Secure alternatives to communications

I found out last month about a new messaging protocol dubbed "BitMessage'

The idea underlying it all seems nice:

I uses a distributed system much like Bittorrent, adding some "Proof of Work" computation to all messages, so sending a message is computationally non-trivial. This has two goals, one makes overcrowding the network very costly in computer power, and makes spamming expensive so much in fact that might eliminate it.

The routing is done in a way that is p2p so everybody forwards messages and everybody receives everything. This has a downside: the traffic is massive, even if you don't send anything... this may or may not be an acceptable compromise for the anonymity.

 A Bitmessage address looks like this:  BM-orkCbppXWSqPpAxnz6jnfTZ2djb5pJKDb

( it is a hash of the public key that you use to encrypt the message, and broadcast it). When you receive messages , you try to decrypt every message that you get and then forward them. If you successfully decrypt a message, it means it is for you. After certain time the messages are deleted and no longer forwarded.

Problems: The problem with this schema is mainly scalability as the messages go around in increasing numbers, a complete crypto-analysis of the protocol is yet to be done ... the current version is very alpha ( 0.3.5 ) so there is plenty of room for improvement.

There is a discussion of the potential flaws here , still looks very interesting...

I tried installing on the Mac, it took some time, I had to uninstall Homebrew and reinstall it again. get the source and compile it along with a brand new local installation of Python and PyQt after that I made it Work.

Like I said very alpha...

There is already a lot of people experimenting, gateways to email and even a twitter like service build on top of BitMessage called BitChirp.

My address is BM-2D7SgNUm35LpmF7fgemBExU8f6UFoHeBNj

This is a response to the flood of news about the fact that governments ( especially the US), routinely scan people's communications

RSA has warnet that their security products are no longer secure, and there is an ongoing search for new ways of online secure communications. While distributes might be the best bet, in the end if the endpoints are not secure ( Access points, routers, Internet providers), the protocol is useless as a security guard.


From connecting people to connecting objects

The smartphone revolution is at it's peek now, with a clear picture of  winners ( Google 's Android, Apple's iOS , LG, Samsung, HTC) ; and losers ( RIM's Blackberry, Nokia, MSFT, etc)

The Success of the smartphone is not just based on how powerful the devices are or the features , but more importantly the ability to do two things that were previously , very hard, very expensive or just impossible a decade or two ago:

#1  Sense the environment and information.

The connected, sensor full phone knows a lot about the environment, time, location, voice,  movement, outside conditions:  light,  noise, weather ( from servers), etc. 
It also can connect with the user's database, social networks, applications, documents, calendars, contact, infer relations, importance of meetings or messages

This information user-data + environmental data  make the device aware of the present situation and it's context in a way that personal computers previously couldn't possible be; thus opening the door for a number of highly innovative applications which will only continue to grow.

#2 Connect people and events 24/7

In today world you can leave your house without keys or without a wallet , but if you leave without your smartphone, you go back. You just can't be "out of reach"
Some of this is fabricated ( you don't need to be available at all times, or check facebook or twitter every 5 minutes ) , but some maybe not. We humans need information like we need food and an internet-conected phone my just be as addictive as sugar o potato chips.

We are able now to know our friends location without asking them, we can send messages to our family members in five or six different written or spoken ways. 
Check in to work , or see what our closest friends or celebrities from around the world are doing RIGHT NOW just as easy as we see the world's news unfold on twitter hours before they appear on CNN.

The combination of awareness and connection is what makes the applications on a phone so powerful and the market so attractive. We have taken the network of communication that goes around the planet and taken from the stillness of the office desks to our pockets and the dynamics of the physical wold.

The new frontier(s)

So, what's left ?

What is the next frontier to connect. In short , everything else.

This is what is called Smart Things or Smart Objects.

The idea is embedding everyday objects with sensors and transmitting capability: Your Home: doors, windows, alarms, appliances, lights, etc; your car Information in your dashboard and transmitting wireless to your phone and servers ( i.e. the cloud ) ; and even yourself : heart rate monitoring, exercise logging, etc.

The car interface

Apple is pushing very hard to get iOS in the car . This is necessary to get  iOS everywhere in your life , and leverage Apple's main advantage , integration across devices.
Right now there are proprietary solutions starting to emerge in some cars, the ideal situation would be to have some standards independent of the vendor and a profile that you can "log in" independent of the car you use. Microsoft is already trying some of this with limited success.

I'm pretty confident that this will happen in the next 3-5 years at least with Apple, Google , and others.

Wearables ( Quantified self )

The wearables computer trend started a long ago, but the practical applications appeared only recently with the Apple / Nike+ sensor and its competitors.

Today the market is full of sensor devices used to track everything related to health , from your physical activity, to your sleep and weight.

The health monitoring use of computing embedded fabrics with sensors coupled with high powered clout computer is big.

The (new) Smart home

Home automation has been around for years, but thanks to a convergence of difference technologies,  now may actually happen.

The cloud services reliable centralizing the information; your Phone or tablet acting as an information dashboard and remote control where you can also extend the functionality by adding applications, programs and rules;  and the miniaturizationa and commoditization of automation hardware ( Bluetooth sensors, cheap wifi components, small integrated Pico-computer boards ( Arduino, RaspBerry PI , etc)

Some of the current players in this space include

Most systems use the phone as a remote/control centre and a central hub that link the sensors with the server.

An open API is essential for this to take off ,  but the potential for malicious hacking in all three scenarios remain very high.

I'm interested in what applications will come from this , especially for the home automation side, and in what ways either of this three things ( Car / Home / Body) can be combined in a single service.



Craig Venter talks on TEDMed about the cration of the first synthetic DNA and the possible applications, absolutely fascinating stuff.

Did yo know that the genetic code contains quotations and email addresses ?
Yeah, I though so...

Orginal article at MedGadget


"Prepare to be schooled in my Austrian perspective..."

There are very few podcast that I listen regularly; most of them have to do with games, programming or languages. The exception is professor Russell Roberts' brilliant econtalk weekly program.
Last week Roberts and producer John Papola, unveiled a rap video whereJohn Keynes and F.A. Hayek argue macroeconomics , bubbles and stimulus:

I think it's a brilliant and funny work with a few inside jokes ( the bartenders tags is my favorite) , watch the video , it is worth the seven minutes...


To the Moon and back....*

40 years later, I'm still amazed at the bold confidence, craziness, arrogance and courage that setting the moon as a goal had to take.
An incredible achievement.

You can see it live at:


Futurismic has a very good post on the future of Space exploration ...

(* actually I think this is a pop song )


Upgraded connection

I started having problems with the connection speed a couple of months ago. I decided to upgrade to the fastest available for home users in UY,  which is a 4Mb Down / 512 K Up. The upload speed still sucks and in this age of collaboration and sharing, it is not only outdated but just unbelievable that this is what toy get for almost 100 dollars.

   Anyway hare are the speedtest.net results for the new connection:

The connection inside UY is as advertised 4.0/512, and the connection to other countries  : Argentina, Brazil and Europe is worst than to the U.S. ( usually around 2Mb down 300k Up).
So it looks that the international link is at top capacity, and the link to Buenos Aires in particular it's very poor.
Also these are average numbes, I could get slightly better or much worse speed depending on the time and day.


Board Games

I bought Settlers of Catan for the kids last year, and we've been ejoying a lot since.
Both of my sons prefer playing Settlers over TV and somedays even over Videogames, which is quite an achievement. Plus the game is also entertainig for older kids and adults , so , unlike most board games I can actually play with them. (via Wired.com)


Amazon as a Publisher

This could be big: Amazon as a Publisher. Also reported here.
It had to happen sooner or later, it´s surprising but not unexpected if that makes any sense...Amazon has acquired the rights to the first of possible many novels and cut yet another link in the publisher chain...Could potentially be a big year for the book industry and not in a good way for some folks.

In a post "Why Ebooks must fail" Evan Schnittman explains the effect on the industry:
And therein lies the dilemma… how does the publishing industry fund the creation, editing, design, production, marketing, e-warehousing, and sales of ebooks, if the income isn’t there? How do ebooks cover the huge advances needed to buy books if we cannot generate the cash, especially at their extremely low, discounted prices, cover the advances that an entire industry has come to require? The answer is that ebooks, alone, cannot.

 It's a very special point of view, of course, to me the answer is , you don't : As in you don't fund creation and editing, you do marketing at your own risk (not only when you have a bestseller), you don't do the huge advances "the industry expects", because they are unrealistic.

There are also cost savings: No printing, no  distribution, No warehouses ( e-warehousing ? seriously ? ) . . and you can pre-sell an ebook, with extra content same thing that DVDs does today with special editions.

The model must cahange,  and Amazon is doing that for them.



Last to Fight, First to Fall

The good folks at Amazon just released a new Kindle model, the Kindle DX: On paper the concept is good, bigger screen, easier to read. It was designed for newpapers and college textbooks, but primary for newspapers.


But at nearly 500 dollars for a 9.7 inch display is a lot of money for reading newspapers...

Sony sells two models one "regular" at 299, and one touchscreen with annotations and led lights at 349. And  is rumored to be launching a big screen model soon.

I actually prefer the smaller size, I use blogs for news, I'm ok with the PRS 505 or Kindle2 Size for books ( maybe an inch bigger, but the kidleDX , is too big) .

The problem, and the reason for this is the newspaper business, it is in big trouble, so much in fact that they are getting Amazon take a 70% cut on the subscriptions for the Kindle. That's a lot.

Major newspapers are losing more and more readers, with the biggest loss this past year, even they are saying this,

The music industry fought against digitalization & digital distribution: first Napster, then Gnutella, Emule, Bittorrent, finally they are kind of seeing the light and selling no-DRMd MP3 all over iTunes, Amazon, and other places.

Movies went next, fought much less and decided to do the same. Finally TV took the matter into it's own hands  and started services like Hulu , FoxOnDemand, and also selling old series on iTunes.

  The Book business is going to do Ok with Ebooks, still people doubt that it will completely replace books. But I think long therm they will as I said in previous posts

But for  newspapers this  really different, they don't actually have content worth paying anymore: There business models are gone: classified ads model is on Craiglist, an Ebay, Advertising has gon to Blogs and Google, and the journalists can do better in a blog where high specialized content is better than anything you can read in a general newspaper. And the ditribution model is from the 19th century.

  So, I agree with those who say that this is too late, and they can't save the business. This is desperation.
  They are desperate, and right to be so, so unless they can get com GM style rescue plan, they will be gone.


(e)Books I read lately

I know is late to reccommend books from 2008 but let's make it a "fiscal" year, it's so 2008 :-) . But I'm going for it anyay.

The Night Angel Trilogy (Brent Weeks), these are actualy three separate books: The Way of the Shadows, Shadow's Edge, and Beyond the Shadows but #2 and #3 pretty much require reading #1. Teh best Fantasy novels I read in many years.

Singularty Sky By Charles Stross. A technological singularity hits a cold war totalitarian state. Excellent , Stross and Cory Doctorow are becoming my fave SF writers .

Matter ( Ian M. Banks) . I'm a fan of The Culture series, and this was very good , not the best though. The Player of Games still rocks.

Non Fiction:

Here comes everybody , An optimistic take on the future of media consumers and producers; and the inner works of different organizations, by Clay Shirky. Very provocative ideas. It gets repetitive, but worth a look.

The Stuff of Thought ( Steven Pinker) Classic Pinker, entertainment , funny and full of wisdom about human nature, expect no less.

A Stroke of Insight ( Jill B. Taylor ) The story of a stroke , told from the point of view of the patient who happens to be a world class neuroscientist. Easily the best nonfiction book of the lot. highly recommended. The best of the pack.

This is my third year of "reading electronically" and I found myself addicted to it, so much in fact that I roll my eyes at the prospect of having to read an actual paper book, so heavy and impractical. I does not make me read or buy more books, but it allows me to read more than one at a time, anywhere, and I appreciate that

The downside of electronics books, is mainly two things:

Cost : Everybody thinks in terms of costs , but if you read a lot ( and I read a good amount) you'll offset the cost in 2 years ( unless you lose it or break it , then is another device and another $300/$400 or so) that's because electronics content is cheaper than paper books, doesn't have shipping costs, and there are tons of free electronic books on google or project gutemberg and in the end you actually can save the cost of the device.
I really think that with the kindle2 , the PRS-700 (Sony), and the number cof books available now, electronic books will have finally a critical mass to take off. The tipping point for me is eInk technollogy, is really something else, you have to see it for yourself in action before dismissing it as yet another display technology.

Availability of content : The entry of Amazon in the game of electronic books is a really important thing, the number of electronic books have multiplied several times in the past two years. And others stores have started to show a better catalog and lower prices. The format also matters, Amazon has it's own format, but readers are increasingly adopting open formats ( .epub) or more established ones (pdfs) .


Why wrong medical treatments persist...

Very insightful link check the paper : why wrong, unproven medical treatments continue to be used and make money...   Via Ars Tecnica.


The inevitability of Twitter growth

Some time ago ... I blogged about twitter, and how they where having problem with the infrastructure, but it seem they worked it out, now tweeter has exploded again , Big Time, several things had contributed to it:

Tool maturity: There are so many twitter tools, and devices to Tweet from; that is really impressive, (fowr Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Blackberry, even for the Nintendo DS) , , ( a very messy news feed, but a news feed nonetheless ) . Two of the more interesting ones : Twitt Deck (AIR) and Tweetie ( iPhone and soon Mac OS X) which I highly reccommend.
Each tool has very good features to help navigate the twitter stream ( search, current themes or 'Trends') what makes getting news and events updates from twitter like following a news feed as Andres points out you just could swith to tweet for news.., but I'm kind of old fashioned and will stay getting news from RSS feed agregators :-)

Going Mainstream: Long before the Ashton challenge Twitter began filltering into the News media ( all news programs and major shows provide updates via Twitter), Twitter has a big following ( over 6 million users now), and Is probably the larges social network after FaceBook and MySpace, still a long way to go to match facebook in traffic, but the real number of visits is hard to measure , precisely because of the many tools out there and the SMS interaction than I'm sure many stats don't count.

Incidentally Facebook has redesigned havily focused on presenting more updates and I just don't like the way it ended, even after the toning down. Seems like I am getting update from a lot more people I wasn't and I hardly know...

Celebrities: Ashton Kutcher challenging CNN over who gets first to 1 million followers on twitter, then @ev and @aplusk appeared on Oprah's show to talk about ... yep.. Twitter , Ashton talked about the state of media and even mentioned digg.com. Bonus: Shaq tells Oprah that She was wwriting in ALL CAPS... How is that not surreal...!

The main focus of Twitter now has to be regaining stability with millions of users instead of hundreths of thousands, and finding a way to get the money back... without making the mistakes Facebokk made of forcing news or updates on people. Some possible models for this is a paid-for API for the tool makers, a flickr style paid for premium ( where the big folowwed or the big followers would pay for mumber of users over any big number), or a revenue model for celebrity followers. Any of those would potentially alienate the still new growing userbase...maybe they could be a open source "foundation model"... who knows. I have a theory about why this startups with no business model grow and live so long, but that's for another time.

Right now twitter is down, again, probably as a result of the "Oprah surge"(1) and its aftermath. But I got a feeling they are getting a recovery soon. And they are in for a big growth.......

(1) from @ryanblock " The Oprah Effect: Twitter's added over 1.5m new users between Friday and today. Damn." so are we talking 25% more in userbase in a weekend ?


Economic Links

Nassim Taleb recent article about the crisis is called Capitalism 2.0  . I don't necessary agree with all of it and the style of the writing is kind of petulant but is good advice that no one will listen and everyone should.

Via Cafe Hayek, a long ´85  interview with F.A. Hayek about his philosophy , "extended order" and   the thre spheres of human principles. Worth watching....



Right on....

Clay Shirky , has become one of my favourites internet commentators, I enjoyed his latest book and his new post "Thinking the unthinkable" on Newspapers and revolutions is right on the mark...
 Coincidentally Steven Berlin Johnson  has put up  a long but comprehensive piece on how the information distribution has evolved in the last decades for his SXSW intereactive.