3 Inventions You Can’t Live Without

July 30, 2014

I can hardly believe these items haven’t already been invented. Maybe I’m living in a delusional movie where the protagonist is convinced his Thyme Machine (aids sleep, wards off nightmares, gives courage to knights…also good for embalming),  Two-Way Wrist Bazooka or Windows 8 Obliterator is the answer to personkind’s prayers.

But give ‘em a chance. I think you’ll wonder how you lived without these sure-fire moneymakers.

(Note: all device images strictly imaginary)Phone-shriek-Quentin

Phone Shrieker: This app, installed on your cell phone or attached to your phone line, intercepts designated numbers or prefixes and emits an obnoxiously raucous, faxtone-like sound.  Tap in a 1-800 prefix, for example, and enjoy telemarketer-free days basking by the pool or otherwise getting your real business done.  You never even hear the phone ring; the app simply answers with its ear-numbing wail.

Anti-Woofer:  This device is essentially a directional noise canceller that automatically silences nearby autos with subwoofers blasting. The 17-25-year old cruising up alongside you at the stoplight won’t know what hit him…the sound of silence.


New feature: Has the added bonus of quieting noisy neighborhood dogs!*

Chirpie Chip: And now, the coup de grace! This is a peel-and-stick micro-mini-chip that attaches or embeds in common household devices or appliances to help you find them and keeps your spousal unit from smugly droning, “Where was the last place you put it?”

Great for finding car keys, cell phone, reading glasses, sunglasses, USB drives, TV remote, overhead fan remote or a spousal unit.


Each “findable” gets it’s own 1- or 2-digit code which causes the device to chirp (like a car key remote). The Chirpie can be  a wall-mounted unit (either screwed in or Velcro’d) like a garage door unit or a portable device that is always stored in a known location and is designed to chirp its pretty head off when not in its proper place.

Of course there’s a voice recognition feature: “Hey Chirpie: Find keys!”

Now that I’ve done the hard work of thinking these things up, all you have to do is build them.** (And, cut me in for a piece of the action, naturally.)

Remember to get permission from your spousal unit…if you can remember where you put said unit.


* Dog quieting feature courtesy of Bud D. Jones
** I’ve since learned that there are various “keyfinders,” “object finders” and other useless widgetry already on the market. I don’t think any of them work as well as mine. Of course, it helps that my Chirpie, technically speaking, hasn’t actually been built yet.
Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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4th Law of Prediction (with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke)

May 24, 2014

A mini-furor has been raised by folks such as Glenn Beck who claim that a new book published by NASA is admitting that an ancient rock formation design might have been created by aliens. However, reading the actual NASA text makes it entirely clear that the NASA author was speaking figuratively — facetiously, even — to dramatize the concept that really really old things are nigh impossible to understand by a modern intelligence:

“We can say little, if anything, about what these patterns signify, why they were cut into rocks, or who created them. For all intents and purposes, they might have been made by aliens.”

In a sense, this is the reverse of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Thus I propose a 4th law:

Any sufficiently old device is indistinguishable from an alien intervention.

As an example: Try to explain a 45 rpm “spacer” (the plastic record adaptor) to a teenager who thinks music comes from a downloaded file on a smart phone. When I show the 45 rpm graphic to my college students as a research challenge, their first reaction is invariably, “Illuminati!”
Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch. The NASA History Series/NASA SP-2013-4413. http://www.nasa.gov/ebooks
Thanks to Sharon Hill at Doubtful News, “Never pass up some alien clickbait from NASA”, for the tip on this story.

Frame Job in the Garden of Gethsemane

April 15, 2014


I don’t get this business with Judas Iscariot.

I mean, this whole drama about The Betrayal just has all the earmarks of an urban legend, Jerusalem-style (where they inspire more whoppers than Burger King).

First off, Jesus announces that he is going to be betrayed. OK, the upper room is full of guys with kitchen passes having a boy’s-night-out dinner and maybe the wine is flowing pretty freely — I understand the usual Passover four-drink-minimum was in effect — but it’s hard to believe that only one guy heard the Prince O’ Peas drop this little bombshell. What…were they all busy telling seder jokes (“See,  this Greek Oracle, a Roman goddess and a Mesopotamian walk into a bar…”) that they couldn’t hear one of Jesus’ famous pronouncements?

So you have this guy resting his head on Jesus’ breast while the Son O’ Man declares that not only is he going to be betrayed but he’s going to finger the culprit on the spot. Jesus proceeds to dip some bread in a bowl and gives it to the alleged weasel, Judas. Does anyone jump up and get upset that Jesus has pointed out a traitor? All right, maybe only the breast-resting Beloved Disciple (BD) actually heard any of this. Wouldn’t you think he would sound the alarm, or at least warn some of the others so they don’t go wandering off in the Garden of Gethsemane by themselves?

Now Judas excuses himself to go off and do something or other. Since Judas was the treasurer for the group, I suppose they might have thought he was off to get more wine or pick up some dessert. But you’d think the BD would be suspicious, eh?

See, he knows: (I) Jesus will be betrayed and, (II) Judas is the…er…Judas. And, since Jesus has been acting all solemn through the So Long Seder, it might not be a bad guess that this is the Last Repast and that, therefore, (III) Judas is now off setting up the big sting.

But let’s give BD the benefit of the doubt for a moment and join Jesus in the Garden.

We find the Scion O’ Zion off with his three favorite sidekicks (wait…what happened to the Beloved Disciple if he’s so dang beloved?) in Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane, by the way can be anagrammed into “Me snag thee” and “He meet snag.” (Also “He gets Agnes,” but that’s a different story.) I know these are awfully clumsy phrases, but that’s how they talked back then.

So here we have The J-Man all weepy-eyed in the Garden with the Dozing Disciples.

But let’s backtrack a bit before we get to the main point.

Remember that a week before, Jesus had this triumphant entry into Jerusalem with Hosannas and palms…and he had this great ass, donkey actually (and a colt to boot), that were so special that he had to make special super-secret arrangements to have them delivered to him. Furthermore, His Nibs was pretty notorious in the Temple portico areas where he had literally trashed the joint by turning over tables and lambasting the moneychangers and, presumably, the temple prostitutes. And this is the Chap O’ Chaps who made a name in Gallilee for turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding thousands with miraculously appearing loaves and lox. Add to this that he processes around with this entourage of sturdy North Gallileans looking all bliss’d out.

Apparently he had not escaped the notice of the Jewish high priests, viziers, Sadducees, Pharisees (whom he brought forward for Special Lambasting all the time), procurators and probably several decades’ worth of Herods, not to mention the Sanhedrin and what-all.

So this is not someone who could fade into the adobe; they all knew His Lordship was in the house.

Plus, he’s got this great shiny halo on top of his head.

OK, back to the Garden and His Annointedness.

The plan is for Judas to “betray” his Master with a kiss. (I guess a simple finger point wouldn’t do.)

But what’s to betray?

Judas isn’t there to give evidence of any kind. He’s just there to drop a denarius on Jesus. But as we’ve seen, Jesus isn’t exactly hard to spot, what with his entourage and halo and all. And it’s not like Judas had any special knowledge of where to find His Wonderfulness. Judas was already gone by the time Jesus decided to go for the Last Constitutional. Who knew Jesus was in the mood for a Prayer Walk?

And…not so by the way, what the heck is Peter (the original “Rocky”) doing with a sword? He’s a dang fisherman by trade. He supposedly cuts off one of the soldier’s ears, which gives the Babe O’ Bethlehem a chance to work in a last-minute miracle. But how many retired fishermen do you know who walk around armed with a sword, much less one sharp enough to do an emergency ear-ectomy.peter cuts ear - malchusSo the Great Triager reattaches the ear, the Dozing Disciples perform the miracle of making themselves invisible and Jesus gets trundled off for some serious scripture fulfilling.

And it says here that Judas runs off to hang himself.

I’m not buying it. No…I think Judas was framed. I don’t have any proof of course. The New Testament is strangely quiet about some things…while it blathers on about everything from the Begats to the Beatitudes. But I’m putting my drachmae on The BD himself. If the Beloved Disciple is even half the man I think he is, he’s got himself a cozy retreat on a small island in the Aegean where he plans to retire and write some apocalyptic potboilers designed to put a little Fear o’ The Lord into anyone who comes a callin’ with a warrant.Warrant

Seven seals, my ass…er, donkey.



Top photo: first page of the Gospel of Judas
(Page 33 of Codex Tchacos)
Peter cutting Malchus' ear: Duccio di Buoninsegna:
"Christ Taken Prisoner" (detail) 
tempera on wood between 1308 and 1311

Calling “Jessica Jones”

call-me-back-notSit back and relax while I spin you a saga of scheming, sleuthing and possible skullduggery. (You can skip to the end if you just want the final conclusion.)

It started a few weeks ago with what seemed like a typical annoying telemarketing call. There was a delay of 4 or 5 seconds before the voice came on: “May I speak to Jessica Jones?”

I explained that there was no such person. The next day, another call for Jessica Jones. And the next day. And the next. At first I assumed it was the same company, based out of Utah, because I had started asking where they were calling from.  After a heated discussion with a guy who firmly insisted that he had not called before, he escalated me to a supervisor who fervently promised to remove my name from their list.

Alas, I had also been lazy about registering my cell phone two years ago for the federal Do Not Call list, but, as it happens, that wouldn’t have saved me. These were calls specifically authorized by “Jessica Jones” so the Do Not Call rules wouldn’t apply. (I’m going to refer to JJ without quotes from here on simply for typing convenience. I’m not convinced there is such a person, nor that JJ is even a woman, but let’s play along with her for a while.)

The calls kept coming, at least once a day, sometimes twice, usually when I was taking a nap or on the phone with a client. I asked T-Mobile about blocking the numbers but they couldn’t, thank you very much.

About two weeks into this fiasco, I ran across a newswire story indicating that the FTC had just busted a “Multi-Million Dollar Work-From-Home Business Coaching Scheme”…in Utah, where most of my nuisance calls were coming from. It seems that this ring of companies with numerous DBAs and AKAs was guilty of  “a massive scam that bilked consumers out of millions for useless work-at-home kits” ─ and was being shut down. I thought it was my folks, but none of my company names matched the convicted companies.

My response to the daily calls ranged from quiet exasperation to one bout of actually shouting nasty words at the caller. I’m not proud of this, but after two or three weeks of daily calls for the elusive Jessica Jones, I was getting pretty darn tired of it.

I started initiating polite discussions where I’d purport to be taking a message for Jessica and then eventually reveal that there is no JJ and that I was simply trying to locate her so I could ask her to use someone else’s number for whatever her scam is.

What I couldn’t figure out was how she…he…it gains anything of value by giving a fake number.

See, the companies ─ all work-from-home operations selling online marketing packages or web services ─ really needed to get in touch with Jessica Jones. She had initiated the contact with them, not the other way around.

For a while I figured she had simply been careless in typing her phone number on whatever registration form the website needed. But after 20 or 30 calls, I realized she couldn’t have made the same typing error that many times.

According to some of the reps, she had actually paid out money, up to a few hundred bucks, for whatever marketing kits they were promoting. Yet the companies had no way of sending her anything or contacting her…except by my phone number.

The companies were all involved in some sort of putatively legitimate enterprise having to do with home-based online marketing. And none of them had reached out to Jessica; she was the one contacting them.

Here’s a list of the companies whose names I was able to gather:

  • Titan Trade
  • Design Metrics
  • 6-Figure Tool Kit
  • Empower Investment Group
  • Extreme Network Training
  • Nortec Strategies
  • Page Cash Flow

I decided to consult the all-powerful Oz, Google that is, to see if I could figure out which of millions of Jessica Joneses was the culprit ─ bearing in mind that, with a generic-sounding name like that, she could simply have made it up as part of her scheme.

One telemarketer seemed to have pay dirt for me: an email address, jjones@stubby.com, and a street name, Jomax Rd. I was familiar with Jomax, being a well-known albeit rural street in north Scottsdale. “Stubby.com” didn’t sound so promising.

I tried Googling Jessica Jones in Phoenix. There are a couple hundred, but of course no one gives their address. I tried sending out an email. No response. I tried LinkedIn and Facebook. Too many names and not enough detail. I could’ve paid the fees that online directories charge to find someone but I didn’t want to actually pay out money.

I got the idea that she might have just been mistaken in the phone number she was giving out by one digit. The beauty of investigating this is that I only had 9 wrong numbers to dial. Maybe I’d get lucky and find the real Jessica Jones had simply mis-typed her number. I had actually run across such a scenario several years ago with both a hospital and a private business owner.

I soon came to realize that using my phone number was not a simple typing error. No one gives out a mis-typed phone number 30. 40, 50 times and then doesn’t realize that she’s not getting any call backs.

I started researching the Internet more intensely. A minor victory: I found several marketing domains registered by a “Jessica Jones” with GoDaddy for various online business ventures. Since GoDaddy is a Phoenix-area company, I decided I was closing in. Eventually, I determined that “jomax” was simply the DNS (domain) server, “jomax.net.” Dead end.

The legion of telemarketers and I were in the same boat. We all wanted to find Jessica.

However, I had by now concluded that Jessica Jones was simply a name used as part of some scheme to scam the scammers…the telemarketing info packet companies.

But what kind of scheme? What could she possibly gain by contacting 30-50 (or more) organizations and asking for information, perhaps even paying for it? (One company claimed to have her credit card info and gave me the last four digits of a Master Card.)

As the calls paraded past my eardrums each day, I started looking forward to them. Almost. When I was polite and explained my situation, many of them understood that we had a common interest in finding Jessica. After all, as far as they knew, she wanted to sign up for their services but nothing could proceed until they were able to talk to her.

Clearly, Jessica did not want to be contacted.

What was her darn scheme?

Then, a couple days ago while chatting with an affable telemarketer (who actually tried to sell me a package), he indicated that he had her address. In truth, for a while one of my theories was that the companies really didn’t have a Jessica on their list; they had simply made her up as an excuse to make random calls, much like the roof-repair guys who act like they got the wrong address for a roofing job and then say “While we’re in the neighborhood, would you like us to take a look at your roof?”

I cautiously teased the address out of him ─ an apartment complex on N. 12th St. in central Phoenix. Since it wasn’t far from a rental property I wanted to check on, I decided to pay a call. Obviously I couldn’t call ahead; I’d only be calling myself.

I actually queried my two classes of freshman composition students on what to do since we were just embarking on a module about “how to complain” which is followed up by a module on research methods.

The vote was mixed. Some said “Do nothing, let it go.” Some said “Write a complaint letter to the address.” A few said “Go ahead and knock on the door” ─ though truth be told, the female students mostly voted “Ewwww, that’s creepy.”

I took the straw poll as an affirmation that I should do what I wanted to do anyway: pay a call on Ms. Jessica.

So I girded my loins and drove to the very specific address I had gained.

12th St map

I went through the outcome possibilities in my head, like a flow chart:

a) I can’t get into the apartment complex: no harm to anyone

b) I get into the complex but there’s no such apartment: no harm

c) I get into the complex, find the right door but no one answers–most likely scenario considering it was 11am on a Tuesday: no harm

d) I get into the complex, a person answers and it’s not Jessica: maybe a little creepy but no harm and, after all, I’m the one being harassed by daily phone calls with no other viable way to get in touch.

e) I get in, a person answers and it is the golden chalice of investigations, Jessica Jones herself, who explains that she’s bored or doing a research project or whatever and will be happy to concoct some other phone number.

As you may have guessed, the correct answer is “d”. A very nice middle aged woman answered the door after a minute or two, said she was not JJ, had occupied the premises for three years and also knew the previous tenant, who was not JJ. She was sympathetic to my plight and was gracious enough to take my name and phone in case an actual package from one of the telemarketing outfits arrived.

Of course she could have been devilishly clever in pretending not to be JJ but I believe her.

It fits the Jessica M.O.: if she’s going to give out fake phone number and fake email, she might as well give out a fake street address. I figured she may, from time to time, need to supply the companies with legitimate-sounding contact info, knowing as she does that she has no intention of being contacted.

Interestingly, the street address is almost ridiculously detailed and authentic down to a four-digit apartment number. If you’re going to give out a fake address, not intending to actually receive anything, why not just totally confabulate one, perhaps taking the minimal trouble to make it sound real? She could have said “Mike Hunt/1234 Erehwon Lane/Phoenix,” but she came up with a street that actually exists in a real town with an actual apartment number.

Riddle solved. Maybe

I now went back to some of my  GoDaddy sources where JJ had registered a site and drilled down to a company based in the Phoenix area which happened to have a customer service number. A cordial gent, who asked that I not use his name or company, gave me the scoop, confirming my latest hypothesis.

Someone, possibly Jessica, wants to check out various online marketing schemes but the website landing pages require some kind of call back or contact info to get past their main page to a second level. Since she’s just window shopping and doesn’t really want a flurry of telemarketing calls (duh!) she cooks up a phone number to paste into the website registration form ─ much like you’d do if you were shopping for a car or insurance but didn’t want to be pestered with sales calls.

Because she has no intention of being contacted, any old legit-sounding info will do.

Like mine.

My source said this happens all the time. She’s probably in the Phoenix area and just made up a Phoenix-area-code phone number and chose a close-by street address when required by the registration form.

Unfortunately for hapless victims, the phone number such a person chooses goes not just to the immediate company but is captured on a form and sold to multiple companies. Eventually, it’s bundled with a bunch of other non-responsive numbers and re-sold at a discount as an “aged lead.”Call me guy

So, Ms. Jones, whoever you are. Call. You know the number. I’d really just like to know what the scheme is.

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 4:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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A permeable membrane between fact . . . and fiction

Jan. 25, 2014

Case Study in Urban Legends

An urban legend reported in Snopes — “Marine Layer” — has several fascinating aspects in its mixture of true and false elements.

First off, the basic story is true: in Nov. 2010, a shoplifter in Augusta, GA on “Black Friday” bolts out the door from a Best Buy store. A group of 11 Toys for Tots volunteers, including four U.S. marines, see him and hear someone shout “Stop him!” So one of the Marines clotheslines him and in the ensuing struggle the shoplifter pulls a knife and stabs the Marine in the back while the others eventually subdue him. The valiant stabbed Marine gets three stitches at the hospital and is released.  (He later says with some gentle modesty, “I really can’t believe he messed up my uniform.”)

But what happens as the chain letter-mongerers get into action is the interesting part. Someone…or ones…inserts a new “factoid” into the otherwise legit AP news account. The new graf says the shoplifter was transported to the hospital with:

“two broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken leg, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw… injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell off of the curb after stabbing the Marine.

The implication, as Snopes points out, is that we’re supposed to read this as “don’t mess with the Marines.”

Now, it’s an interesting enough story as it is but someone…or ones…felt that it wasn’t quite good enough and had to insert their own agenda. It’s like the someone thinks that news is no different really than a teleplay — anything that happens in real life can be improved to make a point, and never mind that it’s being presented as news. Like…you ask me how I sprained my wrist and I tell you that I tripped on the tennis court…and then go on, in all seriousness, to state that I was running over to shake hands with my doubles opponent after a victory and my disgruntled opponent’s partner tripped me and walked away laughing.

This might make a good movie plot but what happens when you really want a semblance of truthfulness?

The idea seems to be that for these fakers all of life is simply a narrative presented for us to re-manufacture in order to make particular ideological points.

No matter your feelings about the credibility of any news outlet — be it Fox, CNN or The Arizona Republic, there’s at least a pretense of not making shit up. In the case of the someone “fixing” this story, the perp truly, actually and literally knows he’s making shit up.

But it gets worse. The someone…or ones…who urban-legendized this news item went on to photoshop the new (faux) paragraph into the actual AP story (which you can see at the Snopes site).

And worse: The same exact story, nearly word for word, shows up three months later datelined Perth, Australia with the details localized (“Marines” changed to “SAS troopers,” “Best Buy” changed to “Toys R Us,” and The Augusta Chronicle changed to The West Australian).

Who are these legendizers?

I’d really like to sit down over a friendly cup of coffee with someone — and there are many — who has done this and pick his brain (somehow I’m pretty sure they are hims) to see what their thought process is. I’ve seen numerous instances of legendizers changing details of a legit story to localize it…and passing it off as an actuality. (See the notorious “Dammed Beavers!” which was transported from Michigan to Pennsylvania.) And of course there are lamebrained putative humorous anecdotalists who insist on adding unnecessary “closers” to their motivational stories (“the audience broke into applause…”).

But the whole cloth invention of “facts” calls for a mind with a very permeable membrane between truth and story.

Anybody game for a little session at the Fess Up Table?


Published in: on January 25, 2014 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Language Lesson at the Fry’s Grocery Store

January 1, 2014

I got a little lesson in linguistics, courtesy the bagger at my neighborhood Fry’s grocery store yesterday.

See, I had hopped on my bicycle to pick up a few pre-New Year’s Eve items. Sometimes I haul along my huge, sturdy Tamimi/Safeway bag . . .


. . . but I had only reckoned to get three or four things so I figured I’d be fine with the small plastic Fry’s bags, balancing them nicely on either side of the handlebars.

Ironically, I had been listening to a podcast about “Loglang” on my headphones as I made the 5-minute trip.

(Loglang — a logical language, sometimes called lobjan — is a constructed or engineered language that can be spoken or written, designed to completely eliminate inherent ambiguities of natural languages.)

As you well know (and don’t pretend you don’t), three or four things can easily turn into five or six things . . . or eight.

When I got through the checkout, I politely said to the bagger, “Don’t use a lot of bags cuz I’m on a bike.” And as he was going along, I added, “See if you can get them in just two bags.”

Two single bags it was. One for each handlebar.

What I should have said was: “See if you can get them in just two sets of bags.” That is, double-bag the one with the half-gallon of milk.

I got on my bike and within a minute could see a problem arising as the handles of the  bag containing the half-gallon of milk started to tear. Now, I am not about to wuss-out and walk the bike home, especially since I had a quick trip to the ATM on the itinerary.

Eventually, of course, the second thin plastic stap on the left-side bag broke and I had to complete the journey milkjug(699)grasping the left-side bag in a bear hug and the milk container handle hooked into my pinkie finger while balancing the still-intact starboard bag.

Unfortunately, this left no hands available for the brakes.

As they used to say in the TV Guide listings, high jinx ensued.

New year’s resolution: double bag for biking.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beware holiday season scams

Dec. 14, 2013

I received the following email the other day which I almost fell for…except my Spidey sense was tickled since it mentions orders in the future tense.

As it happens, like many people, I’ve made several Amazon orders over the past few weeks including books for myself and others. However, I knew that all the purchases had been delivered in good order. Nevertheless, I wondered for a moment whether there might have been one that was still pending.

As I looked more closely, the tell tale signs of a scam emerged: a funky From address and return path…

Return-Path: <SupportAmazonk@amazonstoreidela.com>

…and the fact that the order number in the Subject line didn’t match the order in the Details section. I also noticed that the order number format doesn’t match Amazon’s system…

…and the fact that the attachment was a ZIP file.

I have to confess that I was not 100% convinced until I took a closer look at the To line where I found that the email address indicated was one character short of my actual address. Clearly this could not have been delivered to me except by a mass scam email.


Subject: Your Amazon.com order RP4016454
From: =Amazon Store SupportAmazonk@amazonstoreidela.com
To:    XXXXX25@aol.com

Good afternoon,

Thank you for your order. We’ll let you know once your item(s) have dispatched.You can view the status of your order or make changes to it by visiting Your Orders on Amazon.com.

Order Details

Order WN7327823  Placed on December 10, 2013
Order details and invoice in attached file.
Need to make changes to your order? Visit our Help page for more information and video guides.
We hope to see you again soon. Amazon.com

I’ve written about this kind of scam before since it follows a sad but recognizable theme that I like to call “The Shotgun.”

This approach involves the scammer sending out a message that a high percentage of the population will immediately recognize as something they’ve recently done: sent a package, made a bank transaction or made an online purchase for example.

It’s hard to resist clicking on the attached file because we know we just had some sort of business with, say, Chase Bank, UPS or the Happy Joytime Massage & Wine Bar.

(I subsequently learned from my Amazon customer service rep that “Amazon does not send order confirmations or other unsolicited requests that require you to open attachments.” So if you see an attachment, it’s probably bogus. And note that Amazon — a very fine company — had nothing to do with this.)

The final piece of the puzzle was confirmed when I scanned the full headers (available on most email systems) and found the following old school scam device: hidden terms designed to spoof certain email system filters. I’m not entirely sure how it works nowadays, but in the past, spammers would insert invisible words, hidden simply by using “white type” which a computer would recognize but a human wouldn’t unless you highlight the white space. I’ll pause a moment while you go ahead and highlight the area below this line to see the letters magically appear (bearing in mind the background on this page isn’t white)…

/humanities/epicenter/Salk/Ekman/punt/zimmerman/ghoulish/Salo/thankyou/bala nces/edited/livable/Zig/Yanks/icici/Selma/makr/sexually/poderia/abap-world/r ewriting/logging/researcher/ticked/deployments/ticketek/ac3-distribution/cow orkers/fend/Egan/Luisa/Quran/compens/ultra-gauge/tss-rostov/thermasdeolimpia /referendum/japannetbank/armada/myalaskaair/ac3/Grafton/panna/kidkraft/mpl/e xtremt/masterbase/paddle/Lynda/rostov-don/starken/gor/otterbox/Navigators/cl imatique/Barstow/logging/lockwood/Hsu/warrants/kookai/pvda/journeys/quidsi/m

So there you have it.

Like a cheap Uri Geller stunt, Tarot reading or pet psychic performance…


…once you know how the scam works, you almost feel stupid for not seeing it right away.

Published in: on December 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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Throwing my mitre in the ring

I heard there was a vacancy in Rome, so I have decided to throw my mitre into the ring to be the new pope. I figure by the time the Cardinals get around sending out their smoke signals I could already be planning Vatican III!


There are a handful of cardinals who are rumored to be in the running, though no clear leader has emerged.  I’AZ Cards logo-quentin-bg-CR2m figuring to get the endorsement of the Arizona Cardinals football team (or the logo anyway), who at least outweigh the poseurs assembling in Rome.

When not in the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, these scaredy cat cardinals are staying closely guarded in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence. They are banned from contact outside the conclave, including the use of cell phones, social media and the Internet. What’s the big deal?

I, on the other hand, have no such restrictions.

There’s a new sheriff in town

As the new pope, I’m fixin’ to make several key changes:

1. Optional celibacy and marriage allowed

2. Female priests allowed

3. Contraception allowed

4. Papal infallibility changed from “matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra” to “matters of grammar and punctuation when speaking ex couchus


5. No more “insta-saints” ─ that is, beatification and/or sainthood without proper waiting period, a la fast-tracking of Mother Teresa.

6. No more pedophilia and molestations. This time we’re not kidding around.

7. No more cover-ups of pedophiliacs and molesters, especially including hustling them off to unwitting parishesconfessional-quentin-bg-CR2-bigsquare

8. No more weekly confessions; instead we’ll have an annual “Olly Olly Oxen Free”.

9. Heaven is now the default option. In other words, you automatically go to heaven unless you opt-out in favor of your own version of paradise or nirvana. This overcomes a major theological dilemma of the ages: What to do with all the pagan babies, rain-forest-dwelling tribespeople, Eskimos, aborigines and other inadvertently unsaved innocents.*

In other business, we’ll be declaring a moratorium on certain annoying words and phrases:

1. “sequester” or “sequestration” (except for when I retreat to Castle Gandalf, formerly known as Castle Gandolfo)

2. “reached out to” when “contacted” or “called him” will do

3. “How’s everything tasting?” at restaurants (would you say, “How’s that Pepsi/Sprite/bottle of wine tasting?”)

4. …and the excessively good buddyish “You have a good day now!”

New papal name

Obviously the choice of a papal name is key to the success of His Vicarness. Therefore, I put the question to a key community of the faithful on the official Holy Roman website, “Faciem Libro,” with these results (in no particular order):

1) Veedsus I

2) Nebuchadnezzar III

3) Beelezebub II

4) Judas D’Scaredycat

5) Barabbas II (a prominent misunderstood social vigilante of the 1st century)

6) Papa Veedgilus I

7) Pope Vinediddler

8) Nebuchadeiffer

9) Debauchadieffer

10) Popee McPoperton

11) Popus D’Opus

12) Pope Victor Veedsus  V (has the advantage of a snappy “VVV”)

13) Pope Moishe or Pope Moses (we’d like to see the Cardies turn down such a distinguished Old School name!)

Judging by some of the silly names,  apparently many of the FaciemLibro folks were too busy playing “Angry Cardinals” and “Farm Villa” to take this seriously. However, one name has emerged that seems to be favored by all constituencies:

Joe d’Pope†

Has kind of a nice Italian feel to it, eh?

*In the old days, of course, we had Limbo and Purgatory to play with but they were, at best, theological stopgap measures, pretty much ruined by indulgence-selling and doctrinal disputes, not to mention no one really knew what kind of lifestyle was involved. Nevertheless. as my brother-in-law remarked, “But won’t this let evil persons in?” To this we say, “Wouldn’t it better to let an evil man in than keep an innocent babe out?” Moreover, we suspect that certain naughty types might prefer to go downstairs rather than be bored to tears in an eternal milk-bath existence with the likes of Ghandi and Mother Teresa. Indeed, we’re not naming any names, but certain people might like to be with their relatives.

“Faciem Libro” (snicker)  sometimes I just kill myself.

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Things I’m Giving Up for Lent

Updated March 2014

Corresponding with telemarketing scammers (like “Jessica Jones”)

Moving small objects with my mind

“Hand Origami”

My recipe for “La Merde dans un Chapeau Verte”

Breathing underwater (I’ve only mastered the exhaling part so far)


Drinking the water in Mexico

Speaking in tongues


Casting a spell on the neighbor’s dog

Mortal combat

Taking a metal detector to the desert

Incessantly humming the theme from “Green Acres”

Complaining about apostrophe abuseHarolds Park-CR - sign

Duplicate Bridge

Homeland Security

Elvis impersonations (but not my famous James Brown or Dostoyevski impersonations…obviously)


Cursing in Franco-Arabic (that’s what they actually call it)




Using the Jedi mind trick on snakes (it’s good to learn from mistakes)


Vacuuming my chest

Balloon animals

Buying cereal in bulk

Making citizen’s arrests

Running headlong into glass doors

Jailhouse tattooing

Live ammo

Original origami art by the author
Handcuffs courtesy of Saudi Arabia, photographed by the author in al-Bordello
Thanks to JU of New Jersey for reminding me of these resolutions and other tips and suggestions.

Pay Pal not such a Pal

This has to be one of the most aggravating business dealings I’ve ever had—on a par with hospital insurance claims, IRS and the motor vehicle department . . . all rolled together.

The situation is simple: There’s a guy I needed to send $65 to for a service he was kind enough to render in advance of being paid. He had a Pay Pal (PP) account for me to use.

After I figured out how to transfer money to Pay Pal to pay the vendor, the vendor’s PP website wouldn’t recognize the transaction, sending me in an endless loop. Then I discovered that I had a “limited” account, so I took the required steps to verify my account information. I received an automated phone call with a confirmation number and used it to verify the account. Apparently all was well, but the vendor’s PP website still wouldn’t accept payment, even after both the bank and PP verified that the measly $65 I needed to pay had been transferred to my PP account.

(I might mention here that I’ve used PP in the past but stopped using it because PP had become notorious for phishing schemes and other scams.)

However, PP did remember my e-mail account. One of the problems was that I kept forgetting my password after each failed attempt to pay my vendor so I had to re-set it several times.

So now I was at the stage where I had verified the account with the confirmation number. And I had successfully transferred funds from my bank account to my PP account.

But what’s this? Apparently my account was still “limited”.

I went to try to figure out how to “unlimit” it but . . . what’s this? It seems PP had “randomly selected” my account for a new security check!

All right, I could do that, but I had to be at my home computer in order to look up my bank routing number. I did so.

But what’s this? PP now wants me to specify two security questions out of a quirky menu they provide. I selected my father’s middle name and my sainted grandmother’s maiden name because I always remember the answers and the spelling is certain (unlike my first pet dog’s name which I spell a couple different ways and the name of the hospital I was born in which has changed names a couple times)

I answer these questions…but what’s this? Ah, PP now wants me to change my password again (and confirm the new one).

Whew! I grit my teeth and do so.

But what’s this? Apparently there’s a problem with my user name that requires a new password.

At this point I have no idea how to get past the PP gatekeepers to even find out how to remove my restrictions so I can just pay the stupid $65 that I’ve been promising my faithful and patient vendor.

I tried again the next day using a helpful invoice my vendor sent. This duly took me to the PP site but didn’t do anything except show me my account balance: $65.

Now I noticed that my account was “verified” but still “limited” so I figured I’d try at least confirming my credit card account, which may have been an old one. However, PP also wants a photo ID and a bank statement of some kind . . . which are not going to be happening from my location in Cairo, Egypt. Nevertheless, I started in on the credit card. I looked up my Visa number, expiry date, special code and entered the info. PP then wanted me to go to my bank account where they had put a “test amount” with a 4-digit code. I went to the bank account online and found the test amount but, naturally, no 4-digit code.

I tried to go back to PP but the webpage had expired (after only 3 or 4 minutes) so I had to go back in, change my password, enter new security questions (same as the old ones) and start over. In the meantime, I had received two additional e-mails from PP telling me my password was changed and my security questions had been changed.

And so it goes…and endless series of password and security question changes, bank verifications and other nonsense.

Here’s how Pay Pal describes my account status:

 What can I do while my account is limited?

  • receive or request money
  • update your account information
  • add money to your account
  • add a card
  • add a bank account
  • use PayPal logos in your auction listings or on your website

What can’t I do while my account is limited?

  • send money
  • withdraw money from your account
  • close your account
  • remove a card
  • remove a bank account
  • send refunds

I can’t imagine I went through all this folderol the first time I opened a Pay Pal account to buy some trinket from Ebay.

Am I missing some key piece of information? Maybe I inadvertently selected the “Extract gold doubloons from Fort Knox” option and thus have understandably tighter hoops to jump through. Perhaps Pay Pal is punishing me for jilting them a few years ago. Possibly even this moment some fiendish phishing felon has discovered my grandmother’s maiden name and is secretly slipping spondulics out of my savings.

I wondered what my sainted grandmother would have advised. She passed away before there was Pay Pal, before there was Internet, before there was online banking, before there were personal computers . . . practically before there were even electrons.

She knew about checks though. So I got hold of a party traveling from Egypt to the US, wrote a check, put it in an envelope and asked them to mail it from Tucson to Phoenix.

That’s what I call a dang pay pal.

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 2:53 am  Comments (6)  
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