Do you find this photo as disturbing as I do?


(In case I can’t get the photo to work:

I saw this display in front of a Cricket phone store in North Charleston, SC.

Of course, this shop doubles as a clothing store, which is probably a story in itself.

Come see their Anne Boleyn collection.

# # #

Scam alert: If you get an email from the IRS, it’s not them

If you get a note from the IRS (Eternal Revenue Service), it’s usually not a good thing unless it comes with a check. But if you get an email from the IRS, you should really pay attention. It might not be them.

I got a strange one in my email box the other day, and it was a genuine head-scratcher:

* * *

Gmail Team
Jun 2 (5 days ago) 

to me

The message “Your Federal tax report #ID9837” from Internal Revenue Service ( contained a virus or a suspicious attachment. It was therefore not fetched from your account and has been left on the server.

If you wish to write to Internal, just hit reply and send Internal a message.

The Gmail Team


* * *

OK. Here’s the deal. Whoever it was sent it to my business email address, which hasn’t existed very long. See, all my emails feed directly into my gmail box, making it easier to keep track of stuff and handle all my addresses without having to log in and out and in and out. Email addresses are cheap.

Anyway, I went to my business email box:

* * *

Your Federal tax report #ID***7
From : “Internal Revenue Service” <>
To :
Received :

06-02-2012 10:18 PM

Tax Refund,

The analysis of the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity has indicated that
you are entitled to receive a tax refund of $382.34
Please submit a request of the tax refund and a processing of the request will take 7-14 days.
A tax refund can be delayed by different reasons.
For instance submission of invalid records or sending after the deadline.

Please find the form of your tax refund attached and fill out it and send a report.

Yours sincerely,
Internal Revenue Service.

* * *

That’s the email, and it’s pure horse dung. I didn’t even bother to open the attachment. But as far as phishing/information mining/scamming goes, it’s an oldie but goodie.

Here’s what I got from the Internet from the Internet Crime Complaint Center:

* * *

Intelligence Note  Prepared by the Internet Crime
Complaint Center (IC3)
December 1, 2005
E-mail disguised as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) phishing for personal information
has become aware of a spam email claiming the recipient is eligible to receive a
tax refund for $571.94. The email purports to be from
with the subject line of “IRS
Tax Refund.” A link is provided in the email to access a form required
to be completed in order to receive the refund. The link appears to connect to the
true IRS website. However, the recipient is redirected to, where personal data, including credit
card information, is captured.
This e-mail is a hoax. Do not follow the provided link.
Be cautious when responding to requests or special offers delivered through unsolicited
email:  Guard your personal information as well as your account information carefully. Keep a list of all your credit cards and account information along with the card
issuer’s contact information. If your monthly statement looks suspicious or you
lose your card(s), contact the issuer immediately.
If you have received this, or a similar hoax, please file a complaint at

* * *

Looking a little further, I checked from the jackass’ mouth itself, going straight to the IRS website. I pasted it directly in here, so it may look funky.

The upshot is, they’re not going to use email or social media to contact you:

* * *

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or any social media tools to request personal or financial information

What is phishing?
Phishing is a scam typically carried out by unsolicited email and/or websites that pose as legitimate sites and lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. 

All unsolicited email claiming to be from either the IRS or any other IRS-related components such as the Office of Professional Responsibility or EFTPS, should be reported to

However, if you have experienced monetary losses due to an IRS-related incident please file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through their Complaint Assistant to make that information available to investigators.

What to do if you receive a suspicious IRS-related communication



You receive an email claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for personal information …
  1. Do not reply.
  2. Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
  3. Do not click on any links.
    If you clicked on links in a suspicious email or phishing website and entered confidential information, visit our identity protection page.
  4. Forward the email as-is, to us at
  5. After you forward the email and/or header information to us, delete the original email message you received.

Please forward the full original email to us at Do not forward scanned images of printed emails as that strips the email of valuable information only available in the electronic copy.

You discover a website on the Internet that claims to be the IRS but you suspect it is bogus … send the URL of the suspicious site to Please add in the subject line of the email, ‘Suspicious website’.
You receive a phone call or paper letter via mail from an individual claiming to be the IRS but you suspect they are not an IRS employee … Phone call: 

  1. Ask for a call back number and employee badge number.
  2. Contact the IRS to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.
  3. If you determine the person calling you is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you, call them back.

Letter or notice via paper mail:

  1. Contact the IRS to determine if the mail is a legitimate IRS letter.
  2. If it is a legitimate IRS letter, reply if needed.

If caller or party that sent the paper letter is not legitimate, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

You receive an unsolicited e-mail or fax, involving a stock or share purchase … and you are a U.S. citizen located in the United States or its territories or a U.S. citizen living abroad. 

  1. Complete the appropriate complaint form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  2. Forward email to
    Please add in the subject line of the email, ‘Stock’.
  3. If you are a victim of monetary or identity theft, you may submit a complaint through the FTC Complaint Assistant.

… and you are not a U.S. citizen and reside outside the United States.

  1. Complete the appropriate complaint form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  2. Contact your securities regulator and file a complaint.
  3. Forward email to
    Please add in the subject line of the e-mail, ‘Stock’.
  4. If you are a victim of monetary or identity theft, you may report your complaint to
You receive an unsolicited fax (such as Form W8-BEN) claiming to be from the IRS, requesting personal information … Contact the IRS to determine if the fax is from the IRS. 

  • If you learn the fax is not from the IRS, please send us the information via email at In the subject line of the email, please type the word ‘FAX’.
You have a tax-related question …Note: Do not submit tax-related questions to If you have a tax-related question, unrelated to phishing or identity theft, please contact the IRS.

How to identify phishing email scams claiming to be from the IRS and bogus IRS websites

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

The IRS does not …

… request detailed personal information through email.
… send any communication requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

What to do if you receive a suspicious email message that does not claim to be from the IRS



You receive a suspicious phishing email not claiming to be from the IRS … Forward the email as-is to
You receive an email you suspect contains malicious code or a malicious attachment and you HAVE clicked on the link or downloaded the attachment … Visit to learn what to do if you suspect you have malware on your computer.
You receive an email you suspect contains malicious code or a malicious attachment and you HAVE NOT clicked on the link or downloaded the attachment … Forward the email to your Internet Service Provider’s abuse department and/or to

* * *

If you’re into links, here’s the IRS announcement.

So I’m not going to open this attachment. I’m not going to bother.

I know they don’t owe me a refund, and if they did they’re not going to tell me unless I ask. What do I think they are, stupid?

(Don’t answer that!)

So if you get an email from the IRS, forget it. It’s not them.





If your phone goes off and it’s nobody, you’re not alone

One of the things that took some getting used to was how active my Android phone gets. It makes noise and vibrates when I get a phone call, an email or a text message. Considering my own online/offline activity — not even counting all those alarms I set to keep my ADHD self on track, that’s a lot of vibrating.

So you can imagine my surprise when I felt my belt vibrate over my right hip, and when I checked it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for anybody. It didn’t ring or vibrate at all. The phone sat inert in the belt pouch, and I only imagined the vibrations.

Welcome to the phenomenon called “phantom vibration,” which a study by the University of Worcester suggests is a sure sign you’re getting goofy about your phone.
It’s akin to those phantom pains amputees talk about, where a nonexistent foot itches or develops muscle spasms. Purely psychological stuff, and hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.

Shoot, I feel enough like an idiot when someone else’s phone rings and I’m sure it’s mine. I’ve experienced enough of that to realize I get a little obsessed about that phone.
But when there’s no phone ringing anywhere near me, that’s when I know things are bad. What’s even worse is when I feel that vibration over my hip — while the phone is in my hand.

Turns out I’m not the only one who experiences this. I brought the subject up over dinner with a few good friends, all technophiles who would sooner leave the house without their pants than forget their phones. And all of these friends nodded knowingly when I mentioned phantom vibrations. The discussion became a heavy confession time for a few, and you’d swear a recovery group broke out right then and there. Lots of sympathizing but no solutions, but that’s normal. Like they say in recovery groups, we’re not trying to fix anything.

This study, as cited in the UK Telegraph, says workers who are issued a smart phone for on-the-job use, especially feel the stress that seems to trigger these phantom vibrations. They feel they’re not checking their messages often enough.
Psychlogist Richard Balding of the University of Worcester (why is it the British get to do all the cool research?) says it’s a stress thing — stress if you’re getting messages, and stress if you’re not.

According to the Telegraph:

” … this became a vicious cycle in which the more stressed people became, the more they compulsively felt the need to check their phone, the study showed … Balding, who led the research, said employers should seriously consider the burden that smart phones put on their workers … ‘Smart phone use is increasing at a rapid rate and we are likely to see an associated increase in stress from social networking,’ Balding said.”

(Note to employees everywhere: If your company issues you a smart phone, run like your hair’s on fire. Or negotiate a massive salary/wage increase. Your life is no longer your own.)

Others who use their smart phones as their link to social media may also feel the stress of always being “on,” or the anticipation of another message. Hey, if you get a text from Publishers Clearinghouse saying you’d won a few million bucks, you sure don’t want to miss it.

It’s crucial I stay in contact with the outside world. I do some social media stuff but it’s not a big part of my life. It’s not job-related, at least not related to my day job. But as I try to build something of a business on my own, contact is essential. It might not exactly be Ed McMahon calling from whatever realm he’s hanging out at these days, but potential customers and contacts have me keeping an eye on the phone. My own obsessive nature doesn’t help much either, but we won’t discuss that here.

Whoops. My phone is vibrating, and it’s nobody.



Replacing a cardiac pacemaker battery: DIY not recommended

Prepare for surgery; this’ll only hurt a lot.

Recently my dad, who is 82 now, went in for a surgical procedure that I always wondered how it was done. He had the battery replaced in his heart pacemaker.

This surgery spurred a flurry of email from several corners of the country, as my older brother (upstate NY) and I (South Carolina) exchanged messages with Mom and Dad (California). The tone of the messages was, well, a little different.

My brother and I wanted to know how you actually replace a pacemaker battery, and what size jumper cables you’d use for the job. I’m really touched by all the sympathy that came across in these messages.

“Keep me posted,” I wrote. “I’ve always wondered how they replaced the battery.”

“So do they use tiny jumper cables?” my brother wanted to know. “Or new hamsters?” Sick puppy.

Now, I’m a big do-it-yourself fan. I do my own programming on the computer, built my own perpetual jukebox for the home stereo, and do whatever repairs are needed around the house. Part of it is because, admittedly, I’m frugal. But more important, I’m intrigued by the challenge of doing something myself. Always been that way.
So why not home surgery? I’ve mentioned it a time or two in this blog, and I was only joking a little. But with this Obamacare thing, expect more people to try home surgery using online instructions and whatever tools they may have in the desk drawer. Can’t be any worse than government-run health care, but that’s another rant for another day.

To this end, I went to eHow, the mother of all DIY sites. I’m familiar with eHow. Not only have I consulted that site for various projects. I also used to write for them. Seriously. My work shows up under a different name because, quite frankly, it’s hack work. I really don’t want that crap to be associated with my name. Even the headshot photo I used for eHow articles was designed so you can’t see my face. It paid, though, which is a lot more than you can say about other Web sites.

But enough of that. I did a little checking with eHow to see what articles I could find about replacing your own pacemaker battery. eHow being eHow, I had my preconceived notions:

1) Dash over to Walgreens and get a pacemaker battery. In most stores in the lower 48 states you will find them near the hearing aid batteries and continence supplies.
2) Sterilize a screwdriver, pocket knife, and needle-nose pliers. An autoclave is best for this task, but boiling the tools in spring water will work in a pinch …
… and so on like that.

According to eHow writer China Zmuida (did I mention that few of the writers use their real names?), battery replacement is only done through surgery, preferably by a real doctor under sterile conditions. Well, she didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get what I mean.

Which makes sense and it is the highly-recommended procedure, but really, that is kind of lame. But in China’s eHow piece, DIY surgery didn’t even enter the discussion. Her article had the standard tips and warnings prescribed under eHow’s editorial guidelines, and all of them have to do with not skipping appointments and the usual standard stuff. But the “do not try this at home” caveat appears nowhere in the article.

And there is no “hey, y’all, watch this” anywhere in the article.

The closest I found to a DIY project is a Livestrong piece by Mike Belfiore on how to replace the battery in a heart monitor. Not even in the same ballpark. Livestrong, by the way, is owned by the same folks (Demand Media/Demand Studios) that runs eHow.

I checked out another DIY site, Instructables, which has more over-the-top projects (try applying your own sutures as an example). Nothing there, either.

Anyway, I’m glad my Dad left this one for the professionals. He’s doing well, his color has improved since the battery was replaced, and he says he’ll be around a while to harass the family unit some more.



Zombie invasion? CDC has some emergency procedures for you

They come out at night …

… in search of brains …

… and the Center For Disease Control wants you to know what to do in the event of a zombie invasion.

Maybe the whole idea came from all those pepperoni pizzas washed down with way too much Mountain Dew, but the CDC put out a blurb outlining preparedness steps when the undead come a-calling.

Seriously. Check it out. Here’s the link.

“The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen.” wrote CDC official Ali Khan. “In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder ‘How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?’ “

One of the first things I think of immediately is that the CDC is a governmental function, and they’re screwing off on taxpayer time. But this CDC announcement may actually make more sense than just about any other governmental release. Well, kinda sorta.

“Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too,” Khan continues.

OK. Now we’re cooking. Khan then outlines some preparedness procedures that could serve you well in a pandemic, a hurricane, or zombie invasion.

Craziness aside, what I get from my reading is that it’s hard to sell preparedness to the public. Hurricanes are not sexy enough. Earthquakes don’t have that “it” factor. Even a multi-angled event such as a Katrina (featuring disasters such as a hurricane, massive flooding, societal breakdown and FEMA) and Japan’s recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear trifecta aren’t enough to sway the populace in the semi-civilized world.

The CDC rationale, it seems, is to come up with something really over the top to garner public attention — such as a zombie takeover. It is unbelievably tempting for me to say something about how the zombies already took over several years ago and were the difference-maker in the 2008 Presidential election, but I’m not gonna say it. I’m not gonna say it.

Later with these pedestrian hurricanies, tsunami, nuclear mutant monsters from Japan, and even space aliens. All of these have been done to death, and in our ADHD culture, you’ve got to hit the public hard, frequently, and from a variety of angles.

I can understand that complacency, somewhat. I grew up in California, the place where visitors and new arrivals get scared because of earthquakes. Well, there are a lot of other scary things about California, but right now I’m just going to key on earthquakes. To a new arrival, any shaking of the ground is enough to trigger a full-blown panic attack. However, it takes a Richter Scale hit of at least six-something to move the longtime resident. Don’t pester me over a little trembling; if dishes fly out of the cupboards, then call me.

As far as construction goes, whole metro areas are built along earthquake fault lines. The Inland Empire, which for decades saw the fastest growth of any area in California, is nestled along the San Andreas and San Jacinto Faults. The San Jac passed underneath the a) the freeway interchange of I-10 and I-215 that had some pretty big skyhooks, b) the men’s department of Fedco, and c) the San Bernardino Valley College campus. Did I worry about getting caught in the mother of all earthquakes during my classes at Valley? Not at all. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

I now live near Charleston, South Carolina, known to outsiders as hurricane country. Every year we go through the same drill here — pick up a hurricane tracking map at the Piggly Wiggly, and make noises about putting together a plan. Which usually never comes off. Here, life goes on. We watch the hurricanes develop in the Atlantic, note that for a moment Charleston is named the primary target, then relax when the hurricane takes its usual dogleg right turn. We do have an evacuation every decade or so, but the last hurricane of any real consequence to hit the Lowcountry was Hugo in 1989. Since then the wreckage was cleared out, the sea islands were built back up, and everything went back to normal.

For the record, I do have a skeletal emergency plan in case the Son Of Hugo blows the roof off my mobile home. I have a backpack loaded with clothing sleeping bag, rope and tarp, plus some prepackaged rations I’m starting to collect. This is really in anticipation of a hike I’m planning, but if something weird happens before then (fire? Flood? The PC Police knocking at my door?) it’s nice to know I’m somewhat prepared.

Standard survival items, straight from the CDC, include:

* Water (1 gallon per person per day)
* Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
* Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
* Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
* Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
* Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
* Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
* First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

Gee, I think I have room in my backpack for the best defense against zombies: A shotgun. Gotta be prepared for anything.


Japanese mice become winos for research

Scientists at the University of Hiroshima discovered it’s not that hard to teach a rodent the finer points of wine selection.

Here’s the story from some website called io9, and another from Slashdot:
… as the researchers speculate, it might just be the mice liked what they liked, and no amount of rewards or conditioning could persuade them to choose a different wine: More importantly, 2 other mice exhibited lower than 30% concordance, indicating that they were more attracted to the nonrewarded red wine compared with the learned one. This result suggested that the individual mice directed attention to different subsets of volatile components emanating from the rewarded red wine, when they were trained to choose the liquor odor in the Y-maze …
Now, I’m not making any statements of the veracity of this story, but I just can’t make stuff like this up.

A cookie endorsement I’d like to see

Just how good are those Thin Mint cookies?

Good enough to fight over.
Seems a pair of roommates in Florida had a real knock-down drag-out, including chasing one another with scissors, because one apparently stole the other’s Girl Scout cookies.
Here’s the story, according to the Associated Press:

“Police say the roommate’s husband tried to separate them. The roommate said she gave the cookies to Howard’s children … Howard is charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She was released Monday on $10,000 bail.”

OK. I like Thin Mints myself, and when I get them I tend to protect my stash. But there may be some over-the-line behavior here. Maybe.
What do you think?

Drug wars bring a real blast from the past to the front

Weapons of yore: A catapult, much like this one here, was being used as a low-tech drug mule (Photo from Wikipedia)

It seems Mexican drug smugglers have gone old school in moving their wares into the United States. Like, very old school.
According to Fox News, smugglers were using a catapult to lob dope over the fence.
Here’s part of the story:
“National Guard troops operating a remote video surveillance system at the Naco Border Patrol Station say they observed several people preparing a catapult and launching packages over the International Border fence last Friday evening … “It looks like a medieval catapult that was used back in the day,” Tucson sector Border Patrol spokesman David Jimarez told Reuters … Tucson TV station KVOA said Border Patrol agents working with the National Guard contacted Mexican authorities, who went to the location and disrupted the catapult operation … the 3-yard tall catapult was found about 20 yards from the U.S. border on a flatbed towed by a sports utility vehicle, according to a Mexican army officer with the 45th military zone in the border state of Sonora … the catapult was capable of launching 4.4 pounds of marijuana at a time …”
What? They couldn’t get an old cannon?