Here's my sad Chinese sd card experience. The state of things there depresses me:
When I was in Beijing I went to a regular store to buy an SD card for my camera. I asked them to let me try the cards in my camera before purchasing, so I did that. As I put a card in, all looked well, however when I proceeded to format the card, the issues arose. Regardless of the size of the card, 2, 4, or 8gb, the card would then instead read as 128mb. I mentioned this fact to them and they said sorry and let me try a new card. About 4 cards later the owner was nearly in tears and I was very frustrated. At that point the owner went to the back stockroom and gave me yet another card. This time it formatted fine and I purchased that one.
It was such a sad experience. I felt very embarrassed and sorry for this owner. I don't know if the owner knew that they were scamming people, or if they were just being scammed themselves.
That's really sad. Yet, it's probably mostly because all of the other stores are doing it and he/she can't compete without also selling the fake products. With no consumer protection or standards, this is what happens.
Also, maybe b/c of a market of consumers who don't know what they're buying. I bet tech-savvy Chinese know where to buy safely. But maybe there are a lot of Chinese with poorly educations or orientation to tech, maybe just arrived in a city, or travelling there to shop. And they get stuck by this stuff, and maybe don't even realize it b/c they don't understand the gear, or because so much of it is banged up. (Maybe the camera is also faked.)
It wouldn't surprise me that if a shopowner _was_ eventually caught at this, they'd simply close up and just move somewhere else.
As a free market type, I have to admit that in those circumstances, I don't find this surprising. The "market response" here is for consumers to become more savvy and cautious, but the population posited here wouldn't have resources for that response. And they're forced to choose between wariness, and participation in this new economy with all this neat stuff. And that participation might be the only path out of poverty and ignorance.
It's a crummy choice, and one that is likely to lead to all sorts of bitterness and suspicion of the merchant classes. It founds a similar ethic in the buyers, once they figure out enough to become sellers.
The likeliest defense I can imagine for my free markets is, China isn't really a free market. Its development is artificially stimulated and guided by government policies, which are pushing investments at levels that aren't sustainable, and into projects that probably won't return. A less hyper development might give consumers more opportunity to get up the learning curve, and lower (and probably more realistic) expectations of what they can afford.
Wow, tldr: Govt. accelerated hyper-growth pushes innovation faster than the least informed consumers can manage.
So, to sum up, poor quality control in the absence of government regulation is the result of too much government regulation.
There are folks who want to solve every problem with government-led solutions. They are often wrong. Then there are people whose response to everything is cutting taxes and privatizing institutions. They are often wrong. What you have in common (and lately I am beginning to think these two groups have a lot in common) is whenever anyone can name an example of your ideology breaking down in some way as it has here, your immediately come out with a No-True-Scotsman style of rebuke. Why is it so unacceptable that a pure free market might not work perfectly?
And, the typical consumer anywhere would fall for this. This isn't an example of ignorant Chinese being duped by unscrupulous merchants. If ignorance alone is the culprit then this should be happening everywhere. Want to take a guess why it isn't?
Yes. How many software bugs are traceable to lousy global design? No one here would be surprised that a system built on lousy principles exhibits many particular problems. Why is it surprising that an economy built on bad principles has all sorts of particular problems?
And if anyone here suggested that the best response to a badly designed system was some additional "bug catching" layer, or just tweaking all the details, well, it wouldn't go over well. Patches might do just to keep things running, but none would suggest that's the right way to build the thing in the first place. And the patching approach would be doubly suspicious if the same crummy programmers that had the bad design where then tasked with patching up the bugs.
And no, this won't happen here in the US. If you think the average US consumer is as ignorant as the average Chinese, you aren't thinking it through. Go look at what passes for a college degree in China, the government has massively expanded the "colleges" past all capacity to actually teach that many people. And the average US consumer has far better access to enough expertise to diagnose the problem. And US retailers make major investments in brand reputation, which they will not simply abandon. US consumers have far better resources for understanding fraud, and far better recourse against it.
Now, my "ideology" is founded in a lot of solid theory and hard evidence. It is a world view that explains a _lot_, and often in advance of events. If you think I'm walking from all that b/c of one unfortunate example, if you think I'm not going to look for some explanation that is consistent with what I already know, I don't know what to say. Here I admit that this cheating is what I expect in these circumstances -- not really a free market advertisement -- and admit that I'm looking for some consistent explanation. And you have a problem with that? My biases are right here on my sleeve, where I can keep an eye on 'em. Where are yours?
With no consumer protection or standards, this is what happens.
Not always, some times a wild market eventually results in some of the strictest standards which also happen to be self enforced.
I say sometimes but some economists believe, in the long term, this will always happen. I think reality is a bit more complicated, and in the very long term we're all dead. So for the duration of any one human life time, amazing self enforced standards sometimes arise form chaos. Those send to be far superior to anything government can do. But government is often quicker to come up with enforced standards.
Apparently laundry detergent manufacturers kept on increasing the size of their standard detergent bottle without increasing the washing power in order to make it look more impressive on a shelf. This caused an "arms" race in detergents.
WalMart stepped in and refused to stock detergent bottles past a certain size. At that point, the manufacturers stopped making the large size bottles.
If there's a player with as much power as WalMart then they can dictate pretty much whatever they want - and sometimes their interests are aligned with the customer.
When I was growing up in Taiwan, there was a private consumer-protection agency that actually seemed to work. It all came about after a rash of food poisonings, and a private organization came up with a certification stamp, and somehow (I'm not sure how) convinced most consumers to look for and demand the stamp on packages.
All in all, not at all unlike how government protection agencies work, but in this case entirely private and independent. The neat part is that, IIRC, their safety standards were mostly stricter than the US.
I believe it ends up getting enforced at the retailer level; most major chains will refuse to purchase Christmas lights that are not UL listed, so you can be reasonably sure that the cheaply manufactured lights you purchase at Walmart don't burn your house down. They also seem to be providing education  and revising their standards  to discourage particularly ill-advised appliances such as electric turkey fryers.
This is interesting, and it makes sense to me that markets would work this way, but I am not sure I can think of any real examples. Something like Bar Associations comes close, but AFAIK they are legally mandated? Do you have any better recent or historical examples in mind?
non-profits ==> competition is not exactly red in tooth and claw
Are you serious? Competition for donations between non-profits in my experience is often even more extreme then between for-profits. Do you have any evidence for softer competition among non-profits?
Besides some non-profits are really phenomenally well functioning for-profits, which happen to have chosen a non-profit tax status.
For example, in the US the non-profit AAA will quickly drop any pick-up truck company known not up to its standards. Mind you, all that's needed if for the truck to show up roughly on time and be reasonably courteous. Still that is quite something when you're in a bad spot and need those kind of services.
And the AAA is popular enough that being on their shit list will cause sever financial pain to any pick-up truck services provider.
But to join the AAA you have to pay a regular fee and they have all kinds of tie-ins with piles and piles of 3rd party service and goods providers.
I don't begrudge them their non-profit tax status, but they are a damn well run and huge business.
Various textile industry associations have labeling standards and trademarks for materials, like Supima®, Seal Of Cotton, Woolmark, etc. These actually give some useful assurance of the quality or type of fiber, and they are private standards rather than government ones.
Nice try, but it doesn't get to my point. How are these "emergent standards"?
Are you arguing that the trademarks are standards? They are completely owned by the company and follow no rule other than arbitrary decisions by one entity (Nintendo could sell Mario toilet paper tomorrow and it would be a Mario(r) product).
Well, like I said, typically they are owned by not by individual companies but by industry associations or coalitions. These consist of member companies which individually compete with each other, but have worked together to define a standard and market it to consumers. For example, Supima is a non-profit organization run by a coalition of cotton growers, which licenses its trademarks to textile manufacturers.
It's a fair point that there is a private entity that owns the trademark and can technically do whatever it wants with it. It doesn't just magically "emerge" from the market without any coordination - but then, nothing does. Market actors come up with mechanisms to communicate standards. Some of these mechanisms happen to be voluntary and reputation-based rather than enforced by law.
Yeah, though I doubt very many people format the card when trying it (the size did look correct beforehand). Though, he did let me try several cards so maybe you're right.
He was also selling (very clearly to me anyway) fake iPod Nano devices. Did he know those were fake? Maybe he's never seen real ones? To me the whole thing looked so cheaply made and the UI is incredibly ugly.
I once had an experience where i was sold a fake piece of equipment.I proceeded to ask for warranty but the store owner told me they don't give warranties for such type of products.So i insisted for a warranty.Surprisingly he pulled out the original and authentic version and wrote me a warranty.apparently they seem to know that some are genuine and some are counterfeit.
While I know these fake drives exist - wouldn't running the last 5 minutes of a video file utterly fail as it wouldn't have any of the header/codec/video envelope data since that's at the beginning? Have a feeling the story is more anecdotal than anything...
AVI: Index is at the end, so it might play fine in a tolerant enough player.
MPEG-TS: Headerless. Will play fine in any player.
MP4/MOV: Index is sometimes at the end; if so, it might play fine in a tolerant enough player.
MKV: Has a header and index, usually at the start. Probably won't play.
Ogg: Has a header, but is indexless; might play fine in a tolerant enough player. Probably not though, as both Vorbis and Theora (the only things Ogg supports that are ever used) both rely on custom Huffman tables in the headers.
A couple of years ago, some USB sticks with a similar "flaw" made it onto the European market. The capacity difference wasn't quite as drastic as this example, which almost makes matters worse: you have to fill it with e.g. 1GB of data and read it back before you notice anything.
My friend said they're still trying to figure out how did the Chinese do that. Because the drive reports "correct" file sizes and disk-capacity. And the "overwriting" doe not touch the other files present on the drive.
I suspect they treat the first N megabytes correctly to preserve file system data structures. For anything above that (the remaining "capacity"), they just let it loop by cutting off the top bits of the offset.
I bought one of these in Shanghai last year! Sadly I only realised it was acting strange when I got back from vacation (It had a perfect plastic casing, labels, little paper manual; we even tested it in store!). From my googling at the time, what they did was something like take a standard 128mb stick and flash it with some interesting firmware - there's even a utility out there which can help you figure out how big your flash drive _really_ is.
For the price of the drive I thought it was a good business lesson. It implies the existence of an entire supply chain - crooked engineers/programmers, distributers, retailers, and maybe even government, manufacturers, building managers, etc. All to satisfy the market's "need" for the product to appear to work for longer than someone's visit lasts. An interesting/scary demonstration of total free-market capitalism.
If you've looked around China a little more, you will realize how lean manufacturing can be.
The plastic casing if probably from a commodity supplier, who doesn't know or care what the buyer uses it for. The labels and manuel, likewise. The engineer, manufacturer, and distributer could be one hacker, a few mates flashing the drives, and a couple of drivers.
As for the retailers, building managers, and government, it's likely that you bought it in a tourist shopping area, probably near a long-distance railway station or a tourist attraction. Tourists (generally Chinese tourists from other cities) who shop in those places get ripped off, and nobody notices, because they never complain. They just fly home, and curse themselves for shopping in a tourist trap.
In China, you never shop in tourist traps. You don't eat anything unless its in a side street, where the locals (who prey on the tourists) eat. You don't even get a taxi parked in front of a 5 star hotel, or bus depot. Get a bus, walk out of the tourist zone, or flag a taxi that just happens to be passing by. (Note, the buses can be dangerous if they aren't local buses. Some special tourist buses disgorge the passengers into a small village, where taxi drivers insist on exorbitant fees to take you back to civilization).
Pretty much nothing but locals. If you wanted to buy a PC, they'd sit you down on a little stool and offer you a drink, then fill out a form with you in Chinese. (Surprisingly, it turned out the prices were within 10% of the cheapest Australian importers [MSY/CPL] for many things - even as I was walking away they couldn't go lower!)
I did buy it from a smaller stall similar to photo #6. But it was still quite surprising to find it was dodgy - the mall didn't even sell pirated software! Perhaps if they can tell you're not local they pull out the knockoffs. Good point about the lean manufacturing - although the number of people who've encountered this online is what implied to me that it's a reasonably large operation. Hard to say, really.
>Note, the buses can be dangerous if they aren't local buses. Some special tourist buses disgorge the passengers into a small village, where taxi drivers insist on exorbitant fees to take you back to civilization.
As somebody who has taken a variety of buses in China, I have to question this. Do you have a source?
A lot of times there are jokes about the silly and overprotective American consumer culture. What a lot of people don't realize is the sheer amount of useless mental energy you need to expand in other areas of the world, double checking everyday purchases and never really trusting what you buy.
Sure sometimes it can get a little extreme (I'm looking at you McDonald's coffee) but in a lot of cases it's an efficient system that frees up your attention and focus on more important things then checking whether your milk contains poison.
Personally, I think this over protectiveness is actually a sign of an advanced economy taking specialization to it's logical extent. Not having it is an economic cost in the long term.
I don't get your sarcasm. Selling heroin is a very good example of how unfettered free market capitalism leads to circumstances where people sell things that are harmful to their customers. Likewise tobacco. Likewise unsafe cars, Baby clothes made out of plastic that sticks to the skin when exposed to flame, and many other things that we have deemed enough of a harm to society that we attempt to fetter at least part of the free market.
So yes, obviously, heroin is a good example of places where we have decided that the free market is a bit too free. This is another example of a place where the free market might be a bit too free. Is there anything wrong with that?
Sorry, I am not going to be dragged into an argument about recreational drug use in a thread about bogus USB drives. Nor am I going to argue the truth of an argument about bogus USB drives being a necessary side effect of this wonderful free market capitalism the US claims to enjoy.
What I claim is that making arguments about free market capitalism in light of behaviour around selling bogus USB drives is reasonable enough that it contributes positively to HN, and that while you or anyone else might disagree, such an argument does not deserve scorn.
I think maybe the point of the parent comment, or at least the point that I see, is that there is benefit to the consumer in having things like trademarks be enforced.
Copyright and patents are intended to benefit the public by incentivizing creators to make more stuff. Whether that works is debatable.
But trademark is intended (or at least has the effect) of helping consumers identify a product's maker. If I buy an Acme Rocket Sled, it's because I've heard that Acme makes good ones. It sucks for me if I can never tell a real Acme from a fake one; I can't purchase with any confidence. And while maybe the blogosphere could help me find out where to get real Acmes, it really seems more efficient if we just outlaw making knockoffs and penalize those who do. If it's not Acme, I want it to have a different label.
It sure seems like the point was to take a gratuitous swipe at free market capitalism. And if it wasn't the lack of clarity regarding the actual target of the gratuitous swipe deserves at least a modicum of disapprobation.
That is only true if you are if the mindset that there can be nothing wrong with unfettered, free-market capitalism. While it is certainly better than many other economic philosophies, it would be a mistake to pretend it is perfect.
off topic, but there's an artist that exploits this to really good effect, really makes you think about what place 'the original' has in art especially for pieces that are entrenched in the public consciousness (i.e. mona lisa, warhol, etc)
But that sort of meta thing only works with art i think, not so much thumb drives! :)
Yes, what you pointing out to is the situation when the beast can't be starved by decreasing of the tax revenue alone. Having abundant source of cheap money, like oil, the beast just grows monstrously bigger and fatter.
IIRC from my time playing with Norton Utilities back when it was a real hacker tool, you only need to format the disk as usual then hand-modify the disk size in the MSDOS (2nd, logical drive's) boot sector. The FAT will contain all the entries needed for keeping parts of the file in correct order, and Windows will happily report the drive size from that field. Assuming the flash drive's firmware/circuit doesn't report errors but rather uses the low bits to address the sectors (laziest way to build a flash controller), explains how "only the last part of the file" gets preserved (i.e. not overwritten).
For the FAT to stay non-corrupt I would assume that Windows writes a full copy from its cache right after writing the file, that would not be an unreasonable assumption.
All in all: extremely easy to reproduce, no special controller needed. Probably just a guy that realized how Windows behaves after changing a couple bytes on the disk, and another that said "hey, we can make money off that!"
The FAT is many sectors long, I'm not sure why Windows would re-write the entire thing.
Now, OTOH, you could just mark the areas the FAT uses, and all their aliases as in-use in the bitmap, that'd prevent them from being overwritten (but chkdisk would notice). You could additionally put a file on all those sectors, then chkdisk would pass, but you'd show a fairly large amount used (for your large file).
If you have a device running linux with a usb device controller, you can easily create such a fake.
Linux has an implementation for a 'disk-on-key' (mass storage device). /usr/src/linux-*/kernel/drivers/usb/gadget/f_mass_storage.c
The sample can use both memory and a file as storage. You can easily make it fake the size and rotate around, skipping the first.. 64K or so (forgot the exact number) to prevent your FAT16 from spoiling.
Logitech gaming mouses actually come with weights that let you do just this. Its theoretically for better game performance but I think it speaks to your point that sometimes weight gives a more satisfying tactile response.
I love the inclusion of the two end nuts. How do you know if something is expensive and built well? It feels heavy/and or dense. You definitely get that feeling when you pick up something like an iPad or a good digital SLR.
After using Samsung Galaxy S for few months and recently playing with my friends iPhone I was under impression that I'm holding a brick. I also played with iPad 2 at the store recently and concluded that I really don't have strong enough writsts to own it.
Lots of fake 32GB microSDs are also on the eBay market, and function in a similar fashion. I've bought a fake hard drive, I know a few others who have bought hard drives or microSDs... someone musta written a how-to! They're getting tricky with pulling eBay/PayPal accounts and setting up Dutch auctions to throw wrenches in the system to slow it down before the money transfers are reversed/released.
When I was still in college a few years ago, I fell for this on a trip to Guangzhou. I believe those were supposedly 8GB flash drives with 32MB of real memory, selling for less than 5 bucks each. Being the immaculate hustler I am, I bought a sackful of those to haul back home to sell, only to learn that if it's too good to be true...
Evolutionary pressure. Tourists now know about the fake USB drive problem, and test-drive hardware in the store. This sort of fakery is much harder to detect, and unless there are easy tools to detect wrongly-sized USB drives, these are going to be the dominant type of forgeries.
Knowing nothing about how USB drive hardware/firmware works, I'm guessing we'll see mainstream Windows software for detecting real drive sizes soon (if not already), and then it'll be a back-and-forth between the two sides.
Ultimately (I hope), the costs of the forgeries and the time needed to verify drive size is going to even out, and you can be assured that even though you're buying a knock-off, it'll very likely have a certain amount of space on it and a certain minimum life span.
I don't know where that came from, but that's not a flash drive and never was. It looks to me more like a D-Link USB wireless adapter. I have a nearly identical one to that, except for a different hardware revision. That one looks like a B1, whereas mine was a revision A.
Something about this story doesn't seem to add up. An SSD's firmware presents the raw flash to the OS as a block device. The filesystem is at a higher level of abstraction, above that block device. If the device is handling data that doesn't fit by wrapping back around to the beginning of the file, how is it figuring out where that file begins when all it sees is a bunch AHCI requests?
Not as extreme, but when I bought my 1.5 terabyte hard drive, I thought that I would be seeing 1.5TB when viewing its properties. I saw 1.36TB instead. So where did the other 0.14TB go? I thought I got scammed.
Then I looked at the number of bytes on the hard drive, and it listed as exactly 1,500,299,264,000 bytes, and I realized that computers and manufacturers use different metrics.
It's just like spam: it's not the one who asks but he who pays...
It's not about the Chinese magically managing to screw everyone: it's about enough people buying these fakes and not coming back with an angry look on their face and a pickaxe in their hands. That's what keeps this scheme profitable.
Select a random number known only to you(r program). Seed your generator with it. Start randomly selecting sectors to write to (directly as a block device), writing a psuedorandom sequence based on your first number and the block identifier. Store a set of what sectors you've written to. (You can bundle them into arbitrarily-large contiguous chunks if this gets too large.) As you write, periodically randomly select a sector you already wrote to and verify that when read it returns the same psuedorandom sequence. I don't just read them back in order to prevent the "save the first few chunks" attack. This will slow down detection a bit, but if I'm working my intuition math correctly it doesn't actually slow it down very much, at the gain of making it impossible for a hostile firmware to know which sectors you're going to ask for.
Using this approach, you can write arbitrarily large of data to a drive with very minimal storage requirements on your end (well within even modern-day embedded RAM availability), while still being able to demand any sector back at any moment and verifying it is correct. Theoretically your psuedorandom number generator ought to by cryptographically secure, and given that you're probably IO bound here and they aren't hard to come by, there's probably no reason to use anything less.
I'm pretty sure the only effective defense against that is to actually store all the data. If you issue a predictable read pattern, you open an attack. If linearly-sampling your previously written blocks turns out to be undesirable you could tweak the sampling distribution, but I bet you wouldn't get much improvement.
Also, come to think of it, if the drive is honest this could be done non-destructively (assuming the undo process is allowed to run to completion) by reading the sector and XOR'ing it, so you could then undo it by a second XOR operation. Further cleverness could even make this reasonably safe to half-complete the undo, then finish later, if you work at it.
Since the compromised flash controller allocates the actual sectors to use, it seems like it would be difficult to make a reliable test without generating a large file and then checking it for integrity, which would take a while to run.
That is correct. However, to the best of my knowledge this activity does not take place in a "hard-drive repair center". In fact, there's no such thing as a "hard-drive repair center", with the exception perhaps of an RMA department of a hard drive manufacturing company. That gave me the impression that the story was either made up or badly translated.