(214) 279-0990

(Spam)

2006-05-12 08:47
Comments [14]

So, here’s the thing. You can spoof caller ID. There are several ways to spoof it, but all of them depend on the cooperation, at some level, of the phone company.

The number (214) 279-0990 is being spoofed by a lot of people. It used to go to a fax machine; now it goes to some girl’s voicemail. What they do is simple; they send out prerecorded calls that ask you to press 9 to connect to their operator. This way, you have no real contact info for them; you don’t know their number, and you don’t know the number you’re being connected to.

This allows them to engage in various scams; it used to be “$99 vacations”, now it’s “we can lower your credit card rates”.

I did a call trace, and may subpoena Qwest to try to get whatever information they have. It’s unlikely that they’ll cooperate willingly; I have been told by various scammers that they pay Qwest to give them special caller ID lies, like “out of area”, even when they’re calling from within state. I believe them, on that; there’s no reason for Qwest not to sell this service.

Anyone who has more information is welcome to suggest things. A lot of people suggest complaining to the FCC and/or FTC. While that may help, it won’t help much without an identification of who’s really behind these numbers.

Good luck, and good hunting.

Peter Seebach

Comments [14]

---

MoveOn's "email tax" meme considered harmful.

(GeekStuff)

2006-04-25 18:54
Comments

One sees, occasionally, reproductions of a heartfelt, probably sincere, dire warning about the coming Email Tax, in which AOL will soon destroy all good and innocent people by forcing them to pay email. It’s censorship, of course, because it’s backed by secret cabals of Republicans wearing special tinfoil hats which let them know when to falsely report the mail as spam.

Well, no.

Here’s the scoop. The complaint is about Goodmail Systems, who offer “email certification”. It costs money. If you pay the money, your email is certified.

How does this become a “tax”? Well, AOL might give preference to “certified” mailings. So, to become certified, you have to pay. Uncertified? Your mail might get filtered. OH NOE! IT IS TEH EMAIL TAX!!!!

Only it isn’t. First off, regular users would never use, or need, this service. It’s aimed at entities like, say, the American Red Cross, who want very much to certify that their donation requests are really from them. In fact, the anti-phishing aspect is a very significant one. Imagine that you’re Chase Morgan Bank, and you want to email a customer who has, so far this month, gotten over a thousand messages claiming to be from Chase Morgan Bank. (This number is probably not that far off; I’ve gotten hundreds this month alone.) How do you do it? You sign up with some certification company, and you can have your email certified as actually coming from you. The phishers can’t do this for two reasons; one, it would cost money, and two, they can’t prove that they’re really Chase Morgan Bank, because they aren’t.

Enter MoveOn. Now, I’m sympathetic to their original platform of disliking Bush Jr.; I am not fond of him. But when they took their lists of people who opposed Bush, and started mailing them about other stuff, they started being spammers. Today, many of the people on their list did not ask to be there. And that means that MoveOn messages get reported as spam. Not by some mysterious cabal of sinister Republicans; by people who wanted to vote Bush out of office but are sick of getting political spam about everything else.

Things go downhill when you look at MoveOn’s history with this. At one point, Hotmail apparently suggested they sign up with Bonded Sender. “AH-HAH! A SHAKEDOWN!” No, no more than it’s a “shakedown” when someone who gets a ticket a day for bad driving is encouraged to go to driving school.

The fact is, the MoveOn people have list management skills the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sanford Wallace left spam to go into spyware.

The EFF has been on the bandwagon too, and it’s pretty obvious why; for all that the EFF’s position on many issues has been laudable, they are constitutionally unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between governmental censorship of content (“bad”) and sysadmins or users choosing to reject unwanted garbage (“good”).

In the end, that’s the problem here. Goodmail isn’t about content, and it’s not a “tax on email”. It won’t become a tax on email. The people at Goodmail don’t want a tax on email; they want some way for recipients to distinguish between a real message from Paypal, or eBay, or the American Red Cross, and a fake one. And, since the fake ones are scams, the uncertified messages might well get tossed out. If you aren’t a Goodmail customer, then lack of certification isn’t a reason to toss your messages out.

Want to know more about the real story? Here’s some links I found interesting.

http://www.politechbot.com/2006/04/15/debate-over-dearaolcom/
http://www.techliberation.com/archives/038303.php

One of the founders of Goodmail actually took the time to correspond with me, and sent me these links. These are, of course, “biased”; they represent the opinion of one of the primary participants. They are also, however, the best available evidence about what Goodmail does, intends, or sells.

http://www.goodmailsystems.com/blog/2006/03/mercury-news-editorial.html
http://dreymann.blogspot.com/2006/03/stop-hbos-cable-tax.html

The impression I get, from talking to people who, unlike MoveOn, are actually involved in some way in maintaining a functional email infrastructure, is that the MoveOn people are either stupid or malicious, and it’s hard to say which. They’ve had this explained, and rather than talk in terms of what is actually happening, they’re sticking with lunatic conspiracy theories. They’ve started brewing some pretty strong kool-aid over there, and reminding me once again why people who all agree with each other should not work in isolation; they end up jumping at shadows and inventing conspiracies.

Here’s the blunt reality: People report their mail as spam because it’s spam. The existence of a system whereby real companies can flag their real communications with their customers to be distinguished from phish attempts is not a tax on email. The MoveOn people need to, well, move on; they need to grow up, start managing their lists responsibly, and stop whining. More importantly, in the short term, they need to stop lying about the “email tax”.

Peter Seebach

Comments

---

The statute of limitations.

(Personal)

2006-04-15 15:10
Comments [2]

Sex allegations oust Gloucester Catholic teacher, read the headlines, and her heart skipped a beat. Had he finally been busted?

No, it was someone else.

Well, damn.

See, a friend of mine went to that school. And she told me that she, too, was raped by a teacher there. Only, he’s still there. Nothing has happened, because by the time she realized that his threats that no one would believe a “white trash” girl were not as persuasive as they sounded when she was a kid, the statute of limitations had run out. It’s illegal for teachers to rape students, especially unwilling minor students, but it’s not illegal to have done so twenty years ago.

I got forwarded a copy of a letter she wrote to the local diocese. It’s pretty hard reading.

I didn’t have an “affair.” I was thrown up against a wall by a teacher and told that I should go along with him because no one would believe white trash like me over a respected and beloved teacher like him. He used to take me out of my typing class so I could “grade papers.” Anyway, I’m not getting into the details here.

[…]

I bet if a reporter asked around a bit, something else would come up, because I
was NOT the only one who was victimized at that school. My rape trauma counselor TOLD ME that she had other clients who had been abused by [teacher’s name]. Hearing that there’s yet one more Gloucester Catholic RAPIST teacher is not a surprise at all.

Yes, the teacher’s name was used in the letter.

Will they respond? It’s hard to say. How would we go about verifying something that happened twenty years ago? It is, in the end, her word against his. If the other people came forward, there might be enough corroboration to get something done; then again, there might not.

Peter Seebach

Comments [2]

---

Ready-made child-sized coffins.

(Personal)

2006-04-13 00:12
Comments [3]

That’s the Problem of Evil, right there, in a nutshell: Child-sized coffins are ready-made. They don’t need to be specially commissioned.

Gabriel’s funeral was this morning. Catholic funeral Mass; it’s sort of a weird thing to see a person named the “celebrant” at a funeral, but I guess it’s probably theologically sound. Not that theology is really on strong footing here; it is the ritual, not the theology, that brings the most comfort. The assertion that Gabriel is in Heaven is, I think, not necessarily as comforting as the more pragmatic observation that friends and family are still here.

My verbalized communications to Matt and Kate, Gabriel’s parents, were pretty much limited to discussing the need to get together with them sometime soon. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to articulate sorrow or sympathy; I don’t think words would have mattered, and I’m not always good at them. (It takes a professional writer to say, with confidence, “I’m not good enough with words to say anything right now.”)

The cantor was pretty overwrought. I don’t know her, and I think she’s a church person, not an immediate friend of the family. But… It’s one thing to sing hymns to full-grown adults about how their aging parents with whom they made peace several years ago have finally gone home to God. It’s another thing to sing of joy to a grieving mother. She did a wonderful job, though.

What can we say, or do? I don’t know. Today, everything is a little quieter. The sunny morning with the cool breeze was some of the most pleasant weather I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard people complain that beautiful weather is wrong for grief; that the weather should be misty or rainy, to match moods. No, beautiful weather was good. It helped. The problem isn’t that it’s the wrong thing; just that it was woefully insufficient for the task.

Easter funerals are either the best or the worst. To celebrate the Resurrection is to affirm life over death… But it requires us to acknowledge death, something many people are unwilling to do.

Me among them, right now.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]

---

Woo! I'm high-functioning!

(Personal)

2006-04-11 08:25
Comments [4]

So, a friend of mine recently put up some self-scoring Asperger’s tests, implemented based on some tests he foeund as PDF documents.

I have often been told that I seem a bit like an “Aspy”. Of course, it’s the new ADHD; it’s the thing you diagnose everyone with regardless of what their symptoms are, even if their symptoms are “congenital and likely inviolable banality”. (The DSM-V will probably call that a disorder just so no one feels left out.)

I recently read a science fiction book, Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. It wasn’t until I was fairly far into it that I remembered that the main character was autistic. He seemed so very normal and clear-headed. Big red flag, that.

So I took these tests, and I was unsurprised, it turns out, to find out that I match many of the diagnostic criteria for “high-functioning autism”.

So, looking back, this makes a lot of my life make sense. As a small child, I was almost entirely unable to understand people. They were mysterious things which acted in unpredictable ways. In early gradeschool, the teachers tried to teach me to get along with other kids; unfortunately, the only tool they had for this was having me interact, and it never occurred to them to tell me what I was supposed to be learning. The problem, easily identified once you know about it, was my near-total inability to perceive the state of other people. I believe that people have state. They have emotions, just as I do. But I mostly don’t know about these emotions unless I’m told about them. I am given to understand that, for most people, the emotional states of others can be perceived, essentially subconsciously, from things like facial expressions or tone of voice. All I can do is rote learning and speculation.

What throws people off, of course, is that I’m good at this. At 33, I have a lot of practice in reading people and figuring out what they’re doing or thinking. I’m a fairly fast thinker, so in practice I have time to do the whole set of analysis. I can look at facial expressions, infer likely meanings, speculate on causes, and do so fast enough to act fairly similar to someone who actually perceives these things. What I can’t do is handle bad guesses; if something goes a little wrong, I’m off the rails and I have absolutely no idea what happened. I’ve lost friends over this by angering them somehow and never being able to find out what happened. Because I’m normally good at social skills, they are convinced that I know what I did wrong and I did it on purpose.

Attention is another aspect of this. Back when ADHD was the syndrome du jour for people to be diagnosed with, it was a popular diagnosis for people who might now be called Aspys, because of the hyperfocus. I’ve got hyperfocus. If someone calls me with a technical problem, by the time they’ve managed to go through a couple of sentences describing it, I’m all the way focused on that problem. I don’t take several minutes to “warm up”; I’m on the problem. I can focus clearly and precisely on a fairly narrowly defined problem for hours without noticeable stress.

I have good systemization; I see patterns easily. People have described my learning curve as consistently either perfectly flat or perfectly vertical. The things I can learn, I learn fast enough that it’s effectively instant. The things I can’t learn, I don’t even know what people are talking about. The words never resolve.

I have a lot of mild forms of traditional autistic traits. I love spinny flashy brightly-colored things. I can just sit and stare at strong, bright, colors. My nervous habits include a lot of the mild bouncing or rocking traits… Of course, none of these were ever assembled into a coherent theory until recently.

What’s interesting about this is how this fits into the whole “is this a disorder?” question. Is it? I don’t know. I can’t conceive of what it would be like to not be like this. I have no frame of reference for it. In practice, it means I can do some fairly difficult work very easily, but that things other people take for granted are difficult to impossible for me. I think I’m probably high-functioning enough that I don’t really object. The diagnosis is not merely useful, but sufficient. It’s enough for me to have some information about where my blindspots are. I already knew some of them. I have a little speech I give people who are angry with me for being rude, where I explain that I am doing social things by rote, and if they want me to fix the rudeness, they have to explain what it was and why it was rude, because without that information, I simply have no idea what they’re talking about.

What’s been interesting to me, apart from the retroactive explanation of many of the mysteries of my childhood, is the variety of unusual ways in which this appears to explain some of my quirks. I can’t play real-time strategy games unless they let you give orders while paused, because I can only pay attention to one thing at once. But, if you let me stop to think, I’m pretty good at a lot of strategy games…

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how accurate this analysis is, but… It fits. The near-total lack of experiential empathy is sort of explicable. The qualifier there covers something I have a hard time explaining; given that I believe that other people have emotional states, yes, I care about them. The problem is that I can’t tell. It’s very easy to mistake this for not caring, but… Mostly it just means I find interpersonal interactions stressful.

Ah, well. I can dress myself. I’m high-functioning. Woo!

Peter Seebach

Comments [4]

---

No! The one where I try to pick him up and there's blood.

(Personal)

2006-04-07 22:39
Comments [2]

My younger nephew, Gabriel, died last night.

So, I visited with the in-laws a bit today. Our older nephew, Michael (he’s three), was sitting on Jesse’s lap drawing pictures and practicing spelling “elephant”. Later, he went to sit on grandpa’s lap, and look at pictures. He wanted to see pictures of him and his baby brother, Gabriel, so they showed him some. Then he said it was the wrong one.

“No! The one where I try to pick him up and there’s blood.”

“No one took a picture of that,” said Jesse.

Last night, right after their bath, Gabriel (14 months) stood up in the tub. He slipped. He fell. He hit his head. He still had a strong pulse when the paramedics came, but he didn’t have one when he got to the hospital. He died.

We don’t know what Michael does, or doesn’t, understand about this. He’s pretty young, but he’s unusually advanced for his age. But here is a human coming to grips with death. He’s trying to understand what he saw, what happened. It’s a bit earlier than we like to think of kids dealing with this, but I’m told recent research suggests kids are a lot readier, a lot sooner, than conventional wisdom has suggested. For Michael’s sake, I hope so.

I will say this. He’s not running away. He’s trying to come to terms with the fact that something happened. He’s looking at it. He’s coming to terms with it. In a culture that prides itself on “shielding” children from death (and from a lot of life, too), at least one boy has made the decision that he’s gonna look the world in the eye. Brave kid. I know a lot of adults who are not yet ready to face death. I’m not really ready for the concept either, although I’ve at least gotten used to the fact that I really don’t know what to make of it.

Peter Seebach

Comments [2]

---

Small developers with really good games

(Personal)

2006-03-21 07:42
Comments

It turns out that the budget doesn’t make the game.

Master of Orion III, on a huge budget, ended up being a game I couldn’t get into at all. Part of the blame probably goes to the six hours or so it took to get the game to run on my laptop, thanks to its copy protection, but… The game felt weird and unfinished, and I could never figure out why my ships couldn’t go from one star system to another. I think it had to do with an abundance of wormholes or something.

Galactic Civilizations 2, on a fraction of that budget, is a beautiful and interesting game. It’s a lot more flexible, because the developer isn’t terrified of what might happen if people could modify the game a bit. It doesn’t have copy protection at all, which is very nice for me as a laptop user. (And so terrifying that employees of a copy-protection vendor posted links to pirated copies to show how dangerous this was.)

I was recently going through old disks, and I stumbled across a rare treasure: A-Sharp’s King of Dragon Pass. This is one of the absolute best turn-based games ever. It’s a bit of a strategy game, and a bit of a roleplaying game. It’s got more depth, and more story, than nearly any other game I’ve ever played. (Possibly any; I’ve hardly explored the whole thing.) I don’t get the impression they had a multi-million dollar budget; instead, I get the impression that their “graphics team” was a few people who had artistic talent rather than perfect uniformity, and the result is that the game’s illustrations are, by and large, actually art rather than merely graphics. I can live with that.

So, the next time you’re thinking maybe a video game would hit the spot… Do some research on the tiny companies whose products no one has ever heard of. Stardock, the makers of Galactic Civilizations (and the sequel), are a tiny little developer, still small enough that they can be personally involved in the product. A-Sharp doesn’t exactly strike me as a megacorp.

But I could play these games for months and months without losing interest, while huge franchised games with budgets large enough to feed a small country for a year are rarely worth the trouble of getting them installed and running. Food for thought, perhaps.

Peter Seebach

Comments

---

USAA: Willful harassment and lies

(Spam)

2006-03-09 09:17
Comments [9]

One of my friends has the tragic misfortune to have a credit card with “USAA”, who are a business. Probably; there’s some debate about their legal status.

What they do, in my experience, is call at inconvenient times. They are rude. They are annoying. When I point out that they are calling during the time I’m normally supposed to be sleeping, they use this as a lever to say that, if I don’t help them contact this person, they’ll keep calling. And sure enough! Daily calls.

Today, I finally got them to claim that they would remove my number. I have no real confidence that they will; they have consistently acted in bad faith throughout our little relationship.

The fact is, I know exactly who they’re calling for. I don’t care. I don’t owe them anything; not money, not time, not help harassing someone. If they’d been anywhere near “polite”, I might have tried to get them in touch; as is, I am not planning to help them in any way.

Which brings me to my point: If you are thinking about doing business with USAA, don’t. If you want insurance, I understand some insurance companies will, say, make you walk across broken glass to get a quote, but that’s still a big improvement. If you want credit cards, there are probably a number of better options. (It’s not that I can’t think of worse, admittedly.)

I have recorded the call. It was funny. I will probably record more. The guy kept calling me “ma’am”, and couldn’t figure out my name. His big sticking point was a claim that this was the number he was given, only I don’t think my friend ever gave him this number; it’s possible that, say, they got it from someone else, and decided to just lie about it.

So… Definitely a company to be avoided. I’ve lost many hours of sleep to these people, and they have strongly implied that, knowing that I work nights, they are specifically targeting times when I’m likely to be asleep. And whaddya know; for once, I’m willing to believe that they’re telling the truth.

Peter Seebach

Comments [9]

---

The Dove Foundation: Lying telemarketers

(Spam)

2006-03-07 20:23
Comments [98]

So, we got a phone call from some lying telemarketer scum. They asked to speak to “the lady of the house”. (We don’t have one.) I told them not to call. A while later, they called again. We told them not to call.

I got curious and called in to find out who they are. They’re an organization claiming to promote “family-friendly” entertainment.

They give an A-OK rating to Left Behind, the blasphemous, ghoulishly masturbatory, apocalyptic revenge fantasy. They pan the Harry Potter movies for “occultism”. Harry Potter gets attacked for “violence”, but the recent production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is okay. Because, see, a full-scale battle in which all the death happens off-screen is family friendly. It’s like the difference between a movie in which you actually see someone get punched, and the family-friendly entertainment of Gulf War I, where it was just buildings blowing up, with no identified people in them.

My favorite so far is that they attack the Fantastic 4 movie for “occultism”, on the grounds of “references by villain to being a god”. These people don’t understand metaphor, apparently.

These people are delusional, at best. They are dangerous, they are deceitful, and they promote evil.

But, frankly, what really bugs me is that they’re also telemarketers who have disregarded our request to not call us anymore.

Actually, one other thing is worth noting: They hang up on you. As soon as they’ve decided you’re not gonna give them money, they hang up. Because, see, your time isn’t worth anything; only theirs is.

Edited to add: For hilarity, read the glowing and supportive review of the Dove foundation posted at Family First. Then read the comments. And more comments. These people have been doing annoying telemarketing for a long time, and they don’t seem inclined to stop. They are, just as they seem to be, money-grubbing psychos who are out to rip off naive Christians who are afraid of the world.

Peter Seebach

Comments [98]

---

AMD processor goes belly-up zeroing memory

(GeekStuff)

2006-03-07 17:53
Comments

My friend Dan found this:

        #include 
        unsigned char a[4*1024*1024];

int main(void) { while (1) memset(a, 0, 4*1024*1024); return 0; }

We can reliably lock up the AMD64 systems available to us running this code. We’ve tried on a 3500+, 4000+, and 4400+. We’ve tried with 64-bit Linux and 32-bit Windows. The only other common thing is that these are nForce4 chipsets, but that shouldn’t matter… Lockup isn’t instant, but it’s fast; a couple of minutes.

Peter Seebach

Comments

---

« Older Newer »