Tag Archives: San Diego

Obese Texters, Back to the Future, and Scams

I make an appearance on the excellent Breakfast Club show on Radio Australia each Friday at about 01:15 GMT and some listeners have asked me post links to the stuff I talk about, so here they are.

Texting reduces obesity

If your kids are getting a little overweight, then treat them to a bit of texting. But it’s not quite how it sounds (I thought it might be something to do with the aerobic workout you get from the thumb twiddling.) No, a study by the University of North Carolina suggests that if obese kids are encouraged to keep a record of their eating habits via SMS, they are more likely to adhere to the health regimen—less TV, more exerices, less Coke—than those who just wrote down the same information. (Attrition rate was 28% against 61% for the paper diary kids and 50% for the control group.)

Part of this may be down to the fact that the kids get instant feedback via SMS on their results. So actually this is more about the interactivity of health regimes rather than the physical benefits of cellphones or texting. (Actually this whole SMS for health thing is quite a meme. Check out this conference here.)

The miracles of life in 2000—as seen from 1950

Popular Mechanics of February 1950 predicted a number of things, some of which have come true, some of which haven’t, and some of which should, if we got our act together.

What they got right

  • Highways broad without any curves
  • Doubledecked highways
  • soup and milk come in frozen bricks (but thought that cooking would be a thing of the past)
  • TV connected to the phone; but would buy stuff over the TV with store clerks holding the goods up obligingly for customers to inspect…
  • robots in factories, but controlled by punch cards
  • air travel would be frequent, but expensive because of jet fuel; rocket plane fare from Chicago to Paris would cost $5000

What they got wrong

  • Heart of the town is the airport
  • Clean as a whistle and quiet
  • Crime to burn raw coal
  • Illumnitated by electric suns on 200 ft high towers
  • A house would cost only $5000 to build
  • Houses don’t last more than 25 years
  • Wash using chemicals that shave as well.
  • Dishes dissolves in superheated water, so no washing machines
  • Plastics derived from cottonseed hulls, Jerusalem artichocks and and fruit pips
  • Clean the house by turning a hose on it; everything is synthetic fabric of waterproof plastic; drain in the middle of the floor
  • worried by mass starvation, scientists came up with food from sawdust, table linen and rayon underwear converted into sweets
  • ‘calculators’ would predict the weather
  • storms diverted
  • no one would have gone to the moon—yet…

What I wish they’d gotten right

  • Used underwear recyled into candy

Scam lady

Janella Spears, nursing administrator in a place called Sweet Home, Oregon, who practices CPR and is a reverend, has given $400,000 to scammers. She got letters from President Bush, the president of Nigeria and FBI director Robert Mueller. Wiped out husband’s retirement account, mortgaged the house and took out a lien on the family car. Everyone told her to stop but she didn’t.

This is the problem with scams; it’s very hard to accept you’ve been scammed, and so perversely it’s easier to continuing giving money in the belief that it will all come good.

Pocket Keys

A team at UCal San Diego have come up with software, called Sneakey, that can take a picture of a key and convert it to a bitting code, which is enough for a locksmith to make a new key:

  1. The user provides point locations on the target key with a reference key as a guide.
  2. The system warps the target image into the pose of the reference key and overlays markings of where the bite codes are to be found.
  3. The user specifies where the cut falls along each line and the bit depths are decoded by the system into a bitting code.

In one experiment, the Sneakey team installed a camera on their four story department building (77 feet above the ground) at an acute angle to a key sitting on a café table 195 feet away. The image captured (below) was correctly decoded.

They’ve not released the software but say it would be pretty easy to put together.

iTunes and Your Vulnerable MP3 collection

My friend and fellow columnist Phil Baker writes about Apple’s new iPod in his San Diego column, but he also points out a serious problem with the company’s new iTunes software, something I have experienced myself. Phil points out that it’s not just a minor glitch but something affecting lots of users:

Apple also introduced a new version of iTunes 5.0 that offers a number of new features including faster searching, Outlook syncing and parental control. However, when I tried upgrading my iTunes running on a PC, the installation failed and I cannot access my iTunes. Based on Apple discussion groups, many are experiencing the same problem. (Of course, I checked only after I had the problem!) So hold off for now before upgrading, at least on PCs. Apple needs to come up with a fix and fast.

This kind of thing scares me. It scares me because we don’t yet grasp how fragile our music collection has become. Before we had a pile of CDs we could always go back to if our tapes, MP3s or burned CDs gave up the ghost. Nowadays our music collection may be just in the form of MP3 files, and what happens to them if something goes wrong? What happens if MP3 software (or a system crash, a hard drive error, or a stray catheter) corrupts your files, your tags, or your authorisation and proof of purchase? At what point do we say, “forget this, I’m not going to pay for anything that doesn’t come in some physical form I can stash on a shelf”?

Now, The MyDoom Backslapping

Queue trumpets. The security software folk have started congratulating themselves for saving us from MyDoom.

Here’s DeepNines Technologies, “the only company to offer a security platform that includes firewall, intrusion prevention and gateway anti-virus functionality in front of the router”, which says: “Companies that have Sleuth9 deployed in front of the router, are finding that approximately 1.5 out of every 10 emails are infected and they are successfully blocking those emails at the perimeter, thus preventing MyDoom from impacting the network.”

Here’s CrystalTech Web Hosting Inc, “a Microsoft Windows-based web host located in Phoenix, Arizona”, which says it “has effectively eliminated the threat of the MyDoom virus for over 1.2 million mail accounts and over 38,000 domains that are hosted on their network”.  Customers, the company is not shy in pointing out, were impressed: “The speed and efficiency with which CrystalTech acted did not go unnoticed by their customers. Several noted on the CrystalTech message board that they were seeing few, if any, infected messages in their inboxes. The majority stated that they were seeing more in their outside accounts, with one customer stating that their free email account was full with infected messages within a day, whereas his CrystalTech account had a single infected message.”

In fact, reading this stuff you’d think the virus had only hit folk in outer space. BorderWare Technologies Inc., “The Security Appliances Company(TM)”, says “no MXtreme Mail Firewall customers have been affected by the MyDoom outbreak or any of its variants and mutations”.

And, then of course, there’s the intoxicating smell of free publicity: 0Spam.Net, “the most accurate Anti-Spam solution in the world for eliminating Spam, Pornography, Phishing (Identity Theft Fraud) and Viruses from email”, is offering “free protection against email delivery of the MyDoom virus and any variants that might appear over the next 30 days” to ISPs, companies, governmental or non-profit organizations, and extends to individuals and families as well. It’s not clear whether this offer was already in place before MyDoom hit. Now that really would have helped.

The there’s the individual heroics: My favourite is from San Diego, where, hours before the world realized what was happening, a certified Juvio computer technician, assisting a customer with a troubled computer detected the MyDoom virus. “With no known protection codes available, the Juvio technician immediately set about to write script to defeat this destructive new virus. In a matter of minutes, the victimized customer ceased to be attacked by this malicious virus thanks to the expertise and quick skill of the attending Juvio technician. The technician immediately alerted fellow Juvio technicians to the situation and provided them with a repair solution, effectively assisting several global customers who found themselves to be in need of emergency help.” I’m not complaining, by the way: This is an uplifting tale and much more fun to read than most press releases.

The serious point in all this, I guess, is that the flood of press releases that tracked MyDoom’s progress (including interactive maps and charts), and now this self-congratulatory fluff, brings home how much money is to be made from selling stuff to protect people.