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25 January[ —]

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If you are a Mac user, here's how to avoid the most common kind of malware

25 January[ —]

Mac users are getting hit with Shlayer, a malware that installs an “Any Search” bar on their computer, reports Lifehacker. It's easy to avoid Shlayer and most other Mac (and Windows) malware - never click on an Adobe Flash updater pop-up notification.

From Lifehacker:

There’s no reason to install, update, or use Flash Player to access online content in 2020, save for very rare exceptions—and no, none of those exceptions include watching illegal streams of sporting events or leaked movies. If you need to download Flash, get it directly from Adobe. Nowhere else.

Image: Microsoft


Gentleman ticketed for driving in carpool lane with plastic skeleton in passenger seat

25 January[ —]

A message from the Arizona Department of Public Safety: "Think you can use the HOV lane with Skeletor riding shotgun? You’re dead wrong! ☠︎ One of our motor troopers cited the 62-year-old male driver for HOV & window tint violations on SR-101 near Apache Blvd this morning."

(Image: Arizona Department of Public Safety)


Kenya hit by worst locust plague in 70 years

25 January[ —]

A massive locust infestation has migrated from Somalia and Ethiopia into Kenya, reports AP News. The insects are devouring crops in a country already afflicted by widespread hunger. The United Nations warns that coming rains could increase the locust populations by a factor of 500. The most effective way to stave of the infestation is through aerial pesticide spraying, which comes with a $70 million price. "Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a single day, said Jens Laerke of the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva," says the article.

(Image: Niv Singer, CC-BY)


Dog is a skater

25 January[ —]

According to a commenter in Reddit "This is Otto the Skateboarding Bulldog, he passed recently. This is in Lima, Peru."

My dad's friend saw this dog vibin from r/funny

[via r/funny]


Person with TV on their head caught on video leaving TVs on folks porches

25 January[ —]

Back in August someone found an interesting way to get rid of old CRTs. They did this over 50x!!!

6ABC:

No need to adjust that dial. Doorbell surveillance cameras captured the man with a TV set over his head, laying an older set down on someone's front porch and just walking off.

"He wants to be known as the TV Santa Claus. I don't know," Brooksbank told WTVR-TV.

The bizarre discovery happened Sunday morning in Henrico's Hampshire neighborhood. Outdated boxes were found at more than 50 homes.

(h/t Leo!)


This video explains how cel shading works by looking at Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

25 January[ —]

In 2002 Nintendo released Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for GameCube. One of the great things about the title (which was not well received when it first came out but is now rated highly in the Zelda pantheon) it its pioneering use of cel shading - a stylistic technique to add shading to 3D graphics to make them look less realistic (in a bad way) and more cartoony (in a good way). Even Breath of the Wild puts the cel shading aesthetic to good use.

In the 14-minute video, "How The Wind Waker Defined Cel Shading," Michael "Jasper" Ashworth goes into interesting detail about how Nintendo "was able to pull off cel shading at a time when nobody else was able to."

If you are at all interested in 3D graphics, and the history of video games and how they were made, Jasper's video channel is a must-watch. My 16-year-old daughter told me about him a while back. He only has about 30k subscribers, and he deserves 100 times that number, given the quality of his work.


Cheating term-paper-for-pay businesses recruited customers through subsidized on-campus parties

25 January[ —]

Companies like Edubirdie offer platforms for academic cheating, connecting freelance essay-writers with desperate students who pay hundreds of dollars to have their academic papers ghostwritten for them. Edubirdie has recruited customers with on-campus "epic parties" which offered organizers $250, along with branded cups and a standee with the company's mascot, in exchange for posting five or more photos of students posed with the standee and hashtagged with #EduBirdieParty. The organizer whose party that received the most attention would get $3,000 and a 2-hour DJ set.

It's just one of the many techniques used by the cheating platforms to drum up business, including running deceptive "study groups": a recruiter posing as a student will post notices offering a "study group" for people struggling with an assignment, and when students call in to join, they're given a hard-sell to pay for ghostwritten essays.

Some students are offered major discounts on cheating services in exchange for providing a photo or screenshot of their class email lists.

One former ghostwriter who spoke to Ed Surge says that the majority of his customers were not spoiled rich kids (he says these were 15% of his business), but rather struggling students, especially adults who had returned to university, or foreign students with poor English language skills.

Edubirdie claims it doesn't facilitate cheating, but the testimonials on its site come from customers who describe how cheating with Edubirdie freelancers saved their grades.

Morgan, the spokesperson for EduBirdie, says the company no longer sponsors parties, but she defended the practice. “We sponsored a few parties in the past, but have moved on to focus on other efforts,” she says. “We do not believe that this is an aggressive service. There is no requirement for students to use the platform, but instead gives students an opportunity to have fun while they are young and in college, while merely educating them about EduBirdie’s services, which can be helpful in proofreading especially during busy seasons like midterms and finals.”

Just last year the company posted a job ad for an employee who would be in charge of social-media outreach and for hosting events at colleges to raise awareness of the essay-writing service. The job title was “Glory Days Conservation Specialist,” and the ad apparently sought someone who wanted to relive their party days of college in a full-time job, according to an article in CNBC.

How the ‘Contract Cheating’ Industry Has Gotten More Aggressive in Recruiting Students [Jeffrey R Young/Ed Surge]

(Thanks, Jeff!)

(Image: Edubirdie)


The cum-ex scam stole $60b from European tax authorities: it's monumentally boring, complicated, and very, very important

25 January[ —]

Cum-ex (previously) is a technical, boring financial engineering technique that lets fraudsters file multiple tax-refund claims for the same stock transactions (they called it "dividend arbitrage"); from 2006-2011, the EU's largest, most respectable banks, law firms, and investors used the scam to steal $60,000,000,000.

Cum-ex is the kind of scam that the finance sector excels at: a socially useless financial engineering marvel that makes staggeringly rich people much richer, protected by a thicket of dull, deliberately complexified terminology and tactics that exist solely to obfuscate the obvious fraud underway.

A few bankers have gone on trial for criminal fraud for their role in cum-ex, but so far most of the perpetrators have gotten away with it, keeping the money (one trader, Sanjay Shah, relocated from London to Dubai and bought a $1.3m yacht he calls the Cum-Ex).

But German prosecutors have embarked on an aggressive program of prosecutions for everyone who profited from cum-ex, including the prominent lawyers who wrote legal opinions arguing that cum-ex was legal. They are launching 400 prosecutions stemming from 56 investigations. Among those is Hanno Berger, a former German state tax auditor who switched sides and became a key player in the theft.

Berger is a revered European finance law scholar, and his work was key to conferring a halo of lawfulness to the otherwise obvious scam. In private, Berger was more frank. One of the lawyers who worked with him says that he told the lawyers he supervised that they should quit if they didn't have the stomach for raiding the German state's coffers: "Whoever has a problem with the fact that because of our work there are fewer kindergartens being built, here’s the door."

The masterminds of the scam have roots in New York finance, but their perpetrated their crimes in the EU, where they believed that regulators would be less diligent and also less vengeful, should they get caught out.

The worst of the cum-ex raids took place immediately after the 2008 crash, when the same institutions that were stealing billions from national treasuries were also relying on those treasuries for massive bailouts that kept them from going bankrupt.

The lawyers who backed these firms threatened tax-inspectors who flagged their transactions: one clerk in the Bonn Federal Tax Office was threatened with "criminal, disciplinary and liability law" if she pursued her complaint.

Many of the banks that participated are now out of business, others are cooperating with authorities.

“Anyone who stood in the way of this trade was swept aside, and those who enabled it were promoted,” the whistle-blower said in a follow-up phone call. “But it was widely regarded as insanity inside the bank for it to be extracting money from sovereign treasuries, particularly after the entire sector had been supported by the public purse.”

American banks conducted their cum-ex trades overseas, rather than at home, out of fear, the whistle-blower said. Specifically, he mentioned a 2008 Senate investigation into “dividend tax abuse” that found it was depriving the Treasury of $100 billion every year. The report led to a ban on dividend arbitrage tied to stock in United States corporations.

But nothing prevented American bankers from conducting such trades with foreign companies on foreign soil.

It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice. [David Segal/New York Times]

(Image: Adam Smith, CC BY-SA)


Today in History 1921: The word 'Robot' enters the English language

25 January[ —]

On January 25, 1921 the Czech play Rossum's Universal Robots premiered, entering the word into the Science Fiction vocabulary.

Wikipedia:

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum's Universal Robots).[1] The English phrase "Rossum's Universal Robots" has been used as a subtitle.[2] It premiered on 25 January 1921 and introduced the word "robot" to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.[3]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


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