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Comment Common (Score 4, Informative) 48

If you ever start a business, you'll be inundated with these types of phishing attacks. Most of them are actually by postal mail too.
  • Letters and envelopes designed to look like government correspondence, saying you need to renew your business registration for $200. The actual requirement (annual statement of information) is about $20, and can be done online. These scam artists trick business owners who don't know into thinking it's $200 (effectively $20 for the filing, $180 for their "service"). My dad (a family practice doctor) didn't learn this until after he retired, and he found one of these letters in my trash and demanded to know why I was throwing out a government notice. By our estimate he paid over $5000 to these crooks during his career. These got so bad that many states passed laws requiring any correspondence for a service assisting with filing government forms have "THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT NOTICE" printed all over.
  • Letters masquerading as subscription renewals for things you haven't actually subscribed to. They're hoping someone in accounting doesn't know you haven't actually subscribed to it, assume it's a renewal so they won't investigate it to see if it's legit, and just pay it.
  • Package delivery fees for your clients. If you're in a business where your customers temporarily or permanently share your address (hotel, landlord, etc), sometimes your customers don't pay their bills to other companies. These companies then try to trick you into paying the bill because you share the same address. They'll send you a legit invoice with your company name as the purchaser/recipient. Buried down in the handwritten description of the charge it'll mention your client who is the actual payer.
  • A company who sold merchandise to one of our customers tried to pull this on us too. They said that was the billing info the customer gave them. I give them the benefit of the doubt - I assume it was a mixup between billing address and shipping address.
  • Information harvesting. These aren't a direct financial attack. I think they're just collecting marketing info so they can sell it. The most memorable one I got was by phone. They claimed to be from the DMV and asked some basic information about our company (size, revenue). Some of our vehicles are registered with the DMV for off-road-only use (i.e. on our property only) so it's not unusual for us to get a call from the DMV about this. But when they started asking about our payroll info, the alarm bells went off. I asked why the DMV needed that info, and they hung up. Thinking back, I think they actually said they were calling from the "DNV" not the "DMV".
  • These can come by mail too. I've gotten one designed to look like the Bureau of Labor Statistics forms our company was sometimes randomly chosen to fill out. Only difference was the destination fax number. I only noticed it because while I was prepping the report, I noticed I had already sent the report for that month. That's when I dug into it a little more and discovered the fax number was different.
  • Designed to look like another bill. I've gotten two of these - one mimicking a utility bill, one saying I had to pay something for my Google account. The Google one was an obvious fake. The one mimicking my electric bill was really good. If I had been paying it by hand, it might have slipped through. I caught it because according to my accounting program, I had already paid the electric bill that month. I think they were counting on people making the payment check out to "SCE" instead of "Southern California Edison", and mailing it in that handily provided return envelope with pre-printed address.
  • Standard fake IRS notices, telling you to call a phone number to pay. The phone number goes to the scammer, not the IRS.

Taken individually, these attacks are usually pretty easy to spot. But when you're hit with so many of them over the years, even if you catch 99% of them, a few will slip through.

Comment Re:The view fails to account getting &*#@ed (Score 4, Informative) 527

Tuitions went up enormously when the law was changed to allow loans not forgiven by bankruptcy.

Here's a chart of historical tuitions (inflation-adjusted). The change in student loan bankruptcy law was in 2005.

  • From 1994-95 to 2004-05, the average tuition rose from $13,069 to $17,030. An increase of 30.3%, or an annual average of 2.68%.
  • From 2004-05 to 2014-15, the average tuition rose from $17,030 to $21,728. An increase ot 27.6%, or an annual average of 2.47%.
  • Even if you remove the transition years (2004-05 and 2005-06), the increase was 2.34% per year before 2005, 1.93% per year after 2005.

So contrary to your claim, the rate at which tuitions were climbing actually slowed down after it was made virtually impossible to discharge student loan debt via bankruptcy.

It was the widespread availability of loans and grants, starting way back after WWII with the GI Bill, which led to high tuitions. The schools simply sopped up that extra money by increasing their tuition. The change to bankruptcy law, while a cute theory, had nothing to do with it, according to numerical evidence.

Comment Re:This is retarded conservatism to help 'coal' (Score 3, Interesting) 464

You probably missed it because you were only looking for examples of OPEC reducing production. Shale oil used to cost around $80-$100/bbl to extract. As long as the price of oil remained below that price, extracting shale oil was economically unfeasible and oil companies threw just a token amount of money into its R&D just to keep it ready on the back burner. So OPEC was trying to keep the price of oil high, but below that $100/bbl threshold. When the price of oil did drift over $100/bbl, OPEC increased production to try to bring the price back below that threshold, keeping shale oil borderline unfeasible.

I think what OPEC (and everyone else) missed was that you don't just get oil from shale oil. You get natural gas too. And that natural gas is what's turned out to be a bonanza, leading it to surpass coal, and threatening to pass oil as the leading fossil fuel. It's driven further shale oil extraction R&D (I believe its cost is well under $50/bbl now). So at this point OPEC is along for the ride just like everyone else.

Comment Re:Another outrage article (Score 2) 269

The Energy Star program costs almost nothing.

And you can buy a laptop on DealDash for $11.

It costs "almost nothing" only if you look at the financial impact on a select part of the economy (the government) rather than on the economy as a whole. To truly measure the cost of Energy Star, you need to measure how much it's costing manufacturers to design to comply with the Energy Star standards. Because they're passing those costs onto their customers in the form of higher prices, which means that cost is coming out of your and my pocket just as if it were taxes.

(Likewise, the way DealDash works is that they charge for each bid everyone places on an auction. So the cost of the $11 laptop is actually the $11 winning bid + how much everyone trying to win it paid in bidding fees. See how deceptive you can be if you don't include all the costs something has on the entire system?)

There are Energy Star standards which are totally worth it (e.g. average electricity cost of appliances like refrigerators which are not always-on). And there are Energy Star standards which totally don't work (e.g. auto-dimming TVs to save power). You need to be able to pick out the wheat from the chaff. Basically, you need an Energy Star for programs like Energy Star, which estimates the cost of having the standard vs. the benefit of having it. And axes any standards which simply aren't worth it and cost more in paperwork and expense than the benefit they produce.

Comment Re:It's pretty simple (Score 1) 269

And people will say OMG! the government is involved in the market so it must be bad.

Actually, Energy Star is a great example of the opposite problematic thinking. That something the government does is good, therefore everything it does must be good.

Energy Star is (was) a great premise. But they've already picked all the low-hanging fruit. A lot of their ratings I've seen lately have been unnecessary - duplicating info you can glean simply by comparing the wattage which is already labeled. It's a government program which has been expanded far beyond the point of cost-effectiveness by people who think any and all government involvement is good. At this point they're dreaming up new energy-efficiency standards, even if the cost of developing and complying with that standard exceeds the cost of the energy saved. (Some of the standards don't even work - TVs, laptops, and tablets go into a screen-dimming power-saving mode just to meet Energy Star standards. But in actual use people just disable the dimming or use the device in ways which prevent the dimming from occurring. What, you thought Microsoft made Windows 8 auto-dim your laptop screen by default just to annoy you?)

Just because some government regulation is bad doesn't automatically mean all government regulation is bad. And just because some government regulation is good doesn't automatically mean all government regulation is good. People need to think more critically, and try to support the government programs and regulations which are worthwhile, while discarding the ones which are not. Otherwise you end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or drowning the baby with too much bathwater.

Comment And you apparently do not understand calculus (Score 3, Informative) 353

So in your misguided worldview, people who scrimp and save, research, and invest their earnings wisely should have to pay more taxes and be excluded from government assistance. While someone who earned exactly as much money but blew their income on parties, concerts, eating out, hookers, and blow should have to pay lower taxes and qualify more easily for government aid?

Net worth (wealth) is just the integral of income minus expenses (or if you prefer, income minus expenses is the first derivative of wealth). Income is the correct basis for determining taxation and qualification for government aid. How much wealth you accumulate depends not just on how much income you make, but also how much money you spend. As a result, any form of taxation based on wealth unfairly penalizes people who save their money instead of spending it unnecessarily. OTOH, taxation based on income treats everyone the same regardless of whether they spend their money wisely or foolishly.

Also, since wealth is the integral of income minus expenses, wealth is the accumulation of past income. So any attempt to tax wealth is an attempt to retroactively tax past income. Ex post facto laws are illegal under our Constitution.

If you want to tax rich people more, increase the tax rates on higher income. It's as simple as that.

Comment Re:My user_agent (Score 1) 248

I have the Camelizer extension installed, so I can check against historical prices and notice immediately if the price they're showing me is different from their "standard" price (or whatever they tell CamelCamelCamel).

It's a really handy tool. I wish there were something similar for other online stores than Amazon.

Comment Real issue is trust, not latency (Score 1) 268

People like to cheat. As a result, competitive online games have had to use a client-server model where a server holds a Truth world state and transmits it to the clients at regular intervals. The clients then reconstruct that (slightly delayed) Truth state as best they can, allow each player to send an action (e.g. fire at location xyz) back to the server. The server then evaluates if the action results in a hit. Since all decisions are made by the server, people can't hack their client to cheat (other than the human-computer interface - e.g. aimbots).

My first job out of grad school was working on multi-user networked simulators for the DoD. We'd take what were normally single-user sims, modify them to report their state on the network, allowing multiple sims to operate together in the same virtual environment. Once users started shooting at each other, we ran into the latency issue. But since we trusted our clients (a pilot isn't going to hack his F-16 sim to get an advantage by cheating), we didn't have to rely on a server. In fact there was no server. Each client knew the Truth state of the entity it was simulating and reported it over the network Hits were determined by the client doing the shooting - if you can see the target on your client, you take a shot, and your client calculates if it was a hit. (For guided munitions, the munition acts as a separate entity, and the target determines if it hits since the "attack" happens local to that client.) Latency becomes a non-issue because things like hits are all determined locally.

If you can trust the other players in the game, then there's no need for a server which controls the Truth state for the game world. Time-sensitive interactions can be calculated on the appropriate client, resulting in almost no latency. Players might complain about delayed actions - e.g. sticking your head up from behind cover to take a peek, ducking back down, then getting killed. At first glance that seems unfair - the other player was able to shoot you while you were behind cover. But only the consequences are delayed, not the actions which produced those consequences. On the other player's screen, he saw your head pop up and killed you before you were able to duck down. Your head was exposed for the same amount of time on both computers, so it was a fair shot. It's just that your computer didn't know the other player had taken a shot before it allowed you to duck down.

Comment Re:Patriot (Score 1) 199

They should look for someone that believes in the US Constitution as it was written, not re-interpreted.

So someone who believes the Federal government should only be involved in national defense, and not in education, environmental protection, labor protection, farm subsidies, health care, retirement funding, communications (including Internet), roads and highways, regulation of banks and the market, etc.

Feature creep or cherry-picking the principles you feel are worth defending. Pick your poison.

Someone appalled at how the CIA has been allowed to run amok and trample all over the freedoms guaranteed by that document.

Actually the CIA for the most part isn't bound by the Constitution. The CIA's mission is to protect American interests abroad, where the Constitution doesn't apply. The corresponding TLA organization who operates within the U.S. is the FBI. One can argue that from a moral perspective the CIA should be operating abroad by the same principles they are purportedly defending at home. But there's no such legal requirement. And mathematically that seems to be an ineffective strategy (tit for tat turns out to be one of the best strategies in the iterative prisoner's dilemma, whereas always being nice consistently results in being taken advantage of).

Comment Re:Samasung's ToS what a joke (Score 2) 100

This particular exploit doesn't require an Internet connection. And the fact that it was for a Samsung TV probably has more to do with the prevalence of Samsung TVs (most bang for the coding buck).

Any device with a microphone attached to a computer that's always left partially powered on could be hacked to do this. Previous leaks have pointed to similar malware for phones. It's just that TVs are easier to hack since they're frequently left unattended (and people like you think they're safe if it doesn't have an Internet connection), while phones are carried on the person. You're a fool if you think the risk is limited to a single company's products

And I'm not even sure the microphone is necessary. If the computer can measure the voltage on a speaker wire, a speaker can be used as a (poor) microphone. Conceptually they are the same thing. A voltage moves a physical membrane to produce sound. Sound moves a physical membrane to produce voltage.

Comment Thought experiments are good (Score 4, Interesting) 171

Thought experiments are how you come up with an idea that nobody has thought of before.

Back in the late 1980sI was on an email discussion group for Traveller (a sci-fi RPG). Someone asked why hydrogen fuel (for fusion) was stored as water aboard ships. Someone answered that water stores hydrogen atoms more densely than hydrogen gas, and the energy needed to chemically break off the hydrogen atoms off of water was trivial compared to the energy you could get from fusing them into helium. That spawned a discussion about whether there were other molecules which stored hydrogen even more compactly. Methane (CH4) was an obvious choice - 4 hydrogen atoms per non-hydrogen base, compared to just 2 for water (H2O). But eventually we settled on ammonia (NH4) because it's liquid at room temperature and wouldn't require pressurization or cryogenic storage in a vehicle sharing space with a life support environment for humans.

It's totally useless info right now (and probably the next few decades). But it's something that will be important in the future.

Comment Competition isn't any better (Score 3, Informative) 84

1. Your location is transmitted to Google, together with surrounding wifi settings. They do this with a popup that appears whenever you turn on GPS, it asks you if you want to improve location accuracy, in actuality it's tracking the surrounding wifi spots and matching them against the GPS location your phone records. The dialog is written so you think you need to say yes to get GPS to work, but you can say no and GPS still works.

You can thank Apple and the government for that. Apple did (does?) exactly this to develop their initial WiFi map data. They rolled out an update which collected location and nearby WiFi SSID data from people's iPhones and uploaded it to Apple, and buried the fact that they were doing it in the iTunes installation process. Once they got this data by using every iPhone owner as an unpaid hotspot locator, they dumped the Skyhook WiFi map they had been licensing.

Google developed their WiFi map by adding WiFi SSID sniffers to the cars they were driving around the world to take Street View pictures for Google Maps. Someone at the EU claimed they were recording more than just SSID. Google said that was ridiculous, self-audited their collection software, found a developer's setting hadn't been turned off and that they had beent collecting more than just SSID, and self-reported themselves to the EU. The EU and US governments promptly sued and fined them for it. Apple OTOH got off scott free. So Google stopped collecting the WiFi SSID location data collection themselves, and just copied what Apple was doing - lifting the data straight from people's phones.

2. Google Play Store, if you try to disable or remove this, it will remove every app you installed from the playstore at the same time. Google play store provides Google with your credit card linkage, and real id, to the location and search surveillance it does.

So maybe they should be like Apple and make it impossible to remove the Play Store?

At least they give you the option to not use the Google Play Store if you don't want to use it. You can use an alternate store like Amazon. Or if you're really paranoid you can just sideload everything directly from your PC. Good luck doing that with the competitors.

3. You cannot remove the required google account and keep the apps you installed.

Well duh. Without the Google account, the apps have no way of knowing if they were installed after being legitimately purchased, or if they were pirated. The Achilles heel of online software distribution is confirmation of licensing. Either Google does it, with the side-effect that removing the Google account disables the apps. Or every app developer out there including the one-person shops has to run, operate, and maintain their own licensing server 24/7/365.

4. Android now INSISTS on a telephone number for Android device registrations.

? My Android tablet didn't. You sure this isn't something the cellular carriers have added to Android phones?

6. Did you agree to backup the phone? That pester message that pops up regularly that you can't tell "no never' to? You just gave Google the password to every wifi network and business server you ever used. Compromising a lot of data.

Everyone does this. Google is the only one who lets you see what they've collected on you, and gives you the option to delete it if you wish.

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