Ethereum’s Augur Project One Step Closer to Reality

One of the most exciting components with Ethereum is the Augur project, or as I call it, “The Bet on ANYTHING” market!”

Yesterday the project released an updated White Paper found here.  The technical details are not for most people, but what is exciting is being one step closer to the possibility of two strangers on the internet being able to place trustless bets on almost anything!

The word “betting” has a negative emotion attached to it in American culture, but being able to assign personal stake in prediction models is incredibly valuable. Indeed it is perhaps a much-needed component in our political system.

As I type this, one of the most hated presidents in American history is addressing the nation in a Statue of the Union. The internet is filled back and forth rage about who is “right” and “wrong”. As the fury between two groups grows, perhaps the ultimate test for the truth can be found if the two opponents can form an agreement of what their disagreement is, and bet on it.

Consider how this could be used in economic debates in uncovering the truth. Politicians (particularly in my home state of California) are incredibly dishonest at presenting understated costs of projects to voters around elections. Augur presents an option to expose what politicians truly believe:

“Do you really think that this project is going to be under what the budget states? Let’s bet on it!”

Do you want to bet if this is going to truly be a temporary tax?”

Additionally, consider how this tool could be used to hold a politician at their word. During a campaign, candidates could leverage this tool to offer promises to voters: “I’m Joe Nobody running for US Congress and I will not vote in favor of any budget that is not balanced, and I’ve placed a $100,000 bet to assure this in the Augur network!” Such a statement would be much more meaningful than the standard “I promise, I’m a good person!” assurance we get from current candidates.

Hopefully, this goes live soon. Here’s an older video showing its possibilities from 2015:

Monero’s Web Mining Option

Cryptocurrency Monero has made some noise recently with its ability to mine on websites, sometimes without user consent. While this probably sounds unethical (which it is), the opportunity to leverage user CPU power as an incentive to visit a website instead of advertisements is an interesting concept.

While I’m still kicking this idea around in my head, does this make Monero potentially the most stable currency option? Measure users’ CPU usage as a function of time?

While you think about this, please see the below is an example of mining using your consent. Please click “start mining” this and leave it running for the rest of your life.

If you’re interested in seeing a less ethical example, checkout this fake page I made that looks like it’s giving VBA advice, when in reality it’s hogging your CPU. Be on the lookout for stuff like this if you’re browsing. If your laptop starts to takeoff, because the fan is going so fast… you may be on a Monero mining website!

Loading…

 

Ripple in 2018 Seems Potentially Profitable

I do not like what cryptocurrency Ripple represents, but I do see it as potentially a middle ground, that delays central Bank’s march towards irrelevance. In 2018 as their proof of concept gets rolled out, I can’t imagine that XRP price (currently at about $1.25) doesn’t grow considerably. I’m still a Solidity Coder and Ethereum warrior, but I’m throwing a little in Ripple just because it seems inevitable to grow in value, particularly against the doomed dollar. Always be careful when buying crypto and there are no sure things… yada yada.

Of Course Equifax Got Hacked!

Why is anyone shocked that another data breach results in millions of people’s information falling into the hands of criminals? Stated differently, if Ashley Madison, LinkedIn, and the NSA can’t keep their data secure, what makes people think a credit score entity is going to perform any better

I don’t know the specifics of this Equifax hack and I don’t really care. If I had to guess, I’d say probably inside job. For people that think their data is secure because they trust sites like “Google” they are looking at it the wrong way. A better question is, “do you trust every single employee at Google who has access to your data?” The answer is the same as what the NSA would say if asked if they trusted all of their employees (even before Mr. Snowden left the country), of course not!

The only thing that really matters in this situation is will the public recognize the need for blockchain technology and zero-knowledge services? Steller examples include LastPass, SpiderOak, and Signal all can face data breaches with a much stronger level of confidence because even if someone gets every bit of information on their servers, it is highly unlikely anything useful could be leveraged from it.

We live in the digital age. Signatures made with pens that my 6-year-old could mimic effectively is not security. Entrusting your data to corporations that have human employees, and have human errors will ultimately have data leaked. Hopefully, today’s painful lesson will beef up the requirements to take security more seriously. It’s really pretty easy, trust no one.

Encrypt Your Gmail/Yahoo/Outlook/iCloud Emails

Use Mailvelope to send and receive encrypted email. Uses PGP encryption, the same method Edward Snowden used to reach out to reporters in 2013. When used properly, with the private key protected, there is no known successful direct attack against PGP. Most attacks focus on indirect methods such as stealing a password, keystroke logger or snooping over someone’s shoulder.

Steps:
1) Install Mailvelope on Chrome or Firefox
2) Create a public/Private key for yourself
3) Share your PUBLIC key (NOT YOUR PRIVATE KEY)
4) Collect your friends Public key and import them to your Mailvelope Key ring.
5) Message away with complete privacy.

Always remember to lock your computer, and don’t share your private key or give anyone access.

 

A Beautiful Free Time-Stamp Website

I found an amazing website that does a brilliant job of using a a couple simple concepts to combine for an incredibly useful tool. OriginStamp.org is a true gift to the world by developers André Gernandt and Bela Gipp. In conversation with them they told me, “We started this project just for fun and didn’t expect so many people to use it.”

The site’s popularity doesn’t surprise me — it’s awesome! They have created a FREE service that allows anyone to prove they possessed any type of electronic file before a specific date. The electronic file could be as simple as a string of text, or as massive as a movie file.

I’ll dive into the technical details later, but consider a couple basic applications:

  • Someone has written an amazing script and wants to have it logged as their work, before sharing with a publisher.
  • Someone moves into a new rental property, and takes extensive video of the condition of the property, which they want to archive on the day of their move-in. By archiving the footage, the landlord cannot argue that the video was taken on the move out date.
  • Someone wants to log a text prediction. Example would be if I said, in 2015, “I, PG CodeRider, predict the Cubs will win the 2016 World Series in a game 7 thriller against the Indians!” it would be pretty impressive!

Without OriginStamp, creating verifiable proof of a file’s existence, before a certain date is difficult (having a “saved as” date with the file doesn’t count). Users would likely have to defer to a third party to provide proof of ownership. This lends itself to the following problems:

  • The third party site likely costs money.
  • The third party site may disappear.
  • The third party site may not remain credible to the rest of the world.
  • The third party site might experience a server crash, hack, or accidentally delete your file.

OriginStamp avoids all of these problems. The simplicity of their approach, combined with their robust method of validation, makes it truly an elegant creation. The site ingeniously leverages the bitcoin blockchain as a point of reference. Because the blockchain is a decentralized entity with literally thousands of people monitoring its integrity, it is impossible to manipulate historical entries. Additionally, due to this same decentralized nature of the blockchain, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where the Blockchain would suddenly cease to exist. Thus a user can rest assured knowing their claim is verifiable so long as the internet remains functional and Bitcoin continues to have even a small percentage of people using it.

How You Can Use This Tool (without actually understanding it)

For those of you that just want to “trust me” and believe this works, without understanding why, here’s a step by step guide of how you can use it:

1) Create a FINAL VERSION of a file or text that you want to verify. It is critical that not a single change occurs in your file, or it won’t be verifiable in the future. Example is if you write a million word novel, once you submit it, you can only reference that version you submitted. A change to a single character will make the entire file incapable of being proven to be your file at the time of the transaction.

  • I’m going to go through this process by validating a screenshot I created with my 2016 presidential predictions. Again, the “Final Version” is very key, and it’s easy to overlook how it’s possible to accidentally alter. In my case, I cannot simply post a copy of the JPG file of my prediction and maintain the integrity, because when a user downloads the file, certain attributes such as the “saved date” would be different than the original. Thus I have posted a zipped version of my jpg file, which if someone were to download and extract the jpg file, would ultimately be my FINAL VERSION.
  • It’s also important to note that you include something that references you as the creator in the file, so that no one else can claim it as their work. My file has my name in the screenshot.

2) Go to OriginStamp and submit it by clicking the create stamp, and then clicking on the Drop files icon. I’m usually pretty careful with posting private data to sites, but I would have no problem running most of my information through their submission site. What they claim they are doing (and I sincerely believe) is conducting an SHA-256 hash calculation on your file. This will generate a 40-60 digit length of letters and numbers. There are many sites that can conduct this calculation for you that should all result in the same answer. A couple I just found doing 20 seconds of research are Xorbin.com or Filformat.info.

  • In my example, the exact SHA-256 hash of my FINAL VERSION is: 3742fd0fcebd60f38995429e736a1e2f3f040ea367c21ce87cb1b9bcd89e5d89
  • If you aren’t certain you’ve hashed correctly from a 3rd party site, you could cross check with a single letter of text “a” which should result in: ca978112ca1bbdcafac231b39a23dc4da786eff8147c4e72b9807785afee48bb
  • Make sure you have a copy of your hash, as well as the original copy of your file.

3) After submitting your file, you will get a notification saying your hash has successfully been created. Note that OriginStamp will not “submit” it to the blockchain until about 7PM East Coast time. They only submit free submissions once a day, to keep their costs down, and depending on how busy the blockchain is it may take up to 2 days to register. If you’re in a hurry to get your hash submitted, they offer a premium service to accomplish this where they wallop you with a colossal fee of $1 to get it in right away.

4) If you trust OriginStamp to remain in existence forever, you need not do anything further. When you need verify the date of your file, go to their website, click Verify Stamp, and enter your hash, or drag in your file, and the site will tell you when it was submitted. However if you wish to be able to validate your file without the existence of Originstamp, you’ll need to collect a few more pieces of information. After waiting a day or two, you’ll need to revisit OriginStamp, click Verify Stamp, enter your hash or upload file and it will take you to a confirmation page. On this page, it will list of all the hash submissions as well as the Check Sum hash. You should store both of this with your final version file. The list of all hashes can be a somewhat long now as the site gains popularity.

5) When you’re done, you should have either two pieces of data if you trust OriginStamp alone, or 5 pieces of information if you want it under any scenario where Bitcoin exists.

In my example I have:

Hopefully you would never have to defend the legitimacy of your file, but if you did, you should have a pretty convincing case. Of course, I have no idea how a jury would react to this information, or if it would even be admissible as evidence. However, to illustrate what you have, below is how I would argue the authenticity of my Presidential prediction if someone was accusing me of being a fraud in a court of law

Me: “Your honor, I did in fact create this JPG on 10/31/2016. To prove it I used a site called OriginStamp. This site took my file and hashed it using the SHA-256 method. If you go to OriginStamp, they will confirm this transaction.”

Accuser: “What the heck is OriginStamp?!? Judge, objection! I’ve never heard of this site. How can we trust its validity?”

Me: “Okay forget going to OriginStamp, we can walk through what they did. OriginStamp created an SHA-256 hashed text of my file (see above). OriginStamp then took ANOTHER SHA-256 hash (the Check Sum) of all the other records they received that day. I have a list of these and the SHA-256 hash of these can be conducted on numerous sites.

“As is the nature of SHA-256 hashes, they are relatively easy to calculate in one direction, but impossible to conduct in a reverse manner. Stated differently, I can claim with utmost certainty that no one on the planet can produce any SHA-256 pre-calculation string which results in the same final hash output as any of mine, without using my file or text. Such an effort would take far more than millions of years with today’s computing power.”

Accuser: “So what he has a hash that is unique? What does this prove?”

Me: “It doesn’t prove anything yet, but as a final step, Originstamp used the final Check Sum hash along with Base 58 encoding, to find a Bitcoin address to log a small Bitcoin transaction which cleared on 11/3/2016. This process can also be demonstrated on multiple websites, I have a screenshot from Brainwalletx.Github.io. A user simply needs to enter the Check Sum as the Secret Exponent to generate the address that was used. What this means is that this address was specifically used for this purpose we have outlined. The possibility that this address which comprises a hashed connection to my exact file is incredibly unlikely.”

Accuser: “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”

Me: “Technically yes, but the fact that an active address which I found with my specific JPG hash in it is beyond infinitesimal. There are exactly 2^256 possible bitcoin addresses — that’s far more atoms than there are on earth, sun, and other planets, combined. The likeliness of this series of events happening is less  than me playing the Mega Millions Lottery and winning, four times in a row.”

Accuser: “Okay so how do we know you didn’t make the entry after the election?”

Me: “The blockchain’s integrity is maintained by thousands, perhaps millions of computers validating transactions. At the end of Sep 2016, the hash calculation rate per second was 2.6×10^16. This represents far more processing power than any single entity such as the United States government could direct at the blockchain in hopes of manipulating the network. It would be easy for me to find at least a dozen articles on the web, or a computer science professor to testify how unrealistic back-dating entries in the block chain is.”

Accuser: “I still think this is bogus”

Me: “Ok.”

Ultimately your argument would likely hinge on testimony of some math expert, but that’s my best effort to simulate how to defend the legitimacy of the transaction. Note the links in the discussion above for reference on how Base58 encoding is conducted.

Anyway, a great tool. Thanks again developers André Gernandt and Bela Gipp.

More Reading On It:

Developers’ Abstract On Concept

Dashcam Ap (similar tool for time stamping smartphone recordings)

 

No Place to Hide An Amazing Book About A True Hero

Edward Snowden ranks as a modern day hero in my opinion. It’s not too often someone gives up their highly promising career in the elite services of the US intelligence community because their conscious couldn’t tolerate the immorality of their missions. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald details the events leading up to Summer of Snowden and the events afterwards.

Since my blog’s name is a play on the revolutionary encryption software named PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), it should surprise no one that this book was incredibly interesting to me. I’m not assigning the “highly recommend” tag only because I realize my perspective of this topic is a bit zealous.

It could have been about 25% shorter, by removing a section explaining why privacy is important. To me this seems obvious, but I understand why it was included. However, I would definitely encourage you to at least read the first half of up until Snowden leaves Hong Kong.

This is essentially a literature version of the documentary Citizen Four by Laura Poitras, which is also fascinating. Between the documentary and this book, I preferred Greenwald’s written account. He’s a feisty yet eloquent writer and I enjoyed seeing his internal perspective.

Also refreshing is that Greenwald is very transparent about his political leanings. He doesn’t pretend to be neutral on issues like privacy — he absolutely has an agenda of exposing a corrupt and hypocritical US Surveillance State. Yet he does it with facts, and thus it shouldn’t matter what his agenda is. He highlights this quite candidly in the book stating that all journalists have some agenda. The only difference between himself and other “neutral” mainstream media journalists, is that he’s not trying to conceal his agenda.

He also handles himself pretty well on camera. See below a fun video where Greenwald appears on a Glenn Beck show,  and one of the hosts pathetically accuses Snowden being a Russian informant because of things he’s seen on TV. Greenwald immediately torpedoes this with, “the key word there is suspicion, which is sort of another word for I have this tingly feeling inside me that leads me to believe something even though I have no evidence…” and then proceeds to dismantle this theory with hard facts.

Click below to watch the 45 second exchange.

Ethereum Going Online

For about 18 months I’ve been eagerly monitoring a project called Ethereum. It is now slowly going live in phases. It’s difficult to explain its intricacies, but I and many others believe it has the potential to advance liberty on a vast scale. Don’t expect any tectonic shifts immediately, but as time passes there’s a lot of opportunity for:

  • Private currencies – this is the most exciting to me, as it could be a safe way of transacting lots of services privately. A simple example would be if an airline carrier shifted from frequent flyer miles to “Cyrpto points” they could easily be distributed and passed around with their immediate value remaining stable. I’m sure governments would go crazy if this happened, which makes it all the more fun to think about.
  • Decentralized Server Hosting – instead of having huge companies like Facebook or google hosting your information.
  • Prediction Markets – Another one of my favorite concepts, basically allowing open season betting on just about everything that can be verified. “Who will be next president?” Enter a field, and with 10-20 paid monitors, the truth can be achieved, and people can be paid out accordingly. Historically, prediction markets where people have “skin in the game” have proven far more accurate than talking heads on TV.
    • A quick example I distinctly remember of this was in 2010. At the time, two Tea Party candidates were “considered heavy favorites” by most media “experts” in Senate races in Nevada (against Senate leader Harry Reid) and in Alaska. The site InTrade (eventually shuttered by the US Government) contrast all these talking heads by putting Harry Read as the 2:1 favorite, and a write in candidate as the favorite in Alaska, amazingly with the not so easy name to spell of “Murkowski.” Suffice to say, InTrade was correct.
  • Decentralized Trading Platforms – We don’t need the Nasdaq to buy and sell %’s of companies.
  • Decentralized Companies –  Having a company that runs on code of laws or by shareholder votes.

Again this is all a little further down the line, but it’s exciting none the less. Here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal on it.