Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Travel to Manaus, Brazil is Dangerous

Posted in Crime,Travel by Elliott Back on October 3rd, 2012.

Since American Airlines was offering super cheap roundtrip flights to Manaus, in the Amazon region of north Brazil, I figured I’d jump on it! I booked myself a nice $550 NYC JFK-MAO roundtrip, and thanks to a promotion, I’ll earn double miles on the MIA-MAO segments both ways! I figured this would be awesome! First time in Brazil! Travelling by myself! Not speaking Portuguese! However, a few things happened that made reconsider adventuring here again…

One of the almost-shanty-town areas that are common in Manaus

I got Robbed at Knifepoint…

The first day I was toying all the sights of Manaus. Generally felt pretty safe. Walked all over; posted photos to Facebook.

On my way back a pitter-patter of feet became a pressure at my back, I turned around ( that probably caused the scratch ) and there’s a scrawny campesino with a knock-off kitchen knife telling me he wants my bag, in Portuguese. I’m backing up and telling him in Spanish I have money and going for my wallet. But our mutual incomprehension opens up a gap, and 12 feet is too far. I turn and bolt while he stuffs his salad carver into his pants. Since I assume I must now be in a bad area I head up the opposite direction and go home. It was 3 in the afternoon, and people on the street 50 feet away.

I put some iodine on my scratch which wasn’t too bad, and promptly started chain smoking. I think I was robbed around R. Cel. Sérgio Pessoa and R. Miranda Leão, so keep your wits about you when you’re in the Mercado Municipal area.

Debit Card Skimmer Fraud

I took out some cash at the airport, and came back to find the following charges made after my flight had departed:

09/26/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 519173 
09/26 TECBAN PR BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4939526 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 15.00 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$514.88

09/25/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 403240 
09/25 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4934100 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 14.80 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$508.21  

09/24/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 500187 
09/24 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4941900 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 14.83 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$509.02

It seems that whoever cloned my card at the airport had been taking out the maximum 1000 reals until I shut them down. I actually don’t know whether it was a skimmer, a hidden camera, or even an entirely fake ATM. When I tried to get cash at the airport, only 1 of 4 ATMs worked, so there are at least three others that could have been entirely fake.

Terrible Airport Service

And it wasn’t AA’s fault! I know they’ve been getting press for seats and things falling off their planes, but in Manaus, it’s the local airport workers who will delay your flight by over an hour, without giving you any updates. And for some odd reason they took my lighter, even though it’s allowed according to TSA regs. They also have a bizarre screening protocol where they ask you about any of your new electronics (to see if they’re fakes containing drugs or bombs), so I told the agent about my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7…

We were told “be here from 9:30 – 10:30 strictly” to go through an immigration check. However, waiting to board our plane, we saw people coming through even after the plane was scheduled to take off. So I blame the delay on the airport’s inability to do its job and take off on time, even if it means some could be late.

Not much to do?

There are really two main historical buildings in Manaus, which are the Teatro Amazonas, an old-style opera house/theater, and the Centre of Justice which has an ancient, no longer used, courtroom. The two buildings are nearly adjacent, so if you see one, you’ll see them all! I can even save you the time by posting a quick photo:

If you want to drink, there won’t be a proper pub/bar like you may be used to. Most cervecerias serve you a large bottle, a glass, and a beer coozie (a frozen sleeve to keep your beer cool). While this is imminently enjoyable in the Brazilian heat, you won’t be finding a lot of cocktails or beer on tap.

Crime is ridiculously high

I think, now, every traveller needs to google their destination city + “crime”, as I found Rio drug trade turns Amazon city into crime capital from just a year ago, only after I returned. Some choice quotes:

Rio’s drug conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s; in Manaus the drug trade is also taking its toll. A growing local market for cocaine has triggered a rise in homicides. Official figures show the number of murders rose over by 9% this year.

If you do go, bring a travel buddy and stay safe. And enjoy an Amazon safari, which is fun, and visit the CIGS Zoo or the Bosque da Ciencia. TripAdvisor has a pretty great list. And the Caesar Business is a great hotel.

Marijuana Is Bad For You

Posted in Crime,Health,Life,Science by Elliott Back on August 10th, 2012.

I wrote a long time ago that cannabis sativa may not be good for your health, and today I see that the University of South Wales, Sydney has published a research paper titled Heavy teenage cannabis use linked with anxiety disorders in late 20s. The article cites a noted relationship between teenage weed use and late-20s anxiety mental disorders:

Teenagers who smoke cannabis weekly or more are twice as likely as non-users to have an anxiety disorder in their late 20s, even if they stop using, a study of 2000 Victorian teenagers has found. […] [T]he really striking finding say the authors is the persistent association between frequent teenage cannabis use and adult anxiety disorders up to a decade after cannabis use has ceased. The relationship between cannabis use and anxiety disorders was present even after the researchers took into account other possible explanations such as mental health problems in their teens or other drug use in their twenties.

The researchers note that causation has not yet been explained:

Professor Patton, lead investigator of the 2000 stories cohort, said that the findings could be explained by lasting changes to brain function caused by introducing cannabis at a time when the brain is developing rapidly. Equally it could be that the very factors which predispose people to use cannabis early also predispose them to common mental health problems.

The study itself notes a possible positive note:

There were no consistent associations between adolescent cannabis use and depression at age 29 years.

You can read the research paper (PDF) for yourself to get the dirty details.

Credit Card Fraud at Zoosk.com

Posted in Crime,Finance,Spam by Elliott Back on October 17th, 2010.

I received the following warning from Chase bank via email and a series of harried transactions. Apparently someone decided to try to use my Chase British Airways BA Visa card to signup for an e-dating site. The baddie was doing this from London, Ireland, and had tried four times today with different expiration dates and CSV confirmation codes:

URGENT: Confirmation of Recent Transaction
Your Account Ending in XXXX


As part of our ongoing effort to protect your account and our relationship, we monitor your account for possible fraudulent activity. We have recently attempted to contact you by phone and/or text message but we have been unsuccessful in reaching you. We need to confirm that you or someone authorized to use your account made the following transaction on your British Airways Visa account ending in XXXX:

Transaction for $54.94 at ZOOSK.COM was declined on or around 10/17/2010 in LONDON, Ireland.

Zoosk is some kind of scammy online dating site that I definitely did not sign up for. Currently, it looks like this:

Apparently a lot of people think Zoosk itself sucks. I wonder if it’s the company itself is behind this. I can’t really see people using stolen credit cards to sign up for a dating service. Maybe it’s just a test run? Or an accident?

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