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After allegations emerged of brutal working practices at online game company Zynga (who, as well as considering the idea of work-life balance to be tantamount to disloyalty, recently have been forcing some employees to give up stock options), venture capital douchelord Michael Arrington posted a defence of long working hours and nonexistent work-life balance in the software industry as part of the Silicon Valley way, extensively quoting Jamie Zawinski's Netscape diaries to back up his point. But then, jwz turned around and tore it to pieces.
He's trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don't do that, you're a pussy. He's using my words to try and back up that thesis. I hate this, because it's not true, and it's disingenuous. What is true is that for a VC's business model to work, it's necessary for you to give up your life in order for him to become richer.
So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.Instead of that, I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic.Touché.
Dispatches from the American kleptocracy: In 2008 and 2009, the US Government distributed trillions of dollars in bank bailout funds. These funds were authorised as a matter of urgency to prevent the imminent collapse of the financial system and get the banks lending money to the little people again; the distribution was done in secrecy. Now, thanks to an act of Congress, the destinations of these funds have been revealed, and it's not pretty.
Among the beneficiaries of the US taxpayer's largesse: financial firms run by bank executives' wives, themselves having little financial experience to show other than having invested in racehorses, random billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses, funds for investing specifically in foreign countries, and carmakers in Germany and Japan. Oh, and a bank majority-owned by the Gaddafi regime. If you made this stuff up, nobody would believe it:
It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."
Cue your Billy Mays voice, because wait, there's more! A key aspect of TALF is that the Fed doles out the money through what are known as non-recourse loans. Essentially, this means that if you don't pay the Fed back, it's no big deal. The mechanism works like this: Hedge Fund Goon borrows, say, $100 million from the Fed to buy crappy loans, which are then transferred to the Fed as collateral. If Hedge Fund Goon decides not to repay that $100 million, the Fed simply keeps its pile of crappy securities and calls everything even.
And then there are the bailout deals that make no sense at all. Republicans go mad over spending on health care and school for Mexican illegals. So why aren't they flipping out over the $9.6 billion in loans the Fed made to the Central Bank of Mexico? How do we explain the $2.2 billion in loans that went to the Korea Development Bank, the biggest state bank of South Korea, whose sole purpose is to promote development in South Korea? And at a time when America is borrowing from the Middle East at interest rates of three percent, why did the Fed extend $35 billion in loans to the Arab Banking Corporation of Bahrain at interest rates as low as one quarter of one point?it's like the salad days of the Iraq occupation, only those in the loop don't need to actually fly to Baghdad to pick up a pallet or two of greenbacks. Of course, it's the long-suffering US taxpayer who's stuck holding the bill for this party, but they've been well trained to believe that it's their fault for having it too good for too long. (Isn't Calvinism, with its attendant self-loathing, a wonderful ideology for keeping the masses from rebelling?) So no, America can't afford a public health care system, or decent public schools, high-speed trains or non-crumbling bridges, because the cupboard's bare, and it's your fault. That money over there? Well, that's not yours, and you can't take it because that'd be socialism, and socialism is always absolutely wrong. So when they're given the choice of a 50% pay cut and unpaid overtime or losing their job, and are struggling to keep their homes from beign foreclosed, they flagellate themselves for having the temerity to have bought a PlayStation and a plasma screen, and then turn their rage on the trade unionists whom they see as trying to take their few crumbs of the pie.
Though at least America's luxury goods dealerships will survive another day.
A US dating site has found a novel way of increasing its profile count: by automatically adding profiles for non-users from publicly available information. You know, just in case they might be open to romance, much in the way that other public-minded individuals send out emails to millions of people just in case some of them have erectile problems they're too embarrassed to seek out help for:
Jordan said the site would soon host some 340 million profiles after scraping information from social networking sites, e-mail registries, mailing lists, marketing surveys, government census records, real estate listings and business websites to create new dating profiles.
Hasselt prison in Belgium, like most such institutions, requires all visitors (including lawyers) to pass through metal detectors, and remove any items of clothing that set it off. Interestingly enough, their metal detector is particularly sensitive to bra straps, with the sensitivity going up depending on the attractiveness of the visitor:
"The metal detection checks seem very difficult to carry out when a pretty, young lawyer or visitor reports to the prison gate. And then it becomes a little something to amuse the guards," he told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper.
Mr Rowies has told the prison authorities that he is receiving at least one complaint a month from furious female barristers. “It always strikes me that the younger, and the more babe-like, a lawyer is, the more difficult the device becomes,” he said.Belgium's prison authorities deny there being a problem, on the grounds of the metal detector not having malfunctioned in isolated tests or when a female visitor was accompanied by a senior prison service official.
A South Korean man calling himself Profesor Kim is facing fraud charges after selling devices that he claimed transformed tapwater into "holy water", having "digitally captured" what it is that makes holy water from Lourdes holy. The devices, of course, did not work.
As absurd as the idea of holy water is (that an almighty deity has specifically blessed a location—a French town or an Indian river or similar—with magical healing properties), the idea of knockoff holy water takes it one step further. Surely in the sort of universe which features omniscient and omnipotent (not to mention judgmental) deities bestowing boons, actually pirating these boons and passing them onto the unworthy would be impossible, or at least ill-advised. But Kim cherry-picks the most convenient bits of two types of universes—the rational, technological one we live in and the mystical, demon-haunted one in which our fates are controlled by ineffable forces and holy water could be considered to work—and mashes them together like P.T. Barnum's mermaid, hoping that his marks don't notice the seams before parting with their cash.
An article in The Guardian (which, incidentally, has a paid online dating site) claims that online dating is now socially acceptable, to the point where people who met on dating sites no longer lie about having met in a pub.
Meanwhile, OKCupid's excellent stats blog claims that paid-for online dating is a losing proposition, and puts forward a theory backed with numbers on why it's so. Behold: the Desperation Feedback Loop:
The Desperation Feedback Loop is exacerbated by the economics of paid-for dating sites, 93% of whose profiles (by OKCupid's reckoning) are inactive and which make higher profits by presenting these inactive profiles to customers. (Doing so keeps subscribers signed up longer.) Meanwhile, the punters flirting into the void get no replies, and slump into the feedback loop of sending out more, lower-quality, messages. Meanwhile, the recipients of these messages, confronted with a higher signal-to-noise ratio, stop reading their messages, further reducing the number of active profiles.
Of course, it's in OKCupid's interests to tell you this because they're an unpaid dating site who compete with the paid dating sites. The implication is that their model works better.
"I used to run a small web design service, the domain for which I allowed to expire after years of non-use. A few weeks ago, I noticed that my old site was back online at the old domain. The site-cloners are now using my old email addresses to gain access to old third-party web services accounts (invoicing tools, etc.) and are fraudulently billing my clients for years of services. I've contacted the Russian site host, PayPal, and the invoicing service. What more can I do? Can I fight back?"
The War on Copyright Piracy has many uses: in Kyrgyzstan, for example, the government is using the pretext of anti-piracy raids to shut down opposition media, by having goons with alleged Microsoft affiliations seize computers:
Stan TV employees told CPJ that police were accompanied by a technical expert, Sergey Pavlovsky, who claimed to be a representative of Microsoft’s Bishkek office. According to the journalists, Pavlovsky said he had authorization papers from Microsoft but was unwilling to show them. After a cursory inspection of the computers, they said, Pavlovsky declared all of the equipment to be using pirated software. Stan TV’s work computers, as well as the personal laptops of journalists, were seized; the offices were also sealed, interrupting the station’s work.Microsoft have disowned any connection to the raid.
Meanwhile, enterprising malware entrepreneurs have jumped onto the copyright lawsuit bandwagon; a new piece of malware for Windows scans users' hard drives for torrents, and threatens the users with lawsuits, demanding payment by credit card:
(via Boing Boing, Download Squad)
If you've ever found yourself compelled to keep playing a video game, despite realising that you're not actually enjoying it, you may have been a victim of the Behaviourist conditioning techniques game designers use to get people hooked. Video game designers are applying Skinnerian techniques of behaviour reinforcement to compel players to keep playing, to get hooked early, and to invest more time (and often money) into levelling up. (And playing a game does not necessarily equal enjoying it; the stimulus of getting unpredictable rewards, and the fear of losing one's carefully built-up progress, are sufficient to compel one, even if they might otherwise have preferred to do something else.)
His theories are based around the work of BF Skinner, who discovered you could control behavior by training subjects with simple stimulus and reward. He invented the "Skinner Box," a cage containing a small animal that, for instance, presses a lever to get food pellets. Now, I'm not saying this guy at Microsoft sees gamers as a bunch of rats in a Skinner box. I'm just saying that he illustrates his theory of game design using pictures of rats in a Skinner box. This sort of thing caused games researcher Nick Yee to once call Everquest a "Virtual Skinner Box."
First, set up the "pellets" so that they come fast at first, and then slower and slower as time goes on. This is why they make it very easy to earn rewards (or level up) in the beginning of an MMO, but then the time and effort between levels increases exponentially. Once the gamer has experienced the rush of leveling up early, the delayed gratification actually increases the pleasure of the later levels. That video game behavior expert at Microsoft found that gamers play more and more frantically as they approach a new level.Behaviourist game design techniques are becoming more prevalent in the age of online games, where the maker's revenue comes not from once-off purchases but from time (and money) spent in the course of playing the game; hence, game designers have to get their players hooked before the other guy comes along and milks them. And milking is perhaps an apt metaphor, given that one of the leading examples of this sort of game design is the Facebook game FarmVille, which, by all accounts is more of a socially conditioned obligation than a ludic activity:
Farmville is not a good game. While Caillois tells us that games offer a break from responsibility and routine, Farmville is defined by responsibility and routine. Users advance through the game by harvesting crops at scheduled intervals; if you plant a field of pumpkins at noon, for example, you must return to harvest at eight o’clock that evening or risk losing the crop. Each pumpkin costs thirty coins and occupies one square of your farm, so if you own a fourteen by fourteen farm a field of pumpkins costs nearly six thousand coins to plant. Planting requires the user to click on each square three times: once to harvest the previous crop, once to re-plow the square of land, and once to plant the new seeds. This means that a fourteen by fourteen plot of land—which is relatively small for Farmville—takes almost six hundred mouse-clicks to farm, and obligates you to return in a few hours to do it again. This doesn’t sound like much fun, Mr. Caillois. Why would anyone do this?
The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness. We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.Here's more about FarmVille's use of the Cialdini reciprocity principle, as beloved of grifters. Meanwhile, other gaming companies are using other techniques to keep the marks coming back, like taking advantage of players' loss aversion ("your account is now flagged to have your characters below level 20 deleted as part of maintenance. Please re-activate your account now to ensure that your characters progress and names stay intact").
On a tangent, there is a blog titled The Psychology of Games; some of its content has to do with psychological manipulation techniques to control and monetise gamers, though it also covers examples of game theory (in the Prisoner's Dilemma sense) in games, psychoeconomics, the enjoyment of gaming as an activity, and, indeed, a wealth of psychological phenomena as illustrated through video gaming.
The social network site Facebook is supported by advertising. Being a social network site, it has the advantage of being able to serve (anonymously) targeted ads to its users, who volunteer demographic information about themselves in using the site; advertisers can target ads to users whose profiles or recent activities match certain criteria. Unfortunately, when handled clumsily, the effect can be disconcerting or creepy:
One campaign that flooded the site in recent weeks, before Facebook cracked down on it, tries to take advantage of consumer interest in Apple’s iPad. “Are you a fan of Eddie Izzard? We need 100 music and movie lovers to test and KEEP the new Apple iPad,” one version of the ad says. Louis Allred Jr., 29, a Facebook user in Los Angeles who saw the ad, said he figured it was shown to him because he or a friend had expressed enthusiasm for Mr. Izzard, a British comedian, on their profiles.Off-key and/or sleazy ads on Facebook are nothing new, of course; ads juxtaposing pictures of hot chicks with unrelated, often dubious-looking, offers, for example, have been on the service for years, and presumably have snared a number of not particularly discerning individuals. But now Facebook are allowing advertisers to effectively write templates to be filled in with users' details ("SPECIAL OFFER FOR $gender AGED $(age-1)-$(age+1) WHO LIKE $interest"). Which sounds like a way to game unmerited trust out of punters, but, more often than not, falls into an uncanny valley, falling short of being convincing and coming off as unsettling, or worse:
Women who change their status to “engaged” on Facebook to share the news with their friends, for example, report seeing a flood of advertisements for services and products like wedding photographers, skin treatments and weight-loss regimens.And the knowledge that ads are targeted by some data-mining algorithm can, in itself, add a dimension of unease to what might well be coincidences:
Jess Walker, 22, from central Florida, was recently presented an ad for Plan B, the morning-after pill. “What do I have on my Facebook page that would lead them to believe I would need that?” she asked, adding that she did not want her sexual behavior called into question.
When the Chumby One internet widget terminal was being assembled, the company noticed that one batch of memory cards, from Kingston, had a lot of defective cards. (The Chumby One's internal storage is a MicroSD card, like the ones used in mobile phones.) Kingston refused to replace them, as they had been programmed, and it looked like Chumby were out of luck. However, Chumby had an ace up their sleeve: one of their vice presidents is Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, i.e., the guy who cracked the XBox, and not someone one should count on being able to pull one over.
Anyway, Bunnie noticed some irregularities in the cards' markings and decided to conduct a thorough forensic investigation, examining the cards' serial numbers and manufacturing dates (where he found more inconsistencies; a lot of cards with implausibly low serial numbers and mismatched manufacturers' IDs) and then dissolving the cards' casings to examine their construction, and unearthed some answers:
First, the date code on the irregular card is uninitialized. Dates are counted as the offset from 00/2000 in the CID field, so a value of 00/2000 means they didn’t bother to assign a date (for what it’s worth, in the year 2000, 2GB microSD cards also didn’t exist). Also, the serial number is very low — 0×960 is decimal 2,400. Other cards in the irregular batch also had similarly very low serial numbers, in the hundreds to thousands range. The chance of me “just happening” to get the very first microSD cards out of a factory is pretty remote. The serial number of the normal card, for example, is 0×9C62CAE6, or decimal 2,623,720,166 — a much more feasible serial number for a popular product like a microSD card. Very low serial numbers, like very low MAC ID addresses, are a hallmark of the “ghost shift”, i.e. the shift that happens very late at night when a rouge worker enters the factory and runs the production machine off the books. Significantly, ghost shifts are often run using marginal material that would normally be disposed of but were intercepted on the way to the grinder. As a result, the markings and characteristics of the material often look absolutely authentic, because the ghost material is a product of the same line as genuine material.After confronting Kingston and getting an exchange, no questions asked, Bunnie didn't stop investigating, visiting the dodgy bazaars of China and dealing with characters straight out of cyberpunk novels to procure a selection of variously dubious cards to investigate, and discovering various truths, some less savoury than others, about the memory card market. (For one, memory cards cost about as much as the raw memory inside them, but also contain an ARM-based microcontroller which is thrown in for free; the microcontroller handles error testing and saves the manufacturer the cost of dedicated testing gear, whilst also allowing the users of the card to get away with using regular filesystems on them. Secondly, some manufacturers, pressed to cut costs and increase profit margins, appear to be sanctioning (or at least turning a blind eye to) ghost shifts with dodgy materials and pawning the brummagem batches off on the kinds of weaker players they don't have much to fear from.)
Ghost shifts, and unlicensed extra items made on the side, are not unique to the memory card industry; this article describes several cases of contract manufacturers churning out extra copies of goods on the side, often in quantities large enough to flood markets, including a case involving shoe company New Balance.
Of course, you probably won't find ghost-shifted iPhones (as opposed to actual fake pseudo-iPhones, with built-in FM radios and entirely different firmware styled to look more or less iPhone-like) on the market any time soon, as Apple play hardball with their contractors, insisting on draconian security measures, dividing the manufacturing process up between different companies, and using nonstandard components.
In the UK, homeopathy has, until now, been funded by the National Health Service. All of this may change soon, though; a parliamentary committee has delivered a scathing condemnation of homeopathy, and called for all NHS funding to be withdrawn and homeopathic practices to be subjected to the same licensing and regulation as actual effective medical treatments are.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the almost farcical nature of the proceedings, with the elite of homeopathy mocked by their own testimony. Peter Fisher, director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, spewed forth the sort of dialogue that wouldn't look out of place in a Terry Pratchett novel ... The select committee report has brutally inflicted the 21st, 20th and 19th centuries on this 18th century magic ritual, and under inspection it has fallen apart.
Sadly, the criticism is likely to fall on deaf ears. Rather than take the opportunity to reassess their approach, homeopaths are filling blogs and tweets with dark imaginings of vast, Big Pharma-controlled conspiracies against their noble art, painting a vivid picture of the fantasy world that they appear to inhabit. Of course, as Peter Fisher's comments reveal, a grand conspiracy is not neccesary to discredit homeopathy. The most effective way to do that is simply to let a homeopath speak.The report is linked to from here, and doesn't mince words. Prince Charles, an avid supporter of fusty anachronisms including homeopathy, could not be reached for comment.
Facebook page of the day: List of cats with fraudulent diplomas:
On several occasions, people who desired to expose a diploma mill have registered their pet cat as a student. Upon its speedy graduation, the cat and its diploma are displayed to the news media.The article then enumerates several illustrious felines, amongst them Colby Nolan, Oliver Greenhalgh, and George, the aforementioned hypnotherapist.
A reformed Facebook spammer (in his own words) writes about the dubious tricks of his former trade:
I finally came to this realization: People on Facebook won’t pay for anything. They don’t have credit cards, they don’t want credit cards, and they are not interested in shopping. But you can trick them into doing one of three things:Also, if you don't want to see spam, move to somewhere geographically indistinguishable from where service providers (like Facebook and Google) are based; i.e., the San Francisco Bay Area:
- Download a toolbar: It could be spyware (such as Zango) or something more legitimate, such as Webfetti or Zwinkys.
- Give up their email address: You’ve won a “free” camera or perhaps you’ve been selected as a tester for a new Macbook Pro (which you get to keep at the end of the test). Just tell us where you want us to ship it.
- Give up their phone number: You took the IQ Quiz, so give us your phone number and we’ll tell you your score. Never mind that you’ll get billed $20 a month or perhaps be tricked into inviting 10 other friends to beat your score.
Cloaking: This is when you show a different page based on IP address. We and most other ad networks would geo-block northern California—showing different ads to Facebook employees than to other users around the world. One of the largest Facebook advertisers (I’m not going to out you, but you know who you are) employs this technique to this day, using a white-listed account. Our supposition is that it makes too much money for Facebook to stop him. Believe me, we have brought this to Facebook’s attention on several occasions. Here’s what this fellow does—he submits tame ads for approval, and once approved, redirects the url to the spammy page. To be fair, players like Google AdWords have had years more experience in this game to close such loopholes.
Your humble correspondent saw Of Montreal in London last week. For what it's worth, they were as good as always, and photos are here.
I'm not sure if they were quite good enough to have paid twice for seeing them, though, which is what I ended up doing after my ticket didn't show up. I had ordered it, along with a ticket to another show in the future (Animal Collective on the 20th of August) from TicketWeb a week earlier, and until that morning, nothing arrived. I went to work as usual, and when I returned, I found an envelope waiting for me, though, upon opening it, discovered that it contained only the tickets for the show in August.
I went to the venue, explaining my situation, and asking if they had a ticket for me or my name on a list; they didn't, and told me to ring TicketWeb. I did, and found that their customer service line was closed for the night. So I ended up buying another ticket at the door, in the hope of getting a refund for my unused ticket when it turned up.
The ticket arrived in the mail yesterday, a whole six days late. Today, I rang TicketWeb, explaining my situation, and asking whether I could get a refund. They said that no; apparently, the onus is on the consumer to report that the ticket hadn't shown up before close of business on the day of the event. Which leaves me some £18 out of pocket.
Any other industry would be sufficiently concerned about its customer relations to throw a bone to the customer and issue a refund in good faith. (I offered to mail them the unused ticket as proof that I hadn't sold it on or anything.) Major event ticket agencies, however, are a corrupt oligopoly and, like all corrupt oligopolies, are quite happy to tell the customer to go screw themselves. After all, you play by their rules, however skewed and arbitrary they are, or it's no Beyonce for you.
Anyway, I have had enough, and I will never do business with TicketWeb or their parent company TicketMaster again. Even if this means not seeing any gig larger than would fit in the room above a pub, though thankfully, it does not come down to this. (There are more reputable ticket agencies selling tickets for a lot of events; We Got Tickets is one, and then there is the possibility of buying directly from venues.) Of course, not doing business with the TicketBastard probably means no LiveNation corporate-indie mega-events, but I can live with that. Anyway, if you're looking to buy a ticket to a gig, I urge you to avoid the thieving bastards at TicketMaster/TicketWeb.
The editor-in-chief of a commercial academic journal has resigned after the journal accepted for publication a nonsensical, computer-generated article:
Bentham confirmed receipt of my submission the very next day (January 30, 2009). Nearly four months later, I received a response — the article was accepted. The acceptance letter read:The journal, "The Open Information Science Journal", is published by a company named Bentham, out of an office in a tax-free zone in the United Arab Emirates, and charges authors to publish papers, whilst making the journals freely available. The ostensible difference between this and a vanity publisher is that TOISCIJ ostensibly subjects its submissions to a peer review process, thus ensuring that, for example, a charlatan couldn't burnish their credentials merely by writing a cheque. Unfortunately, it appears that the peer review process seems to resemble the papers sitting in a pile for a few months; consequently, those who have had papers published in the journal have probably wasted US$800 in doing so.
"This is to inform you that your submitted article has been accepted for publication after peer-reviewing process in TOISCIJ. I would be highly grateful to you if you please fill and sign the attached fee form and covering letter and send them back via email as soon as possible to avoid further delay in publication."
The letter was written by a Ms. Sana Mokarram, the Assistant Manager of Publication. She included a fee schedule and confirmation that I would pay US$800, to be sent to a post office box in the SAIF Zone, a tax-free complex in the United Arab Emirates.
The paper in question ("Deconstructing Access Points", by "David Phillips" and "Andrew Kent" of the "Center for Research in Applied Phrenology"), incidentally, may be downloaded here. It contains howlers such as:
Our implementation of our methodology is pseudorandom, wearable, and collaborative. We have not yet implemented the centralized logging facility, as this is the least private component of our method.
Gaussian electromagnetic disturbances in our mobile telephones caused unstable experimental results. Note that vacuum tubes have less jagged effective floppy disk throughput curves than do autogenerated robots.
The Guardian invite people to put questions to alternative health product chain (or perhaps "snake oil peddlers") Neal's Yard Remedies, and get more than they probably bargained for:
"Influenza Ainsworth Homoeopathic Remedy": Your website sells this product. What evidence do you have that this product is of any benefit whatsoever? Did you know people die of flu?
Does your part in the MMR scare make you feel guilty? Do you feel bad when you think of the children who have suffered measles and possibly even had brain damage or died because of the scare which you promote?
Could you please explain how the 'correct homoeopathic remedy' is decided on and describe the qualifications of the people who make these decisions?
I'd also be grateful for a biological definition of 'healing energy' and an indication of where I can find the scientific evidence for its existence.
Finally, would Neal's Yard like to dispute the claim that they are using "sciencey" language in the wrong context to provide a smokescreen of credibility and, some would say unethically, lure people into purchasing "medicines" which are known by the company to be ineffective?
What is the ethical difference betweenThree pages into this, The Graun's moderator chimes in, announcing that Neal's Yard Remedies have decided that they won't be participating in this discussion. (They didn't give a reason; I'm guessing that all those peer-reviewed double-blind tests validating homeopathy are proving harder to track down than they anticipated.) Anyway, in lieu of their reply, here is a transcript of an 2008 interview with their "Medicines Director" Susan Curtis, arguing that their homeopathic "anti-malaria medicine" is legitimate despite the lack of any clinical tests.
a) company x selling "remedies" for which it has no empirical evidence of efficiency, and can lead to the death of adherents in extreme cases, and excusing it with anecdotal evidence from its customers, and
b) company y selling tobacco products, which can lead to severe health problems, challenging any empirical evidence of harm, and justifying its self on the basis of the enjoyment of its customers?
Users of criminal hacking forums have apparently been offering ridiculous sums of money for one type of low-end mobile phone. Certain Nokia 1100 handsets, manufactured in Bochum, Germany, are said to have a firmware bug which allows them to be reprogrammed to use another user's phone number, and thus intercept text messages containing bank transaction authentication codes, which is why the going price for them has gone as high as €25,000. Nokia have denied knowing of either such a flaw or of the phones for going for more than €100.
Though if criminals want a handset that can bypass GSM network security and intercept other users' messages, surely there'd be cheaper ways to go about this. Given that criminal gangs somehow managed to compromise a Chinese factory that made point-of-sale terminals and "enhance" the terminals with GSM-based card skimmers, surely it wouldn't be so hard to get one of the numerous Chinese mobile phone manufacturers to intentionally weaken security in one of their units to allow it to be used to spoof numbers, and then buying up a few boxloads of them. Bonus points for getting one that looks almost like an iPhone.
If you live in Britain, you've probably been confronted by chuggers; those armies of attractive, bubbly young people in jackets bearing the logo of some charity or other who loiter in packs in pedestrian areas, waiting for you to pass before intercepting you, latching on like a lamprey and attempting to guilt a direct debit out of you, giving you only two options: surrender and pay up, or be rude to a nice person and feel like a heel for it.
The charity watchdog Intelligent Giving has investigated the activities of chuggers and found almost all of them to be breaking both the law and codes of conduct, harrassing shoppers and asking them to commit fraud to bolster their commissions, and is calling on the public to boycott them.
[A] survey of their tactics has found that some face-to-face fundraisers are not as good as the causes they represent. They have been caught out misleading the public about how they are paid, harassing shoppers who say they are not interested, and asking donors to lie on direct debit forms to help them meet their targets.
The watchdog also found that 15 fundraisers from nine charities broke the Institute of Fundraising's own code of conduct by refusing to back off when asked to do so. These included fundraisers for the British Red Cross and Scope.So next time you tell a chugger to naff off (with all due politeness, of course), remember: you're not being a miser or a crabby old troll, but a responsible citizen.
Russia's ever-ingenious con artists have come up with another clever scam: fake iPhones. The devices look exactly like real iPhones with depleted batteries, and when activated show the Apple booting screen. They're handed over to the mark as collateral for borrowed money; the mark sees that the phone appears to start to boot, and assumes that the battery is depleted. When the borrower doesn't return to pick it up (and, presumably, the contact details they left turn out to be bogus), the mark takes it down to a service centre, where the technicians open it up and find that it's a plastic shell containing two batteries, a LED and a segment of a steel bar for weight.
I'm guessing that the reason the scam works is because most people wouldn't believe that someone would go to the trouble of making something that looks exactly like an iPhone but is cheap enough to be discarded for less than the value of one.
Enterprising scammers have cottoned onto a way of profiting from the War On Terror/Long Siege and the resulting public acceptance of restrictions on their rights in the name of some vague form of security: by dressing up as security guards and confiscating camera memory cards from tourists, presumably to resell later.
(via Boing Boing)
The Graun takes Woody Allen to task for being not as good as everyone has been led to believe.
To those of us who have watched Allen's two-decade decline into that cataleptic Eric Claptonesque state where an artist is revered as a god, but not by anyone who originally worshipped in his church, Allen's Grand Tour of Europe is baffling. I have seen Match Point three times now and simply cannot keep a straight face during Allen's perplexing and in many ways offensive attempt to make a Mike Leigh movie. The film is ostensibly about class: a penniless Irish ex-tennis star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is determined to rise above his station by reading Dostoyevsky, attending La Traviata and Damien Hirst exhibits and marrying Emily Mortimer.
Unfortunately, Allen gets it all wrong: when you shoot a Mike Leigh movie, you aren't supposed to make Mummy and Papa and their grouse-shooting twit progeny the heroes. And when you repeatedly show Mummy and Papa and Twitty and Tweedledum at Covent Garden going into raptures over Verdi, you can't then have Mortimer salivating at the prospect of attending Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White. It makes you look like an idiot. Here, as in so many other Allen films, art, music and literature serve a phony, ornamental function; you never really believe that any of his characters actually enjoy abstract art or have read Aristophanes. It's just an excuse for the college drop-out Allen to show off. "Look, Mom! I know who Modigliani is! See, I can pronounce the word 'Proust'." Match Point is like a dozen other Woody Allen movies: Low-Fat High Culture, Bergman for Beginners.The article (by an American commentator, who points out that the perpetuation of Allen's career is one thing Europe, not America, must take the blame for) points to Allen's habit of casting himself alongside attractive young actresses (though, to his credit, he has given up on putting himself in love scenes with them) and, noting that Allen seems to have moved on from London to Barcelona after his last two London flicks (the most recent being a gangster/geezer criminalogue titled Cassandra's Dream; no, I haven't heard of it either) flopped, speculates on where he'll go after he wears out his welcome with the Spanish:
I can see a Zagreb-based Woody Allen film where the director plays a washed-up Serb stand-up comic whose career is suddenly revived by meeting a perky Bosnian-American exchange student played by Thandie Newton. I can see a Polish Woody Allen film about a washed-up klezmer player whose career is revived by a chance encounter with a Santa Cruz forensic scientist (Tina Fey) investigating Chopin's suspicious death. I can see a Macedonian film about a social-climbing rag merchant who keeps getting visits from a ghost who claims to be Alexander the Great, but is actually a delusional Second Avenue deli counter man named Herbie Schlegel.
I can see movies with names like Fulvio's Inamorata, Anne-Laure et Ses Tantes Amusantes, The Caper Was in Copenhagen, the Kapers in Kiev and Trust Me, Mahmoud, I Can Get It for You Wholesale! I can see the sultry, maladroit, pointless Johansson cast as Mata Hari, Marlene Dietrich, the Empress Dowager, Helen of Troy, Judy Garland and Boudica's long-lost twin sister, Vicki. I can see Allen casting himself opposite Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Audrey Tautou and three dozen as-yet unborn children.
In 2002, Teresa Nielsen-Hayden wrote up a taxonomy of the various forms virtually all fraud falls into, from pyramid schemes to promises of inside information to variants of classics like the "Spanish Prisoner", to the numerous "tax protest" frauds rife among the mad-as-a-rattlesnake class in the US. Anyway, amongst the illuminating commentary, there is the following insight:
A couple of days ago I finally put my finger on something I’ve been sensing but not grasping—you know, one of those itchy back-of-the-brain apprehensions that there’s a pattern here, only you can’t quite see what it is. Somehow it’s felt like literary analysis. The question is, why do these scams—inheritance cons, MLMs, tax dodges, Make Money Fast, hot stock tip swindles, et cetera—take the forms they do?
What did it was looking at my list of basic scams and observing that what they have in common is the promise of lucrative, risk-free investments. Lord knows the things exist, I thought, but nobody ever gives them away. In theory, high rates of return are the investor’s payoff for taking on higher-risk investments. Achieving that happy state of all payoff and no risk is the main reason the wealthy and powerful manipulate the system.
These scams take the forms they do because they’re parodies—no, a better way to put it: they’re cargo-cult effigies—of the deals the ruling class cut for themselves. If you’re an insider, if you have the secret, you can have a job where you make heaps of money for very little work. You can avoid paying your taxes. You can inherit a pile of money because an ancestor of yours left a moderate fortune that’s been appreciating ever since. You can be your own boss. You can have other people working for you, who have other people working for them, who all pay you a percentage of the take.Which, when applied to get-rich-quick schemes, from scams and frauds to perfectly honest (if dumber than a sack of hammers) ideas based on visualisation, prayer, ritual or other forms of magical thinking (such as "the Secret", as found in the self-help sections of bookshops across the US), makes perfect sense. The original cargo cults consisted of Melanesian islanders who, upon witnessing American airmen arrive during World War 2 with food rations, clothing and other useful goods (whose provenance their culture had not equipped them to understand), reasoned that these goods must be boons from the gods and that, if they carried out the same rituals as the Americans (i.e., parading in handmade US Army uniforms, building makeshift runways and control towers), they would reap the same benefits. Could it not be that this magical mode of thinking is not purely the province of "primitive" cultures, but is an idiosyncracy of the human mind's irrational pattern-matching tendencies, the same tendencies that attribute misfortune to elaborate (and unfalsifiable) conspiracies over mere chance? After all, our instincts say, there must be a man behind the curtain.
Elsewhere in the article, there is the following observation about one persistent category of frauds: the ever-thriving business of telling people that they don't really need to pay taxes, and that, for a fee, they can know the secret of how to get away with not paying it (which, unsurprisingly, seldom works):
Somewhat humorously, in several cases where the IRS has gone after promoters of “Don’t File” schemes, it was determined that the promoter—while advocating not filing returns—had been filing their returns all along. This really isn’t surprising, since most of the promoters will secretly confide that they really don’t believe these theories either, but it makes them good money.
There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. 74 years ago, people in America were besieged by unsolicited advertisements for dodgy medical products, financial scams, gambling, drugs and "dubious pleasure activities". Only rather than cluttering up their nonexistent email inboxes, this spam took the form of powerful radio broadcasts from transmitters in Mexico and/or aboard ships, jamming the signals of existing radio stations.
A Sunday Times piece on the decline of Britain's railways, whose services have been deteriorating and costs rising, the difference going to the shareholders of private operators:
The new ticket price from Bristol to London with what is, by common consent (and by most of the official indicators) Britain’s worst train company, is £137. At which price you could take a family of five to Budapest and back, although not with First Great Western. Again, this seems better value if you take into account the fact that you might well have to get off the train at Chippenham and travel by bus for a bit; two modes of transport for the price of one, you see. They think of everything for you.
I asked the eminent transport journalist Christian Wolmar what he made of Muir’s suggestion that increased fares would lead to improved services. “It’s just complete and utter crap,” he replied. “The money is going to the train operating companies, full stop.” How much is invested in improving rail services is, in any case, decided in advance by the rail regulator. Muir is being disingenuous. At the least.
Here’s a few more fares to gape at in wonderment: Plymouth to London with First Great Western – £196. That’s three times the cost of the usual return air ticket, and of course it takes almost four times as long by train. London to Manchester on Virgin Trains – £219. Fly instead and it will set you back about £80. And incidentally, those are the old prices, without the “A happy Christmas to all our benighted customers” fare increases.The author lays the blame at the feet of John Major's Conservative government, and its privatisation of British Rail (which, as maligned as it had been, was apparently much more efficient than today's system), a move driven more by neoliberal ideology and Tory antipathy to public transportation than practical concerns, though New Labour, who have presided over the decline of Britain's railways, get some of the blame:
It is either depressing or hilarious, take your pick, to mull over the fact that the privatised rail network soaks up almost three times as much taxpayers’ money in subsidies than did that much maligned, publicly owned corporation, British Rail. And the sad truth is that in those final years British Rail really was “getting there”.
You might expect of the Conservative party an instinctive affection for that most insular and individualistic form of transport, the motor car. Labour, though, has its ideological roots in public transport – and yet in the 10 years since Tony Blair took office, rail fares have been allowed to rise by 46% (not counting the latest rise), while the cost of travelling by car has risen by only 26%, according to figures from the Department for Transport. In other words, Labour has made it even more attractive to travel by car and less attractive to travel by train.
Again, the train companies will tell you that more people are travelling by rail than at any time since the 1950s. Well, up to a point. But they’re travelling short distances by rail (especially within central London, which recently got its first effectively nationalised route, the North London line). For the longer trips, people are turning to the planes, or sticking with the comfort of their cars.Or course, the idea of renationalising Britain's railways is absolutely out of the question, because that would be socialism, which is discredited, and it has been proven that free markets always achieve the best of all possible outcomes. So, whoever wins the next election, we can expect more of the same: underinvestment, price rises, and Britons paying for a service that costs considerably more and delivers less than on the continent, and choosing to fly over any distance further than London to Birmingham.
If the UK free tabloids are to be believed, up to 2,000 people in Japan have been sold lambs and told that they were poodles (which are both extremely fashionable and rare in Japan):
Entire flocks of lambs were shipped over from the UK and Australia to Japan by an internet company and marketed as the latest 'must have' accessory. But the scam was only spotted after a leading Japanese actress said her 'poodle' didn't bark and refused to eat dog food.
Another way to string along Nigerian email scammers for laughs: baffle them with babble, as sketch comedy group Kaspar Hauser did, and see how long you can keep them trying to figure it out:
Where are you?! I have tried calling for two days! I have the Swift code for Land Bank/Kangaroo Millionaire Donor Fund (is it safe to e-mail?). I first thought there was a thumb protector on my phone but now I'm worried that I'm missing some sort of Nigerian hand mask: must I dial a country code first?
I WILL NOT BE MADE THE PONY BOY: IXNAY! If this is a scam, I want to know about it. I'm here to help Nigeria.
God Bless Me and You Both,
J. Plenary, CEO
P.S. Sorry if I seem irritated, but a horribleness has befelsterred my children's academy: Phyllis the Boy fell into a bottling machine, and I am busy, Mr. Shaish...busy with a capital Jesus.
(via Boing Boing)
In parts of Nigeria, postal/email scams are seen as a game and a matter of national pride, of the plucky underdog getting one over rich, greedy, stupid Westerners, or maghas as they're referred to. So much so that there's a hit pop song about the practice:
419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.
White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy
White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.
A list of expensive products for "audiophiles" with more money than common sense. It includes the usual sorts of things: $30,000 speaker cables, "cable elevators" to keep said cables from being compromised by contact with carpet, $1,500 power cords to ensure that the electricity that powers your hi-fi reaches it in pristine condition (apparently the high voltage lines outside your house aren't a problem, presumably because you can't pay to replace them with ridiculously expensive versions), and special, magically expensive, pieces of wood; as well as various hand-wavey mystical artefacts, such as lacquer which removes "overtones" and a magic chip which, when placed on a CD player, makes CDs sound better (apparently it works by means of quantum physics), not to a "CD clarifier" which not only enhances the sound of audio CDs, but also enhances the experience of "Multimedia CD-ROMs and Photo CDs". (I wonder if it'll make your copy of Microsoft Office work better too.)
An ingenious con artist managed to persuade French banks to hand over €5m, by pretending to be a secret service agent fighting against terrorist money laundering:
Gilbert then demanded all the cash at the bank so he could mark the notes with microchips and keep track of the terrorist. A total of €358,000 was to be put in an briefcase and slipped under the door of a brasserie lavatory. The manager did as she was told. The money disappeared.
Gilbert's next fraud was even more audacious, police say. He acquired information about important financial transactions and telephoned France's biggest banks. Again posing as a DGSE agent, he said that some of the transactions were terrorist money-laundering operations and that the secret services needed to follow the money. But they could do so only if it were transferred to accounts abroad, he said.Meanwhile in Moldova, a conman is hypnotising bank clerks into handing over cash:
One victim told police that Kozak's technique was to start a friendly conversation, establish eye contact, and then put her in a hypnotic state. The teller then agreed to hand over all the cash in her till.
(via Schneier, Odd Spot)
A magazine named Radar has the start of a potentially interesting series on Kabbalah (not the Mediæval branch of esoteric Judaism, but the red-string-and-sacred-bottled-water one that's the hottest new celebrity cult in Hollywood):
In December the Guardian of London published a 10-month investigation that revealed the dubious nature of the Rav's qualifications as a religious leader, as well as the Centre's avaricious ways. Then, in January 2005, a BBC documentary caught high-ranking Kabbalah Centre officer Rabbi Eliyahu Yardeni on undercover camera saying that the Jews who died in the Holocaust perished because they weren't studying Kabbalah. The same documentary showed an employee at the Centre's London office selling a man with cancer more than $1,500 worth of merchandise, including Aramaic books he could not read and bottled water with no proven health benefits.
The article promises more details on findings, including:
The false claims the Centre has made about its distinguished origins.
The Centre's use of cultlike techniques to control members, including sleep deprivation, alienation from friends and family, and Kabbalah-dictated matchmaking.
The bizarre scientific claims made by the Centre's leaders on behalf of Kabbalah Water, ranging from its ability to cleanse the lakes of Chernobyl of radiation to its power to cure cancer, AIDS, and SARS.
The Centre's sponsorship of the Oroz Research Centre, a "23rd century" scientific institution that markets a "liquid compound for the treatment of nuclear waste" that also cures gynecological problems in cows, sheep, and other farm animals.
The Bergs' explicit strategy of steering Kabbalah away from its Jewish roots in order to appeal to a wider global market, and their plans to brand both the Centre and family members for maximum popular appeal.
As for steering Kabbalah away from its Jewish roots, isn't that old news, though? There have been non-Jewish self-professed Cabbalists since the time of Aleister Crowley if not John Dee. Though, granted, they weren't peddling overpriced bottled water to celebrities.
(via bOING bOING)
The latest criminal fashion in Russia, a country with more than the usual share of clever people in need of money: street hypnotism, in which thieves adept in hypnotic techniques (said to range from ancient Gypsy mind tricks to cutting-edge neuro-linguistic programming techniques), manage to persuade victims to give up vast sums of money, and forget what happened: (via bOING bOING)
"The essence of the technique is, form replaces content. Our brain is built so it can process only so much information over a certain period of time. ... In cases where the flow of information is either too powerful and fast, or on the other hand, too slow ... the brain slows down, and the person's level of vigilance drops," he said.
From the pages of the most recent VICE Magazine: a hand-made "PowerBook", made of a grey garbage bag, some issues of the Village Voice, and a hand-painted Apple logo in White-Out; apparently fashioned by a crackhead with a PowerBook box and shrinkwrapping machine, and sold to an unsuspecting student for US$200. Perhaps junkies read Something Awful as well...
The Age reports that Australians wishing to marry Britons will soon need permission from the British Home Office; this is as a measure applying to all non-EU citizens to prevent sham marriages for purposes of immigration. Though most of the time when Britons marry Australians, isn't it for a new life somewhere sunny resembling Summer Bay/Sylvania Waters/Ramsay Street?
P-P-P-Powerbook: a true story. Briefly, guy in Seattle tries selling a new PowerBook on eBay, finds a scammer trying to con him out of it using a dodgy escrow service, and posts to Something Awful. The SA Goons then collaborate to play an expensive prank on the scammer, sending them the P-P-P-Powerbook, a hand-decorated ring binder, valued for Customs at US$2,000. Meanwhile, goons in the UK track the scammer's address to a dodgy-looking barber shop in North London, whose proprietor (one Jean Climax) presumably takes delivery of items for various slippery customers, and observe as the scammer (a Romanian chap, by all accounts) takes delivery of his new P-P-P-Powerbook.
In late 1994, a 16-year-old American girl named Heather Robinson ran an elaborate scam in what she said was an attempt to make her recently divorced mother happy; she obtained access to an Air Force base and used this access to make up an imaginary Col. Cunningham, who then carried on a 3-month virtual relationship with her mother. She even sent her mother a marriage proposal from Col. Cunningham, along with an engagement ring, bought with a stolen credit card.
"We were 16 years old, and I wanted to do something good for my mom," Robinson said. "After the court stuff was done, my mom put her arm around me and said, 'I understand why you did it and maybe some day they'll make a movie about it.'"
And a movie is in the pipeline, masterminded by the same Heather Robinson. This time, she has pulled it off by getting a job at AOL, illicitly finding contact details of Hollywood celebrities and producers, and befriending them under false identities. The family-oriented romcom The Perfect Man is apparently autobiographical. Proof that social engineering pays, or itself a bogus story planted by some Universal Studios marketroid to generate buzz for an otherwise insipid-sounding film?
I just watched a DVD of Nine Queens, an Argentine heist film about two swindlers (one vaguely seedy veteran and one naïve but talented rookie he takes under his wing) trying to pull a high-stakes scam involving a sheet of ostensibly rare stamps and a collector, set against the backdrop of Buenos Aires. The film was fast-paced, and it seemed that each moment, some new detail or layer was unfolding (from crooked officials wanting their take to the scammers trying to psych each other out of their respective cuts, to things changing at the last minute, and the ever-present question of who is playing a deeper game and what is really happening). I found it quite gripping and enjoyable.
I just found the following in my mailbox:
Subject: Email account utilization warning.
Dear user of Null.org,
Our main mailing server will be temporary unavaible for next two days, to continue receiving mail in these days you have to configure our free auto-forwarding service.
For more information see the attached file.
Have a good day,
The Null.org team http://www.null.org
Given that I own null.org (and that no address such as "email@example.com" actually exists), I must say I was a touch suspicious. And then I looked at the attachment portion of the email:
Content-Type: application/octet-stream; name="Information.pif" Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64 Content-Disposition: attachment; filename="Information.pif"
Which looks to be a Windows executable of some sort. That's undoubtedly the "free auto-forwarding service" they mentioned. I'm sure it would have done exactly as that, only with the proviso of forwarding penis-pill spam to millions of mailboxes worldwide through my machine.
That is, if I (a) used a Windows machine, and (b) was sufficiently clueless to open an attachment from somebody claiming to be in charge of the "main mailing server" on my domain.
A new form of child slave trafficking has been found in Britain, with human traffickers importing children to help adults claim benefits or asylum. The children are said to be rotated between families as need be. It is not clear what happens when the children are no longer needed, though "organ harvesting" was mentioned.
Now this takes balls: Oxford engineering student Matthew Richardson was approached to deliver some lectures on economics in China (possibly on account of his having the same name as a US professor of economics); so he bought an A-level textbook, crammed it on the flight there, and blagged it. Until he ran out of material, and did a runner.
The real Prof Matthew Richardson, speaking from the business school at New York University where he is a lecturer in finance, said: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it seems as if this young man will go far. I do not know if the Chinese students were expecting me. I feel sorry for them if they feel let down, but there was no real harm done."
A crooked bookseller at a London market employed drug dealers and the homeless to steal books, which he then sold at his street stall. Another business model for you, Lev?
A heartwarming look at the reconstruction of Iraq's shattered schools, being carried out by military contractor Bechtel, as a
PR humanitarian exercise:
Most of the cheap plastic cisterns are already broken. Even a broken banister that resulted in one child falling one floor down - was not considered to be part of Bechtel's renovation plan. So the director ordered to weld it again, paying the work out of his own pocket. The work on the school, according to Abdel-Razzaq, was completed without a single person from the Bechtel corporation appraising the work. "Why do we need Bechtel? They have done absolutely nothing," he said.
"The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush."
A wanted on-line auction con artist has tried auctioning a dinner date with herself, at a "mystery location", in which she would spill the beans on her scams. Elisabeth Von Hullessem (probably a pseudonym) has been responsible for a number of scams, including organising fraudulent "writers' conferences" and running over her mother in a car, and has written books about her career in crime. Bidding started at $10,000, before the auction was withdrawn. (via TechDirt)
(Another business idea for you, Lev?)
Alone and unloved? Fool your friends into thinking you're less of a loser with the Instant Girlfriend Kit; contains a love letter, a photo, a lipstick (for applying lipstick smears to your face) and various items of feminine paraphernalia to stash convincingly around your grotty bedsit. (via Gimbo)
Bad news for those hoping to protect the environment and global human rights by making a tidy sum on the stock market: New research has shown that most "ethical" or "socially responsible" investment funds aren't. To make more of a buck (and compete in the marketplace), most of the funds surveyed invested in fossil fuels, companies with histories of human-rights violation and, in one case, tobacco companies. They rationalise their decisions as investing in the "best of sector", i.e., the least evil company in a particular sector.
(Btw, which company is the "best of sector" in the high-tech armaments industry? Boeing. Lockheed or Raytheon?)
An article giving details of how recording companies systematically defraud artists. (via rocknerd.org)
Imagine you're an Australian artist. You signed a contract more than 20 years ago when you were under age. You were getting a royalty rate for singles of 5%... but it was only calculated on 8% of what you actually sold because we're talking singles here. Forget about the fact that your music has been used on countless compilations, licensed by your 'parent' record label. Forget about the fact that you have asked for years about the status of your royalties and the executives at the label have constantly rebuffed you.
Imagine that one of the top executives at the label, when confronted with the inequities of this situation and knowing you are owed money, not only refused to deal with you but told staff to ignore you and like other artists seeking royalties, you'd go away. They always do.
Here's another artist. They are owed about $20,000 from their hits in 1968. 34 years ago. The record company knows it. They haven't informed the artist. They know where the artist lives. The attitude of the man in control of this is why tell them if they don't know and if they want to sue us, fine, let them. But they can't sue us if they don't know. And if we don't tell them, how will they know?
scam career opportunity for you, Lev:
Unaccredited doctors are filling in the gaps left by a shortage of properly trained and certified doctors.
Porn spammers are taking to online dating web sites to prey on the unloved and gullible; it now seems that 3% of online personals are spam, crafted to collect email addresses and hopefully sucker the respondent into subscribing to a porn site.
While the ads are tricky to spot, it's not impossible. They tend to be women in their 20s who have very general information listed in their personal essays, and often leave many personal details fields blank. And of course, an immediate request for a private e-mail address should be suspicious.
The story of how a team of math geeks from MIT hacked Las Vegas blackjack, developing a team-based card-counting method that raked in huge profits and evaded the casinos' usual countermeasures -- for a while, anyway. (via Plastic)
Salon looks at the seedy world of someone-has-a-crush-on-you sites; some of which operate as unethical marketing operations at best and spam email harvesters at worst, preying on the desperate and socially challenged. (via Techdirt)
Biotech companies use algorithmic music composition tools to convert DNA to music; not for artistic reasons, but to take advantage of the virtually perpetual terms of music copyrights (95 years, but extended by law every decade or so), as opposed to 17-year patents. Sounds like post-cyberpunk fiction, doesn't it?
(There we have it: the very concept of "art" is now a weapon of copyright fascism. It doesn't bode well for when the pendulum swings back.) (via bOING bOING)
One woman takes a Nigerian mail scammer for a ride. (via bOING bOING)
An interesting page on the history and chemistry of absinthe. Apparently many of the so-called absinthes which are now legally obtainable contain little or no thujone (the active ingredient), and are basically nothing more than extremely expensive alcohol containing green food dye. (via bOING bOING)
Here's a new scam for you, Lev: Who Knew It Would Be So Easy To Impersonate A Priest?
The thing you have to realize is, when you dress up like a priest, people want to believe you're a priest. I recently visited a small town in Missouri where no one knew me and started walking around in my priest outfit. Within a few hours, I was invited to a week's worth of home-cooked meals. Man, did I eat good! And you know what? Not a single person asked me to show my priest ID card before serving up the roast turkey and mashed potatoes.
And in the same Onion:
BREMERTON, WA-- A head of genetically modified broccoli shrieked its numerous benefits at shoppers Monday in a Seattle-area Safeway. "I contain 40 percent more vitamin A than non-modified broccoli!" the head screeched at terrified produce-aisle customers. "I can fight off insects and disease without the use of pesticides!" Monsanto, makers of the vegetable, stressed that genetic-modification technology is still in its infancy, and that more pleasantly voiced broccoli should hit store shelves by 2003.
Fitter, happier, more productive: A look at the phenomenon of online dating, and its effects on human interaction:
And that's what's fascinating about online dating. It reflects the human propensity for choice and classification, and the fact that technology is being molded to meet those propensities. By online dating Darwin might have been disturbed, but he would not have been surprised.
Morever, the truly innocent are often truly hoodwinked, according to the anonymous author of Saferdating.com, a site with extremely detailed advice and gruesome online dating stories, started by a woman who met her husband through the Internet, but "went through hellish experiences" beforehand. Online dating anecdotes posted on Saferdating.com have titles like "Determining Honesty Is Like Military Intelligence" and "A Horror Story of Cons and Scams."
"Our study showed if people are communicating with someone they believe to be attractive, they edit and rewrite more than if they don't care whether they are impressing them." Walther's chief concern is that email correspondence can lead to a dangerous wish fulfillment for the perfect love. "It is nearly impossible for people to live up to such an artificially high, idealized range of expectations," he noted.
Surprise, surprise: You know that company that, for a sum of money (insignificant compared to immortality) will name a star after you, your loved one, your dog or whatever? Well, what they don't tell you is that nobody else recognises those names; in other words, astronomers will not start referring to gaseous interstellar objects as "Joey Bloggs" or "Fluffy the Wonderhamster" or whatever just because you were gullible enough to part with US$48. Still, the scam has taken in many po'buckers, and some high-flyers including Nicole Kidman. (Who'd have thought she'd be gullible enough to buy into such hairbrained schemes?)
A good overview of the economics of the recording industry, and why most artists end up skint (especially if they don't have writing credit). (via Slashdot)
US Roundup: And now, the latest news from the World's Leading Nation: Firstly, it comes out that George W. Bush's successful missile defense test was a fake, with the target missile being rigged with a GPS beacon for the "kill vehicle" to lock onto. Now if we could persuade Saddam to make GPS beacons standard equipment, then everything would be fine and dandy, but failing that, the test is a sham. Meanwhile, ancient superstition has triumphed over scientific progress with the House of Representatives voting to ban stem cell research, on Scriptural grounds. And the White House's reproductive health policy, surprisingly enough, will divert funds from those subversive pinko feminists in the family-planning movement towards an abstinence-based strategy, closely tied to evangelical Christian groups.
The street finds its own uses for things: A German company has released a CD-ROM "sickness simulator", with profiles of 15 medical complaints, and instructions on how to fake them to get time off work. Doctors are not amused.
Scam of the Day: A lot of online "personal ads" are really scams for phone sex services: (WIRED News)
In that case, the FTC alleged that ITA falsely advertised itself as a free dating service that matched customers with local singles. In fact, the "singles" were paid telephone operators who left customers with enormous phone bills. ... For example, "Lisa" is both a blonde Caucasian and a brunette Asian who share the same voice box number.
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