Madoff’s astonishing Ponzi fraud

_45967302_madoff_afp203I’ve been totally amazed by the story of Bernard Madoff‘s astonishing investment scandal that spanned twenty years. It’s an absolutely incredible story of what is the world’s largest ever investor fraud committed by a single person, to the tune of $65bn, a staggering amount of money.

Madoff’s fraud is based on the amazingly simple Ponzi technique. All you have to do is to convince suckers to give you some money with the promise of a guaranteed return, and when that return is made you convince them to re-invest the return rather than withdraw it. Rather than sending money when the investment matures, you simply send a false statement. At some point, obviously, people will want to withdraw their money from the scheme, at which point you do all you can to convince them otherwise. The scheme collapses when more people insist on withdrawing their investments that can be covered by the actual funds, which is what happened to Madoff when the banking crisis kicked off.

How Madoff managed to keep this scam going for so long and grow it so large is absolutely staggering. Nobody else except Madoff have been indicted, but I find it hard to believe that he worked alone on something so big and that lasted so long. All the necessary fake paperwork was generated by an ancient computer system, housed on one floor of Madoff’s offices, never updated of course because to do so would require consultants to come in, risking exposure [source]. Somebody set up those computers in the first place. One also has to wonder if any of the investors questioned as to why the format of their fake paperwork didn’t catch up with the times; I expect they were just blinded by loyalty and trust.

What’s most alarming is that Madoff’s scam wasn’t detected by the authorities, namely the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who investigated Madoff’s firm no less than eight times but found nothing. This means that either Madoff is the best con-man of all time, or that the SEC is quite spectacularly useless. Both may very well be the case, but regarding the latter, if I was an investor in the United States I would be very worried now about whatever investment scheme I was committed to, especially if it seemed to be doing consistently well for a number of years. You can be sure that Madoff’s isn’t the last.

The Devil acutely points out glaring comparisons between Madoff’s Ponzi fraud and National Insurance, which is essentially a state enforced, compulsory Ponzi scheme. One day it too will collapse. I hope I’m in the ground before it happens.

Madoff has been jailed for 150 years for what is clearly an unimaginably evil crime in every way.


Michael Jackson dies

PD*29717015By now the whole world will know the news about Michael Jackson’s sudden death from a heart attack in Los Angeles. The world almost ground to a halt last night when the story broke. Certainly, certain parts of the Internet, Wikipedia, Twitter and Google included, saw the sort traffic spikes not seen since 9/11. Twitter in particular apparently “crashed”.

I think it’s pretty obvious what killed him*. The stress put upon him by the upcoming 50 concerts in London must have been immense. What he should have done was stick to the original ten, and not go on to quintuple the number of dates. Whether he did this because he wanted to, or because he was under pressure from his promoters, fans or creditors, is another question of course. He quite clearly took on too much at a time when his health, both physical and mental, was questionable at best.

It’s hard to deny Jackson his accolade of music genius, despite his eccentricities. Love him or hate him as a person, he produced some quite outstanding music, entertaining millions for decades. He used his fortune to push the boundaries of entertainment, often to his financial detriment, and it’s people like him who force real progress in what is possible, even if it doesn’t turn a profit.

Very cynical people, of course, will suggest that he’s actually not dead at all. He was a very eccentric man, capable of almost anything, as we’ve seen many times over the years, so it’s not completely inconceivable. It goes without saying that, dead or alive, he will do very well financially out of this event, in terms both music/memorabilia sales and insurance. But even I’m not that much of a cynic, if I’m honest.

So rest in peace, Michael Jackson. I wasn’t your biggest fan by a long shot, but I’m genuinely saddened by your death and I think the world will be a poorer place without you.

* Update: Media reports are suggesting that his death may be due to an overdose of prescription drugs. Jackson’s doctor is apparently “missing”. The coroner’s report won’t be out for a number of weeks.

Update 24/08/2009: Turns out he was murdered with a lethal dose of an anesthetic. The scandal fallout will make Diana look like a cake competition cheating incident.


Aptana Studio

aptana_blackUp until a few months ago I used Zend Studio as my IDE (Integrated Development Environment). I’d used this for a number of years, since 2005 I believe, and the version I was using (5.5.x) was starting to show its age. Zend do have a new version but I never got on with it, largely I suspect due to its Eclipse underpinnings. Whilst Zend Studio 5 was dedicated to PHP, Zend Studio 6 seemed little more than a plugin for a different IDE that was more geared towards Java developers, and it just didn’t work for me. The price didn’t work for me either, at €399.

Then along came Aptana. which I stumbled across whilst doing some research into Adobe Air (which came to nothing, incidentally, I’m not going to bother with it). Apatana takes all the good bits of Eclipse, adds to them and packages them up into an IDE that’s aimed at web developers in general, whether your poison is PHP, Python, Ruby or whatever else. It’s aware that the software you’re developing is web software, and so knows about things like CSS, Javascript, Javascript libraries, XML, JSON and so forth. It just feels like it’s geared towards you as a web developer, rather than a generic software developer, which is how Eclipse makes you feel.

Aptana is brimming with features, too numerous to list here. Suffice to say that, if you are familiar with modern IDEs, all your bases are covered and then some. For those who don’t use an IDE I would suggest Aptana as a good starting point in the IDE world because of what I mentioned before about it not being completely generic.

It has its shortcomings, as any piece of software does. My biggest gripe is that it’s written in Java, which brings along all the usual problems associated with software written in Java, i.e. large memory footprint, high CPU usage, messy crashing, etc. That said I appreciate that Java has allowed Aptana to be cross-platform, thus reducing development costs and, ultimately, keeping its price tag at a very reasonable $99. It’s certainly the best $99 that I will spend this year.


iPhone 3GS and OS 3.0


I’m a little underwhelmed with the iPhone 3GS, if I’m honest. Although I will take advantage of a free upgrade to a 3GS in January (because why wouldn’t I?) I certainly couldn’t justify either buying out the remainder of my contract now, or indeed the extra cost of a 3GS over a 3G if I was buying a new one.

The 3GS has four advantages over the 3G. Two features, the faster processor and the much improved camera (with video capabilities) are fair game, I’m not going to argue with those. But the other two seem virtually useless in comparison, those being voice control and a compass, of all things. I guess these two features might help people who use their iPhones whilst driving, but it remains to be seen just how useful they prove.

iPhone-OS-3.0-SoftwareThe OS 3.0 software update, however, is much more valuable and important than the hardware update. Although I’m disappointed that there’s still no support for running applications in the background, OS 3.0 has a plethora of improvements that make using an iPhone generally better.

Most notable amongst the new features is MMS, which is fantastic, but I’m still annoyed with Apple for having taken nearly two years to implement it on the iPhone platform; there was really no excuse for not having it from the start. Other features of note include Spotlight search and cut and paste facilities, something else that people have been crying out for for ages.

Internet tethering is another feature that would be amazingly useful had O2 not made it virtually impossible to use by applying punitive “bolt-on” prices to anyone who actually wants to use it. iPhone users are supposed to be on an “unlimited data” tariff with O2, but if you want to download that data to a device other than your iPhone then you have to pay for it again.

There are hundreds of other improvements. I’ve found a comprehensive list of them and a detailed guide about how to get the best out of them if it’s not clear to any iPhone owners who are having trouble noticing the changes after updating.


New journal launched

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbI’ve been around on the Internet for 15 years now and in that time I’ve run a number of personal websites, starting off from the very basic “about me” type page whilst at university through to a full blog that ran for many years between 2001 and 2008. However, last year I decided that my blogging days had come to an end due to having lost ground to Facebook, which I’m very active on, so I stopped blogging and took my previous site, Stuii Times, off-air.

However, the fact of the matter is that I miss blogging, so I’ve decided to start again with a fresh site using WordPress, which, if you haven’t looked at it recently, is seriously impressive web publishing software. I previously rolled my own blogging software because things like Blogger and WordPress didn’t do what I wanted them to do, but things have moved on since.

Over time I’m going to import a number of old posts from my old blog, but certainly not all of them. Not only are there 1,641 of them, making a full manual import to WordPress impractical, but the other reason why I took Stuii Times down was that I had also decided that some of the posts, especially the older posts, were perhaps not suitable for public display any more given how much my life had changed in the seven years that I blogged. With that borne in mind, my future posts are likely to be less about me and more about the things that I am interested in. I’ve imported all posts from 2008 so far and will work backwards from there.

I’m not making a big song and dance about the launch of this site at the moment, I’m going to give it a “soft launch” and see if it gets any traffic or comments over the next few months. If I like what I see and where it’s going then I’ll tell everyone.

Update 24/06/2009: Unfortunately the first comment I received from a “reader” of the site was quite obviously spam, so I’ve turned on the setting whereby people have to register in order to comment. I didn’t want to do that, but having your first comment as spam isn’t a good omen. Sign of the times, I suppose.