Archive for March, 2007


Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Well, I never thought this would happen to me. Not in a million years. And I’m not talking about a risque encounter at a car wash–I’m referring to getting phished. How could I be so dumb?

It all started a few weeks ago when I tried selling some old home theater equipment on eBay. The first time I put the item up for sale, it sold almost immediately at my Buy It Now price. Unfortuantely, the buyer wanted me to mail it to Nigeria. I wasn’t aware of Nigerian scammers in eBay, but this one clearly fit the bill. I contacted eBay and got my fees refunded, then reposted the auction.

Now the real fun started. I quickly recieved a large number of  questions about the unit, and one of them said something like this:

I am interested in your projector, but it how is it different than the one being sold in this other auction?

The link went to what appeared to be another eBay auction. But of course, it wasn’t on eBay, was it? It was a phishing site set up to harvest my eBay username and password. I dutifully logged in as requested, but the link was apparently busted.

Now, I should have realized right then and there that I’d been had, and I should have chnaged my password instantly. And all would have been well. But I didn’t. Maybe I had the flu, or didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Either way, I didn’t think anything of it until the next day, when I found that my auction, only hours from closing, had self destructed. A dozen bidders had all cancelled their bids within minutes of each other, and now I had no bids at all.

Still not sure what had happened, I let the auction run out, and the item did indeed sell, but for about half of what I was going to sell it for based on the previous bids. Frustrating.

The next day, I was locked out eBay–my password didn’t work. Finally, the epiphany struck, and I realized what had happened. I followed all the proper procedures and got my password reset. After I was readmitted to eBay, I chnaged my password to PayPal, just in case, as well as most of my other online banking and finance services.

It turned out that the sale was legitimate and the buyer was a regular, honest guy. He paid me and I got ready to mail the item to him.

Then eBay roused itself from a three-day slumber and decided the entire auction was invalid. It went ahead and cancelled the auction, and notified the poor buyer that he’d been scammed and that he shouldn’t do buiness with me. Argh!

It took a few emails to the buyer to reassure him I was real and that I’d just, in fact, mailed him the item. It took days to straighten out the details, and even now eBay has suspended my automatic payment service, so I have had to manually pay my fees. And something that the phishers did managed to earn me negative feedback from a buyer.

Oh, and did I mention that my e-mail program actually flagged the orignal phishing message as spam?


Saturday, March 17th, 2007

A note from the management…

In the past few days, I’ve been innundated with spam posts. And I mean innundated — a dozen an hour, on average. Now, if people really liked my Smells like fresh paint post enough to post comments about it, that would be awesome. But since the comments I have been getting all say things like “be uuquxv” and “oso icef,” I assume it’s either spambot postings or the ravings of phone crazies.

So, my solution is to require visitors to register and log in before making comments. I don’t know if:

  • That will fix the problem
  • It will be such a pain that normal people won’t post

But since I can measure the traffic on one finger right now anyway, it seems like a reasonable solution. Let me know if you think otherwise…


An update: I’ve enabled a spam filter for the site. Consequently, I’ve also turned off the requirement to register before posting. This is all a learning experience for me… but from your perspective, the site should be back to normal.

My Fawning Daughter

Friday, March 16th, 2007

This evening, on our way out to Cold Stone, I said, “New system, tonight, guys. You only get ice cream if you don’t say uncomplimentary things about your father.”

Marin immediately responded: “That’s a stupid idea, dad.”

It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

So I’ve been playing drums in a band for about five months now. At the moment, we’re a trio: guitar, vocals, drums. If you play bass and want to experience rock ‘n roll mediocrity from the inside, send me an email.

Actually, Jay’s guitar playing impresses me, and Dawn has a great voice. It’s really just me that’s bringing up the rear. In any event, a couple of months ago we started looking for a name.

There’s perhaps nothing more cliched in all the world than band names. There was a time when band names weren’t so wacky. When everyone named themselves after animals, insects, and common nouns (Yardbirds, Beatles, Turtles, Rolling Stones, Cars, and Doors), a name like Tonto’s Expanding Headband could really turn heads. If you were lucky enough to name your band after an interjection (Yes) or label your band in a way that sounds like it’s named after someone in the band, but really isn’t (Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull) then you could pretty much bank on getting famous.

But these days, band names are so darned weird that it’s impossible to stand out from the crowd. Think you’re clever naming your band Astronaut Love Triangle? Well, get in line behind Live Alien Broadcast and Alien Ant Farm.

Since our band is composed of two writers and a writer’s wife (unrelated to either of the writers…) we decided to start with writing-related names:

  • Stet
  • TK
  • The Batch 10 (which was an inside joke related to a writing project Jay and I were involved in)

Of course, there’s a certain been-there-done-that quality to writers naming their band with a writing-related theme (and the current lineup of the Rock Bottom Remainders seems to include almost every living writer that isn’t me or Jay) so we figured that since we are also geeks (well, Dawn isn’t), that we should at least consider some tech-y names as well. I was particularly proud of:

Then Dawn suggested:

  • Mulva

Which I thought was hilarious, but my buddy Paul said “What, now you’re in a Seinfeld tribute band?”

Paul offered dozens (and that’s being conservative) of options, but then again, he’s been compiling band names since college. In the end, we decided to go with The Batch 10. No, it’s not inspired. But there can only be so many Decemberists and Throwing Muses out there.

What’s Wrong with Computers

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

This weekend was an object lesson in why computers are still such an unbelievable pain in the neck.

It all started when I installed Windows Vista on my very new Gateway computer. Now let me be clear right up front: I adore Vista. The Aero visuals are wonderful eye candy, and features like the built-in results-as-you-type search boxes and the Photo Gallery are just amazing. I wouldn’t go back to Windows XP for a lifetime supply of Puffin and a night out with Halle Berry. That said, I’ve had a few nagging problems with my Vista installation. For instance: When I turn on my computer, it always asks for driver discs for the various media card readers and USB hub built into my Dell widescreen monitor. Now, as you probably know, therer’s no such thing. USB hubs and card readers are automatically recognized by Windows. There is no such driver disc. I have to cancel the New Hardware dialogs–all six of them–every time I start my computer. Annoying? Yes. But that also means I can’t use the card readers or USB ports in the monitor. I’m not getting what I paid for.

So I decided to send an e-mail to Dell to see if they could help me solve the problem.

First problem: The only way–and I do mean the only way–to communicate with Dell is by entering the product’s “service tag code” in the e-mail or online chat form. Dell thoughfully failed to stamp a service tag on my monitor, so I used various tools on their site to look up the code based on my customer number and order number. They all failed. Argh. So now I pick up the phone. That means I’m being inconvenienced by having to wait on hold because their Web site makes no provision for situations like this. Why don’t I have a service tag? How do I know? All I do know is that I’m now spending Saturday on the phone listening to hold music.

Finally I get through to someone, who initially gives me a hard time about not having a service tag code. Then they route me to three different departments becuase no one is quite sure who does tech support for monitors. Finally I find the monitor support guy, who, after insisting that updating the display driver will fix the problem (trust me — it won’t), tells me I need to update the BIOS on my computer and ends the call.

Now that actually makes some sense, and I feel dumb for not thinking of it sooner. Actually, it may or may not be a BIOS issue, but it’s likely that this is an issue that’s fixable by visiting the computer manufacturer’s Web site. So I go to Gateway. There, I’m encouraged by the fact that when I look up my computer’s serial number, there are a half dozen suggested Vista updates ready and waiting for me.

I install each one and find that:

  • One update won’t install becuase of an unspecificed error
  • Two updates intstall just fine, but don’t have any visible effect on my PC. In other words, my problem is not fixed.
  • One update, intended to address the sound card, causes Supreme Commander to play without sound. I troubleshoot it for half the day, and in the end (around 4pm) I use System Restore to roll my system back to its original configuration before the sound driver update.

And that’s how I spent my Saturday–I screwed around with my PC all day, and in the end I literally clicked Undo to remove all the changes, which didn’t fix anything but in fact created at least one new problem of its own. If I can have these kinds of problems, what hope is there for my mom and dad?