"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Fool me once, shame on you ...

... Fool me twice, shame on me!"  ~(Ancient Chinese proverb).

Fool me THREE TIMES?!!!

Good God!!! - That should result in forehead meets desk violently.

I've already put up two posts on email scams (Scam, and Another email scam - a bit more dangerous.)

I opened an email yesterday morning, that appeared to be from a blogger with whom I correspond.

I was dumb enough to click on a link in it, without thinking that his "Take this one very seriously" message was just not the way he writes.

It opened up a window on my browser to a site for one of those "Work at home" schemes, and then I noticed that it opened up another window to the same site.

Attempts to close either window produced a pop-up widget wanting me to click on a button to navigate away from the window.

That's when I thought, "OH, SH*T!!!"

I used the Task Manager to shut down the windows, logged off, and began a system scan for viruses. A check on the "Event Report" of my Panda anti-virus and firewall software showed that a connection attempt had been blocked by it at the time I had stupidly clicked on that link.

While the scan was still running, I sent an email to the folks that I usually send my "Look at me! Look at me!!" messages to, warning ...
Most likely, that blogger's email account got hijacked for a bunch of email addresses to send that thing to, and that was probably what was intended if the connection on MY machine hadn't been blocked by the firewall.

But, just in case, you'll notice no links or attachments whatever in this email. (If you get your email on Yahoo, or a similar web service, you might see a couple of attachments. - That's normal. They're data files with formatting info; you'll find them on ALL of your email in those systems.)

I also alerted that blogger, who at that time was apparently already aware of it, and dealing with it.

At present, it appears that everything is Ok, and that Panda did exactly what it was meant to do and prevented hijacking of my email information.

It was probably something like this that caused the events described in Scam, but I'm confident enough of my firewall to go back to my normal email format, links and all. I do not believe that you are likely to get any counterfeit messages purporting to be from me.

All the same however, a good antivirus and firewall is a worthy piece of insurance.

I'm beginning to learn that using a computer when you're half asleep can be as dangerous as driving in that condition.

So, how did I end up with Panda as my antivirus program?

I got this computer at the end of 2003, when I knew my job was going to be outsourced three months down the line and I felt I needed to replace an eight-year old machine as I would be searching online a lot, while futilely looking for a new job in my sixties.

It came with Norton antivirus installed, and I stayed with it and updated it (If it ain't broke, don't fix it!) until a couple of years ago when they no longer supported the version I had. So, I would have to buy a newer version and discovered that, as with most software, upgrades can be expensive and usually want more memory (more, in fact, than I had).

Therefore, I looked at alternatives.

Panda (from Panda Security, in Bilbao, Spain) had a very good reputation, was  reasonably priced (including a firewall) and not such a memory hog (getting along just fine with 128 Mb if you don't turn on one of their special (but not really essential) features that requires 512 Mb minimum memory - I only have 256 Mb).

If you already have an antivirus and firewall that does the job, excellent. No reason not to stay with it.

But, if circumstances (like mine) force you to consider an alternative, I absolutely recommend them.

I had used them, on my previous machine, replacing already installed software for similar reasons as mentioned above.  At that time, I had problems installing it because of conflicts with the existing software and leftover files from same.

This time (on my current computer), before installing it, I looked up and noted every directory I could find that appeared exclusively associated (very, very important) with the existing Norton software, then ran the "Uninstalls" for it and afterwards cleaned out and deleted any of those directories that the uninstall process may have missed. As a result, this time, the Panda installation was more straightforward and uneventful.

FYI - Your mileage may vary. :-)

(What IS it about Bilbao, Spain?  My bank is now owned by a group there. For years, I've used Compass Bank, long a major banking association in the Sunbelt.  In 2007, it became BBVA Compass, and NO, that doesn't mean Better Business of Virginia or anything like that. It means Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, who bought it out then. (Trivia, having absolutely no relevance to the post at hand.))

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another email scam - a bit more dangerous

-Would you like a virus with that?

I did something really stupid, as I DO know better.

This time, I was lucky.

Got a strange email, warning that my status as a Certified Public Accountant was in jeopardy, over helping my employees file fraudulent income tax returns.

Now this was news to me that I even had a status as a CPA and that I had employees.

The email wanted me to respond to the complaint (a linked PDF file). It also had a link to view the thing in a browser if necessary.

The "lucky" part was that I got the email late last night, and as I had to go to bed for an early rising in the morning for work, I moved the email to a special folder to deal with later.

So, it was almost an entire day before I got around to it.

Now, the true stupidity begins ...

I actually clicked on the "Complaint.pdf" link, and got ...
   403 - Access forbidden

Next, I clicked on "View it in your browser", getting ...
   404 - Page not found

That turned out to be a very good thing.

I then did what I should have done in the first place.

I googled for American Instutute of CPAs (the outfit that the email was supposedly from), went to their website (www.aicpa.org) to find contact information to verify that the email was legitimate, and the first thing I see on their main page (under "Other News") was a link to Alert: Fraudulent "Phishing" Scam Email Not from AICPA

Clicking on that link disclosed ...
On Thursday February 16, 2012, the AICPA became aware of a fraudulent email phishing scam using an AICPA banner and referencing the recipient’s possible involvement in an unlawful income tax refund activity that was sent to numerous individuals, CPAs, non-CPAs and members of the general public.

Messages may appear to come from senders such as the AICPA, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines or other well known sources including the Better Business Bureau.

This email is not from the AICPA nor from the AICPA database.
Do not open any attachment or click on any link as the email may contain a virus. While the exact source has not yet been determined, we are actively investigating the situation.

On Friday, February 17, the Better Business Bureau reported that a new round of phishing scams is using a BBB.org email address along with the American Institute of CPAs logo and name. The message informs recipients that their CPA license is being terminated due to tax fraud allegations and encourages them to click on a link and reply to the charges. The link leads to a third party website that downloads a virus on to the recipient’s computer. (Emphasis Mine)

Oh, Great!!!  I've just spent the last four hours running a full system scan on my computer, fortunately finding nothing (those error messages I got probably meant that they were able to de-fang those links by the time I had tried to access them).

As I said, pure luck this time.

The damned thing really did look legitimate and I figured they just had the wrong information.  Nevertheless, that google check I made should have been my first response if I had thought there was anything that needed replying to.

To the best of my knowledge, no legitimate outfit or agency is going to send such news as an email.  If it's truly serious, they would more likely employ regular (USPS) mail, maybe even Certified Mail to be sure that you actually got it.

If they want you to click on a link, use a lot more sense than I did and let that request ring all sorts of alarm bells in your head.  Again, no legitimate outfit will ask you to do that.

I was extremely tired and made a mistake.  Well, tired people can get killed by the mistakes they make, so watch out.  It's a snake's nest out there.

Have a good 'un.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

“The French have a phrase for it ...

...The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right.
   To say goodbye is to die a little.”
     ~Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye (1953)

I had considered naming this post "Moving on" or "To absent friends ..." but, while I liked the punch of the latter, I have no reason to believe any of them dead, so it didn't seem appropriate.

Those of you who usually receive my cast of thousands (Ok;  a couple of dozen then :-) email notices may notice a few names missing from the mailing list.

Friendships and relationships do not always last forever; circumstances (in a word - LIFE) intrudes and entropy will have its say.

Sometimes, the true miracle is what does last.  In the mid '70s, by purest accident I ran into an Air Force buddy I hadn't seen in 13 years.  I didn't even recognize him at first, wondering if he might be an architect client of the engineering company I worked for then.  But he knew me right away, at least enough to inquire if I was Paul Binkley (my name when I was in the USAF).

He gave me his telephone number and asked me to give him a call.

I dithered about that for awhile (probably most of you have had the experience of running into someone you knew long ago and then finding that so much has changed since then that you no longer have anything in common anymore), but finally found the courage to do so and am so glad that I did.

I went to see him and his family (including a six or seven year old son that I felt like I was almost an honorary uncle to.  He turned out all right, and I'd sure like to think that I was a decent influence).

In this case, my friend and I reconnected almost at once.  Some years later, I even moved out of state and worked for him as a data-processing manager until he had to let me go (partly economic circumstances, partly my own failing - management wasn't my greatest strength; I was much better at playing with the computers).

Some of my other Air Force friends, upon reading this, will probably rag on him a little bit, "You FIRED Him?!!!"  Well, give him a break.  Under the circumstances, I don't see that he had any other choice.  We're still good friends, even though he's been seduced by the Dark Side and is now a lawyer :(.  He even reads my blog once in a while.

E-mail communications don't get very wordy though.  In that he shares a trait with the other Air Force buddies of mine, in that long-winded conversations just aren't their thing.  He's perfectly capable of replying in an email, to a long and detailed question, "Yep!"  (Strangely, for a group that was a language unit in the USAF, if Clint Eastwood could be described as a man of few words, they would be of even fewer. :-)

With him and most of my other Air Force buddies, that friendship and relationship will likely outlast the lot of us.

But other people have lives of their own and circumstances make it very unlikely that we will ever get together again.  I suspect that for some, occasional purging of superfluous contacts may be necessary for their own sanity, and to cling leech-like to them is simply not fair.

So, as for AK, BW, IC, JC, JG, JV, RC, SB, and TW, they were (and still are) my friends and I wish them all the best. I will never forget them.

But, they have moved on (it's really as simple as that) and it's high time I did so as well.

Bottom line: I think Raymond Chandler pretty well nailed it above.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Of COURSE, they're naked!!!" ... (Updated 12 Jun 2015 - Rest In Peace)

 - "It's dangerous to jump through a fire with your clothes on!"

Thusly Christopher Lee (as Lord Summerisle) responds (quite reasonably) to an outraged visiting police sergeant, who has stated the obvious while witnessing a pagan ritual dance in The Wicker Man (1973). To be sure, that sergeant will soon find his sensibilities to be the very least of his problems.

My previous post Immortality, a "Happy Birthday" to composer John Williams who turned 80 just yesterday (08 Feb 2012) was an attempt to come to terms with the fact that I'm closing in on 70.

Well, Sir Christopher (born 27 May 1922, who could address John Williams as "Kid" and will hit NINETY just two days after I reach 70), would probably respond to my lamentation with "Stop WHINING!!!"

Although he'd done a lot before, for many of us this was our introduction to Lee ...

Many photos can be found of him in that role, but none that can hold a candle to this portrait from Canadian fan artist presterjohn1.  He captures the very soul.

Lee's IMDB page (linked at the top of this post) lists 274 titles in which he appears, and there are more to come.  Like Michael Caine, he apparently lives to work, and has probably no interest whatever in retiring. (To Sir Christopher: If you ever do contemplate that, my sincere advice is -- Don't!)

That resume goes back to 1946, but it was 12 years later when he first appeared as Dracula in Horror of Dracula (1958), a role he performed eight times, including an Italian-made version, Count Dracula (1970), that was quite faithful to the original novel, and an uncredited appearance in a Jerry Lewis comedy, One More Time (1970) that one of you will have to check out;  from what I've read, that one is probably not going to make it onto my must see list.

In deference to the opening lines and title of this post, I've read many times that Christopher Lee's favorite role is (or was for a long time) ...
Lord Summerisle, in The Wicker Man - from bafta.org

As the leader of a modern day pagan cult, preparing to offer a human sacrifice, Lee is clearly having the time of his life, being so wickedly charming and reasonable.

My personal favorite of his roles is ...
Le Comte de Rochefort in The Three Musketeers
modified from photo at juntajuleil.com

In 1973, director Richard Lester put together the absolutely finest version of The Three Musketeers (1973) I've ever seen.

(He then proceeded to create a firestorm by splitting the movie into two parts, releasing the second part as The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974) the following year.  You see, he had learned that theater owners weren't too keen on booking a movie that was over four-hours long, as you get fewer showings that way and don't make as much money.  So, he split it.

BUT, he really should have discussed it with his actors and crew first;  most of whom were a bit less than thrilled to learn that they had made two movies while being paid for one. Lawsuits resulted and things were eventually worked out.)

The movie had a stellar cast, but Lee managed to steal it whenever he showed up.

Athos (Oliver Reed) to D'Artagnan, who had inquired about the man with the eye-patch:
"His name is Rochefort. He's the Cardinal's living blade, and he's deadlyIf you should see him coming down the other side of the road, well, just don't cross over;  that's all."

Years later, another installment was made, The Return of the Musketeers (1989), with Lee, the same director, and most of the same actors, but sadly it was pretty forgettable.

He went up against 007 ...
Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga - from snyderworld.co.cc

... in the Roger Moore James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), and lost of course.  How could he ever have had a chance? :-)

Not my favorite Bond movie by a long shot, nor my favorite Lee performance, it graces this post only because of the trivia that Christopher Lee is a cousin of the late Ian Fleming (the writer who conjured up Bond in the first place).

Now, for an example of making maximum use of limited time ...
Christopher Lee as Blind Pew - modified from photo at starwarped.net

Charlton Heston created perhaps the finest version ever of Treasure Island (1990) as a made-for-TV movie, and populated it with a wonderful cast (he did pretty well with his part as well, considering that Long John Silver is not an easy role, having to be tough enough to control a pirate crew and still manage to be sympathetic to a young boy).

Long available only on VHS tape, late last year it finally came out on DVD (and about damn time too). (Added 25 May 2012 - I have a lot more to say about this version in a later post - Treasure Island.  You can probably gather that I like it a lot.)

It opens with the arrival of Billy Bones, played by the formidable Oliver Reed (never a shrinking violet), but when he is humbled by Blind Pew showing up to deliver the "black spot" and an ultimatum, I'm not at all sure just how much of that is acting;  Lee has a commanding presence and, during the probably less than 10 or 15 minutes of total screen time he has here, totally dominates it.

I'm not going to exhaust the internet's store of photos and info about him. (I doubt I could keep up with him in any case).  Most of you probably already remember him as Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in the 2nd and 3rd Star Wars prequels, and as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

I last saw him in Hugo (I mention that movie a bit in my post "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") and the IMDB page lists (at the moment) five more movies he's working on (including the two Hobbit movies, where he returns as a slightly younger Saruman).

So, what does a guy pushing ninety look like today? ...
From wildsoundmovies.com

Damn! There are people in their sixties (including yours truly) who would surrender their souls to look like that. Life is just so unfair. :(

(And Sir Christopher repeats, yet again, "Stop WHINING!!!" :-)

Update 12 Jun 2015 - Rest In Peace ..
I have learned that, sadly, he passed away on 07 Jun 2015, at the age of 93. The best eulogy I've seen, so far is  Rest In Peace Sir Christopher Lee .

Sir: You will be truly missed.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What IS it with the Republican Party?!!!

- Some quite lethal things actually. I'm going to address two of them here.

Wed, 10 Apr 2013 - Damned near USELESS!!! - See update at end. :(

"Drunks, passed out in public places, are more truly symbolic of the USSR than is the Hammer & Sickle."    ~Robert A. Heinlein, "Inside Intourist" (1960)

He and his wife Virginia had taken a tour of the Soviet Union in 1960 and he was referring to the Russian proclivity to use vodka (often dosing themselves to unconsciousness), to insulate themselves from the absolutely soul-crushing hopelessness of life under that system.

That could be where we're heading.

Only three years into his first term, Barack Obama has already launched us well on the way. Just think of what he could manage with yet another term.

Sadly, many Republicans seem Hell-bent on making that second term all too likely.

Part 1 - The Circular Firing Squad ...
... and our shark-like feeding frenzies when going after Republican candidates with whom we disagree.  All too many of us appear to have no idea of what "Pyrrhic Victory" actually means.

Unfortunately, the Democrats do seem to understand, and consistently do a much better job of uniting behind the eventual winner of their primaries (or in this case, their virtually unopposed candidate).

"When your enemies are destroying themselves, do not interfere!"

I don't know if that saying goes back to Musashi Miyamoto, Sun Tzu, or even cave paintings, but I'd be very surprised if it's not framed on a wall above David Axelrod's desk.

When the campaigns started, I had wanted, so much, Sarah Palin as our candidate. But, that was not to be.

After her, I'd have preferred Rick Perry. But unfortunately, it appears the thing he's best at is governing. While I believed (and still do) that he would make a truly excellent President, there remains that pesky detail of winning the nomination before you get a chance at going for the job itself.

Next up was Newt Gingrich: A fighter, with an idea-a-second mind and the willingness to actually run against the system currently in place.  But he goes all over the map sometimes, following an excellent South Carolina campaign where he focused on issues, with a badly mistaken Florida campaign where he reverted to "destroy Romney" mode, losing badly as a result.

Roger L. Simon (long a fan of his) tore him a new one in Florida: Why Gingrich Lost Big and What’s Next. While Simon's post is disturbing enough, what absolutely terrifies me are the comments.

It appears that whoever emerges as the nominee, all too many of those against him will throw a tantrum, sit out the election, and then on the first Wednesday this November, will be wailing about what just happened and wondering "Who's responsible?".  Well, in that case, I suggest that you look into a mirror. And, may God Damn you to Hell! Because that's precisely what you will have done to the rest of us.

If any grown-ups remain in the Republican Party, their #1 concern absolutely has to be about getting some kind of unity behind whoever emerges victorious in the primaries, and get him all the support he needs.

Because, the safest bet on earth right now is that the Democrats will turn out in force to be damned sure their candidate makes it.

Or, would you prefer Obama getting a chance to complete the job of turning our country into the despair-ridden Hell that Robert Heinlein visited so long ago (and apparently remains the blueprint of the society Obama's administration wishes to force upon us)?

It is truly up to you.

I wrote those preceding paragraphs, about Roger L. Simon's post and the resulting comments several days ago, in the post that is replaced by this one.

Today (05 Feb 2012), he has a new post on Romney's win in the Nevada Caucus ...
Republican Nomination: The Fat Lady Sings at The Venetian but the Losers Aren’t Listening "To the candidates themselves who treat each other like they were refugees from a leper colony, when their actual views are close to identical, I say take your extreme narcissistic personality disorders and go see a reputable psychiatrist. The country is more important than you are."

... and once again the commentors scare the Hell out of me, making me hope to God they are not truly representative of the electorate, as they totally confirm what I said about them in the preceding paragraphs.

Part 2 - Kdaptist Republicans ...
The other problem is that, for an opposition party, all too often we really aren't.

We appear to have a GOP Establishment of insiders for whom the commandment is "Watch thou for the mutant."

If you recall the old Frankenstein movies in which the villagers are coming for the monster with torches and pitchforks, that is the fate of any Republican who dares to be distinguishable from a Democrat.

Do I exaggerate?  Ask Sarah Palin, or Florida Representative Col. Allen West, who's greatest enemy is not a Democratic opponent, but his own party (see Is The Florida Republican Party About To Sacrifice Congressman Allen West)

Now, divisions within our party aren't that new or unusual.  I remember Barry Goldwater's campaign in the '60s, running on the theme of his book, "A Choice; Not an Echo."

I also remember that he lost (although, what would have happened had Kennedy not been assassinated is anyone's guess;  he was in Texas that day to mend political fences -- he was in trouble. Don't forget that while he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis very well, it was his handling of the failed Cuban invasion and the rise of the Berlin Wall that set the stage for the crisis in the first place. He was not invulnerable politically at that time).

It may be that loss that has given us an inner corps of GOP insiders that are terrified of anyone distinguishable from a Democrat.  Indeed, four years later, George Wallace would run as a third-party candidate on the grounds that, of the Democrats and Republicans, "There's not a dime's worth of difference between them!"

Larry Niven wrote about those establishment types in his "Known Space" series
(and I'll bet you thought he was just writing science-fiction :-).  In it, among humankind's greatest adversaries were the Kzinti: eight-foot tall, bipedal, carnivorous cat-like aliens for whom the word aggressive is a masterpiece of English understatement.

After Louis Wu has had to challenge one (who had not yet earned a name, but was referred to by his function: "Speaker" - short for "Speaker to animals"), and an intervention from another Kzin prevented that challenge from reaching its tragic conclusion ...
  Speaker: "Louis: I found your challenge verbose.
  "A simple scream of rage is sufficient.
  "You scream and you leap!"

They had fought us many times, always losing.  In another story, when the possibility of their involvement in some mysterious happening was raised, Beowulf Schaeffer observed, "It's not like they're a real threat;  they'll always attack before they're quite ready."

In the novel "Ringworld", Speaker tells Louis about the "Kdapt-Preacher heresy": The mad Kzin Kdapt-Preacher had his road to Damascus moment and concluded that the Kzinti constantly lost their wars with man because the Creator had, in fact, made Man in his image and favored him.

So, disciples of his cult wore skins and masks made of human skin in hopes of deceiving the Creator and finally managing a victory.

"You kept winning!", Speaker explained.

Or, another example (I swear I'm still on topic here) ...

To the best of my knowledge, the AIDS virus does not harm you directly but does its damage by infiltrating your body's defenses and infecting the white blood cells that are its first line of defense, so that when you come under attack from something else you find that your guardians are on perpetual coffee break.

Are those examples the standards to which the Republican Party aspires to?  To win by only being impostors of the Democrats?

I'm not at all keen on the idea of a third party to split our opposition to Obama, but I'm leaning hard in that direction once the November election is behind us. If the Republicans insist on being only a pale shadow of the Democrats, they are damned near useless.

I've usually been opposed to the idea of term limits, but I'm reconsidering that;  the establishment types described above make a wonderful case for the notion that serving in the Executive or Legislative branch should never be a lifetime profession.

(Originally posted 1234 CST, 05 Feb 2012)

Update - Wed, 11 Apr 2013 - Damned near USELESS!!!
I originally posted this on 05 Feb 2012, and I stand by every word of it.

This item (Taxes, Guns, and Chuck Schumer as GOP Leader) on Redstate today caused me to resurrect my post and bump it to the top.

I'm frankly "Mad as Hell ...", but am not at all sure just what to do about it.  My misgivings about a third party splitting opposition to the democrats still remain, but it may very well have to come to that. My biggest hope is that the Tea Party supporters will work on (and eventually succeed in)  instigating enough of a revolt within the Republican Party to make it worth a damn again.

What I am certain of is that there is no hope in Hell of accomplishing anything useful with a party made up of democrat wannabes.

Revolution within the Republican Party, or total replacement of the party? That, I believe, is the question.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Emergency Only

A status message I sometimes get on my cellphone (TracFone).

As far as I can determine, this happens when I get into an area that appears to be a local "dead zone" (not getting a signal for some reason).  It usually goes back to normal when I move a bit and it gets a signal again.

But, I have to wonder ...

If it's not getting a signal, just how in Hell is it supposed to be of any use in an emergency?!!!



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