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January 10th, 2003:

Gun toting coach resigns

What is it with coaches named Nolan Richardson?

Nolan Richardson III resigned as men’s basketball coach at Tennessee State University on Wednesday night, two weeks after he was indefinitely suspended for bringing a gun into the school’s arena.

Richardson, 38, got into an argument with assistant coach Hosea Lewis on Christmas night concerning the time of practice after only four players showed up. Richardson admitted to campus police that he then went to his car and brought a handgun into the Gentry Center, the school’s gym.

Assistant coach Christopher Graves said in a written statement to police that Richardson asked where Lewis was because he “had something for him.”

Richardson, who told police the gun wasn’t loaded, was suspended Dec. 26.

School officials said they will not pursue charges against Richardson for bringing the gun on campus.

Here’s a tip, Nolan: Switch to decaf.

Our friends the Saudi phreakers

The Texas A&M phone system was hacked by some Saudi Arabians, who used it to make free long distance calls.

Phone carriers alerted the school to the suspicious activity Thursday, said Walt Magnussen, A&M’s associate director of telecommunications. The university sent an emergency e-mail to employees about the attack that urged them to change their mailbox passwords.

The fraud affected five voice mailboxes among the university’s 25,000 phone lines. The number or cost of the unauthorized calls wasn’t immediately known, The Eagle reported today.

“Initial indications look like we caught it pretty quickly,” Magnussen said.

The hackers guessed each mailbox password because it was the same as the phone number.

“It’s like using your name for your password,” he said. “It’s one of the first things people are going to guess.”

The hackers manipulated the outgoing messages by recording “Hello?”, followed by a pause, then “Yes.” The new recording was designed to fool international operators into thinking they were talking to a live person who answered the phone, then agreed to take a collect call.

Once inside the mailbox, hackers could transfer the call anywhere they wanted at A&M’s expense. It may take a month or more to learn how much damage was done, Magnussen said.

This is a pretty common technique, though the recording of “Hello” and “Yes” to fool an operator into thinking that collect charges had been accepted is a new one to me.

For want of a zero

In 2002, Montgomery County got a $2.5 million grant from the Justice Department for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, an initiative aimed at easing the burden for housing illegal immigrants jailed on state or local charges. The size of the grant was based in part on the county’s salary costs at its jails, which was listed on its application as $40 million. Unfortunately, the real cost was $4 million, which means that their grant should have been $300,000. The error, attributed to a typo, has now been discovered and the feds want their $2.2 million back.

The county may have to take $2 million from its reserve fund to pay back the money, which could affect its high credit rating at a time when the county is going to market for $60 million in bonds for new roads and $10 million for three new libraries.

“It potentially could have an impact on the credit rating, which may result in greater bonding costs,” said Frank Ildebrando, managing director of RBC Dain Rauscher, the county’s financial adviser.

And this all comes during a tough budget year. On the bright side, at least County Judge Alan Sadler and his merry band of Montgomery moralists will have something substantive to deal with, which should help keep them out of trouble for awhile.

More “The Crooked E” bashing

If you managed to sit through The Crooked E for any length of time this past Sunday (about 20 minutes was all I could take), you might have noticed that pretty much all of the female employees portrayed at Enron were ex-strippers. Some women who actually did work at Enron are none too happy about that.

At a party the day after the movie aired, [Habiba] Ewing said, an older woman who had seen The Crooked E glanced at her chest.

“She asked me if my breasts were real,” said Ewing, former director of international public relations.

I believe the correct response to such a question is “I’m not sure. Why don’t you feel them and let me know?”, but I’ll want to run that past Miss Manners first to be sure.

The movie’s producer gave them the standard Trent Lott apology:

Robert Greenwald, an independent distributor who produced The Crooked E for CBS, said, “I’m sorry if they feel that the movie in any way diminished them.”

He said he and others tried to avoid painting women employees with a broad brush because their research had verified that there were “thousands of accomplished, articulate, competent women throughout Enron.”

“It’s just that we knew we’d get better ratings if we filled the place with silicone,” he did not add.

Know your spammers

File this one under When Good Things Happen To Bad People:

SLIDELL, La. — He’s a 30-year-old self-taught computer programmer and electronics repairman with a fondness for Scooby-Doo, cars and camping.

He’s also one of the country’s better-known spammers, one of the people critics say are responsible for the deluge of unwanted e-mail flooding the Internet.

Spam has been good to Ronnie Scelson of Slidell. An eighth-grade dropout who used to live in a mobile home, he now drives a sleek late-model Corvette and lives with his family in a five-bedroom home, complete with an in-ground pool and a game room.

Like most spammers, he doesn’t understand why people hate him.

“What I do is not illegal. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a form of advertising — the only form that is totally environmentally safe. You push one button and it’s gone.”

It’s also the only form of advertising that imposes most of its costs on other people. He’s quoted in the article later saying that he sends out 560 million emails a week. Someone’s paying for all that bandwidth and server space, but it’s not Ronnie Scelson.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh on him. After all, he does have some standards:

Scelson said unscrupulous mailers — “the ones who spam porn, chain letters, get-rich-quick schemes, multilevel marketing” — have given bulk e-mailers a bad name.

“I don’t believe in that,” he said. “I don’t find anything wrong with it, but I have a certain guideline for what I send.”

He said he honors requests to be removed from his mailing lists, which he said contain millions of e-mail addresses.

He also denies hiding his identity behind forged return addresses and says he doesn’t bounce e-mail through foreign relays. But he admits he once did both.

He says he now discloses his company name, phone number and address on his bulk e-mail and sends it only through his own equipment, including a bank of floor-to-ceiling mail servers in a back room of his shop.

“If you’re going to do this, use all your own equipment. Plus, you can do it faster, better,” he said.

“If you do it the right way, it’s more profitable. But at the same time, if you do it the way everybody wants you to, they’ll shut you down quicker.”

My heart is bleeding for you, Ronnie.