Archive for September, 2009

“A Johnny Funny”

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I get a funny joke or story every day from Micky’s Funnies.


Young Johnny finished summer vacation and went back to school.

Two days later his teacher phoned his mother to tell her that Johnny was misbehaving.

“Wait a minute!” said Johnny’s mom.  “I had him here for two months and I never once called YOU when he misbehaved!”


Yeah, you can send this Funny to anybody you want. And, if you’re REAL nice, you’ll tell them where you got it!

Yes, it’s amusing.  Unfortunately, it also has more than a grain of truth behind it.  IMHO, our education system and our children are in the mess they are in largely because parents have abdicated their primary responsibility to educate their children – in manners and morals as much as knowledge.


How are you doing?

Are TV Ads Too Loud? (I have an idea)

Monday, September 28th, 2009

This little article was published in yesterday’s Parade insert in our newspaper – and was one of the front page teasers, no less.

Are TV Ads Too Loud |
Are TV Ads Too Loud?
Loud television commercials for everything from used cars to pet supplies have been invading America’s living rooms since the 1960s. Now, some lawmakers want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to do something about it.

“It’s enough to blast you off the sofa when some of these ads come on,” says Rep. Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.). “It’s a source of irritation to people when they’re relaxing in their own home. For decades, there have been complaints and investigations by the FCC, but nothing has ever been done about it.” Eshoo recently introduced the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. If passed, it would require the FCC to set new limits on the volume of commercials.

The FCC has no official position on the bill but suggests that consumers simply use their remote controls to keep volume levels consistent. David Perry, head of television production at advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi, says legislation isn’t necessary since new televisions are equipped with technology that can easily mitigate the problem. He notes that commercials are only as loud as the noisiest part of a program but admits that they can be jarring when they follow quieter moments in a show.

Still, consumer advocates say viewers should not need the latest technology to avoid the annoyance of shouting pitchmen. “Advertisers simply do not have a right to scream at consumers in their living rooms,” says Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst at Consumers Union. He calls the CALM Act “ a commonsense solution to a 45-year consumer complaint.”

— J. Scott Orr

It seems the complaint is that advertisers should not have the right to force their way into your home, without your consent and try to get your attention (by “screaming”), while you are relaxing by consuming entertainment created for your benefit at no cost or inconvenience to you.  Perhaps we should pay a government entity to create programming for us to watch?  Perhaps all shows should be pay-per-view?   Maybe we could discontinue broadcast television and pay the creators of TV programming through our cable and satellite providers (isn’t it expensive enough already)?


 If the screaming bothers you, I have an Idea – turn it off.  Hint: it works for the radio too.


The Missing Dollar

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

 A couple of weeks ago, this old riddle came up in conversation with a group of friends from my church.  It’s a good riddle, and an old one – you can easily find discussions of the problem and solution online (but don’t cheat):

 Three guests check into a hotel room. The clerk says the bill is $30, so each guest pays $10. Later the clerk realizes the bill should only be $25. To rectify this, he gives the bellhop $5 to return to the guests. On the way to the room, the bellhop realizes that he cannot divide the money equally. As the guests didn’t know the total of the revised bill, the bellhop decides to just give each guest $1 and keep $2 for himself.

Now that the guests have been given $1 back, each has paid $9, bringing the total paid to $27. The bellhop has $2. If the guests originally handed over $30, what happened to the remaining $1?

Can you explain?

I was prompted to revisit this as I thumbed through a book I found laying around the house.  The version in this book has a couple of interesting differences.  It starts with three men asking for three separate rooms for thirty dollars.  The clerk realizes that the rooms should have been $25.  That got my goat – $25 for three rooms?  So, the hotel has a three-for-twenty-five deal? A sale price of $8.33 for a room?  All, I suspect, to avoid speculation about the three men sharing a room.

Look before you leap: using

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I got a surprising email this morning.  It is a dire warning from somebody in my new company’s corporate IT department.   I thought it looked unlikely, so I consulted my oracle about it.  Sure enough, it’s as unlikely as it sounds.  More importantly, this email has been circulating for over five years.  Someone in that position should know better.

While I was there, I saw that snopes also covers the IRS Notice of Underreported Income and Tax Refund letters I wrote about earlier.

From: xxxxxxx, xxxx
Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 7:57 AM
Subject: FW: Money Scam – Just passing this along


Passing on…

there is always someone thinking up a new scam.  Better watch this one!!!!

  It happened to me at Wal-Mart (Supercenter Store #1279, 10411 N Freeway 45, Houston , TX 77037 ) a month ago.  I bought a bunch of stuff, over $150, & I glanced at my receipt as the cashier was handing me the bags.  I saw a cash-back of $40.  I told her I didn’t request a cash back & to delete it.  She said I’d have to take the $40 because she couldn’t delete it.  I told her to call a supervisor.  Supervisor came & said I’d have to take it.  I said NO!  Taking the $40 would be a cash advance against my Discover & I wasn’t paying interest on a cash advance!!!!!  If they couldn’t delete it then they would have to delete the whole order.  So the supervisor had the cashier delete the whole order & re-scan everything!  The second time I looked at the electronic pad before I signed & a cash-back of $20 popped up.  At that point I told the cashier & she deleted it.  The total came out right.  The cashier agreed that the electr onic pad must be defective.  Obviously the cashier knew the electronic pad was defective because she NEVER offered me the $40 at the beginning.  Can you imagine how many people went through before me & at the end of her shift how much money she pocketed?

Just to alert everyone. My co worker went to Milford DE  Walmart last week. She had her items rung up by the cashier. The cashier hurried her along and didn’t give her a receipt. She asked the cashier for a receipt and the cashier was annoyed and gave it to her. My co worker didn’t look at her receipt until later that night. The receipt showed that she asked for $20 cash back. SHE DID NOT ASK FOR CASH BACK. My co worker called Walmart who investigated but could not see the cashier pocket the money. She then called her niece who works for the bank and her niece told her this. There is a scam going on. The cashier will ask for cash back and hand it to her friend who is the next person in line.  Please, Please, please check your receipts right away when using debit cards. The store has the cashier under investigation now. We can only pray that she is caught very soon.

I am adding to this.  My husband and I were in WalMart North Salisbury and paying with credit card when my husband went to sign the credit card signer he just happen to notice there was a $20 cash back added.  He told the cashier that he did not ask nor want cash back and she said this machine has been messing up and she canceled it.  We really didn’t think anything of it until we read this email.  Please be aware


An Anti-Placebo effect?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

The previous post about the Pygmalion Effect got me thinking about the Placebo Effect.

It so happens that I’m reading the chapter on placebos in Predictably Irrational (a fascinating book that I am currently enjoying very much). In this particular story, the authors found that the price of a placebo influenced its effectiveness. Seriously – expensive aspirin works better than cheap aspirin.  Could that be the reason behind the famous $25 hospital aspirin?

I presume that if our mind can cause an effect to emerge from a sugar pill, an anti-placebo effect should also exist.  Instead of just making stuff up, I consulted the Great Oracle on  the subject.  It seems others are pondering the same question:

Kathryn Ho does some actual research:  THE ANTI-PLACEBO EFFECT?

Karen wonders (and asks “The Straight Dope Science Advisory Board”)

Dear Straight Dope:

I’ve always wondered about any anti-placebo effect. For instance, I am skeptical that zinc lozenges prevent colds, but if they do, I sure want them to prevent mine, but I am worried that my skepticism will negate any real effects. So, is there an anti-placebo effect?

 Short answer: “Yes”.  Long Answer: read the column here.

 And, “Vaughan” writes in Reverse psychology in a pill: anti-placebo:

You may be aware of the placebo effect, where an inert pill has an effect because of what the patient thinks it does. You may even be aware of the nocebo effect, where an inert pill causes ‘side-effects’. But a fascinating 1970 study reported evidence for the anti-placebo effect, where an inert pill has the opposite effect of what it is expected to do.

It appears that the effect is likely real.

So, even if you love your Quack diets and treatments, there’s no point trying to win your skeptical friends over.  Whether they work for you or not, and whether they work via the placebo effect or not, it is likely to fail for a skeptic because of  the anti-placebo effect.

The Pygmalion Effect

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Dan Miller wrote this story in his August 18, 2009 newsletter:

I was Shocked! « Dan Miller’s Blog
Our mind can complete the expectations we have!

Recently I installed three new poles and decorative lights on the driveway approach to our house. Although I enjoy being a handy man, electrical work always makes me nervous. I rented a trencher, dug a narrow ditch and carefully laid the line in the trench. I then proceeded to install the outlets and run the line up each pole before completing the power attachment at our house. Twice in this process I recoiled with the stinging shock of electric power surging through my arms – but wait – there was no power yet attached. I hadn’t connected the line to the power source. Just the “anticipation” of power convinced me I had already “felt” a serious shock.

I find I’m not alone in this mysterious happening. Commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect, scientists say this phenomenon occurs when “a false definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.” In other words, once an expectation is set, we tend to act in ways that are consistent with that expectation, even when it’s not true.

I have had this experience with electricity, though not to the extent Dan reports here.  I’ll grant him poetic license to make the story interesting. It sounds familiar, and interesting, and similar to some other effects (notably the Placebo Effect).

Wikipedia’s entry for Pygmalion Effect also reports on an experiment familiar to me.  A number of school teachers were given a new class of students.  Some of the teachers were told that they were getting a group of exceptionally gifted students.  Others were told that their class was a bit slower.  All of the classes performed as expected – the “gifted” classes progressed much farther than the “slow” classes — even though students in all classes were randomly assigned.

In this experiment, Rosenthal predicted that, when given the information that certain students are brighter than others, elementary school teachers may unconsciously behave in ways that facilitate and encourage the students’ success. The prior research that motivated this study was done in 1911 by psychologists regarding the case of Clever Hans, a horse that gained notoriety because it was supposed to be able to read, spell, and solve math problems by using its hoof to answer. Many skeptics suggested that questioners and observers were unintentionally signaling Clever Hans. For instance, whenever Clever Hans was asked a question the observers’ demeanor usually elicited a certain behavior from the subject that in turn confirmed their expectations.

The bottom line is that our minds to affect our perceptions in a powerful way.   Your attitude will have a powerful effect on your life and your happiness (and apparently that of those around you).  I have seen expectations (sour attitudes) ruin vacations, jobs, homes, and marriages.  Used for good, a positive attitude will make your job better, your spouse prettier, and even make the weather better.  Really.  (but don’t overdo it and fall prey to the Pollyanaism.)

What is phishing?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Since I’ve been on the subject of Phishing email, I decided to look into a balance transfer offer I got from Citibank.

While I was looking into it, I ran into an excellent explanation and example at PhishTank:

What to look for in a phishing email

  1. Generic greeting. Phishing emails are usually sent in large batches. To save time, Internet criminals use generic names like “First Generic Bank Customer” so they don’t have to type all recipients’ names out and send emails one-by-one. If you don’t see your name, be suspicious.
  2. Forged link. Even if a link has a name you recognize somewhere in it, it doesn’t mean it links to the real organization. Roll your mouse over the link and see if it matches what appears in the email. If there is a discrepency, don’t click on the link. Also, websites where it is safe to enter personal information begin with “https” — the “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see “https” do not proceed.
  3. Requests personal information. The point of sending phishing email is to trick you into providing your personal information. If you receive an email requesting your personal information, it is probably a phishing attempt.
  4. Sense of urgency. Internet criminals want you to provide your personal information now. They do this by making you think something has happened that requires you to act fast. The faster they get your information, the faster they can move on to another victim.

 Phish Annotated

Here is my email (without and with images), purportedly from Citibank, and potentially a Phishing attempt:


How does this “offer” stack up?

  1. Generic greeting. Well, they address me by name and include the last four digits of my account.  That’s good.
  2. Forged link. Not so good here.  I guess this will be the point of the post.
  3. Requests personal information. Good here.  There is no request for information in the body of the email, but what about the links?
  4. Sense of urgency. Good again.  My suspicious nature is soothed.  Somewhat.

The links

The links in this message  are really suspicious, IMHO.  Roll over any of the links, and for every one of them you see something like  “” does not say “trusted bank” to me.  In fact, whois shows that is registered to Acxiom Corporation, a leading provider of email marketing solutions.

Acxiom Corporation

I assume that the trailing garbage is encoded information that identifies me.  I tried to open several of the pages after changing a couple of bytes of the string, and every one of them took me to Citibank Japan.

Exploring the Site

I decided this was a legitmate offer with problems rather than a phish, so I clicked a link.

The links redirect, and I end up at  That also does not look like Citibank.  However, there are clues that it is legitimate.  Second, the whois record does show that is owned by CitiBank, N. A.

First, the address bar changes to HTTPS, and in Firefox, a green security indicator appears.

Firefox Security bar

This indicates that the session is now secure, and that the securing certificate belongs to the entity shown in green.   Anyone can get a certificate and set up a secure site.  If the name doesn’t match, you may be getting conned. Click on the green area to get more information about the certificate.

Certificate Details

What is this “Email Security Zone”?

The message has an Email Security Zone box at the top with some personal information.  This is enough to assure me that, if it is a scam, it is targeted directly to me.  Since I’m feeling egotistical and free to assume that they are out to get me, I’ll assume this is fake.  But, what is it?

I click on the text and get redirected to

The site contains these gems of wisdom:

Check Email for Security

 The best way to verify a Citi email is to look for the Email Security Zone header at the top of the email. Every Citi Cards email includes your first name, last name, and the last 4 digits of your card number.

Please note that Citi will never ask you for your PIN number, and will never include your full account number, password or social security number in an email–only the last four digits. If you receive an email claiming to be from Citi that includes or asks for your full account number, password or social security number, do not respond to it. Instead, forward it to

Be careful – If I were a scammer, I would invent a security badge and give it to myself.  Then I would point out how that indicates how secure you are.  Note that it is the last four digits that are useful, not the first four.  Some scammers will try to lull you into a sense of safety by giving the first four digits, which are used to identify the bank or type of card and are very easy to guess.

Examples of Phishing Emails:

Your Citibank account was temporarily suspended

Protect Your Citibank Account

Citibank for Your Information

Citi Identity Theft Solutions

I love this part.  Every one of these examples has this to say at the top:

Below is a fraudulent email that was sent to a customer. Although it looks like it’s from Citibank, it is not. To visit us, always enter

Yet, their own email has clickable links and buttons that all go to or get redirected to  Come on, Citibank.

One more point to watch out for

Phishing email is often taken from real emails like this one and modified slightly.  All the images and wording come from the original, and often from the legitimate site itself.  Most of the links, such as “privacy”, “security”, “pay your bill”, “contact us”, will direct to the original, legitimate site.  Even if most of the links check out, there could still be a viper in the nest.

tax refund

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Call me easily amused, but it just boggles my mind that this kind of spam seems to work (or why would they keep doing it?).

Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. Homepage

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $376.44
Please click on the link to continue:
A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.
We apologize for the problems caused, and is very grateful for your collaboration.

Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated.

Quinton Kiah
Tax Refunds Department

Copyright © 2009 Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.

Let’s see what’s wrong with this one.  How about going top to bottom?

1)  The alternate text on the image is ” Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. Homepage.”  (Mouse over the image to see it).  “Homepage”? We Americans are only concerned with the IRS of the United States – but we never mention the “U.S.A.” part.  That’s assumed, unless you live in Nigeria.

2)  This is obviously written by or for someone who does not do their own taxes.  The IRS does not perform “annual calculation” of our “fiscal activity.”  They check the “annual calculations” that we do ourselves and give to them.

3)  “Click on the link.”  Nope.  Hover over the link and look in the status bar to see where it goes –  Remember, that translates to something at  Not very governmental sounding.

4)  “We … is very grateful for your collaboration.”  Well, you be welcome then.

5) Be accurate, or be indicated.

6) Sincerely, Quinton Kiah.

Actually, I’d believe this one.  No con man makes up a name like that (for an American IRS representative).

7) “Copyright © 2009 Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.”  Now the IRS is supposed to be copyrighting refund notices?  Maybe only the IRS of U.S.A.
So, what is left to be Right?

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.
Tax Refunds Department

That, I can believe.



This was so silly that I didn’t even try to look it up online.  However, I stumbled on the page at that covers this email.  They add the expected words straight from the IRS:

The IRS says about such e-mails that:

The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through e-mail. In addition, the IRS does not request detailed personal information through e-mail or ask taxpayers for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Do not open any attachments to questionable e-mails, which may contain malicious code that will infect your computer. Please be advised that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via e-mails.

The hyperlink above contains information about how to report phishing e-mails purporting to originate with the IRS.

Five Things All Parents Should Do for Their Children

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Aside from the grammar sin in the title, I can’t say this any better than Paul Sloane does in Five Things Every Parent Should Do for Their Young Children.

I have to add that these five things should not stop until your children leave home, if ever.

How Many Communists Does It Take…

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

“Quick question: how many Marxists, Communists, Domestic Terrorists and raving racialists does the President get to associate with before reasonable people can assume that the president on some level shares their particular vision of America?”

From: Joseph C. Phillips : Revolution Anyone? –