Posts Tagged ‘story’

Heads or tails? Flipping a bitcoin (part 3)

Hi folks,

In the first and second part of this short Bitcoin series, we’ve tried to explain what is it all about and how it works.
Today, we are going to tell you a short neo-noir thriller. The bitcoin currency made it possible to happen in real the life due to its feature of allowing anonymous transactions.

But bitcoin isn’t the only basis on which this movie-like, mystery story developed: the main ingredient is the “dark web“. What a sweet name, isn’t it? Now let’s tell you what this name is about.

As we all live in a world of confusion, many web-users think when googling for something, “I’m searching the Internet for this” or “I’m looking for this on the web”.
These assertions are simply wrong and probably the search-engines are the first culprits for the misundertanding: if instead of displaying buttons that read “Search the web” they would have said “Search our indexes“, maybe people would have paid attention to the fact that there is a difference between “web” and “indexed web”.
And the difference between the 2 notions is given precisely by search-engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo, because search-engines are the interface between us users and the web resources we are trying to use.
Google has a very nice single-page description on how it basically works.
But the main idea (not included there) is that, besides the indexable content, there is lots and lots of information that search-engines cannot index, for various reasons.
One reason would be the private nature of some information: the information is absolutely legit and valuable but it is not intended for public use because you either have to pay to access it or you’ve got to have some clearance to view it. So being password protected, such content isn’t reachable by search-engines crawlers for indexing.
Another example would be database-information generated through forms: their information might be free and unrestricted but it is physically impossible for a search-engine crawler to fill in all possible fields with all possible values and retain/index all possible generated results.
OK, so let’s stop here as you surely got the point: in a nutshell, “there is life beyond Google” and actually it seems that “most of the “life” is beyond it”.
The deep-web is estimated to account for ca. 96% of existing information, while the indexed web (the one most of us know and use) would be humbly covering the remaining 4% (just remember to never rely on figures and numbers , especially when it comes to such elusive subjects).
So now we can complete this brief tour: a small portion of the non-indexable, invisible “deep-web” is called the “dark-web” because it is hidden on-purpose, in order to provide true anonymity to its users. Let’s quote the authoritative BrightPlanet website specialized in big-data and deep web intelligencing: “The most famous content that resides on the Dark Web is found in the TOR network. The TOR network is an anonymous network that can only be accessed with a special web browser, called the TOR browser. This is the portion of the Internet most widely known for illicit activities because of the anonymity associated with the TOR network.

Illicite activities“, “dark“, “anonymous” … all these words are shouting “we’ve got our main story”.
The first time I heard about Silkroad was in a police drama TV show. I can’t exactly remember which one but I do know that at the time I had no doubt it was an invention made-up by the series creators to add a deep mystery thread to the plot.
Go figure how surprised I was at a later time to incidentally read in the real news a headline about the Silkroad website being taken down by the real FBI.
Oh yes, turned out the infamous Silkroad website (some kind of Amazon.com on the dark-side of the Force, a marketplace on the dark-web for all criminal/illegal stuff) was real, it really allowed illicit transactions to take place and it was a tough job for the ‘feds’ to get to it because the “follow the money trail” classical and universal principle for success didn’t work on Silkroad.
Why? Well, because all transactions were done in bitcoins, of course.

But let’s take a walk down to Silk Road, as Forbes put it. Launched in January 2011. Servers located around the whole world, including Iceland, Malaysia, Latvia and USA. Arrests operated all around the world, including Australia, Sweden, The Netherlands, UK and US. Shut down by the US law-enforcement authorities in 2013. Re-launched shortly thereafter (in November 2013) as “Silkroad 2.0” and re-shut down by authorities in 2014.
As a premiere, when seizing the site, US federal authorities also confiscated…. bitcoins, which is kind of strange, thinking it’s a virtual stuff after all.
Virtual but not wortheless, that’s for sure: the seized 30.000 bitcoins were sold at an auction by the US authorities which brought them an undisclosed amount of real cash, most probably having 6 zeroes after the main number, as at the day of the bidding the 30.000 bitcoins were valued at about 17 million US$. The buyer who won the bidding competition (there were 45 competitors!) had purchased the bitcoins for a company he incubated and whose main activity is to provide bitcoin exchange for financial institutions.
The name of the winning bidder isn’t secret at all: it’s Tim Draper, a 3-rd generation venture capitalist and a very technology-oriented one (he was an early investor in Skype or some say he’s the one who invented the viral marketing).

As for the one(s) who masterminded Silkroad, the truth is, no one knows for sure its identity.
Its nom-de-guerre is “Dread Pirate Roberts”, a pseudonym (taken from a fantasy novel titled “The Princess Bride“) which is actually meant to designate the highest position within Silkroad organization, similar to, for example, “The Prime Minister” within a government’s hierarchy.
Of course, law enforcement announced they’ve arrested the first Dread Pirate Roberts, allegedly impersonated by a youngster named Ross Ulbricht, as well as the alleged second one, another youngster named Blake Benthall.
However, Ulbricht denied being the Dread Pirate Roberts, which, even if probably true, will surely not spare him of being sentenced because no matter the ties one has with Silkroad, it clearly cannot be a monk or a nun.

Well folks, hopefully you now have some insights to make an idea about Bitcoin and what it produced in the world so far.
Its future is impossible to predict and not even one of the famous “gurus” who usually teach us about pretty much everything, not even one of them is having a firm opinion about what bitcoin will become.
But you can try this approach (which is probably as reliable as any other one): try flipping a bitcoin and see what it’s gonna be, heads or tails?

Thank you for reading this, folks, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Bogdan

Big Browser on 26 December

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Bounding box explained for programmers...for some programmers at least! Bounding box explained for programmers

Heads or tails? Flipping a bitcoin (part 2)

Hi folks,

Let’s continue our previous article and tell you more things about Bitcoin and bitcoins.
So among other most simplistic but hopefully useful explanations, we’ve also told you that bitcoin units cannot disappear.
But how do they appear anyway?
Well, the answer to that question is yet another proof of how interesting the Bitcoin concept is.
Just like the ‘real world’s’ fiat money, bitcoin units are created out of thin air too.
Except that the newly created bitcoins are issued by open-sourced mathematical algorithms. They are rewarded to those power users who choose to dedicate their time and computing power for basically validating bitcoin transactions and adding them to the Bitcoin ‘chain-of-blocks‘ ledger, thus providing the overall clean and legit record keeping service.
In other words, the “maintainers” of the service are also creators of new units with which they get payed for the transactions’ record-keeping service they perform.
Anyone can participate to this activity of course, but don’t make the mistake of assuming this would be some easy or trivial way to increase your incomes.
In fact, the more transactions are done in the system, the more exponentially complex the validation/cyphering calculations required by the system are getting.
Just to make an idea, back in 2009, adding one successful block of transactions to the block-chain required as little computing power as a decent computer working all night long and was rewarded with 50 bitcoin units.
Not anymore: calculations now require really high amounts of computing power to the extent that special machines (with specifically designed hardware for that purpose) are being manufactured and commercialized. Actually, it was estimated that the global computing power used in 2013 to maintain the Bitcoin service was 256 times faster than the combined computing power of world’s top 500 most powerful super-computers! And the reward is just half of what it used to be in 2009: it is currently 25 bitcoin units for a block (since November 2012) and will keep on getting reduced by 50% every 4 years, approximately. Until when? Well, until sometime between the years 2110-2140 when the maximum possible supply of 21 million bitcoins will be reached.
Because unlike classical currencies, the total amount of circulating bitcoin units is limited to a maximum of 21 million units. But don’t get worried that the maximum amount might not be enough for overall transactions; the Bitcoin system operates with subdivisions too. Lots of them actually, unlike the classical currencies subdivisions which are limited to 1/100 of the unit. In fact, there is a 10^ (-8) subdivision (0.000 000 01 bitcoin) which is called a “satoshi“, a way for the bitcoin-community to say “arigato” to the misterious Sensei-entity known as ‘Satoshi Nakamoto‘ which created this whole brilliant stuff.

OK, so now that you know that the total supply of bitcoin units is limited to a maximum and that system’s maintenance gets increasingly harder and harder, it is probably easier for you to understand why the records-keeping activity is called “mining“. Yes, you got it: it gets less and less rewarding as time goes by, just like say, mining for gold or diamonds.
The first bitcoin-miner was, of course, Satoshi himself (or Satoshi themselves) and the first block, known as “the genesis-block” included a time stamp evidence: the title of an article from The Times issued on January 03-rd 2009 : “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks“. Which probably wasn’t meant only for providing evidence on the date but also to make a point regarding the disadvantages of centrally-managed trust-systems.

Well folks, we’ve kind of finished explaining the basics of bitcoin so maybe now it’s a good time to move on to your more ardent and pragmatic hypothetical questions.

Can we live on bitcoins?” Well, that largely depends on your location and your relationship with adrenaline. Probably yes, but it’s a bit like living on a prayer. A lady contributor for Forbes gave it a try back in 2013 and wrote an entertaining diary for the week she spent experiencing this. Our understanding is that she got thrilled by this journey but we were unable to track in her story any direct or even indirect statement regarding a future next try.
What is the current exchange value of a bitcoin unit (1 BTC) ?”. Well, the one thing you surely have to keep in mind is that, at least for now, exchange values of bitcoins are as volatile as the moods of your mother-in-law. But you can check on the increasingly numerous exchange websites (such as this one)  and see for yourself how it goes.
Can the Bitcoin system be hacked ?” In a nutshell, it can. And it was. But bottom line is to never forget that the strength of any encryption system is equal to its weakest link.
Can I buy ORPALIS software products using bitcoins?” As a matter of fact, you can. For our free software products, we happily accept other virtual currencies like hugs, good wishes or virtual beers.
Are you done with this voodoo bitcoin article already?” Well, no, not yet. We have a 3-rd part for next time in which we will illustrate the saying of our (he was French, you know) Saint Bernard de Clairvaux: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions“. Just to make you a synopsis of a real-life neo-noir thriller, developing right under our eyes but in the darknet, starring mysterious bad guys and impotent good guys clashing in plots made possible by Bitcoin.

Until then, Sayonara !

Bogdan

Big Browser on 12 December

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Casual Friday on 12 December

At the ZOO

At the ZOO

 

Some Things About Samsung

Hi folks,

When it comes to the name Samsung most of us think about smartphones and tablets, other might think about TVs or refrigerators but no matter the product, fact is that if you aren’t a Samsung item owner yourself, it’s almost certain you know someone who is.
And yet, despite this popularity, there are lots of other interesting and even amazing facts that draw Samsung in its real size, shape and color but for some reason these things are less known.
So today we are going to tell you some of them.

Samsung was founded in 1938 in Korea and even if started as a trade business to export Korean food to China it soon got to operate its own flour mills and confectionery machines.
The name “Samsung” given by its founder, Byung-Chull Lee, means “three stars” which might have a calm resonance for Westerners but according to the local culture, it is a rather megalomaniacal name expressing “eternity” (reminding us about Jeff Bezos’s “Amazon).
Of course it grew continuously, diversified and spread, bla-bla, made black-and-white TVs in 1970, personal computers (meant only for Korean market) in 1982, etc. But let’s jump to 1990 because that’s the moment when superlatives start being associated with this brand.
Yes, not just one superlative but many of them.
A whole lot of them actually.

To begin with, Samsung is a major electronic components manufacturer making pretty much anything from lithium-ion batteries to memory chips, application processors or LCD, LED, AMOLED screens and panels.
In fact, it is the world’s-largest memory chip maker since 1993 and the world’s-largest manufacturer of OLEDs since 2004.
Being able to make any kind of component at top performance-price efficiency level is a huge advantage.
First, it allowed Samsung to assemble them into any imaginable device: TVs, phones, tablets, cameras, printers, laptops, you name it.
Then, it allowed Samsung to make these devices in any imaginable form.
A quick example: most smartphone producers had a real problem trying to figure out which size would be best received by the public. Too big or too small could spell disaster so finding out the optimal sizes was a struggle and releasing them was a gamble.
But not for Samsung: they simply released their phones in all sizes and shapes and focused on the best received models afterwards.
Thirdly, being a key component manufacturer allowed Samsung to have the upper hand when it comes to direct relationship with competitors.
Quick example again: common perception is that Samsung and Apple are worst enemies, pure and simple.
But like Oscar Wilde once wrote, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple“.
Samsung is a key supplier for Apple (providing flash-memories) and Apple cannot do anything about that, at least for the time being.
Of course, in its turn Apple is a key customer for Samsung at around 8 billion USD yearly revenue level (for the year 2012) but hey, it’s only money!
So the notorious patent-litigation clashes between the two giant “bulls” are in reality much softer and delicate than they appear to be.
They are “frenemies“, probably stuck together for a long term, some say.
But back to superlatives, Samsung Electronics is the largest IT Company in the world (Apple comes second) and regarding patents, in the US it’s the second largest patent holder.

And think that all the above were about Samsung Electronics, which is the most visible part of Samsung.
But do you think that Burj Khalifa in Dubai (world’s highest building, 828 m.) or Taipei 101 in Taiwan (509 m.) or Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (452 m.) are visible enough?
OK, good, because it’s Samsung’s construction division who built them.
And there’s more: Samsung Heavy Industry is the second largest ship-builder in the world, Samsung Life Insurance is ranked 14-th in the world among insurance companies and Cheil Worldwide, a Samsung subsidiary, is world’s 15-th largest advertising Company.
Samsung also holds the largest amusement theme park in Korea (the Samsung Everland, do not confuse with Michael Jackson’s Neverland), ranked 13-th in the world but let’s stop the enumeration right here as you surely got the basic idea by now.

 

Just two short stories before finishing, just to get an idea on how all these achievements were made possible.
Lee Kun-Hee, the 3-rd son of the founder, took over as Samsung’s chairman in 1987 shortly after his father’s death.
In 1993 he took a world tour to see for himself how Samsung’s international subsidiaries were doing.
So he visited electronics stores which, for instance in California, had stacks of Samsung TVs covered with dust as no one would buy them.
He got so mad he summoned all Samsung executives from around the world (hundreds) in Frankfurt at Falkenstein Grand Hotel Kempinski and delivered them a speech that took … well … three days long.
The speech was interrupted only for sleeping purposes.
The transcript of that speech resulted in a distilled 200 pages book that was made available for each and every Samsung employee.
And for those who couldn’t read, a cartoon version was issued too.
Yes, a Bible in its own rights, and its main commandement was:  “change absolutely everything except for your wife and children“.
The consequences of this speech were so fast and positive, Samsung later purchased all the furnishing from Kempinski Hotel and precisely recreated the room which became a Samsung sanctuary of sorts.

The other relevant story took place 2 years later, in 1995 when a most embarassing incident happened: Chairman Lee learned that the cell phones he gave as New Year’s gifts proved to be inoperable.
Oops.
He ordered that a pile of some 150.000 phones is assembled in a field near one of the factories, gathered more than 2.000 staff members around the pile and set fire turning all devices to ashes.
Bulldozers then razed the remnants and Lee simply told the ashamed audience he will do the same whenever he will encounter poor-quality again.

Well folks, let’s not finish before telling that, same as other IT giants, Samsung is focusing its really considerable R&D power towards a multitude of directions, including the internet-of-things we’ve recently told you about.
And it seems that no matter what the future will bring, Samsung will be there anyway, faithful to its name and due to its ability of gathering at any time a pile of whatever things and turn it to ashes.
Gangnam style“.

Bye, folks!

Bogdan

Big Browser on 10 October

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Windows XP: The Complicated Ending Of A Glorious Life

Hi folks,

The big fat lie we’ve deliberately inserted in our previous article was about ‘discography‘: of course discography has nothing to do with hard-disks nor has it something to do with graphics actually.
It is just the list of all sound recordings (i.e., songs) published by an artist or band or orchestra but let’s see if you’re going to find the lie we’ve slipped in this article.
That being said, this April was the month when Microsoft cut off the last tie to one of its most popular products ever: the Windows XP Operating System.
So for today we thought about telling you a word or two about the interesting WinXP phenomenon.

In the late 90’s, Microsoft began developing a new generation of Operating Systems for general public to follow the Windows 98, the second version of which (named Windows 98 Second Edition, released in 1999) was apparently the most stable OS from the 9x family.
The new project was codenamed “Neptune” but soon it got merged with the similar project meant for Enterprise OS, the resulting endeavour being codenamed “Whistler“.
This way, in August 2001 a new Windows OS was released for general public, having the same kernel as Windows 2000 (aka Windows NT 5.x) a significantly improved OS meant for server and desktop deployment as well.
The substantially improved kernel along with major graphic user interface improvements made Windows XP a really attractive product for both consumers and businesses as it provided ease-of-use, stability and efficiency.
It also offered increased security if compared to its predecessors but even so the level of security soon proved insufficient so three major enhanced versions, called Service Packs were released over time: the SP1 in September 2002, the SP2 in August 2004 (by far the most important of the three SPs) and the SP3 in May 2008, which is quite interesting as it happened more than one year after the next Windows OS named Vista had been released (January 2007).

Windows XP was not an instant hit although the first release generated rather positive reviews overall.
But it soon started to gain more and more popularity and especially after SP2 release (which became a synonym to Windows XP) it continued to get widely adopted to such an extend it set (and currently holds) world records in terms of market share and time being present on the market.

It is estimated that more than 500 million licenses were sold in the first 5 years after the first release and that the number updated as of April 2014 (in about 13 years, that is) exceeds 1 billion copies sold worldwide.
Windows XP was followed by Vista, Windows-7 and the latest Windows product, the Windows-8.
But XP was so successful it was the undisputable Number One desktop OS for the longest time ever, holding a bigger market share than all Windows OS desktop versions put together.
Some say that there were also collateral facts that helped the XP achieve such a tremendous career, for example the poor public reception of the not-convincing Vista (Longhorn) OS.
But just 2 years later Vista was followed by a particularly well-done Windows OS, namely the Windows-7 (dubbed Windows Se7en) released in 2009 and despite its undisputable superiority over the XP, it took almost 3 years for the Win7 to finally overtake WinXP in terms of biggest market-share holder.
And even so, at this very moment, that is 6 years after Microsoft terminated retails sales and stopped general licensing of XP for OEM in 2008, 5 years after Microsoft ended mainstream support for it and about 1 month after Extended Support phase expired, the Windows XP is still number 2 in global desktop OS market share, with a stunning 27% current share!

So the really interesting fact about Windows XP isn’t about its life anymore, it is about its complicated ending.
XP is an unprecedented die-hard and planning its removal from the market must have been no easy thing for Microsoft.
Clearly, this OS had to go but because of its enduring popularity this task proves a real challenge.
Stubborn users are still numerous, we’re talking about 400+ Million installations, which is 25% bigger than the entire US population (317 Million, ranked 3-rd in the world) .
To put it in other words, if each of these XP users would spend on upgrade as little as 2.5 USD, the total amount would exceed 1 Billion USD.
So the approach had to be diplomatic in order not to chase such a huge crowd of users away from the Windows family of OS and lose them to the benefit of Linux, for instance.
But the smooth, gentle and step-by-step approach of Microsoft didn’t pay off.
Nor did even the fact that, lacking any support for it, the XP users are literally sitting ducks for the evil-intended.
And IT media is full of scary, apocalyptic scenarios for quite some time now, describing how appealing the huge number of unprotected users must be for hackers all over the world which waited for the end-of-support moment to come and are now ready for the kill.
Analysists struglled to find out explanations for this rather weird mass behaviour in users’ laziness, lack of information, lack of IT skills and even lack financial resources for a bulk upgrade.
But it turned out that such reasons would be responsible for just a small part of still existing XP users.
To their surprise, they discovered that even large Companies (supposedly full of money and having plenty of IT expert personnel) didn’t fully completed upgrades to get safe.
And this seems to apply to governmental sectors as well.
So what to say about small and mid-sized businesses, which seem to be the real problem. Their 25 to 250 computers are lacking proper budget, infrastructure and personnel during times of crises and it makes switching to a newer platform altogether, a really difficult task.
As for individuals, a big part of them consists of users that are simply not willing to spend the money or the efforts for the replacement of their old XP with a safer and better OS (be it Windows-7 or -8 or some Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Mint).
“Why replace something that actually works fine with something else?” seems to be the guiding principle for these cases.
Not to mention the individuals using cracks and for whom the concept of having to pay for software doesn’t exist in the first place.

So what will happen next?
The short answer is: nobody knows.
Some say that XP will slowly dissapear as the hardware on which it is installed will become unbearably obsolete.
There are also voices calling for Microsoft to open-source the XP but this is more like a sci-fi scenario really.
Others are saying that virus infections will eventually force users to abandon XP and consider new OS options.

Anyways, regardless of the way its ending is going to happen, this 54-Million-lines-of-code piece of software named XP surely deserves all its praises, for even if it wasn’t the most powerful, the most invulnerable, the most ‘beautiful’ or some kind of ultimate desktop OS, it surely proved to be the most glorious of them all.

Before finishing the article, please allow for a guilty confession: this article was written on a XP machine.

Bye!

Bogdan

Big Browser on 2 May

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