character

Jefferson Davis, seeker after discord

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (127):

Men interpreted [Jefferson Davis] as they saw him, and for the most part they considered him argumentative in the extreme, irascible, and a seeker after discord. A Richmond editor later wrote, for all to read, that Davis was “ready for any quarrel with any and everybody, at any time and all times; and the suspicion goes that rather than not have a row on hand with the enemy, he would make one with the best friend he had on earth.”

30 seconds to impress

From The Scotsman‘s “Men, you have 30 seconds to impress women“:

HALF of all women make their minds up within 30 seconds of meeting a man about whether he is potential boyfriend material, according to a study on speed-dating.

The women were on average far quicker at making a decision than the men during some 500 speed dates at an event organised as part of Edinburgh Science Festival.

The scientists behind the research said this showed just how important chat-up lines were in dating. They found that those who were “highly skilled in seduction” used chat-up lines that encouraged their dates to talk about themselves in “an unusual, quirky way”.

The top-rated male’s best line was “If you were on Stars In Their Eyes, who would you be?”, while the top-rated female asked bizarrely: “What’s your favourite pizza topping?”

Failed Casanovas were those who offered up hackneyed comments like “Do you come here often?”, or clumsy attempts to impress, such as “I have a PhD in computing”.

About a third of the speed dates were actually over within the first 30 seconds, but there was a marked difference between the sexes with 45 per cent of women coming to a decision within 30 seconds, compared with only 22 per cent of men.

… Conversation topics were also assessed. Only 9 per cent of pairs who talked about films agreed to meet again, compared with 18 per cent who spoke about the subject found to be the most suitable for dating: travel.

It is thought women’s taste for musicals clashed with the male liking for action films, while talking about “great holidays and dream destinations” made people feel good and appear more attractive to each other.

The botnet hunters

From The Washington Post‘s “Bringing Botnets Out of the Shadows“:

Nicholas Albright’s first foray into some of the darkest alleys of the Internet came in November 2004, shortly after his father committed suicide. About a month following his father’s death, Albright discovered that online criminals had broken into his dad’s personal computer and programmed it to serve as part of a worldwide, distributed network for storing pirated software and movies. …

From that day forward, Albright poured all of his free time and pent-up anger over his father’s death into assembling “Shadowserver,” a group of individuals dedicated to battling large, remote-controlled herds of hacked personal PCs, also known as “botnets.” …

Each “bot” is a computer on which the controlling hacker has installed specialized software that allows him to commandeer many of its functions. Hackers use bots to further their online schemes or as collection points for users’ personal and financial information.

“I take my [handheld computer] everywhere so I can keep tabs on the botnets when I’m not at home,” Albright said …

On a Sunday afternoon in late February, Albright was lurking in an online channel that a bot herder uses to control a network of more than 1,400 hacked computers running Microsoft Windows software. The hacker controlling this botnet was seeding infected machines with “keyloggers,” …

Albright had already intercepted and dissected a copy of the computer worm that the attacker uses to seize control of computers — an operation that yielded the user name and password the hacker uses to run the control channel. By pretending to be just another freshly hacked bot reporting for duty, Albright passively monitors what the hackers are doing with their botnets and collects information that an Internet service provider would need to get the channel shut down.

Albright spied one infected PC reporting data about the online activities of its oblivious owner — from the detailed information flowing across the wire, it was clear that one of the infected computers belongs to a physician in Michigan.

“The botnet is running a keylogger, and I see patient data,” Albright said. …

“Anything you submit to law enforcement may help later if an investigation occurs,” he said. “Chances are, though, it will just be filed away in a database.”

Botnets are the workhorses of most online criminal enterprises today, allowing hackers to ply their trade anonymously — sending spam, sowing infected PCs with adware from companies that pay for each installation, or hosting fraudulent e-commerce and banking Web sites. …

… in the 13-month period ending in January, more than 13 million PCs around the world were infected with malicious code that turned them into bots.

… Shadowserver locates bot networks by deploying a series of “honeynets” — sensors that mimic computers with known security flaws — in an effort to lure attackers, allowing the group to capture samples of new bot programs. …

Shadowserver submits any new or undetected specimens to the major anti-virus companies. Andrews said he is constantly surprised by the sheer number of bot programs that do not get flagged as malicious by any of the programs. …

In Andrews’s experience, by far the most common reason criminals create botnets these days — other than perhaps to sell or rent them to other criminals — is to install online ad-serving software that earns the attacker a few pennies per install. …

Even after the Shadowserver crew has convinced an ISP to shut down a botmaster’s command-and-control channel, most of the bots will remain infected. Like lost sheep without a shepherd, the drones will continually try to reconnect to the hacker’s control server, unaware that it no longer exists. …

“Bot hunting can really take over your personal life, because to do this right you really have to stay on top of it — it can’t just be something you do on the weekends,” he said. “I guess it takes a special type of person to be able to sustain botnet hunting. … I don’t know anyone who pays people to do this kind of work.” …

Albright said that while federal law enforcement has recently made concerted efforts to reach out to groups like Shadowserver in hopes of building a more effective partnership, they don’t have the bodies, the technology, or the legal leeway to act directly on the information the groups provide. …

“Sadly, without more law enforcement support this will remain a chase-your-tail type game, because we won’t ever really shut these networks down until the bot master goes to jail, and his drones are cleaned.”

Identity production & sharing during adolescence

From danah boyd’s “Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?“:

No, it is not just a moral panic that could make MySpace a fad. The primary value right now has to do with identity production and sharing, practices that are more critical to certain populations at certain times in their lives and it is possible that “growing up” will be marked by leaving MySpace (both for the teens and the 20-somethings).

The secret plans of Libertarians revealed

From The New York Times‘ “1 Cafe, 1 Gas Station, 2 Roads: America’s Emptiest County“:

At last count (by Sheriff Hopper toting it up in his head), 16 people make Mentone their home and 55 others are spread throughout the rest of Loving County’s 645 square miles of parched, salty West Texas grassland and rattlesnakes — about one person for every nine square miles. …

Yet it is modest enough, as a plaque outside the courthouse confesses: “Mentone has no water system (water is hauled in) nor does it have a bank, doctor, hospital, newspaper, lawyer, civic club or cemetery.”

And since Mentone is the only town, neither does Loving County.

What it does have is the Boot Track Café (open mornings), a post office, a gas station and the yellow Deco two-story courthouse. There are two roads. There is no operating church, although the county’s oldest building, a 1910 schoolhouse, is open for nondenominational worship. Seven children ride a school bus 33 miles to Wink in the next county.

… The material described the plans of a Libertarian faction in its own words “to win most of the elected offices in the county administration” and “restore to freedom” Loving County. The blueprint, called “Restoring Loving County,” said that land was hard to come by but that a ranch had been split up and members were in the process of buying sections.

“The people who are living there will be able to register to vote,” it said. “They must swear that they intend to make Loving their home.”

The goal, said an e-mail message attributed to a group member, was to move in enough Libertarians “to control the local government and remove oppressive regulations (such as planning and zoning, and building code requirements) and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling.”

How a 75-year-old jewel thief did it

From MSNBC’s “75-year-old jewel thief looks back“:

When Doris Payne went to work, she stepped into her fancy dress, high heels and donned a wide-brimmed hat. Her creamy, mocha skin was made up just so, her handbag always designer. Sometimes a pair of plain gold earrings would do. Always, she looked immaculate, well-to-do. …

New York. Colorado. Nevada. California. They all beckoned, and so did Greece and France, England and Switzerland as she plied her trade over five decades. …

There was the February day, eight years ago, when she strolled into the Neiman Marcus store on the Las Vegas Strip and asked to see a pair of diamond earrings. …

Employee Linda Sbrocco showed her several — this one … no, this one … how about that one? Soon Sbrocco was swapping jewelry in and out of cases at a dizzying pace. Payne slipped rings on and off, and had Sbrocco do the same.

Then Payne was gone. And so was a $36,000 marquis cut, 2.48-carat diamond ring.

This was how Doris Payne went about her work as an international jewel thief. …

Every month or every other month — no one knows how many times over more than 50 years — she strolled into a jewelry store and strolled out with a ring worth thousands of dollars.

Occasionally, she was caught. Mostly, she was not. …

She grew up in Slab Fork, W.Va., where her daddy worked in the coal mines and her mother sewed dresses and did alterations for extra money. Payne was the baby, the youngest of six who liked school and loved to show her illiterate father places on the world maps she made out of salt and flour, places she would someday visit. …

“It’s not stealing because I’m only taking what they give me,” Payne said. …

The Jewelers Security Alliance, an industry trade group, got on to Payne in the 1970s. Bulletins went out, warning jewelry stores about a slick, well-dressed black woman who was stealing diamond rings.

Where others might hit a store for several pieces of jewelry, Payne only took one or two expensive rings at a time. But what really made Doris Payne different was that she was so prolific and so good. …

In the early 1970s, Payne tried her skills overseas. First Paris. Then Monte Carlo, where she flew in 1974 and paid a visit to Cartier, coming away with a platinum diamond ring. When she got to the airport in Nice, custom agents suspected she had the ring and stopped her. The ring was never found.

During the investigation, Payne says she was kept in a “fifth-rate motel” by the Mediterranean. One day she asked the woman in charge for nail clippers and for a needle and thread to mend her dress. She used the clippers to pry the ring from its setting, sewed the diamond into her girdle and then tossed the setting into the sea, she says.

She wore her girdle day and night, even when it was wet from washing. Her room was searched every day, but the diamond remained hidden.

She wasn’t always so lucky. She’s been arrested more times than she can remember. One detective said her arrest report is more than 6 feet long — she’s done time in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado and Wisconsin. …

Through the decades, she has used at least 22 aliases, among them Audrey Davis, Thelma White, Sonya Dowels, Marie Clements, Donna Gilbert.