UK banks use robo-callers to make fraud-check calls, conditioning customers to hand out personal information to anonymous machines that phone them up out of the blue

My latest Guardian column, "Automated calls, fraud and the banks: a mismatch made in hell," reacts to the news that UK banks are using robo-call machines to check in with customers on possibly fraudulent transactions, and going about it in the worst way possible:

The banks, bless them, are only trying to prevent fraud, but this is a pretty silly way of going about it. For starters, there's the business of calling up people and asking them to give you all the information necessary to prove that they are indeed a bank customer – all the information that a fraudster needs to impersonate that person at the bank, in other words. The banks have spent decades systematically conditioning us to give our personal information to fraudsters, which is a strange way to prevent fraud.

But at least this silliness had one saving grace: a fraudster can only make so many calls per day, and so the scope of losses from such a programme of bad security education is limited by the human frailties of con-artists.

Enter the robo-caller. The banks are now outsourcing their fraud prevention to computers that can make dozens of calls all at once, around the clock, fishing (or phishing) for someone who just happened to have made an unusual purchase and is thus willing to spill all his details down the phone to get it approved. Note that most of the categories of purchase that trigger false positives from fraud detection systems are also the sort of thing that customers are anxious to see go off without a hitch. The unusual and the urgent often travel together.

Automated calls, fraud and the banks: a mismatch made in hell

Man behind "Innocence of Muslims" video ordered jailed for violating fraud probation by using computers


Nakoula Basseley Nakoula escorted by LA County Sherriff's deputies from his home in Cerritos, CA. Photo: AP/CBS2-KCAL9, LA.

A federal judge today determined that California resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka Sam Bacile), one of the men behind a crappy, anti-Islamic YouTube video linked to violent protests in the Middle East and the death of a US ambassador, "is a flight risk" and must be jailed. Snip from AP:

Citing a lengthy pattern of deception, U.S. Central District Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal said Nakoula Basseley Nakoula should be held after officials said he violated his probation from a 2010 check fraud conviction.

‘‘The court has a lack of trust in this defendant at this time,’’ Segal said.

Nakoula had eight probation violations, including lying to his probation officers and using aliases, and he might face new charges that carry a maximum two-year prison term, authorities said.

After his 2010 conviction, Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was barred from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.

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Herbert Lom, who played stressed-out boss of Inspector Clouseau in "Pink Panther" films, has died

Czech-born actor Herbert Lom, best known as the weary boss of Inspector Clouseau in the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies, died today at 95 years of age.

His son Alec Lom told the Associated Press that his dad "died peacefully in his sleep at home in London."

A two-part series of clips on YouTube:

Part 1, and Part 2.

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Helmetcam video of US soldier under fire in Afghanistan

From the YouTube description of this purported "helmetcam" video from a soldier in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: no shots penetrated his body armor, and he made it home with no permanent injuries.

I got a hit a total of 4 times. My helmet cam died and i made it down the mountain on my own. I was also hit in the side of my helmet and my eye pro was shot off of my face. We were doing overwatch on the village to recon and gather intel. I was point heading down the face of the hill with the LT. when we got hit. the rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. I didn't start the video until a few mins into the firefight for obvious reasons. I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety. A round struck the tube by my hand of the 203 grenade launcher which knocked it out of my hands. When I picked the rifle back up it was still functional but the grenade launcher tube had a nice sized 7.62 cal bullet hole in it and was rendered useless.

[video link] and more from the publisher at Funker530.Prochan.com. (thanks, Joe Sabia!)

Worst fight scene ever? More like BEST fight scene ever. (video)

[Video Link] Continuing in our Turksploitation theme, a spectacularly awful fight scene from the Turkish film "Death Warrior." Previously: worst death scene ever. (thanks, Michelle Strait, via internalbleeding)

Panama's new copyright law is the worst in the history of the universe

We've seen some stupid copyright laws in the past fifteen years, but Panama's new law -- which has passed the legislature and merely awaits executive approval. Under Bill 510, the Panamanian copyright office has the power to pursue file-sharers directly, fining each one $100,000 ($200,000 on second offense) and keeping the money for itself, paying bonuses to apparats in the copyright office from the pot. Artists and copyright proprietors get none of that money, but they can also sue file-sharers if they want. Naturally, this bill was passed without public scrutiny, expert input, hearings, or public debate. As Technollama writes:

This is what I think will happen if the law passes as it stands. The DGDA will immediately try to monitor all torrent use in Panama, be it legitimate or not, and all people identified with IP addresses will be summoned and summarily fined. After all, the institution and its employees will have a direct financial incentive to assume guilt. Then those same people will be sent again and again, as there will be clear incentive to fine re-offenders.

This is a toxic piece of legislation any way you look at it, and we urge the Panamanian Congress to modify Chapter I of Title XII, or to remove it altogether.

Is Panama about to pass the worst copyright law in history? | TechnoLlama (via Techdirt)

Former top US copyright bureaucrat thinks all communications/entertainment technology should be illegal until Congress approves it

Ralph Oman, the former bureaucrat who served as Register of Copyrights to the US Copyright Office, has filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit against Aereo, a company that makes server racks with thousands of tiny aerials that are used to capture over-the-air broadcast TV and transmit it to viewers using the Internet, with each viewer getting her own antenna.

Oman's brief argues that the intention of the US Congress in passing the 1976 Copyright Act was to establish a regime where anyone who's got an idea for using technology to change the way we interact with copyrighted works was to force that person to get permission from Congress before they made it into a product.

In other words, Oman believes that in America, the law says that all innovation that touches on copyright is presumptively illegal, and each idea must be individually vetted by Congress before being brought to market: "Commercial exploiters of new technologies should be required to convince Congress to sanction a new delivery system and/or exempt it from copyright liability. That is what Congress intended."

Ars Technica's Techdirt's Mike Masnick is his usual incandescent self on the subject:

This is, to put it mildly, crazy talk. He is arguing that anything even remotely disruptive and innovative, must first go through the ridiculous process of convincing Congress that it should be allowed, rather than relying on what the law says and letting the courts sort out any issues. In other words, in cases of disruptive innovation, assume that new technologies are illegal until proven otherwise. That's a recipe for killing innovation.

Under those rules, it's unlikely that we would have radio, cable TV, VCRs, DVRs, mp3 players, YouTube and much, much more. That's not how innovation or the law works. You don't assume everything innovative is illegal just because it upsets some obsolete business models. But that appears to be how Oman thinks the world should act. Stunningly, he even seems to admit that he'd be fine with none of the above being able to come to market without Congressional approval, because he approvingly cites the dissent in the Betamax case (which made clear that the VCR was legal), which argues that the VCR should only be deemed legal with an act of Congress to modify the Copyright Act. You would think that the success of the VCR in revitalizing the movie industry would show just how ridiculous that is... but in Oman's copyright-centric world, the rules are "first, do not allow any innovation that upsets my friends."

Former Copyright Boss: New Technology Should Be Presumed Illegal Until Congress Says Otherwise

The Wrylon Robotical Illustrated Catalog of Botanical 'Bots


My buddy Barry McWilliams has a kickstarter up for a fun book he wrote and illustrated called The Wrylon Robotical Illustrated Catalog of Botanical 'Bots. He gave me a sneak peek of the book and it's wonderful. He's close to being fully funded after just a few days. Go Barry!

The idea of a fleet of flower-delivering robots has been percolating in my head for a little over a year. The first ‘bot just sort of appeared in one of my sketchbooks, the way a million (mostly bad) ideas do. For whatever silly reason, this idea stuck.

I like the absurdity of it - Robots who delivers flowers. It’s both personal and impersonal (robotical?) at the same time. I like that, with an exception or two, the robots deliver only one flower at a time. What could be less cost-effective or less efficient than sending a robot around the world to deliver one, single flower? But I’d sure as hell do it to impress a girl.

The Wrylon Robotical Illustrated Catalog of Botanical 'Bots

Also: Barry was a guest on episode 30 of the Gweek podcast.

Disgraced New Yorker journo speaks to LA Magazine

Kari Mozena of Los Angeles magazine says:

This month, Los Angeles magazine tackles the imbroglio surrounding the once-heralded (and now discredited) genius in our backyard: Jonah Lehrer. In the piece, Lehrer speaks (via email) for the first time since issuing a statement about resigning from The New Yorker in July. Lehrer tells editor-at-large Amy Wallace that he is writing his own piece about “the mistake.” He also says many of the accusations against him are false.

Lehrer had a difficult summer. First the prolific author was found to have plagiarized himself in several blog posts for The New Yorker. Then Tablet magazine’s Michael C. Moynihan revealed that several Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s best-selling book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, were either made up or distorted. Finally, an independent investigation commissioned by Wired magazine, one of Lehrer’s other employers, concluded that Lehrer has a history of ethical and factual transgressions.

In her piece, Wallace talks about the affair from the perspective of “those of us who pay our bills writing non-fiction” -- as Lehrer supposedly did. Analyzing the story surrounding the story, she explores what might be called the dark secret of journalism -- the temptation to cut corners when the clock is ticking and a story isn’t coming together as planned (a temptation that Lehrer clearly gave in to). As she laments, his legacy tarnishes everyone who tries to tell the truth. “Now even more readers will believe journalists really are willing—as the saying goes—to make stuff up to sell newspapers, magazines, books. Readers will distrust writers as much as our various detractors say they should. Lehrer’s sins soil not just his own reputation but those of his fellow journalists.”

Caught Getting Creative: The disgrace of wunderkind writer Jonah Lehrer, outed for manufacturing quotes, reverberates worst in the city he calls home

Blood Brother trailer

Blood Brother Trailer from Blood Brother on Vimeo.

Danny Yourd, producer of Blood Brother says:

Blood Brother is the story of a group of children infected with HIV and Rocky Braat, a disenchanted young American that met them while drifting through India. He wanted to save them all, but in reality he couldn’t cure even one of them. He had to stay. It’s a hard life. He faces opposition in many forms. He lives in a concrete hut. Sometimes, he is close to despair. The truth is, he needs them as much as they need him. They teach him, daily, that love is the only thing that makes life worth living.

View the new trailer here.

Something really special to us is that this entire project was funded through donations. This means we have no debt and no one to pay back for the film, allowing any/all monetary gain from the film to be used to help support the orphanage and the children with HIV in India, as well as supporting Rocky and his efforts. The funding we raised covered the necessities of the entire production. On top of that virtually everyone up to this point has worked for free - donating their time, talents and expertise towards the project. Because of this, we're set up to donate all our profits. When this all blows over, Rocky will still be in India so we want this to somehow support him for a long time. His cost of living is low, so we can spread support out over time. We have no personal interest for financial gain in this project.

Steampunk Nintendo casemod


Redditor Andrew5785 refurbed an elderly Nintendo system for a covetous steampunk nephew, turning it into a sweet little contrafactual brass retrofuture contraption.

Steam-Punk Nintendo: Built this for my nephew that likes steam-punk and wanted my old Nintendo. (imgur.com)

Worst movie death scene ever? More like BEST movie death scene ever. (video)

[Video Link] Apparently, a clip from the Turkish movie "Kareteci Kız 1973." HT: Joe Sabia.

Drilling for Hoffa

NewImageTomorrow, police will drill through a concrete slab at a Detroit home where Jimmy Hoffa may be buried. They are responding to what they say is a "credible" tip from a man who claims he saw a burial take place at the home in 1975 around when Hoffa vanished. "We don't believe it's Jimmy Hoffa," said Police Chief Jim Berlin, quoted in the Macomb Daily. "I am very skeptical," Dan Moldea, author of "The Hoffa Wars" who also heard from the same tipster, told CNN. Once police have a core sample, it'll be tested for human remains. If the sample tests positive, they'll start digging.

Why don't giraffes have necks as long as a brachiosaurus?

We think of giraffes as long-necked creatures, but compared to ancient sauropod dinosaurs (a family that includes the brachiosaurus and apatosaurus) even the longest-necked giraffe may as well be nicknamed "Stumpy". In a paper published online at arXiv site, two paleontologists analyzed the biology of sauropods in an attempt to figure out which features allowed the dinosaurs to grow necks six times longer than giraffes.

Turns out, there are some distinct differences — especially in the anatomical architecture of the vertebra closest to both animals' skulls — that really stand out. As this helpful slide shows, a sauropod with the vertebra of a giraffe would be in very bad shape, indeed.

This paper, by the authors' own account, began life "as a late-night discussion over a couple of beers", which means it's basically the paleontology equivalent of "Who would win in a fight: Darth Vader or Superman?" Which is awesome. Better yet, the paper is quite easy to read and the information is organized in a way that will probably make more sense to you than the typical scientific research paper. So dig in! It's worth it! Here's one short excerpt taken from a part discussing some of those differences in the cervical vertebra (the aforementioned vertebra closest to the skull):

Many groups of animals seem to be constrained as to the number of cervical vertebrae they can evolve. With the exceptions of sloths and sirenians, mammals are all limited to exactly seven cervicals; azdarchids are variously reported as having seven to nine cervical vertebrae, but never more; non-avian theropods do not seem to have exceeded the 13 or perhaps 14 cervicals of Neimongosaurus, with eleven or fewer being more typical.

By contrast, sauropods repeatedly increased the number of their cervical vertebrae, attaining as many as 19 in Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis. Modern swans have up to 25 cervical vertebrae, and as noted above the marine reptile Albertonectes had 76 cervical vertebrae. Multiplication of cervical vertebrae obviously contributes to neck elongation.

Read the full study at arXiv

Read a blog post about the study by one of the authors

Via Bora Zivkovic

Human flesh pop-up butcher shop in Smithfield to promote new Resident Evil installment

Capcom is running a "pop up human butchery and morgue" at Smithfields meat market in London to promote the new Resident Evil installment. It'll be open for two days: Sept 28 and 29.

WARNING: Gross imagery within. Click through at your peril.

Once open, Resident Evil fans and unsuspecting members of the public will be treated to a glimpse into the gory world of Wesker & Son, the fictional butcher with a penchant for human flesh.

Once at the butchery, members of the public will be invited to sample and purchase a dizzying array of edible human limbs including hands, feet and a human head, which will be available to buy directly from the shop. As well as these specially created products, gamers will be able to buy 'Peppered Human & Lemon Sausages' and 'J’avo Caught Human Thigh Steaks' along with some specially made pots of Red Herb and Green Herb. All proceeds from the sale of the meat will be donated to the Limbless Association, which provides information and support to the limb-loss community.

In addition to the pop-up human butchery and morgue, Resident Evil fans will be invited to attend two days of lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum, which have been designed to explore some of the themes in the game and their links to real life. Dr. Morgaine Gaye, a Food Futurologist who will discuss future trends in human food consumption as well as explore cannibalism through history, will conduct the first of these lectures on Friday, 28th September, while Prof. John Oxford, one of the world’s leading virologists will discuss viruses and examine whether the game’s infamous C-Virus could ever become a reality. Gamers and members of the public wishing to attend either of these lectures need to register: cannibalism/viruses.

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