Monday, July 28, 2008

My Stolent eBay Identity!

I awoke on Friday and decided I wanted to check out my ebay account. It had been 8 months since the last time I had tried, unsuccesfully, to log in. Well, to no big surprise, I still couldn't login. I sent myself a password reminder. It never came to my email address. I tried to reset my password. No luck. All the info had apparently been changed.

A few hours later and several excruciating and painful online chat sessions with ebay fraud, I finally had my account back. Someone had been selling goods, about $5,000/month in goods, in my good name. I felt violated. For real. Someone had been impersonating me. Even responding to emails with my name. Damn. They had access to my paypal account too. Fortunately, they didn't steal anything. At least not my knowledge.

I would have expected eBay to have been all over this. Starting an investigation or whatnot. Who was I kidding? Why would someone like ebay want to pursue this and make their site safe? Besides the obvious reasons. Ebay actually said they couldn't pursue anything on my behalf. That I had to file a police report and then the police would have to work with them. I'll just do that. That shouldn't be too hard.

Well, I called my local PD and they wouldn't even file a report. They basically said there was nothing they could do since there was no monetary loss. And thus, most people would have let the trail die. But not me.

Damn. I had this guy's IP address, which at the very least linked back to a Comcast ISP in New Hampshire ( - because he tried to reset the password last night and it sent me the IP address where the reset originated from. I had this guy's name or alleged name: Seybou (or Seybuo) Hamidou. I had his PO Box in New york: PO Box 59, New York, NY 10113. I even had his credit card attached to my account. But I couldn't see anything but the last four digits: 2009. That's a lot of info.

I searched through all of the exchanged messages from my account over the last month (since that's all they keep). I found a few tracking numbers from UPS and the USPS. And I knew he had a Discover card.

With all this information, you'd think it would be easy. So I did some more research. I filed a complaint with the FTC and with IC3 (the FBI's identity theft complaint division). I also researched identity theft - and though I suffered no monetary loss, that didn't seem to matter. This is what I found:

Under federal criminal law, identity theft takes place when someone “knowingly
transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification
of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection
with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that
constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.” Under this definition, a name or Social Security number is considered a “means of identification.” So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronicserial number, or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.

Now that I was equipped with some knowledge, I went back to the police department and filed a police report, which they finally took. Now I need to wait to hear from the detective and hopefully they'll actually do something. I'm not really holding out I'm working on tracking this dude down myself. You'd think that they'd make it easy to go after criminals. But it's not. With all the hoops I'm having to jump through and the research I'm having to do on my own, it's no wonder that most e-criminals never get caught. I mean, what the hell?

I'll keep you posted. I've included all the information I have on this guy. Feel free to track him down. If you live in NY. Stake that PO Box out. That would rule.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Word of Mouth Manual II - I'm not a hater!

I met someone at a VC gathering last week. He's an adviser for startups and we got to talking. We both determined that we were "haters". We don't like things just because everyone else does. In fact, that made us hate those very things. Apple for so many of my years (Mac Books, iPods, iMac's - all overhyped). Facebook. Yahoo Mail. MySpace. The Yankees. The Dallas Cowboys. Milk Chocolate. Whatever.

The point is, as it relates to this post, is that I've been surprised by the last two books I've read. Especially because I'm a hater. Made to Stick was great! And this latest read, which is part of a marketing campaign I belong to, was great too.

I am a Bzz Agent, which means I get free products to try. I try lots of things. And have to write some comments about it. The motivation for doing this was my lack of income - so I got free stuff. But it's actually been a pretty interesting social and marketing experiment. The stuff I get that I like definitely gets its moment of glory with my group of friends. Take this example - I got a bunch of coupons for Chili's new burgers. So a group of us went to Chili's - which I'd never do. Mainly because Chili's is crap. But we had a blast eating burgers, drinking beers, and we continue to talk about that trip to this day...spreading our word of mouth advertising for them. Other products haven't fared so well. Like a Norelco eletric razor I got. I don't use it. And so that was a fruitless effort on their part.

This all has a point. They recently gave me a book, called the Word of Mouth Manual II. It's all about real, grass roots word of mouth marketing. The benefits, the how-to's, the impossibility of actually succeeding with incredibly viral WOM campaigns. But it gives you insight into how things like Crocs gained popularity. I hate Crocs. How does anyone wear those god awful eyesores? Well, it's explained. And it's interesting.

The online version is a free PDF download (here). Or buy it from Amazon here).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

F8 Facebook Developer Conference

In the interest of staying up to date on the internet and as a result of my good friend giving me a ticket, I found myself at the F8 Facebook Developer conference last Wednesday. How was it you ask? Since I didn't pay for it, it was ok. If I had, it would have been $125 into Facebook's coffer while allowing them to spend the day inundating me with their own advertising and speaking highly about themselves.

They unveiled some new and upcoming functionality:

1) A new profile
2) A complete layout overhaul, where The Wall will now be the main page, which will center around your news-feeds in order to clean up the mess that is now the main page.
3) The removal of adding apps - now you will have a place where your apps reside - but you won't "add" an app to your profile like you currently do.
4) New developer enhancements and external website integration (friend connect). They claim to have 400,000 developers. I doubt that. Especially because I know probably 20 developers who have never intended to develop anything on Facebook (like me), signed up just to check it out. So multiply that by whatever.
5) I can't remember the rest of the new tabs in your FB page (The Wall, Friends, Applications, and some other things)

It was also interesting to note the differences between how Google releases products and how Facebook does. While Google likes to release in Beta, they generally don't announce much until it's actually released. Most of what Facebook "released" at the conference wasn't close to ready. But they certainly released plenty of details. You can find those at some other websites (Mashable).

The most important difference though is the perception of authenticity. Facebook's keynote, from Zuckerberg, spoke about their new mission statement which went like this: "Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected". Sounds a lot like Google's. But I don't buy it. Overly protective product. Overly protective company. Overly protective employees. The lack of effort to work with others in the industry (Friend Connect, Open Social, etc). It's like they learned how they were being viewed.

What flowed from the announcement of their new mission statement was the feeling that their speakers were trying too hard to comply with it. There were times when the speakers would take questions from the crowd - especially with the technical components - and then say that things like "good idea, we'll implement that next, maybe tonight". And then one of the other speakers would say, "maybe not". It just felt odd. Like either their product wasn't I mentioned... they don't think things through... or they're trying to heard to appease people. Either way. I'm not on board.

Ok, so what's so cool? How about Shazam?!

Now that I told you about my phone, here's what's cool about it. The App Store! There are quite a few apps that rock. And that are free. But there's one far and above the rest. It's not GPS related and doesn't use any location based infrastructure. It doesn't use the gyroscope ability of the phone either - which is badass, by the way. It uses the speaker and captures sound. So what's it do?

I'm not even a huge music fan, but there are still times when I hear a song on the radio and I wonder who it is or how I can buy it. And I know that everyone else, especially those that like music, does the same thing. So here's where the app comes into play. When you hear a song you like, launch the app, and let it run. It takes a sound sample and sends it to its servers where it determines what the song is. I was skeptical, but it works. And it's dead on. I've tried it dozens of times and only once did it not work (it was an obscure cover). Shazam says they have about 4 million songs in their library to check against. It provides links to purchase the music in iTunes and links to videos of the song/artist on YouTube. It really is amazing!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Foot in the Mouth - Sorry Apple...

So - a week has gone by and I have been wondering how to come to terms with the post I'm about to write. Especially after my tirade at Apple and AT&T last week. Why? Because I'm in love with the iPhone. Well, here goes:

I dropped my roommate off at the airport last Tuesday. On the way home, I did a drive by in Burlingame, just to see if maybe the Apple store had an iPhone. Yea, I know, I said I may not get one, but now I was determined. There was no line which wasn't good, but I did notice some people walking out with iPhone bags. I stopped. Low and behold, they had the phones. This was going to be easy. It wasn't. The Apple employees were incredibly helpful. Unfortunately, AT&T had convinced me to buy a phone and get a contract started with them when I first tried to get an iPhone last week. This proved to be a huge mistake. Now Apple couldn't sell me an iPhone at the new user rate because they already had me as a subscriber in their system. Man, what am I going to do? Well - the short version. I was on the phone with AT&T for several hours. I had to leave the Apple store to go back to an AT&T store to return my phone. I had to reverse my contract. I then had to go back to the Apple store - where they had surprisingly said they'd hold my phone. Still no luck. More phone calls to AT&T because my upgrade eligibility was still on hold. Final resolution? I had to get a new AT&T line, with a different phone number from the Apple store. I then had to take my phone back to the AT&T store where they had to switch serial numbers so I could maintain the phone number I've had for years. 5 hours later I had an iPhone with my original number at the $199 price. What a shit show.

But boy was it worth it. The iPhone is absolutely amazing. I wrote an email to my friends last week that said this is probably one of the single greatest voice communication technologies of our time. And I assure you, this is no bandwagon I'm jumping on - this is coming from an Apple hater. From a hater in general. From someone who doesn't see the value of Facebook on a Google like scale or a Twitter business model. What I do see with the iPhone is an incredible platform. The Apps Store is really what makes this amazing. But for now, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy my love affair with my new toy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

From Java to Rails

For the past few months, I've been ramping up my Ruby skills to play a larger role in the development of our site. I've been a Java coder most of my life and was a bit hesitant to jump back into the coding game (after business school, after a 4 year absence from coding, and compounded with the move to a new development language). But it's where we need the most help, so alas, I decided to give it a whirl.

I'd been hearing a great deal about Ruby and people professing it's advantages. I've also heard the downside. The troubles that sites like Twitter have with scaling. Though most of the Twitter issues seem to deal with their architecture and not with the Ruby language itself. In the end, I was excited we were developing in Ruby because I was one of its supporters (from the little I knew). From all I heard about how easy it is to develop web applications - I was a bit surprised when it took me a while to understand its syntax. Even the ruby site claims it's easy - though obviously they would:

"It has an elegant syntax that is natural to read and easy to write"

I'd assumed it would look a bit like java, which itself is written like C. I mean, most languages use similar conventions.

Well, I was wrong. For me, the ramp up time learning Ruby was steep. It was certainly NOT natural. The syntax looks nothing like any C based language. While it was very difficult for me to pickup the intricacies of the Ruby language at first - it's become a heck of a lot easier to code as you learn it. Why? Because Ruby doesn't require you to do too much. Lots of its syntax makes things much easier to write than any other language I've used. You can get a prototype of a website up in no time (though making it do what you want is another story).

The main differences I've seen between Ruby and Java:

Ruby: parentheses optional, everything is an object, no type declarations, nil not null (that one was easy), no compilation, no interfaces, no type casting, etc. But the single most important thing that was difficult for me when looking at example code - Ruby allows a lot of things to be left out. It can make an incredible amount of assumptions based on what you've written. While quite efficient, it made learning for me a bit challenging. I just read a great simile. A term paper is to txt messaging as Java is to Ruby. Once you learn to txt it's a helluva lot quicker. But before that, it can be confusing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

iPhone, AT&T, and Verizon

When the new iPhone was announced, I was actually kind of excited. I don't particularly enjoy jumping on bandwagons and more importantly, I've never been a big fan of Apple. I grew up with a PC. I've never had or wanted an iPod or a Mac. And I think Steve Jobs is a dick. But man, they seemingly make a great phone.

I've been a Verizon subscriber for about 7 years. I've hated them for most of that time. Their customer service is crap. And their pricing policies seem to be arbitrary, at best - whatever they can do to squeak a few more bucks from their customers. I'm not sure a good cell phone provider even exists, but it's surely not Verizon. After giving them thousands and thousands of dollars over the years, you'd think they'd have a little more interest in pleasing me. Nope. Well, my contract finally ran out a few months ago and boy was I happy to cancel. They had continually roped me into contract after contract. What a pain in the ass. This time, I was holding out... waiting for a phone I really liked. And then, I thought I found it, the iPhone 2.0.

I read online that it made sense to go into AT&T early if you weren't already a customer in order to get a credit check and to convert your number. I went in last Wednesday and they offered me a phone to take until I got my iPhone (I had to buy it, of course, but I could return it a few days later). I figured Friday would be a mob scene, so I opted not to go wait in line. On Saturday, they were sold out. I went again this morning before they opened. They had told me yesterday they were getting a shipment last night. I wondered how they knew...but I guess they did.

After waiting in line for about an hour, the store manager came out an told us they didn't receive any phpnes yesterday and didn't have any to sell. Well, that would have been all good and well except for a few things. Why the hell did they have us sit out there waiting when they knew they didn't have any? Why wasn't there a sign on the door to dissuade us from wasting our time? How about when the employees were working an hour before the store opened - couldn't they say anything? And what the hell has Apple been doing the last few months with their manufacturing? They couldn't make enough? That seems pretty unlikely. Especially because there were only 10 of us in line today. As many people have pointed out online, there appears to be a manufactured supply shortage. Marketing or not, this is annoying, and I've suddenly lost most of my interest in the iPhone. Will I get one? Maybe. Am I going to wait in line anymore? Nope. I don't blame AT&T for this, they're strictly bound by Apple's policies... and I'm sure they're happy to have all of these conversions.

And I didn't even talk about the rest of the problems this release had... (here)