Airbnb Releases Anti-Discrimination Battle Plan

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Amid increasing outrage over discriminatory practices by some Airbnb hosts’ refusal to accept guest requests from black people, Airbnb released specifics on its strategy to fight racism on its platform.

Starting Nov. 1, Airbnb users must check off on the Airbnb Community Commitment. This is an agreement to “treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

Policy Details

Open Doors is another new policy providing alternative hosts or accommodations for any Airbnb guest who feels they have been subject to discrimination.

These guests will also receive booking assistance with their next reservation. This policy goes into effect Oct. 1. It will apply retroactively to anyone who complained about discriminatory treatment as of Sept. 8.

Less reliance on photos for booking is another area Airbnb is exploring to fight racism on its platform. CEO Brian Chesky said in a blog post that the Instant Booking feature, which lets hosts make bookings immediately, would be expanded.

The new anti-discrimination guidelines stem from Airbnb’s work with experts in the area of legal matters and racism.

Click here for more on the legal matters.

Mighty Help

In July, the company announced that it had enlisted the help of former Attorney General Eric Holder, to craft a new anti-discrimination policy. The company also turned to Laura Murphy, the former chief of the ACLU’s Washington office, Dr. Robert Livingston of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Dr. Peter Glick of Lawrence University.

“Airbnb has conducted a rigorous, thorough, and inclusive review of its technology and its policies. The review included conversations with employees at every level of the company, Airbnb hosts and victims of discrimination, and outside experts. It also included outreach to civil rights organizations, regulators, and federal and state lawmakers,” wrote Holder in a Huffington Post op-ed.

 

Source: Black Enterprise

The Beale Ciphers / Yet another story of secret codes and hidden treasure

Leaving aside religious symbology and questions of historical accuracy, The Da Vinci Code is just the latest in a long line of stories that follow roughly the same plot: someone discovers a series of mysterious clues (often with a code or a map thrown in) that supposedly lead to an absurdly valuable treasure. The hero undertakes a perilous adventure, outwitting villains who want to steal the treasure (as well as, perhaps, guardians who want to protect it), and eventually succeeds—only to discover that the treasure was not quite as it had been imagined after all. From Raiders of the Lost Ark to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to National Treasure, I’ve seen variations on this basic outline countless times. Few subjects ignite the imagination of the book-buying and filmgoing public as reliably as that of hidden treasure.

In the real world, stories of codes leading to buried treasure rarely have tidy endings—and indeed, even separating fact from fiction can be nearly impossible. Such is the case with one of the most intriguing cryptographic puzzles in modern history: a series of encrypted messages dating from the 19th century known as the Beale ciphers. These messages might lead to a hidden stash of gold, silver, and jewels worth tens of millions of dollars, they might be genuine directions to a treasure that no longer exists, they might be a hoax or a joke, or, intriguingly, they might be a misunderstood charity fundraising gimmick. But whether or not the codes lead to treasure, what captivates and infuriates cryptographers is that despite more than a century’s worth of effort by the best minds and machines, the most important parts of the messages remain stubbornly opaque.

Genesis of a Mystery
The story goes approximately like this. A man named Thomas Beale, along with about 30 companions, set out to hunt game in New Mexico in 1817, and unexpectedly came upon a large deposit of gold and silver. After mining the treasure, the group made two trips across the country, in 1819 and 1821, to Bedford County, Virginia, where they buried the gold and silver, along with some jewels they obtained along the way, in a stone-lined vault under 6 feet of soil. The men wanted to return to their mining site to retrieve a third batch of treasure in 1822, but before doing so, took out an insurance policy of sorts in case something should happen to them.

Beale wrote three encrypted messages, which contained, respectively, the exact location of the vault, its contents, and the names of the men in his party and their next of kin. He put these, along with two letters of explanation, in an iron box, which he entrusted to an innkeeper named Robert Morriss. Beale mailed Morriss a third letter from St. Louis some time later saying that if he didn’t return within 10 years, Morriss was to open the box and follow the instructions inside, some of which Morriss would need a key to decipher. That key was to arrive in a fourth letter, which Beale had asked a friend in St. Louis to mail to Morriss in ten years’ time.

Well, Beale and his entire party were never heard from again, and the promised fourth letter never arrived. Morriss waited a full 23 years before opening the box. When he read the enclosed letters, he discovered that Beale wanted him to decipher the secret messages, retrieve the treasure, and divvy it out to the men’s families (keeping a share for himself for his troubles). Without the missing key, though, Morriss couldn’t make sense of the encrypted messages, which consisted of nothing but long lists of numbers. After a further 17 years, and shortly before his death, Morriss passed the box on to a friend, who was able to decipher one of the three messages—the one detailing the treasure’s contents—but not the other two. In 1885, a man named James Ward, acting on behalf of Morriss’s friend, published and sold a 23-page pamphlet (known as The Beale Papers) that included the text of Beale’s letters and encrypted messages, as well as the solution to the deciphered message. Ever since, treasure hunters and code breakers have tried unsuccessfully to decrypt the other two messages and find Beale’s treasure.

By the Book
The message Morriss’s friend successfully deciphered used a cryptographic technique called a book cipher. To make a book cipher, you start with a document—any document, as long as the person writing the message and the person reading it have identical copies—and number all the words consecutively. This becomes your key. Then, to create your ciphertext, you look through your key for each word you want to encode and write down its number.

In this case, the message was encrypted letter-by-letter, with each number in the ciphertext referring to the first letter of the corresponding word in the key. For example, if my key were “Interesting [1] Thing [2] of [3] the [4] Day [5],” the cipher 5 3 1 2 would represent “Do it.” Beale used a version of the Declaration of Independence as the key for his second message, but no one has been able to determine what key was used for the other two—or, in fact, whether they even use the same encryption method.

Doubts and Suspicions
Predictably, after many decades of failed attempts to decipher the two remaining messages, popular opinion began leaning toward the notion that the whole thing had been a hoax, and that the encryption could not be broken because there was no underlying message. Numerous analyses by professional and amateur cryptanalysts over the years have yielded some interesting observations. For example, statistical evidence strongly suggests that the same person who wrote The Beale Papers also wrote Beale’s letters, casting doubt on the authenticity of both. Likewise, an analysis of one of the undeciphered messages using the Declaration of Independence as a key revealed patterns that are mathematically unlikely to have occurred with any other key. In other words, someone may have used the Declaration of Independence to encipher random gibberish.

Furthermore, the story itself contains many suspicious elements. There appear to be no records of any of the thirty men in Beale’s party, and even the existence of Thomas Beale himself is a matter of some uncertainty. His messages contain some historical errors and apparent anachronisms. And there would appear to be no good reason to encrypt each of three messages individually, using separate keys. In all, the story sounds too much like the plot of a cheap novel, which, according to one theory, is exactly what it was.

Some researchers believe that The Beale Papers was written anonymously by a playwright and novelist named John W. Sherman and distributed by Ward—a close relative—not as a hoax or a scam but as a fundraiser. The pamphlet was published shortly after a major fire in Lynchburg, Virginia that killed five men. Ward and Sherman may have cooked it up to help raise money to provide for the bereaved families, with the assumption that purchasers would realize it was a work of fiction. According to this theory, only later, after the story had gained some popularity, was it sold more widely and with less virtuous goals.

Another theory holds that the pamphlet was written by none other than Edgar Allan Poe, to be published posthumously as a sort of final mystery from the great beyond. The text does contain many similarities to Poe’s writings, so it seems likely that if even if Poe did not write it, the author tried deliberately to emulate his style in numerous details.

Take It on Faith
Many people, however, still believe that the messages are just what they appear to be. In 2001, a Web site appeared claiming that a man named Daniel Cole had deciphered the two remaining messages and located the spot where the treasure had been buried, only to find that it was already gone. Mr. Cole apparently died that same year, and although the site shows the supposedly decrypted messages (as well as pictures of the alleged burial spot), the site’s maintainers have not revealed the key (or keys) they used—meaning that no one can verify or disprove their claim.

Whichever of these theories, if any, is correct, the world may never know the truth. Just as an empty hole is no proof that it once contained treasure, statistical analysis of a still-undeciphered message is no proof that it’s meaningless. It might have been a laundry list, a practical joke, or the real thing, but The Beale Papers did contain a cautionary note, which read in part, “Again, never, as I have done, sacrifice your own and your family’s interests to what may prove an illusion…” Those who followed the author’s advice not to waste more time than they could spare on cracking the code may have been the wisest of all. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about The Beale Ciphers…

This article was featured in the 33rd History Carnival and in Carnival of Bad History #6.

There are many excellent sources of general information about the Beale ciphers on the Web, including:

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As far as I know, the only book about the Beale ciphers currently in print is The Beale Papers: Lost Legacy by Robert N. Williams.

You can read The Beale Papers in its entirety and draw your own conclusions.

To learn more about various analyses that cast doubt on the authenticity of the ciphers, see:

The Last Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe by Robert Ward (no relation, as far as I know) proposes that Poe was the likely author of The Beale Papers.

One of the most thorough explorations of the Beale ciphers, and the one that concludes they were written by Sherman as part of a fundraising effort, is Beale Ciphers Analyses, also by Ron Gervais.

The Decoded Cipher site is the one claiming to have cracked the remaining Beale messages, but take it with a grain of salt. Oh, and turn down your computer’s speakers first: every page contains annoying music that you can’t stop.

For those interested in the type of encryption employed by the Beale ciphers, the Wikipedia contains entries on book ciphers and, more generally, homophonic substitution ciphers.

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Water Leak Prevention Options

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Water Leak Prevention Options

 

Those who have experience the pain of a water leak in the past and need water damage repair Las Vegas know the headache and hassle of trying to clean up the mess, let alone worry about the expensive repairs. A water leak is one such disaster that can be prevented, and there are some affordable and simple prevention options.

There are many reasons to protect your home from water damage. Hardwood floors have a tendency to be a major issue if you experience water damage. The floor will need to be removed and replaced; this is also true for carpet. In some instances water leaks are not covered by home insurance policies, and nearly always flood damage is not. Cleaning up a water leak and paying for the bill to restore the damage done is the most heart wrenching issue of a water leak.

There are a few articles out there about different types of water leak prevention options, here is an easy and quick to understand summary of the different options:

1. Simple Leak Detector

* A device that is place in an area of your home where you think water damage could occur, such as the kitchen, bathroom, or washing machine room.
* The device has sensors that will detect water or moisture and sound a loud alarm to notify you of a potential problem.
* The device does not stop the leak, you must do it manually.
* Cost ranges usually from $15-99 per device.

 

2. Appliance Specific Leak Detector & Auto-shutoff

* A device that is directly connected to the water supply of a appliance such as a washing machine, fridge, icemaker, water heater, etc.
* The device may sound an alarm when a leak is detected or it may not.
* The device will automatically seal off the water supply to that specific unit. If you have a water heater unit and your water heater leaks it will turn off the water supply to the water heater, all other appliances will still work such as your fridge, washing machine, etc.
* Cost usually ranges from $99-$ 399 per unit.

 

3. Complete Detection & Auto-shutoff System

* A complete wired or wireless leak detections system for your entire house.
* Water sensors are placed throughout the house in every room or key locations.
* If any sensor detects a leak it will turn off the main water supply to your entire house.
* Some unit may have built in notification systems to page you or contact your home security service provider if you have one.
* Cost usually ranges from $199-$ 999.

Remember all of these options are good and have cons and pros. You can get protection for as little as $20-40 or a complete system up to $999.

If you have need water damage restoration Las Vegas, give us a call immediately.

Great Money Books to Read Now, If You’re Serious About Building Wealth

money books(Image: File) (Image: File)

One of the most rewarding perks of my media career, and of my work at Black Enterprise in particular, is all the great money books I get to read. Like many writers and journalists, I love to read. In fact, it’s hard to excel at the former, if you don’t do a lot of the latter. But even if you don’t love reading as a general activity, you can’t really excel at anything if you don’t do some form of reading about it.

That’s why, as a business/financial journalist and educator, I constantly stress that your earning potential cannot exceed your learning potential. If you are serious about your finances and building wealth, you should be reading at least one book about money every month.

The good (and in some ways, not so good) news is that more money books are being published than ever. Thanks to the boom in self-publishing, hundreds of new books about business and finance are produced each year. It can be difficult to separate the mediocre (and sometimes, truly horrible) books from those worth your time and attention. Moreover, some of the best publicized, most polished, professionally published books are not very good. On the other hand, many self and independently published books, though not well designed or edited, actually do a better job of helping readers.

As a result, I’ve learned to not automatically dismiss a self-published book, nor to be impressed by one distributed by a major publisher. (Note to any aspiring self-published authors: Pay professional editors to edit, copy edit, and proofread your books. No, really—please.)

My bottom line: Will this book inform and inspire readers to make smarter, better decisions with their money? If the answer is yes, it’s worth reading, and recommending to others. In that spirit, I recommend the following money books:

1.) How to Raise Your Black Child To Be A Millionaire: Child-Rearing Secrets of the Black Elite

By: Thiah Veona Muhammad (self-published)

I firmly believe that people cannot achieve multigenerational wealth if they are uncommitted to the financial education of their children. (Also, you can’t learn about money, if you only talk to people who don’t have it.) Similarly, author and entrepreneur Thiah Veona Muhammad’s mission is to inspire parents and other adults to raise black children to become wealth-builders. She uses her website, RaisingBlackMillionaires.com, and weekly podcasts to showcase the wealth-building wisdom of black entrepreneurs and professionals.

In How To Raise Your Black Child To Be A Millionaire, Muhammad picks the brains of such accomplished wealth-creators, such as master networker George C. Fraser, BE 100s CEO Michael V. Roberts Sr., and top corporate CEO Keith R. Wyche.

Her primary questions include: How does one learn about money and wealth building? How do you pass on those lessons to your children? The answers to these questions make her book a good read for parents and anyone else who is invested in the financial success of future generations.

2.) 10 Things Every Woman Should Keep in Her Purse!: A Financial Guide for the Modern Woman

By: Shani Curry-St. Vil (self-published)

Some of my favorite money books are short reads that have more value per page, than much longer books. Curry-St. Vil’s self-published 10 Things Every Woman Should Keep in Her Purse! falls into this category. It’s a great choice for people who don’t have a lot of time, or who are just beginning their financial self-education. Curry-St. Vil is the creator of PurseEmpowerment.com, a consultancy company focused on increasing the financial literacy of women.

Using both humorous, “Girl, you know!” anecdotes, as well as authoritative advice, Curry-St. Vil shares everything a woman should keep in her purse, in order to achieve personal financial empowerment. She includes on this list a key to a home you own and a strand of gray hair as a retirement-savings reminder. As a result, Curry-St. Vil delivers a wise, entertaining, and actionable read of just 84 pages.

3.) Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age; It’s a Financial Number

By: Chris Hogan (Ramsey Press)

Speaking of retirement, you need to be seriously committed to it now, whether you are age 25 or 55. Retirement expert and financial coach Chris Hogan’s Retire Inspired is designed to get you fired up to do just that. A protégé of debt-elimination guru Dave Ramsey, who both published and contributed the forward to the book, Hogan makes the point that, while financial plans are necessary to fund your retirement, you won’t be motivated to do the planning without tying them to your dreams and goals.

Like other great money books, Retire Inspired provides a great education and lots of information. Hogan also offers a website and podcast series to get you started and keep you going at ChrisHogan360.com. But, its primary value is Hogan’s promise to motivate you to not just worry and stress about your retirement, but to actually do something about it. Today. Now.

Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert, personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a multimedia initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.

Source: Black Enterprise

Bee Venom Therapy / A stinging endorsement

My experience may be exceptional, but I’ve found the several bee stings I’ve received over the years to be rather unpleasant—even after remembering my favorite things, I still felt pretty bad. So when a reader wrote to tell me about a treatment for such conditions as arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS) that involves voluntarily stinging oneself with bees, I must admit I found the whole idea rather creepy and off-putting. Although this alternative therapy has not yet proven itself in widespread clinical trials, quite a few people swear by it, insisting that the benefits far outweigh the pain. And even some doctors are trying it with their patients. I feel obliged to insert the usual “don’t try this at home” and “your mileage may vary” disclaimers, but though the jury is officially still out, an increasing body of evidence suggests that there just may be something to this weird notion after all.

A Little Jab’ll Do Ya
Numerous poisons can—in small enough quantities and under the right conditions—produce beneficial effects. So it’s entirely plausible that the same is true of bee venom, or at least some of its components, even though its main purpose is to protect the bees by inflicting pain. Bee venom therapy is a subset of apitherapy, the medicinal use of any substances created by honeybees—including royal jelly and honey, each of which is already known to have some health benefits. Researchers have discovered a number of very interesting substances in bee venom—most prominently, melittin, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. This gives some credence to the anecdotal reports that beekeepers who were stung repeatedly experienced a reduction in the pain and swelling of arthritis.

Perhaps the most interesting application of bee venom is in treating the symptoms of MS. Some patients have reported startling improvements in their condition, and although doctors are quick to point out that bee venom is not a cure, patients frequently exhibit increased stability and mobility, as well as reduced spasms. In addition to arthritis and MS, bee venom therapy has also been used with some reported success in treating a wide range of other conditions, including post-herpetic neuralgia, fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, tendonitis, high blood pressure, scarring, asthma, post-operative pain, and even hearing loss.

No Pain, No Pain Relief
But let’s be clear about this: bee venom therapy, as usually practiced, hurts. The standard procedure is to remove a live bee from its hive (or a bottle) with a pair of tweezers, hold it next to the skin, wait for it to sting, and repeat. (Sometimes ice or a local anesthetic is used to reduce the pain a bit.) Depending on the condition, patients may receive multiple stings at a time, several times a week, for weeks, months, or in some cases, years. The sites of the stings normally turn red, swell up, and become itchy, just as you’d expect. And although some patients find this a minor annoyance compared to the more serious symptoms that are relieved, others have to discontinue the treatment because it’s just too painful.

In order to deal with both the pain and the inconvenience of keeping and handling live bees, bee venom has also been made available in numerous other forms, such as an injectable solution, ointments, capsules, and drops. From what I’ve read, injectable bee venom approaches live stings in potency but also in pain; other forms appear to be somewhat less effective.

Stinging Criticism
Despite the cottage industry that has sprung up around bee venom therapy and reports from a great many satisfied stingees, the medical establishment in the United States considers it an unproven—and possibly dangerous—practice. Most seriously, about 1% of the population has a severe allergic reaction to bee stings that can, in extreme cases, result in death. When bee stings are administered by lay practitioners, the danger is increased, and yet relatively few doctors are willing to perform the procedure.

A few small studies are underway to determine the safety and effectiveness of bee sting therapy for specific conditions. But one of the problems in performing a proper, rigorous, double-blind study is that a placebo must be used in a control group, and it’s difficult to find an inert substance that causes the same pain and skin reaction as bee venom. Still, some of the preliminary test results are encouraging, and everyone’s hope is that the particular substance or substances in bee venom that produce the desirable effects can eventually be isolated and administered without serious pain. In the meantime, people with treatable conditions but a low tolerance for stings must ask themselves: “To bee, or not to bee?” —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Bee Venom Therapy…

Thanks to reader Jon Kover for suggesting today’s topic!

For more information about bee venom therapy, see Bee Sting Therapy: Healing from the Hive at the Discovery Channel.

Sources for bee venom therapy supplies: Apitronic Services.

Charles Mraz wrote a well-known book about his own experiences with bee venom therapy: Health and the Honeybee (1995). Note, however, that although Mraz used the treatment on himself and others for 60 years, he was not a physician.

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