BitTorrent Reconsidered

shirt

This past weekend I was wearing an old BitTorrent t-shirt that has printed on the back: "Give and ye Shall receive." While waiting in a store checkout line, a man behind me said, "BitTorrent? Are you a software pirate?"

To many people, BitTorrent is still synonymous with piracy. BitTorrent was and probably used for some questionable and illegal file transfers, but it’s also being used for many legitimate tasks.

A programmer, Bram Cohen, designed the protocol and released the first available version in July 2001, and it quickly became the preferred way to share large files, especially movies. In the public mind, it is blurred together with other file sharing programs like Napster, which was used to share music (mp3) files.

animationLike HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. People were sharing pirated files of all kinds before BitTorrent using anonymous peer-to-peer networks, but this new protocol made it much faster and more efficient. 

The BitTorrent protocol uses client computers to share individual piece of the file. After the initial pieces transfer from the seed, the pieces are individually transferred from client to client and that original seeder only needs to send out one copy of the file for all the clients to receive a copy.

BitTorrent Sync is a use that is comparable to Dropbox, a popular file sharing system. But unlike Dropbox, Sync doesn’t store your files in a centralized server online. It syncs them between computers you own or computers your friends own. It allows easy file sharing and you can sync an unlimited number of files as long as you have the space on your computers for them. (Dropbox offers that extra space, which many of us need.)

The most recent version of BitTorrent was released in 2013 and BitTorrent clients are available for a variety of computing platforms and operating systems including an official client released by BitTorrent, Inc.

What are some of the current legal uses? 

Some game companies use it for game updates and downloads. For example, Blizzard Entertainment uses its own BitTorrent client to download World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Diablo III. When you legally purchase one of these games and download it, you’re downloading a BitTorrent client that does it and the game’s launcher automatically downloads updates for you.

Facebook uses the BitTorrent protocol for propagating large files over a large number of different servers.

It also has educational users. Florida State University uses BitTorrent to distribute large scientific data sets to its researchers. Many universities that have BOINC distributed computing projects have used the BitTorrent functionality of the client-server system to reduce the bandwidth costs of distributing the client-side applications used to process the scientific data. The developing Human Connectome Project uses BitTorrent. 

The popular Internet Archive uses the protocol to make its public domain content downloadable.

In 2010, the UK government released several large data sets showing how public money was being spent that were offered via BitTorrent to save on bandwidth costs and speed the process.

NASA has also used BitTorrent to make a 2.9GB picture of the Earth available.

Like Napster, which rebranded and reinented itself after all the lawsuits into a "legitimate" music service, the official BitTorrent website has a list of “bundles” of music and videos. Artists make them freely available to hook fans, just as radio was once used to provide free music to large audiences in hopes that they’ll attend live shows and buy albums.

If we got rid of BitTorrent, another similar protocol would need to emerge. 

The GIF Story

FOXThe GIF is a file in the Graphics Interchange Format, a bitmap image format. Some people pronounce the abbreviation with a "G" sound (like gift without the t) and other use a "J" sound (like JIFfy). It was developed by US-based software writer Steve Wilhite while working at the internet service provider CompuServe in 1987. (He used the G sound.) Since then, it has gone into widespread usage due to its wide support and portability.
Originally, CompuServe wanted a lightweight color image format to replace their black and white only run-length encoding (RLE) format. The GIF had color and LZW data compression which allowed larger images to download faster. This being a time of very slow modem connections, it was common to see a big or detailed image appear line by line as you watched it load.
CompuServe released an enhanced version in 1989 (called 89a) which added support for animation delays, transparent background colors, and metadata. 
It wasn't until September 1995 when the early and very popular web browser Netscape Navigator 2.0 added animated GIF support that the animated GIF became popular. Perhaps, too popular, as early websites often featured many animated logos and decorative (and annoying) images.
In 2012, the American wing of the Oxford University Press recognized GIF as a verb as well, meaning "to create a GIF file", and they voted it their word of the year, saying that GIFs have evolved into "a tool with serious applications including research and journalism."
Today GIFs are often used to illustrate simple processes and also as mini-movie clips (although they are not true video files).

myosin
Molecules of the protein myosin dragging a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex which produces feelings of happiness. via paradelle.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/what-happiness-looks-like/
 
 

The Dark Side

dark side
The dark side - it sounds so evil. Darth Vader and "The Force" used for the wrong things. Online there are a number of "dark" places: darknet, dark web, black web, and black net. And then there is the deep web, which is often associated with (and confused with) these other dark places.
The deep web is all of the information stored online that is not indexed by search engines. You probably use Google for search, but it only indexes a fraction of the Internet. Some estimates say that the web contains 500 times more content than what Google returns in search results.
The results you get when you do a search on Google and other search engines dome from the “surface web.” The results that you're not getting returned would be from the “deep web” or “invisible web”.
Are those things hidden because they are evil or illegal. Actually, much of it hidden for less dramatic reason. Some of it probably would not be relevant to most searchers, or it's old and outdated. A lot of it is in databases that Google is either not interested in indexing or barred from accessing. That is sometimes good for our privacy. You wouldn't want Google to be indexing your phone apps, the files in your Dropbox account, or your social media accounts. Other places, like subscription academic journals and court records are also deeper in the web than search engine can or want to go.
Actually, Google has a separate search engine called deeperweb.com. Give it a try. Search for yourself or some "deep" subject. It doesn't really go deep into the dark and scary Net. Reading their tutorial, you find that DeeperWeb is their metasearch engine that employs tag cloud techniques for navigating through regular Google search results and using Topic Map methods gives results relevant to a specific topic.   
A lot of social media shares occur in what some people call “dark social” which comes from the “dark web” but it might be better called "deep social." 
The dark web is different from the deep web. This darker side is is only accessible by means of special software. Many people using that software to search want to remain anonymous or untraceable. That does sound a bit evil - and it might be. Although someone might be searching anonymously because they would be embarrassed by their search being discovered, someone else could be trying to avoid law enforcement. These darknets form a small part of the larger deep web.
Dark web sites are also where narcotics, firearms, and stolen credit card numbers are bought and sold. They are sites that get shut down sometimes because someone uses them to search for hitmen or share pornography or something else illegal.
But it is not all evil. Journalists and whistleblowers use it to exchange sensitive information. Depending on how you view someone like Edward Snowden, this usage is either treasonous or heroic.
The most common way to access this darknet network made up of servers scattered around the world is through something like Tor. The name is short for The Onion Router (Darknet website URLs often end with .onion rather than .com or .org.) The Tor browser relays traffic through encrypted connections and all the traffic bounces between relays located around the world, making the user "anonymous."
Before you decide to go over to the dark side, know that although your ISP and the government might not be able to view your activity when on the Tor Network, they do know you are on the Tor Network. As this guide to the deep and dark web notes, "that alone is enough to raise eyebrows. In fact, a recent judgment by the US Supreme Court denoted that simply using Tor was sufficient probable cause for the FBI to search and seize any computer around the world."
Many Tor users add a further layer of security via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But I use VPN provided by my university in order to connect to the their network from off-campus using my own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have secure access to the university's network resources from anywhere at anytime. Every tool can be used for good and evil. 

Is a Blockchain Coming to Campus?

blocks
updatedBlockchain is the backbone of Bitcoin. It's a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. I suspect many of you reading this have not heard about it. Those of you that have learned about it probably don't see an immediate connection to education. 
I see it defined as a public ledger of transactions. It is comprised of a peer-to-peer network, and a decentralized, distributed database. It requires a more complicated definition than I want to get into here but  that distributed database provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. That is the part that makes Bitcoin work and it would obviously be very attractive to financial users. 
The "block" aggregates a time-stamped batch of transactions to be included in the chain/ledger. Each block has a cryptographic signature. These blocks are also all back-linked. They reference the signature of all the previous blocks in the chain. The claim is that the blockchain contains an uneditable record of all the transactions made.
Another author writing about the financial sector says that "Blockchains are new technology layers that rewire the Internet and threaten to side-step older legacy constructs and centrally served businesses. At its core, a blockchain injects trust into the network, cutting off some intermediaries from serving that function and creatively disrupting how they operate. Metaphorically, blockchains are the ultimate non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, and offer an incredible amount of resiliency, making them dependable and attractive for running a new generation of decentralized services and software applications."
Some education writers, like Audrey Watters, have connected it to education. The most obvious connections are in recordkeeping for courses, credits, tuition and personal information. Authenticating the individual and the learning is important, but imagine using it globally across many school and non-academic providers. This is digital badging but at a much more secure and sophisticated level. MIT Media Lab announced last year that it was developing software to issue digital certificates on the Bitcoin Blockchain. One developer of this technology for secure sharing of academic records is Sony Global Education.
This is not pedagogy. It won't change how you teach a course. It will change what happens to the students in your classes and so may change the kind of student you have in your classes.  
"Learning Is Earning" was presented by Jane McGonigal at SXSW 2016. She introduced "Edublocks” which would be units of hours of learning written to a blockchain and like Bitcoins can be used to pay for the next learning opportunity. Not all of us are enamored of the credit hour, but I like the authentication aspect. Mentor someone, get paid and use that to pay down your student loan. Acquire new skills and that goes on your learning chain.
Probably, we are going to see blockchain used in places like the financial and healthcare sector and even sharing economy businesses, like Airbnb, before it is in your school's administration offices.
For further reading, check out the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Don also has a series of videos on blockchain online too.

updatedEDUCAUSE has published "The Blockchain Revolution and Higher Education" by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott (3/13/17)

"Why not be leaders for a new paradigm? The blockchain provides a rich, secure, and transparent platform on which to create a global network for higher learning. We believe that higher education works best when it works for all types of teaching and learning, and we believe that this new platform is an engine of inclusion. Let’s use the emerging Internet of value and the blockchain revolution to recapture our identities and endow them with our detailed and real-time records of learning. Perhaps then we can finally reinvent the past model of pedagogy and transform the architecture of higher education for the future generation of lifelong learners."

Is There Really a World Education Day Conference?

empty roomI am seeing an increasing number of fraud meeting and conference announcements being distributed by e-mails and posts, and articles with warnings about them.

Why would someone create a phony event? Apparently, the scam is to get academics to pay registration fees, often with the added phishing bait of offering you a speaking slot.

Adam Ruben is one academic who almost fell for a scam conference and reported it online.  He writes:

"It was a proud moment for me as a scientist. A few years ago, on a random Tuesday morning, I opened my laptop and found an email inviting me to speak at an international scientific conference in Dalian, China.

“Wow!” I thought. “Someone has heard about my work! I’ve never been to China! This will be a life-changing, career-benefiting experience!”

I was so excited that I showed my colleague at the next desk. “Look!” I said. “I’ve been invited to speak in China!”

Without saying anything, she quickly searched her own email. The result was a whole “Deleted Files” folder full of invitations for her to speak at international conferences.

“These are like junk mail,” she explained. “I get these every day. I think a lot of scientists do.”


I received the same email (from "Miranda") recently. It said it was a follow-up, but it was the first email I received.

It announced that the World Education Day-2017 (WED-2017), with a theme of “Inheritance, Innovation, Development, and Philanthropy” would be held during September 27-29, 2017 in Dalian, China.

It wasn't just an event flyer, it asked me to be "the chair/speaker for Block 1: Educational Leadership Forums: Higher Education." 

They must really respect my breadth of knowledge because Miranda said that if the suggested thematic session is not my "current focused core" then I could just "look through the whole sessions and transfer another one that fit your interest." 

So, is this a real conference?

It is hard to tell. The have a website. If you do a search, it comes up at the top of the results.  It lists speakers with impressive credentials. Does that make it any more real or legitimate?

The site is worldeduday.org (no hotlink from me - why give them more traffic).

Even if the conference is actually going to happen, you have to question the way they solicit speakers. Call for proposals? Skip that - call for acceptances.


Take a Holiday Break and Pay It Forward

Google Santa Tracker village

I'll be taking a break from Serendipity35 until 2017 as the university closes up for the holidays. The kids all finished their exams and are tucking in for a winter nap until the new semester starts in January. Though that semester is called "spring," it will be quite cold when we return to educating here in New Jersey.

In the meantime, you can use the Google Santa Tracker or the old reliable NORAD Tracks Santa websites to play and follow Mr. Claus on his global travels. Pay it forward is an expression for describing the act that when you are the beneficiary of a good deed, you repay it to others (forward) rather than back to the person who did you the good deed. A lot of people learned about it via the book or the movie with that title, but the concept is much old, and owes something to Lily Hardy Hammond's book In the Garden of Delight.

Here are some charities I can recommend if this reminds you at year's end about those with greater needs than our own and less resources to deal with those needs. 

Smile Train is an organization whose site can break your heart with photos of kids with cleft lip and palate issues in developing countries. They cannot eat or speak properly, won't be allowed to attend school or hold a job and face very difficult lives. A donation of any amount is appreciated and $250 provides for the 45 minute medical procedure that will change a child's life.

One year I chose providing clean water as my focus. It's something we really take for granted in the U.S. More than 1 in 6 people in the world don't have access to safe drinking water and 1 out of every 4 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. There are a number of organizations that work to provide clean water for people and can even fund a well for an entire village. Here are 3 groups that you can consider: http://www.charitywater.org , http://watercharity.org/ and http://thewaterproject.org

Another year I decided to support charities that help our service members and their families.

Get Involved with Joining Forces

OurMilitary.mil: Community Support for our Military

United We Serve

National Resource Directory   


My wife selected the Michael J. Fox Foundation several years ago when two friends of ours were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This foundation has an aggressively funded research agenda for ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.





From myself and Brother Tim at Serendipity35, we wish you a very happy and healthy launch into your dance around the Sun in 2017!