Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cyber criminals launch new Target attack

Cyber criminals wreaked havoc in one of the largest security breaches at a US retailer.

Target confirmed Friday that debit card PIN data was stolen in its recent massive breach, reversing its earlier stance that the codes were not part of the hack.

When hackers managed to steal the credit and debit card members numbers of nearly 40 million shoppers, Target customers went on the alert.

The security breach left millions of debit and credit card holders anxious about their personal information being used by thieves.

Now Target customers, like Frank Winstead are ticked off that more scammers are getting in on the action.

The concern now is that consumers across the country have received emails that appear to be from Target.

They are much like the one posted on the retailer's official website, but in reality experts say it appears to be a phishing scam designed to bilk more consumers out of their personal information.

The real Target message contains legitimate links to the websites of the major credit bureaus as well as the FTC.

The bogus one also contains links that look real but they are not legit.

It is just one more thing Winstead says shoppers don't want to have to deal with especially during the holiday season.

Experts with the Better boxed christmas cards Bureau say it's all the more reason to always safeguard your information because you don't want to deal with the fallout that could follow when criminals strike.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Illusionists extravaganza proves a tricky business

How on earth did they do that? It is the immediate response to a decent magic trick - be it a fiddle with some cards or British hypnotist Derren Brown's magic-whispering some upright citizens into staging an armed robbery - but it is the question no magician will answer. How you saw a lady in half, how you make a motorbike disappear in a blast of firecrackers ... silence on these matters is part of the craft. The thrill of magic, according to the fraternity, lies in its impenetrability.

Magic, like burlesque a decade ago and circus before it, is having quite a moment right now. Once confined to Las Vegas and tea-time kids' shows, men with wands are now popping up everywhere in town: at The Illusionists extravaganza coming to the Arts Centre Melbourne in January, in numerous television shows from Britain and the US and in the recent film Now You See Me, with Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson as master illusionists who stage a bank heist involving mirrors, mass hypnosis and a good deal of showmanship.

Actually, there aren't any men with wands any more. Wands are out. Cloaks are over. Rob Drummond, who researched magical history for his one-man play Bullet Catch, part of next month's Sydney Festival, says there are probably only seven kinds of magic trick, in the same way that there are only seven basic stories, but they are being dressed up differently now.

Cutting edge: The Illusionists ham it up with the old saw trick.

Even the emblematic rabbit has waltzed away with the top hat into oblivion.

I saw The Illusionists 1:0 when it toured to London at a 5000-seat venue; it was a barrage of flashing lights, flying props, zippy dancers and a very loud house band from Los Angeles playing the kind of driving beats you get at speedway meets. Even the magic felt loud. A man was chopped up and appeared to survive as two halves; a magician who looked like Marilyn Manson passed a polo mint through every orifice in his face.

New media has meant that you don't have to go to Las Vegas to see magic or, as a magician, to be seen; Australian magician Jamie Galea got his big break when one of the producers on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show saw him on YouTube.

There is an inherent irony in magicians' insistence that it ruins the fun to know how it's done. All have stories of watching David Copperfield videos over and over again and spending hours trying to master sleight of hand. Galea says he was first inspired by seeing a street performer at an Australia Day event making a ball disappear into a handkerchief. He thinks he was about eight. ''I remember I just didn't let him go, and I would watch with every person he went to, which I'm sure drove him nuts but he actually showed me: he said 'here, kid, here's how it's done'. Which makes me think now how intense I must have been as a kid then!''

Growing up in Glasgow, Drummond learned a trick from his sister's then boyfriend; he was also eight and, as he says, spent the next 12 years practising tricks in front of the mirror.

''It didn't feel time-intensive,'' he says. ''I thought, 'well, I can do this for the rest of my life' but with no real purpose, you know. It does demand doing one thing over and over until you get muscle memory.'' Is that why all magicians are men? ''It may have something to do with why all magicians are introverted and socially awkward,'' he laughs.

You do wonder. All the magicians I meet are actually very personable, but the ability to pull an egg out of someone's ear certainly has the potential to be a compensatory social skill.

''You get into magic because you don't feel impressive,'' Brown - who is something of a phenomenon in Britain - told The Guardian. ''It's the quickest, most fraudulent route to impressing people.''

Galea, who has clearly given considerable thought to the ethics of magic, remembers the rush when he successfully stole his teacher's watch at high school. ''All the kids round me were laughing and it was a thrilling moment,'' he remembers. ''It becomes like a drug." Later he would have bets with fellow magicians about how many watches he could snaffle in a single show; his record was seven. He's not proud of it; it was ''stupid and crazy''.

''That doesn't thrill me at all, that kind of 'oooohhhh look, look how good I am','' he says. That kind of act, he says, is a power trip for the magician rather than something fun for the audience. ''I mean, magic is an amazing skill, but I think there are people who use that to show off and others who do it to give people a great experience everyone can share, where nobody feels stupid for not knowing where their card is. Watch anyone's trick and I think you will instantaneously know what they are trying to do.''

Of course, being the smartest person in the room - or making people think you are - has a tremendous allure.

''That's the reason some magicians don't like other magicians: they realise 'oh, I'm not special around you'. I guess that is a sad moment.'' That neediness is also an unpleasant thing to see in oneself, he agrees, so the defensive response is to bad-mouth your competitor while trying to think of a trick that will be bigger and better than anything he's got.

Don't we all want to be the smartest person in the room? Not entirely. In Bullet Trick, Drummond asks the audience to vote on whether he should reveal how a trick is done. ''Not only magicians say that people don't want to know; people themselves say that,'' he says. ''But the moment you present them with a genuine offer of knowledge, human curiosity takes over. There is always a battle within. Part of them doesn't want to know, but the bigger part cannot resist an insight that will make them part of the club.''

And it turns out all those old-school magicians were right all along.

After they have seen how a trick is done, he says, people usually say they feel a sense of loss. Like Eve eating the apple or luckless pandora las vegas opening the box full of evil, they lament their vanished innocence; at the same time, they had to know. ''That's every story of origin that's ever been,'' agrees Drummond. ''That curiosity is inherent in all of us.''

The Illusionists is at Arts Centre Melbourne, January 3-12.

Friday, December 6, 2013

It's a wintry mess from the Southwest to the Northeast

(cnn news las vegas) - No matter how you spell it, ice is a four-letter word Friday. Just ask folks living anywhere from Texas to Tennessee.

Across this swath of America, birthday plans have been canceled, long-awaited reunions have been put on hold, and weekend plans have become uncertain.

To put some perspective on the scope of the storm, consider that Hot Springs, Arkansas, experienced a record high of 75 on Wednesday. By Friday morning, the city was in the middle of an ice storm.

On Friday, it was colder in Dallas (26 degrees) than in Anchorage, Alaska (34 degrees), prompting the cancellation of the Dallas Marathon and spurring Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to cancel almost 700 flights, about 80% of those scheduled.

Those areas are in the bull's-eye of a treacherous ice storm, threatening to coat everything in its path with up to an inch of frozen water.

Ice is slippery but also heavy. It tends to bring down tree limbs and power lines when accumulations get thick.

Storm deaths

In some cases, the weather has been deadly. At least four deaths have been attributed to the storm.

In Texas, a passenger in a car was killed Thursday in Hockley County when the vehicle lost control and crashed into another car, Sgt. Bryan Witt of the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

An Arkansas man was killed late Thursday when a tree fell on his camper in Pope County, Tommy Jackson, an Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman, said Friday. Jackson said the death was related to the weather but couldn't provide details about the weather at the time. Rain and freezing rain were reported in the area Thursday night.

Highway Patrol officials in Oklahoma blamed two deaths on the weather - a 24-year-old man in Owasso and another unidentified person in Muskogee - but did not release details of those incidents.

Officers have responded to 106 weather-related crashes since Thursday morning.

About 116 storm-related injuries have been reported in Oklahoma, including 48 falls, the state health department said.

The storm struck fear in residents.

In Dallas, iReporter Earl Wallace IV said he was on the front porch of his home Friday morning when he heard a loud crack and a rush of wind. A large tree had fallen on two nearby homes.

"One of the homeowners emerged crying and talking on the phone," said the 32-year-old creative director. "The tree had crashed down into her dining room. I felt nervous, shocked and scared for the families inside."

Two homes were damaged - one with a giant hole in the roof - but no one was injured.

Getting ready

In Tennessee, Memphis Light, Gas and Water has 426,000 customers and is preparing for the worst. As of early Friday afternoon, about 5,000 customers were without power.

"MLGW employees have been monitoring this winter storm situation, and we have all of our resources in place should the winter weather hit Memphis and Shelby County," said Jerry Collins Jr., the company's president and CEO. "If indeed a significant storm blankets our city, we are ready to respond."

The ice also makes travel messy - real messy.

Road crews in Memphis are ready to throw down 4,000 tons of sand to give drivers traction, CNN affiliate WMC reported.

The governors of Tennessee and Arkansas declared states of emergency ahead of the worst of the storm.

"The most unsettling aspect about Arkansas' weather for most of us is its looming uncertainty," Gov. Mike Beebe said.

"During severe weather season, we know when conditions are ripe for tornadoes but never exactly where and when they could strike. In winter, that uncertainty takes a different form but can still create widespread anxiety," he said.

"Often, only a few degrees above or below the freezing mark can make the difference between a cold rain, a blanket of snow, an ice storm or a mixture of all of the above."

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, roads were passable overnight, but it was a fine line as temperatures slipped below freezing. The slushy mess slowly turned into crunchy, bumpy ice.

Police urged caution for anyone on the road and reported 21 major car accidents and 32 minor ones Friday.

According to energy provider Oncor, more than 200,000 customers were without power in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area as of Friday morning. This is the largest concentration of outages, with scattered outages elsewhere in the state.

Nearly 30,000 were without power in Arkansas, energy companies reported.

A dark cloud over Dallas events

The National Weather Service predicts a wintry mix of precipitation through Sunday.

That forecast prompted the cancellation of a downtown Dallas holiday parade scheduled for Saturday for the first time in 26 years. The city also called off its annual marathon slated for Sunday and the accompanying Health & Fitness Expo scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

"We regret that the race will not go on as planned, but are confident this decision is in the best interest of our runners, volunteers, spectators and the general public," A Dallas Marathon statement said.

While the focus Friday was on the ice storm stretching from Dallas to Memphis, Mother Nature looked ready to throw another punch.

A wintry mix was forecast for Washington beginning about noon Sunday. The National Weather Service said it has the potential to be an ice storm from late Sunday afternoon through the evening hours, but temperatures are expected to rise above freezing by rush hour Monday.

A new storm entered the West, bringing snow to the Pacific Coast on Friday. The storm brought significant snowfall to Portland, Oregon, and there is a chance for rare snow in Las Vegas on Saturday. This storm will bring another round of wintry weather to the East by late in the weekend.