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Observations on Everything


In January of 2000 I went to the south of France to celebrate the start of the last year of the millennium with friends. After the celebrations, I took the TGV high speed train to Paris for a week. 1999 was a good year, and I booked a first class seat, which meant I got seated in a cabin of about 8 seats at the front of the car.

There were three people besides me in the cabin. A rather strange fellow who both offered up scrawled, broken samples of poetry and kept on trying to convince me that I should be involved in Nigerian oil and diamonds (needless to say my comprehension of his French and broken English was surprisingly low that day) and an older couple who seemed to be rather disapproving of the both of us.

Eventually the hustler managed to pry from me the fact that I was Canadian. This had little effect on him, but the change in the older couple was profound. Suddenly they were fluent in English and more than willing to talk. What they had to say first stuck me: they thanked me for my country’s help in the war, for Juno beach. The man shook my hand, his gratitude some 55 years later surprised me.

Growing up not so long after the war, the contribution of Canada to the battle was something we knew well. We were taught to never forget  (although I mistakenly thought what we should not forget was to be intolerant of human rights violations, something we’d forgotten by the time Rwanda happened, but that’s another matter).

What we never really learned was how much our efforts were appreciated by those we liberated. By how much respect we gained by punching well above our weight in WW2, and to the extent that those we liberated would never forget our sacrifices.

I salute the amazing men and women who went to such extraordinary lengths to achieve such a great feat.

Lots Going On

Instead of maintaining an increasingly diffuse presence on this site, where not knowing what the hell I’m going to do next gets mixed visitor reactions, I’ve been branching out to multiple web locations, each with a clearly defined focus.

This blog will remain diverse in topics and erratic in frequency, but instead of following the “about everything” tag line so literally, I’ve started moving new things to their own topic-specific places. I figure this will make this blog slightly easier to label and the new locations will benefit from a tighter focus. Read more

Long Weekends and the Home Based Business

These days things are really busy over here. Aside from neglecting this blog (partially Twitter’s fault), it’s a good busy. Too much work in a recession is a nice problem to have. I’ve been working early mornings and late nights to find quiet times when I can concentrate and keep up with the load.

So now it’s a four day long weekend. My spouse has the time off, my stepson is in town, and it’s going to be really hard to get stuff done. For a split second I resented the weekend as interference with work, and that’s when one of my alarm bells went off.

Let me back up for a moment. I’ve always been a little ahead of the curve. I started my first home based business shortly after university, in 1981. Back then it was radical, now it’s an established practice. There are many advantages to running a business from home, like my ten second commute to work. But there are disadvantages too, and one of them is that same ten second commute. Over the years I’ve learned to identify destructive thought patterns and to change course before doing much damage. “I wish everyone else was at work” is high on that list.

Over the past three decades, I’ve had times when I was so involved with my work that my friends forgot I existed. I did a lot of exciting work, but for the most part the results of my efforts have long since disappeared. Meanwhile most of my friends are still around. More poignantly, some of them are no longer around. The hard lesson is that the time I spent on work is time I didn’t spend with them, and now there’s no way to address the imbalance.

So if you find yourself resenting the long weekend, take a step back and get a new perspective. Most of us are working hard to bring benefits to our immediate families. Don’t focus on that to the point where you deprive them of what they want and need most… your full attention.

Plug for, Raspberry for Bell (revised)

[Updated: watch my line speed improve over time!]

There’s not much to say, these numbers speak for themselves. I figure I’m about 3Km from the nearest CO.

Okay, I lied 121ms pings?? Give me a BREAK!
I may just give up on DSL.

Hey my line went dead for about half an hour today (no dial tone even) and look:

Moving from “effectively non-functional” to “pathetic” Way to go.

More news… 7:40 on a Saturday morning, and finally things seem to be up to par:

Now we know the connection is definitely up to snuff, although the ping times are a little pathetic. The next question is how well does this hold up during peak demand. Even though the line isn’t shared, there’s network hardware at the other end that needs to keep up with peak loads. We’ll see…

Nigerian Style Fraud Via Facebook

Since my Skype Fraud post is one of the most popular here, I thought I’d throw in a few references to some other similar tricks. This one is particularly funny:

Bad Luck Facebook Scammer, You Picked A Target Who Reads Consumerist with the wonderful phrase “Once I deposit the funds, you can print it out of any colour printer and it’s real money!”

Then there’s the original article referenced in the one above: Nigerian Scammers Break Into Your Gmail, Ask Your Friends For Money.

We can only hope that one of these days the scammers just go out of business because everyone has enough information to spot them and waste their time. Not likely, but one can hope.

Is the “Astronautics/astrospace” Definition of Professional in Wiktionary?

Possibly the Internet’s most valuable contribution to society is it’s ability to foster dialogue. Unfortunately that dialogue is frequently not constructive. Among the least constructive techniques is the “attack and run” method, because there really is no way to control another person’s ability to communicate. The attacked person merely opens another channel. This is a case in point.

Earlier today, the nameless writer behind a seemingly useful site,, known as “Astronautics” (formerly “astrospace”) on Twitter, decided to communicate information about a mail server security problem. He or she posted several tweets on the subject (many now absent). This is the remaining one:

Astronautics: JSC mail server may have been hacked. If you get an HSFNEWS email from NASA check that the urls in the email are not Chinese

Then some time later, this tweet:

Astronautics: I lost many followers making that public service announcement – it’s strange how so many people have no sense of duty.

I thought I’d offer an explanation. Honestly I thought I was polite:

alan_langford: @Astronautics You assume all your followers are affected and/or can’t recognize spam. You flooded twitter with what amounts to noise. Not good

Just in case, I added (fixed a typo):

alan_langford: @Astronautics I happen to think your “regular” feed is interesting enough to tolerate the odd lapse, but obviously not everyone else does.

The public response was:

Astronautics: I do my duty and make public service announcements. I make a difference. I will not bend to court popularity.

Which is all well and good, but it seemed to me that the author was trying to understand why many followers left, which is unrelated to one’s sense of duty. Maybe it was my sense of duty to try to offer an explanation in the first place. Then I got this rather shocking direct message:

DM from Astronautics: It is not a ‘lapse’ and I do not care what some loser like you thinks. I am a professional journalist with a sense of DUTY. Go to hell.

The individual subsequently blocked me, removing the opportunity to respond as well as depriving me of his “journalistic” feed and forcing me to respond in a public way. I suppose in hindsight that’s not much of a loss.

So here’s my response: this person is clearly using a definition of “professional” with which I am not familiar. Maybe I’m out of touch. If anyone has a link to a credible reference that lists name calling, not identifying yourself, and telling people to “go to Hell” as professional, please send it to me. Considering the increasing meaninglessness of “professional” when attached to “journalist”, I am now questioning the credibility of anything on this site. That’s too bad, because credible news on space and astronomy would have been a good thing.


Malware Injection: More Fun With Skype

Skype screen capture

This one probably isn’t new, but it’s worth noting. An associate recently got this bogus “security warning”. Appropriately named “irony”, the message warns the user that “Security Center has detected Malware” and directs the user to a site where they can download a patch. Click on the image for a full sized version.

The “patch” will install malware on the user’s computer. At least they can’t forge the link as belonging to Microsoft, but this could easily fool an unsuspecting user.

The Single Best Way to Bust a Telephone Scam

This is simple and effective. If you suspect that the company who is calling you is not legitimate, ask the caller for their web site address.

If the call is a fraud attempt, the “agent” probably won’t be able to give it to you. One of these things will happen:

  • They won’t “remember” it. For extra bonus fun, ask them if their sales manager knows it.
  • They’ll give you a legitimate site that isn’t theirs. Ask them to hold on while you pop it up. If that doesn’t make them hang up, ask them where the information relating to their offer is. They might tell you it’s an exclusive offer that’s not available on the web, but if the site has nothing that seems to be related to the offer, it’s a big warning that they’re not telling the truth.
  • They’ll give you a fake site that is theirs. This would be pretty stupid on their part, since it would provide the authorities with a path back to them. Do a search on the site to see what the world has to say about them. If they’re not in the search index, then the site was probably set up a few days ago. More sophisticated users can do a whois lookup on them… look at the registration date. Also if the site owner is masked for privacy, you can be sure it’s not a large established company. Either way, report the site to your local authorities as soon as possible.

These fraud schemes depend on leaving the smallest possible trail back to them. Legitimate businesses want to open as many possible channels of communication with their potential customers as possible.

So it’s as easy as this: no web site equals no legitimacy. Protect yourself.

Criminalize False Caller-ID Messages

Here’s a crime for modern times: make the transmission of an intentionally false Caller-ID message a minor criminal offence.

There’s an established mechanism for blocking identity through caller ID, namely the “Private Number” message. Therefore the only conceivable use of false information is to mislead the person being called. Most of the fraudulent calls I receive use bogus, rather than private numbers.

But what should the penalty be? How about something proportional to the impact on the victim? In and of itself, direct victim impact is pretty small, so how about three hours in jail per occurrence?

What, you say that’s ridiculously low? Well then how about this: mandatory consecutive terms, no concurrent sentences. Fraudsters have to make a large number of calls in order to find victims (see footnote). Three hours in jail works out to about a year for every three thousand calls. These guys need to make tens of thousands of calls a day, so in a month or so they could easily rack up a sentence in excess of their entire lifespan.

A slap on the wrist for people who flirt with the idea, major hard time for the fraudsters. Works for me.

Footnote: One operation I led on started with an automated dialler, transfered to a “qualifier” who made sure I had a credit card, and then transfered to a “closer”, who was none too thrilled when I finally admitted that I was deliberately wasting their time, eight minutes in.