Saturday, November 22, 2003

Hellions and Hooligans

At work today (at the Artsgarden) we were besieged by a horde of teenagers. They were poorly behaved and rowdy, and totally disrespectful. And Christian. I was a little surprised. I was chatting in a small group with two supervisors from mall security and a few members of mall management, and I had to interrupt our conversation for the second time to explain in small words to a group of teens that, yes, the velvet rope and barricades applied to them as well as to the rest of the world. I was surprised when the mall staff told me that this was typical--that Christian teens in large groups were among the most poorly-behaved visitors. And, security told me that they're also among the biggest shoplifters; this is such common knowledge that they hire extra security staff if they know a Christian youth conference is coming to town.

I mentioned this to one of the staff, a former Christian youth conference maven. He wasn't surprised, and explained the rationale, which I paraphrase: "Sure. Stealing from heathens is completely ethical. The only real authority is God; you don't have to pay attention to lesser civil authorities, who are usurping power which should be God's." He said the attitude, though not church-sanctioned, was pretty common among Christian youths.

It would be silly to argue Paine, Hume, or Kant with Christians, but three out of four gospels agree about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's....

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

E-bay scam

Laura's thinking about getting an office out of the house. It's one of our ongoing issues: Laura works at home a lot, whereas I work elsewhere. So when we get time off I want to spend it at home, and she wants to get out of the house. Office space would help in a lot of ways. So, with that in mind, I was looking on E-bay for a computer for her. We were looking at Apple products recently, and I found what seemed like a great deal: a big G4 laptop with a 23" cinema display, plus scads of pre-loaded software, for around $1100. It's around $5500 at the Apple Store, so it seemed like one heck of a deal. A deal too good to be true, even. But the seller had over 800 previous transactions starting in 1998, and a 100% positive feedback rating. You had to be pre-approved by the seller to bid, so we clicked on the pre-approval link. We got an e-mail from the seller explaining the procedure: we Western-Union money to Amsterdam under a different name (a family member's name, or whatever), then we send him our name, the recipient's name, and the transaction number. He confirms the money is there, then he sends the computer. We get the computer, then we call Western Union and change the recipient's name to his name. He gets the money, and everyone's happy. Sounds OK, right?

Well. It turns out, all you need to pick up a Western-Union money order is the sender's name, recipient's name, and the tracking number. We checked out the seller's previous items, and they were all baseball cards. I asked E-bay's customer service about it, and they said that this has been a recent scam: a scammer hacks a long-term e-bayer's account (they call it an Unauthorized Account Takeover), then offers a heck-of-a-deal that takes you out of E-bay's system via the pre-approved buyer link. He gets your money and sends you an e-mail saying the item's on the way; by the time you realize it's never coming, he's gone. They have no idea how many people fall for it; they pull the auctions as they find them, but there's no way to track how many people click thru the link and send money. There are a lot of scams on E-bay; this is one more to be aware of. It's still a good place to buy stuff, but you need to be careful and do your homework.

The other thing is, the E-Bay guy said that they never catch the guys who do this. They make great money, in perfect security, and never do any actual work. I'm angry that there's basically nothing that can be done about this sort of thing.

Sunday, November 09, 2003 ?

We're still having 'possum problems. I was talking to Chris at work, and somehow the idea developed to build a remote-controlled catapult or trebuchet on the porch, with the launching pad in front of the food bowls. Maybe even target it two yards north, where the dogs live. As the hyperbole took over, we talked about maybe setting up a webcam, and some sort of system wherein people could go to our website and click a button to launch the possum. Maybe even get a new domain; it turns out that isn't taken yet. Have people pay $5 via PayPal for a chance to launch the possum. Eventually we'd have to start importing possums to meet the website demands, and we'd have to start feeding the kitties elsewhere so no cat haters could launch them too. Eventually we could be full-time possum catapulters, and we could quit our day jobs....

On a more serious note, the rubber tubing on my wrist rocket broke (yes: ouch!), so I can no longer pelt the possums with ice cubes. I was debating maybe getting a BB gun instead. My friend Joanna recommended getting a cheap paintball gun. When I expressed concern about inadvertently painting the porch, she had a clever but slightly evil suggestion: "Freeze the paintballs." A cheap paintball gun is still a little out of my price range for dealing with possums, though, so I'm still looking for ideas.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Microsoft slogan: try harder, guys.

Just an observation. This morning during Morning Edition on NPR, I heard the Microsoft sponsor ad for probably the 100th time. It's been grating on my nerves since I first heard it. Parse the grammar of their slogan: "Your potential inspires us to create software to help you reach it." Is this the best that Microsoft's PR firm could do? That's sad.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

opossums, yah.

We're having another problem with our outside cat food. No longer are the birds eating it; now we have possums. For a while, I've been shooting ice cubes at the possums with my old Wrist Rocket; even though my aim sucks, the near misses usually scare them off. Last night I peeked out to see THREE possums at the food. A possum is a nuisance, three is the beginning of a biblical plague. I was debating replacing the slingshot with a pellet gun or replacing the ice with something less friendly, or maybe doing something involving wiring the porch for high voltage. But killing anything is always a last resort; I'll try calling Animal Control. If they don't have any good advice, I'll see if I can maybe trap the possums, then drive them to the boonies and let them out there. Let's see, where did I leave my old possum trap?

Saturday, November 01, 2003


Halloween was a lot of fun last night. In our neighborhood, we usually get two types of trick-or-treaters. About half are cute kids in costumes and/or face paint, with their parents lurking behind them; the other half are teenagers in hooded sweatshirts and no costumes. So I had two bowls of candy this year: good stuff for the cute kids, Smarties and Tootsie Rolls for the teenagers. That was fun. My favorite thing was our cats. Koko, Salem, and Bastille, the three black cats, spent the whole afternoon and evening lurking on the front porch. The little kids were especially impressed with our official Halloween mascots. I had a bowl of kitty treats for the kids, so they could feed and pet the cats. I was a little surprised that the cats were so friendly, but they seemed to have fun with it, and we were a very popular house with the kids. A few kids came by twice, just so they could play with the kitties.