The Robocalls are Getting Worse

I’ve had five today alone, and now my auto-reject list is full.


Most recently I’ve seen:

  • “Business Opportunity” scam (multi-level marketing, one-up gifting scams, etc.)
  • “Congratulations! Your phone number has been randomly selected by Expedia / Travelocity / Whatever to receive two vacations for a promotional price of $799.00!”
  • “Business Loan Center”

All of these have reps working in call centers in India, the Philippines, and other such places.

I’ve written about these calls before, but the landscape has changed a bit. Instead of using dead numbers to use for their caller ID spoofed number, they are using randomly-generated or dynamically-created phone numbers; since my phone number is based in Utah, I’ve been getting a lot of calls that seem to be from local numbers but which actually originate elsewhere. The Caller ID number, however, may belong to a real person.

I’ve even been called by people asking me to “stop calling them” – clearly my own number is showing up on other people’s screens.

Articles like this one at HuffPo give a few ideas for people with land-lines, but the sad truth is that there is little to nothing that can be done to stop this plague unless some serious effort is made at the legislative level, and our political leaders probably don’t even understand the full scope of the issue. Witness the CAN-SPAM act, for which our legislators roundly congratulated each other, and which actually increased the amount of spam being sent out by unethical and unscrupulous operations.

The FTC has not been idle, but it’s like a hydra – for every bad actor they shut down, ten more seem to spring up. This infographic gives a lot of good information about how the calls are driven, and why the problem is so massive.

The best thing I can think of is for people affected to contact their representatives and in no uncertain terms express how pissed off they are with the criminals who are interrupting our lives multiple times a day with fraudulent proposals.

Maybe we could hire some robocalling outfits to flood their phone lines 24 hours a day with automated requests to do something about the problem؟

The Old Wolf has spoken.



What the hqiz is a skeuomorph?

Is it this?


Nah, that’s the xenomorph from the almost-forgotten TV drama, “Something is Out There.” For what it’s worth, it was quite terrifying at times, but noteworthy as it used this term long before the “Alien” franchise was born.

This is a skeuomorph:


It will be easily recognized as the universal “save” icon in many computer programs. But floppy disks are no longer used for saving things (for the most part,) and many young people have probably never even seen or held one.

Wikipedia defines a skeuomorph thusly:

[It] is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original. Examples include pottery embellished with imitation rivets reminiscent of similar pots made of metal and a software calendar that imitates the appearance of binding on a paper desk calendar. The term ‘skeuomorph’ is compounded from the Greek: skéuos, σκεῦος (container or tool), and morphḗ, μορφή (shape). It has been applied to material objects since 1890 and is now also used to describe computer and mobile interfaces.

Webster’s 3rd International Dictionary contains 472,000 words, of which I know but a fraction. Despite the fact that my education has not been wanting and it takes a concerted effort to get me scurrying to the dictionary, this was a new one on me and I learned it over at reddit. It’s kind of like octothorpe, the ten-dollar word for the hash mark, number sign, or pound sign (#) now so commonly used at Twitter and elsewhere. #insanity

Some other examples of skeuomorphs:


An electric kettle in the form of a stove-top kettle.


This woody-style car, where the false wood grain is not part of the vehicle’s structure.


Sofware interface for an audio program, designed to look like a physical device.

What got me thinking about this is a picture of some really old candy-heart type floppy disks that must have been manufactured in the 80s or thereabouts:

candy disks

Back then, these would have been much more recognizable than they are today.

So remember that the next time you click on the little disk icon to save your document, you’re using a skeuomorph.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Beware the IRS Impersonation Scam

Rule No. 1: The IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment of taxes. Ever. If anyone on the phone claims to be from the IRS, threatening to have you arrested if you don’t immediately wire money or get a prepaid card, they are criminals and it is a scam.



Scammers have become far more aggressive with this particular gambit of late, and it would be important to be aware of what’s happening. Forewarned is forearmed.

From the IRS website:

IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scam

An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, but are not. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

Or, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information.

If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.

Note that the IRS will never: 1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill; 2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe; 3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card; 4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or 5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

A cousin of mine was targeted by these drones, and despite the scammers themselves most likely being in another country, this was doubly frightening because they had accomplices in place who actually appeared at her door with badges and threatened her on the spot.

If this ever happens to you, let no one in and call the police.

Some even more diabolical scammers were frustrated that their victim wouldn’t pay up and swatted them. This refers to prank 911 calls, or the unholy practice of getting police or a SWAT team to show up at someone else’s house. Not only is this terrifying for the victim, and can result in lasting psychological harm and other logistical difficulties, but it’s a terrible waste of police resources. The scammers, however, don’t care.

Be prepared by knowing that the IRS will never try to force you to pay up with these aggressive tactics. If you’re called like this, hang up immediately and notify the police.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

More Domain Registration Jiggery-Pokery

I’ve mentioned domain registration scams before. Here’s another one to watch out for. The scumminess just drips off of this one.

Domain Notice <> Feb 9 at 1:28 AM
To: [Name redacted]

Attention: Important Notice , DOMAIN SERVICE NOTICE
Domain Name: [redacted]

ATT: [Name Redacted]
Response Requested By
10 – February – 2016


Attn: [Name Redacted]
As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification for your business Domain name search engine registration. This letter is to inform you that it’s time to send in your registration.
Failure to complete your Domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.
Privatization allows the consumer a choice when registering. Search engine registration includes domain name search engine submission. Do not discard, this notice is not an invoice it is a courtesy reminder to register your domain name search engine listing so your customers can locate you on the web.
This Notice for: [domain redacted] will expire at 11:59PM EST, 10 – February – 2016 Act now!

Select Package: redacted]

Payment by Credit/Debit Card

Select the term using the link above by 10 – February – 2016
http://%5Bdomain redacted]
Please reply with UNSUBSCRIBE subject.
Disclaimer: The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) establishes requirements for those who send commercial email, spells out penalties for spammers and companies whose products are advertised in spam if they violate the law, and gives consumers the right to ask mailers to stop spamming them. The above mail is in accordance to the Can Spam act of 2003: There are no deceptive subject lines and is a manual process through our efforts on World Wide Web. If you send me an UNSUBSCRIBE email we ensure you will not receive any such mails.

A couple of comments:

Failure to complete your Domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.

This is the purest garbage. Unwitting businesspeople will get the idea that unless they pay for this “domain registration,” people won’t be able to find them on the internet. The major search engines all crawl the web on a regular basis, and unless you have a robots.txt file on your website which blocks search engines, it will automatically be indexed. I am reminded of an old scam my mother (born in 1916) introduced me to as a child – the drone who puts a classified ad in the paper, “Today is the last day to send in your dollar!” and lists a Post Office Box. Nothing is promised, yet people send in their money anyway, fearing that they’ll miss out on something good – and the scammer cleans up.

Search Engine/Directory
1.Google 1 9
2.Bing 23 8
3.Open Directory 1,877 7
4.Yandex 2,323 7
5.ScrubTheWeb 4,926 6
6.EntireWeb 5,817 6
7.ASR 6,273 5
8.Viesearch 7,411 4
9.SWD 7,860 6
10.A1WebDirectory 8,217 5
11.ExactSeek 8,578 6
12.Sites Web Directory 8,740 6
13.SecretSELabs 9,169 4
14.Gain Web 10,790 4
15.Online Society 11,494 4
16.1WebsDirectory 11,681 4
17.W3 Catalog 11,917 4
18.24/7 Web Directory 11,977 4
19.SoMuch 12,750 5
20.9Sites 12,879 4
21.AceWebDirectory 14,331 4
22.Synergy Directory 14,494 4
23.OBLN 14,703 5
24.Anoox 15,080 4
25.GigaBlast 15,572 3
Search Engine/Directory
26.Pegasus Directory 15,921 4
27.SonicRun 16,325 5
28.DirectMyLink 17,001 3
29.Directory Free 17,327 4
30.HotvsNot 17,670 3
31.FyberSearch 18,579 4
32.Elite Sites Directory 19,476 4
33.Nonar 19,614 4
34.IS 21,315 3
35.Info Tiger 21,371 4
36.LinkRoo 21,633 3
37.The Web Directory 21,969 4
38.Triple W Directory 22,775 3
39.BusinessSeek 22,929 4
40.Thales Directory 23,161 4
41.Cipinet 23,185 4
42.LinkPedia 23,717 3
43.Bhanvad 23,846 5
44.Amfibi 24,722 5
45.oneMission 26,602 5
46.MasterMOZ 27,263 5
47.OneMillionDirectory 27,306 3
48.10Directory 28,426 2
49.Link Centre 28,475 4
50.Botid 29,441 4

The above list shows the search engines that this service claims your domain name will be submitted to, for the following prices:

TOP 25 Engines Registration
1 Year – $47

TOP 25 Engines Registration
5 Years – $197 (SAVE : $38)

TOP 50 Engines Registration
1 Year- $97

TOP 50 Engines Registration
5 Years – $297 (SAVE $188)

But notice the Alexa and Google rankings for these sites – aside from Google and Bing, none of these search engines are accessed to any extent at all, making them virtually useless – and the first two will index your domain automatically. You are paying these criminals between $50 and $300… for absolutely nothing.

Be smart. Don’t send in your dollar.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Refugees and the bar fight: a brilliant analysis

Shamefully purloining this essay from Emlyn Pearce, because it deserves to be more widely understood.

So a lot of British people seem to be wondering why refugees don’t stay in their own countries and take up arms to defend themselves (“…like the British did during the Second World War!”). Don’t get me wrong, I find it quite endearing that your Average Joe thinks he and his mates from Tuesday night five-a-side could put together a viable army, but maybe joining a thirteen-year-old civil war is a bit more complicated than an Inbetweeners movie. Let me explain.

Have you ever been in a pub when a group of drunk guys starts going berserk, drinking everyone’s drinks and punching people in the face? The rest of the patrons come together, over-power and restrain the troublemakers; the police are called and they are taken away to face the music. That’s World War II: everyone in the pub is on the same side and there is a clear set of bad guys ruining the 1940s for everyone else (incidentally, there’s also a guy who offers to hold everyone’s coats and money when the fight breaks out, and when it stops he won’t give them back – that guy is Switzerland’s banks).

Now, consider Syria. You’re sitting in the pub with your family having Sunday lunch when suddenly you hear someone at the bar say they’ve been short changed. In response, the bar staff open fire with automatic weapons and kill sixteen people. You’re horrified – in all the years you’ve been coming to this pub, knowing they’ve been short changing people, you never imagined they’d do something like this. You manage to barricade yourself behind an upturned table in the corner, and just when you think things can’t get any worse, a bunch of thugs from the rough pub next door hear there’s some trouble and decide to use the opportunity to take over the pub and make it as lawless as the one they’ve come from (where people have been brawling non-stop for the best part of a decade). There are bullets flying past your little shelter and blood and bodies litter the floor.

Whose side do you join? The bar staff who started the whole thing by killing the people they were supposed to serve, or the thugs from next door who want to hold you all hostage and make you join a death cult? LESSON NUMBER ONE: NOT EVERY WAR HAS A SIDE WORTH JOINING.

So you start your own army, right? This is an excellent idea – well done for taking the initiative! But exactly how do you start an army anyway? First, you find some like-minded people. So you turn to the guy next to you who’s barricaded himself and his family under a table and ask if he has any weapons.
“I’ve got my car keys and a bottle opener from a Christmas cracker,” he says. “The thing is, I was only planning a pub lunch with my family, I didn’t realise we’d get caught up in a gun fight, otherwise I suppose I would have been training and stockpiling guns for years.”

This is tricky. Very tricky. You decide to try and phone the other pubs in the area to ask for help, but they don’t know who you are, and ever since they helped a bunch of patrons in the 80s who ended up flying planes into pubs, they’re pretty reluctant to help random groups they’ve never heard of.

So you just sit it out and wait for everything to blow over, right? After all, you’ve heard of other pub fights where the bar staff were beaten in minutes (The Sphinx & Pharaoh, the Crazy Colonel), but it gradually becomes clear that this one won’t burn out so quickly. You could crawl out and grab a gun, but that leaves your family completely exposed with nobody to defend them. With every minute that passes, the situation gets more terrifying. Maybe you could chisel a pretty cool spear out of a table leg if you had a few weeks, but right now your children are screaming with terror, begging you to stop the banging and the sounds of people screaming, but you can’t. There’s nothing you can do.

Suddenly, across a sea of broken glass and empty shell cases, you see the door to the street swing open. There isn’t even time to think: you grab your children, the most precious things you have in the world, and you run for the exit.

You stumble into the street, where a crowd has gathered to gawp at the carnage through the windows. As you get to the exit they try to push you and your children back into the pub.
“Go back where you came from!” they say. “You’re one of those thugs from the rough pub and you want to bring your violence out here into the street! Shame on you for dragging your children through all that broken glass!”

You manage to get through the crowd to the Queen Elizabeth pub down the road, which you’ve heard is a really safe, family-friendly pub where the staff treat their patrons with respect. But when you get to the Queen Elizabeth, you’re told by a security guard that there’s nowhere to sit because there are too many people already, even though it’s clear that the only reason there’s nowhere to sit is that the people who own the pub haven’t provided enough chairs. There are also loads of coats that have been put on chairs by older people who want to supplement their wine consumption by making youngsters buy them a drink in exchange for somewhere to sit.
Finally, with the help of some sympathetic staff, you find a chair in the corner by the toilets, and you put the kids on the chair while you lean against the wall, exhausted. People start accusing you of ruining the pub for everyone else, even though they were short of chairs long before you arrived. That’s when some guy with a big sweaty face who’s never been in a pub shooting, never feared for his children’s lives, never even seen a gun or a hand grenade, comes up to you and asks why you’re not in the other pub sorting out the massacre you’ve just fled from.
And that’s when you finally break down and cry.

In Britain, we tend to think of every war as a two-sided battle between good and evil, with an established system on the side of good which is able to organise and direct an army. As a nation, we have no easy frame of reference for wars with many factions, or wars where the government is fighting the people, or civil wars where the enemy is present not just in the air, but on the ground too. Contrary to popular belief, Britain DID produce a flood of refugees during World War II: 3.5 million British refugees fled their homes, but because the war was an international war, with no successful invasion, no enemy boots on the ground and aerial bombardment focused on cities, the vast majority of those refugees went to the British countryside. Had the Germans invaded and started killing Britons on the ground, it’s likely we would have seen an even greater exodus to countries like Australia and Canada than the one we did see: not because fleeing from genocide is cowardly, but because self preservation is deeply ingrained in human nature. Risking your life by crossing a treacherous sea to escape a war that is not of your doing is infinitely more heroic than selling out your principles to fight for a mad dictator or a death cult; and unless you’ve ever fled a tangled civil war yourself, it might be wise to put a little less effort into judgement and a little more into understanding.

Here in the United States, we’re not facing the flood of refugees that Europe seeing, but the understanding is important anyway.

The Old Wolf has shared.

No Wi-Fi for me at Motel 6 tonight

Edit: as of this morning, February 9th, whatever glitch they were experiencing has been repaired. So props to the local establishment, but still scratching my head that the national helpline considers this place outside of their purview.

Driving back from a visit to New York City and parts south this last week, I was overtaken by a blizzard which caused all sorts of havoc throughout New England. I stopped at a Motel 6 in Milford, CT, just a little bit down the road from where there was a horrific bus crash about an hour later. It’s been blizzarding all day, and I’m glad I made the choice to hole up rather than to proceed.

My experiences at Motel 6 around the country have been almost uniformly good, except for one nightmare in Toledo, Ohio which I won’t go into here. This particular property is very nice, more upscale than most I have stayed at. But for some reason, I was unable to connect to their Wi-Fi.

My cell phone detected Wi-Fi signal and connected all right, but when I went to the login page to enter my code, what I got is this:

This webpage is not available



A secure connection cannot be established because this site uses an unsupported protocol or cipher suite. This is likely to be caused when the server needs RC4, which is no longer considered secure.

I explained the situation to the desk clerk, and he told me that he was aware of the problem, and that the location had recently installed new equipment. He was, however, unable to help me solve the problem.

I thought I would give the national feedback line a try, and sent them an email via their website. They responded promptly and suggested that I call their Wi-Fi hotline; unfortunately, the phone number they gave me was for Resorts World Bimini. After another exchange, in which I got the correct number (a single digit was transposed), I called said helpline only to be informed that I was staying at an “unsupported property.”

That makes no sense to me, but it appears that not all Motel 6s are created equal. Apparently if you want tech support, you can’t be staying at a franchise location. At least that’s what the lady on the other end of the line told me.

So no Netflix for me tonight. With luck, the weather will permit me to get back to Maine tomorrow.

The Old Wolf has spoken (via 4G).

If the shoe fits…

Vicks Inhaler

When I was a kid, I remember encountering one of these at the home of an older relative. Being naturally curious, I unscrewed the thing and smelled it.

Eeyagh! Hideous! I didn’t even bother asking what it was for, I just considered it anathema and forgot all about it until years later when, as an adult, I discovered how useful they are for unplugging a stuffy nose.

The event was brought sharply into renewed focus in my memory when, about 8 years ago, my oldest granddaughter who was, at the time, 3 years old, picked one up off my nightstand, unscrewed it, and gave it a smell. Her response cracked me up, and I remember it to this day and have told the story many times; indeed, it has become somewhat of a watchword in our family, as you shall see.

What she, at that tender age, said was: “Ew! That’s for old!”

Indeed it is, sweetheart, but I do hope you come to appreciate its value when you have grandchildren of your own.

One day this last year, my wife’s youngest daughter, who was 25 at the time, accompanied me to the dollar store to pick out some candy for a daddy-daughter movie date that we were planning. We each picked out a couple of our favorites, and one of mine was this:


Naturally, I hated these as a kid as well, preferring things like Bazooka™ bubble gum, Nik-L-Nips™, Jujubes™, and Chunky™ candy bars. Licorice was for *old* people. Gah.

You can imagine my delight when our sweet girl saw my choice, wrinkled up her nose, and said,

“Ew! That’s for old!”

And so it is. But while I’m not excited about the aches and pains that come along with becoming a senior citizen, I have long been appreciative of the sentiment, “Never resent growing old. It is a gift denied to many.”

True enough, and if it brings with it appreciation of things like Good & Plenty™ and Vicks inhalers, then that’s just icing on the cake.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A visit to the new planetarium, and so much more.

Earlier I posted some memories of the old Hayden Planetarium in New York City. As a child it was one of my favorite places to go.

1956, Planetarium 1

Finding myself in New York City once again, I decided to take the opportunity to visit the American Museum of Natural History along with its new Science Center. With one small exception, I was not disappointed.

I started out with a wonderful presentation narrated by the Planetarium director, the illustrious Neil deGrasse Tyson, called “Dark Universe.” It was visually stunning and extremely enlightening. I mentioned to my Facebook group that if Carl Sagan were still alive, and had he been able to see this presentation, it probably would have brought tears to his eyes – such was the respect paid to the wonder of the universe in this beautiful show.

Next on the docket was a visit to a very brief presentation about the Big Bang, narrated by Liam Neeson. Only 4 minutes long, it was light on science but a good introduction to the subject for the many people who come to visit the planetarium.

Leaving the Big Bang theater, one exits the dome and proceeds down a spiral ramp with many exhibits along the way relating to the formation of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day.


Other exhibits artfully and powerfully illustrate the scale of the universe from the subatomic to the farthest reaches of our observation. On the bottom floor one finds some familiar things: the Willamette meteorite which was salvaged from the old planetarium,


and many scales embedded in the floor showing your weight at various locations in the universe, such as the moon, a red giant star, the Sun, and a neutron star.

One never stops learning. I was surprised to see that my weight on the “surface” of a red giant star was almost negligible. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have realized that these expanded giants are so large that their photosphere is far, far, from their center of mass, meaning that the effect of gravity is almost nil.

I was crestfallen to find out that the Copernicus room with its amazing clockwork orrery which I so dearly loved as a child no longer exists; the entire building that housed the old planetarium was torn down to make way for the new Science Center, and apparently the mechanisms had stopped functioning as early as 1980. Modern day knowledge and technology has far surpassed the needfulness of the old mechanical device… but it was cool. The planets actually moved in real time, and the glowing orange Sun at the center was captivating. At least I have the memories.


Leaving the planetarium, I wandered around the Natural History Museum and reacquainted myself with many of its amazing exhibits. Like the movie in Paris, this is not a building that one can experience in a single day so I had to be selective. I was not, however, disappointed.

The old dioramas in the African mammal room and elsewhere have been lovingly preserved and maintained; they look exactly the way I remember them and are still stunning to consider. These are true works of art.

My first girlfriend, to whom my mother introduced me when I was about four or five, was still there, along with many other wonderful fossils. In the hall of dinosaurs, I learned something new again: the old conventional wisdom that a Stegosaurus had a brain in its ass to control its back end the same way a hook and ladder truck has a second driver is simply not the case. Live and learn: farewell, Brontosaurus. Farewell, butt brain. (But Pluto is still a planet, dammit.)

The museum is now home to one of the largest dinosaur fossils that can be seen by the general public. It’s so long that they had to have its head stick out of one of the exhibit rooms.

“The new, much larger occupant grazes the gallery’s approximately 19-foot-high ceilings, and, at 122-foot, is just a bit too long for its new home. Instead, its neck and head extend out towards the elevator banks, welcoming visitors to the “dinosaur” floor.”20160204_123143





The so-called “titanosaur” is so new that it has not yet been officially named, but it certainly makes for quite the sight.

There were so many other things to see. If I were to ever live in New York City again, which given real estate prices is far beyond the realm of possibility, I would certainly become a member and support the museum with regular visits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.