Coffee heat rising

Just Hang Up!

Seems like every day we hear about some new telephone or Internet scam — and, in the “one born every day” department, some poor soul falls for a convincing patter. Check out this story: A crook claiming to be from Apple cons a woman into forking over almost two grand from her bank account, claiming that someone had been trying to hack her phone.

She falls for his tale, follows his instructions — even after she questions his authenticity — and loses $1,980.98. Then, incredibly, her bank refuses to refund the stolen money on the grounds that she willingly paid it to him!

So, one wonders: might her homeowner’s insurance cover the lost funds, since this is a theft not altogether unlike a burglary or a stick-up?

The answer is probably not, unless you’ve already arranged for it. Most standard homeowner’s policies  offer no coverage for cybercrime, and many insurers do not cover it at all. However it is possible to buy such coverage: if you feel you or someone in your home may be vulnerable to a fast-talking hustler, talk to your insurance agent or broker about buying coverage when it’s time to renew your policy.

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself from phone hustlers is simply not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You can install automated assistance in this endeavor: for cell phones, check out this spectacularly delightful call blocking app. If you still use a landline — as some of us do to accommodate a home-based business — an in-line call-blocking device is many times more effective than the phone company’s half-baked efforts.

I use the CPR Call Blocker, which blocks most of the dozen or more nuisance calls that hit my phone number, every day. The hustlers spoof nearby area codes, hoping to trick you into thinking a number is coming from a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a local business. I’ve set the device to intercept numbers from the local area codes where I never do business and where none of my friends live. If for some reason I have to do business with someone in one of those areas, I tell them my phone doesn’t work and they need to email me — this works just fine. A number of such devices are on the market, and some landline phone sets come with built-in call blockers. Check the reviews on Amazon by way of making a choice.

Failing an electronic firewall, though, there’s a much simpler and infinitely better strategy: HANG UP.

The victim of the scam in question today believed the crook when he introduced himself as an Apple representative. Despite her initial skepticism, he fast-talked her into buying his story.

The obvious response to this? Hang up.

In this case, our victim’s next steps would have been pretty intuitive:

  1. Hang up on the caller. If you think it may be a genuine call, say something like Oh dear! The dog is peeing on the carpet! or Eeek! The baby just fell in the pool! Can I call you back? Then get the phone number the caller says will reach him or her.
  2. Call the bank. Tell a customer service rep what the caller claimed and ask a) is it likely to be true; and b) one way or the other, what can done to prevent hacking? Follow the customer service rep’s advice.
  3. Email a description of the call to, a service available to her as an Apple computer user. This won’t help you personally, but it will alert the company to the specific scam.

Even those of us who are pretty wary and wise to phone hustles can fall for a convincing pitch, especially if the caller knows something about you. The best defense is to avoid hustlers altogether — or at least, as well as one can — through the use of an effective call blocker. Second best is never to answer a call from a number you don’t recognize. And never, ever divulge financial or private information over the phone. Period.

Dear Credit Union: What ARE you thinking?

This morning I finally bestirred myself to open the stacks and stacks of not-quite-junk-mail, pesty notices, Important Tax Information, and statements and bills that have to be attended to, sooner or later. And what should pop out of an envelope from the credit union but not one, not two, but THREE negotiable (-looking) blank checks in my name, with my  credit union account number them, along with an invite to hurry right out and cash them.


Turns out they’re an offer to fork over chunks of cash from my line of credit.

Yes. I have an old, unused line of credit with that august institution, one I took out when I was doing some renovations to my previous house…from which I moved some 16 years ago. I haven’t borrowed on that account in a good 20 years, but apparently it’s still very much alive. And the worthies of the credit union very much wish I would please rack up some more interest on a nice fat loan.

The things looked just like checks for an ordinary checking account. The sales pitch: fill these out in the amount you want, take it in, and cash it. Soooo simple!

HOLY ess-aitch-ai! You sent that to the mail thieves and the trash scavengers, dear Credit Union?

They may not be truly negotiable. But they sure look like they are. All it would take is a smart trash scavenger (or his boss) to engineer some fake ID with my name and address on it, hand it to his girlfriend, and send her in with a five- or ten-thousand-dollar check to manufacture a real nasty surprise for me.

Honest to God. What possesses people?

So I had to take a break from ripping open envelopes, filing, and trashing to send a written request to those chuckleheads: please do not mail me anything that looks even faintly like a negotiable instrument.

Into the shredder the things went. But…what an annoyance!

Life in the Brave New World

It’s not my old age. It’s that the world has changed around us in ways that I don’t like.

When I say “ways I don’t like,” I do NOT mean ways that I can’t adapt to or can’t understand or whateverthepatronizingfuck. I mean that some of the products and ways of doing things that supplant earlier, now outmoded products and ways are objectively inferior to what we had before their advent.

LED light bulbs are way up there in that category, right along with washing machines that don’t do laundry. Personally, I loathe the light emitted by LED bulbs. Not just because the quality of said light is ugly. Because the light actually hurts my eyes. Consequently, when Big Brother announced that real light bulbs would be taken off the market, I stocked up on as many incandescents as I could pack into the house’s storage space. But…I forgot one small detail.

The kitchen in this house is illuminated by seven recessed can lights, each of which holds a 45-watt incandescent(!) floodlight. These lights have amazing longevity. I’ve lived in the house 15 years and have replaced only three of them. Because of that, the need to stockpile incandescent floodlights escaped me.

So the other day, one of those lights went out. Then forthwith another died.


I only had a couple of real lights in the floodlight form. This meant I would have to replace them, and I absolutely positively did not want to replace them with ugly LEDs or, worse yet, fluorescent lights.

When I surfaced at Home Depot and collared a guy in an orange apron, he produced a box of floodlights that he claimed were incandescents. The only evidence to that effect was that the box was not proudly marked “LED.” So I bought a box of three and tried two of them in the bereft fixtures. Lo! They worked, and the quality of light they emitted matched the other lights’.

So, knowing where these could be had, I realized I’d better stockpile a bunch of them, too. So: back up to the Depot. Bought 15 of them. I may go back and buy a few more, too.

Given that most of these bulbs have lasted nigh unto 15 years and that there are 7 cans up there, a stockpile of 15 bulbs should in theory last as long as I’m likely to last. However, products are such junk these days — just about all products, it sometimes seems — that it would be foolish to assume these things will survive more than a few months, even at the minimalist rate I use them.

You understand: there’s a big skylight in the kitchen and two skylights and two Arcadia doors in the adjacent family room/dining room, so as a practical matter I hardly ever turn those kitchen lights on. Typically, they’re on for a few minutes after dark, long enough to let the dog out to pee and load the dishes in the washer, and sometimes for a few minutes on a winter morning, when it’s too early to navigate by sunlight. That explains the length of time the things have lasted.

Still. Given the quality of the sh!t we find on the market these days… Pyrex measuring cups, for example: reviewers at Amazon report that the painted-on markings wash off in the dishwasher! Mine are 30 or 40 years old and have never lost so much as a fleck of their enamel markings. Given the quality of the products available to us, it makes no sense to imagine these floodlights will last as long as the others, even if they are used only a few minutes a day.

These junk lights, as you’ll recall, were foisted on us by those desperate to save the planet, and to teach us all that we must pinch energy and resources to that end. They are politically correct products whose purpose is to spread a message, and which, quite frankly, are unlikely to alter the progress of the world’s degradation.

Climate change is not a problem that will be solved  by forcing dopey consumers to make do with inferior goods. That is propaganda, intended to make the ordinary Joe and Jane feel they’re sacrificing convenience and quality for the good of the planet and the future generations. We’re DOING something…right?


The climate problem is to be solved (if it can be solved at all, at this point) by changing the ways that we generate energy — in every country, province, state and city around the world — and by forcing manufacturers to use energy-efficient processes to barf out their products. The same products: just made more efficiently.

Consider all the benefits of the USofA that my generation has lost and that younger generations will never see.

  • They took free TV away from us. All television is essentially pay TV now, in that you must have a cable connection, wireless, or a satellite dish to receive an intelligible signal. And no, streaming is not an adequate substitute, especially not when it foists advertising on you.
  • They took newspapers away from us. Streaming news: not a substitute. On our Sunday afternoon doggywalk, Ruby and I spotted a gigantic fire to the northeast of Outer Richistan. It was pretty close — looked to be on the east side of Meth Central — and it was big. Not a word of it on the news. Not till late Monday afternoon did even a passing mention appear…even though three people were unhomed and the building was destroyed. Local news? A thing of the past.
  • They took Pyrex products away from us. The new ones chip, explode in the oven (or in a cupboard, long after they’ve been in an oven), and lose their measurement marks.
  • They took dishwash detergent that works away from us — and for that matter, most dishwashers that work. The guys at the appliance store where I have the most recourse advise that only two brands  still do a decent job on your dishes: Bosch and a couple of specific models of GE.
  • They took clothes washers that clean clothes away from us.
  • They took toilets that flush away from us.
  • They took kitchen faucets that will fill a spaghetti pot during the cook’s lifetime away from us.
  • They took landline phones away from us, replacing them with expensive, difficult-to-use nuisances.
  • They took our privacy away from us.
  • They took affordable medical care away from us.

One could go on and on and on, right up to the current attempt (which may very well succeed) to take our democratic republic away from us.

Personally, I’m a bit tired of it. If one is going to do without all those little amenities, why spend the money to live in a “First-World” country? Why not live someplace like Panama, where the dollars that you have left will support you much more handsomely than they will here and where medical care can be paid for out of pocket?

New Robocaller Exploit? Or…just coincidence?

I think — being the paranoiac that I am — that a robocaller just broke one of my landline handsets. As you know, I now subscribe to NoMoRobo, which works with amazing effectiveness against telephone pests. And you can be sure that the electronics the pests use can detect the presence of NoMoRobo when the program derails incoming nuisances.

So this afternoon the phone jangles. Caller ID reads, weirdly, Welcome! Please wait…


So I wait for it to ring through to my voicemail so I can capture their data and, if as suspected it’s a sales pitch, I can hang up on the bastards. When they give up, I click on the “last call” button to capture the phone number and caller ID so as to send it along to NoMoRobo, which collects this stuff. And what I got was…NOTHING.

Blank. Nothing. Dead as a doornail.

Well, f**k.

So I tried another phone set, and from that was able to download the (without a doubt spoofed) phone number. Sent this and a report of the exploit along to NoMoRobo.

But…this is a new one. That phone was not out of juice. It was sitting on a charger when I picked it up. And yeah, the charger was plugged in. So drained was it that it took about ten minutes for the handset to come back to life.

Now, you know and I know that I am batsh!t crazy. With that in mind, you will have to add whatever grains of salt you choose to this speculation:

I suspect that somehow they did something to disable my phone.

We know this is possible for cell phones: the technology exists to drain a cell phone’s power. Maybe this works on a battery-operated landline extension????

Why? Somebody out there (not surprisingly) really, REALLY does not like people to subscribe to NoMoRobo.

Anybody had this experience before?

Receipt Eradication…

So as you know if you’re been around here long, the ‘Hood is not the most halcyon corner of Lovely Uptown Phoenix. The area is richly decorated with homeless drug addicts, most of whom are harmless. More alarmingly, it’s frequented by burglars, car thieves, porch pirates, and assorted other interesting wildlife. One species of these is the identity thief. These creatures scavenge in the garbage and recycling bins, searching for pieces of paper bearing someone’s identifying information. About 95 percent of the junkmail that the postman brings — just about all that he brings these days, by the bushel — fills that bill. But it can easily be disposed of with my current crook-repellent scheme: drop it in a plastic bag with some dog mounds and a little water and let it marinate for awhile before throwing it in the garbage. That’s fine for the usual junk mail and credit-card offers…but credit- and debit-card receipts are a different critter altogether.

And by this time of year, I’ve got a lot of them. I like to hang onto receipts for awhile, lest I need to return something, confirm that a charge was actually made, or ask some question about a purchase. After a year of stashing random pieces of paper into storage, there’s enough kindling there to set fire to the Parthenon.

Getting rid represents what we call, in capital letters, A Nuisance. My paper shredder will only handle a few at a time. Sitting there running fistful after fistful of receipts through that thing is a time-consuming, eye-glazing hassle. But it’s also a hassle to drive the junk down to the annual community Shred-Fest, stand in line, and keep an eye on the proceedings to be sure whatever you put in there actually does get ground up.

T’other day an INSIGHT visited me: the stuff that’s used to print receipts isn’t actually ink. It’s a sort of powdery substance that’s shot on the (interestingly health-threatening) paper in the shape of letters and numbers. Maybe…just maybe the stuff would rinse off in water. If it would…well! Then you could take the whole pile of debris, toss it in a bucket, pour some water and detergent and maybe a shot of Clorox over it, and voilà! Problem solved.

A brief experiment with this idea showed that, amazingly enough, it works. You don’t even have to swish the paper scraps around in the water: get them wet, and the printout (not the ads on the backsides) fades right away.

Hm. No grinding. No schlepping. No burning. Nice!

Now, there’s one thing you should be aware of, and that is that cash-register receipts are printed on paper that contains toxins: BPA and BPS. This stuff, you don’t want to get on your hands…or inside your pockets, or inside your wallet. But of course you can’t help that unless you decline to accept a receipt or ask for an emailed receipt (creating yet another time-sucking hassle). At any rate, you certainly don’t want to burn these things in the family-room fireplace.

Wot the hell: after seven decades of wallowing in cash-register receipts, I have yet to die. But still: knowing about yet another health hazard, you’ll want to minimize your fiddling with the things — maybe use rubber gloves during the elimination process.

So here’s how this went:

  1. I dumped the collected receipts in a plastic scrub bucket.
  2. Then poured in just enough water to cover them — added a squirt of Dawn detergent.
  3. Let it set while I went on about my business.
  4. Couple hours later, came back to find a bucketful of blank receipts.
  5. These I poured into a sturdy black lawn bag (new, leak-free) set down inside a plastic trash can so as to simplify holding it open.
  6. Dumped the last few days’ collection of dog mounds in on top of the slurry and quickly tied off the top.
  7. Dropped the package into the alley garbage bin.

The papers were already dissolving, so except for the plastic bag (and the BPA…and the BPS…), this stuff should biodegrade fairly fast. You can buy compostable plastic lawn bags at the Depot and at Amazon, and those would be the things to use for this purpose. And for just about any other bagging purpose.

Finally, step 8: wash out the scrub bucket.

Since this bucket is used for mopping the floors, obviously I didn’t want the BPA and the BPS smeared all over the house. It probably would be better to use an old paint can and reserve it just for this purpose. But not having one around…  I placed the bucket in the garage work sink (do not clean out the bucket in a bathroom or kitchen sink or tub, or in any sink that’s likely to be used for cleaning clothes or washing dishes). Dumped in some more Dawn and filled it with the hottest water I could draw out of the tap.

Went off and let it set for another couple of hours. Then came back, scrubbed the bucket with a brush, and poured the contaminated water down the drain.

Rinse out the bucket well after this step, obviously.

Do I like dealing with contaminated paper and contaminated water? Hell, no. But in terms of my own health, it’s probably safer to get it wet than to grind it up and spew powdery BPA/BPS dust into the house’s or the garage’s air. For future reference: to avoid exposure to the stuff through this avenue, ask for an emailed receipt or decline to accept a receipt unless it’s for something you might want to return.

Nuisance Abatement: Ads, Phone Calls

Yesterday evening I happened to look at the AdBlocks Plus icon on Firefox. It has a counting feature that reports how many ads are being blocked: a total of 1,204,683 blats, blips, yaks, and yips have NOT reached my eyes or ears since that handy bit of software was installed.

Have you ever noticed that we are endlessly inundated with nuisance advertising? Ever count the number of billboards, ads on billboards, ads on the sides of buses, trucks, and cars, ads inside shopping carts, hulking signs on buildings, and “helpful” messages hanging over the roadway between your house and the grocery store? We’re drowning in nuisance messages. No wonder so many people do drugs: seen in a certain light, it’s a reasonable way to drown out the constant buzz of distraction and advertising harassment.

On this page alone — where I’m drafting this post and no one else sees the page’s contents — the program is blocking eight ads, Right now. At the current P&S Press post, two ads blocked. At the FaM home page: nine. And those are on sites that do not carry advertising! At least, not any that benefits their proprietor. At the Washington Post, where they’ll shut you down unless you disable your adblocker: 30 ads are being blocked on the home page, right this moment. At Google News, only seven, but at the Huffington Post, 81 obnoxious, unwanted messages are being shoved in users’ faces.

Ad Blockers

We tend to get numb to the constant intrusion and, on some level, to block it out of our consciousness. Nevertheless, it’s there, hammering away at us all the time. There are a few tools to help. Though they’re not perfect, they do suppress a fair amount of the static.

Adblock Plus works very effectively and is free. Mine is running on Firefox; I believe you can get it for Chrome, too. This maker also has an app that will supposedly block tracking and advertising on mobile devices. As you can imagine, an effective piece of software like this created quite an uproar among the big-money advertisers who see our time as theirs, our attention as theirs, and us as sheep to be shorn. Consequently, Adblock permits “acceptable” ads to show up, by default…as though there were such a thing. You can, however, disable this function.

Ad blocking is controversial, for the obvious reason that inundating Internet users with nuisance messages is what keeps Web content free. Consequently, some news sites will try to block you when they detect an ad-blocker. It’s possible to get ad-block-blocking programs, but there’s a limit. Truth is, the Internet provides such a tsunami of information that there’s very little out there — possibly nothing — that’s not duplicated or similar somewhere else. So I simply don’t read sites that ask me to turn off my ad-blocker: you can always find the same information elsewhere.

Others will demand that you pay to subscribe to their online content. At the risk of repeating myself: nope. Not that I wouldn’t like to if I were rich as Donald Trump. But I cannot afford to pay to read Web content. Hell, I can’t afford to subscribe to real newspapers and magazines anymore. And certainly cannot pay to look at every random site where I while away my idle time.

Personally, I never found that running ads at Funny about Money was very profitable. At one point, the site had a high Alexa ranking and a lot of traffic, so in theory AdSense (for example) should turn a profit. It did not: at most it would make maybe $10 or $15  a month. This, in return for cluttering my site with junk and serving ads for Scandinavian “escorts” to my readers. Hardly fair pay for the hours it takes to write and wrangle a website! The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reportedly makes about the same from voluntary reader contributions as it does from advertising.

Canning the Spam

One way advertisers try to get around ad-blockers is by blitzing your e-mail with nuisance advertising and “newsletters.” This is more problematic, because it means that you have to manually block each nuisance sender. Chrome has a Webmail ad blocker, and you can get software that will strip ads from Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.  How well this type of software works, I do not know, because I use Apple’s mail program, which so far does not serve advertising to users. Apple mail does, however, serve up plenty of spam. A program called Mailwasher supposedly will block spam from “Outlook, Outlook Express, Incredimail, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, EM Client and every other email program.” Whether it actually works on the Mac platform remains problematic.

Really, about the best you can do is stagger along, day to day, with various stop-gap measures: keep fiddling with your email filter to block incoming nuisances, never respond in any way to spam, hide your email address and do not share it with merchandisers who demand it, use a disposable email address for sites or vendors who demand one, and try various spam filters.


As for the worst aggravation in our Brave New World, phone solicitation by automated robocallers, the answer has arrived if you can get access to it: NoMoRobo. For land lines, this is an application that must be made available through your phone company; some do so, and some do not. For cell phones, there’s an app.

In October 2018 alone, over 5 billion robocalls were perpetrated on unwilling consumers. Our honored legislators are working to pass a law (TRACED) to get a grip on this harassment…but frankly, you know and I know about how well that’s going to work. About as well as the vaunted National Do Not Call List, right? Har har hardy har har! 😀 😀 😀

For the moment — and if experience speaks truth, well into the future — the solution lies not with the government but with you: each consumer has to equip his or her telecommunications devices with call blockers. These come in the form of devices that you attach in-line with a hard-wired phone and as programs that run through the phone company’s VoIP or through cell phone apps.

My first venture in this direction was with the CPR V5000 Call Blocker, a kewl little gadget that you could attach to a landline. When Cox disabled it (you don’t really believe phone companies would get so reluctant to get a grip on the phone solicitation if they weren’t making some kind of profit on it, do you?), for awhile I had nothing and again was receiving upwards of a half-dozen nuisance calls a day, often starting before six in the morning. While it was working, though, the thing was some kind of miracle. It cut the automated pestering down to one or at most two calls a day — sometimes even none. As far as I can tell, it was not blocking real calls from real people.

Cox finally condescended to make NoMoRobo available, for free to its landline customers. As soon as that came online, I signed up for it. This system is working at least as well as the CPR Call Blocker. It’s very easy to sign up for and very easy to use. Both are very effective — incoming nuisances are now back down to one or at most two a day. And apparently once a robocall computer detects that calls are being deflected by this type of device or software, it stops calling the number. As time passes, you get fewer and fewer nuisance calls. The only disadvantage is that NoMoRobo uses the phone company’s simultaneous ring feature, so you get jangled up on the first ring no matter who’s calling. Similarly, a caller that is not registered in CPR Call Blocker’s database will ring right through your phone: you have to manually flag it as a nuisance call,which happens for every spoofed number. In either event, it means if the crooks call you early in the morning, while you’re trying to rest in the afternoon, or while you’re concentrating on a work project, you are going to get interrupted. And when you’re asleep or trying to sleep, one ringie-dingie is as good as an alarm clock.

There are several others. One is Hiya, which apparently works exclusively on cell phones. Same is true for Mr. Number and YouMail. RoboKiller works on both landlines and cell phones, and it has the delicious attribute of a robo-responder that engages whatever live human is on the other end with hilarious time-wasting patter (scroll to the bottom of the linked page to the RoboRadio link!).

Some of these apps have a serious disadvantage in that they access your contacts, an egregious invasion of your privacy. NoMoRobo does not do so, but before installing any other call-blocking app, read the privacy policy.


So it’s all very nice that CPR Call Blocker and NoMoRobo and Mailwasher and AdBlocker put the brakes — to some degree — on the endless pestering and invasion of privacy from advertisers. But still…it’s aggravating as Hell, IMHO. We shouldn’t have to spend time and money to patch up devices and services that we pay for, to protect ourselves from spammers and scammers. It should flat-out be illegal to serve this stuff to consumers — whether by the sp/scammers themselves or by the telecom companies.

If that means we have to pay for content on the Web, then so be it. For most of us, that would mean a lot more limited access to news sources — I would pay for the Washington Post and for Reuters, but that’s about it. It would make researching a subject a lot harder: you’d have to go to a library to get access to information that you can read in your living room right now. But…would that really be a bad thing? Consider how much time you waste cruising the Web. Because the computer is right there, calling softly for you to just enter a few more words in that search bar, you waste far more time than necessary even after you have the answers you needed. Less time spent on the Internet might be a good thing for most of us.