Friday, 30 March 2012

Introduction of Bitcoins and the Tor network

Internet users familiar with the underground community are likely to have heard the phrase “deep web”. It combines a set of websites and communications technologies which apply solely to the Tor network. This collective open-source software has blossomed into a revolutionary idea in just a few years.

bitcoin tor network Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

On a similar note the bitcoin currency has also been gaining some attention. Although these two ideas are not correlated, they do fit together in the subject of underground web technology. Throughout this guide I’d like to introduce you to the topic of bitcoins, how they work, and their connection with the Tor network. Let’s first clarify what Tor is really about.

The original Tor network project isn’t as underground as it used to be. The open-source software was an effort to provide a new layer of Internet protection between the user and the remote website server, thus sheltering your privacy somewhat and providing you with a sense of security. This is accomplished by using 3 different relay proxies which re-direct you along a random path in the network.

Similar to Bit Torrent, users of the Tor network will keep their computers running 24/7 as a relay service. This means when you go to access a website on Tor it’ll pass your request through 3 different computers (called nodes). This level of encryption ensures that no single computer within the proxy chain can determine your physical location and requested content. The official Tor FAQ contains more technical details if you’re interested.

This is crucial for users who prefers to keep their location and privacy unknown, individuals like whistleblowers or abuse victims. The fact that a wider variety of people now use Tor increases the level of security, helping you hide among the many other faceless users who are on the network.

To access this network of proxies you only need to download their package software. If you visit the Tor project downloads page you’ll notice a listing for the most popular Operating Systems including Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX. The software is bundled as a zip archive without requiring any installation.

tor project browser website Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

After opening, just double-click the Tor icon to start up relay services, and shortly after, a new web browser should launch in the Gecko/Mozilla engine. It’s basically a shell script of Firefox which runs under custom proxy settings for Tor.

The entire network behaves as one interconnected and fluid proxy server farm. It’s important to note that you can access regular HTTP websites via proxy, but the load times are immensely slower. The real benefit of using Tor is to gain access into the onion routing network. Within this chasm of the deep Internet lies the hidden websites so often discussed around the watercooler.

This new technology is used within the Tor network to communicate hosts with darknet websites. These are still HTML/CSS pages which have been hosted on servers specifically targeting an .onion DNS address. This TLD (Top-Level Domain) is actually similar to other country codes such as .us,, .es and others. However you are not accessing the same websites, as through an HTTP/FTP connection.

how tor works Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

The most intriguing part of the Onion routing network is within their unique URL addresses. Instead of human-readable strings such as these appear as randomly generated numbers and letters. So for example, to visit “The Hidden Wiki” you would enter:


into the web browser. This redirects to a Wikipedia-style site focusing on everything Tor-related.

To get a better idea of how Tor websites are designed and created, check out some of the other examples I’ve provided below.

TorStatusNet Microblogging – http://lotjbov3gzzf23hc.onion/Tor Web Design Guidelines – http://wf4df37hrebhwzts.onion/Freedom Hosting – http://xqz3u5drneuzhaeo.onion/MyBitcoin – http://xqzfakpeuvrobvpj.onion/BitLaundry – http://yhngvp3q5h4s7d3e.onion/BitLotto – http://jpjyhljziw2glwfg.onion/lotto/index.htmlSimple PM – http://4v6veu7nsxklglnu.onion/SimplePM.phpAnonymoose Chat – http://c2hluuzwi7tuceu6.onion/

Let’s take a break from Tor for a moment and examine the underground currency, bitcoin. Bitcoins behaves just like any other monetary system; it can be exchanged and traded for Dollars and Euros. It is not too difficult to comprehend with a bit of reading but I feel that this video really clears up some of the confusing areas for beginners.

Now, the bitcoin currency has a few benefits. Notably there is no central banking group which manages and loans out these coins. They are created through computer processing – theoretically nothing more than time and GPU compression. This also means no central authority is issuing “clearing” for bitcoin transactions. Thus instead of waiting 2-3 business days for a bank you can transfer bitcoins between addresses in just a few hours.

Although it is an exciting endeavor, the average btc user does not spend time mining for bitcoins. The process is too intense for a single computer and you likely won’t find the payoff worthwhile. Professional miners work together in pools and will sometimes run a series of rigs setup with dual video cards (Graphics Processing Units) for the highest turnout rate.

But for the majority of beginners it’s unrealistic to jump into this right away. The much simpler method of collecting bitcoins is to transfer in your own cash, or alternatively provide service work. A lot of btc users are willing to trade coins for Internet marketing, web design, development, and similar odd jobs. But moving cash into your bitcoin address (or wallet) is also just as simple.

bitcoins exchange Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

The biggest issue with gaining bitcoins is the exchange rate between world currencies. The simplest method is to purchase coins directly from an exchange such as Mt Gox. But in order to get money into Mt Gox to purchase these bitcoins you’ll need to follow one of their accepted methods.

dwolla for consumers Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

Dwolla has been the most pleasurable experience in my eyes, and transfers much quicker than any other method. But in truth the bitcoin marketplace is growing rapidly. Keep your eyes and ears open, as there are new services launching practically every month!

The ultimate goal is to use this alternate currency and hold our reserve coins in some type of wallet. Then we can use a unique wallet ID (or bitcoin address) to shop where bitcoins are accepted. This coin archive can either run through a desktop software or a third-party browser solution.

we accept bitcoins Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

Those who value ultimate safety and security will want to keep their bitcoin assets local, i.e. in their computer. But I feel more comfortable using online wallets, including Mt Gox, as I have direct access to my accounts from any computer. You can read up more about btc browser-based wallets from their wiki article.

Now putting aside the possible earnings from buying and selling the currency itself, you can purchase a lot of things with bitcoins! A few websites such as Search Bitcoin behave as customized engines for locating items around the Web. For example I entered the keyword “iphone” and found this bitcoin classifieds page for a black iPhone 4 unit.

bitcoin classifieds homepage Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

But if you truly want a catalog of shops, you cannot go wrong with the official bitcoin trade wiki. This includes a detailed list of physical and digital items you can purchase with no shortages of URLs. These categories include clothing, video games, books, electronics, and so much more.

On the surface it appears that these two topics don’t have much in common. But there are a lot of underground networks within the Tor project which discussed bitcoins as the next level of our world economy. It’s difficult to say where things will go from here at this point, but it’s certain that the underground community have created an astounding system. And both of these technologies are only in the early stages of adoption and development.

anonymity Introduction to Bitcoins and the Tor Network

(Image source: Fotolia)

I feel the problem with a lot of monetary solutions is a general lack in privacy and security. I would not imply that PayPal is an unsecured website, but it’s difficult to understand why only a handful of people is allowed to control that website’s policy. In the bitcoin marketplace, digital exchanges are held between buyer and seller. Purchasing through the Tor/Onion network adds an extra layer of security.

If you are interested, check out how you can maintain anonymity while using bitcoins. I really enjoyed this article by The Daily Attack. It goes over why security is so important and how the bitcoin marketplace has begun to plant its roots in modern civilization. I’ve included some additional links below which I hope you’ll find useful in further research!

The underground Tor network and bitcoin marketplace are just two examples of emerging technologies. We may be at the verge of a technological breakthrough in restructuring how we access and trade currency through the Internet. I’m an early adopter of both these ideas and will be following the news closely on future developments!

Jake is a user experience designer for both web and mobile platforms. Having over 4 years of freelance projects under his belt, he frequently writes articles on topics of modern design trends and social media. You can check out some of his work on Dribbble or follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.

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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tools of the trade: productivity tools really work?

When I was studying, all I needed was a notepad and a pen to keep track of all my assignments. This method was valid and dependable… until the school break. My notes have the tendency of growing legs and going MIA on me, and by the time I was in university, electronic notepads and online calendars became my preferred choices. Laptops and PCs were noticeably harder to misplace than cellulose-based scribblings of your weekend plans.

productivity tools Tools Of The Trade: Do Productivity Tools Really Work?
(Image source: Dennis Hamilton)

Then came the ‘we have an app for that’ period – and all hell broke loose. This period gave rise to tons of apps that deliver one or two major tasks for the user. Now they may go by many names, but one of the more popular ones is ‘productivity tools’. A tool to make you more productive? What’s there to hate, right? Apparently, plenty.

Honestly, tech tools can only do so much. No one immediately becomes a Master Chef just because they have top-rated chef knives. For example, spellcheckers can help minimize spelling mistakes but they don’t make you write any better overnight. Syncing systems make sure you get the files you need anywhere, anytime, but you will still have to keep track of all the different versions of documents you have. And you need to start your time tracker before you start work, otherwise nothing gets tracked.

keeping track of files Tools Of The Trade: Do Productivity Tools Really Work?
(Image source: Fotolia)

The effectiveness of these tools begins with the user. If you aren’t the least bit productive in what you do, don’t expect the tools to be working miracles for you, because that is not what they are made for.

Oh, I love to-do lists. They are awesome. I jot everything down, never forget anything, any event or errand ever again. I became the Queen of Productivity. Then I noticed three downfalls of being too productive for your own good.

One, you are expected to remember everything: your colleagues ask you to confirm things for them; your boss berates you when you miss a deadline (since it’s impossible that you would forget the date); and forgetting your mother’s birthday would launch a nuclear war in your next family reunion (sorry, mom).

todo list Tools Of The Trade: Do Productivity Tools Really Work?
(Image source: Courtney Dirks)

You are no longer allowed to forget anything. Now that’s a scary thought.

Two, you are constantly prioritizing your errands every time you add something new to the list. ‘Getting the milk’ can take as long as a week to cross out because you keep putting everything else ahead of it, as they come in. And your mind will have the tendency to forget the things you forget to add to your list.

You will be programmed to be totally dependent on this list. The effect? I accidentally deleted a list — which was not backed up — once in the middle of a super busy period. It was chaos. Utter chaos.

Three, you will eventually end up listing, updating, crossing out and deleting your planner/organizer/app/tool even when you are stuck in traffic, waiting for a client, sitting at the bus stop or when your phone is in airplane mode. If you think that that is normal and an acceptable behavior by today’s standards, I ask you this: are you being more productive, or doing more work?

stress over work Tools Of The Trade: Do Productivity Tools Really Work?
(Image source: Shutterstock)

They are not the same thing. Remember that the concept behind productivity tools is that the tools should do more so that you can do less. If it doesn’t help you get more time to yourself, then it should not be called a productivity tool.

…to manage yourself well. Just having the tools is not enough, you also need self-discipline, an organized approach to your tasks, the ability to use your resources well and knowing when to let go. Oh, and keeping a close eye on deadlines and knowing how to prioritize are also important characteristics but those can be helped on by said tools.

Gentle reminder to always allocate some time for yourself and for your family (even those two need to be separated). Humans are more like battery cells rather than machines. We can’t work nonstop; we need to slow down, unwind, stop, recharge and start up again.

being productive Tools Of The Trade: Do Productivity Tools Really Work?
(Image source: Fotolia)

So if work or using a buggy, blasted tech tool is pushing you over the frustration limit, you are the only person who can put up a stop sign and take a break.

Not all productivity tools are good for everyone. It’s the main reason why your colleague may like one syncing program but you like another. It’s also why there are hundreds of productivity tool lists out there that have no common similarities at all. It’s a free universe; you can use whichever tool that ‘syncs’ with you, so to speak. More importantly though, the selection of productivity tools is a matter of personal preference; it’s like when you were picking out that accessory that goes well with your Halloween costume. You know when something is working for you and when it is not. Don’t let anyone else pressure you into thinking you should or can use only one particular tool or app.

As for me, after quitting my job to go full freelance, juggling work, a needy toddler and taking my Masters on the side made me realize that I needed all the help I can get. My favorite productivity tool? Good ol’ pen and paper — a pocket-sized notebook to be exact. I don’t have to charge it or fear that it would run out of juice; I can make copies of my reminders, put them on the fridge, pin it up on a board or slip it in a book. My notes are easy to compile, write up, correct and update, and I don’t need a tutorial to use it properly. Plus, whenever I get a task done, chucking the note in the trash bin is always more satisfying than clicking ‘Done’.

Singyin is's staff editor. She has a love-hate relationship with words, writers and the Web. When she is not busy plotting the doom of those who regularly produce erroneous writing, she can be found studying how digital tools can help enhance the learning experience in classrooms.

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Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

There are literally thousands of magazines published every month, only the high quality and good ones make it mainstream. The quote “A picture is worth a thousand words” and “First impression is the best impression” apply greatly to magazines. It is the covers of these magazines that creates the impulse, that uncontrollable urge to grab hold of the magazine and flip it open.

creative magazine covers Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

The following is a list of some 35+ magazine covers that will truly instill the urge in a person to pick up a copy. These covers are not only creative, but also inspiring. But I won’t spoil it for you, you be the judge.

Computer Arts is one of the world’s best-selling magazine for digital artists, designers, illustrators, etc. With in-depth tutorials, and interviews, the magazine remains a favorite among designers.

arts projects issue 133 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 136 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 117 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 121 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 115 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 130 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 131 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

arts projects issue 123 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

computer arts 2 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

computer arts issue 177 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

computer arts portugal Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

computer arts Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

TNHB Magazine is an illustrated magazine by Grzegorz Domaradzki and StudioKxx. Since the magazine does not have an official website, not much is known about it.

tnhb 2008 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

tnhb 04 2008 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

FEFE is an arts magazine, and project by Luigi Vernieri. The magazine covers various topics on art. The magazine is a platform for generating a cultural system centered on the “visual culture”.

fefe december Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

fefe february Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

be Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

digitalage magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

espn magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

JOiA Magazine is a visual and design related arts magazine. The magazine is full of the finest selection of visual art content. While JOiA only publishes 5 issues per year, their high standards have put them on a high position in the literature of Arts and Design – no less than the national level.

joia magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Advanced Photoshop Magazine is an Adobe Photoshop oriented magazine, that has everything related to Photoshop. From tutorials, to inspirational artwork showcases, to even artists interviews. Advanced Photoshop Magazine is one of the best Photoshop magazine out there at this moment.

advanced photoshop Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

advanced photoshop issue 67 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Lettering & Type is a powerful and essential how-to book full of relevant theories, history, diagrams and excersies regarding typeface designs and typography.

lettering and type Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

PAGE Magazine is created by creative professional people in design, advertising, and media supplies. Not only do they show portfolios of some great artists, they also talk about different fields of art, such as architecture, 3D, and many more.

page magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

WebDesign HS7 is a magazine by Mathieu Schatzler, who is a graphic designer & art director from Lille, France. Mathieu has worked on branding & rebranding concepts, along with some high-quality illustrations. This magazine is all about that.

webdesigns hs7 magazine december 2010 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

WOW Magazine (now WOWMAGZ) is a free electronic/digital graphic design magazine that supports designers and creative communities around the world by shining a spotlight on them. Showcasing the greatest Artwork in Digital Art, Photography, Illustration, 3D arts, Motion Graphic and more.

wow issue 02 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

GOOD Magazine is a collaboration between individual parties, such as businesses, moms, kids, organizations, etc that work together to find what is good, prosperous and creative.

good magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Pixel Arts is a magazine that is all about creativity in best animation works, cartoons, motion graphics and tv design. It is a company located in Romania.

pixel arts august 2008 Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

The Red Bulletin is a Formula One magazine by Red Bull. The magazine covers the world of Formula One, especially the Red Bull world, events and happenings related to them.

red bulletin Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

The Walrus magazine was launched with a simple aim: to be a national general interest magazine about Canada and its place in the world. Ever since, The Walrus Magazine has started becoming ‘a little’ popular day by day.

the walrus magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Gazele Biznesu is a business-oriented magazine that gives out an annual ranking for developing small and medium businesses. The project is run jointly by nine newspapers belonging to Bonnier Publishing Group, based in Poland.

gazele biznesu Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Due to the language barrier, I am unable to tell you much about this magazine except that looks good.

proyecto diseno Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

idea magazine Showcase of Creative Magazine Covers

Humza is a freelance journalist who has been blogging for the past 3 years. Apart from the usual tech blogging, he also loves photography, and experimenting with Photoshop.

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