Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Email Got Hacked! Please Read and Respond

I recently received a very official looking email from AOL telling me I must reset my email password or my account would be shut down. My first conversation with AOL was with Jessica Brown in Tech Support. She was helpful after hearing my concern, confirmed my account information and said my email account had been hacked and was being accessed by someone in Europe. She described the intrusion as a Trojan virus and said whoever had hacked me had access to everything on my computer. She spent several minutes explaining in increasingly ominous detail all the horrible things the hacker could do with the high-jacked information and spent several more minutes examining my IP address and other technical info, then said could change my IP address routing and Windows Proxy Server for a charge of $200. I declined (she hung up on me immediately after) and made two more calls to Dontrea in Customer Service, and Ulysses Moring in in Customer Care before leaving a call for the President of AOL, Tim Armstrong (who has still not replied). 

When an additional email arrived in my inbox with a strange message, I called AOL’s Fraud Department and followed the suggestion of somebody named Francis (they won’t give you a last name), sending this email:

abuse <> 
Date: Tue, Feb 19, 2013 3:34 pm
Attached is a screenshot of a fraudulent email allegedly from AOL.

At the bottom of the screenshot is the URL where the link in the email is directed.
My AOL account was hacked in the past two weeks telling me to change my email
or my AOL account would be closed. After discussing this matter with representatives
of three AOL departments who wanted to sell me services instead of solving my problem
or allaying my concerns, I called the Fraud Department and am following up with this
email as instructed.

I want to be assured that my AOL account is not compromised, that you have
addressed this issue, and precisely what actions have been taken
by AOL.

I respectfully request that you report to me on a resolution of this matter.
Please reply to my alternate email address - I am not certain that my AOL account is secure.
Thank you for your attention.

After conferring with our local pc guru, we did a system restore (a free security feature built in to PCs) which restores the computer software and drivers exactly as they were before the problem existed (without affecting any documents or photos), followed by a thorough virus scan. Then I changed my passwords for the second time.
The point of this story is three-fold …

Be on the lookout for official looking emails from any company (AOL, banks, PayPal) which threatens account access limitations or cancellation if you fail to update info. If you do get such an email, log OUT of your email and go directly to the company or bank’s website to log in and make changes.

DO NOT click on a link in an email to update your information … always log in from the website.

Email accounts get hacked. I am told there are 300,000 hackings daily. Getting assistance online is convenient, but often the problem is not anywhere close to as horrible as the customer service rep describes – they do get paid a commission when they sell service. The trouble with dealing with someone online – you are very unlikely to get the same person again if the problem reoccurs. Deal locally if you really need help.

Just FYI (because ‘tis the season), the IRS will NEVER contact you by email for any reason.  Banks and financial institutions might send you email, but will never provide a link for you to click on. I have also found that hackers frequently make grammar and spelling errors, a dead giveaway that they are scammers.

If I were more prudent about my computer habits, I probably would avoid some of the problems I have had.

This is most certainly a subject I didn’t want to write about. But this morning I received an email from my hairdresser telling me that she had been hacked and don’t open any attachments that come with something that appears to be sent from her. Only your hairdresser knows for sure.

I will continue this report if there is more BREAKING NEWS because I don’t want my Trojan Virus to spread.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nickel & Dimed, part 2

Following up on the recent FLOG about our country’s cost of two cents to manufacture a penny, on February 4th Canada stopped distributing the copper-plated one-cent pieces commonly referred to as pennies, beginning a six-year phase-out of the coins, which were first minted in 1858 and then featured Queen Victoria.

Almost a year ago, Jim Flaherty, the Canadian Finance Minister, announced to widespread acclaim that the penny would soon meet its end. They took up too much room on people’s dressers, he said, referring to the increasing tendency of Canadians to discard the coins because their negligible purchasing power made them a hassle to carry and use. They took up too much time for small businesses to count, he continued. And they cost the government more than the coins were worth to mint.

I’m not sure I would use the word “discard” in relation to pennies, but I am sure Americans would agree with the hassle of carrying small coins around, particularly in their high styled tight jeans pockets and banks and merchants having to count pennies.

According to the February 6, 2013 edition of The Economist “No One Misses The Canadian Penny.”

I couldn’t understand the Economist column on the subject anymore than I can understand why the U.S.A. would spend twice as much to produce a penny than its monetary value. But I would guess that no one will miss the US Penny anymore than Canadian miss their’s.

The Economist was sensitive enough to suggest that the demise of the penny could conceivably cause future generations to struggle with the meaning of phrases like “a penny for your thoughts”, “cost a pretty penny”, or “the penny dropped”. I know this will cost my granddaughter a pretty penny when I no longer dump my small change into her piggy bank. In a year she saved more than $500 of my loose change. And the bank did the counting.

Only time will tell. How long does it take to retire all the pennies that are currently in circulation in Canada and America? The betting windows are open in Las Vegas.

Nickeled and Dimed, part 1

As of 2012, it costs the U.S. Mint two cents to make one cent. Makes no cents to me. This figure does include the Mint’s fixed components for distribution and fabrication, estimated at $13 million in FY 2011. It also includes Mint overhead allocated to the penny, which was $17.7 million for 2011. Fixed costs and overhead would have to be absorbed by other circulating coins without the penny. The loss in profitability due to producing the one cent coin in the United States for the year of 2012 was $58,000,000. This was a slight decrease from 2011, the year before, which had a production loss of $60,200,000. Just think of how much we could have saved by having our penny minted in China.

Mean Eileen is ready to stoke up the burners and begin melting all the pennies we can gather.

If you think that’s crazy, meet Kyle Bass, who runs a hedge fund called Hayman Capital Management in Texas. Bass has reportedly horded a million dollars in nickels. (That’s 20 million coins). As of 2013, it costs eleven point two cents to produce a nickel. The value of a nickel as scrap medal is 6.8 cents.

Daily spot prices of copper and zinc, the Mint's two main metallic materials, have fluctuated in excess of 400 percent, and the price of nickel by 500 percent over the past 10 years. This contributes to volatile and negative margins on both the penny and nickel: recently, the penny has cost approximately 2.4 cents, and the nickel approximately 11.2 cents to produce.

It costs the United States Mint much less than 25 cents to make a quarter.
Now here’s your bottom dollar (actually about 5.5 billion of 'em).

According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, if America gets rid of its $1 bill and replaces it with a dollar coin, the U.S. will save $5.5 billion on printing costs over the next 30 years.
Do the math. Putting a dollar coin in your pocket could save us $183.3 million a year.

At the Federal Reserve in Baltimore, there is a storage facility where the coins are in plastics bags and cardboard boxes, stacked one on top of another, creating several aisles of presidential coinage worth millions of dollars. Passed by Congress in 2005, the Presidential $1 Coin Act ordered the mint to make millions of coins to honor every dead president, but not even Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., one of the co-sponsors of the original bill, uses the legal tender.

"Do you use these things? Do you have any of these things in your pocket?" Reed was asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl while holding the dollar coins. The Senator said: “In fact I have a little jar in my car for the traffic meters."

Reed and other senators sent a letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mint Acting Director Richard Peterson asking for help in improving the program while eliminating waste of taxpayer resources.

Meanwhile, the coins keep coming off the production lines, already more than a billion made and counting. The Fed's report estimates that they could have more than $2 billion in excess $1 coins by the time the program is expected to end five years from now.

No report on how much it costs to make one of those Presidential dollars.

Bowl Movements

“Anybody have any idea what invention has saved more lives than any other in the history of humankind? The toilet,” Matt Damon, the co-founder tells “reporters” in the video. 
In the just released video, featuring a mock press conference, Damon announced: “Until this issue is resolved, until everybody has access to clean water and sanitation – I will not go to the bathroom.” And Damon wants everyone to help.
“Join me,” he says. “Say no to toilets. Say yes to clean water for all!”

According to The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia, the toilet is sort of like The Happy Face. The flushing toilet was invented in 1596. But most people believe it was invented by Thomas Crapper, a successful plumber, who earned nine patents for plumbing products in England. Unfortunately, none of those nine patents granted between 1861-1904 were for the flushing toilet.

The actual inventor was Sir John Harington. Harington, a British nobleman and godson of Queen Elizabeth I, who invented a valve that when pulled would release water from a water closet. Sir John recommended flushing the toilet once or twice a day, although with our modern technology, we know that is probably not sufficient. And now Matt Damon is asking us not to go at all.

According to bathroom historian Frank Muir, the toilet and/or the outhouse have at one time or another been called:

The House of Honor; the ancient Israelite
The House of the Morning; the ancient Egyptians
The Garderobe (literally, “cloakroom”)
The Necessarium, or the Necessary House,
The Reredorter (literally, “the room at the back of the dormitory”)
The Privy (that is, the private place)
The Jakes, the John, the Loo
The W.C. (for water closet),
The Throne Room 100 (in Europe)
The Euphemism (Dr. Seuss)

According to Wikipedia, Commercial toilet paper was invented by a Massachusetts inventor named Joseph C. Gayetty. He first marketed toilet paper on December 8, 1857, originally selling it for US$0.50 in packs of 500 bearing a watermark of his name. Other sources say the Chinese invented toilet paper in 50 B.C. Rumor has it that most of the toilet paper sold today is made in China. Maybe only single-ply.

St. Andrew’s Paper Mill in Walthamstow, London, is said to be responsible for giving the world the comfort of soft toilet paper in 1942. Before then, many brands were single-ply and not at all pliable.
1,000 Words on the Subject:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bless my Sainted Valenstern's Day

I had planned to craft clever cards with heart-felt sentiments for Valentine's day.  Then those nefarious postal workers took aim at my plans and fired a flaming arrow with Cupid-like precision, raising the postage rates just in time for my favorite holiday-ish event.

Around 1980, I was informed by a Jewish Scholar that Jews do not observe Saint Valentine's Day.   From a theological standpoint I knew he was correct, but the Valentine's Day I was familiar with had nothing to do with Christian martyrs.  It was just fun. 

But, being the good Jewish boy that I am, I changed the name to Valenstein's Day and sent out My Funny Valensteins.  I got a remarkable response (3 people unfriended me and that was long before Facebook).  It was still more fun than when I anonymously sent all the women in my family a coupon for bust reduction surgery, which got pinned on my brother-in-law for five years (I found that pretty darn fun).

A few nights ago I dined at my favorite restaurant, Flo's Asian Kitchen, and at the end of my meal received a fortune cookie with this fortune:

I once got a fortune that read, never doubt the words in a fortune cookie.   Besides, who doesn't need more friends?  And it's so easy to find them, what with all the social websites.

So, I went to Facelift, Linked-in, Plaxo, etc. and discovered there are a number of people actually named Valenstein living on the east coast and voiced to Mean Eileen my intention to befriend them.  Mean Eileen asked how I'd feel if some stranger named Valenstern called asking to make friends.

I immediately seized onto Valenstern (even better than Valenstein).  I Googled the name and discovered my long-lost (so long-lost my relationship to him never existed) um, friend, Valenstern Pereira who lives in Quepem, South Goa in India.

As far as I know, Valenstern is no relation to Vermin Supreme, but they might have the same hairdresser.

He looks like a Valenstern-Card-loving kind of guy, but there's that issue with those Valenstern Card killing postal rates, so he doesn't get one. 

But you, my faithful (ish) FLOGolites, YOU get the exclusive FLOG-only edition!

Incidentally, there's no "opt-out" ... if you read this, consider yourself Valensterned

Friday, February 8, 2013

Somebody Hide Me!

ANOTHER LETTER FROM THE NEPTUNE SOCIETY.   I'm not planning an early departure, but they sure seem determined to get my business.

The envelope is a dead giveaway. “Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE.”

Since this a preview to my ending, I read the P.S. first. “Sometimes deaths happen before you have a chance to put plans in place. Neptune stands ready to assist at a moments notice should you need immediate help.” (I presume this means Neptune will provide urgent medical care before or after cremation, with the goal of satisfactorily treating the presenting conditions, or arranging for my timely removal to the next point of definitive care. But the mailer doesn’t say that.)

It’s interesting that the Neptune Society encloses at quote, not the cost of my Free Pre-Paid Cremation, rather the words of a prominent person: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.” According to the Internet, the source is unknown. But the Neptune Society attributes it to Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962).

Having received several similar solicitations from the Neptune Society, and not knowing how I got on its mailing list, curiosity led me to the Internet where I looked to see if Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed cremation. She apparently didn’t. But fortunately I stumbled on a few paragraphs written by a Boulder, CO writer and attorney named Christopher R. Brauchli. BINGO! He received the same mailer from Neptune. And he covered the subject magnificently with a little legaleze. I figured I was getting a bonafide unsolicited Free opinion from a well-respected lawyer. And when I read the Robert William Service poem at the top, I was hooked. Unbelieveable! Christopher Brauchli took the words right out of my computer. And I’m taking them back, with apologies if necessary.

Service wrote:

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see,
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

And Brauchli wrote:

“Although an offer of anything for free is tantalizing, I was slightly apprehensive since I was sure the contents would disclose, as do so many seemingly irresistible offers, that there was a time limit associated with the offer and that in order to take advantage of it I would have to agree to be cremated by a date certain selected by the Neptune Society, probably in a month in which cremations are typically low. It was, therefore, with some relief that upon opening the envelope I learned that although the contents breached the envelope’s promise of a free cremation, there was no time limit for taking advantage of the offer. It would be valid even if I chose to live another 40 or 50 years. The breach of promise, as it were, was that I had not won a free cremation as promised by the envelope but had only been given a chance to participate in a drawing where, if successful, I would be entitled to be cremated for free no matter how long after the drawing I decided to postpone the happy event.

The enclosed letter explained that the Neptune Society has the distinction of being “America’s Cremation Specialists” and informs that Neptune’s motto is “Simple, Economical and Dignified.” The letter sets forth a number of reasons why cremation (after death) makes sense including the fact that by paying for the cremation now you “lock in today’s price” no matter when you decide to die. Somewhat mysteriously, the letter concludes with a footnote apologizing “if this letter has reached you at a time of serious illness or death in your family.” That seems odd since that is exactly the time when such a letter would be most relevant and, depending on the time of the next drawing, welcomed by its recipient.

Enclosed with the letter was the ticket to participate in the drawing. It was in the form of a card, the completion and return of which entitles me to be entered in the free cremation lottery. On one side of the card is a tranquil picture of a misty forest with shades of green faintly visible through the mist. On the back of the card is a quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt that has no particular relevance to cremation. It says: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.” The quotation would be more meaningful if it meant that each recipient of the card got the present of a free cremation instead of the opportunity to participate in a drawing.

I have not returned the card. I am waiting to see if those selling cryogenic preservation with the tantalizing prospect of possible future resurrection will be having a drawing in which I can participate. Then I can decide whether to go for the hot or the cold. I’ll not enter both.

And I wrote:

I have not returned the card either, even though there is a postage paid envelope for my reply, but taking it to the Cremation Information Center in Kutztown, PA.

Mr. Brauchli has a good point about cryogenic preservation. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, founded right here in my hometown in 1972, is the world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology. Cryonics, in case you don’t know, may be an alternative to cremation, particularly if you want to live longer. It’s the science of using ultra-cold temperature to preserve human life with the intent of restoring good health when technology becomes available to do so. Alcor is a non-profit organization located in Scottsdale, Arizona, founded in 1972.   Alcor hasn't made any claims about returning to life as a 20 year old - when they do, I might get more interested.

More on the chilly Ted Williams tomorrow.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alarming Advice!

I was alarmed by an E-mail I received. It suggested that I use my car key fob as an alarm device and pass this along to as many people as I know. It was somewhat intriguing, although I have always believed that very few if any people do anything when they hear a car alarm going, and going and going. On more than one occasion my car has blown its horn without my help. Nobody, of course, did anything except me. I rushed out the door pushing every button on my key fob until it stopped.

These were the suggestions, or instructions in the E-mail:
  • Put your car keys beside your bed at night.
  • Tell your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your parents, your Dr's office, the check-out girl at the market, everyone you run across. Put your car keys beside your bed at night.
  • If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies.

This tip came from a neighborhood watch coordinator. Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the burglar/rapist won't stick around. After a few seconds, all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there. This is something that should really be shared with everyone. Maybe it could save a life or a sexual abuse crime.

I live in a rather large house with three floors ... I was able to activate (and de-activate) the alarm on my car, which was parked on the driveway outside the closed garage door. 

Personally, I doubt this will stop outlaws (or in-laws), but I’m pretty sure it will annoy my neighbors.  Maybe even enough to call the cops.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Moot Point Bowl

I wasn't going to write a word about the Pooper Super Bowl - my personal opinion of the so called "Greatest Show on Grass" isn't very enthusiastic.  But I like the 49ers and Beyonce is awesome (even lip-synching) so I tuned in.

The first half, while hugely entertaining for Baltimore fans, left me certain that Beyonce was going to bail on the half-time show and in her place the proverbial Fat Lady was going to belt out a stirring rendition of Goodnight Sweetheart.

But Beyonce emerged and was her fabulous self.  I assumed the 49ers were in the locker room, getting a gentle talking-to by their coach, and missed her performance.  I hoped when they returned to the field, I would see some amazing plays.  I did - the Ravens' Jacoby Jones channeled some Hurricane Katrina power and set a Pooper Bowl record returning the second-half kickoff for 108 yards.

Then, all the prayers of, "please make it stop" were answered.  Briefly.  There have been rumblings on the news about what occurred - from the conspiracy theories (launched by the unfortunate souls who finally made it thru the concession-stand line only to be turned away when the lights went out), to faux-outraged stadium officials demanding an investigation. 

Not that it matters - it would have only been an issue had San Francisco managed to pull out a win - then the word issue almost certainly would have been replaced with flaming, car-over-turning riots.