Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, March 12, 2003day link 

 ebay scams
I almost fell for a Romanian scam on ebay. I could kind of use a recent Apple Powerbook, and my budget doesn't add up to buying a new one right now, so I was watching for good auction deals on ebay. And, unlike the rest of my family, I don't really shop on ebay much, so I'm not particularly a pro. A bunch of things weren't quite adding up, but I had for some reason decided to ignore it, until my wife looked at it and said it didn't look right. I didn't win the auction, but supposedly the winner had backed out and the seller was willing to sell it to me for several hundred less. I was just about to hit the button on a Western Union money transfer. I think what made me almost overlook the danger signals was that it was a person who wrote bad English, so it all sounded a bit fuzzy and ambiguous, and I guess I felt sorry for him. The ebay seller had a great rating and lots of positive feedback from previous customers. But the account was registered in Canada, and the item seemed to be in Spain. It was a very nice ad, which couldn't possibly have been written by the person I communicated with. But I would be safe because I'd not give him the control number for the Western Union transfer before after I've received the item and inspected it. Well, that's the way Western Union *should* work, but it doesn't. You can pick up money without any control number. When confronted with the inconsistencies in the whole story, the person at the other end wrote about problems with their account being hacked, so they're really sorry it doesn't add up, but hopefully it would be resolved soon, and really, in Spain Western Union was different, etc. And a couple of e-mails later, he was suddenly suggesting that I'd send the money to his poor cousin in Romania, as then I could send it password protected, which would make it really secure. Yeah, sure, I knew by then of course that there was really no computer. Apparently what happened was that a legitimate eBay user's account was hacked. Or, rather, there was a scam, of sending people fake e-mails, appearing to be from ebay, which tricked people into giving out their password. So, the scammer posted a couple of fake auctions in the account, until the legitimate user managed to get their account back. I exchanged some e-mails with that person too. It is a bit embarrassing that I almost fell for it, but at least that can serve as a warning for others. A bit of research on the web also showed me plenty of Romanian ebay scams, involving suggestions of such 'secure' western union payments, and plenty of suckers who fell for them.
[ | 2003-03-12 16:38 | 316 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 The Myth of Interference
David Weinberger has a nice article at Salon about Internet veteran David Reed's thoughts about spectrum. Governments have divided the radio spectrum into bands that are being licensed to big media companies, giving them basically a monopoly on what is being broadcast. It is all based on the idea that radio and TV signals interfere with each other, so there can only be one entity broadcasting on a given frequency in a given area. Interference was a problem with old radio equipment, but it is no longer a valid limitation. Reed says:
"Interference is a metaphor that paints an old limitation of technology as a fact of nature."

"There's no scarcity of spectrum any more than there's a scarcity of the color green. We could instantly hook up to the Internet everyone who can pick up a radio signal, and they could pump through as many bits as they could ever want. We'd go from an economy of digital scarcity to an economy of digital abundance."
So, any guess as to why we aren't doing that? Who could possibly benefit from keeping all radio spectrum monopolized in the hands of large media corporations and the military? Gee, that's a hard one.
[ | 2003-03-12 21:48 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Iraqi drone revealed
picture There had been a lot of furor about a supposed drone, capable of spraying biological or chemical weapons over U.S. troops, which was discovered in Iraq recently, and which Hans Blix didn't mention in his U.N. report, but burried in a big written report. Sounded like a smoking gun, and Colin Powell presented it as being very dangerous. But here you see it on the picture. It is essentially a large model airplane, which is controlled by somebody on the ground who has it within visual range. Meaning, it wouldn't be able to move more than a couple of kilometers away. And it doesn't exactly have room for any fancy weapons. Another embarrassing non-story. Story here
[ | 2003-03-12 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Magnificent Obsessions
When I was around four years old I was collecting the license plate numbers of taxis in Copenhagen. I had a little notebook in my pocket in which I meticulously would write down the numbers, many on each page, dozens of pages.

Later on I collected yoghurt containers. Not different kinds, but all the same kind, white with no markings. I think I had hundreds.

People do many strange things. Check out the Magnificent Obsessions site, and you'll see that the world is full of people obsessively doing baffling things.
[ | 2003-03-12 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

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