Free money

Man is given $1.3 million in free money, and it ends badly:

A debt-ridden student blew $1.3 million on sports cars, speedboats, strippers and cocaine after a bank error gave him an unlimited overdraft.

Wannabe playboy Luke Moore lived the high life for two years before he was caught by cops and jailed on fraud charges.

The Australian treated himself to luxury holidays, an Aston Martin, a Maserati and a boat while living the ultimate bachelor lifestyle.

But he was slapped with a four-year jail term last year after the banking glitch came to light.

Moore, 29, went free last week after winning an appeal of his conviction on the grounds that his actions were not deceptive.

I’ll say. What could be the basis for charging him with fraud? He took what was given to him.

Interesting that this went undetected for two years. That’s what happens when everything is automated and the element of human judgement is removed. Would your local banker allow you to withdraw a million bucks over two years because of a “glitch”?

He is now broke and living with his mother in Goulburn, New South Wales, ironically while studying to become a criminal lawyer.

But he told the Daily Telegraph he did not miss his multimillionaire lifestyle “besides the cocaine, the strippers and fast cars.”

This is the type of thing that makes me think that a universal basic income (UBI), instead of bringing about a great flourishing of the human spirit, would actually lead to the swift collapse of society.

I can relate

Spotted on Twitter:

Cark

System maintenance

This is what happens if you try to change your profile picture in WeChat (the Chinese version of WhatsApp):

WeChat system maintenanceHmm…. that must be some pretty intensive maintenance, there.

As it turns out, by sheer happenstance, the “maintenance” coincides with a very important event in the Chinese political calendar:

WeChat, China’s social, messaging, and do-everything mobile app, announced (in Chinese) on October 17 that its users are temporarily banned from updating their profiles until the end of the month.

“Due to system maintenance, users won’t be able to change their profile pictures, user names, and short bios until the end of this month,” the notice says. “Other functions won’t be affected. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.”

Other Chinese social media platforms, including Weibo and QQ, have announced the same type of service interruptions.

“System maintenance” (系统维护 xìtǒng wéihù) is a euphemism often used by Chinese internet companies when services are suspended because of government regulations or censorship. None of the companies have stated the real reason for the suspensions: security measures for the 19th Party Congress, which formally begins on October 18 and ends on October 24.

I got the error message on October 24, by the way. I tried again today and was able to change the picture.

Clearly, this calls for a new meme:

System Maintenance - Dr Evil Air Quotes meme

Networked totalitarianism

Comment by author and strategist John Robb:

Facebook just declared war against “disruptive” information. In addition to hundreds of new human censors, they are training AI censors capable of identifying and deleting ‘unacceptable’ information found in the discussions of all two billion members in real time. This development highlights what the real danger posed by a socially networked world actually is.

The REAL danger facing a world interconnected by social networking isn’t disruption. As we have seen on numerous occasions, the danger posed by disruptive information and events is fleeting. Disruption, although potentially painful in the short term, doesn’t last, nor is it truly damaging over the long term. In fact, the true danger posed by an internetworked world is just the opposite of disruption.

This danger is an all encompassing online orthodoxy. A sameness of thought and approach enforced by hundreds of millions of socially internetworked adherents. A global orthodoxy that ruthless narrows public thought down to a single, barren, ideological framework. A ruling network that prevents dissent and locks us into stagnation and inevitable failure as it runs afoul of reality and human nature.

It will be fun to see whether the hive mind created by social networking proves to be a greater threat to human liberty than a king on a throne, or a dictator with a secret police force. It clearly has the potential to be.

If so, there is one simple and obvious way to defeat the system that was not available to the rebels and dissidents of the past, and that is to unplug. Say no. Refuse to engage with the system. That is easier said than done, though, as most people are increasingly addicted to their gadgets and increasingly comfortable offloading their mental activity to the network. And even if you disconnect from the network, most others will not.

Hypothetically, a resistance movement could arise that would seek to overthrow the network by dissuading or physically preventing people from plugging into it. We would expect this battle to manifest in the real world, with tangible efforts to destroy the machinery of the network and desecrate its symbols. iPhones dumped into Boston Harbor by the truckload. Internet servers smashed with sledgehammers. Data centers firebombed.

More likely, though, any type of resistance to the hive mind would be swallowed up by the network itself, taking the form of a pitched battle between different networked tribes. Hive mind vs. hive mind, super-augmented by swarms of bots. Participants would fight for mind share, and only indirectly for territory or physical assets. Weaponized memes, hacking attacks, and information-warfare concepts like reflexive control would take the place of bombs and bullets. A future conflict may be fought entirely online. Of course, it could also spill over into the real world, using drones and robots, which… let’s just say it wouldn’t be great.

Totalitarianism: What you thought you were getting vs. what you’re actually getting

Another rock-climbing milestone (heh)

Another crazy and impossible victory in the eternal battle of man vs. rock has been achieved:

Now, after over 40 days of efforts spread across two years and seven visits to Norway, Ondra has completed what is being claimed as the world’s hardest single rope-length climb, both in terms of physical effort and technical difficulty.

The climb – 45 metres long and forging its improbable way through the cave’s huge grey overlapping roofs – marks the latest achievement by Ondra, who has dominated rock climbing in recent years in the same way Usain Bolt dominated sprinting, consistently setting new levels of difficulty that others have struggled to follow.

I have to admit, I didn’t realize that elite rock climbing involved so much hanging upside down from near-horizontal surfaces.

Not really my thing, but I can admire the purity and determination of people who devote their lives to pushing the limits of human ability.

On that topic, do skyscrapers have their own climbing difficulty scale?

February 17, 2009, 1:10 p.m. As the thousands of bankers, consultants, and accountants who work in the Cheung Kong Center, a sixty-two-story office tower in Hong Kong’s central business district, returned from their lunch breaks, a slight Frenchman named Alain Robert was being questioned in a windowless room on the tower’s first floor. […]

Robert, who is forty-six, had just ascended the eastern face of the Cheung Kong, which is nine hundred and twenty-eight feet high, using nothing but his feet and his hands.

Just don’t ask why he does it, because you won’t get a real answer:

At the press conference, a reporter for the Hong Kong Standard asked why he was making the climb. Robert spoke at length about climate change, and then said, “It shows that I am willing to give a big part of myself for something that I have a strong belief.” (If Robert is retailing environmental responsibility, he’s something of a loss leader, flying all over the world to encourage other people not to.) When I asked Julie Cohen about his motivations, she laughed and said, “He always gives really corny answers: ‘I climb ze mountain because it is zere.’ . . . But it’s actually that. He can’t not.” The necessity of the ordeal, for Robert, is self-evident.

One of the themes of the essay is how society chooses to deal with a mild lawbreaker and entertaining nuisance like Robert. I liked this anecdote about the famous Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, who owns Cheung Kong Center:

At Cheung Kong, Li Ka-shing, the billionaire landlord, had happened to be on the premises during Robert’s climb. From his private apartment on a low floor, he had called the head guard. Robert was absolutely dying for an audience with the tycoon.

“Please, it would be a privilege,” he said.

The guard announced that Mr. Li had agreed to release Robert, but that he would not be able to see him. Despite having clambered from sea level past the treetops half an hour earlier, and got away with it, Robert seemed crestfallen.

Biggest online manhunt ever?

Your writing style is your fingerprint:

The ‘creator’ of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is the world’s most elusive billionaire. Very few people outside of the Department of Homeland Security know Satoshi’s real name. In fact, DHS will not publicly confirm that even THEY know the billionaire’s identity. Satoshi has taken great care to keep his identity secret employing the latest encryption and obfuscation methods in his communications. Despite these efforts (according to my source at the DHS) Satoshi Nakamoto gave investigators the only tool they needed to find him — his own words.

Using stylometry one is able to compare texts to determine authorship of a particular work. Throughout the years Satoshi wrote thousands of posts and emails and most of which are publicly available. According to my source, the NSA was able to the use the ‘writer invariant’ method of stylometry to compare Satoshi’s ‘known’ writings with trillions of writing samples from people across the globe. […]

The NSA then took bulk emails and texts collected from their mass surveillance efforts. First through PRISM (a court-approved front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts) and then through MUSCULAR (where the NSA copies the data flows across fiber optic cables that carry information among the data centers of Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Facebook) the NSA was able to place trillions of writings from more than a billion people in the same plane as Satoshi’s writings to find his true identity. The effort took less than a month and resulted in positive match.

Creepy if true.

They’re watching

Related: a fascinating essay on the elusive computer scientist that really needs to be adapted for the screen.

All the people who ever lived

An estimated 108 billion people have ever lived on the planet earth.

That is very much a guesstimate.

By 1 A.D., the world may have held about 300 million people. One estimate of the population of the Roman Empire, from Spain to Asia Minor, in 14 A.D., is 45 million. However, other historians set the figure twice as high, suggesting how imprecise population estimates of early historical periods can be.

By 1650, world population rose to about 500 million, not a large increase over the 1 A.D. estimate. The average annual rate of growth was actually lower from 1 A.D. to 1650 than the rate suggested above for the 8000 B.C. to 1 A.D. period. One reason for this abnormally slow growth was the Black Death. This dreaded plague was not limited to 14th-century Europe. The epidemic may have begun about 542 A.D. in western Asia, spreading from there. It is believed that half the Byzantine Empire was destroyed in the 6th century, a total of 100 million deaths. Such large fluctuations in population size over long periods greatly compound the difficulty of estimating the number of people who have ever lived.

Assuming the population was relatively stable over the first half of the 1600s, there were about as many people in the entire world in Shakespeare’s day as there are in the NAFTA countries today.

(HT)

Brutal architecture

As if brutalist architecture weren’t enough, now we have architecture that’s literally brutal:

The controversial Walkie Talkie tower in the City of London has commanded a record-breaking price for a single building in the UK – £1.3bn in a sale to a Hong Kong manufacturer of oyster sauce. […]

Designed by New York-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, the Walkie Talkie made headlines in 2013 before it had even opened, when its concave glass facade was found to channel the sun into a scorching beam of heat on to the street below. Repeating exactly the same mistake he made with his similarly concave Vdara hotel in Las Vegas, Viñoly’s “death ray” succeeded in melting the bumper of a Jaguar, blistering painted shopfronts and singeing carpets, with temperatures proving hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement. Nor was it much safer when the sun went in: the tower’s glacial cliff-face was accused of channelling winds so strong that pedestrians were in danger of being blown into the road.

And some gentle mockery from another article:

The incidents earned the building new nicknames, including the Walkie Scorchie and Fryscraper, and the builders were forced to apply sun shading to resolve the issue. […]

But its bulbous shape, which looms over nearby buildings, is not universally appreciated. In 2015 it won the Carbuncle Cup, an annual award for the ugliest building of the year presented by architecture magazine Building Design. One judge called it “a gratuitous glass gargoyle graffitied on to the skyline of London”, while another described it as a “Bond villain tower”.

Heh.

Brutal

Book overdose

I used to collect lots (hundreds) of books. Now I don’t, because they’re cumbersome and I tend to move often. E-books renders dead tree books an unnecessary luxury.

Another reason why large book collections may be a bad idea – they can kill you:

A couple in eastern China whose apartment was packed with tens of thousands of books discovered that their home library was slowly poisoning them, according to a television news report.

The couple and their child, who live in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, developed symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning at the end of last year, Jiangsu Television reports.

That’s a first

The suitcase, before and after customs officials snorted it

There have been some pretty creative attempts to smuggle drugs over the years. But this is in a league of its own. Customs officials in Shanghai arrested a woman carrying suitcases literally MADE OF cocaine:

Airport authorities X-rayed the luggage of a woman flying from an unnamed South American country.

The scan showed her luggage was darker in colour than normal, and also that it was unusually heavy even when it was empty.

Testing revealed the luggage was made of more than 10kg (22lb) of cocaine.

The incident took place in February but has only now been reported by the police.

Drug traffickers have long been dreaming up ways to transport cocaine – making an entire leg cast out of the drug, or dissolving it into wine, as one Chinese couple was caught doing just last month.

Gives new meaning to the term “hiding in plain sight.”

When the woman was asked to empty her luggage, there was nothing suspicious at first glance – merely an empty suitcase.

What tipped the officers off though was that it was significantly heavier than any empty luggage ought to be.

Maybe they were also tipped off by the fact that she was traveling with an empty suitcase? How dumb is that? You go to all the trouble to build a suitcase out of cocaine and you don’t even bother to fill it with clothes or something to make it look semi-normal?

Chinese authorities are reliably unamused by drug trafficking. This woman is going to prison for a long time. Or worse.