Hire-a-hitman website is a scam and its owner has made a killing

27 July 2018

PG isn’t certain exactly how this relates to writing, but suspects more than one book could result.

From The Times of London:

A British “vigilante hacker” says that a site on the dark web that offers hitmen for hire is a scam that has earned the Romanian behind it almost £5 million.

The website, which goes under various names including Chechen Mob, has been linked to the arrest of a deacon in Minnesota, a businessman in Singapore and a retired family doctor from Bournemouth.

After he was wrongly arrested on suspicion of running the deception Chris Monteiro, 35, found a “back door” to the site and stole data, some of which is believed to have been used by law enforcement agencies.

“Several hundred people have used the website seriously,” Mr Monteiro said yesterday. “That is to say, they provided a name and address or more. There have been at least half a dozen prosecutions in the last couple of years, possibly dozens. Scores of people have paid significant amounts of money on the site and should be considered dangerous criminals with lives at risk.”

Also using names including Russian Mafia and Cosa Nostra, the website has exploited people seeking to kill off a loved one or avenge a slight.

It offers hitmen and takes payment in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies then pushes up the fees until the user realises that they are being conned.

. . . .

Chechen Mob was at the centre of the case against David Crichton, a retired GP from Bournemouth who was acquitted this week of attempting to solicit murder. Dr Crichton had downloaded Tor, an encrypted browser that allows access to the dark web, and entered the details of his former financial adviser, whom he wrongly blamed for a loss of £300,000. However, he paid no money, made no attempt to arrange a murder and was found not guilty of trying to hire a hitman.

He was convicted of three charges of sending malicious communications and fined £6,000 at Winchester crown court and ordered to pay costs.

In the most serious case involving the scam, Stephen Allwine, a church elder from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, murdered his wife after he was duped into paying $6,000 to the fraudster, then known as Besa Mafia, a reference to the code of honour in Albanian gangs.

Allwine, 44, was a deacon in the United Church of God and had been having an affair with a woman he met via Ashley Madison, a dating website. He denied the murder but was jailed for life in February.

Link to the rest at The Times of London


The Man in the High Castle

23 July 2018

Here’s a teaser for Season Three of The Man in the High Castle:


And if you haven’t watched Seasons One and Two (and don’t want to do so), here’s a 30-minute summary:


Star Trek: Discovery Showrunner Says the Original Series Is Helping Season 2 Find Its Fun Side

21 July 2018

From i09:

The first trailer for the next season of Star Trek: Discovery looked surprisingly fun—especially when compared to the often-fatally bleak first season. It was full of cute jokes, great character moments, and late-1990s rock jams. So, where did this newfound levity come from? According to the showrunner, you can thank the first Star Trek TV series for that.

During a press conference for Star Trek: Discovery, io9 asked showrunner Alex Kurtzman how they’re balancing the look and feel of Discovery’sdebut with the first season of The Original Series, which feels like a huge departure from the grittier, more modern Trek franchises. How can they blend these two shows that are so tonally dissonant from each other? Turns out, by softening Discovery’s hard edges a bit.

. . . .

“I feel like tonally it’s probably a more buoyant season. Even those there are some episodes that are very very serious and intense, I think you’ll see in the first episode that there’s more balance between some of the humor that you’d see on TOS and the high stakes of the more modern versions of Trek.

I think obviously, last season was about war. And it’s tough to really stuff down and have a whole lot of humor when the stakes are so high, life and death is really what they’re dealing with every day… Tonally now, we’ve gotten to a place where the crew has more—even though the stakes are still high—there’s more downtime in the moments, which allows for more humor, which allows for a slower onion layer pulling open of character and the details of their own relationships.”

Link to the rest at i09


Zone Rouge

20 July 2018

From Atlas Obscura:

The unimaginable intensity of the shelling along the Western Front left swaths of agricultural land completely obliterated, churned up into a nightmarish landscape of craters and bodies. In the Battle of Verdun alone, which lasted for 303 days and remains one of the longest and most costly battles in human history, hundreds of thousands of men were killed.

Shortly after the war, the French government declared a 460-square-mile area unfit for human habitation or development. It stretches roughly from Nancy through Verdun and onto Lille, with various non-contiguous zones so riddled with unexploded shells (many of them gas shells), grenades, ammunition, and human and animal remains that it was simply too dangerous to enter. It was called the Zone Rouge.

Within the no-go zone are many ghost villages that were left abandoned after the war, deemed beyond repair. Signs around the zone warn “village detruit,” or destroyed village. It is said these towns “died for France.”

. . . .

[W]hile the controlled areas have shrunk since 1918, certain areas remain entirely off-limits, the soil so full of arsenic that 99 percent of all plants die, along with the ever-present threat of unexploded shells.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura


ZONE ROUGE – RED ZONE TRAILER 3 mn from cinephage! on Vimeo.

This clever app lets Amazon Alexa read sign language

17 July 2018

From Fast Company:

The voice assistant speaker revolution of Google Home and Amazon Alexa has left the deaf community behind. It’s a two-fold problem. These devices never learned to decipher the spoken voices of people with an extreme hearing impairment. At the same time, anything Home or Alexa say in response can’t be heard by the user. Adding a screen to display information on a device like the Echo Show might help, but it can only get someone so far if they want to have a natural conversation with a machine.

Now, one creative coder has built a solution. Abhishek Singh–who you may recognize for building Super Mario Bros. in augmented reality–built a web app that reads sign language through a camera, then says those words aloud to an Amazon Echo. When the Echo speaks its response, the app hears that, then types it out. The app allows deaf people to “talk” to a voice interface using nothing but their hands and their eyes.



Link to the rest at Fast Company

The Dummy That Ruined Your Childhood Is Back

11 July 2018

To doublecheck the beginning of the following trailer, PG tried to locate a definitive number for how many RL Stine titles have been published but was unable to do so. A great many is his conclusion.

From i09:

Even though Jack Black’s R.L. Stine was made out to be the star of 2015’s Goosebumps film, the character is conspicuously missing in the first trailer for the sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Thankfully, the true icon from the franchise, Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Jack Black) is back and terrorizing children once again.

Fans of Stine’s books will recall that Slappy, like all ventriloquist dummies and dolls possessed by malevolent beings, always comes back no matter what the hapless targets of his rage do to destroy him. In the new trailer, a trio of unsuspecting children Madison Iseman, Caleel Harris, and Jeremy Ray Taylor stumble upon a dilapidated house in their neighborhood that contains a mysterious coffin and a copy of R.L. Stine’s Haunted Halloween that, when read from, releases Slappy from his confinement.

Link to the rest at i09



The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945

24 June 2018

From The Guardian:

Italy’s pro-fascist King, Victor Emanuele III, abdicated in disgrace in the spring of 1946. Mussolini was dead – but not quite departed. Neo-fascists had stolen the dictator’s corpse from its grave in Milan: the unburied body became a potent symbol of totalitarian resurrection. On 2 June that year, Italians were asked to decide by referendum if they wanted to become a republic. A clamour of books, films and newspapers exhorted them to join the democratic world. Raised under fascism, many Italians had never seen a ballot box before. For the first time, Italian women were allowed to vote. Armoured cars stood outside the polling stations in anticipation of violence; there was none.

John Foot’s lively history of Italy since 1945, The Archipelago, describes how the referendum divided the nation grievously. The impoverished south remained monarchist; the prosperous north, republican. All across Italy at this time, Rita Hayworth’s raunchy hit Amado Mio (from the Hollywood blockbuster Gilda) boomed out from bars and cafes. In the north, the Hayworth anthem seemed to crystallise the republican spirit. The Duce and his cohorts had gone for good; the nationalist myopia of fascism was no more.

Needless to say, Italy is unrecognisable today from the nation that ousted the royal family in 1946, says Foot. With high levels of political corruption and tax evasion, the nation-state is under immense strain.

. . . .

“Italy had never been an entirely mono-cultural or mono-ethnic country,” he writes. Albanians, Normans, Arabs, Greeks and Germanic langobardi (“long-beards”, later Lombards) have intermarried to form an indecipherable blend of Italic peoples.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

And here’s Rita Hayworth singing Amada Mio:

Mortal Engines

5 June 2018

PG says it’s based on a dystopian steampunk book by Philip Reeve.

Although Peter Jackson is involved, PG did not notice any Hobbity creatures in the trailer.

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