Links to read - January 19, 2016
This week, my favourite articles were about Bitcoin, Tor hidden services, capturing El Chapo...and venture funding. I hope that you enjoy reading them and that you learn as much as I did.
I am a huge fan of Tor. Armed with Tor, people in repressive regimes can use the open web and access uncensored news reports. Activists can coordinate their activities via Tor. And people who are simply concerned about having greedy marketers track their every move can use Tor to obfuscate their online activities. But, hidden services have always been tough for me to defend. The dark web seems mostly inhabited by criminals and sadly, when you ask the average person about Tor, they tend to mention the Silk Road fairly quickly in the conversation.
SecureDrop is one example of a useful hidden service. Armed with SecureDrop, journalists and their sources can communicate in private and share documents. But outside of that, things get a little dicey. But, here is a relatively mainstream publication publishing its entire content as a Tor Hidden Service! At worst, this is an incredible boon for those of us who traditionally struggle to answer why the dark web should not be banned!! :)
This particular article is extra useful though for it gives a wonderful introduction to both using Tor and running a hidden service. For that alone, Mike Tigas (the author) deserves praise!
The Wall Street Journal keeps its articles behind a paywall. If you do not, or cannot afford to subscribe, Google can help you find a way to beat the paywall!
Considering how much negativity there has been lately surrounding tech startups, this article came as a huge surprise. For all the talk about series A bubbles and a dearth of funding in Silly Valley, NYC's startup community has been doing great things.
This is not to say that everything is rosey in the tech startup scene. Some unicorns (companies with a greater than $1 billion valuation) are in for a rough 2016. Some will go the way of Gilt (which sold for $250 million after raising funds at a greater than $1 billion valuation). Others will go public at dramatically lower valuations (like Square and Box..though I am pretty sure that Ball and Round would do great). :)
Articles like this certainly add meat to the argument that smart private companies will stay private throughout 2016. Perhaps they will live off of their remaining cash reserves. Or perhaps they will grab more capital in private raises. But either way, more money flowing into tech startups is good news for everyone who either works for or with early stage technology companies. Let's hope that we have more good news in 2016!
I debated between whether I should post this article in this list, or whether I should go with the lengthier and more technical article (by Mike Hearn) that started this whole mess. In the end, I chose Fred Wilson's article. Not only is Fred Wilson an extremely entertaining writer, but this article will be easier for non-technical people to digest.
Perhaps the most interesting content this week was related to Bitcoin. For the record, I don't particularly like Bitcoin and have never owned one. To me, Bitcoin is certainly not a currency. At this point, it may be a high risk, long term investment. But in reality, I think that it is merely a way to transmit money. There is no fucking way in hell that I would ever pay $550 to write a cheque, so there is also no way that I would buy a Bitcoin.
The whole kerfuffle started when Mike Hearn, who used to be one of the core Bitcoin contributors wrote a long article on Medium about his decision to leave Bitcoin behind. Declaring Bitcoin a failed experiment, Hearn argued that the current implementation is handicapping Bitcoin. Further, he argued that the current implementation placed way too much power in the hands of too few miners.
Fred Wilson, whose company has invested in a few Bitcoin startups, makes the point that while Bitcoin is incredibly fragile, it still has the potential to completely change the world of commerce. Finally, he suspects that since crisis has a way of getting people to talk, this might be the year that we see some serious technical changes in the world of Bitcoin.
I'm still not convinced about Bitcoin, but it is technically very interesting and this fight has been fun to watch.
I have to admit that I found http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/el-chapo-speaks-20160109 absolutely gripping. Not only is Sean Penn a remarkably good writer, but the story itself was full of more suspense than just about any fiction that I have read in the last few years. And philosophically, the article cast light on an interesting question - what is the point of 'the war on drugs' when arresting someone as big as El Chapo will have absolutely no impact on the supply of drugs?
This article however, tells a different story. How did humiliated Mexican officials re-capture El Chapo? In this case, they captured him through a blend of strong surveillance, a good investigation and an extreme amount of violence.
Thing is though, the overwhelming question remains. El Chapo is back in jail, but will this have any impact on the global drug trade? Will drug addiction and the cycle of poverty it starts be curbed as a result of all of these lives lost? Or will another drug dealer step up into infamy?