Egypt, a difficult balance

Egypt has been given $60 billion in US aid over the last 30 years, mostly for its military and security services.

From one perspective, the US has been back at its old Cold War antics: propping up an unpopular autocrat in order to prevent a popular uprising. And well.. thats kind of true.

But there is more to the story.

Mubarak has not always been unpopular, for much of his time he has been quite popular. He is now 82, and increasingly it is the hangers on, the yes men, running the country. And, for at least the last 10 years, they have been doing a terrible job. And of course, what it really comes down to is the economy, and the economy has not been good. The economy has been closed off, too many regulations, too much crap and too little capitalism.

And what is the end result? A popular uprising lead by angry youths.

But there is more to the story.

What $60 billion has bought us is a stable partner in the Middle East. They have been critical in keeping peace in the region, and they have been helpful in preventing aggressive and militant terrorist groups. They are currently, controversially, helping Israel blockade the Gaza Strip. They and Saudi Arabia have been our two, autocratic and corrupt, bulwarks against militant Islam in the region. To be perfectly honest, Egypt would have been fine if they had not blown it on the economy. The oil money is the only thing holding Saudi together, something Egypt goes not really have.

And now, they have failed. But we should be careful in supporting this popular uprising. Why? Because by far, the biggest backer to the uprising is the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamic organization with terrorist ties. It is officially barred from being a political party, but it is the main opposition force, and a number of its members have been elected as independents, even with the rigged votes under Mubarak's influence.

So here I pose the question: this is a popular and to a degree democratic uprising. But the alternative to the current regime... seems to be a militant Islamic regime.

The people want something different, but even if they decided democratically what they want right now, they will not end up with democracy it seems. Islam, in certain forms, is a repressive and sexist religion. More than that, most Islamic regimes are not democratic and open, but autocratic and economic pariahs.

What to do? I think massive reform of the current system is the best option personally, with the US pushing what it should have been pushing all along: capitalism.

China Plays SimCity... Epic Edition

China plans to take 9 urban centers and built a 16,000 square mile metropolis.

And yes, in case you were wondering, 16,000 is huge, equivalent to a big chunk of New England (well, not counting Maine).

The “Turn the Pearl River Delta Into One” 5 year plan seeks to take what is the heartland of Chinese manufacturing (based around Hong Kong - because that is where the money used to come from, and Shenzen, which China built as an internal rival to Hong Kong), and roughly 10% of the Chinese economy.

Basically, right now all 9 cities have very different rules and regulations. China's central government is actually quite weak: traditionally, regional laws and rule were more important, while the central government would hand down objectives and 5 year plans and expect local governments would follow their intent.

The objective is to level the playing field, and thus help businesses.

The other part of the plan is, of course, huge infrastructure spending, including 29 new high-speed rail lines, many new hospitals, billions spent on roads etc etc.

What is the takeaway?

I have become convinced that the natural limit these days to economic development is the population of your country. China is working well at leveraging that population into ever increasing economic power.

Long story short: we're screwed. While we are stifling companies and development, while we are thinking about how to protect ourselves, when we think "we are number one, and I deserve this," China is pushing like mad. Personally, at this point, I would bet on China (though I think they have a recession to go through to clear bubbles and bad debt before they finally emerge the victor).


The PlayStation 3 has been rooted.

What does this mean? It means that when you go and play one of the popular games on the PS3, such as Modern Warfare 2 (until recently, my favorite game), everything is hacked.

Basically, some kid figured out how to root the firmware on the PS3. This is a hack at the very basic level of the machine, and lets you do pretty much anything.

Many "clans" (largely bunches of idiots who talk to each other on forums - though in the good old days of PC gaming clans had a lot more meaning originally) have rooted their systems and then have the games hacked so that they cant be killed, they have all the power ups and special weapons etc etc.

Though in the game one would call these dumb dumbs "hackers" - they have no technical skills beyond being able to follow instructions posted onto a forum.

PS3 took the kid to court, and tried to block the hack from going public, but was denied. I agree with the finding, but I hope that the company finds another way to ensure its games are not unusable.

Robots vs. RC

First, a simple distinction. Remote controlled devices are not robots. The SWORD "robot" which so famously was deployed and then un-deployed from Iraq and Afghanistan is not a robot. It is a remote controlled vehicle. It has no "brains" - in only does what its human operator tells it to do.

A few of the most famous "robots" are really hybrids. The Predator and Reaper drones which have made so many headlines are just this type. For anything complex, they are RC vehicles, controlled by human pilots on the ground hooked up with very low latency networks. But for simple tasks, loitering etc, they can be controlled by autonomous autopilot systems.

Then there are the real robots. Robots that are able to be assigned tasks, from simple to complex, and figure out how to do them. On the cheap and common side of this there is the Roomba (mine is called Norm Jr.) which is able to figure out the size of a room and clean it.
(mmmmm dirt)

But the really cool ones. The ones that are the real robots, the ones that show intelligence are the ones which are able to be given a task and a set of tools and figure out how to use them. And yes, this already exists.

Damn cool? Yes, damn cool.

All four types will be critical in the coming years. However, my central point here is that so far, what we have really seen, what we have gone gaga over, are the remote-controlled and semi-autonomous "robots." What we will see a lot more of in the next few decades as they move out of the Universities and into the real world are the last type, the robots which will autonomously solve problems, and eventually be better than us at much of what we do.

Want lighter metal? Put holes in it.

New research out of the incredibly productive Fraunhofer Institute!

Foaming aluminium!

No really. Sounds like a headline from 1942 Germany.. but this is actually a big advance. It could cut the weight of an average sized freight ship by 1000 tons, which is a big deal as these ships are major contributors to soot and CO2 etc etc (they burn bunker fuel. Bunker fuel is, quite literally, the shit left at the bottom of a barrel. No one even really knows exactly what it is made of, but it causes rashes if it touches the skin, it is barely viscous, and it has more--hydrocarbon--chains than Mr. T). The foaming aluminium is actually a perfect material for ships.. but methinks they will be finding other uses as well:

The new material is lighter than water and has a high stiffness. Within seconds a cube made from aluminum starts to inflate into the shape of a sponge under the impact of heat. The secret of this reaction lies in the compounds of the new material. The metal is a mixture of aluminum and titanium hydride powder, which acts as a blowing agent just like yeast makes dough rise.

Tests proved the stiffness of the new material. Put under high stress it doesn’t break but only deforms. The advantage: A ship hull can travel through Northern Europe all year round, as it can even withstand ice sheets on the waters.

WTF: Obama is a fucking moron, spends $1 billion on drugs

There are some days I can get through with never getting pissed at Obama, never having to hear his name, never having to think about the way that he is ruining this country.

And then there are days like today, when I read something which pisses me off so much that I wonder how the fuck these idiots ever came to power, how any individual in this country does not seem them for the incompetent self-aggrandizing idiots that they are.

Obamacare was, in part, designed to screw the pharmaceutics companies. The number of times I have heard about how drugs are cheaper in Canada or Europe etc.. recently I had an idiot of an economics professor tell me all about how the drug companies are actually a cartel. Fucking moron.

Shockingly, if you screw the drug companies, they don't have the economic incentive to develop new drugs. This is capitalism at the kindergarten level (still, much too advanced for the current administration). Of course, the way that the NYT puts it is this:
"Promising discoveries in illnesses like depression and Parkinson’s that once would have led to clinical trials are instead going unexplored because companies have neither the will nor the resources to undertake the effort."

I goddamn hate the NYT.

Back to the idiot in the White House.

Because current regulation means that the free market is not allowed to work properly, and drug companies cannot recoup the costs of development in many cases, the federal government is planning on putting $1 billion behind its own drug development center.

Let me repeat that. The government is getting into the business of competing with drug companies in the pharma industry. If "big pharma" scared you, you should now be pissing your pants.

The damn thing is called The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Its something straight out of Atlas Shrugged (which you need to read if you have not). Seriously, I am sure they will assemble a panel of the "intellectual elite" and those friendly with the administration to run this thing. Ayn Rand could not have written it more perfectly.

This is what we now expect from this administration, boneheaded policies which fuck up the free market, which are then "fixed" by even more government spending and idiotic policies.

We're screwed.

ToMoCo Still Ichi

Toyota has remained the #1 automaker in the world.


It produced 8.42 million units, while GM produced 8.39.

Which is really kind of sad, because they both basically completely sucked it up this year.

It does seem that VW, currently solidly in 3rd with 7.14MM and plans for world domination.

No really, they said they will be the biggest and the best, and they will rule the world for 1000 years...

Ghosts, Telepathy, God. Quantum Entanglement?

New research shows that quantum entanglement, that odd mechanism of quantum mechanics where two particles end up completely tied to each other, and can remain tied to each other across infinite distances.... and now, time as well.

“You can send your quantum state into the future without traversing the middle time,” said quantum physicist S. Jay Olson of Australia’s University of Queensland, lead author of the new study.

Basically, what this means is that things can remain "connected" across... well... anything.

There already is a whole lot of bullshit about there about quantum whatevers which will make you live longer, be smarter, win the lottery etc. I am not saying that is the case. What I am saying is not that quantum entanglement gives you crazy new powers or even explains everything which I believe in (because many of these things are so common and so well proven, the generally accepted method of simply discounting them because they are difficult to understand and explain), but that given how we now understand that particles can be left inextricably tied together, it is possible (just possible, this is not at all supported by any kind of science and might not be for centuries or ever at all) that things such as ghosts, telepathy, and the feeling/belief in God are tied to quantum entanglement.

New, Crappy, Airship Proposed

I love airships.

I do not however love this airship. This Belgian hippie designer decided that planes flying around all over the place is a huge waste. It isn't. I, for one, like getting between New York and London at 550mph. Hell, I am sad that I can do it at 1,500mph like you could 40 years ago...

Instead, he thinks that going back and forth across the Atlantic using an airship which tries to run its hydrogen fuel cell off of rain and wind power, and has to sit and take breaks when it runs out... read on for more idiocy..

Aeromodeller II, airship, zeppelin, lieven standaert, zero emissions transportation, hydrogen power, wind power, green transportation

Current designs for airships have numerous problems, including that they rely on helium, they’re expensive to build, are vulnerable due to their over-pressured skins and require expensive hangarsto park them in. Standaert’s design for the Aeromodeller II would eliminate many of these problems. The zeppelin’s shape is modified to be longer and skinnier to reduce the need for pressurized skins. Lower cost materials, like light thermoplastic foil could be used instead of a woven skin material. The Aeromodeller II is also designed so it never needs to land, which eliminates the need for expensive hangars.

The zeppelin would move via hydrogen, which would be generated on board, so it never needs to stop at a refueling station. Using ground anchors, the airship’s propellers would switch gears to become turbines, harnessing the power of the wind to generate hydrogen. In this way, the zeppelin could remain aloft indefinitely by resupplying hydrogen whenever it needs to.

The Aeromodeller II isn’t designed for speed and would probably only achieve about 80 km/h (50mph). This low speed transportation though would be completely zero-emissions and rely completely on renewable energy. Standaert is currently showing a model of his design in Antwerp, Belgium, until the end of February (find out more here).

Why is this as intelligent as letting a college professor run a country? Because if I wanted to go slow and use only renewable energy, why the hell would I make it this complicated?

I mean, I love airships, but there are three primary uses: military, heavy lifting and cruise ships. Anyone who thinks they will replace airplanes probably also thinks that bicycles should replace cars. Dumb.


The Sahara. What is it good for?

The Sahara has not been pulling its weight. Its been growing like crazy, gobbling up useful land for thousands of years. And what has it done for us?

Norway and Jordan have decided enough is enough: this relationship is not going to be all take and no give any longer.

How are they going to make the Sahara pull (a tiny fraction of) its own weight?

By using solar energy, one of the Sahara's four abundant resources (the other three being sand, heat, and bones) these two countries plan on working together to create a desert oasis.

Its a pretty cool project predicated on the fact that most of what you need to turn salt water into clean water is energy, and energy is something there is no shortage of in the Sahara. I hope however those greenhouses are insulated.. not designed to make things hotter..

Norway and Jordan Sign Agreement to Make Sahara Forest Project Oasis a Reality

by Jessica Dailey, 01/18/11

sahara forest project, sahara forest project aqaba jordan, sahara forest project development, renewable resources

Way back in 2008, we reported on a proposal for the Sahara Forest Project, an incredible sustainable solution to resource scarcity that would turn the Sahara Desert into a source for food, water, and energy. If you thought the idea was too good to be true, think again. Norway and Jordan recently signed an agreement to allow for the development of a pilot Sahara Forest Project system on a plot of land in a coastal area in Jordan. The group will also conduct a number of studies in Jordan, with financial backing from Norwegian authorities.

sahara forest project, sahara forest project aqaba jordan, sahara forest project development, renewable resources

The chosen test site is a 200,000 square meter plot in Aqaba, a coastal town in the far south of Jordan, close to the shore of the Red Sea. The agreement also secured an additional 2 million square meters for later expansion. The Sahara Forest Project combines Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Seawater Greenhouses to provide a huge amount of renewable energy and sustainable agricultural solutions, essentially turning one of the world’s most inhospitable environments into a flourishing oasis.

Seawater Greenhouses use solar power to convert salt water into fresh water, which is then used to grow fresh vegetables and algae (to absorb CO2). CSP provides the energy to power the whole operation. CSP uses thousands of mirrors to direct sunlight upon a water boiler, heating it to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiler produces steam, which moves a turbine to create energy.

Keep the kids quiet, on Opium

This is incredibly sad. It is not, however, that surprising. Nor is it anything new. This is not a result of the US invasion, it is the kind of thing that the US invasion, hopefully, will eventually alleviate in one of the worlds poorest countries.

However, at the same time, the way that many in the US often deal with children (McDonalds and sugary foods) is not all that much better..

Afghan infants fed pure opium
By Arwa Damon, CNN
January 23, 2011 8:17 p.m. EST

In a town where moms feed their kids opium, often entire families become addicted
The nearest medical help is 4.5 hours away at a center with just 20 beds
A doctor said: If a child cries, they give him opium, if he can't sleep, they use opium, if an infant coughs, opium.
Parents in drug rehab said they never realized the dangers to their children
Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan (CNN) -- In a far flung corner of northern Afghanistan, Aziza reaches into the dark wooden cupboard, rummages around, and pulls out a small lump of something wrapped in plastic.
She unwraps it, breaking off a small chunk as if it were chocolate, and feeds it to four-year-old son, Omaidullah. It's his breakfast -- a lump of pure opium.
"If I don't give him opium he doesn't sleep," she says. "And he doesn't let me work."
Aziza comes from a poor family of carpet weavers in Balkh province. She has no education, no idea of the health risks involved or that opium is addictive.
"We give the children opium whenever they get sick as well," she says, crouching over her loom.
With no real medical care in these parts and the high cost of medicine, all the families out here know is opium.
It's a cycle of addiction passed on through generations.
Afghanistan's cradle-to-grave addicts
Opium and Opiates
Drug Addiction
The adults take opium to work longer hours and ease their pain.
Aziza's elderly mother-in-law, Rozigul, rolls a small ball in her fingers and pops it into her mouth with a small smile before passing a piece over to her sister.
"I had to work and raise the children, so I started using drugs," she says. "We are very poor people, so I used opium. We don't have anything to eat. That is why we have to work and use drugs to keep our kids quiet."
The entire extended family is addicted.
This part of Afghanistan is famous for its carpets. It's so remote there are no real roads. The dirt ones that exist are often blocked by landslides.
The closest government-run drug rehabilitation center is a four-hour drive away. But it has just 20 beds and a handful of staff to deal with the epidemic.
"Opium is nothing new to our villages or districts. It's an old tradition, something of a religion in some areas," said Dr. Mohamed Daoud Rated, coordinator of the center.
"People use opium as drugs or medicine. If a child cries, they give him opium, if they can't sleep, they use opium, if an infant coughs, they give them opium."
The center is running an outreach program to the areas that are most afflicted.
Most Afghans aren't aware of the health risks of opium and only a few are beginning to understand the hazards of addiction.
"I was a child when I started using drugs" 35-year-old Nagibe says.
She says her sister-in-law first gave her some when she was a young teenage bride, just 14 years old. Her children grew up addicts as well.
When her husband died, she remarried.
She said: "My new husband doesn't use drugs, nor does his family. Because of that I was able to come here and get treatment. Now as an adult I understand and I want to leave this all behind."
She has been clean for four months, but every day is a struggle.
Carpet weaver Rozigul, 30, is in the detox program with her three-year-old son Babagildi, his pudgy face covered in blemishes. She started using six years ago.
"When I was pregnant with this baby I was using drugs. So he was born addicted and was always crying. I would try to keep him quiet and make him sleep, so I just kept feeding him opium," she says.
Her addicted mother-in-law shares the bed next to her, curled up in a ball and mumbling to herself.
Three generations from one family, all struggling with a curse that afflicts well over one million Afghans.

Kinect For Windows

In one fell swoop, Windows could pass beyond Apple OS and any others, and enter the realm of legendary awesomeness previously achieved only by Tom Cruise

How are they going to do it? Rumor is that they are going to be releasing official support for Kinect on Windows 7 this summer. Which means that all of those hacks, all of that body-controlled internet surfing and game controlling goodness will be coming to a pc near you. Do you realize just how freaking awesome this will make internet on your TV, or for people like me who wear glasses and like to sit back with a giant (28in) freaking computer screen? Goddamn I can't wait, and hopefully this means Windows 8 has real, useful motion/touch control...

Norm's Car Review: The Jeep Commander

I just got back from a ski trip in which they rented us the Jeep Commander. This big boxy cherokee wannabee was Jeep's answer to the Expedition and the Suburban/Tahoe.

Of course, no one let Jeep know that they missed their market by about 15 years... but leaving that aside for the moment.

The Cherokee was two cars in one. Underneath it, it is the last generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is quite a good vehicle. I think I might buy one some time, if I ever give up on my '96 Tahoe (unlikely for a while). This means that suspension, engine, handling, transmission and chassis are all quite good. However, what they dumped upon this platform is fit for Fresh Kills island.
(not kidding. Fresh Kills was the garbage dump for NYC for years. Can't make this shit up)

The interior was obviously designed on a budget. And by budget, I mean the kind of cash that you would give your kid to go into the toy store in the mall so that they would shut the hell up.

First off, when you get up into the cabin, and try and swing your legs in, your knees directly collide with a freaking knife edge of hard shitty plastic placed perfectly to practice un-elective surgery on your kneecaps. I shit you not, all of us hit this damn thing getting in and out of the Commander, and on a ski trip that is especially annoying. The once you are in, settled in the captains chair of this Commander, what do you see before you? Acres of hard plastic. Hard, black plastic. Between each piece of plastic are ill-fitting gaps more common to a British dentist's office than a modern car.

But more than the front, it is the rear two seats which piss me off. The Commander is built on the platform of the Grand Cherokee, which has two rows of seats. But to compete with the big boys, the Commander needed three. Of course, stretching the platform would require a redesign, so what did Jeep do? First, they increase the front and rear overhang, killing some of the offroad cred the Grand Cherokee has, and giving a valuable few extra inches to the designer. Of course, you cant increase the overhangs too much, or you start looking like a Coupe de Ville, and driving like one also.

Or you could take the Japanese method and go "forward control"... but we are not going to get into that here.

The Jeep designers still needed more space, and making things longer cost money... thinking in three dimensions, these brilliant designers realized... "We can just make it really goddamn tall!" This moment of sheer brilliance lead them to another realization: people take up space front to back when they are stretching out, reclining comfortably, like in the back of.. a Coupe de Ville.

(Half of you were conceived back there)

The brilliant designers that this lap of luxury living took up lots of space, and was killing their "fit three rows into the space of two" objective. So instead, they designed the second row so that you sit like you are a goddamn Egyptian Pharaoh.

Let me tell you, this is not comfortable. Think about how often you sit with your feet straight down? Hell, I am 6'0, and my feet were barely touching the ground. Its like sitting on a bar stool for two hours. Actually screw that, not even a bar stool, its like sitting on a $12 Ikea stool for two hours. I should know, they are the seats we use for out foosball-come-dining room table.
mmm comfy

The only redeeming feature to the back seat is that you get a little 1sq ft personal moon roof above you. This is obviously the Jeep 5$ answer to the now popular panorama roofs and double sunroofs which have become so popular. The nice thing about these little windows is that they actually let you see the sky. Because you can't see out the front due to the fact that your head is literally a foot higher than the head of the person in front of you.

Finally, let me talk about the back. One redeeming feature is that the third row folds flat into the floor, that was well done. However, the rear lift gate takes a Luger to any good feelings this may have created. You see, the designers took the easy way out: the top half of the lift gate is glass, and you would think that when you hit the button, you could load the top half of the cargo bay. Not so fast Mr. I-Want-It-All, in fact, the glass pops up and gives you a oval shaped opening which cuts off the top and sides, making it damn hard to get groceries in and out without putting up the whole back.

In sum, the Commander is a shitty car dropped onto the bones of a good car. The design compromises made are simply unacceptable. It is a far worse vehicle than my '96 Tahoe, worse designed, worse to drive, less comfortable and less appealing. Avoid it, even if the resale values drop like Obama's approval ratings, which they will.

iPad "Hacking"

What is hacking? And when is it criminal?

Right now two individuals are accused of "hacking" the AT&T iPad database to extract 120,000 email addresses, which since it was done right when the iPad came out, includes many rich important people and politicians.

How did they hack the database? They figured out that AT&T security was so piss poor, that if you put the iPad identification number into a publicly available script on the AT&T page, you got sent back the email address for that ID number. So they simply wrote a script which "brute forced" the script - in other words it just guessed at numbers, and out came 120,000 email addresses.

What did these dastardly masters of hacking (see below, what hackers usually look like) do next?

They told AT&T! AHHH the HORROR. The CRIME. Those THIEVES. Because after they told AT&T they... did nothing actually. They never used the emails or made money off of this in any way.

Now, Andrew Auernheimer, 25, and Daniel Spitler, 26, have been taken into custody by the FBI. Both men were charged with conspiracy to hack AT&T's servers and for possession of personal information obtained from the servers.

AT&T of course is not being charged with criminal freaking stupidity.

31oz of Starbucks

Starbucks has started selling coffees in cups that contain almost a litre-worth of liquid

Starbucks has released a 31oz coffee. Yes, 31oz.

In other words, this where Starbucks sees its future growth:

Sharks on Mainstreet

The floods down in Oz have been pretty wild. Very wild in fact. The amazing bull shark, well know for its ability to swim up river and survive in brackish and to a degree even fresh water, has been seen swimming around Main St. of a fair size Australian town.

Tunis and Italy, Business as Usual

Tunisia and Italy may not seem all that connected these days. In the way that we currently think of the world, Italy is Europe, and Tunisia "Africa." Except its the part of Africa which no one really talks about, because it is the white, Muslim, north-of-the-sahara Africa, which I think in most people's minds is this strange floating land without a real home.

Historically of course, this region was dominated by one thing: the Mediterranean. The Med, or as the Romans knew it: the backyard pond, is a cultural region in almost the same way, or in some ways more, than Europe is.

And right now, sorry to say, it is business as usual in two of the nations of the med.

First of all, you have the Big Berlusconi in Italy. He has faced and faced down/paid off/subverted/arrested/intimidated/sat on more scandals than Washington has seen in the last 100 years. This has included innumerable sex scandals, including his estranged wife saying he was a sexual monster who enjoyed the company of underage girls and saw himself as the emperor from whom nothing was forbidden. Turns out, she was right, but first a little back story. Berlusconi controls the majority of the media in Italy. He has turned it into an ever more sexist society. Thanks to his initiatives, the news and daily newspapers all include topless women parading around and lurid sex stories. Girls in Italy now say that being one of these TV "models" is what they want to be when they grow up more than any other profession.

But he may have gone too far this time. He paid a 16yr old Algerian prostitute for sex. And then he offered to cover the whole thing up, and pay her millions. And many of these interactions, email, phone calls, were recorded and released.

Amazingly, even the Catholic Church is wavering it in its usual stalwart support for the sexist, racist, rapist, autocratic Berlusconi. And no, its not because they see too much of themselves in him, its that even they think he might have gone beyond the pale this time.

Across the Med, Tunisia is in uproar over the massive fraud committed by the previous, and now ousted, President and his family. It followed the usual shakedowns and blurred lines between family and government, military and police, public good and private good. In the wake of the turmoil, a new government coalition has come to power. Which is, ironically, lead by many of the Presidents old cronies. The government lawyer who used to protect the family is now in charge of the commission to look into past corruption... and the new prime minister now says he "had no idea there was so much corruption." This is in a country were a 5 year old could tell you the whole thing was corrupt. In other words, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Regardless, I hope Tunisia gets it real freedom, and I hope Italy gets rid of Berlusconi and kicks him to the curb. Italy has become a joke and is slipping back into the 3rd world.

Wireless Cars

Yes, cars with no keys sound cool. You just walk up to your car, it unlocks, you open the door, hit the big shiny warp drive start button and away you go.

The issue is this: as fancy as this all sounds it is predicated on the idea that it only works when the key, and thus you, are very near the car. There is, however, an issue.

Your little key fob puts out a very long combination to the car, identifying it as your key fob. Car company logic is that because this combination is very long, and has been verified by some Swiss gentlemen as having lots and lots of numbers in it, it will be very hard to crack. The whole shebang has been, however, very elegantly hacked. By a Swiss Professor no less.

You see, you don't have to crack the combination at all. You just have to replicate it. And with wireless signals, thats quite easy. Turns out all you need is a (very little) bit of programing knowledge, a signal repeater and a bit of teamwork. Guy locks his fancy new car, walks away. You walk up next to him, turn on the signal repeater which takes the weak signal from the keyfob and broadcasts it across the parking lot and your buddy walks up, opens and turns on the Bentley Continental clean as Zurich on a spring day.

Keys are good.

The Collar Bomber

This is from Wired magazine, and is an incredible and wild story of someone setting out to prove their abilities and intelligence through crime.

The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist

Death by Collar Bomb

According to the FBI's profile, the bomb builder was a "frugal person who saves scraps of sundry materials in order to reuse them in various projects."
Photo: Michael Schmeling

At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000,” it said. “You have only 15 minutes.” Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck. According to the note, it was a bomb. The teller, who told Wells there was no way to get into the vault at that time, filled a bag with cash—$8,702—and handed it over. Wells walked out, sucking on a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter, hopped into his car, and drove off. He didn’t get far. Some 15 minutes later, state troopers spotted Wells standing outside his Geo Metro in a nearby parking lot, surrounded him, and tossed him to the pavement, cuffing his hands behind his back.

Wells told the troopers that while out on a delivery he had been accosted by a group of black men who chained the bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob the bank. “It’s gonna go off!” he told them in desperation. “I’m not lying.” The officers called the bomb squad and took positions behind their cars, guns drawn. TV camera crews arrived and began filming. For 25 minutes Wells remained seated on the pavement, his legs curled beneath him.

“Did you call my boss?” Wells asked a trooper at one point, apparently concerned that his employer would think he was shirking his duties. Suddenly, the device started to emit an accelerating beeping noise. Wells fidgeted. It looked like he was trying to scoot backward, to somehow escape the bomb strapped to his neck. Beep… Beep… Beep. Boom! The device detonated, blasting him violently onto his back and ripping a 5-inch gash in his chest. The pizza deliveryman took a few last gasps and died on the pavement. It was 3:18 pm. The bomb squad arrived three minutes later.

The police began sorting through a trove of physical evidence. In Wells’ car, they discovered the 2-foot-long cane, which turned out to be an ingeniously crafted homemade gun. The bomb itself was likewise a marvel of DIY design and construction. The device consisted of two parts: a triple-banded metal collar with four keyholes and a three-digit combination lock, and an iron box containing two 6-inch pipe bombs loaded with double-base smokeless powder. The hinged collar locked around Wells’ neck like a giant handcuff. Investigators could tell that it had been built using professional tools. The device also contained two Sunbeam kitchen timers and one electronic countdown timer. It had wires running through it that connected to nothing—decoys to throw off would-be disablers—and stickers bearing deceptive warnings. The contraption was a puzzle in and of itself.

The most perplexing and intriguing pieces of evidence, though, were the handwritten notes that investigators found inside Wells’ car. Addressed to the “Bomb Hostage,” the notes instructed Wells to rob the bank of $250,000, then follow a set of complex instructions to find various keys and combination codes hidden throughout Erie. It contained drawings, threats, and detailed maps. If Wells did as he was told, the instructions promised, he’d wind up with the keys and the combination required to free him from the bomb. Failure or disobedience would result in certain death. “There is only one way you can survive and that is to cooperate completely,” the notes read in meticulous lettering that would later stymie handwriting analysis. “This powerful, booby-trapped bomb can be removed only by following our instructions… ACT NOW, THINK LATER OR YOU WILL DIE!” It seemed that whoever planned the robbery had also constructed a nightmarish scavenger hunt for Wells, in which the prize was his life.

In the frantic hours after Wells was killed, the cops tried completing the hunt themselves. The first note was straightforward enough: “Exit the bank with the money and go to the McDonald’s resturaunt [sic],” it read. “Get out of the car and go to the small sign reading drive thru/open 24 hr in the flower bed. By the sign, there is a rock with a note taped to the bottom. It has your next instructions.” Wells drove straight there after he left the bank with the bag of cash. He retrieved a two-page note from the flower bed, which directed him up Peach Street to a wooded area several miles away, where a container with orange tape would hold the next set of instructions. Wells was caught before he got to that clue, but the investigators picked up the thread, locating the container with the orange tape. In it, they found a note directing them 2 miles south to a small road sign, where the next clue would be waiting in a jar in the woods nearby. When they got there, they found the jar, but it was empty. Whoever had set this macabre ordeal in motion, it seemed, had called it off once the cops had appeared—and had probably been watching them every step of the way.

Wells’ clothing added another layer of intrigue. He died wearing two T-shirts, the outer one emblazoned with a Guess clothing logo. Wells wasn’t wearing the shirt at work that morning, and his relatives said it wasn’t his. It appeared to be a taunt: Can you guess who is behind this?

That was just one of the questions that perplexed investigators. What, for instance, was the purpose of the scavenger hunt? Why send a hostage hopping around Erie in broad daylight? Why scatter clues in public locations where they might be discovered? How was Wells chosen to be the hostage?

Death by Collar Bomb

The bomb was rigged such that any attempt to remove it would set it off.
Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom

The riddles transfixed the city of Erie and drew headlines in newspapers from St. Louis to Sydney. It also set in motion a byzantine investigation, with federal agents sniffing out clues and hunting down leads in twisted pursuit of the shadowy criminal who came to be known as the Collar Bomber. For seven years, the FBI was engaged in a scavenger hunt of its own, one that the Collar Bomber seemed to have planned as intricately as the one that had ensnared Wells. The only question was whether the Feds would get any further than Wells had.

The hunt began at Mama Mia’s Pizza-Ria. That’s where Wells was working at 1:30 pm on the day of the robbery, when an order came in for two small sausage-and-pepperoni pies to be delivered to a location on the outskirts of the city. Wells was a loyal employee—in 10 years, the only time he had called in late for work was when his cat died. Even though he was at the end of his shift, he agreed to deliver the order. He walked out of the shop, two pies in hand, at about 2 pm.

Photo: Michael Schmeling

Wells entered the bank with this ingenious handmade gun disguised as a cane.
Photo: Michael Schmeling

The delivery location, reachable only by a dirt road, was a TV transmission tower site in a wooded area off of busy Peach Street. When investigators combed the vicinity, they discovered shoe prints consistent with Wells’ footwear and tire tracks matching the treads on his Geo Metro. But the site offered no clues as to who may have lured him there or what happened once he arrived.

The next day, a reporter and a photographer for theErie Times-News headed to the tower. The dirt road leading there was cordoned off by authorities, but the journalists spotted a tall, heavyset man in denim Carhartt overalls pacing in front of a home that sat right next to it. His backyard extended almost to the transmission tower. The man identified himself as Bill Rothstein.

Rothstein, 59, was an unmarried handyman and a lifelong resident of the area. He spoke elegantly, like someone who takes great pride in his mastery of the English language. (He was also fluent in French and Hebrew.) Rothstein seemed oblivious to the investigation unfolding beyond his backyard. The journalists, eager to get a view of the scene, asked Rothstein if he could lead them through his yard. He agreed. They headed into the thick brush but still couldn’t see much. After spending about 15 minutes at Rothstein’s place, they took off.

Bill Rothstein may have appeared to be just a man who owned a house next to a TV tower. But he turned out to be hiding a dark secret. On September 20, less than a month after the bomb killed Wells, Rothstein called 911. “At 8645 Peach Street, in the garage, there is a frozen body,” he told the police dispatcher, referring to his own address. “It’s in the freezer.”

Within hours of making the call, Rothstein was in custody. He told the cops that he had been in agony for weeks. He had considered killing himself, he told them, and had gone so far as to write a suicide note, which investigators found inside a desk at his home. Writing in black marker, Rothstein expressed his apologies “to those who cared for or about me,” identified the body in his freezer as that of Jim Roden, and noted that he “did not kill him, nor participate in his death.” The note opened with a curious disclaimer: “This has nothing to do with the Wells case.”

Bill Rothstein was a handyman with the skills to fabricate an elaborate explosive device.
Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom

Over the next two days, Rothstein explained to police how a dead man came to be in his freezer. In mid-August, he said, he’d received a phone call from an ex-girlfriend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, whom he had dated in the 1960s and early 1970s. Diehl-Armstrong told him she had shot her live-in boyfriend, James Roden, in the back with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, in a dispute over money. Now she needed help removing the body and cleaning up the scene inside her Erie home, about 10 miles from Rothstein’s place. Rothstein did what she asked. He kept the corpse in a chest freezer in his garage for five weeks. He painstakingly melted down the murder weapon and scattered the pieces around Erie County. But, Rothstein said, he couldn’t go through with the plan to grind up the body, and he called 911 because he was afraid of what Diehl-Armstrong might do to him.

On September 21—the day after Rothstein called 911—Diehl-Armstrong was arrested for the murder of Roden. Sixteen months later, in January 2005, she pleaded guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to seven to 20 years in state prison. But by that time, Rothstein was past caring about the old girlfriend he’d given up to the cops: He had died of lymphoma in July 2004.

The team of federal agents investigating the collar bomb mystery hadn’t been paying much attention to the Roden murder. It was a local matter and seemed to have nothing to do with their case. But in April 2005, they got a phone call from a state police officer who had just met with Diehl-Armstrong about an unrelated homicide. Rothstein’s suicide note, it seemed, was a lie; Diehl-Armstrong had said that Roden’s murder had everything to do with the collar bomb plot. When the Feds met with Diehl-Armstrong, she told them that, if they could arrange a transfer from Muncy state penitentiary to the minimum-security prison in Cambridge Springs, a facility much closer to Erie, she would tell them everything she knew.

Death by Collar Bomb

At the crime scene pages of instructions spelled out a macabre scavenger hunt. "Act now, think later" the note read, "or you will die!"
Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom

Even before she was arrested for killing Roden, Diehl-Armstrong was one of Erie’s most notorious figures, well known for her string of dead lovers. She first drew public attention in 1984 when, at 35, she was charged with murdering her boyfriend, Robert Thomas. Diehl-Armstrong claimed she shot him six times in self-defense, and a jury eventually acquitted her. Four years later, her husband, Richard Armstrong, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The death was ruled accidental, but questions lingered; Armstrong had a head injury when he arrived at the hospital, but the case was never forwarded to the coroner’s office.

Back in high school, according to former classmates, Diehl-Armstrong was known for her dazzling intelligence, and she still possessed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of literature, history, and the law. But over the years, that brilliance had become spiked with madness. According to court records, she suffered from bipolar disorder. Her moods swung sharply, and she appeared unable to control her nonstop, rapid-fire speech. She was paranoid and narcissistic. In 1984, investigators found 400 pounds of butter and more than 700 pounds of cheese, nearly all of it rotting, inside her trash-strewn house. Psychiatrists deemed her mentally incompetent seven times before a judge finally ruled she was fit to be tried in the Thomas case.

She seemed to be exactly the kind of person—murderous, eccentric, and intent on demonstrating her intellectual gifts—who might devise an overly complicated bank heist. She also seemed to be the kind of person who would likely be unable to stop herself from telling the world about her brilliant ruse.

Photo: Michael Schmeling

Evidence collected over the course of the complex investigation: a Remington shotgun shell.
Photo: Michael Schmeling

When Diehl-Armstrong met with federal investigators for a series of interviews, that’s exactly what she appeared to be doing. While she insisted that she was not in any way involved in the plot, she admitted that she knew about it, that she had supplied the kitchen timers that were used in the bomb, and that she was within a mile of the bank at the time of the robbery. She also said that Wells, the dead pizza delivery guy, was not just a victim but had been in on the plan. And so was Rothstein, the man who turned her in for Roden’s murder. In fact, she asserted, he had masterminded the whole thing.

But even as Diehl-Armstrong pointed the finger at Rothstein, she was implicating herself. Indeed, even before hearing her self-incriminating testimony, investigators had begun to suspect that Diehl-Armstrong was behind the collar bomb plot. Over the previous weeks, they had met with four separate informants who revealed that Diehl-Armstrong had talked about the crime in intimate detail. One kept notes of the conversations, which included Diehl-Armstrong’s assertions that she killed Roden because “he was going to tell about the robbery” and that she had helped measure Wells’ neck for the bomb.

Then, in late 2005, a few months after Diehl-Armstrong first talked to the Feds, they received another break in the case: A witness came forward to say that an ex-television repairman turned crack dealer named Kenneth Barnes was also involved. Barnes, an old fishing buddy of Diehl-Armstrong, had spoken too freely about the plan, and his brother-in-law had turned him in while Barnes was already in jail on unrelated drug charges. Threatened with even more time behind bars, Barnes agreed to a deal: He would give a full account of the crime in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Barnes confirmed the Feds’ belief that Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind behind the collar bomb plot. He claimed she needed the cash so that she could pay him to kill her father, who she believed was blowing through his fortune—money she expected to inherit. Barnes insisted he was kept in the dark about several aspects of the plot. But even with holes, his account corroborated much of what the agents had already heard. The investigation, finally, was gaining steam.

On February 10, 2006, federal agents met again with Diehl-Armstrong, who had brought her attorney. The agents told Diehl-Armstrong they had enough evidence to bring an indictment against her. She went ballistic, slamming her fist on a conference table and cursing out the agents and her lawyer. But, incredibly, she continued to speak with them. In a subsequent meeting, she even agreed to drive around Erie with them to point out where she was the day Wells robbed the bank. At the conclusion of the drive, in which she admitted to being at several locations linked to the crime, Diehl-Armstrong told the agents she wouldn’t provide any more information without receiving an immunity letter. It was too late. The woman who couldn’t stop talking had already said far too much.

In July 2007, a month shy of the four-year anniversary of Wells’ death by collar bomb, the US attorney’s office in Erie called a news conference about “a major development” in the case. Standing before a bank of TV cameras, US attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that the investigation was over. Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes were charged with carrying out the sensational crime—a plot that Diehl-Armstrong had put into motion. The indictment also charged that other conspirators were involved. Rothstein was one. And Wells, the purported victim, was another. Pulling together information culled from more than a thousand interviews over almost four years, the indictment charged that Wells was in on the scheme from the beginning. He had agreed to rob the bank wearing what he thought was a fake bomb. The scavenger hunt, he was told, was simply a ruse to fool the cops; if he got caught, he could point to the menacing instructions as evidence that he was merely following orders.

But over time, Buchanan said, Wells went from being a planner to “an unwilling participant.” At some point, instead of merely playing the part of a hostage, Wells was double-crossed and actually became one. The fake bomb turned out to be a real one. And the scavenger hunt went from a clever piece of misdirection to a real-life race against the clock. Sitting in the press section, Wells’ family seemed stunned. One of his sisters, Barbara White, repeatedly shrieked “Liar!” as Buchanan completed her statement.

Wells’ relatives weren’t the only ones who were dubious. For those who closely tracked the case, the government’s long-awaited announcement was severely unsatisfying. It seemed to provoke as many questions as it answered. Why would Wells participate in such a plot? Did he realize the danger that he was in? And could Diehl-Armstrong, with her myriad mental issues, really plan such a complex crime? The questions only multiplied a week later, when it was revealed that the FBI had concluded that the entire scavenger hunt was a hoax. The bomb was rigged such that any attempt to remove it would set it off. Wells was destined to die.

Barnes pleaded guilty in September 2008 to the conspiracy and weapons charges involved in the collar bomb plot. He was sentenced to 45 years behind bars, but he agreed to testify against Diehl-Armstrong in the hope of getting his sentence reduced.

Death by Collar Bomb

More evidence collected over the course of the investigation (from left): a component from the collar bomb and directions leading the doomed victim to an orange-taped container in the woods.
Photo: Michael Schmeling

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong's brilliance had become spiked with madness. Paranoid and narcissistic, her moods swung sharply and she appeared unable to control her nonstop, rapid-fire speech.
Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom

Diehl-Armstrong’s trial promised to clear up the mysteries that had surrounded the collar bomb case. But those revelations would have to wait. First a federal judge ruled Diehl-Armstrong mentally unfit to stand trial. When she finally was deemed ready to face a judge and jury, she was diagnosed with glandular cancer, and the proceeding was put on hold again as she awaited her prognosis. The judge received the doctors’ assessment in August 2010: Diehl-Armstrong had three to seven years to live. Prosecutors opted to press on, and the trial was rescheduled for October 12.

Most intriguing, Diehl-Armstrong’s lawyer, Douglas Sughrue, had decided to let his client take the stand. It seemed to be a risky move. After all, she had already implicated herself in the murder. Was it wise to let such an erratic, unpredictable personality testify?

On day five of the trial in the Erie Federal Courthouse, Ken Barnes took the stand. By this time, the prosecutor—Marshall Piccinini, a fast-talking, silver-haired assistant US attorney—had already built an impressive case. Summarizing the strange characters linked to the Wells plot as a cast of “twisted, intellectually bright, dysfunctional individuals who outsmarted themselves,” Piccinini had trotted out seven former inmates who recounted incriminating information that Diehl-Armstrong had shared with them. Barnes—the ex-crack dealer and would-be hit man—was Piccinini’s star witness, and his final one. He was also the man who seemed prepared, finally, to tell the whole story of what happened in the days leading up to August 28, 2003, the day of the robbery. Barnes, who had the wan face and sparse collection of teeth of the former crack addict he was, approached the bench and took the oath. Then he sat in the witness box and matter-of-factly described the conspiracy to a rapt jury.

Diehl-Armstrong, Barnes said, devised the plan and enlisted a few coconspirators to help carry it out. Rothstein was one of them. Wells was another, lured in with the promise of a payday. He certainly needed the money. It turned out that the quiet pizza man had a relationship with a prostitute. With the help of his pal Barnes, he bought crack, which he then gave to the prostitute in exchange for sex. But in the weeks before the robbery, Wells fell into debt with his crack dealers and needed cash. It was only on the afternoon of the crime, when he delivered the pizzas to the TV transmission tower, that Wells realized he had been double-crossed and that the bomb was real. He was tackled as he tried to sprint away and locked into the device at gunpoint.

Throughout Barnes’ testimony, Diehl-Armstrong angrily whispered to her attorney. Several times she blurted out “Liar!” drawing stern warnings from the judge. To all appearances, it was excruciating for her to listen to people like this discredit her.

On October 26, the eighth day of the trial, Diehl-Armstrong finally got the opportunity to tell her version of events. For five and a half hours over two days, she used the witness stand as her stage. Her wavy black hair looked greasy and clung to the sides of her face. Every time she opened her mouth, she unleashed a torrent of words. She ridiculed her lawyer: “That’s a stupid question, Mr. Sughrue.” She belittled the prosecutor: “If this is the kind of evidence you have against me, I’m telling you, this is a pitiful case.” She cried. She yelled. More than 50 times, the judge sought—often futilely—to cut her off.

During her first day on the stand, she mentioned Brian Wells only once, in the final 10 minutes of a nearly 100-minute-long diatribe: “I never met Brian Wells, and I never knew Brian Wells. Never. I became aware of him the day that he died. I saw it on the news.”

The jury didn’t buy it. After deliberating for 11 hours, the seven women and five men returned guilty verdicts on all three charges: armed bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a destructive device in a crime of violence. She could face a mandatory life term when she is sentenced on February 28.

After seven years, the outstanding questions had finally been answered. At least, that’s how most observers viewed Diehl-Armstrong’s conviction. But that’s not how Jim Fisher sees things. A retired FBI criminal investigator, Fisher started closely tracking the collar bomb case after he saw footage of Wells squirming on the pavement with the device yoked around his neck. The then-64-year-old criminal justice professor had a thing for unsolved crimes, and this was one of the most staggering he had ever seen. He obsessively pored over the media coverage of the case and studied every piece of evidence released by the FBI. And, according to Fisher, there is no way that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong planned the collar bomb caper.

For proof, Fisher points to a profile of the Collar Bomber produced by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. “It continues to be the opinion of the [department] that this is much more than a mere bank robbery,” it reads. “The behavior seen in this crime was choreographed by ‘Collarbomber’ watching on the sidelines according to a written script in which he attempted to direct others to do what he wanted them to do… Because of the complex nature of this crime, the [FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit] believes there were multiple motives for the offender, and money was not the primary one.” In other words, the robbery was never the point. Whoever planned the heist didn’t care whether Wells ever delivered the cash. They just wanted to craft a beguiling puzzle, one that would resist explanation for years to come and that would keep cops and investigators hunting fruitlessly after clues just as Wells was sent on his doomed scavenger hunt.

None of this, Fisher says, sounds much like Diehl-Armstrong, who prosecutors credited with planning the whole affair in order to get enough money to pay a hit man. But if Diehl-Armstrong didn’t set this plan in motion, who did? Fisher turns back to the FBI’s profile, which states that the bomb builder was “comfortable around a wide variety of power tools and shop machines.” He was “a frugal person who saves scraps of sundry materials in order to reuse them in various projects.” And he was “the type of person who takes pride in building a variety of things.”

To Fisher, that sounds like a description of Bill Rothstein, the man who lived next to the TV tower and who agreed to keep a dead man in his garage freezer. The handyman had the skills to fabricate such an elaborate explosive device. Even more convincing to Fisher was the description of the mastermind directing others according to a written script that only he seemed to have access to.

Ex-television repairman turned crack dealer Ken Barnes testified on day five of Diehl-Armstrong's trial. Several times throughout his testimony, Diehl-Armstrong blurted out "Liar!"
Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom

In Fisher’s view, Rothstein toyed with the investigators from the start, concocting the scavenger hunt at least in part to send them on a useless chase, eating up valuable time in the precious days after the robbery. Then there was the 911 call. Fingering Diehl-Armstrong in the Roden murder case allowed Rothstein to frame the Wells investigation on his own terms. If he hadn’t gone to the Feds, he knew, Diehl-Armstrong or one of his coconspirators would have. So he implicated Diehl-Armstrong in the Roden case before she could rat him out, all while pleading ignorance of the collar bomb affair. He also gave the impression that he was a man with nothing to hide. After all, why would someone who was involved in the plot voluntarily call the cops and meet with them for hours? Rothstein continued to deny any knowledge of the collar bomb plot on his deathbed, even though he seemingly had no more reason to hide. Until his dying day, Rothstein was insulating himself, or in Fisher’s words, “controlling the narrative.”

In his closing argument at Diehl-Armstrong’s trial, the prosecutor, Piccinini, described the crime as a “ludicrous, overwrought, overworked, desperately failed plan.” If stealing money was the ultimate goal, then that’s a pretty accurate summary. But Fisher thinks that this wasn’t about money. Rothstein, who never accomplished much in life, wanted to prove his brilliance by executing a crime that would grab headlines across the globe and baffle authorities for years. He recruited coconspirators he knew he could control and kept crucial details of the plot from them—a tactic designed to further complicate the investigation.

“The son of a bitch ended up winning,” Fisher says. “He died with all of the secrets. He died taking all the answers with him. He gets the last laugh in that sense. He escaped punishment. He escaped detection. He left us with these idiots and a bunch of questions.”

Those questions, Fisher says, serve as a reminder of Rothstein’s ultimate triumph. He died a free man. And the last step in the scavenger hunt, the clue that reveals the answers that the agents had been searching for all along, will forever remain hidden.

Rich Schapiro ( is a writer based in New York City. This is his first article forWired.