Learn To Love Your Loan Shark

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:01 pm

So, have you heard about the latest Supreme Court decision? They’ve decided that, under the Truth In Lending Act, statutory damage awards against fraudulent lenders shall be capped.

The case that spurred this decision, Koons Buick Pontiac GMC, Inc. vs Nigh, is—to cop a term from the automotive world—a classic. Guy buys used Chevy Blazer from a car dealership, swings decent financing deal with his old pickup truck as a trade-in, drives off the lot. Two days later, car dealership calls and tells him that he has to give them an additional 2,000 bucks to secure loan. Man refuses, is told that dealership will call the police and have him picked up for auto theft unless he gives them the extra dough. Man sues under the Truth In Lending Act, and after being coutersued by dealership for breach of contract is awarded $24,000.00, plus attorney’s fees.

Of course, rather than packing it in and admitting defeat—and backed by banking industry lawyers—the dealership appealed the decision. Two lower courts agreed with the first court’s rulings. Finally, in what many have called a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the amended Truth in Lending Act only entitles the wronged party to between 100 and 1,000 dollars in damage awards. Until now, the common interpretation of the Act allowed for damages up to twice the total value of the finance charges, plus legal fees.

The banking industry is, of course, jubilant. One flack said publicly that this could save the industry billions in judgements resulting from fraudulent TIL lawsuits.

Excuse me, did you say billions? Mind you, I’m just a civillian here, not a financial or legal analyst, but when I hear that an industry could face billions of dollars in court-awarded damages, I tend to assume that there are, at the least, millions of dollars in bona fide damages at stake. I mean, whatever your personal feelings about the overall structure and dynamic of the tobacco settlement, you certainly can’t deny that the tobacco lords were complicit in decades of glossing over and actively supressing the health risks associated with smoking. Billions or not, that’s gotta boil down to a whole holy crapload of liability, which in this society means compensatory damages. So if there are potentially “billions” of dollars in damages to be awarded to victims of shifty lenders (or at least there were, before this Supreme Court ruling), I take it that there are—er, “were”—instances of genuinely abusive or deceptive lending practices, worth millions of dollars in damages, actually taking place. Also bear in mind that this case, and the Supreme Court decision therefrom, involves only non-mortgage loans; we’re only talking about fraud in the lending of money for cars, boats, home entertainment centers, etc. So this isn’t a question of bad lending practices on the sale of, oh, say, The Trump Tower alone.

Let’s assume that “billions of dollars” in undeserved damages means two billion dollars. The total projected price tag for the decision against Koons Buick Pontiac GMC, including all awards, fees, etc., was $54,000. Taking that 54 grand as a median judgement, that would mean that, according to the banking industry, over thirty-seven thousand successfully prosecuted specious Truth In Lending Act lawsuits are at stake. the time period over which this rape of helpless financial institutions would take place was not made clear, but the implications are nonetheless staggering.

The first one that comes to mind being, if there are 37,000 phony lawusuits waiting in the wings, how many real ones must there be?

The second and more obvious question is this: is there really a human being on the face of this planet who would take the word of a banking industry lawyer, let alone that of a car salesman, over that of an average citizen?


How to Shake Up a Really Peaceful Morning

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:10 pm

I was sitting in the hot tub this morning listening to National Public Radio (yes, we have a hot tub and listen to NPR. Just FYI, for a goddamn hippie I have very little hair) when a massive flock of starlings, perhaps fifty birds in all, took to the air from the field behind our house. I watched them pass overhead in formation and head off to the East.

Just as the last of the birds disappeared behind the trees, there was a screech and a terrible, thumping crash.

I figured out momentarily that there must have been a traffic accident on the main thoroughfare that intersects our street, but the overall effect was really disturbing.


Happy Easter!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:59 am

As those of you who know me well are already aware, I’ve been playing a lot of Half-Life 2 lately. I won’t bore you with the details, though I will say it is without a doubt the coolest game I have ever played. I haven’t been this wowed by a game since the original Marathon came out. But enough gushing; those in the loop already know this stuff, those not in the loop most likely couldn’t care less.

Anywho, the reason I bring it up is that I was tipped off to a really cool Easter Egg near the beginning of the game. A digital display showing a bunch of data prominently displays the header: “42FF”. You can see a screen capture here.

This will mean nothing to most people, but it does to me. See, a friend of mine is a medium-high uppity-up in the programming staff at Valve, the company that wrote Half-Life 2. He is also in the family, so to speak, in that he is the husband of the sister of my wife’s brother’s wife. I have no idea what the title would be in this case: brother-in-law-in-law-in-law? Whatever it would be, we’re about as separated as family members could get, genetically; I’m quite sure that, if we were to have a child together, it would have the requisite number of fingers and toes. Plus we’d probably be awarded a Nobel Prize or something.

Anyway, 42FF is shorthand for the 42 Freedom Fighters, a loosely-knit group of friends and associates that get together for gaming, croquet and other wholesome activities. You may recall my having mentioned these people before. As a tip o’ his hat to the group, my brother-in-law3 managed to insert this little tidbit into the game.

It’s not as though it’s such a huge deal, but it’s nonetheless pretty cool; like seeing a friend do a walkon on a popular TV drama. This game made over 100 million dollars on the first day of sales alone. The game is selling better than anything else out there, and receiving glowing reviews everywhere you look. To have a personal message embedded in such a monstrously popular game is, well, just plain nifty.


Food Fright, Part 3

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:25 am

Well, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Margaret and I went over to her parents’ house and joined a motley crew of family members, friends and assorted hangers-on in a calorie-jammed celebration of colonialism and genocide. I trust yours went about the same. 😉

We had a larger-than-normal share of weird foodstuffs this year, primarily because my brother-in-law Matt and his wife Shannon have gone vegetarian since—though not necessarily because of—our last Thanksgiving feast. Along with some wonderful twice-baked potatoes, they brought some Tofurkey “Giblet” Gravy, which looked like plain old giblet gravy, and a Quorn Turkey-Style Holiday Roast, which looked like the world’s largest Compazine Suppository. I took this opportunity to opine that their Slab-O-Fungus Loaf should have come with a family pack of ampules of L-tryptophan, to complete the Thanksgiving simulation.

But the gold-medal winner in the weird foods category that night, also provided by Matt and Shannon, was the two-liter bottle of Pepsi Holiday Spice, which, though it sounds like it ought to be the newest addition to the Spice Girls (and really, didn’t they do everything but name one of their members after a popular soft drink?), is in fact a “Limited Edition” beverage marketed by Pespi for the 2004 Thanksgiving/Christmas season.

Perhaps “weird” is too strong a term for it. Let’s say “peculiar”. That’s certainly what we were saying around the dinner table. In fact, by evening’s end we were referrring to the product as Pepsi Peculiar, as in, “Could you pour me a little more of that Pepsi Peculiar?” Not that there were a lot of takers after the first round. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more colorful comments:

Vin: “Tastes like furniture polish smells.”

Andrew: “Tastes like Pepsi that someone poured into an old cup of tea.”

Margaret: “Doesn’t taste strange enough to be weird.”

Renee: “Tastes like Robitussin, but without the alcohol.”

Upon further reflection, Renee changed her review to say it tasted like a “graveyard”, a term I had not heard before but understood quite well upon further elaboration: taking a cup at a soda fountain and filling it with a little bit from every soda dispenser, producing a bizarre beverage hybrid that Nature never intended. We all agreed that she was on to something; there was definitely a sort-of-cola-sort-of-root-beer-sort-of-Dr-Pepper flavor to the stuff.

What we could definitely all agree on was that the product was in no way an improvement over regular Pepsi, which in and of itself is not much of an improvement over a tall, frosty glass of neat’s foot oil. We agreed to set the beverage aside for further experimentation in combination with alcohol at the upcoming New Year’s Ever celebration. More on this story as it develops.


Keep On Truckin’

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:04 pm

Lemme describe a scenario to y’all. I’m sure it will feel familiar to many of you.

So I’m driving south on Interstate 5, in the second-to-leftmost lane, doing about 65. Traffic’s moving a little faster than I want to, so I considerately move over one lane to the right. Within five minutes, a garbage truck is coming up fast on my tail, so I shift over yet another lane to the right. A semi that had previously been chugging along in the lane to my right suddenly cuts into my lane, close on my bumper, so I sigh and move left two slots, back into my original lane.

At this pont, I hit a long upward slope, eventually coming across the truck that forced me to move over in the first place, now lumbering along at a brisk 52 miles per hour. After a minute or so, I pull around him on the left and zoom ahead. Ten minutes later the same goddamn semi is crawling up my ass again.

The hell with it, I say to myself, and pull dejectedly over into the far right lane, thoroughfare of grandmas and golf carts.

Where I’m promptly overtaken by a big purple long-haul, who flashes his brights in my rear-view mirror.

I think it’s time to revive our country’s once-great rail system. That, or the renaissance of the cargo zeppelin.


…And I For One Welcome Our RSS Overlords…

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:10 pm

I’ve been noticing a fair amount of RSS requests on my blog lately. Happy to see all of you getting your regular updates. I just hope that you’re not swarming to uncle-andrew.net to see the latest corrections of my many and varied typos. 😉

I was reading FridgeMagnet a few weeks ago when made the offhand comment that he doesn’t read anything that isn’t available through RSS any more, just doesn’t have the time. Personally, if I get to the point where I don’t have time to spend fifteen or twenty minutes perusing my favorite Web sites, that will be the moment when I have to decide to either give up the Web or give up working. Not sure I can live without either of ’em.

Irony Supplement, Part 2

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:40 am

Irony Supplement Part 2

Ain’t this a beauty? I snapped this picture at the Rockvale Square Outlet Mall in scenic Rockvale, Pennsylvania, during vacation last year. I’m not usually much for malls of any type—much less ones sporting warehouses brimming over with discontinued merchandise, separated by kilometers of asphalt—but the decision was not ours to make, I’m afraid. At least we came away with some cheap Doonesbury books and this picture.

There is a term used in tissue culture called “sectoring”. This is where two or more genetically divergent organisms growing on some sort of media (a petri dish, usually) meet up with each other. The line between the tissues becomes a sort of demilitarized zone, a solid line of demarcation in which the creatures slug it out for domination of the medium. I imagine that, were you to go into either of these stores and pull out the drywall that separates them, you would find just such a turf war going on, each side neither making headway nor giving quarter.


Yes, We Have No Blogs

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:43 pm

Yeah, yeah, I know, my server went down. Really pissed me off, too. I had to throw something together for temporary use. Took my entire lunch to do it, so you people better appreciate the Webly goodness.

Free Wireless Internet For Some, Miniature American Flags For Others

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:39 pm

I went over to some friends’ house Sunday to see if I couldn’t borrow them a cup of broadband. Since the explosion of high-speed Internet use by consumers coupled with the rise in wireless network access points (APs) for home use, I have set up—four? five?—friends and family members with free broadband Internet courtesy of their feckless neighbors.

Likely targets are easy to identify; they’re the ones with network names like “linksys”, “netgear”, or “belkin_54g”. In other words, the APs whose owners have not even bothered to change the default network name, or SSID. Most people who are just a hair more involved with the computing experience change the SSID to something more personal. My home SSID is “Area51”, the one I set up for my parents is “gracelan”, etc. At the very least, doing so will differentiate your wireless network from your neighbor’s, so that you know you are using your own network.

While not a certainty, a wireless access point with a default, out-of-the-box SSID is likely to have a default, out-of-the-box administrative password as well, usually “admin” or “password”. This can come in handy if you need to make any special arrangements on the network, such as port forwarding.

After a few false starts I was able to latch on to an unsecured AP using a Senao 3054 CB3 Plus Deluxe These are truly sweet little boxes, capable of operating in either client or access point mode. they’re about three times more powerful than the average access point/client, perfect for siphoning off wireless in the suburbs.

After that, I connected my own AP to the client and voila, free wireless broadband for all.

Legally, this is something of a gray area. There is no real solid law concerning the use of someone else’s Internet access via an unencrypted wireless network. It is conceivable that one could be charged with “Theft of Services” or something similar, the way you would if you tapped into their TV cable and helped yourself to some free HBO. However, the “service” you are engaging in the “theft” of is traveling through the air around you, is in fact bombarding you every minute you are at home. No one really knows what all that RF will turn out to do to people over a span of ten or twenty years; the least you should be entitled to is some high-speed Making Fiends for your suffering. The metaphor I usually use is this: if someone is throwing cookies through my window, can they really justifiably get mad if I catch a few and eat them?

Criminality only really comes into play if you access to the network to spy on or infiltrate the owner’s computer(s), or actually break into a network that is protected by a password.

The fact is, encrypting your network so that no one can use it without a password is ridiculously easy: the instructions are right there in the box with the AP, and if you aren’t going to bother to read the manual that comes with a sophisticated piece of equipiment like a wireless network device, you deserve whatever level of service you get from the product as it ships from the factory, reduced, crippled or compromised.

A couple of friends have suggested that perhaps the people who leave their wireless networks unprotected simply do not care if their neighbors use a portion of their Internet bandwidth. While a lovely idea, I don’t give this much credence. Risks of data theft and legal liability aside, I don’t think most people are quite that community-minded. Perhaps many folks are willing to let their next-door neighbor help themselves to a little Internet access, but would they be so charitable to the stranger who lives down the block, or to some guy with a laptop parked on the corner? Personally, I wouldn’t think twice about lending say, my lawn mower, to the lady across the street, but I wouldn’t trust it to some guy who just pulled up out front with a pickup truck.

This is tacky in the extreme, but I sort of think of myself as the Robin Hood of Broadband, redistributing the wealth of bandwidth to those who really need it. The justifications are self-upholding; the average home cable Internet or DSL subscriber uses the connection to check email and surf the Web. At modern broadband connection speeds there is no way that their Internet experience can be degraded by the addition of another household to the network. Those who use their Internet connection to perform more bandwidth-intensive tasks—file swapping, operating a Web server out of their house, telecommuting—are invariably more technically savvy than the average user. They take steps to secure their network, because they comprehend the risks involved with an open network. So to my mind, I am helping those with the need to enjoy the benefits of a service that will in no way be missed by those with the means.

Interestingly enough, an article on this very subject was posted on Slate just last Thursday. Worth taking a look, if this sort of thing interests you.


The Spyware Who Loved Me

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:58 pm

I thought it was going to be just another typical day at work….and indeed, in some ways it was. More often than I really prefer it seems as though my work day starts with me feeling perfectly in control and ends with me feeling like my leg’s caught in a bear trap.

For those not already familiar with me (yeah, right, like anyone besides my immediate family is reading this. Hi Mom!), I am the graphic, prepress and Web designer for a gourmet and medicinal mushroom company. I am also the de facto Information Technology Dude (aka Nerd In Residence) for our company, mainly because I know a lot more about computers than anyone else currently employed there. I know a lot less than many other people—including many in my circle of friends—and I know far, far less than should be known by the guy left in charge of the computer network of a smallish-yet-poised-for-greatness company.

It started when Loren, our accountant, asked me to come take a look at her computer. “It’s giving me a weird error message,” she said, “and it’s been doing it a lot lately.”

I sat at her desk and looked at the “message”.

“Actually, this isn’t a message from Windows at all,” I told her. “It’s a browser window. You can tell because of the border around the window. This is a Web page being sent to you by some company, trying to scam you into clicking on it so they can direct you to their Web site, or install spyware on your computer, or something like that.” I clicked the “Close Window” box in the top right corner of the window and got up out of her chair. “You can ignore those, just don’t click on anything inside the window.”

She thanked me, then, as I was walking away she said, “But what about this window? I didn’t even have Internet Explorer open this time.”

I peered around her desk at the screen, where a jauntily-colored ad for some sort of scooter hovered above her QuickBooks window.

Oh, Frankenberries.

“Well now,” I ventured, my voice cracking jut a bit, “that probably means you have some sort of spyware on your computer. We’re going to have to do something about that.” I got back in her chair and logged in as Administrator and began doing some preliminaries: threw an adhost-blocked Hosts file on her system, cleared her Internet cache, and ran a free spyware-checking utility from Pest Patrol.

Tucked in among the usual collection of adware, invasive cookies and browser redirectors was a program called “System Spy”, which Pest Patrol identified as a “Keystroke Logger”.

Oh, double Frankenberries.

I immediately sprung into action and picked up a demo of Pest Patrol’s corporate edition (which, by the way, is a really slick piece of ‘ware. If you’re in the market for a server-deployable anti-spyware tool, I’d vouch for this one) and ran scans on every workstation on our network. Every computer had at least a couple of pieces of malware. One had 51 of them.

And every single one had a copy of System Spy running on it.

Triple, fourple and fiveple Frankenberries. With horseradish.

While I exorcised our network, I Googled the living shit out the term “System Spy”. turns out it’s actually a commercial product, intended for use by employers who want to keep track of the computer activities of their employees. Creepy, but basically legit. So how the hell did it get on every computer on our network? I was the only person with sufficient access and knowledge to do this, and last I checked, I hadn’t decided to sink my own company. Obviously, some compromised machine with Administrator access—probably, God help us all, the server—was distributing the program all over the network.

Though I think I’ve tracked down and squished every instance of System Spy, I still have no goddamn idea when, where or how it managed to piggyback onto our system. Not even the all-knowing all-seeing Interweb has been much help. While many sites identify System Spy as (duh) spyware, nowhere could I find any reference to someone using it as the base for a piece of malware capable of deploying itself to multiple workstations over a mixed 2000/XP Pro network. The original program doesn’t work that way (Hell, the original program isn’t even supposed to work on Windows NT-based operating systems, only 95, 98 and ME), and while a script could doubtless be written that would do so, youda thunk it would have been done enough times to rate some mention online.

I’m in way over my head, and it depresses me, mostly because the welfare of our entire company might rest on my skill base (and don’t think that idea doesn’t leave me in a puddle of my own urine). Being the best at something in a small group of people is already somewhat gritty balm for the ego. Add to that the prospect that your best was still far, far less than was needed and you can be left with quite a stomachache.

Not that anyone is blaming me. I mean, it would be pretty weird for my boss to point his finger at me and say, “Dammit Andrew, as a graphic designer you should have KNOWN we were going to have network security problems and taken steps to prevent them!” I’m only as good as the products I have at my disposal, which up to now have been pretty meager. We are now running Pest Patrol, and barring some revelation or catastrophe will doubtless purchase the full package when our demo expires. Like most folks, once the digital equines have fled the outbuilding, we slammed the door on those suckers.

Fortunately, I have some very smart people I can fall back on to help to identify and neutralize the problem. I just wish I was one of them.

Sometimes Real Life Gets In The Way Of My Virtual One….And Vice Versa

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:42 am

So much for posting every day. Between work and the release of Half-Life 2, I’ve kind of fallen behind on my blogging duties.

The answer? Why, feed you folks content from someone else’s site, of course! This is an oldie but a goodie. Anyone who ever owned, played with or seriously considered striking up a caring long-term relationship with an Atari 2600 game system will love this little number from Golden Shower.

Click here to go to the movie. Requires Apple’s QuickTime Player to view. Enjoy!


God Told Me That Men Don’t Wear Skirts

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:30 am

Sigh. Have you seen this yet? The Spruger Schools in Texas have decided to cancel one of their traditional Homecoming Week activities, in which the student body comes to school dressed like the opposite sex in order to explore the reversal of social roles based on gender. Probably also to have a good laugh. The change was initiated under pressure from the ironically-named Liberty Legal Institute in Plano Texas, on behalf of parent Delana Davies, a woman with serious concerns and a big, splintery broomstick up her ass.

Apparently, to the religious right in Texas, a high school jock in a sundress is more dangerous than crime in our streets, arsenic in our playground equipment, or US soldiers in the Middle East. Who would have dreamt that a little cross-dressing could be such a threat to the fundamental fabric of our society?

I love the fact that the TWIRP event (short for, “The Woman Is Requested To Pay”, isn’t that the coolest acronym ever?) has been attacked because it represents a gateway to homosexual behavior. Did I miss something? Does wearing a sweater that buttons up the left automatically give a male a taste for decoupage and skin care products? Will putting on a pair of pants cause testosterone to spontenously seep into the bloodstream of 9-year-old girls, turning them into drywallers and drill seargents?

And since girls are already wearing pants, what sort of pants are required to turn them? Jeans? No, no, they’re already wearing those. Khakis, too, as well as formal suit trousers. Hmmm…..I know, I know, those heavy tan work pants you always see older male janitors wearing! What are those called…..? Oh, my God, that’s right, they’re called Dickies! Oh, that’s got to be the one.

First of all: I’m no expert, but is there an axiom somewhere stating that someone who dresses like the opposite sex wants to have sexual relationships with the sex opposite of the sex like which the person in question is dressing? (Whoa…..head spinning…..) If so, why is it that, of the two people I know who have transitioned from one sex to another, both have entered into long-term relationships with people of the same (post-transition) sex, rather than the opposite (post-transition, or same pre-transition) sex?

Hang on, have to go take an aspirin…..

Okay, I’m back. Secondly, what exactly makes a particular outfit unreservedly masculine or feminine? I assume that the kids who participate in this activity don’t choose to swap underwear as well. To avoid another bout of vertigo, let’s just stick with the menfolk for now, since their clothing is more rigidly defined in our current society. Skirts are out, huh? So I guess the Liberty Legal Institute is dead set against the wearing of kilts as well? We all know what a bunch of poodle-walking schoolgirls the Scots were. Didn’t these people ever see the movie Highlander?

How about a lava lava? Ain’t nothing wussier than a Samoan, I always say. Caftan? Toga? Come to think of it, I don’t recall Jesus himself wearing a set of grease-stained denim coveralls in any of the depictions I’ve seen. He’s always shown wearing a sort of robey, skirty thing. He wasn’t married, either. And he spent all his time in the company of twelve other guys! Sort of the Galileean Village People.

Instead of wearing regular (albeit gender-reversed) clothes to school, the students are encouraged to participate in “Camo Day”, in which they come to school dressed in military-style clothing to express their support of the United States military. I find this particularly ironic because I myself was sent home from high school one day for wearing military-style clothing, back in the days when I was a hard-core survivalist. (Yes, it’s true. One of these days I will post the series of survivalist comic strips I authored at the time. They’re actually pretty funny.)

Personal irony aside, why is it preferable to try to put oneself in the position of a US soldier for a day over someone of the opposite sex? Why not have a day for each? For that matter, why not have days to identify with mothers, with fathers, with postal workers, secretaries, high-steel workers, sculptors, fry cooks and firemen?

While we’re at it, why not have a seance and ask the ghost of Matthew Shepherd whether he thinks teaching children to more closely identify with homosexuals might not be a good idea.


Amazing Video Footage

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:37 pm

My friend Rachel sent this to me recently. This may be the most amazing physical feat I have seen in my life. That, or some truly fantastic special effects technology.

Don’t worry about the sound; it’s in a language you probably don’t understand anyway.

Requires one or another of the video player plugins out there, viewer’s choice.

Alternately, you can download the movie file here.


The Miracle of Children…..Other People’s, That Is

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:03 pm

Margaret and I had dinner with a couple of couples last night—all friends from Evergreen—and their children. Each couple has two kids….”replacements”, so to speak. (Or, if you’re in a real jam, “spare parts”.)

Call me biased, but I think our friends put out some of the finest, highest-quality USDA Prime children available anywhere. They are, down to a one, sweet little creatures. (Okay, so Jason is what I would refer to as “intense”; he doesn’t have feelings, they have him. But he’s nonetheless a great kid, and if the worst thing you can say about a little boy is that he has strong emotions, you are way ahead of the game.)

And though they have cautioned me against this sort of assumption, they make it look so damned easy! Not because they don’t put visible effort into it; far from it. All night long they were interacting with their kids, looking after them, including them in the discussion, inquiring as to their needs, all while simultaneously maintaining conversations with other adults and each other. What totally astounded me was the seeming ease with which they came up with just the right words, just the right actions or tactics, to keep the kids entertained, properly focused or diverted (depending on the dictates of the situation), and on an even emotional keel—”even”, at least, for a child.

It was a wonder to observe….and I never, ever want to have to do it myself.

This makes me even more grateful for the jobs that folks like Cynthia and Steve, Naara and Dylan, Gavin and Holly, and Tom and Heather to name a few, are doing. Hats off to you folks! You are not merely helping to maintain the biomass, you are putting out quality product to boot. Meanwhile, instead of raising children, Margaret and I get to act like children, playing with our toys and letting other, more capable couples pick up the slack.

This is how much I value our friends with children, and the fine job they are doing: I have tried to convince more than a few of them to train their kids to overwhelm and consume the offspring of other, more asinine parents. My hope is to create a network of sociocultural macrophages, protecting the health of the community by removing potential threats before they get a chance to inflict damage….or worse, have little contagions of their own.

The only person who gave it any real thought was Naara. She pondered the idea for a minute, then said, “No, sorry, we’re trying to feed them only organic.”


“The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:22 pm

This amazing article on the business practices of Wal-Mart is really worth a look. My friend Mike sent it to me a while back, and I’ve been meaning to send it around. But this is a lot easier, and it helps to fill up this page.

Fast Company Magazine ain’t no tree-huggin’, dope-smokin’, WTO-hatin’ magazine, neither. They’re a rather respected publication on the art and science of modern business.

So often those of us who proffer the opinion that perhaps giant megacorporations aren’t the most wonderful thing since Penicillin don’t have hard information readily at hand to reinforce our position. Here’s a lovely bouquet of facts to bring to your next dinner-party discussion.

Comment Spam, Revisited

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:59 pm

Well, I’ve put a few different scripts and plugins in place that should help with the comment spam. There is an amazing panoply of tools out there to help deal with comment spam, which more than anything tells me that the problem is so hugely huge that an entire commnunity has evolved to try to deal with it. Criminy, what have I gotten myself into?

I suppose I ought to take a moment to explain the concept of “comment spam”, to those not in the know. Like email spam (and if I have to explain that, how the hell did you manage to get to this Web site in the first place?), comment spam consists of junk messages, in this case inserted into the “Comments” section of a blog or online bullletin board instead of being sent to your email inbox. The spam is inserted automatically by software robots that scour the Internet for opportunities to seed their vile spoor.

Some comment spam is designed to increase the ranking of certain Web sites in search engines such as Google. Here’s how it works: Google and many other search engines rank Web sites by the number of other Web sites that link to them. For instance: if there are two Web sites dedicated to the subject of rainbow trout, but the second of those sites is mentioned on ten other Web sites, then Google decides that the second one is more popular—and thus more relevant— to folks visiting Google looking for sites about rainbow trout. Therefore, to increase their search engine ranking, comment spammers will place comments on thousands of blogs, each one containing many links to the site they are trying to promote, so that all those spurious links will be taken into consideration by the search engines that review (or “crawl”) the blogs.

Other forms of comment spam serve as advertisements for various products (mostly of the “male enhancement” variety) or services (such as the Green Card Lottery Spam that started email spam as we know it), and still others are used to promulgate Internet scams of various types, usually designed to cleave the ignorant or gullible from their cash.

What I want to focus on here is the first piece of comment spam I received, a common Internet scam, asking me to help some apocryphal Asian businessman process a large sum of money through my bank account. All I had to do was provide him with my bank account number, and a large commission on the transaction would be mine to keep. Golly, it almost sounds too good to be true!

Now, I fully understand the economies of scale that make these kinds of Internet scams viable to the instigator. Since the entire process is automated, it costs virtually the same to send a million of these messages as it costs to send one. Therefore, if even only one out of a thousand, a hundred thousand or even a million respond, it was worth the investment in time. Pretty straightforward. And I can certainly imagine that, in the vasty deep of the Interweb, there might be ten or twenty people who get this sort of thing in their inbox and succumb to some melange of gullibility, compassion and greed.

What is completely beyond me, however, is the level of stupidity required for someone to see this sort of plea posted anonymously on an online bulletin board, in response to a journal entry on Arnold Schwarzenegger, and say to themselves, “Oh, that poor man! Perhaps I ought to help him with his bank transaction, making a tidy commission for myself in the bargain.”

I mean, statistics aside, is there anyone out there so fully, so totally, so unremittingly stupid that they could conceivably fall for this? The level of idiocy would have to be orders of magnitude greater than that required to fall for the same scam sent to one’s personal email address (and that’s already pretty dim). I mean, if one had never heard of nor deduced the existence of mass-emailing computer programs, one might conceivably infer that the letter was sent to you personally by the beleaguered gentleman in question, thus lending the letter a certain scintilla of legitimacy. But the kind of person who would fall for the same thing posted in the Comments section of a blog entry….I hesitate to call such a creature a person. I’m thinking more of something like a Ficus with hands. Something that types and maniuplates a mouse, but does not think. Perhaps it can’t even see, as we know it. Perhaps the light of the cathode ray tube strikes its leaves, sending sugars coursing through xylem and phloem through the miracle of photosynthesis, and in return this eyeless creature mindlessly twitches its digits, reflexively sending a response that ultimately ends with the illegal appropriation of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Where it gets the cash from, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s a trust fund Ficus.


My first comment spam!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:06 pm

I feel so…well…violated.

Along with a really cool comment from my sister-in-law (thanks, Marle!), I got my very first piece of useless-horseshit-helps-nobody-makes-no-money-wins-no-converts comment spam, an offer for a Nigerian-style “419” money scam.

As a result, I am reducing the maximum number of hyperlinks in a comment to zero. Any comment that includes a hyperlink will be deleted. Sorry folks, but it’s that or shut down commenting altogether…which I’ll probably end up doing next week anyway. 🙁

Oh, the Irony

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:38 am

Margaret and I were listening to Marketplace on KUOW last night when we heard that The Governator, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is attending a trade mission to Japan on behalf of the State of California. Apparently, California exports about 12 billion dollars’ worth of stuff a year to Japan, mostly agricultural products. On the other hand, Japanese companies do not tend to build manufacturing plants in California, perferring instead to set up shop in the Southern states where regulations are much more lax. Arnie is trying to change that, attempting to convince Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota to build a new Prius plant in California.

The first thing that hit me upon hearing this announcement was: did the higher-ups in California government really think that the best person to convince Japan to build a hybrid automobile plant in their fine state would be the guy who owns at least seven Hummers?


I Am My Dad

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:02 am

One of my father’s most exasperating habits during my adolescence was making up little nonsense songs on the fly as he meandered around the house, his resonant baritone throbbing off the walls like some sort of parental echolocation system. Fogey Sonar, if you will. It drove me nuts, particularly when he would do it in front of my friends. (To their credit—and my discredit—it didn’t bother them nearly as much as it did me.)

This morning, while stumbling around the kitchen fixing breakfast, I suddenly realized that I was singing a little ditty about my Grape Nuts. that I had, in fact, been singing said little ditty for at least ten minutes.

Then, in a tiny, airy voice so as to not wake up Margaret, I began shrieking, “AAAAAAAH, I’MMYDADI’MMYDADI’MMYDAD……”

I assume my father woke up this morning chuckling, but does not know why.


Name That Sludge!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:16 pm

Margaret and I were listening to the Saturday morning lineup on our local NPR affiliate when a news story came on about legislation being proposed that would affect the handling of nuclear waste at our friendly neighborhood radiation farm, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Apparently Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC) would like to see certain types of unbelievably toxic nuclear waste (the kind, by the way, that has been leaking into the Columbia River for years) reclassified so that it does not need to be removed from the leaky underground storage tanks in which it currently (mostly) resides.

“What the hell could they possibly reclassify it as?” I yelled at the radio. “‘Highly Mutagenic Fertilizer’?”

Margaret didn’t even miss a beat. “‘Pure Spring Water’,” she replied.

Yet another reason I cherish my wife. 😉

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