ve determined that I would like to create a blog and host it on a home server. For this purpose and to familiarize myself with what I believe will be the best, most extropian pick in the long run, I’ve gone with the stalwart: Debian.

Debian has over 3000 developers worldwide and forms the basis for many other big name projects, such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. (It must be doing something right!)

In order to streamline the process of testing for myself (and ideally that of installation on friends’ and family members’ computers) I went with the default Desktop Environment choice of GNOME 3. I was disappointed, however, to find that it didn’t work anything like what I was used to with GNOME 2 (which I last used with Fedora 14) or CINNAMON (which I last used with Linux Mint 14).

I guess this is what a lot of users were complaining about: A major break in design and user experience for no apparent reason at all.

Secondly, and perhaps the main reason why I am abandoning GNOME 3 (and most likely KDE as well) in favor of the XFCE desktop is that I felt GNOME 3 to be a resource hog. DISCLAIMER: I am running Debian 7 virtualized in VirtualBox. UNDISCLAIMER: This may actually be an excellent test bed for — or simulation of — the use of Debian on friends’ and family members’ old PC’s and Macs. The lighter on the system, the better. Otherwise we are giving Entropy a leg up as we lean towards ditching our old hardware; it’s still got plenty of potential as long as the tools we use are not too heavy.

What’s nice about XFCE is that it is super-lightweight. It uses minimal system resources, RAM, hard-drive space, etc.

It looks good. Not super polished like openSUSE or anything, but it has a clean and functional look. Read the rest of this entry »

12
Jun

Linux Desktop Options

by adminadam in art, articles, home, videos

Last I wrote about Linux I summarized my findings from my research into the distributions of Linux with the longest-term stability and best customizability. I also looked at the variety of architectures (i.e. older hardware, older mac’s, etc.) on which these distributions could run.

I started with 12 distros and then narrowed them down to my top 7, mostly eliminating newer, more unstable, or less user-friendly distributions, such as Arch Linux, which, while popular, does not have a graphic installer, meaning you must know how to decipher the code and what to type into the console in order to get it installed in the first place.

The top 7 I ended up with were what I called the Most Extropian Linux Distributions available. They are resilient to internal (political) and external (economic and security) threats or disturbances. They are open and have strong communities of support. They are likely to last a long time and make it easy for new users to transition into Linux. They also play nicely with others and do all their homework daily. They are, in reverse order:

7. Slackware Linux (because it is old and still popular)
6. Puppy Linux (because it is small and can be run effectively from a USB stick)
5. Linux Mint (because it is popular, beautiful, and easy)
4. CentOS (because it is rock-solid and supported for up to 10 years)
3. Debian (because of its huge community, myriad customization options and supported architectures)
2. Fedora (because it is popular, beautiful, versatile, and fairly easy)
1. openSUSE (because it is easy, beautiful, popular, well-supported, and KDE-tastic*!)

Where I am at now in regards to this list is not much different from when I first summarized all the above-mentioned research I did. At this point I am making determinations of which desktop to invest my time in mastering — both for myself and for the purpose of being able to recommend an easy-to-use and nice-looking distro/desktop to my family and friends. You see, I have many family members with ailing PC’s. I have a friend with a PowerPC Mac that hardly runs a thing, and a grandfather with an old XP dinosaur. Both of their machines could be reinvented by utilizing any one of the above distributions (although I have serious doubts about my ever helping non-techie acquaintances to install Slackware or Puppy Linux). I will most likely push CentOS, Debian, Fedora, or openSUSE. While Linux Mint is great, as I’ve discussed, I worry about their small development team and their dependence on Ubuntu (and its mother-corp Canonical).

I have four distros in mind. Of these I have tried only Fedora (either as a hard-install or virtualized), and it’s been a while since I last touched them. I have my sources for reviews, however, namely Linux Outlaws, Everyday Linux, and Going Linux (the audio podcasts). I listen to these podcasts everyday driving to and from work in my commute and also read a wide assortment of Linux-related news from Hacker News, Slashdot, and Reddit.

With my current knowledge I lean towards Debian and openSUSE the most as my likely Top Two recommendations for friends and family. I love how Fedora 18 and 19 look. I also love CentOS’s 10-year support cycle — it is simply amazing. What I cannot get behind completely with Fedora is its rapid release cycle of only 18 months. The support term is concomitantly too short, around 12-13 months. CentOS is solid but looks a bit clunky and is a bit behind the times with many of its preinstalled packages, however, so I still hesitate about it too, sadly.

Debian and openSUSE, on the other hand, have 2-to-3-year support cycles. They both also support PowerPC processors (old mac’s), and of course old PC’s! They both offer multiple desktop options: GNOME, KDE, and XFCE at least. Also, both have very large development communities or dev teams. Debian’s default desktop is GNOME (although you can download a pre-wrapped version with either KDE or XFCE as well as LXDE). I will most likely use KDE or GNOME as they are the best known, most popular, and best supported desktop environments. openSUSE, inversely, comes by default with KDE but can be downloaded locked-and-loaded with GNOME or XFCE too.

Read the rest of this entry »

2
Jun

FOSS: Free and Open Source Software

by adminadam in home

FOSS or F/OSS is free and open-source software. Good examples you will know include Firefox (which used to be Netscape Navigator), VLC Media Player, the GIMP (a free Photoshop alternative), Linux (and the 1000’s of variations — or distributions — of this operating system that are out in the wild), WordPress Blogging Software, and OpenOffice or LibreOffice (both free alternatives to the Microsoft Office suite).

Read the rest of this entry »

27
May

The Extropy of Linux

by adminadam in articles

Allow me to revel for a second in the beauty of millions of volunteers working together from around the world to build free and open-source (and awesome) alternatives to the profit-driven, privacy-abusive, user-patronizing, security-lax, and design-arbitrary Corporate Operating Systems of the Modern World, namely: Windows and Mac OSX.

Here goes: Linux, along with Wikipedia, Wikileaks, the Bitcoin Crowd, Anonymous, Firefox, Diaspora*, and the Occupy Movement may just represent the pinnacle of human cultural development as it stands in the 21st century. That is, at its core, it (Linux) has Freedom, Respect for the dignity of individual humans and human communities, Love and the love of Art and Aesthetics, and Truth as both its mode of operation and its end goal (product, in this case). Both path and destination are glorious. What does Microsoft want from you? Servitude. Apple? Your Soul. And if we look at the other fields I’ve jacked into the equation here, what does Chrome want from you — being another semi-open-source browser with great design and functionality? Your Data, of course. All your data are belong to us. Linux is divergent; counter-culture. Eventually, hopefully, it will be the new norm for you and me.

</revel>

With these idealistic ends in mind I’ve decided to go all out and bring my best Thrivenotes-y analysis of the top 10 Linux Distributions to you, dear reader, in the hopes that it will help you consider your options, firstly, and secondly, know where to start for when you decide that you’ve had enough of Big Brother Data Corp and Their Friends.


First off, let’s give us a definition here, shall we?

What is Linux? Surely our friend Wikipedia can answer that!

This from the Simple English Version:

Linux or GNU/Linux is a free and open source software operating system for computers. The operating system is a collection of the basic instructions that tell the electronic parts of the computer what to do and how to work. Free and open source software (FOSS) means that everyone has the freedom to use it, see how it works, and change it.

What does it do?

It basically allows you to do all the things you would normally do with a computer. Go online, check your email, organize your photos, write letters and documents, create art, play videogames, listen to music, etc., etc..

What doesn’t it do?

Linux is all about free software. With that said, some types of Linux are (by design) not very good at using proprietary software, such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. With that said, there are some pretty kick-ass (as in free, as in beer) alternatives, namely: OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and GIMP or Inkscape.

What are the most popular flavors — or types — of Linux?

Ubuntu is the name most people who’ve heard of Linux will recognize. It is amongst the best known. It is, however, the LAST flavor of Linux that I would recommend. Canonical, the company that creates it, seems to have, by default, set it up so that it will share with the company (and any other 3rd parties it deems business-worthy) what you are doing on your computer, what you are searching for (on your own computer), and possibly more. Frankly, Ubuntu makes open-source look bad. Open-source, and Linux as a whole, is all about respecting user privacy and user needs. Canonical (and Ubuntu by extension) have changed the way they do business in a fundamental way by making this data-sharing an opt-out feature. For that, I strike them from my list.

Let’s get on with it. What else is out there?

So so much!


What if we just did a simple little search for the top ten distributions?

Sounds good to me. According to distrowatch.com, during the last year, the top-viewed (read-about) Linux distributions/flavors have been:

  1. Linux Mint
  2. Mageia
  3. Ubuntu
  4. Fedora
  5. Debian
  6. openSUSE
  7. Arch Linux
  8. PCLinuxOS
  9. CentOS
  10. Puppy Linux

Honorable mentions, which have also been in the top 10 in the past 2 years at some point are:

  • Slackware
  • Manjaro Linux

What should we look at now?

What about Google Search Results for each of these?

OK! Here are our Google Search Results (# of Results) for each of the 12 Linux Distros:

1. Ubuntu – 189.0 million results – Most Recent Version: 13 “Raring Ringtail” – TPB Seeders: ~95
2. Debian – 81.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 7 “Wheezy” – TPB Seeders: ~25
3. Fedora – 55.8 million results – Most Recent Version: 18 – TPB Seeders: ~40
4. CentOS – 38.5 million results – Most Recent Version: 6 – TPB Seeders: ~70
5. Linux Mint – 23.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 14 – TPB Seeders: ~55
6. OpenSUSE – 14.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 12.3 – TPB Seeders: ~30
7. Arch Linux – 11 million results – Most Recent Version: a13-2 – TPB Seeders ~3
8. Slackware Linux – 8.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 14 – TPB Seeders ~15
9. Puppy Linux – 3.8 million results – Most Recent Version: 5 – TPB Seeders ~10
10. Mageia – 1.9 million results – Most Recent Version: 3 beta 4 – TPB Seeders ~40
11. PCLinuxOS – 1.5 million results – Most Recent Version: 2013 – TPB Seeders ~9
12. Manjaro Linux – 383,000 results – Most Recent Version: 0.8.2 – TPB Seeders ~1

Ok, so what do Google Results tell us?

They are an indicator of the popularity of something, but more importantly, this tells me that Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and the others on top are more likely to have a lot of users and a lot of forums and Q&A and info-sharing communities on the web. This is important to me as I want the most community-supported, most stable, and most accessible Linux distribution possible. Longevity, commonality, and stability are all good extropian (negentropic) criteria to consider. What is the Linux Distribution least likely to disappoint at some point in the future? I believe that this is answerable (roughly) though these surveys I’ve completed: Distrowatch, Google, and #’s of TPB Seeders.

What do the TPB Seeder numbers mean?

Once you decide to get a Linux Distribution to try it out (I recommend VirtualBox for testing them out without replacing your current operating system). Anyways, once you decide you want a specific distribution, one of the fastest ways to get it (download it) is through the bit-torrent protocol. Peer-to-peer downloading, that is. The Pirate Bay is one such place where you could get a torrent file of a distro you want. Also, the more that people are seeding that distro, the stronger a sign it is to me that it is a good one. People don’t (tend to) seed crap (very often), so to speak.

Now to aggregate a bit…

We don’t want Ubuntu. Doesn’t respect privacy.

Long-standing champions in the Linux arena are: Debian, Slackware, Fedora, Linux Mint, CentOS, openSUSE, Arch Linux, and Puppy Linux, as far as I can gather. PCLinuxOS is new to me. We can look into it a bit, but right now let’s focus on eliminating some of those that remain, either because they are too new or because few people are or have been talking about them.

Mageia and Manjaro, you’re out too. No offense.

What are we left with?

1. Debian
2. Fedora
3. CentOS
4. Linux Mint
5. openSUSE
6. Arch Linux
7. Slackware
8. Puppy Linux
9. PCLinuxOS

That’s based on Google. What about distrowatch page views again?

1. Linux Mint
2. Fedora
3. Debian
4. openSUSE
5. Arch Linux
6. PCLinuxOS
7. CentOS
8. Puppy Linux
9. Slackware


Now let’s remove Arch Linux, because although I’m sure it’s great, it is known for difficult installation.

Also, PCLinuxOS, I’m taking you out of the picture for now, not that I won’t come back to you (someday), but we all have limited time here and you only have 1.5 million Google results. You’re getting there, I’d say… ; )

Now we have 7 to look at more closely. These are all seemingly solid, easy-to-access, community-supported, and stable options. Note: I have re-inserted the TPB Seeder “Scores” here…

Linux Mint – TPB: 55
Fedora – TPB: 40
Debian – TPB: 25
openSUSE – TPB: 30
CentOS – TPB: 70
Puppy Linux – TPB: 10
Slackware –  TPB: 15

All have decent numbers of seeders in my view, especially considering that Pirate Bay torrents is not the primary path most linux users would tread to obtain their system images or live CD’s. Most people go to debian.org, for example, or fedoraproject.org, to download directly the distribution they want. It’s just an added bonus in my mind the notion that enough people want it to be rapidly downloadable through torrents (which is amongst the fastest methods of file transfer overall) that they themselves upload and then seed those torrents for you and me. It’s pretty cool. So consider them bonus points — Bonus TPB points, let’s say.

Now let’s organize them by bonus TPB points.

1. CentOS – 70
2. Linux Mint – 55
3. Fedora – 40
4. openSUSE – 30
5. Debian – 25
6. Slackware – 15
7. Puppy Linux – 10

Now we’ll talk about each one a bit. It is nice to know a little about the roots of each, the developers that develop each, the desktop environments offered, and the support life cycle, among other things. I will give a break down for each distribution now then, starting with the candidate I am least likely to pick as my main, everyday, desktop Linux distribution — and ending with my top choices based on my research and experience so far.


Read the rest of this entry »

21
May

System Failure

by adminadam in home

system_failure

2
Mar

3D Printing & Hope for the Future

by adminadam in videos

The gentleman in this here TED Talk leads with the astonishing and shocking statistic of the global dearth of adequate shelter: Over 1 Billion of us live in ramshackle, unsafe, and inadequate housing. Shelter is a fundamental need and construction is currently a costly, dirty, inefficient, and corruption-prone enterprise. Enter the new age of 3D-printed housing. Cheap, sturdy, adaptable, and fast!