Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Man-made disaster”…”works as Congress Designed It”

This Washington Post article was written “upside-down” – the most important points in news articles are supposed to be first. I’ve rearranged it as follows:

Under EPA rules, manufacturers are responsible for funding and conducting the safety tests the agency uses to evaluate products.

Frustrated scientists say that allowed chemical companies to cherry-pick the data available to regulators.

The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster…. That harms nearby trees, such as the dogwood outside Blytheville, as well as nonresistant soybeans, fruits and vegetables, and plants used as habitats by bees and other pollinators.

And although pesticide-makers often supply new products to university researchers to conduct field tests in varied environments, Monsanto acknowledged it did not allow that testing on its commercialized dicamba because it did not want to delay registration, and scientists said BASF limited it.

Regulators did not have access to much of this data. Although Monsanto and BASF submitted hundreds of studies to the EPA, only a handful of reports considered volatility in a real-world field setting, as opposed to a greenhouse or a lab, according to regulatory filings.

But during a July 29 call with EPA officials, a dozen state weed scientists expressed unanimous concern that dicamba is more volatile than manufacturers have indicated, according to several scientists on the call. Field tests by researchers at the Universities of Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas have since found that the new dicamba herbicides can volatilize and float to other fields as long as 72 hours after application.

The new dicamba formulations were supposed to attack those resistant weeds without floating to other fields.

The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.

Government officials and manufacturers Monsanto and BASF deny the charge, saying the system worked as Congress designed it.




Hackers target CPAs: “Termination of your CPA license”

1) Creates an emotional/stressful situation that reduces carefulness (e.g., checking where the links are directing)

2) Establishes legitimacy: using existing organizations and quoting organization internal processes

3) Has a call to action: next steps require a response (via infected link)

Quite sophisticated, unfortunately. Here’s the full message:

SUBJECT: Termination of your CPA license.
FROM : Alicia Houston <>

You’re receiving this email as a Certified Public Accountant and a member of AICPA.
Having trouble reading this email? View it in your browser.

Revocation of Accountant status due to income tax fraud accusations

Valued accountant officer,

We have been notified of your recent involvement in tax return fraudulent activity  on behalf of one of your clients. According to AICPA Bylaw Subsection 730 your Certified Public Accountant license can be terminated in case of the fact of presenting of a false or fraudulent income tax return on the member’s or a client’s behalf.

Please find the complaint below below and respond to it within 21 days. The failure to provide the clarifications within this period will result in cancellation of your CPA license.

Complaint.doc [attachment]

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Tel. 888.777.7077
Fax. 800.362.5066

How to Partner with a Large Corporation

Congratulations! Your startup is in the final negotiations with a large corporation for a joint venture. Except now they’re asking you to foot the (marketing) bill. It’s becoming less and less clear what they’re bringing to the table. But you’ve been pinning your hopes on this partnership, so it must be a good thing, right?

Here are some considerations.

Joint Marketing:

  1. Have company leverage existing resources/capacity (e.g., marketing people, graphic design) to reduce outside vendor costs
  2. Design the ramp-up period  (i.e., pilot) with testing/analytics to improve campaign efficiency.


  1. The danger of working with a Goliath is that they often have the ability to squash you. Make sure your service maintains a competitive advantage so they won’t want to drop you in favor of another partner (or in-house solution)
  2. There are plenty of examples of large corporations considering partnerships, getting lots of inside information, and then deciding to do it themselves without the partner. Prevent this by focusing on the benefits / final outcome, rather than on the details of execution

LinkedIn Privacy: now hiring managers can contact your former coworkers/managers behind your back

One of the *New* features that’s being tested on LinkedIn allows companies to connect with people who know job applicants and ask them to provide candid references.

On the wake of the Facebook privacy issues, LinkedIn is now opening up its network to employers in a way that individuals never anticipated and that violates the norms of the hiring process. Traditionally, employers ask for references and candidates provide names of people who they believe will speak favorably about them. LinkedIn now allows the employer to bypass the request for references and source references directly. This will produce a less biased (and less favorable) assessment of the candidate, giving even more control to the employer and less to the job seeker.

“Cash for Clunkers” or “Rebate for the Rich”

The government program to reimburse $3,500-$4,500 for junking a fuel-inefficient car when purchasing a new, fuel-effecient car sounds good in theory. But the program is simply subsidizing the replacement of luxury cars with newer luxury cars. Once the results are in, expect to see more newer cars have been junked than actual clunkers!

2008 Mercedes S500 (Sticker price: $113,394)

Qualifies for Government Subsidy

Qualifies for $3,500 Government Rebate

Fuel Type Premium
Engine Size 5.5 L
Cylinders 12
Transmission Automatic 5-spd
Drive Rear-Wheel Drive
Options TurboCharger, EMS 2MODE CLKUP
Vehicle Category Passenger Car
Combined MPG 13
Qualifies for CARS? Yes. You may qualify for the CARS program.

1990 Dodge Colt Vista Wagon

1990 Dodge Colt Vista Wagon

Does Not Qualify for $3,500 rebate

Fuel Type Regular
Engine Size 2L
Cylinders 4
Transmission Automatic 3-spd
Drive Front-Wheel Drive
Options (FFS)
Vehicle Category Passenger Car
Combined MPG 20
Qualifies for CARS? No. Your trade-in must have a Combined MPG rating of 18 MPG or less to qualify.

Obviously no one would trade in a 2008 Mercedes for $3,500 – but a good majority of the “clunkers” are going to be older luxury cars, rather than the cheap cars that burn up a liter of oil with each tank of gas.

7 Out of 10 Indian Call Centers Fail Turing Test

Human or Machine? In 1950 Alan Turing proposed the Turing Test as a way to answer the question, “Can machines think?” A computer passes the test when a person can pose questions to it and no longer that the responses are not human.

So far, no computer has yet to pass the Turing test. However, a new breed of human is capable of FAILING the Turing test: offshore call center operators. Although there are humans taking the calls, the responses they give to many questions have become increasingly formulaic. Questions posed may be misinterpreted, as the reps pick up on a key word but misunderstand the nuances of the query. Often, they repreat the same phrases over and over, giving a “broken record” sound.

7 out of 10 Indian Call Centers fail the Turing Test for at least one of these reasons:

  • Continuous repetition (“broken record” effect)
  • Incessant Confirmation (e.g.,repeating each question verbatim, and appending “is that correct?”)
  • No end in sight – combining strings of “have a good day,” “is there anything else I can help with?” and “thank you for calling” to create an infinite loop of polite chit-chat rather than terminating the call
  • Lack of comprehension – the question might be heard and even answered, but was it ever truly understood?
  • Lack of empathy – you can feel it when a rep is “answering tickets” rather than answering people

There is big money at stake. U.S. Call Centers represent a $23 billion industry. The Indian call center ndustry is equally staggering. What makes this worthwhile is that a call center rep may make $3-$9 per hour – and comapnies know that most customers value their time more highly and will  try to accomodate the “automatons” answering the phone in order to speed up the process.

Space Debris Problem Escalates

Today an inactive Russian satellite collided with an active, American satellite (owned by satellite phone service provider Iridium Satellite, LLC).

The collision, occuring over Siberia, has sent thousands of pounds of debris into high-speed orbit. The debris poses a danger to other satellites, which has a small possibility of creating a chain reaction of collisons. Such a situation would effectively cut off much of the world’s communications infrastructure.

Debris Moving Through Space

Debris Moving Through Space

This is not the first collision to occur.

On 11 January 2007 China successfully demonstrated anti-satellite (ASAT) missile capability by destroying an aging Feng Yun 1C weather satellite. China’s action must be considered from three perspectives: the militarization of space, the “environmental” impact of debris clogging the stratosphere, and China’s posture in foreign affairs. From an “environmental” perspective, the destruction of the weather satellite  resulted in an unprecedented cloud of debris in polar orbit. NORAD is tracking 1,037 large pieces of debris, and NASA estimates 35,000 pieces larger than one centimeter have spread from 200 kilometers to 4,000 kilometers above the earth. This has posed risk of collision to Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites and may hamper future satellite deployment.

The Center for Space Standards and Innovation estimates that two-thirds of satellites it tracks come relatively close to the fragments on a regular basis.

The U.S. Satellite telecommunications industry is a $3.5 billion business. A detailed industry report is available here.

Beginning of a New Era

Today I could feel the beginning of a new era. A time for hope, for better health and safety. For enjoying the simple things of life.

That’s right – this morning I changed my Brita filter.

The dangers of an old Brita filter have serious and far-reaching implications. Because Brita filters out Chlorine, bacteria flourish in old filters.

Small businesses are also at stake. Bottled water is a $2 billion industry.  The average firm has roughly $10 million in revenue and 23% net profit margins. Without our continued vigilance, the 7,414 employees working in this industry might have their jobs at stake.

Enjoy a fresh glass of water.  Cheers!

Discovering a New Species on Ebay

“Instead of digging in the dirt, British entomologist Richard Harrington has found a new species of aphid for $37 on eBay – amber-encased, estimated 35-50 million years old.”
–    Science, Vol 321, Aug 28 2008

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Facing a severe budget crisis, Harvard University president Drew Faust announced a new initiative to control costs by encouraging research faculty to integrate E-Bay into future research projects. “E-Bay represents an untapped frontier for scientific research,” stated Faust. “If an entomologist can discover a new species from the comfort of his home for just $37, we have the ability to make more than 4 million discoveries even when we slash costs and close laboratories.” Faust noted that most departments will benefit from this approach, as ebay categories include scientific equipment, literature in all languages, technology, souvenirs (for sociology and anthropology), and even maps and astronomical observations.

Comparison: Obtaining Top Secret Clearance vs. Disputing a Parking Ticket

I am one of the few, the fortunate, to successfully navigate two of the Government’s most formidable challenges: a few years ago I obtained Top Secret security clearance (actually, three levels above “top secret”), and more recently, I cleared my name of a parking ticket in Boston traffic court. I’d like to describe the experience so that others may learn from the grueling tribulations I endured.

Entrance & Approach

For personnel requiring the highest level of security clearance, the National Security Agency administers polygraph tests in an unmarked campus that looks like a public high school built in the 50’s. The notable difference is that the building has no windows and is surrounded by a barbed wire perimeter with security guards patrolling. To enter the building, you punch in your social security number into a rotating gate, relinquish all books and paper to the security guard, proceed through a metal detector and into the polygraph center…

Similarly, to dispute a ticket with Boston’s Department of Traffic, one enters the City Hall building, and go through a metal detector and carry-on screening similar to the airport. My blackberry did not set off the alarm, nor did I need to take off my shoes. Then I proceeded down to the cavernous basement where the Traffic Department resides.

Conclusion: security is somewhat higher at the NSA than at City Hall.

The Interviews

The NSA polygraph is a simple device – a blood pressure monitor that wraps around the arm, and two conductivity sensors that clip gently onto the fingers of one hand. The wires are then hooked up to a black box that records and prints out the results over the course of the two-hour interview. The interview consists of two sections: the first section to feret out criminal activity, the second section to feret out spies through counterintelligence. Although two hours long, there are only about 20 questions, which are asked in different ways and in different order. My NSA interviewer was a charming fellow, who encouraged me to any illicit activity, since the process is focused on trying to find major offenses and double agents, and withholding information no matter how minor would screw up the results and lead to a failure.

Back at City Hall, I was led into a small, drab, windowless room – not unlike the NSA’s polygraph room. The interviewer again had a desk, a computer, and a casette recorder. The interviewer was a very nice woman, but she sternly reminded me that perjury was a criminal offense, and that meter maids are trusted at their word, unless I could bring incontrovertable proof in my defense. We proceeded to discuss the parking ticket I had received. She drew a diagram of the situation and asked a few questions until she was reasonably convinced that I was not a serious threat to society, at which point she reticently voided the ticket.

Conclusion: The NSA is more informal, friendly, yet thorough. The Boston Traffic Dept vehemently defends the integrity of its meter maids, and is far more skeptical than the NSA.


The polygraph finished successfully, I had my fingerprints digitally scanned (no ink), a photo taken, and a voice signature recorded. I punched my social security number into the gate one final time, and stepped out into the cold, barren tundra that are beyond the suburbs of DC.

Once my parking tickets were voided, my parking lady and I chatted a little more about traffic laws and tickets, and then I was free to return to the light of day, filled with happy people unaware of the suffering taking place just below the surface of City Hall.

Conclusion: The polygraph hurt more (since the blood pressure cuff cuts off circulation), was longer, and required multiple flights and bus rides. But I still think I enjoyed the polygraph more than Traffic Court, if only because of the coolness factor.