Numlock News: April 9, 2020 • Lockbreak, COBOL, Ponzi Schemes
By Walt Hickey
New Jersey needs programmers who know the 60-year-old language COBOL, which may be antiquated, but is also the programming language the Garden State’s unemployment benefits system is based on. Connecticut and four other states are forming a joint effort to recruit retired COBOL programmers to update their software, as the skill may not be taught much anymore, but it’s critical to all sorts of systems. Half the world’s banking systems run on COBOL, 80 percent of card-based transactions use COBOL, the Government Accountability Office tracked down 10 computing systems like the Department of Education’s student aid processor reliant on COBOL. You know in that Rihanna and Liam Neeson movie, Battleship, when it ends with a bunch of older WW2 veterans manning a retired battleship to fight an alien threat that has overwhelmed the new, spiffy aircraft carriers? This is the ‘70s dork version of that.
At any given time there are unfortunately lots of scams and schemes in operation, and during a bull market — when it’s favorable conditions for people to make money in the stock market — it’s easier to help cover up Ponzi schemes and assuage investors in them. But when the market takes a dip, new investors are harder to find and fool, and people start pulling their money out, that’s the market equivalent of flipping over a stone and finding all the bugs freaking out. Bernie Madoff was discovered in 2008 only because the market exploded several months earlier. Over 100 Ponzi schemes were unearthed in 2009 compared to 40 in 2008, and in the decade that followed the 2008 crash the SEC prosecuted 50 percent more Ponzi schemes than the previous decade. Even a hiccup can upset scams: following a rough fourth quarter of 2018, scheme discoveries were up 30 percent in 2019 and involved $3.25 billion in investor funds. Today, with the stock market, uh, working some stuff out, we could see even more.
The use of coal in power generation was down 36 percent in the U.S. in March compared to the same month in 2019, and on Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration announced it projects coal generation will decline 20 percent this year. Coal production is projected to fall 153 million tons this year to 537 million tons, and it’s hitting the point where power companies may run out of space to store additional coal shipments in the early summer. With all the effort put into transitioning away from a reliance on coal, this would be a further decline for the coal.
In the event that theaters are shut down for three months, and hypothetically were to reopen in the summer, the North American box office would at the high-end haul in $7 billion in 2020, a 40 percent drop from 2019’s $11.4 billion, and the lowest revenue in two decades. A two-month closure would put revenue somewhere between $6.82 billion to $7.09 billion, and a three-month closure would put it in the range of $6.36 billion to $6.82 billion. For perspective, in 1998 the North American box office made $6.86 billion. Still, by counting up all the movies intended for 2020 that have been punted to 2021, we’re looking at an estimated $1.8 billion shifted to next year. It’s pretty wild watching an asterisk being carved in the record book in real time.
Cisco’s Talos security group put the fingerprint authentication systems of Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Huawei and three lock makers to the test, and found that fake fingerprints were able to fool the sensors at least once about 80 percent of the time. In the Apple test, they were successful on 17 of 20 attempts. Granted, this was the result of several months of work and over 50 fingerprint molds, but the actual thing that’s worrisome is the main constraint of the trial was that they had a maximum budget of $2,000 to crack the locks. VIPs have long known they should not be using irrevocable biological identifiers to gain access to sensitive data, but the $2,000 limit is a stark reminder that who we might consider a VIP is an increasingly wide pool.
A new paper found that having women on a company’s board made them more likely to handle product recalls better. The paper analyzed 4,271 recalls from 92 publicly traded companies that make medical products over a period ranging from 2002 to 2013. Companies with women on their board of directors announced 120 percent more recalls involving low-severity problems than companies with an all-male board, and recalled products with high severity issues 35 percent faster than companies with no women on the board.
Disney announced that they had passed 50 million subscribers to their newly-launched streaming service Disney+, a solid milestone given that in February the service had just 28.6 million subscribers, predominantly in the United States. Since then, the streamer has launched globally in eight European Countries, as well as in India, where it’s got 8 million subscribers as part of a bundle with the Indian streamer Hotstar. This is great news for Disney, which has had a rough month after having to close its parks, haul its movies out of theaters, shut down its stores, and see its sports television networks vamping. Numlock News would like to congratulate the Walt Disney Company for their slight lead in our ongoing race to see who has the most subscribers, but this Walt vs. Walt fight is far from over.
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