Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting an Iphone

[This posting has nothing to do with data mining.]

Last week, a friend gave me an iPhone for my birthday. Before that, I had admired the iPhone at a distance as several of my friends and colleagues used theirs. I should also admit that I'm something of a Luddite. Technology for technology sake does not appeal to me; it often just means additional work. Having spent the weekend setting up and getting used to the phone, the fear is confirmed. However, the end result is worth it.

The first step in using the iPhone is getting service, which is as simple as downloading iTunes, hooking up the phone, and going through a few menus. Of course, there are a few complications. The most recent version of iTunes does not support the version of Windows I have on my laptop. Remember the Luddite in me, causing me to be resistant to a much needed laptop upgrade.

That issue was easily resolved by moving to another computer. The second fear was porting my number from T-Mobile to AT&T. This turned out to be a non-issue. Just click a box on one of the screens, put in my former number (and look up my account number) and the phone companies do the rest.

So once you have an iPhone in place, then expect to spend several hours learning how to operate it. After getting lost in the interface, perhaps somewhere in contacts, I painfully learned that there is only one way to get back to the home page. I'm pretty sure I tried all other combinations by hitting options on the screen. However, there is actually a little button on the bottom of the screen -- a real button -- that brings back the home page. Well, at least they got rid of all the keys with numbers on them.

The next step is sync'ing the iPhone to your life. This is simplest if your mail, calendar, and contacts are all handled in Outlook or Yahoo!. Somehow, Apple is not compatible with Google. Alas. So, bringing in my contacts from Google meant:

(1) Spending an hour or two cleaning up my contact list in Google, and adding telephone numbers from my old phone. Since the iPhone has email capabilities, I really wanted to bring in email addresses as well as phone numbers.

(2) Exporting the Google contacts into a text file.

(3) Very importantly: renaming the "Name" column in the first line to "First Name". Google has only one name field, but Yahoo (and the iPhone) want two fields.

(4) Uploading my contacts into my Yahoo account.

(5) Sync'ing the iPhone up with my Yahoo account.

Okay, I can accept that some global politics keeps the iPhone from talking directly to Google. But, why do I need to connect to the computer to do the sync? Why can't I do it over the web wirelessly?

Okay, that's the contacts, and we'll see how it works.

The calendar is more difficult. For that, I just use Safari -- the iPhone browser -- to go to Google calendar. This seems to work well enough. However, even this can be complicated because I have two Google accounts -- one for email (glinoff@gmail.com) and one for all my Data Miners related stuff (gordon@data-miners.com). The calendar is on the latter. I seem to have gotten a working version up in Safari, by going through the calendar page.

Note that I did not use Google's suggestion of pasting in the URL for my private calendar. I found that the functionality when I do this is not complete. It is hard to add in events.

And this brings up a subject about Safari. First, it is incredible what it can do on a small portable device. On the other hand, it is insane that I was unable to set up my AT&T account using Safari. Each time I went through the same routine. AT&T send me a temporary password. I went to the next screen, and filled in new passwords and answers to the security questions (somewhat painfully, one character at a time, but I was on a train at the time). After finishing, I would go to a validation screen, the validation would fail, and I would go back to the first page. The only thing that saed me was the training reaching Penn Station and the iPhone running out of battery power.

Once I got home, I did the same thing on my computer. And, it worked the first time.

I also noticed that certain forms do not work perfectly in Safari, such as the prompts for Google calendar. On the other hand, it was easy to go to web pages, add book marks, and put the pages on the home screen.

Fortunately, the email does not actually go through the Safari interface. This makes it easy to read email, because the application is customized. However, Safari would have some advantages. First, Safari rotates when the screen rotates, but the email doesn't (which is unfortunately because stubby fingers work better in horizontal mode). Also, only the most recent 50 emails are downloaded, so searching through history is not feasible. On the plus side, sending an email, still shows up in gmail.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the phone are the maps. There is a home key on the map which tells you where you are. Very handy. We were watching the movie "The Water Horse". Within a minute, I could produce a map and satellite pictures of Loch Ness in Scotland, with all the zoom-in and zoom-out features. Followed close by is the ability to surf the web. And both of these are faster on a wide-area network, which I have.

I still haven't used the music or video, so there is more to learn. But the adventure seems worth it so far.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Data Mining Brings Down Governor Spitzer

When New York Governor Elliott Spitzer resigned earlier today the proximate cause was the revelation that he had spent thousands of dollars (maybe tens of thousands) on prostitutes. This hypocrisy on the part of the former NY Attorney General who is married with three teenage daughters, and a long record of prosecuting the wrongdoings of others made his continuation in office untenable.

But how was he caught? The answer is that the complicated financial transactions he made in an attempt to disguise his spending on prostitutes were flagged by fraud detection software that banks now use routinely to detect money laundering and other financial crimes. In a news report on NPR this morning, reporter Adam Davidson interviewed a representative from Actimize, an Israeli company that specializes in fraud detection and compliance software. The software scores every bank transaction with a number from 0 to 100 indicating the probability of fraud. The software takes into account attributes of the particular transaction, but also its relationship to other transaction (as when several small transactions with the same source and destination are used to disguise a large transaction), the relationship of account owners involved in the transaction, and attributes of the account owner such as credit score and, unfortunately for Governor Spitzer, whether or not the account owner is a "PEP" (politically exposed person). PEPs attract more scrutiny since they are often in a position to be bribed or engage in other corrupt practices.

Banks are required to report SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports) to FinCEN, the Treasury Department's financial crimes enforcement network. The reports--about a million of them in 2006--go into a database hosted at the IRS and teams of investigators around the country look into them. One such team, based in Long Island, looked into Sptizer's suspicious transactions and eventually discovered the connection to the prostitution ring.

Ironically, one of the reasons there are so many more SARs filed each year now than there were before 2001 is that in 2001, then New York Attorney General, Elliott Spitzer aggressively pursued wrong-doing at financial institutions and said they had to be aware of criminal activity conducted through their accounts. Apparently, the software banks installed to find transactions that criminal organizations are trying to hide from the IRS is also capable of finding transactions that Johns are trying to hide from their wives.

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