Archive for April, 2008

Belarus / US woes

April 30, 2008

Belarus has ordered a number of US diplomats to leave the country. The ex-Soviet republic’s latest move comes amid a row over human rights violations and follows the expulsion of the US ambassador in March.

The foreign ministry summoned the most senior US diplomat, presenting him with a list of officials "declared personae non gratae and required to leave".

Jonathan Moore said he had been given a list of 10 US diplomats who had been ordered to leave within 72 hours.

This has to do with Belarus’ leadership rigging elections and holding political prisoners, something that seems quaint and archaic in 21th century Europe.

But, there is one thing Belarus has in common with the US that no other country in Europe does. Can you guess what that is ?

 

 

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Software development is a game of chance

April 29, 2008

Interesting article, Software Development Lessons Learned from Poker . I cut and pasted out sentences (and paraphrased in places) from the article to create a list of aphorisms  that would be a fitting way to summarize things: 

  • Read as many books as possible.
  • There truly is no replacement for experience.
  • This is because at it’s highest levels poker (and software development) is an art.
  • To become an average developer all you need is a catalog of best practices.
  • Almost no one is as good as they think they are.
  • You can’t claim you are an expert if you never met a real one.
  • Experts understand the bigger picture: working together ensures everyone gets paid.
  • Having metrics is good, but professionals know which metrics are important, which are simply noise, and which fall somewhere in between.
  • You don’t play the cards, you play the person.
  • Domain experts hold all the knowledge, but it’s inefficient for them to try to give you all that domain knowledge up front.
  • Average poker players are better off in poker games that provide less feedback.
  • Expert poker players appreciate immediate feedback and the ability to vary their play based on that feedback.
  • With poker and programming there are few right and wrong answers.

One commenter wrote, Unfortunately, in software development one has not so many chances to "fold" as it happens on the poker table, and this is probabily the biggest and saddest difference. Actually, I’ve seen software projects fold a few times.

Now, it’s controversial whether poker is a game of chance. Poker players have told me that it is a game of skill, not chance. Well, the courts in the UK and the US have rules, that poker is a game of chance. Really, it is a game of chance, luck and skill , and I would agree that applies to software development, particularly in a business environment. Luck is not the same as chance, since you can make your own luck . Chance is governed by probability, and all things being equal and fair, you can’t change that.

 

 

For richer, for poorer, for health insurance

April 29, 2008

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-health29apr29,0,5783636.story?track=mostviewed-storylevel

WASHINGTON — Some people marry for love, some for companionship, and others for status or money. Now comes another reason to get hitched: health insurance.

In a poll released today, 7% of Americans said they or someone in their household decided to marry in the last year so they could get healthcare benefits via their spouse.

Chick-fil-A cows make good their escape

April 29, 2008

Cattle on road after truck wrecks

Authorities have a round-up on their hands this morning in Alexander County, northwest of Charlotte.
A truck overturned this morning on N.C. 16 at Vashti Road, about four miles north of Taylorsville. The truck was hauling cattle, and the animals escaped after the wreck.

Authorities estimate 50 to 60 cattle are wandering along the roadway.

Motorists, obviously, should avoid the area this morning — unless they have some rodeo or cattle-ranching experience.

 

Indian MSM hates India too

April 29, 2008

Just as we hear in the US, that the news media is biased, unpatriotic and quite possibly hates America, apparently the same sentiment is felt by some about the Indian press:

Having visited some of India’s space,nuclear and defence research facilities and having been acquainted with some of the brilliant scientists and technologists who work there,I am shocked by the bias of the notorious Indian ‘mainstream’ media who always question the contribution of India’s scientists.Despite facing a shortage of resources and despite being denied access to the latest technologies by the governments of some countries,Indian scientists have managed to make every truly patriotic Indian proud of their achievements in the fields of space,nuclear and defence technologies .But some sections of the Indian ‘mainstream’ media think that purchasing outdated technology at hugely inflated prices after signing deals that compromise the sovereignty of the country is the way forward.

Shame on those notorious scoundrels in the Indian ‘mainstream’ media who mislead the people of the country with their pathetic and biased reporting! I can only request my fellow citizens to look at the truth without being mislead by the notorious sections of the media.

I hope the brilliant and hardworking Indian scientists led by people like Anil Kakodkar,Madhavan Nair,Sivanthu Pillai and others are not disheartened by the actions of their pseudo-patriotic countrymen whose actions can make one believe that they(the pseudo-patriots) are in the pay of foreign governments and corporations.People who know the truth are always with the Indian scientists!

Having visited some of India’s space,nuclear and defence research facilities and having been acquainted with some of the brilliant scientists and technologists who work there,I am shocked by the bias of the notorious Indian ‘mainstream’ media who always question the contribution of India’s scientists.Despite facing a shortage of resources and despite being denied access to the latest technologies by the governments of some countries,Indian scientists have managed to make every truly patriotic Indian proud of their achievements in the fields of space,nuclear and defence technologies.But some sections of the Indian ‘mainstream’ media think that purchasing outdated technology at hugely inflated prices after signing deals that compromise the sovereignty of the country is the way forward.

Shame on those notorious scoundrels in the Indian ‘mainstream’ media who mislead the people of the country with their pathetic and biased reporting! I can only request my fellow citizens to look at the truth without being mislead by the notorious sections of the media.

I hope the brilliant and hardworking Indian scientists led by people like Anil Kakodkar,Madhavan Nair,Sivanthu Pillai and others are not disheartened by the actions of their pseudo-patriotic countrymen whose actions can make one believe that they(the pseudo-patriots) are in the pay of foreign governments and corporations.People who know the truth are always with the Indian scientists!

India can advance only by taking up science(and allied fields),engineering,technology,modern art and modern literature in a big manner! India’s true soft power is the hands of those who are associated with the above fields!

“Highly critical” flaw in WordPress 2.x

April 29, 2008

http://www.scmagazineus.com/Highly-critical-flaw-in-WordPress/article/109489/?DCMP=EMC-SCUS_Newswire

An announcement of a flaw in WordPress 2.x rated "highly critical" was posted on the Secunia blog today. The vulnerability allows a security bypass that enables malicious hackers to launch cross-site scripting attacks from remote access, which could compromise operating systems.

According to Secunia, "A vulnerability is caused due to improper access restriction of the administration section. This can be exploited to bypass the authentication mechanism and gain administrative access by setting a specially crafted cookie. This can further be exploited to execute arbitrary PHP code."

The site also reports that "input passed to an unspecified parameter is not properly sanitized before being returned to the user. This can be exploited to execute arbitrary HTML and script code in a user’s browser session in context of an affected site."

These vulnerabilities are reported in version 2.5, though prior versions may also be affected.

A solution has been made available, an upgrade to version 2.5.1 of WordPress. According to a posting on the WordPress site, the upgrade includes a number of bug fixes and performance enhancements. 

"We recommend everyone update immediately, particularly if your blog has open registration. The vulnerability is not public but it will be shortly," WordPress said.

In addition to the security fix, version 2.5.1 contains over 70 other bug fixes, according to the site. These include an upgrade to TinyMCE 3.0.7, fixes for IE, Media Uploader and Widget Administration, and performance enhancements for the Dashboard, Write Post and Edit Comments pages.

Another environmental award for the fossil fool

April 28, 2008

Bank of America and its CEO just got this award

Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City of San Diego will honor Bank of America today with the annual City of San Diego Climate Protection Champion Award, recognizing the company’s local and national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bank of America is one of three organizations selected to receive the award.

As part of its ten-year, $20 billion environmental initiative announced last year, Bank of America awarded its first set of “green grants” in January to four San Diego nonprofits totaling $500,000. These grants support a new clean technology business cluster, the development of policy and grassroots solutions to curb global warming, and green building efforts. Bank of America has also recently provided $6 million in financing to San Diego businesses for renewable energy and green building projects as part of the environmental initiative.

Ok, that award looks like an attaboy for Bank of America (BofA) from the city with groups receiving the grants. So, is BofA part of the solution, as well as being part of the problem? Remember a month ago BofA and CEO Ken Lewis has been judged to be a fossil fool, albeit not by a jury of his peers:

The announcement comes on the same day that the bank’s CEO, Kenneth Lewis, was voted 2008’s Fossil Fool of the Year in an online contest sponsored by Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Energy Action Coalition and Co-op America. The groups say that Lewis was nominated for the award because the “financial giant is the leading financial backer of mountaintop removal coal mining in the United States and a top funder of new coal-fired power plants.”

The whole Fossil Fool thing was a obviously a publicity stunt by a pretty effective environmental group. However, mountaintop removal (MTR) makes a few people none too happy. King Coal is still very powerful in the Appalachians, there’s even a highway named for it. Many of do us benefit from coal mining for the power we need to operate our big screen TVs and our laptops. After all, half of US electricity is generated from coal plants. To the But folks, it’s not a pretty sight and you can see it with Google Earth. For the optimistic, MTR has certain advantages for the locals.

Opponents who link Citigroup and BofA to MTR aren’t very happy. They organized a protest at the shareholder’s meeting for BofA in Charlotte last week. Last year, activists raised up a 50 foot banner to protest the bank. A branch bank was paintbombed in Berkeley.

But on the other hand, BofA appears to be trying. Another environmental group, the National Resources Defense Council, or the NRDC, gave BofA an award. On April Fools’ Day, I’m sure no irony was intended by anyone.

Mayor Bloomberg created PlanNYC, an environmental roadmap designed to make New York City efficient and sustainable in the 21st Century. Bank of America’s $20 billion environmental initiative invests and finances efforts that address climate change, as reflected in the new Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Place in NYC that, when completed in 2009 will be one of the most ecologically friendly and efficient office skyscrapers in the world.

Lewis will announce that Bank of America will adopt The Carbon Principles, a set of guidelines that help advisors and lenders to power companies evaluate and address carbon risks in the financing of projects.

“The Carbon Principles are critical as we work to secure a more sustainable energy future,” said Lewis. “It is my hope that these principles, when combined with Bank of America’s commitment to assess the cost of carbon in our risk and underwriting process, will enable us to better evaluate the business models of utility sector companies and, ultimately, help them move to cleaner technologies in the future.”

What to make of the dueling awards?

Well, RAN is certainly the more aggressive, hard-line enviro group, but the folks at NRDC are no slouches. In fact, NRDC has put together a parody of the coal industry that takes a few digs at mountaintop mining of coal, which is carried out by companies financed by the Bank of America. What’s more, NRDC attorneys have gone to court to try to stop mountaintop mining, as well to oppose coal plants being built by utilities financed by BofA. Indeed, I’m told that there was some discontent inside NRDC when staffers learned that Ken Lewis was going to be honored by the group.

So, groups like RAN and groups like NRDC use different tactics to get what they want. Both want the same thing in this case, the end of MTR and the reduction of carbon emissions from King Coal. But who will eventually be more effective, or are they both needed to bolster the effectiveness of the other.

This article is a recent balanced (I think) discussion of the bank’s relationship to environmental groups. The greening of the banks is discussed as Earth Day has just passed.

No 40 year old virgin here

April 28, 2008

http://mom.charlotte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=74&t=361

Dawn has broken…

April 28, 2008

http://www.baselinemag.com/c/a/IT-Management/Is-There-Really-an-IT-Labor-Shortage/

“You’ve seen cases around where they’ve gone offshore, folks on shore either started to leave or been laid off people are highly demoralized and now they’re finding things aren’t working quite as well as they’ve hoped,” Salzman said. “The perception out there is that the future is uncertain.”

In both cases these efforts have flooded the market with lower-cost foreign workers who are supplanting an already ample field of home-grown IT labor. The result is that the myth of an IT skills shortage could just end up be self-perpetuating.

“The trouble is that it creates a disincentive for Americans to study these technical fields,” Wadhwa said. “We’re hurting ourselves; computer science enrollment is dropping because the incentive is not there for students to study computer science.”

Oh, and this LA Times article  leads off with an unemployed software engineer said to be down to his last months of mortgage payments after selling his stuff off on eBay and liquidating his stock portfolio.

 

Casas de Cambio

April 27, 2008

The latest bank to be have troubles with the Mexican firms known as casas de cambio is Wachovia. Off the heels of the Golden West fiasco and the settlement they made in Philadelphia regarding telemarketer accounts:

Federal prosecutors are investigating Wachovia Corp. as part of a broad probe of alleged laundering of drug proceeds by Mexican and Colombian money-transfer companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wachovia is one of several large U.S. banks that have come under scrutiny for their relationships with such companies. It is in discussions with the Justice Department about reforms in its compliance system and faces a possible deferred-prosecution agreement that would require extensive federal oversight.

An official of Wachovia said it is cooperating in the probe. Wachovia, based in Charlotte, N.C., and some other U.S. banks severed relationships with Mexican foreign-exchange firms in December and January after authorities began their inquiries. Some have struck agreements with the government to improve their efforts to fight money laundering, avoiding prosecution.

This was reported but a few days ago, but this is an old story.

In September, a U.S. registered Gulfstream II business jet carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine crashed in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A year earlier, a DC-9 aircraft loaded with 5.7 tons of cocaine from Venezuela was seized in Mexico by Mexican soldiers.

Both of the planes were purchased through a Mexican exchange house called Casa de Cambio Puebla, and that’s turning into a problem for Wachovia, the fourth biggest bank in the United States, and Harris Bank, the Chicago unit of Canada’s BMO Financial Group… Casa de Cambio Puebla was founded in 1985 by Mexican businessmen, say court filings, and licensed by Mexican banking regulators. It has 17 branch offices throughout Mexico, 240 employees, and maintained 46 U.S. dollar interbank accounts at Wachovia branches in Miami and New York.

So it just isn’t Wachovia. In August, American Express (nyse: AXP news people ) agreed to pay $65 million, the biggest-ever money-laundering penalty paid by a U.S. financial institution. The penalty was made in connection with Justice Department claims that American Express’ international private banking group was used to launder $55 million of Colombian drug money.

Casas de cambio, or money-exchange houses, are located in Mexican border towns primarily to allow expat workers to send remittances back to their families.. They have been suspected of money laundering for some time, as this story from 1999 shows. Travel books say to avoid them for changing money because the exchange rates aren’t nearly as favorable as at banks or ATMs. This alternatively makes casas de cambio quite profitable to investors in them.

Here are some details on may have happened regarding Casa de Cambio Puebla:

For those readers who have asked me to detail the reasons why the United States Attorney froze funds at Wachovia Bank belonging to the Mexican money transmitter Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, the alleged scheme the MSB was involved in has finally appeared in a money laundering case filed last month in US District Court in Miami against Venezuelan national Pedro Jose Benavides Natera. The defendant, according to the arrest affidavit filed in the case by a Special Agent of the FBI, participated in a complex money laundering scheme to turn illicit profits of Venezuelan drug trafficking organisations into clean funds, which were then used to purchase high-performance turbo-prop aircraft for drug smuggling operations. The MSBs facilitated the money laundering, according to the allegations. What is important about this case is that it focuses on Venezuelan, not Colombian, drug trafficking organisations, which are of late being targeted by US law enforcement. A number of Venezuelan-owned aircraft have been seized in the US during the past year, and rumours are flying that several indictments of Venezuelan nationals have been issued, and remain sealed pending the arrest of these individuals on American soil. It would appear that US has decided to ignore Venezuelan-based drug trafficking organisations no longer. One wonders how many foreign vacationers to Disneyworld unexpectedly end up in the US Marshals holding cells in Orlando this year.

Briefly, the scheme went like this:

  • The drug proceeds were sent from Venezuela to four different casas de cambios in Mexico, including Puebla.
  • At those MSBs, cooperating individuals sent the funds on to the US, into so called “buffer” accounts, operated by individuals who, for a fee, would serve as fronts for the drug traffickers. The affidavit shows that the traffickers spread the funds amongst the MSBs, to allay suspicion.
  • The buffer account holders would then transfer funds to aircraft brokers, for the purchase of aircraft for the traffickers’ use. Whether the aircraft brokers themselves were involved cannot be determined at this early phase of the case.
  • The US aircraft registrations, after purchase, were cancelled, and the aircraft shipped to front men in Venezuela. One King Air appears to have been seized by law enforcement.

It’s not easy to detect the “bad” transfers.

“All money transfers look alike. Your small funds go into an electronic vat of hundreds of millions of dollars, so often asking us to pick out the laundered money is like trying to pick one particular strand of spaghetti from a bowl,” Hearns explained. “The functionality of the expat sending money home to family or for bills is very different from the functionality of a money-launderer who is trying to hide a trail and make it as convoluted as possible. But on paper the two transfers look alike.”
Unfortunately for Mexican exchange houses and their convenience-addicted customers, Wachovia has decided to solve the dilemma by playing it very safe. In late January, the bank announced that it was terminating its partnerships with many Mexican exchange firms, and closing the accounts involved.
“It’s had a negative, horrible impact,” said Alejandro Espinoza, exchange director at Sterling Casa de Cambio, one of Guadalajara’s largest and most reputable firms. “A lot of exchanges here dealt with Wachovia. The U.S. banks have the mechanisms to detect laundered money and they are in control of that aspect of it. They give us parameters and we comply, but these have started changing very quickly, with them asking for more and more details.”
And while Espinoza describes the services Sterling has always received from North American banks as wonderfully professional, those halcyon days of two-day money transfers may become a thing of the past.
“We’re dealing with our national banks now for transfers and we still haven’t found a partner to send Canadian dollars to Canada. We’re recommending people use their bank for those transactions for now,” says Espinoza.

Reminder from this recent report about the stakes involved with the drug trade:

Gun battles between rival factions of a Mexican drugs cartel have left at least 15 people dead in the city of Tijuana, near the border with the US.

Police said all the dead were from the Arellano Felix cartel, which has come under pressure from a rival gang.

Two were wearing police uniforms or equipment, but are thought to have been gang members, police say.

Drug-related violence is a serious issue across Mexico. Nearly 200 people have been killed in Tijuana this year. The rings carried the icon of Saint Death, a grim reaper figure that gangsters believe protects them, police said.

Banks are supposed to be very diligent. are required to be by law, about detecting money laundering. The short story is the Patriot Act and concerns about funding crooks and especially terrorists. So the banks have been spending a lot of $$$ trying to comply. Now, is the lack of apparent “due diligence” regarding the cases de cambio due to faults in processes and technology used to detect money laundering transactions?

Here’s a short course in money laundering, for your education.