On addresses

In the era of the Internet, addresses are wonderfully diverse and quirky creatures.

  • Mr John Doe, 82 Gjjirigh Road, 18721, Paris, France – snail mail address
  • la7iu@spam.la – email address
  • https://www.eff.org/ – (World Wide) Web address
  • http://xdtfje3c46d2dnjd.onion/ – Tor hidden network address – using this you can have an anonymous & private chat using https://crypto.cat via the Tor network
  • 1ESKsNEfjmCZJt3yEYjdE31L1QKqnRVcmn – Bitcoin wallet address – using this you can donate to JuiceMedia, creators of Rap News using bitcoins.
  • 00-50-57-C0-00-08 – MAC address
  • 127.0.0.1 – IP address

Simple use of Bitcoin

Executive summary

  • Create a Mt.Gox account
  • Add funds to your Mt.Gox account using traditional currency
  • Send bitcoins from your Mt.Gox account to your personal wallet.
  • Send bitcoins from your personal wallet to anyone you like.

Disclaimer 1: Bitcoin does not provide strong anonymity. Do not count on it for life-or-death situations.

Disclaimer 2: I am a Bitcoin newbie

On with the show…

1. What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a digital currency. Just like countries use national currencies ($, €, £ etc), Internet users can use digital currencies. One of these digital currency systems is Bitcoin. It is not well understood by the general population and is still considered an experimental system, but using it for simple tasks like making a single transaction is quite straightforward, as detailed below.

Why would you want to go through the trouble of learning how to use a new currency system?

Well, it has some unique advantages:

  • Better anonymity than traditional non-cash transactions. Transactions are linked to the unique identity of the wallet you are using at the time, but wallets can be created easily and do not require human identity validation. This is not strong anonymity (e.g. against the state monitoring you specifically), but is much better than the current payment processing systems (guy on the street buys a coke using a plastic card in Moscow, 30” later Washington knows). Read also a precautionary note with funky graphs about how Bitcoin is not anonymous. (hat tip to hypnos)
  • Transactions are instantaneous. There are no intermediaries involved. No banks. Bitcoins move instantly and directly to their destinations. Bitcoin is a peer to peer system with no central authority.
  • Transactions can not be blocked by the usual payment processors – e.g. when in 2010 Visa, Mastercard and Paypal blocked donations to Wikileaks, it was still possible to donate using bitcoins.
  • There are no fees to transfer bitcoins.

In short, Bitcoin is an alternative to the traditional currency system that does not appear to be controlled by banks or payment processors like Visa or Mastercard.

2. Exchanging traditional currency for Bitcoins

Most people will want to convert a small amount of traditional currency into bitcoins to test the system first. You can use a Bitcoin exchange for this. One such exchange is Mt. Gox: https://mtgox.com

After you have created an account on the Mt. Gox website you will want to buy some bitcoins. To do that, go to “Funding Options -> Add Funds”. There you are given the bank details you can use to send money with a traditional bank money transfer or other methods. You have not started using bitcoins yet, so this is a very traditional transfer of funds between your bank and Mt. Gox.

Once Mt. Gox have received your funds, your Mt. Gox account will reflect them. Say for example you instructed your bank to send Mt. Gox $10 with a method that did not incur any charges. Your Mt. Gox account will show you have $10 available to spend.

You can now go to Trade -> Buy Bitcoins and buy some bitcoins at the going rate for USD to bitcoin conversion. Let’s say you manage to buy 2.31 bitcoins with your $10. You can send these bitcoins directly to the person/organisation you wish to pay, which is the quick option, but leaves a clear trace of your transaction, since Mt. Gox know who you are and who you paid. Alternatively you can transfer your bitcoins to a digital wallet on your personal computer, which means that Mt. Gox no longer know where the money is.

To do that, you need to setup your bitcoin wallet on your personal computer.

3. Creating your Bitcoin digital wallet

Download and install the latest Bitcoin client from http://bitcoin.org

For the following examples I will be using Bitcoin-Qt version 0.6.2

Please note that there is a 8+ hour startup time for this client, as it synchronises with the global transaction database. Once it’s up and running (and fully synchronised), you’re good to go.

Click on “Receive coins”. You will there find your digital wallet’s address, which will look like a string of random characters similar to this:

1ES2sNEfjmCZJt3yE6jdE31L1QgqnrVcmn

4. Transferring Bitcoins to your wallet

In your Mt. Gox account, choose “Funding Options” and then “Withdraw funds”.

Enter the amount you want to send to the wallet on your computer, and your wallet’s address (which you found out above).

After confirming the transaction, the Bitcoins should appear in your computer’s digital wallet within a few seconds.

5. Sending money to another Bitcoin user

So you have bitcoins on your computer now. How do you send them to other people? Simple, all you need is their bitcoin address. Ask them for it, check their donations web page etc – you’re looking after a bitcoin address that looks similar to yours (a long string of random characters).

Once you have the address you want to send the bitcoins to, click the “Send coins” button in the bitcoin application, enter the amount and address, and click “Send”.

That’s it, the money has been transferred!

If you want to let them know it was you who send them the money, you might want to send them an email notifying them – otherwise from the bitcoin transaction alone they won’t know.

Free tools to protect your privacy online

Most schools, companies, service providers and governments record and analyse as much as they can of your online behaviour: All your emails, chats with your friends, web pages you visit, things you search for, photos you look at and more – all are stored and linked with your identity.

By using these free tools you make it harder for others to observe your online life:

  • Tor – browse the Internet without revealing your location
  • Jitsi – make free voice calls without anyone listening in on your calls. Also, chat with your friends via Google Chat or Facebook chat without your conversations being recorded.
  • TrueCrypt – encrypt your files before storing them online (e.g. on DropBox or Google Drive), so that only you can read them
  • CryptoCat – have private text chats online, wherever you are (video)
  • GnuPG – encrypt your emails so that only your recipient can read them [ADVANCED]
  • TAILS – use computers of other people without compromising your security or privacy [ADVANCED]
  • Want guidance on how to use any of these tools? Have more to add to the list? Leave a comment.

    Book review: “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig

    I enjoyed reading Lawrence Lessig’s book “Free Culture” – which is freely available online.

    Professor Lessig takes the reader through a fascinating trip that drives a single point home: The current blanket copyright protectionism is hurting our culture.

    Passages from the book I enjoyed:

    A Cold-war era propaganda film, courtesy of the Internet Archive:

    Want to see a copy of the “Duck and Cover” film that instructed children how to save themselves in the middle of nuclear attack? Go to archive.org, and you can download the film in a few minutes—for free.

    The asymmetry of our reaction to content sharing:

    The obvious point of Conrad’s cartoon is the weirdness of a world where guns are legal, despite the harm they can do, while VCRs (and circumvention technologies) are illegal. Flash: No one ever died from copyright circumvention. Yet the law bans circumvention technologies absolutely, despite the potential that they might do some good, but permits guns, despite the obvious and tragic harm they do.

    Never in our history have fewer had a legal right to control more of the development of our culture than now.

    Some fascinating statistics that show how the law penalises the vast majority of culture, just to allow a tiny subset of it to keep on cashing in for their rights holders:

    In 1930, 10,047 books were published. In 2000, 174 of those books were still in print. Let’s say you were Brewster Kahle, and you wanted to make available to the world in your iArchive project the remaining 9,873. What would you have to do?

    Forget all the works from the 1920s and 1930s that have continuing commercial value. The real harm of term extension comes not from these famous works. The real harm is to the works that are not famous, not commercially exploited, and no longer available as a result. If you look at the work created in the first twenty years (1923 to 1942) affected by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, 2 percent of that work has any continuing commercial value. It was the copyright holders for that 2 percent who pushed the CTEA through. But the law and its effect were not limited to that 2 percent. The law extended the terms of copyright generally.

    […] most books go out of print within one year. The same is true of music and film.

    As one researcher calculated for American culture, 94 percent of the films, books, and music produced between 1923 and 1946 is not commercially available.

    A smart fix to blanket copyright law by professor Lessig: Make long-term copyright opt-in:

    […] I proposed a simple fix: Fifty years after a work has been published, the copyright owner would be required to register the work and pay a small fee. If he paid the fee, he got the benefit of the full term of copyright. If he did not, the work passed into the public domain.

    How “the industry” has opposed the above proposal and what that shows about the war on culture we’re currently going through:

    The opposition to the Eldred Act reveals how extreme the other side is. The most powerful and sexy and well loved of lobbies really has as its aim not the protection of “property” but the rejection of a tradition. Their aim is not simply to protect what is theirs. Their aim is to assure that all there is is what is theirs.

    So when the common sense of your child confronts you, what will you say? When the common sense of a generation finally revolts against what we have done, how will we justify what we have done? What is the argument?

    On the cool BBC Creative Archive pilot that ran till 2006:

    the BBC has just announced that it will build a “Creative Archive,” from which British citizens can download BBC content, and rip, mix, and burn it.

    On the Public Library of Science:

    The Public Library of Science (PLoS), for example, is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making scientific research available to anyone with a Web connection. Authors of scientific work submit that work to the Public Library of Science. That work is then subject to peer review. If accepted, the work is then deposited in a public, electronic archive and made permanently available for free.

    On Peter Wayner’s freely available book “Free for All”:

    Peter Wayner, who wrote a book about the free software movement titled Free for All, made an electronic version of his book free on-line under a Creative Commons license after the book went out of print. He then monitored used book store prices for the book. As predicted, as the number of downloads increased, the used book price for his book increased, as well.

    This passage made me think again about stuff I’ve published online (blog posts, photos etc) – I am ditching the default “all rights reserved” and going for less restrictive Creative Commons licenses:

    Finally, there are many who mark their content with a Creative Commons license just because they want to express to others the importance of balance in this debate. If you just go along with the system as it is, you are effectively saying you believe in the “All Rights Reserved” model. Good for you, but many do not.

    On how the term of copyright just keeps being extended:

    The term of copyright has gone from fourteen years to ninety-five years for corporate authors, and life of the author plus seventy years for natural authors.

    On avoiding knee-jerk reactions and focusing on what matters:

    This point about the future is meant to suggest a perspective on the present: It is emphatically temporary. The “problem” with file sharing—to the extent there is a real problem—is a problem that will increasingly disappear as it becomes easier to connect to the Internet. And thus it is an extraordinary mistake for policy makers today to be “solving” this problem in light of a technology that will be gone tomorrow. The question should not be how to regulate the Internet to eliminate file sharing (the Net will evolve that problem away). The question instead should be how to assure that artists get paid, during this transition between twentieth-century models for doing business and twenty-first-century technologies.

    You know how the RIAA and MPAA are crying “piracy kills music”? This, of course, has happened before:

    See Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Technology Evolution and the Music Industry’s Business Model Crisis (2003). This report describes the music industry’s effort to stigmatize the budding practice of cassette taping in the 1970s, including an advertising campaign featuring a cassette-shape skull and the caption “Home taping is killing music.”

    On how copyright is being misused for reckless profiteering, killing creativity:

    Jon Else is a filmmaker. He is best known for his documentaries and has been very successful in spreading his art. He is also a teacher, and as a teacher myself, I envy the loyalty and admiration that his students feel for him. (I met, by accident, two of his students at a dinner party. He was their god.)

    Else worked on a documentary that I was involved in. At a break, he told me a story about the freedom to create with film in America today.

    In 1990, Else was working on a documentary about Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The focus was stagehands at the San Francisco Opera. Stagehands are a particularly funny and colorful element of an opera. During a show, they hang out below the stage in the grips’ lounge and in the lighting loft. They make a perfect contrast to the art on the stage.

    During one of the performances, Else was shooting some stagehands playing checkers. In one corner of the room was a television set. Playing on the television set, while the stagehands played checkers and
    the opera company played Wagner, was The Simpsons. As Else judged it, this touch of cartoon helped capture the flavor of what was special about the scene.

    Years later, when he finally got funding to complete the film, Else attempted to clear the rights for those few seconds of The Simpsons. For of course, those few seconds are copyrighted; and of course, to use copyrighted material you need the permission of the copyright owner, unless “fair use” or some other privilege applies.

    Else called Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s office to get permission. Groening approved the shot. The shot was a four-and-a-half-second image on a tiny television set in the corner of the room. How could it hurt? Groening was happy to have it in the film, but he told Else to contact Gracie Films, the company that produces the program.

    Gracie Films was okay with it, too, but they, like Groening, wanted to be careful. So they told Else to contact Fox, Gracie’s parent company. Else called Fox and told them about the clip in the corner of the one
    room shot of the film. Matt Groening had already given permission, Else said. He was just confirming the permission with Fox.

    Then, as Else told me, “two things happened. First we discovered . . . that Matt Groening doesn’t own his own creation—or at least that someone [at Fox] believes he doesn’t own his own creation.” And second, Fox “wanted ten thousand dollars as a licensing fee for us to use this four-point-five seconds of . . . entirely unsolicited Simpsons which was in the corner of the shot.”

    Else was certain there was a mistake. He worked his way up to someone he thought was a vice president for licensing, Rebecca Herrera. He explained to her, “There must be some mistake here. . . . We’re asking for your educational rate on this.” That was the educational rate, Herrera told Else. A day or so later, Else called again to confirm what he had been told.

    “I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight,” he told me. “Yes, you have your facts straight,” she said. It would cost $10,000 to use the clip of The Simpsons in the corner of a shot in a documentary film about
    Wagner’s Ring Cycle. And then, astonishingly, Herrera told Else, “And if you quote me, I’ll turn you over to our attorneys.” As an assistant to Herrera told Else later on, “They don’t give a shit. They just want the
    money.”

    Else didn’t have the money to buy the right to replay what was playing on the television backstage at the San Francisco Opera. To reproduce this reality was beyond the documentary filmmaker’s budget. At the very
    last minute before the film was to be released, Else digitally replaced the shot with a clip from another film that he had worked on, The Day After Trinity, from ten years before.