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Business and Domain Names

How to make $69 for just 5 minutes work

I just had a chat with a GoDaddy representative about a domain I was interested in obtaining. The rep wanted me to pay US$69 + commission to approach the owner and negotiate a price. I asked the rep if he could first check if the domain was for sale or not before I paid the US$69 for their brokering service… but he refused. He argued that the US$69 was for the hours of work it could take just to contact the domain owner.

I explained to the rep, I would consider paying the US$69 if, in fact, there was something to be negotiated… but how would I know they ever bothered to pick up the phone (or send an email) to the domain owner? Needless to say, he must of felt like a fool when I pointed out to him that the owner of the domain was already a registered customer of GoDaddy and, therefore, in all honesty, it’s not going to take more than 5 minutes to find their details and shoot off an email.

That’s US$69 to claim you’ve contacted an anonymous owner and simply come back and say, “he doesn’t want to sell” Sure, they could also make money on commission, if they put the time in.. but to make US$69 for no work, that’s what I call Get Rich Quick!

Current Events and Net

UK Child Porn Laws: Awkward Truths

Maybe we can also make bedroom role playing illegal? Two recent news reports, draw your own conclusions:

UK convicts man over manga sex images of children

A 39-year-old UK man has been convicted of possessing illegal cartoon drawings of young girls exposing themselves in school uniforms and engaging in sex acts. The case is believed to be the UK’s first prosecution of illegal manga and anime images.

Thousands of paedophiles will escape justice, crime chief admits

Thousands of paedophiles will escape justice because law enforcement agencies cannot cope with the sheer volume of offences, one of Britain’s leading crime-fighting chiefs has admitted.

Current Events and Net

Web Trolls To Face Two-Year Jail Terms

The irony that both BBC News and Sky News are headlining with “Web Trolls To Face Two-Year Jail Terms” yet they have disabled comments, presumably in case they get trolled!

I have no idea why people are putting up with these ridiculous laws. Once again, the only people these laws are punishing are British people. Clearly, police are not going to the corners of the earth to track down non-British trolls.

We live in a world where phones, tablets, computers are relentlessly hacked and proxied 24/7, often without the owners knowing. How are police or, indeed, a jury going to distinguish between bots and humans? - between botnets and remote hackers? - realistically, it’s impossible. Instead, the government instils fear by making a few high profile examples and everyone else becomes low-hanging-fruit.

Business and Life

Cryptocurrencies are permissionless

Bitcoin et al comes with some caveats. However, one distinct advantages is permissionless use.

Lose Control

Think how banks manage their customers money. They impose daily and monthly withdrawal limits. Usage patterns, such as a £5000 purchase, or ten £500 purchases, will trigger alerts and this, in turn, will be automatically shared with credit, law and tax agencies. These checks and restrictions are there for reasons of fraud and money laundering. You know, the usual excuses; to catch drug dealers and terrorists.

In reality, banks do little of this for your own benefit. When Chip and PIN was introduced, banks simultaneously moved liability of losses to the customer (maybe the customer wasn’t careful at concealing their PIN). Nor did the banks give their customers two PINs; a regular PIN and a Duress PIN for when you’re being held at gunpoint and frogmarched to a machine.

Bank accounts do have some advantages e.g. chargebacks, but equally a bank can (and does) block transfers at it’s own discretion. Rapid receipt of funds into an account - e.g. charitable donations - will typically get blocked until the bank has investigated the reasons. Meanwhile, of course, the receiving account is potentially losing money.

Also, a simple situation such as changing note denominations will require the money to be paid into an account and then instantly withdrawn in order to create an audit trail. Yep, the banks like to follow every penny.

Yet another potential problem is capital controls, such as stemming the flow of money or the imposition of taxes. Don’t go thinking you will get some warning when such measures are introduced. Take, for example, a few years back when the people of Cyprus woke up to harsh capital controls; ATM limits and cross-border movements. This situation can happen anywhere and most certainly without warning.

Gain Control

For better or worse, cryptocurrencies carry none of these draconian restrictions. You can instantly move as little or as much as you like without having to wait days for YOUR MONEY to be “cleared”.

When it comes to security, there are ways, for example, to distribute your private key (for spending) among family and friends without giving authority to one single person. You may, for example, split your key into 5 parts and require that at least 4 parts come together before the private key is revealed. You can also readily set up alerts for when money is received or spent.

Using cryptocurrencies means YOU become the bank. This means you take full responsibility for it’s safekeeping, but equally important, you get unlimited control.

Business and Current Events

Banks and retail operating "social experiment"

A “social experiment” is being operated between banks and specialist retail groups. The banks are running automated processes that watch individual deposits on accounts and then sell these details onto retail groups in real time. The retail groups then target the individual on the same day with “special offers” that conveniently fit the profile of these deposits.

Governments know about this but they are turning a blind eye in the hope it boosts the economy.

Business and Technology

The greed of bitcoin middlemen

It amazes me that so many bitcoin middlemen - the service providers building on top of bitcoin - take their profits in percentages and a whole bunch of users accept this as normal. I mean, bitcoin-to-bitcoin charges are very flat regardless of the transaction size, isn’t that one of the big attractions to bitcoin in the first place?

Business and Net

Bitcoins and other private money

Altcoins are starting to shape the things we might want in cryptocurrencies e.g. darkcoin (anonymous), solarcoin and gridcoin (giving back), dogecoin (memes) and so on. These altcoins are seeking out the sweet spots.

Corporate cryptocurrencies may be the next wave. A google sponsored cryptocurrency, for example, would bring benefits to the cryptocurrency world. For one thing, it would legitimise things for a lot of people, and importantly, google has the resources to simplify and educate the masses. Why would they? - because they can and it’s relatively cheap to implement… except that simplifying things and educating the masses is the really expensive part. Sure, it would come with caveats and maybe some google specific benefits (cheap content etc), but ultimately it’s a totally doable proposition. A gcoin would be inline with Google’s modus operandi; spreading it’s utilisation far and wide, for it’s utility will surely come back, much in the same way they do with android. History has shown this to work, for example, the interconnect of telephone exchanges; the result is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

People seem to forget that bitcoin is private money, no less than a potential gcoin or a Bell Coin. For anyone that says they would hate / boycott corporate cryptocurrencies… this would be a good time to remind you that when the Internet was young, people were threatening to disconnect and move on because advertising and ecommerce was going to totally ruin things. Instead, it gave us services like g+, YouTube and so much more.

Business and Technology

My wishlist for future cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin divides opinion. It has multiple concepts running at the same time and it also has two distinct parts; a user part and a “mining” part. The mining part is probably the most controversial, it functions very much like UK Premium Bonds; a special type of lottery with statistically reliable outputs.

Here are my top three wishes for a better cryptocurrency:

1. Energy Efficiency

Bitcoin’s claim to fame is the creation of a distributed ledger that overcomes a problem called the double-spend. This is much less of a problem in centralised systems, but for a distributed autonomous system it’s vital to overcome. This distributed system, however, comes at a cost; bitcoin is inefficient by design. Bitcoin secures it’s network by regulating work and time so that blocks of transactions are processed approximately every 10 minutes. As more nodes come online to secure the block chain, the cost-benefits quickly diminish.

For now, maybe the best solution is SolarCoin.

2. Useful Computations

The work bitcoin carries out is very self-indulgent, it’s sole purpose is to secure the ledger. My hope is that one day this work will combine with real-world grid computing applications e.g. medical research.

3. Self-aware

Until it’s collapse, Mt.Gox was a member of the Bitcoin Foundation. At the time, 70% of all bitcoin fx went through Mt.Gox. A lot of blame has been placed on users for letting Mt.Gox hold the keys… true but not very helpful / practical. What you need to know is, bitcoin has no idea when it’s running through a faulty system. Mt.Gox had been modded yet bitcoin itself was clueless about it’s faulty environment. I believe one day cryptocurrencies will resolve this.

Life and Technology

Guilty by algorithm

How do security agencies filter more than 200 million messages per day? If they could disregard 99.9% of all messages, they’d still be left with 200,000 messages requiring deeper analysis and investigation every day. Whether it’s GCHQ or the National Storage Agency, the answer is patently obvious; automated computer algorithms.

That’s right, computer programs are gathering, analysing, linking and prioritising the biggest part. There simply is no other realistic alternative. The “fairness” of investigation is almost entirely at the discretion, or otherwise, of computer programs. Big Data is mined through a field of science called AI (Artificial Intelligence). Who is overseeing that? - how do we trust and gain some transparency about that?

Take, for example, facial recognition and how it is being used (or abused?) in social media and CCTV. Who’s overseeing the algorithms and checking for bias or false-positives?

Day by day, the AI gets more complex and integrated. For better or worse, the sum becomes greater than it’s parts. These algorithms must not only seek “facts” but also, somehow, discern fact from fiction, innocence from guilt.

The innovations keep coming and the law is not leading, it is constantly playing catch-up.

Maybe the most important thing to understand; these computer algorithms do not recognise boundaries, they have the convenient ability to move jurisdiction in “the cloud”.

Current Events and Technology

Reasons for banknote withdrawals

Well the BoE is withdrawing old £50 notes with relatively short notice (30 Apr 2014). This might be because of large volume counterfeits in circulation, but I suspect there’s more to it than that.

As usual, law enforcement agencies tell us how £50’s are used in money laundering, drug dealing and tax evasion. But cash in cold storage is one option - albeit an expensive option - if you’re preparing for strict and sudden capital controls (think Cyprus 2013).

It was also recently announced, starting in 2016 and 2017, the BoE is introducing new £5 and £10 banknotes, respectively. The new polymer notes are supposedly more durable and secure, but I’m holding judgement until I get to feel them because apparently they are very smooth, which in my mind reduces security.

Anyway, I guess the £20 note is next in line and I am reminding myself, one of the reasons for these withdrawals is to physically count how much is actually out there. And I guess also a lame attempt at trying to get people spending. I could be wrong, but I’m wondering, despite the claims of durability, will we start seeing these recalls a lot more frequently?

Going the other way, how long before governments start issuing electronic cash, eventually phasing out all physical currencies? Bitcoin and it’s alternatives has demonstrated a clear demand. However, a government backed e-currency means we could also be giving up a substantial part of our liberty and privacy.

Life and Technology

All Medical Devices and All Devices with Logic Controlled Moving Parts

What you don’t see you don’t care, but you should

In the following, references to “software” also means “firmware” or similar.

From heart pumps to self-driving cars, the robots have long arrived. Behind every movable part lays a monster; the infinite possibilities of software. Each application built upon thousands of lines of computer code. Built layer by layer, an ever growing stack of reusable objects. And like a tower of cards or a hairline crack, unchecked problems can quickly lead to complete structural collapse.

Computer hackers understand those building blocks and they seek out those hairline cracks. It may take longer, but even without the blueprints - the source code - the weaknesses may still be found and exploited. The dangers to human life from accidental or malicious intent are well recorded. And history demonstrates, security through obscurity buys little or no time.

When it comes to software, one of my greatest worries is an almost complete lack of accountability for the software inside medical devices (or indeed any logic controlled mechanical device). Barnaby Jack, for example, demonstrated the wireless hacking of insulin pumps (search Wikipedia) with the ability to deliver fatal doses of insulin.

We have standards and regulations for the things in front of us, the physical and the real. We have health and safety for cars, we have strict control over food and drugs. We are entitled to know the mechanics of a car and the ingredients in our food and drink. To ensure justice is fair, we have open courts and transparency in law. But when it comes to computer code in everyday consumer goods, there is almost entirely no regulation. The code silently serves us, playing a critical role in our lives yet is largely unseen and almost entirely unregulated. And the stack of cards grows wider and taller.

As consumers we put all our trust in the hands of just a few system designers and computer programmers. These experts may be certificated and have many years of experience, but they are essentially self-regulated.

Within any discipline, peer review plays a vital role. With proprietary software, peer review may be limited as competition in the marketplace often encourages secrecy and discourages external audits. Software developers understand how complex and equally how fragile computer code can be. They also have a great fear of liability, which is why we always see them wash their hands with it in the software licence.

When software is open, it’s strengths and weaknesses are visible to everyone. That greater scrutiny brings a hardcore of like minded people together. But much more importantly; open source software crosses borders, industry and political agenda.

Open source is not a magic bullet to safety and privacy but in today’s ever increasing and complex world it gives us something we desperately need, transparency and trust.

When it comes to medical devices, or indeed any logic controlled mechanical device, I believe all the software should be open. I am not suggesting open source is a complete solution but, on balance, I feel we have a right to know (and better to know) the inner workings than trying to deal with the unknown. Today it’s self-driving cars, tomorrow it’s lasers on your retinas for personal identification and full on virtual reality… don’t let the science blind you!

Proposed rules for medical devices and devices with logic controlled mechanical movement:

  1. If an author chooses to stay proprietary then, in the event of an error, they must accept a much greater liability. For proprietary software, an “as is” software licence should not be broadly recognised. Significant errors must be dealt with as they would be considered “faulty goods”.

  2. Conversely, open source software should be be more broadly allowed to be “as is”, provided the author(s) made reasonable modifications when notified of significant errors. By opening up the software, the author(s) are showing good intent.

  3. The author(s) may sign (but not lock) the software from end user modification, but where it is user modified, the original author is no longer liable.

  4. A significant error would be any output or movement that is not reasonably expected and pertaining to the task at hand.

  5. All versions of software must be archived and their signatures published. In the event of a legal case, the prosecutor should be able to reconstruct the software and signature. Failure to do so in such circumstances would lead to heavy fines.

  6. When someone discovers a flaw, they would ideally (but not necessarily) report the issue(s) to the developers first, especially where the error is significant. The author has a reasonable right to correct errors in a reasonable amount of time. Criminal exploits, especially where the error is significant, should attract greater legal consequences.

The following compromises are negotiable:

  1. A “sunrise” period, where software can be kept closed for an initial period of, say, 12 months. This would give the author(s) time to audit, correct and maintain. The sunrise period would not apply to subsequent versions of software, only to the initial release.

  2. Reduced liability with the passage of time where no significant errors are found (say 5 years?)

Please see the following video.. a little long but largely relevant:

Business and Technology

The future of bitcoin?

There is a lot of division regarding the viability and acceptance of bitcoin. The fanatics are jumping up and down, telling us how revolutionary and life changing it is or will be. Often, these fanatics are drooling over the technical aspects or standing behind an ideology.

I do not doubt the technical aspects of bitcoin. It’s unfortunate that a lot of attention is given to bitcoin’s use as a currency when, in fact, the underlying blockchain is, in all likelihood, it’s best contribution.

Sometimes, however, we are deluded by technical wizardry or by our vision of how the world should be. To contemplate the future of bitcoin we must also consider external forces, such as government regulation, innovation (alternatives?) and traction. On the flip side, the more sceptical among us, or the less technically minded, may struggle to grasp the significance of something like bitcoin.

Having said all this, there is possibly one compelling argument for bitcoin’s success; peer-to-peer micro-payments with little or no transaction cost. In countries such as Argentina where inflation is running very high - in economies that have hit the bottom - maybe there is little or nothing to lose by trying.

Bitcoin will evolve and it may one day spawn amazing things. The big experiment is work-in-progress. Forget the pros and cons, for now consider this; bitcoin has demonstrated there is a huge appetite for a single low cost global e-currency with micropayment facilities. In time, this is something governments and corporates may choose to build. There may will be no privacy but then again bitcoin in it’s current form isn’t exactly anonymous either.

Net and Technology

Three tools of infowar

Three tools we should definitely be using more:

  1. non-magnetic / non-electronic media e.g. high density barcodes, microfische etc

  2. misinformation

  3. steganography e.g. data stored in everyday images and objects

Business and Net

Internet killed the TV star?

With so much talk about on-demand TV, people forget YouTube was THE original icebreaker. At a time when individuals were being harassed by “copyright holders”, YT fought back and forged deals that would of ordinarily been impossible - YT is definitely an unsung hero.

If you believe the stats - and I don’t - people are now watching more TV than ever before. But this is a very distorted view, true for a certain segment. For me personally, I went more than 12 years without a TV; relying on radio, net and the occasional TV when visiting my parents. I’m not alone.

And let’s talk about streaming “box sets”. EVERY TIME I see an ad telling me I can “catch up” on the last season (or two!) of a TV show, I’m just lost for words to think WHO is so brain dead and with so much free time (or plain bored) that is going to sit there and watch all of that?

I’m not even convinced the “latest” movies is a big enough carrot. My DVR is constantly full of unwatched movies. I no longer care if it’s made 1 year or 5 years ago. A great movie is simply that, a great movie.

How about “breaking news” - well yeah kind of, except I’ll only consume the bare minimum of that highly regulated, very narrow and politically driven “broadcast news”. We are currently living in a world where the real news is in what we don’t see, most definitely not through mainstream.

When it comes to the investment of rich media, I can see just three categories worth pursing; live events, sports and specialist material. All of which revolve around hardcore communities more than universal appeal.

Business and Life

Inspiration and motivation

From Robert Kiyosaki to Warren Buffett, the words from some of the greatest investors can be very inspirational. Many times, I’ve found their words so aligned with my own beliefs, which is reassuring, it tells me I’m on the right track.

But I have a question, even with such celebrity status, what percentage of people actually follow through with such advice and go on to become successful? - I’d bet it’s just a tiny percentage, which is a shame because much of their advice is very good.

And yet the funny thing is, despite clear instructions for success, few people actually get there - essentially, knowing the “secret formula” is not in itself enough, we need to be driven.

Here are my top thoughts:

  1. We need regular motivation and self-review

  2. We need to fight distraction and stop chasing the “latest and greatest” trends

  3. We need to push ourselves beyond what makes us comfortable

Life and Technology

Something of a dichotomy

When Google’s Street View came along a whole bunch of people started complaining about “privacy” in a public place, so Google bowed to political pressure and blurred the faces and other things such as car number plates.

Now consider this; all the major retailers track your credit cards, your mobile phones and so much more. Big business has been processing big data for a long time. They track us, dissect us and profile us to the nth degree. They collate and sell our data and lifestyle onto anyone for the right price… and what does Joe Public say? Private companies and governments own us yet we rant on about the right to “privacy”.

When facial recognition is tied to Google Glass, society will ask the government to make it illegal.. and the big corporates and government will happily do so while continuing with their own programme.

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Updated Mon 30 Mar 2015

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