Blockchain: A revolution occurring right in front of our eyes

Blockchain is best known as the technology that underpins Bitcoin, but it is so much more than that. Its uses are endless and in the very near future, we can expect all trade to occur on a blockchain, as well as more abstract uses, such as electoral voting.

Over the last few years, if you’re Internet-savvy, you may be aware of blockchains. If you do, you probably know it as the technology that underpins Bitcoin. If you know more than that, you’re in a very small group of people who actually understand what it does and how it’s capable of so much more.

Let’s take a step back. For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency” which is a currency that uses cryptography to handle transactions. Bitcoin is not backed by any central government as most currencies are today (the dollar is backed by the Federal Reserve and so on) and thus, is not subject to the purview of government. It is in this vein that many people have perceptions of Bitcoin being used for illicit activities. And while it does afford a level of anonymity if one so chooses, its uses go far beyond that and the illicit usage is only going to represent an increasingly small percentage of Bitcoin’s users as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become more prevalent.

The reason that Bitcoin can work without the backing of a central institution like the Bank of England is what is known as triple-entry accounting, made possible by the blockchain. In modern accounting, we use double-entry accounting, which means that for every debit, there has to be a credit somewhere else. This system has been in use since the 1400s and provides error-checking, but doesn’t stop people from falsifying records (think of “cooking the books” a la Enron).  The “third entry” in triple-entry accounting is a cryptographically-secure public record of every transaction so that these transactions can be verified. This is the blockchain. When you make a transaction using Bitcoin, a record is made in the blockchain and now everyone knows that one wallet paid out some Bitcoins to another wallet and so everyone agrees how many Bitcoins are in each wallet. Continue reading “Blockchain: A revolution occurring right in front of our eyes”

How to remotely access your VPN-connected computer with Dynamic DNS

By using a dynamic DNS service in conjunction with some static routes on your home computer, you can access your home network, files and computers remotely, even if your main computer which reports your IP to the dynamic DNS service is permanently connected to a VPN.

This is a problem that I’ve been trying to crack for a long time now. I want to be able to access my home network remotely. The problem seems simple enough, but there were a number of roadblocks stopping me from doing this.

Firstly, my Internet connection at home has a dynamic IP address. This means it’s hard to target it because the IP address changes regularly. The solution to this is to use a Dynamic DNS service. The way these services work is to run a utility in the background on your computer and report its current IP address back to the Dynamic DNS service. It ties this IP address to one of its own domain names or a custom domain name that you ascribe to them.

I started to pursue this option. I purchased my own domain name and got an account at Dynu, one of several free dynamic DNS services and attached my domain name to it. I installed the IP Update Utility on my home computer, added my account credentials and successfully started reporting my IP address back to Dynu. However, there was a problem…

My computer is always connected to a VPN. Thus, whenever the IP Update Utility retrieved my IP address, it was getting the IP address of my VPN, not my public IP address. Thus, if I tried to use that to access my home network, I’d instead end up at the servers of my VPN service. Continue reading “How to remotely access your VPN-connected computer with Dynamic DNS”

Why institutional trust has vanished and distributed trust is soaring

Uber, AirBnB and Bitcoin are at the forefront of a trust revolution, where we’re ditching our faith in institutions like banks, governments and churches in favour of trusting complete strangers that we can reliably put our faith in.

I love a good TED talk. Every now and then, one resonates so well with me that I feel compelled to post it here to share it with other.

Rachel Botsman’s recent talk was one such talk. She discussed how trust has moved through three distinct phases in history: local trust, where our trust was knowing those in the village, institutional trust, where we relied upon banks, companies and governments to determine who and what could be trusted to the recently emerging distributed trust, where our behaviour, reputation and globally accepted practices and technologies dictate what we can trust today.
Continue reading “Why institutional trust has vanished and distributed trust is soaring”

Mechanical music

Using 2000 marbles and a hand-crafted machine, Wintergatan has made an enormous music box that is mesmerising to watch

My wife happened upon this YouTube video today and I was just blown away by how creative it was.

Wintergatan is a Swedish folktronica band that have spent the last two years ago building a giant music box out of wood, metal and LEGO that uses steel marbles to play instruments including a bass guitar, vibraphone and drums.

I have watched this several times, in awe at how each marble is lifted into place and rhythmically fired towards an instrument to hit the right note at the right time. So creative. Continue reading “Mechanical music”

Wikiwand – a much better way to read Wikipedia

We all use Wikipedia, perhaps many times a day. But the layout and functionality hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years. That’s where Wikiwand comes in, to add a fresh coat of paint and add in some features that make using Wikipedia that much easier.

Where would we be without Wikipedia? How would we settle those instantaneous curiosities without the de facto encyclopedia always available in front of us and in our pockets?

Without a doubt, Wikipedia is a crucial piece to our everyday lives for many of us. But why does it have to be so damn ugly!? Am I right!?

To a certain extent, it makes sense: it needs to meet the needs of billions of people without distracting them or turning them off; it needs to be easy to read to accommodate those with disabilities; and it needs to be lightweight to not be a drain on the resources of the end user or the Foundation.

However, for those looking for a more immersive and beautifully designed layout, look no further than Wikiwand. Continue reading “Wikiwand – a much better way to read Wikipedia”

Get a short URL from YOURLS in Zapier

With the incredible Code by Zapier app, getting a short URL for any URL you have is very easy using the API in YOURLS. I used this strategy to promote new content from my websites on social media using the item’s short URL.

I love automating things. For a few years now I’ve configured my site using Jetpack’s Publicize module in conjunction with Buffer to automatically post new content to my social networks. However, there’s a couple of limitations with that approach:

  1. Publicize seemingly won’t let you use the post’s short URL,
  2. You have little control over when these posts go out on social media.

With my new found love of Zapier, I sought to rectify both of these issues. Continue reading “Get a short URL from YOURLS in Zapier”

Automate your life or business with Zapier

Zapier is in the business of connecting over 500 of the most popular online services by connecting triggers (such as new Stripe transactions or new Instagram posts) and creating actions from them (such as publishing tweets or entering transactions in QuickBooks) which can make predictable, repeatable business and personal tasks much easier by automating them.

It is no secret that I’m a huge fan of automation. I’ve previously discussed how to create items on your To Do list from form entries and how to automatically track all of your deliveries in an iPhone app. So when I decided to move my accounting to QuickBooks and employ my mother-in-law as my accountant to maintain my books, I sought to overhaul how my books were managed and to make the process as easy as possible for my new accountant.

This is where Zapier comes in. I had long known about Zapier since it was a fledgling service, aiming to join up the mountain of online services which provide and/or receive information but don’t necessarily speak directly to one another. For example, you might want to create a new tweet every time you posted a new image on Instagram or create a new message in Slack whenever you received an email matching a specific set of criteria, such as a new statement notification. Continue reading “Automate your life or business with Zapier”

This is what the websites of central governments should look like – a homage to gov.uk

gov.uk is the gateway to everything that the UK Government has to offer online and since 2012, it has been a shining example of how so much information can be well organised and provided for people for all abilities (both technical and physical) to use.

Government is not usually at the leading edge of, well anything, but not least technology.

As the noughties rolled on, the UK Government had a wealth of information online, but it was so fragmented that you couldn’t be sure if you were reading the most up-to-date information or whether you were getting the information from the right source.

This is very typical of most governments in the modern age. If anything, we were probably ahead of most just by having that information online somewhere as opposed to other countries which may have been slower to put this information online.

In 2011, the Government Digital Service was created with a mandate to completely revolutionise the Government’s digital offerings and to adopt a “digital by default” approach where every service and piece of information is planned from the outset to be available or delivered digitally. Continue reading “This is what the websites of central governments should look like – a homage to gov.uk”

Read the Internet at blazing speed with Squirt

Squirt is a sweet little tool that allows you to read online at ridiculously fast speeds by showing the text in one spot rather than forcing your eyes to move, which can more than double your reading speed.

Today I was introduced to a nifty little tool. Have you ever seen tests or demonstrations where people are shown to be able to read faster if their eyes don’t have to move?

In fact people can typically read at between 120-200 words per minute, which isn’t bad, but this methodology of reading without moving your eyes can easily double your reading capability.

With so many of us doing a lot of content digestion online, there’s a new tool to bring this capability to this realm of your life. Continue reading “Read the Internet at blazing speed with Squirt”

Pocket – Read what interests you on your own time

Pocket is a simple and powerful way of saving links so that you can read them whenever is best for you, instead of trying to rush through before you forget. With the Chrome extension, iOS app, web app and OS X app, I’m always able to save content sand then read it later, meaning I don’t miss out on what interests me.

Pocket is one of my iOS apps that I don’t think I could do without. In the age of the Internet and mobile connectivity, we’re bombarded with information and often we come across things that we might want to read or buy, but just not right this second. With so much going on, if we don’t do something with it, we’ll probably forget in 30 seconds.

Enter Pocket.

For the uninitiated, Pocket is fairly simple in principle: it’s a (free) service that allows you to save articles and information for consumption at a later time. Its integration and simplicity of use is what makes it so seamless and essential to my workflow online. Continue reading “Pocket – Read what interests you on your own time”