Constant factor approximations

I was looking forward to a peaceful week of doing nothing and getting paid for it, but someone had to go and fire up the bat signal, so I will have to drop everything and rush down to the nation's capital to take up the baton of the defense of the nation with only a positive semi-definite matrix to wield. Plus, the dentist wants to smash m teeth in, and the vet wants to spike the cat. (not to be confused with Spike the Cat; that's a different blog).

So how do I distract myself from getting anything useful done? I try to get car insurance. It's a process that makes you doubt the efficient market theory. I'm currently paying about 1500 currency units per time period. So getting quotes for equivalent policies from different providers, you'd expect them to fall tightly clustered around this, wouldn't you? Well, you might, but apparently nothing is that simple. The data points I have are (in sorted order) 900, 1100, 1300, 1500, 1700, 2200 , and 3600. That's a factor of 4 between the cheapest and most expensive. What particularly amuses me is the eagerness of the folks trying to make me pay four times as much as anyone else. "Click here to buy this policy right now!" they shriek through their website and HTML-ised emails (why do people insist on sending email in HTML? Especially without plain text alternatives? Don't they realize that I hate them?). As if paying this much for the privelege of insurance is likely to be a sufficient inducement.

Anyway, the moral of this story is, shop around. Fifteen minutes could save you... 75% or more on your car insurance. (remember, I did promise more posts about cars, and I hope I am fulfilling on that commitment).


Spammers who can't even spam

Why is it that spammers are so incompetent? I've just received a slew of messages from "[%from_name%]" <[%from_email@]>, To: <[%to@]>. It's like they're not even trying.

I also got a spammy phone call from Chase (probable the real Chase as opposed to the phishers since they knew my name and card number) trying to force their "Identity Protection system" on me. For only $8 a month, they will make a token effort to stop my card details getting stolen. Surely this is a basic function of the service they are meant to be providing? My mind keeps turning back to Offensive_Mango's epic put-down Congratulations on doing your job. Once..

And the other day I got a call from some dodgy opinion pollsters. At least, I think they were pollsters, sometimes you get calls from people asking you a series of loaded questions so that the final one is (to paraphrase) "Well, since you seem to feel so strongly about this issues, I suppose you'll want to give us some money then"?

They got off to a bad start by asking to speak to the lady of the house; when I explained that this would have to be me, they grudgingly accepted me, muttering that this would only take 90 seconds of my time. Then the script went off on a long ramble along the lines of "Many mothers are becoming increasingly concerned that TV ratings are becoming increasingly lax, and that they are permitting too much to be shown. Do you agree with this?" Now, I'm still smarting from the FCC's illogical decision that it's not allowed to show teenage orgies on Network TV, no matter how educational they are. So I began to reply "No. Actually, I think that there isn't nearly enough sex and violence on TV and that there should be a lot more...", but before I had finished, the caller had hung up on me. Honestly, that wasn't even close to my promised 90 seconds. How rude!


How appropriate

I saw the best "... for Dummies" book yet: AOL for Dummies.

Yes, that sounds about right.


Rude Awakenings

I've already complained before about my PORN doorbell (note: it stands for "Press Once, Rings Non-stop", in case you were wondering). Well, in the intervening six months neither me nor my invisible landlord has done anything about it since then. Recently, this has become less than convenient.

Last week, I was roused from well-deserved slumbers at the unheathen hour of 2am (I'd been asleep for all of ninety minutes) by my rasping doorbell. In a state of some confusion I rushed downstairs assuming it to be some pressing emergency, to find a young lady (somewhere between fourteen and forty in age, I being not suffiently awake to know fully what was going on). She enquired after C---- B-----, B----- being the surname of the lady who lives on the floor below me, but C---- being a male name. Still befuddled, I tried to explain that the B----- family were to be found on the 2nd floor (or, in Europe, first floor) and that I lived on the 3rd floor (europe: second floor). I allowed her access to the building and gestured in the general direction of the B----- front door and slunk off to bed.

I couldn't get back to sleep for about an hour, since my brain had woken up sufficiently to wonder if letting her in was the appropriate etiquette, but not being inclined to do anything about it, I merely ensured that all my doors were double locked, and lay in bed.

Then today the buzzer went again. This time it was 8am, at which time I would usually just be rising, but abnormally for me I was up and about, and just finishing my breakfast cuppa. Wondering who it could be this time (probably the meter reader), I went down again, and found someone peering through the glass of the front door. Opening the door, I was a little taken aback to see a uniformed police officer. Was it the feds, finally infuriated by my snide comments on the political administration come to fit me up for the orange pajamas? Actually no, he was looking for C----- B----.

Once again, I indicated that I was unable to provide this individual, but he might try his luck on the second floor (EU: 1st). I felt less guilt about showing him the way to their front door before again retreating to my abode to finish eating my morning jam sandwich. Still, this leads to more questions: who is C----- B-----, and why is everyone looking for him? Were the two visits connected? Why does everyone insist on ringing my doorbell when they actually want someone on another floor?

I don't know, but I'm wondering if this will force me to finally get around to repairing the buzzer. Maybe this won't solve the problem of unwanted people ringing me at all hours of the day or night. Unless I electrify the buzzer. Maybe I'll try that. The only reason I need a buzzer is for when UPS delivers my latest Amazon shipment, I don't particularly want to hear from anyone else. If I could only arrange for them to leave the packages on the doorstep, maybe I should just cut the wire entirely...

Born To Pun

I don't know about you (at all -- in fact, who are you? Go away and leave me alone), but I've always had a soft spot for the early Bruce Springsteen hits -- and in particular Born to Run:

In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9,

He conjures up an alluring vision of speeding through the rugged hearland of America, in the dark of night on a throbbing motorcycle, tearing through wildeness and then through the heart of a city, mostly asleep, but parts just seething with restless energy.

The problem is, I went on Highway 9 yesterday. The US does tend to recycle road numbers rather heavily, but I'm pretty sure it's the same one, since I was visiting Freehold, which happens to be The Boss's place of birth. And I have to say, it really doesn't live up to its reputation. Highway nine is the kind of road that seems particularly special to New Jersey: two lanes of traffic in each direction with a concrete bollard in between, it limply winds its way down south through the sparsely populated sub-suburban sprawl of semi-rural towns. Along each side it's peppered with seedy strip malls, decrepit movie theatres, retirement homes and golf courses. Born to Run you may be, but unless you want a ticket from the donut chewing cops, you'll have to stop every five minutes at the traffic lights that control the jug handles, New Jersey's unique answer to the problem of how to make a U-turn when you realize that the thing you want to get to is on the other side of the road. All the glamour of the storied America from my youth in this song turns out to be defined in tacky neon and mouldy plastic edifices.

Still, it got me out of the house, so mustn't grumble.


Ooh, Chase Me!

OK, now here's a more interesting phishing attempt. It tries to take advantage of the fact that there are so many phishing attempts out there:

Chase has been always striving to present its customer the best
service. We recognize how important it is to protect your identity from
unlawful use, and shield your accounts from fraud and unauthorized access.

Having this in mind Chase has launched a new security system which is completely COST-FREE. Even more - Chase is awarding a BONUS of 25$ for the first subscribers of this service (the amount will be credited to each account you subscribe).

In order to proceed, please input your account number and your security verification:

which is slightly wilier than the "$20 survey" versions. It then does something slightly odd: it uses Google as a redirection service, by linking to the following URL: http://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.golfcourseonlineisback.com
I've no idea what this redirection achieves, unless it's to defeat simple antiphishing checks. Doesn't make much sense to me yet. Amusingly, the message ends:

Please note - Chase will NEVER ask you to input personal information
by phone or by e-mail: Social Security Numbers, Personal Identification Number
(PIN), Card Verification Number (CVV). If you find any type of suspicious
activities please contact us immediately.

Which is pretty rich coming from someone trying to steal your log in details.

Scam of the day

Today's Chase website is at "
. This is getting a bit tired, you'd think they could come up with something new.

I feel like seeing a film this weekend. I think I'll choose between V for Vendetta and I for the Engine. Probably the latter.



Here's a tip you might like to take notice of: if you're feeling a little fragile in the morning as you go about your morning routine, and a report comes on the radio containing an indepth interview with someone who witnessed the sudden onset of illness of those poor chaps who took part in the Drug Trial from hell... it might be a good idea to turn the radio off and do something else, instead of listening to the blow by blow account of something that sounds worse than a particularly gruesome episode of ER...

Today's chase survey scam site is at http://chase-login.survey-service.us . Don't fail to miss it.


Word of the day

Your word of the day is hosptical, which someone used in an email to me today. It's not quite as popular as the related hostipal.

See also: hampster; skellington.


Hilarious new phishing twist

I was particularly taken (although, not actually taken in) by this phishing scam:

Chase $20 reward survey

Old site is down, a new one springs up to take its place Also gone now

It's beautifully executed: a plausible looking URL leading to an official looking page, where first you have to fill in a few idiotic survey questions -- and then provide not only you credit card number, but also the CVV verification code, full name, mothers maiden name, and your SSN. I think they take it a bit far by asking for PIN -- surely no one would be stupid enough to type that in as well as everything else?

Of course, a swift whois on reward-program-2.us turns up a name, address and phone number of someone living in Arkansas. Maybe this is faked (the details of another victim of identity theft?), or maybe this initially smart looking phisher is actually dumb enough to have allowed their real details to show up in the DNS registry (maybe not, the address is in Arkansas but the phone number is in Florida?). Oops. I can't be bothered to call the FBI though, hopefully someone else will. Or call yahoo, who registered the domain this morning (13.44 GMT to be precise), and get them to yank it.


Low Definition TV

I had something of an Alan Partridge moment when I decided to try to watch the Oscars. As you may recall, my capacity for receiving video footage that is not packetized is distinctly limited. It seemed like there wouldn't be any conveniently accessible webcast of the Oscar ceremony, so I needed to find a way to get live broadcast TV onto my TV set.

I've tried indoor aeriels in the past. Depending on the channel, the quality varies from poor to unwatchable, the only exception being the channel that shows Indian pop music videos in the morning and Korean news in the evening.

I noticed that there was a wire hanging outside one of my windows, which appeared to be connected to an aerial. The only problem being, this being at the opposite end of the apartment from the TV. I quickly rigged up a connection between the two, but lacked a critical piece to connect the external cable to the about 30ft of assorted coaxial cables connecting to the TV. I could make a connection by holding the two bits together, and it seemed like it might be working -- but I couldn't be sure, since the TV was in a different room around the corner.

So I carefully rigged up a mirror leaning against a footstool (yes, I own a footstool. Deal with it), so I could just about see the TV screen if I leaned down and cricked my neck while holding the two pieces of wire together. From that distance it looked like a decent enough picture.

So I went out and got the necessary connecty bit to make it a more permanent connection. And now I'm sitting here watching the ceremony, in glorious ultra-low definition -- although the picture is viewable, it's covered in snow and static. So much for HDTV -- and honestly, who really needs it? Surely no one cares that much about picture quality? So long as you can roughly see what's going one, it doesn't really matter after a while. Still, at the end of this, I'll unhook the wires (since I'll keep tripping over them otherwise), and go back to my improvised IPTV solution.


Cruising the Highways

On Route 78 West, just before the junction with 287, there's a sign for "Scenic Overlook". I go past this every time I head over to Rutgers, and have often been curious as to what's up there. So the other day, as I was heading off in that direction, I broke off my regular journey, and went up to the overlook. To my surprise (knowing the way things work, I expected the place to be deserted) there were a few cars parked in a small car park, with a wall over which was a view. So I parked, and went to see what was so good about the view.

It was around this time that I noticed something slightly odd. Of the half dozen or so vehicles I could see, all were occupied by men. Unaccompanied men. About half were standing or walking, smoking a cigarette or whatever, and the remainder were sat in their cars. This struck me as odd. I felt somewhat unnerved by this situation, so I quickly turned about, got back in my car, and resumed my journey.

Perhaps I was being paranoid. Perhaps I was mistaken in my assessment of the demographics, and there were also a mixture of families and couples at the other end of the car park that I didn't notice. Perhaps this just represented a uniform sampling of the collection of people out and about in their cars on a Saturday around lunchtime. I can't be sure. But, nevertheless, my suspicion, trained by years of movies and colourful fiction had kicked in, and I didn't want to stick around to see whether there was an innocent explanation for the collection of people who had decided to take in the scenic overlook. I didn't even stay long enough to get a good enough look at view to see whether it really was scenic.

So, I give this spot a low score. Stay tuned for more reviews of the highs and lows of suburban New Jersey.

In other news: I am currently preoccupied with Cairo. Specifically, is this as easy to spell in Greek as it sounds?


who is this you are weird i dont get what u are trying to say

Apparently there is something of a craze for giving names to celebrity couples based on combinations of the two people's names. Current popular amalgams include Bennifer, TomKat, Brangelina, and Spudulica. One wonders what could have happened if this had been in vogue in the past: Charles and Diana could have given us China, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would have been Finger, even Adam and Eve could have got in on the act, and given us Edam.

More recently, Courtney Cox and David Arquette would give us DayCourt (as opposed to Night Court, I suppose); Richard and Judy would be Rudy (incidentally, I seem to have a message for you, Rudy, so if you can get in touch I can pass it on); Posh and Becks give us the Pocks; Madonna Ciccone and Guy Ritchie would become MacaRonie (maybe) and Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker would be, er, Mattress, or something.

I thought this was very much a recent preoccupation of the tabloid newspapers with nothing better to do, but I just discovered that I'm living next to a town that got its name in precisely this way. I'd occasionally wondered how Florham Park got its name, since Florham is something of an unusual word. It turns out that it was named after Florence and Hamilton Twombly, who were the local extremely wealth patrons. Now, that's real star power: getting a whole town named after you.

A comment has poured in, which demands an answer. courtney cox gilchrist writes in to say:

who is this you are weird i dont get what u are trying to say

To which I reply... actually, I can't be arsed. Courtney, my fine young fellow (or possibly lady, I'm not up on the latest hip names these days), this is the World Wide Wedge, and I'm under no obligation to explain myself, respond to comments, or make an effort to be easily understandable. In return, you are under no obligation to use punctuation, grammar, capital letters or correct spelling.

That said, I quite like the breathy confusion of this comment. Perhaps I'll adopt it as the new motto for this place. Unfortunately, you're one syllable short of a haiku (that's not a euphemism, the message is 16 syllables long). Perhaps it works better as a four lines of four syllables? who is this you / are weird i dont / get what u are / trying to say. No, still not great -- you need to work on your metre.


Solar Power

Ah, the power of the internet. Twenty years ago, when I was but a small child, I obsessively read "Hardy Boys" books. Two things puzzled me about these books: firstly, how come at the end of each book the author could give the name of the next book in the series: surely this meant that he must have had the entire series planned out in advance? And secondly, what on earth was the 'solar plexus'? The hardy boys were forever punching bad guys in the solar plexus and causing them a remarkable amount of pain or incapacity. But my feeble English dictionaries failed to define the solar plexus. For a long time, I just assumed that this was a polite americanism for punching them in the balls. Well, thanks to the internet, it is the matter of moments to determine that it is closer to the stomach and the diaphragm. A Hardy Boys mystery solved at last.

The other HB hangover from my youth was the concept of a "station wagon". The term was completely alien to me. Clearly it was some kind of motor vehicle, but I think I had visualized something akin to a horseless wagon, motorized but still with the big wheels and canvas covering.

Well, give me a break, I was about seven at the time.