The ultimate nerdy crime scene
In the modern workplace, you’ve got to be prepared for disappointment. Make no mistake: Whether you’re a journalist or an entrepreneur or a scientist, your pet projects will sometimes be killed. But what if you were working on an awesome project that got canceled, and you had the time, money, and daring to sneak into the office to finish it anyway?
That’s the story of Ron Avitzur, an Apple programmer who was working on a graphing calculator that was to be loaded on a new generation of computers. Mental Floss has an engaging short feature explaining what happened when the project was canceled:
The young programmer knew the project had merit. Everyone he mentioned it to exclaimed, “I wish I’d had that in school!” If he could just get the program preinstalled on the new computer, teachers across the country could use the tool as an animated blackboard, providing visuals for abstract concepts. The program could simultaneously showcase the speed of the new machine and revolutionize math class. All he needed was access to Apple’s machines and some time.
An illustration of hell from the 12th-century encyclopedia
Religion takes a two-pronged approach to encouraging good behavior: breaking the rules warrants supernatural punishment, while positive actions can earn a blissful afterlife. To most effectively promote a moral lifestyle, however, religious leaders may want to scrap the heavenly reassurance and preach more fire and brimstone: While belief in hell is strongly associated with lower crime rates, belief in heaven is actually tied to more crime.
For 67 countries and more than 143,000 participants, psychologists compared three decades of data about belief in heaven, hell, and God to information about the rates of ten different crimes, including homicide and robbery. They found that religious beliefs were better predictors for five of the ten crimes than either poverty or income inequality.
That’s the label prosecutors are trying to lay on Leon Walker, charging the 33-year-old man with breaking a statute that’s more normally applied to people who want to steal your credit card numbers or your identity rather than prove your infidelity. From the Detroit Free Press:
Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper defended her decision to charge Leon Walker. “The guy is a hacker,” Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. “It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way.”
Mr. Walker is indeed a computer technician, but his defense rests on arguing that his wife had no expectation of privacy because he used the computer in question for work—it wasn’t hers alone. Furthermore, he says, she kept her passwords in a notebook next to the computer (Public service announcement: Don’t ever do this).
It was just like an Easter egg hunt, except instead of eggs, two researchers hid dead rats. Some rats waited three inches underground. Others sat in the open. The duo also buried empty boxes–for comparison. By the end of their study, Thomas J. Bruno and Tara M. Lovestead were expert deceased rodent-hunters, and may have developed a tool to help law enforcement find buried human bodies.
Bruno and Lovestead are chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Their body-finding tool has an aluminum needle, slightly thicker than a human hair, which they used to prick grave soil for samples from underground air pockets. Back in the lab, they sorted through those samples for rotting flesh gases, in particular one called ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen.
They found that five week-old bodies gave off the most ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen, but that they could detect the gas even after twenty weeks. Their test is an improvement on more expensive means for finding dead bodies, because the device works at room temperature (previously analysis required an ultra-cold device). It also uses a chemical already available on a crime scene–forensics teams use ninhydrin reagent to pick up latent fingerprints.
Though this initial study only uncovered rat bodies under soil, Bruno said that the device might even detect a human body buried under a concrete slab (after drilling a one-eighth-inch hole). A seemingly particular scenario, but for crime show and mafia movie enthusiasts an understandable one.
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Image: flickr / Jay Malone
Although money may not grow on trees, it can spew from an ATM–at least if you’re computer security expert Barnaby Jack. He demonstrated recently at a security conference in Las Vegas how to get an ATM to spit money for minutes on end. Jack purchased the ATMs online, and says the tools required to hack them cost less than $100, according to Technology Review:
“After studying four different companies’ models, he said, “every ATM I’ve looked at, I’ve found a ‘game over’ vulnerability that allowed me to get cash from the machine.” He’s even identified an Internet-based attack that requires no physical access.”
Power line, meet hook
Having the power shut off in your home due to lack of payments can really motivate you to pay your bills—or perhaps to begin siphoning electricity with a meat hook.
A recent report from Reuters describes a middle-aged man in Germany who has been stealing electricity from a high-voltage overhead transmission line using a run-of-the-mill meat hook. After getting cut off by the power company for not paying his bills, the energy thief decided he would acquire the necessary power on his own; he attached a meat hook to the end of a long cable, and hurled the hook onto an overhead power line 150 meters from his house. By routing some of the electricity to his meter box, the man powered his home illegally for an entire month before anyone noticed.
You may think of your furry feline friend simply as a companion, but look closely and you will find that your whiskered pal also the ability to be a crime-fighting supercat.
An team of scientists has found that fur shed by cats can serve as forensic evidence, thanks to the DNA it contains. In fact, a man was recently convicted of second-degree murder in Canada after fur found on his discarded jacket matched that of Snowball–the victim’s cat. The telltale fur led to a 15-year prison sentence. Scientists say that it may soon become commonplace to use the genetic material in fur shed by cats to link perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses, and victims.
As the researchers wrote in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics:
“Cats are fastidious groomers, and shed fur can have sufficient genetic material for trace forensic studies, allowing potential analysis of both standard short tandem repeat (STR) and mitochondrial DNA regions.”
What with crooks who post status updates while on the lam and snap self-portraits with stolen iPhones, it seems incompetent criminals find technology irresistible. Our latest tale of blundering criminality involves a Bronx man who is quite adept at stealing electronics, but a bit confused about how they work, according to the New York Post:
Jeremiah Gilliam, 22, was caught after playing a stolen game console online — allowing cops in Pelham, where it was stolen, to trace the IP address to his grandmother’s address, cops said.
Some people are simply addicted to Facebook, even those that should keep a low profile, according to CNN:
Craig Lynch, 28, escaped Hollesley Bay open prison near Suffolk, eastern England, back in September, but has continued to update his Facebook status regularly — describing everything from his meals to who his next girlfriend will be.
On his Facebook page, Lynch, who was sentenced to seven years for aggravated burglary, is literally giving the finger to the law. The police have spoken with Facebook and are following his status updates like bread crumbs in an attempt to track him down. Then again, “We’re taking what he’s saying on Facebook with a pinch of salt because he’s now aware that people may be reading what he’s writing,” says one cop.
Uh, not to tell you how to do your job, officers, but maybe you should try tracking the data packets back to the computer he’s using rather than just hoping he’ll make slip up and tell you where he’s hiding out.
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You’ve just robbed someone and taken their iPhone, now what do you do? Why not snap a pic of yourself brandishing your weapon?
Well for one, it could lead to your arrest, as a Philly teenager found out recently. Philly.com tells how a tech-savvy mugging victim was able to turn up the pressure on her mugger:
The 20-year-old woman had programmed her phone so that it would automatically send photos to her home computer. Some time after the robbery, she received a photo of a young man holding a large handgun to his head.
Shortly after seeing his picture plastered on the evening news, the gun-wielding cell phone bandit, eighteen-year-old Kadeem Cook of Philadelphia, turned himself in to police.
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