Category Archives: Investigate

Cycling in London: how is it going?

Cover photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash.

“It’s as easy as riding a bike” is a common phrase used to say that, well, something is easy. But just how easy is it to do it in London, one of the most congested cities in the world? Transport for London’s 2017 Analysis estimated that 730,000 journeys are made daily with bicycles in the capital.

The Mayor of London recently announced a commitment of an average of £169m per year over the next five years to improve London’s cycling conditions, contributing to its target of 70 per cent of Londoners living within 400m of the cycle network by 2041.

Cyclists and campaign groups, however, want more than that. Yes, appropriate infrastructure is needed, but that also requires a transition of established societal and institutional ways. A study done by the Portland State University showed that changing cycling infrastructure won’t change culture.

Having blue lanes segregated from cars and other motorised vehicles won’t do anything if people don’t know how to use them. Bruce Lynn, from the London Cycling Campaign, says the infrastructure is there but people won’t use it.

There are bigger issues TfL and the Mayor of London have to consider to make cycling a possibility for every Londoner. Today, there is a common idea of the typical cyclist in London: young white men, environmentally-friendly and mostly liberal. This is supported by various studies that argue people who don’t identify as any of the above, feel less inclined to try cycling.

Who is cycling today

Who is cycling in london today_

Graphics by author

In TfL’s 2016 report, the fact that people are highly against changing their routines was assumed to be one of the main reasons they don’t try it. Their 2015 Attitudes towards cycling report also showed that safety concerns, fear of collisions, too much traffic, bad weather, lack of time, health reasons and lack of confidence and accessibility are some of the most common deterrents that put Londoners off using bikes.

Just last Saturday, around 4,000 riders took the streets of London for the #BikesUpKnivesDown demonstration led by the #BikeStormz movement to raise awareness to the rise of knife crime and murder rates in the city. They rode from London Bridge to Oxford Street in one of the biggest youth-led rides against knife crime, showing that the use of bikes has turned their lives around.

Current cycling network

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Central London’s cycling paths mapped by Route Plan Roll.

The current cycling network is made up of quietways and cycle superhighways for the most part. TfL defines them as “cycle routes running from outer London into and across central London. They give you safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city and could be your best and quickest way to get to work.”

Existing ones go from the City to Tottenham, Stratford to Aldgate, Barking to Tower Gateway, Oval to Pimlico, Merton to the City, and Wandsworth to Westminster. The east-west and north-south ones are the newest additions with proposed ones to go from Tower Bridge to Greenwich, Kensington Olympia to Brentford, and Swiss Cottage to the West End.

 

 

repared by the students from (1)

Graphic by author

 

Safety

Safety concerns is probably what discourages people from riding the most. A study done recently by Cambridge academics found that changes in behaviour and policies is what is needed to keep the system moving, and tackle these concerns. A change in work hours, in the number of cycleways and docking stations, and in how people cycle together are factors that will contribute to that.

Another study done by Injury Prevention found that the more number of cyclists and pedestrians, the less likely motorists are to collide with them. This is partly because they are more visible, but also because the so called “safety in numbers” makes riders feel more comfortable.

14.6 per cent of casualties in Greater London while travelling were of cyclists in 2016, according to TfL. However, only eight, out of 4,424, were fatal, a decrease of 11 per cent from the year before. It certainly shows how, compared to the car, the transport mode responsible for 39.3 per cent of the casualties, cycling is less likely to get people injured. The study by Cambridge academics, however, also points out that an increase in cycling traffic also means an increased risk for cycle coalitions.

Not every rider has the same experience levels, specially in urban area conditions. ‘Bikeability’ is something most of the campaign groups advocate for, because they know that is where it starts. The London Cycling Campaign offers free ‘bikeability’ training to anyone interested and the have regular group sessions. Everyone, not only cyclists, should know how to share a public road.

How is London doing compared to the rest of the world?

 

Not good. It isn’t even on the top 20 of bike-friendly cities in the world. Infrastructure, safety and diversity (or lack of) are some of the reasons why the British capital is not considered in the 2017 Copenhagenize Design Company Index.

Tokyo, Munich, Helsinki and Oslo are new to the list because they have worked to fix issues that didn’t allow their cycling levels to grow. Closing the center to private cars, bike sharing systems, growth of network, parking facilities, and the creation of the Cycling Embassy (Tokio) and the Cycling Federation (Helsinki) are some of the things that are on place in this cities to improve the levels of cycling urbanism.

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As much as it is common thinking that more and better infrastructure will make London a top bike-friendly city, if Londoners don’t learn (or don’t want to learn) about ‘bikeability’ and cycling urbanism, the city won’t see any major changes in the years to come. The Mayor of London is committed to increase the use of bicycles in the city as it has been demonstrated that not only will it help with air pollution, but will also provide better quality public spaces.

 

Does a perfect success formula exist for Music Industry?

What do Justin Bieber, Zayn Malik and Adele have in common? They are what every musician dreams to be like one day. Fame, success, power, money and music, they are the complete golden package.

Every year the Music industry sees many new artists flock from all over the world in hope to score their one sweet chance to be the next musical sensation. Some of them grow up listening music and dream of becoming like their idols, some wish to live the life of fame and have their moment in limelight, some feel it is their calling because music is the way they want to express their life’s story. They spend most of their life training for music, learning their instruments, performing, some even pursue music in their college degrees in hopes of improving their success chances. Seven in every 10 children (69%) in the UK say that they currently play a musical instrument with adults at 74%.

And these people come in all shapes and sizes with vast diversity in their ideologies. Yet the one thing they profess that unites them is their passion, inclination and inherent talent for music.

But then why is it that when we observe the working lives of these people, only a very few manage to break big in the industry? What is the difference between the artists who become famous and those who don’t? Are they more talented? Or did they have any special connections that most don’t? Or were they just plain-and-simple lucky?

The answer is as simple as it is frustrating, for all of the above reasons are true, but one. For people who do manage to climb their way to the top of the pyramid, being talented is a given thing. Because really without talent why would they even consider pursuing this career. This super competitive industry with more supply than demand for new musicians. It’s not like the musicians have the ‘fake it till they make it’ kind of liberties. Nowadays big record labels mostly want those artists who already have established themselves up to a certain level, who have their fan base, have already performed many gigs, and even better if they can write their own songs too. They practically want people who already have their plans figured out down to the last detail and are halfway done in executing it.

Now imagine the kind of distress a newbie but a wannabe feels when he first decides to go down this path. All the planning, making the right connections, discovering their ‘unique’ style and finding a way to sell it as ‘new and original’ to their audience, putting themselves out in the open and creating a fan base, finding the right people to help in the PR and production of their music and connecting with other artists to get a chance to perform in big gigs. So much work to do in so little time, because if we are being real, the music industry is notoriously ageist when it comes to accepting new artists. And unless you are an already established celebrity or a super-rich individual trying your hand at music, there is not much room for entry in the music industry at a ‘late’ age.

But still every year the music industry sees more and more artists coming into it. It is a huge business, with it contributing £4.4 billion to the UK’s economy as recorded in the UK Music “Measuring Music 2017” report with about 142,208 jobs sustained by the music industry. And now with the growth in the online streaming platforms, the industry is experiencing a resurgence in its profits.

And one such newbie artist, looking to make it big in this industry, is Leonard Nedelcu. There are many things that he shares with other talented musicians, like his love for romantic songs, playing the piano, penning his own songs, and being born with the looks of a superstar. But the things that make him stand out in the crowd are his deep appreciation of music by John Legend, Shawn Mendes and Sam Smith, his approach to music as his way to include the LGBTQ+ communities and share his story in a way that is relatable to all.

In this interview of his confessional musings, he shares his story, aims, and the beginning of his musical journey. He talks about how a person, a child of two economist parents gets into music, his struggles. And how despite them all he managed to create and release his first single, “Start with you”, while working on an extended playlist which he hopes to release by end of this years’ summer. All the while being a student at the University of Westminster, pursuing a Commercial Music bachelors’ degree.

Here’s a snippet of ‘Start with you’

He seems to have tapped into the ‘success formula’ of pursuing formal musical education to work on his talents, learn to create his music, find and make industry contacts and finally get discovered. It’s almost like he is trying to pull an Adele (success story) here.

You see, even though every artists’ success story is different, the basic formula of approach to things remains the same. And the six main success formulas are:

  1. Using YouTube to break big
  2. Performing at the biggest, most popular music clubs to get discovered
  3. Participating in Musical Contest show, and with any luck, winning it
  4. Becoming a part of a band, and when/if it goes big, using that exposure and experience to fuel solo act
  5. Formally studying music and training to be the best through schools
  6. Self-releasing music until discovered by big record labels or celebs to endorse music deals

Some of the very well-known celebs got their starts using these very formulas.

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Justin Bieber – the YouTube star before becoming the Global star

Like most things relating to him, even his start in music has a story. Even from a young age, Bieber had an affinity for music, and he narrates himself that when his mom gifted him his first set of drums he was “basically banging on everything I could get my hands on.” But it was an obscure talent contest in his hometown, in which the 12-year-old Bieber finished second that put him on the road to superstardom. Although, his YouTube journey did not begin with the purpose of becoming the next pop sensation. As a way to share his singing with family, Justin and his mom began posting clips of Bieber performing covers of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Ne-Yo on YouTube. And the next thing you know, Justin was an Internet sensation, with a large following of fans and an eager manager arranging for the teenager to fly to Atlanta to consider a record deal. There, Bieber had a chance meeting with Usher, who eventually signed the young singer to a contract.

Taylor Swift – from performing small gigs at the Country music capital to performing globally at her sold-out concerts

Inspired by her grandmother, a professional opera singer, Taylor Swift soon followed in her footsteps. By the age of 10, Taylor was singing at a variety of local events, including fairs and contests. She sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Philadelphia (where she lived at the time) 76ers basketball game at the age of 11, and began writing her own songs and learning guitar at 12 years old. And to further pursue her music career, Taylor often visited Nashville, Tennessee, the country music capital. There she co-wrote songs and tried to land a recording contract. Noting her dedication, Taylor and her family moved to nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee, in an attempt to further Taylor’s career. Then a stellar performance at The Bluebird Café in Nashville helped Swift score a contract with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records. She released her first single, “Tim McGraw,” in 2006, and the song went on to become one of the Top 10 hits on the country charts. It also appeared on her self-titled debut album in October in 2006, which went on to sell more than 5 million copies. With that, more popular singles soon followed, including “Our Song,” a No. 1 country music hit. “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “Picture to Burn” and “Should’ve Said No” were also successful tracks. And once she firmly established her roots in the music industry, the sky became her limit.

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04.12.18

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Zayn Malik – gone from contest show to being part of famous boy-band to finally becoming the solo music star

A triple threat of music in terms of utilizing the success formulas if you say so, he began as a teen taking performing arts courses and appearing in school productions. Then in year 2010, he auditioned for the seventh season of the reality TV music contest show The X Factor. He sang “Let Me Love You” by rhythm-and-blues vocalist Mario as his audition song and was accepted into the next round. Then he was eliminated before the final round of the competition, but judges Nicole Scherzinger and Simon Cowell grouped him with fellow competitors Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson to form a new act for the remainder of the show. And thus, the global sensational boy-band One Direction was born. They finished the competition in third place and they were immediately signed to Cowell’s Syco music label. Then came the One Direction with their first single, “What Makes You Beautiful,” which topped the pop music charts with when it was released in September 2011 in the United Kingdom. And their debut album, Up All Night, proved a best-seller in both the United Kingdom and the United States in 2012. After that Malik toured extensively with One Direction, meeting the band’s young female fans around the world. But in March 2015, Malik surprised fans by dropping out of the group’s world tour. On March 25 then, Malik announced that he was leaving One Direction for good. And soon after leaving One Direction, Malik launched his solo music career with a demo version of “I Don’t Mind,” which was leaked online by producer Naughty Boy. Then official singles followed, including “Pillowtalk” and “It’s You.”  And both of these tracks were featured on his first album, Mind of Mine, which debuted in March 2016.

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Auckland / Mt Smart Stadium / Mar 25

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Adele – the modern-day champion of classical and old-school-style music

“There was no musical heritage in our family,” Adele told The Telegraph in a 2008 interview. “Chart music was all I ever knew. So, when I listened to the Ettas and the Ellas, it sounds so cheesy, but it was like an awakening. I was like, oh, right, some people have proper longevity and are legends. I was so inspired that as a 15-year-old I was listening to music that had been made in the ’40s.” And it soon became apparent that while clearly bright, Adele wasn’t oriented towards traditional classroom settings. So, her mother enrolled her in the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology, which has the likes of Amy Winehouse as its alum. Then while she was at school, Adele cut a three-track demo for a class project that was eventually posted on her MySpace page. And when executives at XL Recordings heard the tracks, they contacted the singer and, in November 2006, just four months after Adele had graduated school, signed her to a record deal.

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Thank god for factor 50 sunscreen – photo by Nic Minns

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Ed Sheeran – from street-smart artist to king of the global music charts

Even from a very young age, Ed had been as quick and smart at learning things as he had been active at working on his dreams. He studied at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham. Then he also studied music with the help of ‘Access to Music’, a UK-based independent training provider. And he also joined the National Youth Theatre when he was a teenager. So, it was no surprise when he had started recording CDs and selling them from his teenage days. At the age of 14, he released songs ‘The Orange Room’ and also ‘Spinning Man’, both he regarded as important works of his early years. And it wasn’t long before Sheeran was recording CDs and selling them, and he soon put together his first official EP, The Orange Room. With that accomplishment and his abiding ambition driving him, at only 14 years of age, Sheeran headed to London for the summer. Thinking he could find gigs in the big city, Sheeran left home with his guitar and a backpack full of clothes, and his musical career took flight. And once in London, Sheeran got busy recording and playing the local singer/songwriter circuit and quickly released two albums: a self-titled record in 2006 and Want Some? in 2007. He also began opening for more established acts, such as Nizlopi, the Noisettes and Jay Sean and released another EP, You Need Me, in 2009, a year that found Sheeran playing more than 300 live shows. Then in 2010 Sheeran posted a video online that got the attention of Example, a rapper, and Sheeran was asked to go on the road with him as his opening act. This led to establishing an even larger online fan base and gaining inspiration for many more songs, which later ended up filling three new EPs, all in 2010. Next Sheeran headed to the U.S. that year and found a new fan in Jamie Foxx, who asked Sheeran to appear on his Sirius radio show. Soon after, in January 2011, Sheeran released yet another EP, his last as an independent artist. Without any promotion, the record reached No. 2 on the iTunes chart, and he signed on with Atlantic Records. With Atlantic, Sheeran released his major debut studio album, + (called Plus) which became an instant hit, and the album sold more than a million copies in the U.K. in the first six months alone. Then Sheeran began co-writing songs with bigger artists, such as One Direction and Taylor Swift and supported Swift on her 2013 arena tour. And quickly and steadily he became the huge global star that he is today.

 

Still out of all the artists who pursue music as their career, 95% of them fail to make a proper living out of it, let alone become huge successes (results from a survery of 200 musicians in UK). The artists we celebrate as our champions, as the main faces of the music industry are only a handful of people out of the millions that get into this industry with dreams of making it big.

And every person wanting to make a career in music looks for a success formula, but life doesn’t work that way, especially in music. For every successful artist following a set mould to enter music industry, there are thousands who failed at it. That is the harsh truth about this industry. And no amount of wishing, dreaming or googling for tips and tricks can change that. The only thing sure about a success formula is that it only works for a few people. At the end of the day, the only way one can make progress towards becoming a musical success is through genuine talent, unending hard work and determination, and with loads of luck and good timing.

What is this Siberian “Beast from East” and how did it make Britain so cold?

Why was the UK suddenly covered in heavy snow?

The blast of cold air sweeping in from Siberia to Western Europe, popularly dubbed as ‘beast from east’, is a result of a break down in jet streams over Scandinavia.

Jet streams are basically ribbons of strong, high altitude winds (upto 200mph), blowing across Atlantic west to east, that are responsible for the shifts in weather across the globe.

Jet streams naturally move either in a “wavy” irregular path or in strong-steady flow. And previous studies have shown the weather to be much cold moving south from the Artic towards the mid-latitudes, even bringing freezing temperatures when the jet streams move in a wavy path. Whereas, when jets streams move strong and steadily from west to east, winter weather conditions are milder in the countries that lie between the tropics and the Artic, including the UK.

And although there is no denying that last week’s bad winter weather has been a result of a natural shift, scientists are now linking the increasing frequencies of such weather shifts and anomalies to a larger change in global weather.

(Check out this video by Met Office on jet streams)

 

What is causing these weather anomalies across the globe?

While rest of the world is suffering from dropping degrees, scientists say temperatures have risen above freezing repeatedly at the North Pole, reaching as high as 30C above normal for the depths of winter.

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Source: Research on Arctic Temperatures by Zachary Labe

Such a radical difference (rise) in temperature in Arctic, especially in winter seasons, evidently does not bode well for the rest of the world. And the fact that these changes are in-part largely a result of man-made climate changes, makes things even more critical.

Professor Edward Hanna, of the University of Sheffield, said: “We’ve always had years with wavy and not so wavy jet stream winds, but in the last one to two decades the warming Arctic could well have been amplifying the effects of the wavy patterns.

“This may have contributed to some recent extreme cold winter spells along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in eastern Asia, and at times over the UK.”

(Read more about his research on Extreme cold winters fuelled by jet stream and climate change here.)

The lead scientist at Berkerley Earth, Robert Rohde, too pointed out recently that the North Pole is warmer than much of Europe.

And this anomaly is due to the dark retreat of sea ice in Arctic winter, resulting in temperatures above the freezing level at the meteorological site in the northern extreme of Greenland for a record-breaking 61 hours, so far in year 2018. As shown by the graph (below) from Robert Rohde’s research.

But the bigger question that comes to mind is that what is the probability of such weather conditions repeating itself? They are possibly higher than what would have been few decades ago. Especially with recent studies showing an increase in frequency of warm air intrusions, making scientists believe that the further reduction in ice sea on the Arctic Ocean will allow warmer water to release heat into the atmosphere, resulting in knock-on effects for the jet stream.

The most worrisome thing is not what is happening right now to the weather but how often this has started happening in the recent years.

This video by the Robert Rohde and the Berkerley Earth division showing how climate has changed in 168 years.

Cars and street covered with heavy snow in Central London. As the snow and cold grew, many motorways were forced to close down due to high levels of invisibility and accidents. Trains were delayed when not altogether cancelled. Even the airways suffered, with British Airways cancelling many flights from Heathrow Airport, London.

 

 

 

 

Deep into the Dark Web

Mike is an average student living in London with average problems for his age. He goes to uni every week, socialize with other students, and pay his monthly rent. At least that what was my first impression about Mike when I met him. When you are young socializing with different people is very easy. My friend David introduced me to Mike when we went to his house saying that they used to work at a construction site together, it was end of the semester, none of us was busy at that moment so we decided to buy some beers and chill. Than, after couple of bottles David and Mike thought that only alcohol was not enough, and to make the evening even better they decided by some cannabis. Personally, I more approve a healthy lifestyle, sometimes allowing myself couple of beers with my mates on a weekend. As you guessed I don’t smoke weed and never used to, however also I don’t criticize other people for their lifestyle. When I first arrived in UK I was surprised how many young students, and even sometimes middle age men and women are ok with smoking marijuana here.

 

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This is University of westminster tuition fees webpage. Overall students have to pay in average at least 8000 pounds for one year at university, and this does not even covers living spendings and accommodation fees. That is why a lot of students look for the easy access to money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cannabis and drug culture is undoubtedly became a part of the modern British society today. For instance, every one knows that student loans are barely covers university fees, that is why a lot of students in Britain have to look for the part-time jobs. However, that still doesn’t reassure many students here. London is a very expensive place, and it is very hard to find a normal job with a contract, that is why a lot of students choose drug dealing as a mean to survive in such a big city. A lot of people whom I know here pay for their rent, living costs and even sometimes university fees from selling cannabis to the same students like them at student accommodations. Mike and David were not exception. technically they are criminals according to the British law, but overall they are just normal young lads that do their assignments, hang out with other students and want to get a degree to find a good job. So, coming back to my story David was about to get a weed from the local drug dealer, but Mike said that there was no need for it and pulled from his secret compartment a small bottle with some liquid substance inside. It was dissolved cannabis in alcohol, Mike said that stuff was something that you can’t find from average drug dealer, as it is manufactured in specific place in Britain and could be bought from the dark web. I heard a lot of things about the legendary dark web and the Tor browser, bitcoins, FBI campaigns to shut it down, Wikileaks and many other dodgy things.

Mike told me that he has been using Dark web through Tor browser for two years. He said that there could be found literary anything, but most of the time he used it for purchasing drugs for the cheaper price. Mike told me that once he saw a tor website where anyone could order a murder for 10 000 dollars in a real global organization which does it. He couldn’t show me it because as he said the website went down long time ago, but there are still many other dodgy things, Mike said, that people could have easy access to. I decided to ask Mike to show me what could I see in the dark web and check everything on my own.

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Tor browser could be easily downloaded from the official Tor project website. There are versions available for any operating system: Windows, Mac and even Linux.

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There is even version available on Apple store and on Samsung play market for Android

 

Tor browser operates on the principle of “onion routing”. The data passes through several Tor’s servers, before they enter the external world through the output server. Routing between the Tor’s servers is chosen randomly, but only once at the beginning of each connection, if you want to change the chain – update the connection; Data between servers is encrypted. However, the output server by definition has access to unencrypted data sent. Tor is decentralized, and the sources are open, so if FBI, CIA or even the American government want to shot it down they won’t be able to do it as the net does not concentrated in a one place, but through millions of servers.

 

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So I downloaded Android version of the Tor browser on my phone and connected to the Dark web. The connection takes a while as it hiddens your actual IP address and replace it with the fake one. After it writes to ‘ Congratulations, you are now connected to Tor browser, your IP is 100.11.109.99. I click a green button and the browser opens and refers me to the main domain Lookonion.com. After, I have to go to the Hidden Wikipedia as what Mike told me. This is the first site where the newcomer should look. The reason in its frenzied popularity among the users, which is due to very rich content: it contains links to almost all the resources of the dark web. However, as what Mike said many links are trash as important pages are hidden deep in the net.

 

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The interface looks like an ordinary Chrome or Opera browser. It even has it’s own search engine

Here you could find anything that could put you in jail for a long time. For instance, there is a section for financial scamming where you could buy personal bank information from credit and debit cards, paypal accounts, actual debit cards registered on different names and many other things. Another section dedicated for commercial services where you could find hacking services, buy passports for every country, a tremendous amount of drug marketplaces and even websites where you can buy guns. There are also sections for the websites for volunteer freelance contribution and donations, Political advocacy and even section that leads to Wikileaks website.

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Hidden Wiki – place where it all starts.

Mike orders his cannabis drink from a website called GreendragonUK. In order to make a purchase there you have to register first. The registration process doesn’t require to put a personal email account and just asks you to write any nickname and password. Than it sends to the section where you could choose a quantity you needed. After it gives you a bitcoin wallet address or it’s bar code on which you should put required amount of money in order to a purchase be completed. Mike told me that for every transaction tor browser creates a separate bitcoin wallet account that doesn’t leave any traces that could lead to a customer or a seller. The only way to put money on a provided bitcoin money wallet you have to go to the local ATM that scans your bar code, after it you wait for the product to come on your provided adress.

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Hundreds of offers. You can find on the dark web market any type of cannabis

 

 

There are many organizations created to fight the dark web. In many countries having Tor browser on your device is illegal, the same legislation also considering Russia today. However, the Dark webs invulnerability is in its decentralized uncontrollable nature.

The dark side of charity

What comes to mind when you think of charity? For me, the word used to conjure up images of parents selling cakes to raise money for their local school, or people running a race to raise money and awareness for a cause close to their heart. This all changed in 2011 when I was invited by a charity to take part in an event that would form part of their consultation with the government
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