On this episode I had the honour to speak with Rebecca Spitzmiller, researcher and law professor at “Università degli Studi Roma Tre”. She was named “Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic,”, an honour she received by the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, for her fight against degradation and spreading a sense of civic pride and responsibility, as co-founder of the grass-roots movement “Retake Roma”.
This episode was recorded following the first wave of the Corona pandemic in Italy.
I hope you enjoy it.
Spam filters are pretty good these days. They filter out unwanted publicity, annoying mailing lists and emails that try to steal your money.
Typically it’s very easy to figure out if an email is legit or not, however they’re getting better and unfortunately enough people fall for these schemes, which is why criminals keep sending them.
Today I received another great sample of a fraudulent email and I thought I’d share it, as well as showing you how to avoid loosing money and time.
Let’s have a look at the actual email I just received:
At first glance, this looks like a pretty reasonable invoice.
The links at the bottom of the message really do point to the Intuit domain. Intuit is a company that create financial software (e.g. Quicken), so this looks like something that could be sent through one of their products – in this case “quickbooks“. That’s the part of the email that is supposed to make it look more legit. It’s no coincidence.
However, when I right-click the “Print or save” button, to copy the link (never click on links and buttons directly!!!), and paste it into a text document, it shows that it forwards to a strange link with an “app” subdomain of “chirodestiny dot com”, on a page with a php script. That’s weird.
Next, the top of the email says “Elite Guardian Solutions, LLC”. This has nothing to do with Chirodestiny, which seems to be a totally different company.
The full text of the email reads:
Dear <(this part contained my email, typically you would expect they at least use your name)>,
Your invoice is attached. Please remit payment at your earliest convenience.
Thank you for your business – we appreciate it very much.
Elite Guardian Solutions, LLC
DUE 06-10-2020 $665.06
Print or save Powered by QuickBooks
Elite Guardian Solutions, LLC19 Front Street Suite 203 Salem, MA 01970(978)745-8080
If you receive an email that seems fraudulent, please check with the business owner before paying.
© Intuit, Inc. All rights reserved.Privacy |Security |Terms of Service
The company Elite Guardian solution seems to be a real company and their address seems to check out. It may or may not be a real company. That’s actually not that important. It’s totally possible that the spammers just picked a random company to make the email seem more legit. Or they set up the website themselves. Who knows. (Their website was registered in 2007, as you can check when you search for the domain with a service like whois.com).
What’s the first clue that this invoice is fake?
First, the obvious – I never had any business with Elite, so that’s an easy one.
Second, if you paid attention to the e-mail header, it states that the email was sent from “Great Lakes Power, Inc.”.
But that’s a totally different company! Weird, ey?
Funny enough Great Lakes Power is also an existing company, however it has nothing to do with Elite Guardian, resides in a different state, has a different business model… it’s almost as if somebody took random company names and threw them into a database, which then sent out random emails.
The third clue is when you actually dig into the details. When I check the sender name (right clicking on the sender’s email address), I see this:
Aha! Very obviously the real email address that sent us the invoice has nothing to do with Great Lakes Power, nor Elite Guardian Solutions. If we do a quick check on whois, we see that the real domain was registered somewhere in France! Sacrebleu! We even find the first and last name of the person who registered it, including a phone number.
Did we just find our criminal mastermind?
Unlikely. Too easy. It’s more likely that somebody hacked into that persons domain and used it to send out these kind of messages. It’s very common.
The fourth clue obviously was the “Print or save” button, that linked to the Chiropractic’s website (which is the third! company mentioned in this fake invoice email). Are they in on this? Are they just trying to get more views on their website? Unlikely. They could’ve just sent out normal spam, but I’d say their website was hacked and a subdomain was used as a server for the transactions of the true criminal.
Also, another clue: Did you notice how the invoice number in the subject and the message content are completely unrelated? Like, they didn’t even try to make them look similar.
So I could be wrong, but without doing any more digging into this, my gut feeling tells me that:
- Somebody’s web server was hacked and a malignant script was installed on a subdomain
- Some random company names and addresses were automatically scraped by a script and inserted into a database
- An illegal list of emails (or public available emails that have been automatically scraped from random websites) were inserted into a database
- Some software automatically constructed an invoice, based on a real Intuit quickbooks template, linking to the malignant script
- The email was automatically sent to everyone in the database from a hacked email account (hiding its original domain), unbeknownst to the person owning the domain name.
I don’t know if the link to the subdomain actually contains a harmful script. I see that the link points to a php-file and I don’t dare to navigate to it. Maybe it’s a page asking you for the payment online. Maybe it attempts to download a file. Maybe it’s just a proof of concept. Who knows. People do a lot of stuff when they have a lot of free time and a computer in front of them.
So, that was my story. What can you learn from this?
Usually you can figure out with just a few clicks and some common sense, that these emails, even though they start looking more and more convincing, are just a pile of b*****t.
This would be the moment that I should try to sell you some awesome product that promises to protect you from every thread and make you look better in the process.
I have nothing to sell. Just remember: Don’t click on links. Use common sense. Peace out.
In the last episode of the Three-Headed Hydra Podcast we looked at Universities and their reputation (at least in parts of the US and UK) to be a breeding ground for leftists. We felt like there was much more to talk about, so here’s the second part of the Hydra’s discussion about Universities, where we delve into questions such as: “Does it still make sense to go to University in 2020?”
Fiumicino keeps winning awards
Congratulations to the airport of Fiumicino for winning “the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating” from Skytrax. A great example of creating well-organized, world-class, high quality spaces in Italy.
But it’s not only organized, rapid testing that Skytrax noted in its review of FCO. The airport scored points for having easy-to-read signage in multiple languages, strict enforcement of mask wearing, visibly present cleaning staff and efficiency thanks to the consolidation of all incoming and outgoing flights to a single terminal for easier tracking.
Why Alitalia sucks
While talking about airports, on the other end of the spectrum we have Alitalia – a failed Italian company that is only kept alive artificially for several reasons I still don’t understand. Their handling of reimbursements for COVID-19 related cancellations has been underwhelming. Besides the fact that I have a personal beef with them for not reimbursing cancelled tickets and even money without providing tickets (I guess due to some problems with their website), they seem not only to be later in the game than other companies, but also reimbursed way less so far:
Reimbursements 2020 (so far):
Lufthansa: 2,5 billion (Euros)
Emirates: 1,4 billion (Dollars)
Alitalia: 123 million (Euros)
Why Poste Italiane sucks
Speaking of bad apples and subpar customer service: Poste Italiane. I always suspected that the postman (or woman) didn’t bother to ring the bell at my place, even if I was expecting a “raccomandata” (basically a tracked / registered mail) on a certain day, now there is proof. Typically I would simply find a notice stating that they passed by and nobody was at home. After all this “trick” to save time had a system and was not coincidence. The fine of 5 million dollars by the Authorities probably won’t hurt as much, but it certainly is a slap in their face.
Why I’m leaving BancoPoste
Personally I try to avoid any of their services, including the BancoPoste, whenever it’s possible. After being fed up paying ridiculous commissions for everything, I have switched to N26, an online bank that offers a free account! It won’t be the right choice for everyone, but it’s a great online bank that covers most basic needs (If you use this referral link you and I will get 5€ if you choose to switch).
N26 is completely online, it’s free. It’s app only, fast, modern. You can pay with your phone, but they will also send you a Debit Card. They also have paid options if you need more features. And you will get an Italian IBAN with every account.
So far, it’s been a relief to use it. Send or receive money for free. Fast. Instant feedback on your smartphone or Apple Watch. Love it (so far).
Universities are getting a bad rap these days. Many students accumulate student debt they can never pay back, many resources are now available freely on the internet and the experience of studying abroad is currently not an appealing argument due to COVID-19. Also, are safe spaces and cancel culture making it impossible for Universities to allow for a free exchange and debate of all ideas, even if provocative or sometimes painful to listen to? Are Universities today only a breeding ground for leftists? The Hydra put its gloves on to get to the bottom of this…
Russell Brand is certainly a very colorful character: comedian, tv and radio host, activist, writer, podcaster… he has seen it all, he has tried it all: fame, a lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, rehab, starting over and now it seems as though he has reached an enlightened state in his life. On this episode of the Three-Headed Hydra Podcast we shed light on this illustrious character that is Russell Brand.
How comes that some people are great at “thinking on their feet”, respond in a sharp, witty way during conversations and have no problems communicating complex thoughts from the top of their heads, whereas others need to analyse their thoughts first and seem to have a filter that blocks them from instant reaction? How can people sharpen their minds for other activities, e.g. sports? What tools and methods can we use to keep our minds sharp or even improve mental sharpness? Let’s find out!
Back in June I wrote a post called “The government places its bets on the Immuni app. Will Italians trust it?“.
Looks like we got the answer now: No (via Repubblica.it)
We all heard the buzzwords: Financial Freedom, Diversification of Income Streams, Passive Income, Frugal Living.
But what is the hype really about? Is it just the superficial wish to get rich fast?
Just another scheme to turn a new generation of young kids into consumers of the latest wave of self-help books and seminars? Is all this just a pipe dream after all?
Or can an argument be made for using your hard-earned money in smarter ways and, by redirecting your resources, creating passive income streams and by making smart choices about where to spend it and by being more frugal in the moment, actually live a more meaningful life?
The Three-Headed Hydra interrupted its summer swim to discuss this topic in detail.
This episode focuses on innovation and the future of Italy and its place in the world as a technological and economical heavy-weight.
“Why did you come to this country” is something that I was asked on the day I officially moved to Italy, the country my grandparents had left after second world war in search for a better future, and it’s a question I’m still being asked up to this day.
A simple, yet complex question implying better opportunities elsewhere, a resignation to a seemingly static system that seems to slow down innovation, rather than create new opportunities.
Yet, Italy has one of the strongest economies in the world and it is not mainly driven by tourism and food, contrary to popular believe.
In fact on this episode of the Hey, Sal Podcast I am honoured to have the opportunity to talk to an expert in innovation and technology:
Emilia Garito, IT engineer and CEO of Quantum Leap (www.quantumleap-ip.com), one of the first Italian Patent Brokers, does not only have an impressive curriculum, spanning from past employment at Finmeccanica Group, the Italian Air Force and working for NATO countries, she also has her finger on the pulse of everything that is currently happening in the world of technology and innovation as the curator of TEDxRoma (http://tedxroma.com). She is an expert in open innovation, artificial intelligence and complex systems modelling and I hope that you find some inspiration in the conversation that I am about to have with her.
Here’s another difficult topic, exactly what the Hydra loves! On this podcast episode we discuss forgiveness, one of the hardest things in the world. How can we forgive someone? Can we forgive monsters? What about the monsters within ourselves? Is there any use in forgiving at all? Why can somebody not forgive?
Unless you’ve been living behind the moon, you too have been invited or hosted an online meeting, followed a yoga instructor or learned some new skill – online. Is this the future of education? Or is it just the new trendy thing to do? Is it sustainable? Whether you’re a teacher or a student, in this conversation we cover many interesting topics – together with special guest teacher Alister McCarty from Northern Ireland – in our first edition of “The Hydra’s Hole”.
Animal cruelty and horrible discoveries in the meat industry have made many consumers think twice about what they put on their plate (or into their bodies). But is reducing meat intake or looking for more ethical and sustainable meat sources enough? What is veganism about? What are the benefits, ethical concept and what the risks of moving to the “vegan side”?
Does free will truly exist? Or is the very fact that we’re typing these words and thinking these thoughts already predetermined by the cosmic clockwork? And if we are all the sum of our experiences and all the parameters that led up to this moment, do we still have agency to modify future outcomes?
Hey! I sat down with executive chef Joona Valokorpi from Finland to talk about the state of the restaurant business in Finland, compared to Italy and the rest of the world and what innovations are happening there, if any, to keep companies alive and prepare them for an uncertain future.
He’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man! We ask the Dentrepreneur behind the trowel at J Dennison Plastering what it’s like to have your own business in the UK. Silky stuff from the smoothest in the south.
The Hydra is no stranger to the martial arts, especially Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. What are the benefits of BJJ? Why is it different than other martial arts? Why do some people compare it to a game of chess? Is it really more technical than other martial arts?
Find out in this episode of the Three-Headed Hydra Podcast!
In this episode of the Hey, Sal! Podcast, I spoke with Nicola who was born with a deadly gene defect called Thalassemia.
His doctors had already told him to prepare to die. However, in this remarkable conversation Nicola tells his story how he escaped death, reclaimed ownership of his life and transformed into the community leader he is today.
How can we fix social media? Here’s an interesting article by Chris Walts:
The issue that needs to be addressed isn’t freedom of speech that’s we’ve had for decades, it’s freedom of reach.
As Aza Raskin explains, “We are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech. We are not guaranteed the right to freedom of reach. We need amplification liability for internet platforms.”
To fix “social media” I propose we run a test for a month or so: Let’s just get rid of all the like, dislike and follower count buttons from all social media platforms, remove most micro categories for ad targeting, show more random posts and even posts that would be considered contrary to your own believe bubble on everybody’s news feed and drastically limit the amount of posts, image and video uploads to just one per week. Require a minimum of 150 words per post.
Also, news organisations will not be allowed to report tweets as “news”.
Unless it’s some quality show such as “Fear Factor” or “Jersey Shore”. In that case reading tweets out loud is encouraged.
Then, check how quickly all the attention seekers, bored teens, bot farms and impulsive keyboard warriors will quietly disappear.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
This quote by American novelist James Baldwin couldn’t be more true today.
From the #metoo movement to #blacklivesmatter, this seems to be a time of reckoning and confronting the ghosts of the past in the U.S. and many countries around the world.
In this episode, I talked to Dr. Avery Smith, philosophy teacher at Loyola University Chicago and former communications officer at the food and agriculture organisation of the united nations.
Tony Robbins has a huge following and has transformed the lives of many, both on- and offline. But what is it that makes his message so appealing? What is his message after all? Is he the real thing after all or is he just a charlatan? The Hydra delves in to answer these questions and many more!
Sometimes even a hydra must look into the mirror. In this episode we revisit Sal’s past, his experience backpacking and walking through Southern Europe back in 2006/2007. A glimpse into his bigger journey that ultimately has led him into the cave of the Three-Headed Hydra today.
Some days you eat. Some days you don’t. The days you don’t you do fasting. In this episode we compare our personal experiences regarding intermittent to week long fasting, the challenges we had to overcome and positive effects and benefits we experienced.
“The Big Five personality traits” is a model that groups personality traits.
The theory identifies five dimensions:
- openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
- conscientiousness (efficient/organised vs. extravagant/careless)
- extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
- agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/callous)
- neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)
The Three-Headed Hydra couldn’t resist to take the test and have some fun with the results.
Is civil discourse possible on social media?
In this podcast episode of the Three-Headed Hydra Podcast, we debate about whether or not debating on social media makes sense. Personally, I believe there is not much value in it. Let me explain:
- In many instances, you do not know who the person you’re interacting with really is. It could be a well-programmed bot and you wouldn’t even notice it.
- There are limitations to the way you communicate on social media. Whether these limitations manifest themselves through limited characters or a inflexible, predefined format, or – more important – through the lack of non-verbal communication that allow for nuances that you would only pick up when talking face-to-face, it is not a suited format for debating in a meaningful way.
- Debating on social media is conditioned by algorithms that have trained us that the more we manage to be shared or “liked”, the more value we or our arguments have. This is very misleading as most debates happen within bubbles. If I enter a debate in “my adversaries” echo chamber, I will most certainly loose that debate if simply counting the likes on each side of the argument, no matter whether my arguments are better or not.
But even if we assume that every person on each side of the argument has good intentions. Let’s say everyone wants real, meaningful conversation. There is another major, unsolved problem.
Bridging the gap between mental models
While studying media informatics in Germany, part of our training covered Human-Computer-Interaction and how most software projects fail, for various reasons (budget, time constraints etc.). One huge problem was that the various people involved in a project, even if all of them are professionals, often use the same language, but don’t mean the same thing.
Every actor views the world through a personal, different mental model. It is impossible for the person sitting across to guess what I mean and which personal interpretations and assumptions I put into each word. There are methods to help gap that bridge and it is crucial in software development to get a developers mind and a customers mind aligned – not an easy task with professionals coming from completely different worlds.
But there is no such thing as bridging the gap of mental models in real-time shouting matches on the internet. At least none that I’ve come across.
Even if you talk with a person face-to-face, it can take months or years, before you really get to know that person, their motivations and their true intentions. Even if you do, I’m sure many readers here went through a breakup at some stage in their life, wondering how their partner wasn’t who we thought they were in all these years.
All I’m saying is, that talking, debating with another human being is complex. And the complexity of life is insufficiently mapped with social media in its current state.
The Wim Hof Method, created by Wim Hof aka “The Iceman”, is a mixture of frequent cold exposure, as well as breathing and other techniques. The correlation between these exercises and suppression of the innate immune response have been studied by scientists. In this episode the Hydra dives into the cold and tries to get to the bottom of what the hype is about.
Do you sometimes wish you could block those ads on your computer? Video ads on Youtube and Facebook, banner ads on news websites or popup ads trying to fight for your attention. Not only are they very annoying, they also tend to drain your laptop batteries faster when you’re surfing the web.
The other day I had to turn off my ad blocking plugins for a project and forgot to turn them back on. Instantly I was bombarded by ads everywhere. Youtube video ads. Facebook ads.
All my regular websites suddenly were clustered with banners everywhere. I had gotten so used not seeing ads that I was shocked by how much garbage is out there now.
The best tools to block ads on your computer
Luckily we can do something about it. Here’s a list of a few tools that will help you block ads on your computer:
AdBlock This useful software blocks ads on most popular browser, including on mobile. It also blocks the Youtube video ads succesfully.
AdBlockPlus Unrelated to AdBlock, but does basically the same thing. Also very good, if some ads don’t get blocked with AdBlock you might want to try with AdBlockPlus.
Ghostery This tool blocks entire scripts running on website. The goal is to avoid those scripts from tracking you, which also includes ads. So if you’re looking for extra navigation speed and privacy on the internet, this tool will bring you a step closer to that goal.
These are the one’s I’ve used personally at one point or another, so I can recommend them. Tom’s Guide has a great list of other tools I have never used and that might do the job for you.
Be aware that some companies like Facebook are investing an enormous amount of money and resources to make sure that their ads are delivered to you; after all, this is where they make their money with. However, many ad blockers are quick to react and release updated filter lists, allowing you to block as many ads as possible.
I hope you found this article useful, if you’re not sure how to use an adblocker, here’s a video I made sometime last year:
A person doesn’t need to have gone to medical school to understand the difference between influencing blood flow vs. oxygen flow with pressure to the throat. But there are other ways to learn this, and practicing jiu-jitsu is one of them.
Police officers in the U.S. are engaging in these maneuvers and not only have they not gone to medical school, they aren’t being trained in jiu-jitsu, either. Utilizing dangerous submissions is always risky for a street fighter, but it’s far more fatal if the combatants don’t understand what they are doing as they execute the tactics. Thus, both officers and communities they serve would be better equipped if police training included a basic level of martial arts-based competence.
It’s not a bad idea. Teaching cops Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) won’t prevent racist assholes from being racist assholes. But it might actually save many lives and can be a great tool that prevents cops from pulling a gun in the first place – combined with additional de-escalation and thorough psychological training.
First, having a basic understanding of BJJ will allow cops to de-escalate many situations without the need to pull a gun in the first place.
Having a basic understanding of BJJ and therefore how to control the other person will allow cops to keep a cool head (and refrain from using a gun), because they can be confident that – should the situation escalate – they will be able to handle it with martial arts. Especially if their partner participated in BJJ training as well.
Positive side effect: BJJ doesn’t require any punches or kicks, so there is less of a chance of hurting the opponent unnecessarily.
Second, once you know how to apply a choke properly, there will be no more fatal chokes applied “by mistake”. We choke each other continuously during our training sessions at Gracie Barra Rome and nobody dies.
People who know me are aware of the fact that I don’t like waiting around in queues. At all. I find that most of the time queuing up is useless, unpredictable, unproductive and it never makes me a happier person.
And should I ever need to queue up because there really is no other option, then I try to make an appointment online beforehand, whether it’s because I have to send a package, go see a doctor, get something at the city hall and if that isn’t an option either – sometimes some platforms monitor wait times, allowing some sort of predictability about how much time will be wasted that day.
So here on day I read that the government announced “IO” (wish currently is in public Beta), an app promising to transfer all the Italian bureaucracy into the digital sphere, at your service around the clock, just a tap away. This sounds exactly like the kind of app I would like!
One app to rule them all. I like the concept.
Honestly, I didn’t expect much but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway.
Installing the app is easy. You can download it on the App Store if you use iOS, or on the Play Store if you use Android. The app itself is free and the installation process is pretty straightforward. Tap on “Get” (iOS) or “Install” (Android), insert your password or identify via Touch ID or Face ID. The app will then quickly download to your smartphone.
Since you will receive official communications from the public administration, the developers of IO had to make sure that they can guarantee that you really are who you say you are.
There are two ways you can log into the app. Either with a SPID (Public System of Digital Identity) or via CIE3.0 (Electronic ID), which basically are credentials that you have to activate once through a “trusted provider”. Currently the trusted providers are:
Some providers allow you to verify your identity for free, by uploading your documentation (ID or passport) and some other information – in some cases this only takes a few minutes.
Getting the SPID
Personally I went for the PosteID, since I already had a simple account there. So all I had to do was to request the SPID via my existing account. However somehow the process didn’t finish as planned resulting in me being locked out from my original account – and then the SPID didn’t work either for about half an hour, which was confusing and frustrating.
Long story short, it took about an hour to get the SPID running, so I suppose there is some sort of approval process going on behind the scenes.
Since it’s also possible that the culprit was my browser cache, I won’t blame it on the Poste this time (however, I have plenty of other complaints concerning other areas of their services – maybe for another day).
The time had come for my first login. The app user interface is simple and clean, although it feels more like an Android app than an iOS app. There is currently no web version available:
From their website:
Potrò usare tutti i servizi di IO anche da browser web?
In una prima fase abbiamo deciso di concentrarci sulle applicazioni mobile e, in particolare, sulle piattaforme Android e IoS, che sono di gran lunga le più diffuse. Alcune funzioni saranno disponibili in futuro anche dal browser: inizieremo dalle funzioni relative alla gestione di privacy e sicurezza.
Small detail: I just can’t get over the fact how they write iOS in the FAQ: IoS.
It’s like someone tried to write those three letters in the weirdest way possible.
You can choose between four sections, including “messages”, “payments”, “services” and “profile”.
The “messages” section contains official documents sent to you by the public administration. However, for now you will only see emails sent by the dev team of IO, welcoming you to the app and giving you some ideas about how to use it.
The “payments” section allows you to add payment methods and if you have to pay a bill, then you can scan payments via a QR code or enter them manually. All transactions will be stored here.
In the “services” section you can choose available services that are available on a National level, or you can choose those for your city (in my case that’s Rome).
In the profile section you have your “codice fiscale” card available in digital form. It is similar to how you can add tickets or credit cards to Apple’s Wallet. That means if you need to scan the barcode of your codice fiscale card, you could also use this app for it (e.g. when scanning your card at the INPS).
So what can I actually do with this app?
In my case, selecting Rome, I can only choose between two options:
Sportello Unico per l’Edilizia and Sportello Unico per le Attività Produttive. Both services that are currently of no use for me as a citizen in Rome.
On a National level, the only service there is from ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia), so if you don’t have a car and don’t need to pay your “bollo”, or request a certificate of ownership, this will be useless to you as well.
And that’s it. Just crickets.
While I kind of like the minimalist style of the app, really at this stage it is completely and utterly useless for me.
It would be a dream if I could simply request any certificate, change my residency or pay any bills directly through this app. Or, heaven forbid, monitor the status of my procedures and requests to check if they have already been processed. That would be crazy efficient!
Unfortunately all this will depend on whether or not the various institutions will adopt the app and use the well documented API’s to offer their services through the app.
And since until now the very same institutions haven’t even managed to provide their most fundamental services on their own websites, in all honesty, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Until that day comes, the next time I’ll have to visit the public administration I will do the contrary of what John Lennon sang.
I try not to imagine all the people, because in case I didn’t make myself clear yet: I really, really don’t like queues.