Monthly Archives: May 2010

US Airlines Scam

Yesterday I received a peculiar letter; the envelope was covered in dense black print, and there were perforations along each side, like a payslip envelope. Several warnings were plastered all over the package explaining that this was urgent and must not be tampered with on penalty of death or thereabouts. There were also instructions for the postmaster to ensure it was delivered on a specific date. My immediate thought was “summons” (I don’t know what they look like here) so I reluctantly tore off the strips and opened it to discover it was actually notification from US Airlines that my frequent-flyer number had come up and I’d won two promotional airline tickets for anywhere in the US! Hmm, could it be a scam, I wondered? Well it had my frequently-flyer number, and I think I enrolled in the US Air frequent-flyer programme so it could be legit. Hey, if I call within 48 hours they’re also going to give me a $100 Dining Gift card! What could go wrong? And surely they wouldn’t be so brazen as to use the name of airline without permission.

Michele was more skeptical and after a quick Google found a question from someone, which confirmed it was a scam.

Here’s how it works. Tucked away in the mailing was another hidden page that you have to work hard to find. On it is written “Sponsored By IGlobe”, together with their temporary, rented, Philadelphia address, and a statement that a “60-minute presentation is required”. So you call, make an appointment and are promised you’ll walk out with the “vouchers for tickets”. You then have to sit through a time-share pitch and unless you sign up there and then, they “keep the vouchers for you.” If you want the vouchers at all, you have to send them the tax (which you are responsible for paying, according to more hidden smallprint) in advance, and they’ll mail the vouchers. Yeah, ok.

We got quite excited at the prospect of baiting some scammers and so immediately called. The phone was answered:
“Reservations, my name is Dumbass”
“Hi, I just got a letter telling me we’d won free airline tickets!” I said excitedly.
“Ah yes, can you give me your name and offer number?”
I did so.
“Ok, we’re IGlobe and this is a promotional offer so you’re required to attend a 60 minute presentation. We don’t do time-share, property leasing or…”

I love it when scammers try to divert attention from whatever racket they’re hawking by explicitly saying it isn’t what it is. “hi, this isn’t a sales call”, followed by a sales call, “hello, we’re in the area and we’re not selling anything”, followed by a double glazing pitch, “this isn’t a pyramid scheme”, before drawing a pyramid on a whiteboard. If only all crooks provided this service, it would make avoiding crime so much easier; burglars could ring the bell and tell you they’re not going to break in and steal all your gear just before they break in. You could make preparations! Bank robbers could change the wording of the note to “This isn’t a stick-up. But could you put all the money in this bag please to avoid getting shot. A much nicer world it would be. I digress.

“No it’s ok, all I really want is the tickets, so if you could send them.”
“No I’m afraid we can’t do that. If you look at the third page of the letter …[she explains how to find the hidden page]…if you attend the 60 minute presentation you’ll walk out with the vouchers.”
“No could you just send them to me, I’ll give you my address.”
“No we can’t do that sir, have a wonderful day…”
She hangs up. How rude!

I call back:
“Hello, I think there was some misunderstanding earlier, we appear to have been cut off!”
“Hold on a moment…”
She fetches the bitch in chief.
“Hi, I’m afraid we can’t send you the vouchers, you have to pick them up from the office.”
“Oh ok, can I come over today?”
“Yes! And you’ll need to attend the short presentation, but you’ll walk out with the vouchers.”
They weren’t going to budge, so I booked an appointment for 3:45 today and gave them our landline number, sans extension number. We’ll let Rufus deal with them.

It seems they are mobile scammers so expect them to be visiting your town very soon!

Halfway through writing a letter to US Airways to inform them about the abuse of their good name, I realised…doh!

A short rant about the abuse of computing power

This simple rule should be known by everyone who ever intends to sit in front of a computer keyboard:

If you find you are doing something tedious or repetitive on a computer, you are doing it wrong.

Such a simple rule and yet so many people fail to grasp it – sadly, many of these are self-proclaimed “IT Professionals(tm)”.

Computers are machines that were designed to do repetitive and tedious tasks faster, more efficiently, and with no wear – thus saving the human race from the misery of menial tasks.

How would Charles Babbage feel if he were given some brief glimpses into the 21st century workplace and could observe these all too common scenarios:

  1. Printing out email and then carrying it over to someone, who reads it, writes notes on the paper and then sends it back for the original person to retype and respond.
  2. Entering data into a spreadsheet/database by hand from a print-out that originated from someone else’s database.
  3. Writing out address labels for addresses that are kept on computer.
  4. Using Powerpoint for anything whatsoever.
  5. Printing out a spreadsheet and adding-up the column totals using a calculator.

The list of these dreadful abuses of technology is endless, and there are entire websites devoted to it.

So what do you do if you are instructed to do one of these tedious and pointless things? Having recognised the golden rule is being broken, you should start asking some questions. Firstly, in any admin department there should be at least one tech-savvy admin person who can do a mail-merge, import, or whatever simple thing is required to simplify the task. If not, ask an IT person – they should be able to provide a simple method of doing the task more efficiently. If not, then you are clearly surrounded by idiots – look for a new job. If you really like your job, then go to the Library, get a Dummies guide, and read it. Once you start displaying wizard-like skills and helping people save time, you will suddenly become more valuable.

But what if you are an IT person and you find yourself in the position of having to perform a routine and tedious task? Move up the ladder and ask an SA or a developer if there’s any way the job “can be scripted”. Uncooperative or surly SA’s and devs usually have profoundly large egos and so you may need a little social engineering. If one refuses to help, tell him the other guy said he’d do it, and in a very short time instead. They’ll usually bend.

Whatever you do, don’t abuse these amazing and powerful machines by using them as expensive typewriters.

Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction, ’cause I don’t.
— Marvin the paranoid android

Mick Jagger on the anachronism that is the music business

Mick Jagger on Technology and Music:

I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records. But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

Obviously nobody cares

Lots of stuff has happened (as stuff is wont to do) since I last wrote a proper blog: both my sister and I had a birthday for a start. That’s not as important to us 30 something (big) people as it used to be, especially now that my sister and her partner have made a lovely niece for me…thanks guys 😉

I got exactly what I wanted for my birthday: a night of just being home with Michele, the birds, good telly, Carlo’s cheapest, and a quality pizza. Really, that’s all I want out of life these days; it’s nice to regularly achieve it.
The night after that there was an informal gathering of people in a near-workplace bar that helped us all get drunk in a friendly, relaxed, atmosphere. Not quite the Hob/Marquis/Walpole/Amersham, but not far off it. Seriously, some of these American chaps are really rather sound. And the chapesses. Who are also chaps.

Today we went to Michele’s Mum’s as an early Mothers’ Day thing (Michele can’t attend tomorrow because she is working a million hour day at the clinic). This turned out to be extremely enjoyable and involved good food, drink, good family, diatonic accordions, and Sesame Street. Diatonic accordions are extremely good fun by the way, especially if you know your way around a diatonic harmonica. In fact I’m going to try to find one in some flea-market somewhere.

It has been a busy few weeks, both in work and outside. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact the ambient mood in our house hovers around the mellow. That can’t be bad.