How Cryptocurrency is Changing the World of Finance, Investment and Digital Purchasing Power

IMG_3142A hidden currency, a currency outside the touch and reach of governments or the major banks of the world. A currency in the hands of the people and not institutions with agendas. This has been the trademark catchphrase of the Bitcoin for most of its existence since 2009 when it made its debut. However, the Bitcoin and its offshoots have emerged as the major threat as of late to traditional money and investment.

You may have heard that investing in Bitcoins is the new trend or fad these days. After years of being translucent and ignored by lenders, investors and the market in general – outside those wanting to make anonymous purchases on places such as the Dark Web, hackers and a niche community of users who believed in the concept of such currency – the Bitcoin has emerged as the hottest investment of recent times.

Those who invested in the Bitcoin during the last few years and did not sell their assets won big, really big. Some have become rich men literally over night. When the market opened up to the blockchain and the value soared, Bitcoin was finally talked about and got the recognition it has deserved.

“Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database. This is a way of using the network that has obvious benefits. The blockchain database isn’t stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly public and easily verifiable. No centralized version of this information exists for a hacker to corrupt. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to anyone on the internet.”

This has really caused the Bitcoin to transfer itself from the wild west of online hacking, gambling and shady investment into a legitimate, reliable and held in a public database currency. It has transformed it into something worth taking note by the major players in the world of investment and caused prices to spike until revcently.

However, what many didn’t know until recently and until they started investing themselves, Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency on the market. There are also Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash and Ethereum as options for purchase among many other cryptos. The cost of the Bitcoin right now rises high above the rest, but this raises an aspect of speculation whether some of these up-and-coming cryptocurrencies may be a better investment for the future.

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Will it bottom out? Or will it continue to rise exponentially and annually, despite fluctuations? This question is often raised by the media and analysts. Some predict due to the recent volatility and even prices lowering at the end of December by quite a bit when compared to previous months, the Bitcoin will just continue to stumble. However, the last week or so proved otherwise as it is rising at a slow albeit steady pace. The same for most of the competing options, especially Ethereum, which has been picking up pace this past week with price spikes.

The amazing thing about cryptocurrency and the thing that makes such currency stand out from other liquid assets is that it is not government regulated nor is it backed by a standard such as gold. It is mined through complicated algorithms where there is a finite supply of digital coins possible. This has caused controversy and speculation on how real or liquid such currency is and what are its long-term prospects. This is especially true as government or other regulations come into play.

Right now, Bitcoins are priced astronomically high at $14,970.36 for a single coin as of this writing. So if investors or dibbling hobbyists want to make a purchase they would really have to commit an investment for a coin. However, with options such as the Coinbase app available on mobile devices as well as desktop browsers to purchase, transfer and sell cryptocurrencies, investors can purchase a small fraction of a coin and see that number grow in real time.

IMG_3144The great thing about it is that anyone can make a purchase with a valid form of ID and payment method, such as a credit card. Anyone can also sell these coins at a whim as they fluctuate in prices. Coinbase offers purchasing options across various cryptocurrancy wallets — Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Ethereum. So investors and prospective buyers can choose to spread their investments out as they see fit.

However, there are other cryptocurrencies out there and digital currencies that aren’t part of the app and will require separate purchases, such as Ripple (XRP). A cryptocurrency that also saw huge strides for some months, but also had a recent “crash”period not unlike Bitcoin. Of course, as investment rises and foreign markets are stabilized, it should start to go back up in value.

Right now it is still too early to tell if Bitcoin is just a fad that got some rich within a year and will not continue to fluctuate upward at such or even close to what happened during 2017 where Bitcoin prices spiked by as much as 900%.The same can be said for any cryptocurrency. However, interest and public knowledge now is higher than ever, which should mean more investment, thus higher yields and growth in the future. Only time will tell for sure.

We can analyze and look at market trends for the Bitcoin when it comes to cryptocurrency by looking at charts shown over an annual, or longer, basis from, for instance, Coindesk’s charts:

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However, each cryptocurrency is unique and offers different value for the dollar so to speak. Coindesk focuses on Bitcoin, but those who want to go full into cryptocurrency investment need to see the whole picture before making an investment and see how they want to divide their money, or go all in on one of the currencies. By some analysists, and looking at the data from a sound perspective, Ethereum may be the big ticket for 2018, and not without reason. It has continued to climb in price despite competitors slipping or being much more volatile since the beginning of the year and really end of last year.

What makes this so hard to follow and predict is that these cyrptocurrencies fluctuate literally on a hourly, or even minute basis. You can look at your Coinbase app prices chart and see a decline in some of the currencies and 15 minutes later you will see a positive outlook again. The only sure bet as of late is really Ethereum. Although, as previously mentioned, Bitcoins were the ticket last year and years previously as the currency just toppled investment charts with unprecedented hikes.

Will all currencies start going up once again, or will some stay volatile and others take their place this year (such as Ethereum)? We will never know and can only go by market trends, our gut instinct, and what analysists predict. As foreign markets, such as China’s exchanges, can determine things totally out of our control at any given time.

Here are some of my own small investments into a few cryptocurrencies available:

 

New art postscript added related to the Bitcoin. This was all done in Illustrator and part of my learning process of Vector art:

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Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything in Tech

What was once laughed at as an impossibility by the mainstream scientific community has been proven to be no joke by the tech community and nerds who always knew it was coming. Artificial Intelligence is a topic that has truly come alive as of late with so much press focusing on the emerging tech and how it is affecting so many industries right now.

AI right now, in today’s computing and networking climate, is basically using computing systems to analyse and itnerprete data while making our lives easier. It creates situations for automation and preference that cannot be done with standard applications or software.

You may remember me recently talking about current chatbot technology and writing about how it is leveraging AI to create customer service bots, which can interpret natural language to a degree. Well, chatbots are just one of many exmaples of AI being utilized to improve existing frameworks and applications. AI can learn habits or traits from individual users and apply this for all sorts of purposes: from marketing to users having the perfect coffee or breakfast served to them in the morning.

A’sI Purpose is Multifold Yet Profound

I just read an article, titled “Competing In The Age OF Artificial Intelligence” by BCG, that truly made me realize how fast we have advanced since SIRI, Watson, and other happenings were just becoming noticed a few years ago. We have a long ways to go that is something that isn’t disputed, but we have a technology revolution underway that is changing the way people interact with the Web, computers, and technology in general.

“AI is swiftly becoming the foundational technology in areas as diverse as self-driving cars and financial trading,” according to BCG, “… AI programs, for example, have diagnosed specific cancers more accurately than radiologists.”

There are many other benefits of AI however than looking at market trades or allowing driverless-cars to be able to recognize traffic patterns and drive more safely than human drivers. Let me mention some other examples of AI where I have seen it utilized beautifully.

Machine learning algorithms (thus AI in a nutshell) are allowing us to translate text from different languages with speech recognition that improves over time as it analyzes user data; household appliances from refrigerators to our entire lighting systems in our homes are being coordinated with AI systems or even relying on AI algorithms to learn our set up preferences; and Google search is continually using AI to make finding our information so much easier than years past where we can input a question and get an answer as well as the top most useful search results in seconds. These are just some examples of AI today, but the machine learning algorithms are also paving the way in enterprises and B2B apps where sensitive data is paramount.

Still Long Ways to Go

The big hurdles are that AI still cannot interprete natural speech or natural language correctly and it still makes mistakes. Software such as Google Translate or the mobile iTranslate app I often use, more often than not translate phrases word for word instead of analysing the context and beinmg able to interprete colloquiolisms or everyday speech correctly. Google’s AI can make similar mistakes with search. Siri and other AI systems also often do not hear the user correctly or interprete speech differently than what a regular person would interprete sitting next to the user. However, we are just in the infancy of AI and this form of computing will only get better and more analytical over time.

It is possible today due to technologies such as big data analytics, cloud computing. Server farms running public and private clouds are offering companies endless possibilities in leveraging computing and storage hardware. Thus they can levarge all this computing power for AI and a system that has endless data in its fingertips for analytics and insight that it can use to aid users.

Potential for Mischief?

The interesting thing about AI is just how many industries it has the potential of penetrating. It also raises the question of criminals or thieves can leverage it for their purposes. I remember watching a movie called Pi, which was a very interesting film shot in black and white despite coming out in 1998, about a mathmatician who found patterns in nature and cracked the stock market pattern.

IF AI can be levaraged for such purposes, or to be able to offer insider trading potential on things like the Bitcoin, it could truly become a black sheep in the tech world rather than something celebrated. But like TOR, and many technologies today, it really depends on how user sutilize the tech and it shouldn’t be judged for one purpose or another, but taken as a tech that has benefits for us all. If someone can use it for shady purposes, someone else can use it for positive gains such as NASA navigation into space by drones and robotics.

We are living in a world where there are endless potentials in AI systems that have only just begun to be realized. The next 10 years will truly show how far AI can take us as many traditional industries and jobs may dissapear such as translation services, remote PC diagnostics, and even some journalistic content due to AI doing the lifting rather than humans. Even poetry and art isn’t beyond the bounds of AI.

IBM Paving a Way of Paradigm

IBM’s Watson is an AI system that has truly showcased the power of machine learning when a supercomputer, called Big Blue running on the Watson AI system, defeated a world champion in chess. It is much more than just a platform to test human potential against however. Watson is being levaraged by many tech firms and start ups today for software and continues to make strides in all aspects of computing. An example of how it is levaraged today can be read on IBM’s website.

Watson is helping marketing companies in advertising for potential clients using AI to reduce costs and improve decision making. The right data, media and cognitive technology is interpeted by Watson to target customers and anticipate their needs.

“Watson Advertising includes four AI-powered technology solutions: IBM Marketing Planner with Lucy, IBM Bidding Optimization, IBM Audience Targeting, and Watson Ads.”

AI is also becoming synonymous with the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, Watson is often called Watson IoT because of how it is being utilized this way. IoT is allowing all sorts of regular objects to become connected and levaraged with things such as ovens that cook just the right ammount of time under the right temperature depending on the meat or needs of the user.

Whether you run or represent an enterprise, a small businesses, or run a start up, you probably are using some sort of machine learning algorithm in your workload. This will only continue to improve over time and when things such as Quantum Computing become a reality than we will truly be in wonderland or living in Synet’s domain.

If you want more of my thoughts and input on this subject, I’ve written a guest blogging article on it here.

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Created using Art Studio for iPad by Mike Lata

How to Remain Relatively Anonymous on the iPad

 

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The iPad as many of you may know is my tool of choice when doing almost anything online except playing hardcore PC games, but this is slowly changing (despite iPad gaming almost taking my whole time, I still use my Boot-Camped iMac for this purpose and also own a Macbook Air). I designed this site as a way to celebrate the iPad and although it has had its ups and downs, it truly is becoming a new standard of computing for at least a certain group of uses: those who want simple to use, fun, highly portable, comfortable and in terms of software budget-friendly piece of hardware for their wide variety of computing usage.

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I always thought the Mac, much more so than the PC, was the operating system of choice for those who want a secure, virus-free, and privacy-protected environment. After all, Apple keeps it updated constantly and it comes with a firewall, various options of shredding or securely deleting content (less so on SSD drives) and no registries for every installed app/program, unlike Windows.

This makes it more secure, anonymous and private than Windows, but how does it compare to its mobile cousin, the iPad, relying on iOS? Well, a few years ago, I don’t remember seeing much privacy options on the iPad, particularly when it made its debut. VPN was seen as a premium service for business users then rather than something a mobile device user would even consider. This has all changed now with the advent of Wikileaks, government surveillance and big brother concerns.

The iPad is actually has a pretty good variety of VPN services on the app store and now with the latest iOS versions, they are easy to set up and can become part of device settings and automation. Once you enable the service, you just go to settings on your device and click the on tab under VPN. It is that simple. Before, as in some hears before when I first started learning about VPN, and in older versions of iOS, I do not recall this ease of use. In fact, I actually remember giving up on trying to even use VPN on the iPad.

One free VPN service you can download from the App Store in the form of an app is VPN Proxy Master. It comes with the benefit of a premium license for an additional fee (you can choose from a month up front all the way to an annual upfront payment). This is mostly for those of us who want more servers to choose from, but not much more of a reason to shell out the dough. The app has mixed reviews on the Web, but one thing they all say: it is anonymous and secure.

This is because VPN Proxy Master keeps no logs. So you can safely connect across its wide variety of servers ranging from New York to France or Singapore. No matter what you do online once it is connected, as long as you are safe and stay connected, the app will protect your anonymity and the ip address will be showing only from the servers you connect from. Whatever activity you conduct online will not be logged or recorded by the company, so even governments won’t know what you have been up to; this is great particularly if you travel to the Middle East or China and want to surf the Web from those countries.

The app is also useful for connecting to Web sites that restrict access to regions and tricking them into giving you access to the site or service’s content from that region of the server you choose to connect to. For instance, telecommuting jobs may only be available for sign up from a particular region. This way, you can at least check out those jobs and the salaries they offer without traveling all the way to the location they require.

Another benefit is that apps like Netflix are region based and if you travel somewhere, you may not have access to your account and be able to use it freely. Though if you trick Netflix or the app that you are still in your former region, from which you usually log in from, then you can comfortable continue watching Netflix or using a similar service.

These are just some examples of why using VPN makes sense and is a great option to have. However, another great reason for VPN is security. When you connect over public hotspots, such as a coffee shop’s, you are at risk for data snooping. With VPN, this risk is minimized as it really offers a secure and tunneled connection over the public hotspot.

With all these reasons to use VPN, what are its downsides you may ask? and what are the downsides of the iPad offerings? Well, VPN usually slows down your connection and many of the free options on the iPad, such as VPN Proxy Master, slow your connection down by quite a bit. Usually Proxy Master only offers a few servers with green bars indicating stable and low-latency connections at any given time — a reason to upgrade to the premium version if you have the dough to spare.

One of the complaints you hear about VPN Proxy Master, whether it is the desktop variant or the one on mobile, is that it only offers connectivity to its server database from one device at a time. For me this isn’t an issue as I usually use one device at a time and live alone, but for those of you where this may prove to be problematic, look for other (premium) VPN solutions on the App Store.

Proxy Master also has a weak customer service, but again for me this isn’t an issue as if I ever need customer service I probably will use a different app. One thing that does bug me a bit, however, are its obtrusive ads. Luckily, they do not last more than five seconds.

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VPN Proxy Master just works for me and it’s free. It also connects pretty quickly from the iPad’s settings or from within the app itself as you choose a server from a list. The server list first shown are for the premium offerings, but you can click on the right tab for the free list.

VPN is just one layer of security with many others also needed for a full security package. I may go i to further details later on this, but know that if you combine VPN Proxy Master or another logless service with ProtonMail  (esp through its TOR gateway as that is more sacure than going to Proton from a regular browser and VPN/TOR) and even with some of the TOR browsers, you can truly feel secure when relying on the tablet, for sensitive information, as well as anonymous.

The iPad is no more seen as just a toy or a content consumption device. People do some serious work and even reporting or coverage around the world from it where remaining anonymous and private could mean the difference between life and death. Reporters write journalism articles from it. artists sketch and layer works of art using the iPad Pro’s pencil stylus. Teachers and lecturers show presentations using its various power point presentation apps. And tellers use it to store customer data as well as a cash register. All of these reasons means security and anonymity are great things to have in todays digitally sensitive age.

Please note that there are many other options for VPN on the App Store. There is even a browser called Aloha where you can get VPN directly built into its structure, and also comes with a free option. However, I really like Proxy Master’s anonymity of no data logs and ease of use on the iPad. I also like the fact that Proxy Master tunnels all your Web traffic not just browsing like Aloha. This means you can use it over chat or messengers to name a few services.

Please note that I am no expert on Web security or anonymity, these are just some of the tools I use personally, but there is much more to it to truly remain secure. For instance, you should make sure you are using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) with HTTPS (with TLS 1.2) for websites you visit even with TOR or VPN or a combination of both. You also should have Javascript disabled for many sites.