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Finding a Video Poker Bug Made These Guys Rich—Then Vegas Made Them Pay

"John Kane was on a hell of a winning streak. On July 3, 2009, he walked alone into the high-limit room at the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas and sat down at a video poker machine called the Game King. Six minutes later the purple light on the top of the machine flashed, signaling a $4,300 jackpot. Kane waited while the slot attendant verified the win and presented the IRS paperwork—a procedure required for any win of $1,200 or greater—then, 11 minutes later, ding ding ding!, a $2,800 win. A $4,150 jackpot rolled in a few minutes after that.

All the while, the casino's director of surveillance, Charles Williams, was peering down at Kane through a camera hidden in a ceiling dome. Tall, with a high brow and an aquiline nose, the 50-year-old Kane had the patrician bearing of a man better suited to playing a Mozart piano concerto than listening to the chirping of a slot machine. Even his play was refined: the way he rested his long fingers on the buttons and swept them in a graceful legato, smoothly selecting good cards, discarding bad ones, accepting jackpot after jackpot with the vaguely put-upon air of a creditor finally collecting an overdue debt.

Williams could see that Kane was wielding none of the array of cheating devices that casinos had confiscated from grifters over the years. He wasn't jamming a light wand in the machine's hopper or zapping the Game King with an electro­magnetic pulse. He was simply pressing the buttons. But he was winning far too much, too fast, to be relying on luck alone...

How Vegas Security Drives Surveillance Tech Everywhere

"Las Vegas casinos are incubators of the world's most advanced surveillance tech. Here's how the spy gear that helps Sin City has taught everyone from government to big banks how to snoop more effectively:

It is 2 AM inside the bunker-like surveillance room at the Mirage Resort in Las Vegas, but 28 wall monitors show there’s still plenty of action down on the floor. A surveillance worker we’ll call Tom logs in and starts the graveyard shift, taking an overhead tour of the 100,000-square-foot casino. Using a joystick, keypad and three desktop screens, he surveys video from some of the 1000 ceiling cameras.

Tom is a table-games specialist, so he starts by scrutinizing a few poker hands, then sweeps over medium-stakes blackjack and watches a busy craps table. Nothing looks unusual until he stops at a baccarat game in the high-limit room, where betting minimums start at $100 per hand. He focuses on a young Asian man in a white suit who keeps his hands curiously positioned. Sometimes they cover the cards in front of him; at other times they rest on the side of the table. Suddenly, the man sweeps one hand up along a lapel of his jacket.

Like many gamblers in Las Vegas, the man presented a players card, the equivalent of a customer-loyalty card, to the dealer before buying into the game...

Anonymous speaks: the inside story of the HBGary hack

"It has been an embarrassing week for security firm HBGary and its HBGary Federal offshoot. HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr thought he had unmasked the hacker hordes of Anonymous and was preparing to name and shame those responsible for co-ordinating the group's actions, including the denial-of-service attacks that hit MasterCard, Visa, and other perceived enemies of WikiLeaks late last year.

When Barr told one of those he believed to be an Anonymous ringleader about his forthcoming exposé, the Anonymous response was swift and humiliating. HBGary's servers were broken into, its e-mails pillaged and published to the world, its data destroyed, and its website defaced. As an added bonus, a second site owned and operated by Greg Hoglund, owner of HBGary, was taken offline and the user registration database published.

Over the last week, I've talked to some of those who participated in the HBGary hack to learn in detail how they penetrated HBGary's defenses and gave the company such a stunning black eye—and what the HBGary example means for the rest of us mere mortals who use the Internet...


The Great Paper Caper and The World's Greatest Counterfeiter: Frank Bourassa

"Years of running drugs and boosting cars left Frank Bourassa thinking: There's got to be an easier way to earn a dishonest living. That's when he nerved up the idea to make his fortune. (Literally.) Which is how Frank became the most prolific counterfeiter in American history—a guy with more than $200 million in nearly flawless fake twenties stuffed in a garage. How he got away with it all, well, that's even crazier

When you get right down to it, even a mega-million-dollar international criminal caper is mostly boring shitwork. As Frank Bourassa tells it, his own criminal masterpiece hinged on the events of one morning in early December 2009, a morning he says he spent freezing his ass off in a parking lot, staring through binoculars at the Port of Montreal. On the face of it, the shipment he was waiting for was also dull stuff: boxes of blank paper, nothing more. If the customs agents were to crack into the cartons, Frank was praying that mere paper was all they'd see.

Frank's buddies, in two separate cars, had been surveilling the parking lot for two days, and though they didn't see anything out of the ordinary, he says he was uneasy, knowing that at any time, a bunch of law-enforcement people might swoop down out of nowhere and snatch him up. Frank was right to be paranoid...

Cocaine, Politicians and Wives: Inside the World’s Most Bizarre Prison

"It’s hard to escape from Bolivia’s San Pedro Prison; Sneaking in is easier. In Bolivia, breaking out of prison is hard. Sneaking in is pretty easy, especially if it’s San Pedro Prison, the most bizarre correctional facility in the world.

In this gaspingly high prison, outside Bolivia’s capital La Paz and 11,500 feet up in the Andes, more than 2,400 male prisoners work as pastors, food vendors, tour guides, prostitutes, barbers, carpenters, shoe-shiners and cocaine manufacturers. One even ran for vice-president of Bolivia from inside the prison’s walls. The 50 or so guards monitor the inmates from outside the prison; their only job is to see that no one escapes. Inside, however, the prisoners run the joint.

In 2009, I was a young backpacker in Bolivia looking for adventure. I had first learned of the prison way back in 2005 from a Lonely Planet guidebook. One former British prisoner there, Thomas McFadden, had achieved no small amount of notoriety by giving tours of the place to wide-eyed backpackers. He was doing time for drug smuggling, and he didn’t think prison should limit his business opportunities...

The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist

"Leonardo Notarbartolo strolls into the prison visiting room trailing a guard as if the guy were his personal assistant. The other convicts in this eastern Belgian prison turn to look. Notarbartolo nods and smiles faintly, the laugh lines crinkling around his blue eyes. Though he's an inmate and wears the requisite white prisoner jacket, Notarbartolo radiates a sunny Italian charm. A silver Rolex peeks out from under his cuff, and a vertical strip of white soul patch drops down from his lower lip like an exclamation mark.

In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can't explain exactly how it was done.

The loot was never found, but based on circumstantial evidence, Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime and has refused to discuss his case with journalists, preferring to remain silent for the past six years, until now...

The Rise and Fall of the Biggest Pot Dealer in New York City History

"One day in January 2007, the disgruntled ex-girlfriend of a Queens pot dealer walked unprompted into the district office of the Drug Enforcement Administration on Long Island. Sitting down with an agent, she bitterly gave vent: Her former boyfriend, the father of her child, was selling weed.

As a rule, the drug agency isn’t in the business of settling romantic scores, but the woman, who had shown up with her child in tow, was adamant that her onetime lover was a major player in the city’s wholesale marijuana trade. A group of federal agents started looking into the man.

What began that day with a woman scorned unfolded over the next seven years into an investigation that went beyond the wildest imaginings of the agents assigned to it, an elaborate case that led to the discovery, and subsequent arrest, of a surprising quarry: an international criminal who is now described as the biggest marijuana dealer in New York City history...


Why The Sun Can Generate Energy Through Fusion But We Fall Short Every Time

"Atoms, the tiny structures that make up you, me, and everything we see on Earth, are mesmerizing in their ability to both create and destroy.

Combine two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen and you get water, the catalyst for life. But combine four hydrogen atoms and you get a burst of energy that can destroy entire islands and did on Nov. 1, 1952. That day the US tested the first hydrogen bomb on the now-nonexistent Pacific island, Elugelab.

Hydrogen bombs get their power from a process called nuclear fusion. This powerful reaction is happening in the core of the sun right now and is the reason the sun produces radiation in the form heat, light, and higher-energy, carcinogenic particles...

Throw Out the College Application System

"The college admissions system is broken. When students submit applications, colleges learn a great deal about their competence from grades and test scores, but remain in the dark about their creativity and character. Essays, recommendation letters and alumni interviews provide incomplete information about students’ values, social and emotional skills, and capacities for developing and discovering new ideas.

This leaves many colleges favoring achievement robots who excel at the memorization of rote knowledge, and overlooking talented C students. Those with less than perfect grades might go on to dream up blockbuster films like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg or become entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Barbara Corcoran and Richard Branson.

There is a better way for colleges to gather comprehensive information about candidates. It’s called an assessment center, and it’s been in use for more than half a century to screen candidates for business, government and military positions.

The roots of the assessment center in the United States can be traced back to 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the C.I.A. The O.S.S. was responsible for secret intelligence, research and analysis, and special operations behind enemy lines, but there was a major problem: No one had any clue how to select a spy...

The Fermi Paradox:

"Everyone feels something when they’re in a really good starry place on a really good starry night and they look up and see the sky.

Some people stick with the traditional, feeling struck by the epic beauty or blown away by the insane scale of the universe. Personally, I go for the old “existential meltdown followed by acting weird for the next half hour.” But everyone feels something.

Physicist Enrico Fermi felt something too—”Where is everybody?”

A really starry sky seems vast—but all we’re looking at is our very local neighborhood. On the very best nights, we can see up to about 2,500 stars (roughly one hundred-millionth of the stars in our galaxy), and almost all of them are less than 1,000 light years away from us (or 1% of the diameter of the Milky Way).

When confronted with the topic of stars and galaxies, a question that tantalizes most humans is, “Is there other intelligent life out there?”...

Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing

"Imagine that on Day 1 of a difficult course, before you studied a single thing, you got hold of the final exam. The motherlode itself, full text, right there in your email inbox — attached mistakenly by the teacher, perhaps, or poached by a campus hacker. No answer key, no notes or guidelines. Just the questions.

Would that help you study more effectively? Of course it would. You would read the questions carefully. You would know exactly what to focus on in your notes. Your ears would perk up anytime the teacher mentioned something relevant to a specific question. You would search the textbook for its discussion of each question. If you were thorough, you would have memorized the answer to every item before the course ended. On the day of that final, you would be the first to finish, sauntering out with an A+ in your pocket. And you would be cheating.

But what if, instead, you took a test on Day 1 that was just as comprehensive as the final but not a replica? You would bomb the thing, for sure. You might not understand a single question. And yet as disorienting as that experience might feel, it would alter how you subsequently tuned into the course itself — and could sharply improve your overall performance...


The Night My Parents Had Me Kidnapped

"They entered as I slept. They called me by name, asking me to get up, get dressed. They were on a schedule. I was still hungover and had hoped to sleep, something I rarely did. I tasted stale cigarettes and rolled over to check the time on my cellphone. Along with the wallet, cigarettes and lighter I kept on a Rubbermaid container by my bed, my phone was missing. Its charger hung from the outlet. I wearily asked if one of the two men now standing in my room knew where it was. They did. But they were on a schedule and we couldn't be late. This is it, I remember thinking. Time’s up.

It was about two a.m. and the men grew agitated when I turned away. Nuzzling my pillow, I remember thinking this couldn’t be happening, not to me. I fell asleep for a moment and awoke again when one of them pulled off my covers. Grabbing one of the corners, I pulled hard and tried to bring the covers over my head to keep the lights in my room, now turned on, from waking me.

A knee pressed into the small of my back and I briefly convulsed. It did not hurt, but the helplessness was suffocating. The man seemed like he was twice my height and ten times my weight. I could feel everything, all of him, as he restrained me. “I did not want to do this the hard way,” he said. I didn't really know what this was. When he let go of my arms and stood up, the meeker man stepped closer to the bed and placed next to me a pair of my oversized jeans and a tattered T-shirt. The men reminded me of Lenny and George from “Of Mice and Men,” both in appearance and demeanor. The boss and his stalwart companion...

The Secret Life of a Con Man

"GM once spent three weeks casing a mother of three, learning everything he could about her life, routine and preferences. When he finally found a way in, he robbed her of over $1,000. It was a good score. And because she was a piece of shit, GM concluded, the crime was justifiable.

He later found his research was flawed, however. The woman’s husband had recently left her, burdening her with the care of three children. And she was in financial trouble. She wasn’t so bad after all. So he gave the money back. Well, half.

“She deserved half,” says GM, taking a sip of iced coffee.

“Did you drop the money in her mailbox, or something?” I ask.

“I FedExed it to her.” He grins. “With a note that said, ‘A fool and their money are soon parted’”...

Diary of a Corporate Sellout: The rise and fall and rise of

"You haven’t made it until someone calls you a sellout. My moment was October 5, 2005, the morning after we announced that Yahoo! acquired my side project, a collaborative events community called

I launched Upcoming two years earlier in 2003, after five months of working in my spare time while managing the website for an investment firm in Los Angeles.

Upcoming was a community for discovering interesting events in a city and tracking what you and your friends wanted to do. Entirely curated by its members, every event was added by someone in the community, surfacing events that were often under the radar of local weeklies and newspaper listings.

It launched on Talk Like A Pirate Day, September 19, 2003, and I celebrated with a handful of friends at a nearby bar, passing out eye patches between rounds of beer. Upcoming was among the first websites to use a social network for more than just meeting people. Friendster, and Six Degrees before it, let you connect to friends but limited the interaction to just browsing your friends’ friends and writing testimonials...

The Man Who Got America High

"He chartered the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead in private jets, while smuggling planeloads of Pablo Escobar’s drugs on the side. After disappearing for decades, Alfred Dellentash Jr. finally shares his unbelievable life story—for the very first time.

It is seven o'clock on a humid Los Angeles evening, and business is winding down at a suburban car showroom. I walk past a team of guys polishing Japanese hybrids with bright white rags, past the twenty-five-cent gumball machines and into the air-conditioned office. An attorney has arranged this meeting with one of America’s most mysterious men — who has reportedly had surgery to change his identity — at his place of work.

His name is Alfred Dellentash. When I first punched his name into Google, six months ago, the results were simply baffling. First, there is an archived People magazine article from 1978, titled: ‘TOURING ROCK STARS GO TO AL DELLENTASH WHEN THEY REALLY WANT TO GET HIGH.’ The headline is a clever joke, you see, because the story is about his multi-million-dollar private jet-leasing business, which he built in his twenties: “Among the acts that have chartered Dellentash's three Convairs, two helicopters and a Boeing 707 are the Rolling Stones, KISS and the Grateful Dead”...