Tagopen source

Imagining a Bitcoin Alternative Built on Reputation Instead of Numbers

My latest for Wired:

Instead of using pure mathematics to prevent things like the same person spending the same money twice, Document Coin will rely on personal reputation to keep all transactions in order. And each unit of currency created using Document Coin could have different values in different situations. If you use a coin in one place, it might be worth more then if you use it in another. The goal, Anderson says, is to get people to completely rethink the entire idea of money. [...]

Unlike with bitcoin—which keeps its currency scarce by rewarding it only to those who participate in what amounts to a race to solve complex cryptographic puzzles—anyone will be able to create a new Document Coin anytime they want. The value of each coin will be completely subjective, depending on who creates the coin and why. “For example, the coin my disco singer friend created and gave me at my barbeque might be what gets me past the rope at the club,” Anderson says. A coin minted by tech pundit Tim O’Reilly might be highly prized in Silicon Valley circles, but of little interest to musicians. “It’s a bit like a combination of a social network with baseball trading.”

Ultimately, he hopes to get developers thinking about the social implications of crypto-currencies, and to get people to question the idea that everything needs to have a set, numeric value. “If bitcoin is the toy version of what we’ll all be using the future, then I want to build the crazy art project version of the future,” he says. Document Coin’s usefulness as a real currency is limited, but Anderson does hope people will eventually want to use it. “If you build something, you don’t want to be disappointed if it succeeds,” he says. “You need to build things that you would be happy to see take off.”

Full Story: Wired: A New Digital Currency Whose Value Is Based on Your Reputation

Previously: My interview with Anderson about CouchDB

ANTVR: A Virtual Reality Gadget That Anyone Can Hack

ANTVR virtual reality headset

In March 2012 I wrote:

We’ve had steampunk and dieselpunk and atompunk, so now it’s pixelpunk. We’re about to hit full circle and have retro-cyberpunk complete with VR headsets and Power Gloves.

Later that year Oculus did a Kickstarter for their virtual reality headset, which also happened to kickstart a new wave of VR kit. I just wrote about the latest one for Wired:

The designs for the ANTVR headset itself and its nifty convertible game controller are proprietary technology. But the designs and firmware for the wireless receiver–which sits between the headset, the controller, and the gaming console–are open source. That opens up a range of possibilities, such as creating custom controllers or using the ANTVR controller to control other devices.

For example, ANTVR co-founder Qin Zheng says you could write software for using ANTVR to control a Roomba vacuum cleaner robot, perhaps using the headset to watch the feed from the bot’s on-board camera. You could also make your own version of the receiver specifically designed to work with a game console or device not officially supported by ANTVR. “You can use the signal straight from the USB port,” Zheng says. “We will give the developer all the documentation and libraries.”

Full Story: Wired: A Virtual Reality Gadget That Anyone Can Hack

Still no Power Gloves, though…

Meet Briar, an Open Source “WhatsApp” for Activists

Briar diagram

My latest for Wired:

Private messaging apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp aren’t as private as you might think.

SnapChat settled with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month over a complaint that its privacy claims were misleading, as reported by USA Today, and last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report listing the company as the least privacy-friendly tech outfit it reviewed, including Comcast, Facebook, and Google. Last year, WhatsApp faced privacy complaints from the Canadian and Dutch governments, and like Snapchat, its security has been an issue as well.

When you use messaging services like these, you’re depending on outside companies to properly encrypt your messages, store them safely, and protect them when the authorities come calling. And they may not be up to the task. The only way to ensure your messages are reasonably safe is to encrypt them yourself, using keys that no one has access to–including your messaging service provider. That way, even if hackers bust into your service provider or the authorities hit it with subpoenas, your messages are protected.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Encryption tools are notoriously hard to use. But several projects are working to change this, building a more polished breed of encryption software that can serve the everyday consumer. A new open source project called Briar is part of this crowd, but it puts a fresh twist on the idea. It doesn’t just encrypt your messages. It lets you jettison your messaging service provider altogether. Your messages travel straight to the person you’re sending them to, without passing through a central server of any sort. It’s what’s known as a “peer-to-peer” tool.

This has a few advantages. You and your contacts keep complete control your data, but you needn’t setup your own computer server in order to do so. Plus, you can send messages without even connecting to the internet. Using Briar, you can send messages over Bluetooth, a shared WiFi connection, or even a shared USB stick. That could be a big advantage for people in places where internet connections are unreliable, censored, or non-existent.

Full Story: Wired: Take Back Your Privacy With This Open Source WhatsApp

Briar is still in alpha and not ready for use for high-risk scenarios. If you’re looking for something immediately, OffTheRecord and TextSecure are worth considering, but of course nothing is perfectly secure.

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’

NPR reports:

A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely. [...]

These days, seeds are intellectual property. Some are patented as inventions. You need permission from the patent holder to use them, and you’re not supposed to harvest seeds for replanting the next year.

Even university breeders operate under these rules. When Goldwin creates a new variety of onions, carrots or table beets, a technology-transfer arm of the university licenses it to seed companies.

Full Story: NPR: Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’

As the article notes, seed companies also often sell hybrid seeds, which don’t produce identical offspring — think of it as a biological “DRM” system for seeds. It’s sad that “open source” isn’t the norm in agriculture.

The First Totally Open Source Laptop Is Almost Real

Novena open source laptop

I wrote about Novena, an DIY open source laptop project for Wired:

“The motherboard, battery board, and display adapter board are designs from whole cloth,” Huang says of the machine. “Every trace on those PCBs was placed by my hand.” They also designed the case, which includes several components that you can print from a 3-D printer. And instead of proprietary firmware, they used the open source Das U-Boot.

It’s not the fastest or the most portable of laptops. Equipped with 4GB of RAM and an ARM processor you’re more likely to find in a cell phone, it offers the power of the average netbook, but it’s the size and weight of a budget laptop from the middle aughts. “It’s no feather,” Huang says.

But what the Novena lacks in modernity it makes up for in transparency. “If you see something suspicious in the hardware, you have the opportunity to look it up in the reference schematics and see if it really is a cause for concern,” Huang explains. In other words: you can check for NSA backdoors.

Full Story: Wired: The First Totally Open Source Laptop Is Almost Real

The specs are here.

Previously: My Smart Phone Freedom Trilogy

Open Source, 3D Printable Brain Scanner, Brought to You by DARPA

Open BCI, an Open Source, 3D Printable Brain Scanner

My colleague Bob McMillan reports:

Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy have a dream: They want to create an open-source brain scanner that you can print out at home, strap onto your head, and hook straight into your brainwaves.

This past week, they printed their first headset prototype on a 3-D printer, and WIRED has the first photos.

Bootstrapped with a little funding help from DARPA — the research arm of the Department of Defense — the device is known as OpenBCI . It includes sensors and a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which you print out on a 3-D printer. Put it all together, and it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to your PC.

Full Story: Wired: These Guys Are Creating a Brain Scanner You Can Print Out at Home

Cyberpunk Builds Bitcoin Wallet That Even Apple Can’t Ban

kyle_drake-660x440

From my latest “Out in the Open” column for Wired:

Kyle Drake calls himself a professional cyberpunk. He spends his days on the net, writing computer code and trying to stick it to the man. His latest target: the global banking industry.

But he’s not aiming to take down the financial sector with some sort of illegal hack attack. He wants to beat them at their own game with a little help from the world’s most popular digital currency, Bitcoin — a burgeoning system that runs on thousands of servers across the globe without answering to any central authority. “I think Bitcoin is the most important thing I’m going to work on in my life,” Drake says.

His current project is Coinpunk, an open source Bitcoin wallet that he believes will help free the world from both big banks and powerful payment processors like MasterCard and Visa.

Full Story: Wired: Out in the Open: Cyberpunk Builds Bitcoin Wallet That Even Apple Can’t Ban

And in other Bitcoin news Bitcoins in Space: Hacker to Fire Digital Currency Into Orbit. The plan is to use a nanosat to run a Bitcoin server in space:

The notion may seen excessive, but for Garzik — a self-confessed space fan whose dad helped build missiles at the White Sands Missile Range — it has always been an obvious next step for the digital currency. “When Bitcoin came around, it seemed natural to me that you’d want some sort of redundancy out in space,” he says, explaining that this could not only help the peer-to-peer network fend off attack, but give it a lifeline if machines are unavailable on earth.

Garzik, like many Bitcoiners, is an idealist. “If you’re out in a field in Africa or if you’re a researcher in Antarctica, you should be able to have just as much access to Bitcoin as someone in the better-wired portion of the world,” he says.

Photo by Aaron Parecki / CC

My Smart Phone Freedom Trilogy

neo900-660x4011

I did a few articles for Wired that sort of form a trilogy. The last, which was published today, actually works best as the starting point:

The Place Where Android Thrives Outside of Google’s Control

The Quest to Build a Truly Free Version of Android

The German Plot to Give You Complete Control of Your Phone

See also: Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Al Billings

Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Hermetic.com. Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.

Continue reading

Samsung Releases Source Code for Eye Controlled Mouse Pointer

The Verge on the eyeWriter inspired EyeCan from Samsung:

While controlling a mouse pointer with your eye isn’t brand-new technology, Samsung’s taking steps to get it in the hands of as many people as possible by open-sourcing its eyeCan technology. EyeCan was developed by five members of Samsung’s Creativity Lab, and was built with the purpose of helping those who are paralyzed from a disease like ALS control a computer through eye tracking. They’ve been testing it and posting videos of it in use on YouTube over the last few months (not surprisingly, one of those videos showed off a game of Angry Birds) and now the team is ready to release the software and documentation behind it for anyone to develop their own solution.

The Verge: Samsung releases source code for eyeCan, an eye-controlled mouse for the disabled

See also:

A Brain–Computer Interface Allows Paralyzed Patients to Play Music with Brainpower Alone

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