Extracting a Light from a Christmas House

So, like my wife and me, you love Christmas (or Hallowe’en houses) and you love to set up your Christmas village, and now – it happens more often than you’d like – you’ve pushed one of those never-sufficiently-to-be-accursed clips all the way into the house and you can’t get it out.

You’ve worked at it with tweezers and hemostats, and you’ve got one side out, but that other one is just unreachable. Yarg snarl yarg.

Here’s what I do, and I hope someone finds it useful.

1) The first thing to do is get one side out all the way. With a long tweezers or a hemostat, this is usually pretty easy.

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2) With a thin piece of duct tape, pinch the metal clip to the body of the lightbulb.

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3) Now you can push the lightbulb all the way back into the house and have enough room to grab the second clip.

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4) Out it comes. Take off the duct tape, re-seat the bulb, and you’re good to go.

Happy Holidays!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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A Mystery Shopper Scam

Be very careful out there.

Despite assurances from the Gummint that the economic crash of 2008 is over, a lot of people are still unemployed or underemployed and are looking for ways to make a living.

Here’s a scam that I followed up with via email, just to see what’s involved. It turns out to be a new twist on the old “bogus check” scam, but this one is very well-crafted and could fool a lot of people who are not suspicious.

This is the letter I received from “Customer Impact” in Bryan, Texas:

Scam letter

Notice all the “Endorsements”… naturally all bogus. Enclosed was this evaluation form for the “Mystery Shopper” jobs:

scam form

And lastly, the bogus check. There is no such company, the check is simply printed out on a commercial form, and if you cash it and send any money to the scammers for whatever reason, your money is gone and you could be prosecuted for passing fraudulent documents. It’s happened.

scam check

NEVER send money via Western Union or Money Card or other means to someone you do not know. Just don’t.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Never download apps that do this.

You’re browsing along on your mobile, and suddenly this screen or one like it pops up. You can’t go back. Sometimes your device begins buzzing. Sometimes there’s an ominous computer-generated voice along with it.

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You can usually quit your browser altogether, but you might lose where you were. If you click “OK”, you might get another warning:

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Click the “Remove viruses” button and you’re taken to the Play Store where you can download the app that “removes viruses.”

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Don’t do this. Just don’t.

If the authors of the application use this technique to terrify you into downloading their app, you can hardly trust software they’ve written.

If this is being done by an affiliate marketer, it could be legitimate, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Lastly,  as a general rule Android devices don’t attract viruses. Many of these “cleaners” are devised to either put real malware on your device or generate more scare messages which will lead you to a paid cleaning service.

Best to stay away from all of them; here’s an excellent article on the subject from ExtremeTech.

Be safe out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Facebook clickbait – it must work.

On my mobile device, since FB Purity doesn’t work on handhelds, I have to scroll through a lot of real garbage – often every other post is “sponsored.”

Here’s a sample of things I’ve seen just in the last few days.

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Obviously clickbait works, or companies wouldn’t do it – but it’s so annoying to see all these hackneyed “you won’t belive” and “this will shock you” attention-grabbers. The other part, of course, is that most of these articles are relatively valueless anyway, either [bad] opinion pieces or poorly-compiled lists.

It makes browsing Facebook on a mobile a less-than-fulfilling experience. I wish FB Purity were available for my Android, it really cleans things up on the desktop version.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

MAD™ Memories Department – Commercial Roulette

From Mad™ Magazine issue 59, December 1960, comes one of my favorite features. While the illustrations are intended to be humorous, the text is lifted from real commercials that aired during the era.

Commercial breaks were rigorously timed back in those days, so it was difficult to spin the dial during a break and find a program instead of another ad.

Click the images for larger versions; Artist, Bob Clarke. Writer, Gary Belkin.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

Watch that fine print

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Wow, TV + Internet +Voice, $29.99! That certainly grabs the attention.

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“Each.” That means the total price is about 90 bucks. Hmm, not such a great deal after all. And “Standard rates apply after 1 year,” says the teeny-tiny print on the back.

This is not exclusive to Spectrum – pull just about any flyer out of your mailbox or newspaper, and you’ll be likely to see something similar. Sales, marketing, and advertising – three industries that drive our economy, and all dependent on

  • persuasion
  • puffery
  • deception, and
  • outright fraud.

It’s scary, and except for the last one, it’s almost 100% legal.

1. Persuasion – the key to your wallet

Let’s look at the key points from Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini:

  • Reciprocation: Consider the in-store wine tasting, or the free scone at the coffee shop. We think we’re coming out on top, but the expectation to give back is strong within us, and leads us to buy something.
  • Consistency: We like to see ourselves as consistent souls with unwavering beliefs. So if you ask me to publicly declare my devotion to animal rights, for example, I’m more likely to donate money to PETA later.
  • Authority: Four out of five dentists recommend using the reassuring gloss of authority to sell this toothpaste.
  • Social Validation: Rugged individualist fantasies aside, we are more likely to do something if we see that many other people like us have also done it.
  • Scarcity: Anyone who has grabbed a plain, overpriced t-shirt from another’s hands at a “one-day-only” sale understands how persuasive limited-time and limited-quantity offers are.
  • Liking: If you like someone, you are more likely to say “yes” to her request. If she is pretty, you’re even more likely. And if she compliments you, well, that works, too.

The book goes into great detail about how marketers invoke the “click, whirr” response in us, but this is the core of the book. Ironically, it can be read either as a consumer guide or a training manual for salespeople!

But you see these techniques in place everywhere. JC Penney tried ditching frequent sales for “everyday low pricing” and it didn’t work. People like sales. Never mind that a sweater that’s marked $39.95 today, and goes on sale tomorrow at $42.95 (slashed from $79.95!) is more expensive “on sale” that it was yesterday, people will buy it because a) they have short memories, b) they’re not savvy shoppers, and c) it was on sale!!!

Need to pop into the grocery store for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? They are likely in the farthest corner of the store, so you have to walk by everything else to get there. High-profit items are carefully placed at convenient height, and the location of goods is regularly rotated to keep shoppers off balance – the longer you’re in the store searching for things, the more you’ll buy. Most items in grocery flyers are not “on sale” – they’re just there to make you think they are. Colors, smells, relaxing music and clever signage (“Only $1.00” – even though it’s always just been a dollar) add to the myriad ways stores try to part you from your cash.

2. Puffery – Marketing’s license to lie.

In law, puffery is a promotional statement or claim that expresses subjective rather than objective views, which no “reasonable person” would take literally. (Wikipedia.)

Thanks to the machinations of countless generations of attorneys, advertisers are free to say pretty much what they want about their products. The claims made via puffery may be patently false, but they are “not really lies” because they can’t be disproved. “The World’s Best Hot Dog” is an unassailable statement because no “reasonable person” could be expected to believe it, and it can be neither proved nor disproved, being a completely subjective statement – and puffery creates no express warranty or guarantee for the consumer. Some examples of puffery include:

  • Meals fit for a king!
  • Our mattresses are softer than a cloud!
  • Better ingredients, better pizza!
  • The Best Coffee in Town!
  • Lose Weight Fast!

If something is demonstrably false – i.e. “nature’s perfect food” can be challenged by science – then it’s probably punishable by law. Opinions, however, are not statements of fact.

3. Deception

Hall of Shame Advertisement

My favorite deceptive ad of all time, which I have referenced before. This is the crown jewel of shameful advertising. If you strip away all the puffery, this ad says “Buy our rabbit ears – they’re prettier!” But every statement in the ad can be interpreted in more than one way, and taken together (by someone who’s not especially sophisticated) they imply some incredible technological breakthrough at a dirt-cheap price.

Advertising restrictions were not as stringent a generation ago:

The jingle in this retro ad is a bit different from the one I remember:

If you want shoes with lots of pep, get Keds, kids, Keds.
For bounce and zoom in every step, get Keds, kids, Keds.
Those shock-proof arches can’t be beat
They sure are great for growing feet
You’ll be a champion athlete!
Keds, kids, Keds.

Equally bad was this ad for Kellogg’s Apple Jacks from the 60s:

“A bowl a day keeps the bullies away!” How many kids begged their moms for a box of this cereal, only to find that they got slammed into the lockers just as hard the next day?

If you want deceptive advertising, just head for the nutritional supplement industry. I take these people to task at every opportunity, as I recently did with ProBioSlim. I made the manufacturer so mad that I actually got my first cease-and-desist letter, out of which came precisely nothing.

4. Outright Fraud

Frankly, I feel like most affiliate-marketer-sponsored nutritional or weight-loss products are criminally fraudulent; just type “snake oil” in the search bar of this blog for myriad examples. But in this section I mention a few cases that actually spawned legal action and forced advertisers to change course.

  • In 2014, Red Bull paid $13 million to settle a class-action suit because it claimed “Red Bull Gives You Wings.”
  • In 2010, Kellogg claimed Rice Krispies could boost your immune system. In 2011. Kellogg agreed to pay $2.5 million to affected consumers, as well as donating $2.5 million worth of Kellogg products to charity.

  • New Balance was accused of false advertising in 2011 over a sneaker range that it claimed could help wearers burn calories. Nope. In 2012, New Balance agreed to pay a settlement of $2.3 million.
  • Lumos Labs: In January 2016, the makers of popular brain-training app Luminosity were fined $2 million by the FTC for deceptive advertising, claiming that the app could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.

  • In the 1990s, the “Airborne” herbal supplement was everywhere. It claimed to hold off harmful bacteria and germs, preventing everyday ailments like the flu and common cold. The claims ended in a class-action lawsuit involving over $30 million in settlement payments.

Puffery is one thing, outright lies are another. While the FTC and the FDA are underfunded and overburdened, they do their best to protect the consumer from fraud and abuse wherever they can.

Ultimately, caveat emptor along with a healthy dose of skepticism, social awareness, and a willingness to do the necessary research is the consumer’s best defense against fraudulent advertising practices.

As usual, be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

WOT: (Web of Trust) – A valuable extension

I’ve mentioned WOT in a number of my previous posts, but I thought I’d give it a bit more exposure, given the amount of scams, fake news websites, and general internet douchebaggery that is so prevalent right now.

Web of Trust is a FREE extension that adds a small circle after any clickable link on your computer to let you know how trustworthy that site is. Here’s an example – recently I was trying to remove a hijacker that redirected me to Spectrum’s search service when an unknown URL was encountered:

WOT

Notice that the circles can be green, yellow, and red – just like  stoplight. That’s your first clue – but it pays to drill down for more information as I mention below. Green is generally trustworthy, yellow is questionable, and red is downright dangerous. A gray circle with a question mark means there is no information (yet) about the site in question.

Some dangerous websites will be flagged by Google directly (Click image to enlarge)

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If you have a paid version of Malwarebytes, known malware websites will be automatically blocked:
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But if neither one of these help, WOT will give you a warning for red-circle links that looks like this (Click image to enlarge):

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You’ll notice that you get a summary of ratings and reasons why the website is not trusted.

In addition, search engine results can be previewed simply by hovering your mouse over the colored circle:

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and then you can follow the “click to view details” link to get a full page of information about the website.

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As with anything that is crowdsourced, one needs to be cautious. A tool like this could be used to give bad ratings to a website by an unethical competitor, so look at the dates of the reviews and get an overall feel for the page in question. In general, though, I’ve found that this tool tends to be self-correcting, so if one person rates a site untrustworthy for malware, and five other more recent users give reasons why it’s safe, I feel pretty confident that the first review is either spurious or outdated.

If you want to rate websites yourself, you can create a free account, log in, and provide details of your experience.

In addition to protecting you from viruses or other malware, WOT can be very useful for verifying whether news sites are reliable or not.

An example: Today on Facebook I saw a link to a story that there was a second shooter in Las Vegas:

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That yellow circle told me right off that this story is questionable. Hovering over the warning gave me this:

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And a subsequent search on Google for yournewswire.com confirmed that this is a notorious clickbait, inflammatory, fake-news website:

Founded by Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway in 2014. It has published fake stories, such as “claims that the Queen had threatened to abdicate if the UK voted against Brexit” (Wikipedia)

It pays to be safe, and it pays to be careful. This little extension works well with Window 10 and earlier versions (I’ve tried it on XP and 7 both), it’s free, and it provides a wealth of information about internet dangers. I highly recommend it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.