Monday, September 24, 2012

Scammers get personal with your friends

Like a efficient biological virus, spam and online scams continue to evolve and take on new forms that elude even the discerning person.
From: "Friends name"
Subject: "Vacation Problems..."
My Family and I are currently on vacation to Madrid (Spain),and we got mugged last night in an alley by a gang of thugs on my way back from shopping, everything i had on me including my cell phone, credit cards were all stolen,quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for me but looking on the bright side  i was not seriously hurt or injured and i am still alive so that is whats important.

I've reported to the cops here and canceled all my cards,it appeared I had acted quickly enough or they almost would have succeeded in cleaning out my bank account. I'm really having some difficulties clearing my hotel bills and also need to pick up a voucher ticket at the counter for us to catch a flight back home in a couple of hours.

I was wondering if you could please loan me some money pending when i get things straighten out and I promise to refund as soon as we arrive home safely. All i need to get back is €1,300Euros.

Write me back and let me know how soon you can get it to us asap.

Your friend in the business
[my friends personal email signature]
Nigeria scam shirt from Deceptology.com
To be honest, my initial reaction was one of concern.  I'm not very familiar with my friend (more of an acquaintance) but it wouldn't entirely surprise me that they are on vacation and that this could happened.  Being a kind person and subscribing to the idea that I look for opportunities to deeply help my connections, I give it a thought.  Fortunately my better sense of suspicion sets in... so what to do?

Obviously I could just ask my friend if this is legit, but an email response only puts fuel to this fire.  I decided to play along to see how far this would go.  Here is a follow up response that the scammer sent me in another case:
I need a quick loan of $790 to get the Hotel bills settled and get a cab to the airport as soon as I get back home would def refund it back to you immediately...You can have the it wired on my name via Western Union.Here's my info below

Name: Daniel H***** Location:  63 Cannon Street
London, EC4N 5AA, UK

As soon as it is done, kindly get back to me with the confirmation number. Let me know when if you are heading to the WU outlet now???
In another case they tell me to wire money to a Western Union located in this dumpy looking neighborhood in Spain.  I suggest to help my friend by traveling out and getting them.  But after doing a little dialog, the scammer gives up or senses that I'm onto them and stops responding.

So how can you know for sure that this is a scam?

Fortunately most email service providers properly maintain the source IP address of the sending machine.  To view this, you must look at the raw original email message; in GMail do this by selecting "Show Original" in the message actions.  The raw message headers can be difficult to read, but look for something that looks like this:
Received: from [197.242.108.159] by web122905.mail.ne1.yahoo.com via HTTP; Sun, 16 Oct 2011 00:50:13 PDT
This directive identifies that Yahoo's mail server accepted the message to be sent via HTTP (web browser) from the IP 197.242.108.159.  You can run a reverse IP check at and it

The IP is delegated by Nigeria and currently allocated to a company called Cybercity Ebene on the African island of Mauritius.  So, unless my friend says that she being held as a Nigerian hostage, we can safely dismiss the authenticity of the message at this point.

WHOIS

I don't always dissect emails from my friends, but when I do.. I use whois.sc (aka domaintools).  Whois is a service that can retrieve information about the ownership of an IP or domain name.  It's very easy to type in the browser address bar, here are the two primary ways its works:
  http://whois.sc/[IP_address] i.e.: http://whois.sc/197.242.108.159
  http://whois.sc/[domainname.com] i.e.: http://whois.sc/esold.com


You just need to remember to use 'whois' and think about USC Football (my alma mater!)

Stay internet savvy my friends.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Continuing Online Education

Recently a friend asked me to take an online course with him.  Although I'm a big proponent of education, I didn't see the value in taking a couple extra classes.  But I begrudgingly enrolled because the classes that seemed interesting in AI & search engines.  I was very surprised at how well done the entire class was, how easy it was to follow each exercises and do homework functioned online.  It was very easy to fit it in my schedule too.  Sections are given out each week at your own pace, so I was able to go through them at various evenings during the week or on the weekend.


The courses I took are provide by Udacity and taught by Stanford professors that work at Google (Sebastian Thrun & David Evans).  You can learn how to program a search engine, program in python, Javascript and HTML, the finer details of data encryption, or like I did, learn how to program a robotic car.  The best part is that this is a completely free, 7-week online course; no upsells or marketing.


Another great online education resource is MIT OpenCourseWare which provides 1,000's of their past years courses online in several subjects so you can sharpen your calculus skills, study history, or learn about Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics.



"I don't always take classes, but when I do, I prefer Udacity & MIT online courses. Stay young my friends, and keep your minds fresh."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chrome - The Browser of Surfing Champions

"I don't always browse the web, but when I do, I prefer Google Chrome"...  In case you haven't installed it yet, the Chrome browser is quite powerful.  Admittedly, I was not an early adopter of Chrome; but once I got on it, I was hooked.

Having been online since before the days of BBS's and 56K modems, I've ridden the wave of browsers from the revolutionary Mosaic browser, to the free academic Netscape browser, Microsoft's ubiquitous, yet "monopolistic" Internet Explorer, the open source Mozilla Firefox and now Google Chrome.
Graph demonstrating that each new browser rapidly takes a major market share and slow decline. (graph predates Chrome's launch)

Chrome is quite a different browser; in that it's actually a mini-operating system.  It's even package on a stand-alone, low cost laptop called a Chromebook which are even rented on Virgin America flights.  It's literally lightning fast in loading websites and has rock-solid stability.

Concerned about security?  Internet Explorer has so many exploits that even on a fresh install of Windows XP, you can literally loose control of your computer by simply going to a single malicious website without clicking on a thing.  Google, on the other hand,  has put their money on it; recently they upped the ante by offering $1Million in cash to hackers that can find vulnerabilities in Chrome, I'm nearly tempted to try; but given the academic intellect put into this product, I think my chances are better in entering a casino.

Quick points about Chrome.

Incognito (Ctrl-Shift-N) instantly makes you anonymous.
  • Omnibox (aka Keyword/URL): Just type any words in the URL/address bar and it will search Google.  They really don't want you to have to think about URLs.
  • Incognito Mode: a browser session that is free & clear of any past cookies, cache or history.  Once you close it, the browser session is deleted.  This is useful when you want to visit sites anonymously or just with different login credential; i.e. multiple sign-ons to GMail.com.
  • Tabbed Browser: Modern browsers support this; some people are still not familiar with using tabs.  Get used to it and take advantage of the below hotkeys to browse like a champ (see list of useful hotkeys below).
  • Chrome Store: True to being an OS, there's a whole Chrome app store for web applications published to work with Chrome. Many of these are just basic websites, but make it easier to open and use versus remembering a bookmark.
  • No Fuss Software: Upgrades are done transparently; furthermore they are releasing improvements quite frequently; allowing users to get the most out of new internet advances like HTML5 features.


Tab Hotkeys

Alt - DHighlights the address bar so you can enter a URL or keyword
Ctrl - NNew tab
Ctrl - Shift - NRestore last closed tab (very useful if you want to bring back the page you accidentally closed)
Ctrl - Shift - TOpen Incognito browser window
Ctrl - WClose tab
Ctrl - 1Switch to first tab
Ctrl - [2, 3... 8]Switch to second, third, nth tab.
Ctrl - 9Switch to last tab
Ctrl - PgUp / Ctrl - PgDnSwitch to next or previous tab.
Ctrl + / Ctrl -Enlarge Font or Reduce font size
Ctrl 0Set font size back to normal.

Common Hotkeys
Ctrl - JOpen downloads
Ctrl - HOpen history
Ctrl - Shift - EscClears history, cookies dialog box.

Advanced/Developer Hotkeys

Shift - EscTask manager; very useful to see the resources used per tab, like CPU, RAM Memory and network I/O.  You can then kill any task or tab.  This is a clear benefit of the Chrome OS.
Ctrl - UView HTML source code
Ctrl - Shift - IDeveloper tools; useful to see CSS style codes and the page hierarchy structure.
Ctrl - Shift - JJavascript console; useful to debug JS errors on your website.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is our solar system like an Oxygen atom?

If you've seen the film Men In Black, you might remember at the end of the movie that cool scene.  It starts with Will Smiths and zooms out over his car, above the streets, over Manhattan, Earth, past our Sun, solar system and beyond to reveal that the entire milky way galaxy is encapsulated in a marble.  Our whole universe is then in the hands of some octopus-like alien.  It's easy to see that we are not even a visible spec on the cosmic scale.  By way of comparison, we humans might be aliens to the sub-microscopic world of the molecules around us and in our body.

So I wondered to myself is there's any comparison to the proportional size of the universe to that of the atomic world.  After browsing wolfram alpha, I found that there may be!  So here's an analogy...

We have a massive sun and 8 planets in our solar system (poor Pluto is a drawf planet).


Mass of Sun: 1.988×1030 kg
Mass of planets: 2.668×1027 kg  

Ratio of Sun / Planets = 745:1
So the sun is about 745 times heavier than all the weight of the planets.

Reaching for an atomic parallel lets take Oxygen with its 8 electrons, protons and neutrons.  Think of Oxygens core as being the Sun of its system, and the 8 electrons as planets.



Oxygen's core:  2.678×10-23 kg
Electrons mass:  7.287×10-27 kg

Oxygen's core / electrons: 367 : 1

An atoms core is about 367 times heavier than the weight of its electrons.  750/367 is a relative ratio of about 2 to 1.

By way of comparison, the planets are about twice as heavy compared to the sun as electrons are to the atomic core of atoms, which is actually quite similar.  The analogy might not stop there, there is probably similar comparisons to be found in the volumes of space and atoms, and possibly even the speed of light, distances and phases of time.  Even though it's beyond our typical scope of reality to imagine the magnitude of these dimensions, there is a sense of harmonic balance that the universe and atoms share in their in relative proportions.

Perhaps in a future MIB movie we might see a reversed scene where the camera zooms in on Will Smith, into to his hair, follicles, cells, molecules, atoms until we see quarks and strings dancing about.  If nothing else, this could give astrologers and physicists one more way to work together -- Go Raj & Sheldon!

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