This is why you're broke 

This is why you’re broke, coffee edition

Is $5.27 too much to pay for a cup of coffee?My first time at Kaffee 1668, the line was literally out the door. When I got to the counter, I ordered a small mocha. I had barely uttered “no whipped cream,” when the barista looked me straight in the eyes and said, “We don’t do that here.” Still, nothing caught me off guard quite like the tiny beverage’s $5.27 price tag.

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 Personal Finance 

Don’t Vote (Just Kidding!)

Happy Election Day! Today is Election Day in the United States, where citizens can cast their vote for the person they feel is best fit to be the next President of the United States. You should celebrate your right to vote, one of the rights afforded to you as a citizen and protected every single day by our naton’s bravest sons and daughters, by going to the polls and casting your vote.

Or you could skip it. (watch the video!)

(If you vote today, you can get a free tall brewed coffee from Starbucks for free… or a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s – see? carrot and stick!)


6 Things More Expensive Because of Marketing

Black Pearl EarringsOne of the most fascinating stories I read in Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, was that of Tahitian Black Pearls. It’s amazing because what happened with black pearls has happened with so many other products through the ages, you’d think we’d learn to recognize it… but we don’t! While I won’t reveal the whole tale, Emily Bobrow’s review, which appeared in the New York Observer, remarked that in Predictably Irrational…

We learn that James Assael, a postwar ‘pearl king,’ had little luck in unloading the gunmetal fruits of black-lipped oysters when he first introduced them to America in the 1970’s. But then he convinced his buddy Harry Winston to display a string of these lovelies in his Fifth Avenue window, together with an outrageous price tag. The rest is history.

For those who don’t know, black pearls are supposed to be very expensive. 🙂

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 Personal Finance 

Week in Numbers: Financial Turmoil! Sky Falling!

-1917: Dow Fall In First Half of 2008 The Dow opened on January 2nd, 2008 at 13,261.82 and opened on July 1st, 2008 at 11,344.64 – for a spectacular fall of over 1,917 points. Don’t calculate the percentage, it’ll just make you throw up.

145: Oil Tops $145 This Week This week, a barrel of oil (NYMEX Sweet Crude) topped $145. A barrel of oil cost an average of $15.70 ten years ago (adjusted to 2007 dollars). I will be investing in a Flintstone-mobile. Here are the latest energy prices on Bloomberg. *sigh*

5.5%: Unemployment At 5.5% Can someone with better math, or better descriptive skills, explain why a 50% difference is only considered “slight?” We expected 40,000 fewer jobs in June, there are actually 62,000 fewer jobs… but it’s only slight. “Job losses in June were slightly worse than the 40,000 expected by economists surveyed…”

600: Starbucks Closing StoresStarbucks to close 600 stores with 12,000 affected workers. Stockholders rejoice as SBUX jumped 4.6% and MBA professors sob as one of the most referenced marketing case studies gets a black eye. At least there’s always Southwest.

$1.24B Project Genesis Cruise Ship by Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s Project Genesis, a cruise ship yet to be named, will be the most expensive and largest cruise ship ever constructed and will cost a mere $1.24 billion dollars. It will carry 6,400 passengers, weight 220,000 gross registered tons, and displace more water than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. (it wasn’t announced this week, in fact it was announced over a year ago, but it was worth putting in this week just because!)

Have a great Fourth of July Weekend!

(I’m going to start doing Week in Numbers [WIN] every Friday afternoon, please let me know what you think!)


Stealing RFID Credit Card Data Is Easy!

Remember when someone actually needed to have your card before they could steal your data? With RFID, or radio frequency identification, all they need to be is near your card, with an $8 RFID reader, to get your information now! If you watch this episode of boing boing TV, you can see a $8 reader pull your card’s details from you without actually having your card. What can you get? Card name, cardholder’s name, and expiration date (probably more, you can transmit about 2 kB of data) – or essentially everything off the face of your card.

If you remember back to physics class, electricity and magnetism are inter-related. A magnetic field around a conductive material will generate an electric charge. If you want to get real nostalgic, remember the right hand rule? 🙂 Anyway, RFID works off that principle. The reader sends out a magnetic signal that generates a current in the RFID chip. The current powers the chip and gets it to send out a signal that the reader will detect. The signal is encrypted, that’s not the problem, the problem is that it can be decrypted by the reader, a reader you can buy for $8. The security flaw has nothing to do with RFID technology, the failure is in the implementation by the credit card industry.

The technology expert in the clip, Pablos Holman, does point this out by saying the decryption should happen back at a secure location rather than at the point of sale and I suspect this is a cost cutting measure on the credit card industry’s part. By decrypting at the POS, they get to reuse their systems (i.e. use RFID on the cheap) as-is rather than building a mechanism for decrypting the data somewhere down the data stream. I’m 99.9% sure that someone in the entire industry has thought of the scenario in which someone buys an $8 reader and starts stealing data but it’s cheaper to fix the fraud than develop a better system.

As to the concerns that you could walk into a Starbucks and steal everyone’s data with a reader augmented with a powerful antennae, that’s not 100% accurate because an RFID tag has a read range based on its frequency. Smart cards are said to use high-frequency tags, which have a read range of 3′ or less. So while you could activate every card in the room, you’d have to wander within 3′ of everyone (still easy, just not as easy as turning it on and standing there) to grab the data.

If you want to learn more about RFID, check out the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility’s FAQ on RFID.

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