Archive for the “Digital Life” Category

315-407-4060 Microsoft “tech support” scam from win33.us:

I received a call today from “Gwen Stacey” asking me to give her control of my computer so she could clear out the “viruses” (which she proved existed by showing me the warnings and errors in Event Viewer but couldn’t identify which ones were viruses, let alone which “viruses” they were). After clicking on random things on my computer and intentionally misunderstanding her instructions for ten minutes, I asked to speak with her supervisor, and another person with a thick accent came on the line and identified himself as “Peter.”

When asked how to get my name and number off their list, he said all I had to do was pay him $200. I told him they had a sad way of cheating gullible people out of their money and I felt sorry for anyone who fell for their scheme. His response was literally (direct quote!) “tell me something I don’t know.”

I also told him that “Gwen” has considerable patience and good call control and could have a future in legitimate technical support. He asked me if I had anything else I wanted to talk about before wishing me a good day and hanging up.

I know otherwise intelligent people who have lost time, sleep, and too much money to scammers who lock users out and charge ~$200 to let you back in (to your own computer!). Bottom line: No one, especially Microsoft, will ever call you out of the blue to tell you there’s a problem with your computer.

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Or more accurately, stolen and recovered.

I’m a member of 24 Hour Fitness. Last night at the gym, I put my backpack in a locker and put my lock on the outside as normal. I thought I closed the lock, but it may have gotten stuck just before latching, a problem I’ve immediately rectified in the past. It just takes once to learn a lesson though, and boy, was I in for it.

After my workout, the locker where I’d left my stuff was empty, save for my towel (which told me I had the right one, at least). A wave of incredulity washed over me as I thought not about the normal stuff that’s always in a gym bag, but the valuables in my backpack: my electric wet/dry razor; a comb that had been a gift from a close friend in Japan; my wallet with about $50 in cash, driver’s license, and bank card; my cell phone; and my passport, recently used on a short trip into Canada. Oh, and the car keys without which I was neither going to drive home nor have easy access to my bed.

Slightly lightheaded by now, I checked the lockers around where I’d left it- nothing. I jogged out to the front desk and begged the girl working there to tell me someone had turned it in, but of course no one had.

Returning to the locker room, I glanced in the trash cans, thinking a thief might have taken the valuables and dumped the rest, but no luck. Slightly panicked now, I started opening all the unlocked lockers. At the far end of the locker room, about a hundred lockers away from where I’d left it, I found my backpack.

A hurried search revealed my passport, keys, and driver’s license, but conspicuously absent were my cell phone, debit card, and cash (I assume the thief threw away the lock). At least I could drive home. So I did, after using the gym’s phone to report my debit card stolen.

At home, I sat down at my computer to see if I could track my cell phone, but it looked like it had been turned off as it was removed from my locker, because the last point before it went dark in Google Maps’ Location History was at 24 Hour Fitness. I also looked up my phone’s location using Android Device Manager, but it couldn’t establish a connection to the (currently offline) phone.

So there I sat, thinking about having to get a new phone, while occasionally refreshing the Android Device Manager page just in case the thief might turn it back on.

To my great astonishment, it showed back up after about two hours. It was on just long enough to get a GPS fix, then turned back off. The phone was practically across the street from the gym, in a housing tract just on the other side of a cinderblock wall.

So I called the police. The friendly officer on the non-emergency 311 line informed me that GPS fixes can be off by anywhere from 50 to 150 meters, and the police will not respond to a location just from that. I told the nice lady that the GPS fix was confident to a 20 meter radius, which only covered three houses, but she was firm. In fact, she specifically advised against going to look for it.

Now I faced a dilemma- my phone had been stolen, I knew exactly where it was, and the police were not going to help get it back. I knew time was of the essence if I had any hope of getting it back intact, so I went.

Of the three houses, two were dark, with no signs of life. The third had a cluttered front yard with two cars… and a man sitting in a lawn chair in front of the garage smoking a cigarette.

I took a breath, walked up this man’s driveway, and said something akin to “Excuse me, but I’m looking for my lost cell phone. It was stolen from a men’s locker in 24 Hour Fitness a couple hours ago, and the phone’s GPS locator tells me it’s here.”

Without hesitation, the man stands up and hollers inside for his son, asking him what he’d done this time. At this point I figured I’d come to the right house.

Three teenage boys mope out of the house onto the front stoop, while the father asks if they stole a cell phone. Two boys say they don’t know anything about a cell phone, but the third says “I got to the gym late tonight, so I don’t know anything.”

At this point I knew I was in the right place, and things start happening fast.

Dad calls his son on the phone when he realizes he’s not actually among the assembled, and it turns out he was already on the way home. Son arrives in the back seat of a female friend’s Lexus and denies knowledge of any theft, but won’t get out of the car, forcing his dad to walk out in the street and talk through a half-closed window. Dad spends a few minutes arguing with his son, and one of the ladies in the front gets out, slams her door and runs inside. When she comes back out, can you guess what she had in her hand?

Yep, my cell phone, along with my debit card. The phone was still in the process of booting to the recovery console when she handed it over, an act to which one of the original deniers quickly copped. He sounded irritatingly proud of himself as he described how easy it was, in fact.

The back of the phone wasn’t properly seated, so I checked the SIM and SD cards. The SD card with about two thousand of my photos was still there, thank goodness, but the SIM card was gone. When I pointed that out, the son and two of his friends quickly volunteered to GTFO go search the pool area where they’d left it last seen it after it was removed by “some Mexican kid.”

After they ran off, I told dad the boys were on a wild goose chase, and he told the two boys remaining that they were now going to have to pay for my new SIM card in addition to replacing the $50 from my wallet.

David, the original denier who knew the button combination to start the recovery console on my phone, said he had $20, but since SIM cards were only $15, did I have any change?

For a teenager just caught participating in the theft of a $500 phone (a felony in Nevada), this kid had some big brass balls. I told him he could get the change from one of the other kids who took my cash, then realized he was probably paying me off with my own $20 bill anyway.

The son calls at this point, and says they’d located the pieces of the SIM card, right where they’d left them seen “some Mexican kid” drop them.

At this point, I was done. It was obvious to me that dad was incapable of offering meaningful consequences to the boys, who all still denied any involvement in the actual theft. I had my phone, my now-cancelled ATM card, $20 of the $50 taken from me, and a very well-learned lesson.

So I left, thinking about how well it had gone compared with how poorly it could’ve, and counted my lucky stars.

I’ve now ordered a new SIM card from Credo, my cell phone provider, and a new bank card from Citibank. I doubt I’ll pursue any legal action, just as I doubt the boys learned anything from their experience. It’s certainly not my place to teach them how to live their lives, but it’s obvious they have some maturing to do. I just hope they don’t do something that lands them in jail before they do it.

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I finally did it! I’ve been meaning to learn this song for nigh on twenty years now.

What finally motivated me was a friendly competition between several of the teachers at my school, to see who could get the most views in one month.

To that end I enlist your help, dear reader. Take a look, and if it stirs your nostalgia, inspires a singalong, or tickles your funnybone, then share the love!

Enjoy!

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An idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while is a desktop wallpaper of the earth, with a realtime display of night and day as the world revolves. For whatever reason, I started looking into it last week.

I found a couple of web sites that display about what I was looking for (1, 2, 3), but hacking Windows 7 to display web content on the desktop isn’t really my style (Active Desktop functionality disappeared with Vista’s Sidebar and 7’s Gadgets, I discovered).

Anyway, while reading about how one of the sites generates the images they display, I discovered a few programs that do what I was looking for, and after reading through the descriptions it seemed the perfect program was Xplanet. It’s used to create many of the maps on Wikipedia, enough to warrant an internal page with a tutorial on how to create maps for Wikipedia articles. It can display images from any point of view in our solar system you’d like, and of course anywhere on our planet, and update your wallpaper automatically. It’s fantastically versatile, but because it was built to run under Unix, it’s a bit quirky.

First off, you need a Unix command interpreter dll (fortunately included with the distribution) to even run the thing under Windows. Because it was initially designed to run under a command line-driven OS, it literally doesn’t have a GUI; the exhaustive documentation and help is all text-based- which was my first hook, a nostalgic intellectual exercise in command-line switches and parameters, replete with config and batch files.

I’m not sure if you’re like me, but when I get a new gadget I explore all the features to see what there is and what I can use. I even started thinking about tossing together a VB configurator that would write the config and batch files for you.

In learning all of Xplanet’s features, I found myself exploring forums dedicated to the program and discovered that there were multiple interfaces people had already written for it (1, 2, 3). I even found a program dedicated to periodically downloading current cloud maps. It might not surprise you then to learn that most of my free time over the last week has been consumed by learning and configuring Xplanet to my liking. I enjoy projects like this, where learning some new bit rewards you with a small change, slowly shaping the output toward your ideal.

You can see a screenshot up to the left of how it looks right now. I’m still not 100% done; I want to explore using a gamma adjustment to lighten up the clouds just a smidge so it’s easier to see the landmasses underneath. It’s close enough to share though, so if you wonder why I haven’t been online for the last week or so, here’s your reason. And if you have any questions about Xplanet, feel free to ask. 😉

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While walking to the grocery store a couple days ago, Yuko and I stumbled across a secondhand video game store named キャンプ (Camp). Yuko was super-interested, and wouldn’t walk away without at least browsing to see what classic titles they had.

Oh wait, that was me. 🙂

They had a bunch of stuff you’d expect, and a few surprises. Here’s a Japanese Super Famicom, brother of the Super Nintendo many of us know and love. It’s in the lower left of the case full of games, as you can see. Oh, and please excuse the image quality here, as all I had was my phone.
No Super Nintendo display would be complete without Super Mario Kart, so they had a unit running. Yuko and I played a couple of races, and what really struck me was how primitive it looked. For a seventeen year old game though, it’s still pretty solid.
They also had Nintendo 64 games. I wanted to snap a pic of the Japanese labels because it’s odd seeing something with which you’re very familiar changed just a little. Imagine if you went back to the house where you grew up and your bedroom door opened out, instead of in. Wouldn’t you take a picture of that? Also, I thought it was a travesty that Smash Brothers was more than twice the price of Ocarina of Time.
In Japan, you can buy a black Wii, and associated peripherals. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they don’t sell it in America. I’m sure it would sell well. Anyway, here’s a black Wii bundled with Monster Hunter 3 and the Classic Controller Pro, also not sold in America. Also, a snap of some used black peripherals.
Rounding out my trip down memory lane was this pair of NES machines (that would be the original Nintendo Entertainment System, for the uninitiated). On the left is Nintendo’s reissue of the original NES machine, and on the right is a recent knockoff of the console. I imagine the “original” machine is more expensive because they’re harder to come by. Anyway, if anyone really wants any of this stuff or other Japanese gaming stuff, let me know, as I pass this shop going to and from work every day. 🙂

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I assume 90% of you won’t be interested in it, but I’ve added a little widget to the lower right of my blog layout that shows my current jubeat game data. If you want, you can fiddle with it and see how I’ve done on any of the game’s ~60 songs and three difficulty levels, as well as my current class and national rank (currently S2 and 5448th, respectively).

That is all. Have fun fiddling. 😉

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Still Alive (Japanese Version)
Download free mp3 | Download free music

I just finished playing through Portal. (If you’ve played it, you probably figured that out from the title of the post.) It’s a fun game, and certainly deserving of most of the hype it’s received. A friend of mine recently said that it was nice to see a good 3D engine used for something other than a First Person Shooter, and I agree.

It’s a great puzzle game that consistently reminded me of Zelda (Ocarina of Time, specifically). It has a good learning curve right up until the last two levels, each of whose difficulty easily dwarfs all previous levels combined.

Like many good puzzle games, it’s strangely addictive. I get simulator sickness from playing most 3D games, and Portal was no exception. I have a headache and an upset stomach as I write this, in fact. It was a mild effect though, unlike some other games I’ve played. Anyway, my point is that the game was good enough to play through the slight dizziness.

If you’re at all interested in Portal, go play it.

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My first blog post from home!
I’m writing this from my newly set up ADSL connection. They tried to deliver the modem while I was at work Wednesday, but I was home when they came by on Thursday. Installation was just as straightforward as you’d think. The only kink was figuring out which telephone cord goes to the phone and which goes to the wall. You know, because everything inside the box was written in Japanese. I guess they’re satisfied to just have English available to place new orders. I hope I never need tech support.

<begin technobabble>
The modem is a Fujitsu all-in-one DSL modem/router unit with an expansion slot that also turns it into a wireless access point, but because I opted for the cheapest service ($21.50/month for a 12Mbps connection, how cool is that??), they didn’t give me the addon card. The fact that it’s a router is a double-edged sword, tho. Even though the unit clearly has a UPnP logo on it, it’s not responding to UPnP requests from µTorrent, which means my torrents download as though I had a way slower connection, because I can’t connect to other firewalled users. The router has an HTTP interface, but even if NTT gave me the login information for the firewall configuration, guess what language the interface is written in? I wish it was a dumb passthrough unit (and I had my beautiful LinkSys WRT54G here).
</end technobabble>

Anyway, I’ve been trading news and blog reading for sleep for the last couple of days. (Oil is really $147 a barrel? Congrats to Claudia and Brian. Carlin will be missed. Near-beer for children, anyone? Rock Band on the Wii?? Sweet! Weezer is coming to Osaka? Super-sweeet!) Hopefully, I’ll be posting more often, now that I don’t have to leave home to do so.

Unfortunately, just before I got connected, I fed my antivirus program a bad update and it ate a bunch of Windows files (and, amazingly, their backups from the XP Pro CD copy I have on my hard drive). I still have no sound from Windows, and I’ve been struggling to make Office 2007 work, as well as any program that uses a Microsoft Management Console or snap-ins (Add/Remove Programs, Device Manager, Event Viewer, half of Windows’ built-in utilities).

But at least I can get online in my underwear. 🙂

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