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Comment: Re:Yes, they're separate (Score 1) 214

by billstewart (#47492837) Attached to: Cosmologists Show Negative Mass Could Exist In Our Universe

Yup - Dark matter is simply stuff we haven't seen yet. It might be tiny particles of types we don't understand, it might be supermassive black holes, it might be lots of small black holes, it might be lots of free-floating planets not around stars, or Jupiter-sized gas planets that weren't big enough to ignite into stars, it might be little rocks, it might be accounting errors. It might be weird stuff, it might be non-weird stuff. There's enough of whatever it is to have enough mass that galaxies act differently that we'd expect from the amount of matter we can see (i.e. mostly stars.)

Dark energy is a lot weirder. It's not defined as just the energy form of dark-matter-on particles, it's a different problem.

Comment: Honeypot Credit Card Numbers (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492759) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

Tracing the phone calls hasn't worked very well, but the way to go is to follow the money. Flooding them with honeypot credit card numbers would generate a trail that might be followable (e.g. have an FTC web page that'll generate a credit card number and billing name/address, and have Visa track the merchant information for anybody trying to process a charge against those numbers; the risk is that you have to make sure those numbers don't get used for fraud, even if they're set up to always reject charges.)

I don't know how much information the scammers try to get, such as SSNs; generating fake ones of those has its own risks, though it's always fun to give them 078-05-1120 or Richard Nixon's SSN 567-68-0515. It turns out there is a publicly available official list of SSNs of dead people, which is intended to detect people using invalid SSNs, but it's possible that Rachel's gang doesn't bother filtering on it, considering that they don't filter on phone numbers of people who've told them not to call back.

Comment: Re:She's baaaaaack (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492731) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

They really did go away for a while, or at least slow down a lot, when one of the big "Rachel from Cardholder Services" gangs got busted and shut down. But it's such an easily replicable scam, and probably multiple sets of it are being run independently. I'm pretty sure the call center end is independent contractors or else shady call-centers (I know some are in Canada, and I suspect some are run by prison-labor call centers and some are in the Caribbean.)

Comment: Why Whitelisting Fails (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492725) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

First of all, Caller ID is trivially easy to fake, and the scammers all do it. For now, most of them pick random or fake numbers to avoid getting blacklisted, but if whitelists were common, they'd start forging real numbers to get through.

But many people (ok, me, at least) get lots of calls from numbers I don't recognize, and robocalls that I want that might not come from the number I recognize for somebody. Most of the robocalls are the pharmacy saying I've got something to pick up, or the dentist's office with a reminder about an appointment, or that kind of thing, and the calls from humans might be from some doctor my wife is going to or some business we were trying to reach that has different numbers for outgoing calls than incoming (like the painter calling from his cellphone instead of his office, or a big business calling from their call center or local office instead of their toll-free number.)

And yes, I could just let the answering machine pick up, and you can too. Some of the robocallers' robots do a better job of dealing with that than others.

Comment: Re:The machine I let "Microsoft Repair" hack (Score 2) 123

by billstewart (#47492707) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

It's a virtual machine. Running Linux. Firefox instead of Internet Exploder (Sorry, it's a work machine, the IT department installs Firefox instead of IE.) With NoScript and AdBlockPlus. Amazing how much stuff just "didn't work" when I tried it - I'd go to their web pages, and I'd hit the Download button and nothing would happen, or I'd run the installer and it wouldn't work. (I wanted to see all the different things they were trying - most of them were different Remote Login or Remote Execution programs that would have let him log into my machine and then do his real attacks.)

After about half an hour the guy realized I was faking him out, and we had another entertaining half hour while he tried to convince me that what he was doing really was a legitimate kind of business, and after that his boss came on and spent five or ten minutes yelling at me for wasting his employee's time.

Comment: Re:competitors to Comcast for data services. (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492683) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

At least in most states, DSL service from the main telco can not only carry telco-provided ISP services, but also competitive ISPs, such as Sonic and Speakeasy and whatever Megapath and Covad are called these days. The competitors tend to cost a bit more, but also offer things like static IP addresses at more reasonable prices, and usually don't have usage caps or "no servers at home" policies. They may be renting just the wire from the telco, or maybe the wire and the DSLAM, and usually also some regional distribution network, but it's usually their own email and web servers and upstream bandwidth.

My experience with Sonic.net is that about every 5 years, something goes wrong that takes a day or two to fix, either a telco problem in a box down the street, or my DSL modem getting too old and dying. So I call them up by phone or send them email from work or Starbucks, and get a quick response back from somebody who can diagnose the problem but may need to call the telco to actually fix.

Fiber-based telco services don't have to share with competitors, unlike copper, and I'm not sure if AT&T U-Verse gets resold or not. But copper DSL is definitely not just the local monopoly.

Comment: Didn't work for me (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492645) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

I work from home most days, and Rachel and her robot army usually call a couple of times a day. I've tried anything from stringing them along to yelling at them for being criminals to putting the phone down, and they still call back. (The one serious thing I haven't tried is the combination of reorder tone and a "The number you are calling has been disconnected" announcement, which I should just have as a handy .wav to play at them.)

I wonder where they get their labor - some of it sounds like Canadian or Caribbean call centers, but there are a lot of US prisons, including the for-profit ones, that run call centers as something more lucrative to have prisoners doing than farm work or making license plates. Given how they're wasting their workers' time almost as badly as the people they call, it must be really cheap.

Comment: Re:Really? (Score 1) 123

by billstewart (#47492625) Attached to: FTC To Trap Robocallers With Open Source Software

I don't do that to them, though I have occasionally called them a bunch of names (besides crook and scammer.) Sometimes I'll ask how their family feels about them being criminals, or how they feel about working for criminals, or asking why I should trust them with my information now when they've a bunch of lying crooks, or I'll tell them "just a sec" and put the phone down.

Lately I've been telling them that the last time they called, I got cut off, and asking what notes they have on their computer screen from the last time they called. Some of them hang up right away, but the one yesterday said she doesn't have a computer, she just takes my information on paper.

What a cheapass bunch of scammers! Back when I designed PBXs and call center equipment, the main costs changed from telecom charges (early 80s) to labor (90s), but even now, when phone call minutes are basically free, and exploitable workers are pretty cheap, it still seems hopelessly inefficient not to give them good information so you can maximize the money they scam from customers and minimize the labor it takes to call your victims, probably even if you're also ripping off the call center workers by having them work from home on "commission".

Comment: Re: Simple (Score 1) 506

by billstewart (#47477605) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Future-Proof Jobs?

Of course it is, and the misogyny was obviously there. But studying home economics isn't the same as being a homemaker, either.

And when I was in high school, it was periodically suggested that I should try out for basketball, because I was one of the taller kids in the class. (It wasn't suggested by anybody who'd seen my klutzy attempts to actually dribble a basketball, but playing defense mainly meant getting in other people's way and then handing off the ball to somebody faster, which I could sometimes manage.)

Comment: Too Little, Too Late (Score 4, Interesting) 237

by billstewart (#47464429) Attached to: Pseudonyms Now Allowed On Google+

Google+ was trying to be a social network, and one of Google's execs (I think Eric?) also described it as an "identity service", which is something advertisers may want but slightly fewer than zero readers and writers actually wanted. No Facebook kill here, even if it does stick around longer than Orkut (which mainly took off because John Perry Barlow gave a bunch of invites to friends in Brazil, and Brazilians thought it was a great service for gossip.)

Comment: Re:n/t (Score 5, Insightful) 278

by billstewart (#47464421) Attached to: The debate over climate change is..

There's lots of actual scientific debate, at least when it can get funding and doesn't get censored by the governments that fund it. It's not about "Is the climate changing, in ways that will get us in trouble, because of things humans have been doing?"; that's all settled. It's more about "Precisely how fast is it changing, and in what ways, and who's going to bake first or freeze first, and whose coastline is going to get flooded how fast, and how does agriculture have to adapt to keep us from starving in a few decades or a century, and how much of the ecology can we save while we're at it?"

So laws like North Carolina's ban on considering any global warming effects beyond 30 years? Pretty much criminal, and obviously written by a bunch of 70-year-olds who don't think they'll need a beach house after that, plus some 50-year-olds who think they'll be retired from politics by then. I used to live in Delaware and New Jersey, both states with beach industries constantly affected by erosion and flooding, and North Carolina's coastline is the same way. If the sand washes away your property values drop and then your house washes into the ocean, and when the barrier islands are gone, the mainland starts to go pretty fast also.

Comment: Because it's big money. (Score 1) 278

by billstewart (#47464391) Attached to: The debate over climate change is..

This isn't simply the kind of big money that some people want to spend and other people don't want to pay for, like fixing old bridges or highways. This is the Energy Industry and its friends in the Energy-Consumption Industries who really really don't want Congress* making laws that will interfere with their business, which reducing carbon emissions inherently will.

They're not doing fair arguments, like "Don't limit our carbon, it'll crash the economy and our profits and your momma's job." They know that's a loser, so they're trying to head it off at the pass by getting the public not to believe in science, especially climate science, and there was a ready-made propaganda machine just sitting there for hire in return for funding right-wing politicians who'll also do you favors like starting wars for oil. You thought all of that argument about "Evolution" was just to get Fundies to show up at the polls? It's also to get them and any other right-wingers to echo the politically correct mantras about "Don't trust scientists", because "Global Warming Is A Hoax" is a message from the party's corporate sponsors.

* Also parliaments of various countries, but it's primarily a US political thing for the moment, with a bit of overflow into the UK and other Fox News media outlets, and a bit into Canada.

"Who cares if it doesn't do anything? It was made with our new Triple-Iso-Bifurcated-Krypton-Gate-MOS process ..."

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