August 2018


That's a No-No

The other day I posted about a "neighbor-spoof" trash call I received on my out-of-state Google Voice phone number. Yesterday another number of ours got a scam call from one of these noodniks. Not the agency -- the scammers. The non-agency scammers.

I can let you listen to the voicemail they left (this number is parked so it doesn't ring -- voicemails are emailed to me) because of one of its red flags: the message never identifies its intended recipient -- nor even the phone number they called.

We have just received a notification regarding your tax filings from the headquarters which will get expired in next twenty-four working hours. And once it gets expired, after that you will be taken under custody by the local police as there are (four?) serious allegations (pressed?) on your name at this moment.

We would request you to get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you. The number to reach us is (360) 660-1015. I repeat, (360) 660-1015. Thank you.

No legitimate tax agency will robocall about a tax violation. No legitimate tax agency will leave a voicemail without identifying itself and the person with whom the caller wishes to speak. And that's even assuming any legitimate tax agency would make first contact about a tax violation by phone rather than registered letter or some other, more secure means.

This scammer clearly meant for me to call back, whereupon I would have been instructed to buy a gift card and put some sizeable, non-round dollar figure on it (tax fines are never in round figures, after all -- right?), and then read the card number over the phone to the scammer -- because otherwise "the headquarters" wouldn't get the payment in time to stop the "local police" from arriving to take me "under custody."

I really do wonder about the target demographic for these scams. Should anyone who falls for them be allowed to vote?

©   Kevin McGehee

Slow Churn

Yesterday Mrs. McG reported that a Rite Aid store along her commute route was displaying a banner announcing "complete liquidation," and another banner with the Walgreens logo.

This is a consequence of Walgreens' buyout of over 1,900 Rite Aid stores last March, which will result in some of the chain's stores adopting the scripty W logo -- but not this particular one, which is just two gas stations away from Coweta County's second Walgreens store.

The Newnan Rite Aid, located at 211 Temple Avenue, recently changed its pharmacy over to a Walgreens and a store manager told The City Menus that the store will fully transition into a Walgreens toward the end of year.

A second Rite Aid store in Newnan, located at 3055 East Highway 34, will permanently close on August 7. All prescriptions will be moved to the Walgreens across the road at 3116 Highway 34 East beginning on August 8.

So we're trading in two Rite Aids for a third Walgreens. Personally, I'm okay with this; we haven't been using Rite Aid much since first CVS, then Walgreens, moved into our then-neighborhood years ago. Until then, the closing Rite Aid store (which was Eckerd at the time) had been the only pharmacy close by that wasn't in a supermarket. Where we live now, though, the closest Walgreens is a two-lane highway and then a four-lane expressway from home, on a corner that's difficult to reach due to its location at one of Newnan's busiest intersections. The converting westside store will be easier to get in and out of than either of the existing Walgreens, if not any shorter a drive. Then again, I would have to pass one CVS to get there, and snub a second one when I do; the latter chain has four stores in the area.

When we first moved to Alaska in 1994, Fairbanks had two PayLess stores (other, unrelated chains that omit the capital L always seem like they're promising free goods, or perhaps refusing to compensate their employees) in what had previously been Thrifty locations. During our short stay there, both stores became Rite Aids, and eventually those closed. I wasn't thrilled to see the latter chain consume Eckerd after our move down here -- but I have to admit the local Rite Aids had more staying power than their Northernmost counterparts.

Charles Hill has often observed that, in his neck of the woods, Walgreens and CVS seem determined to compete corner against corner; wherever one chain opens a store, the other follows. Here, that's been less apparent -- though both chains did open stores very close to an existing Rite Aid. Now that they've taken out their shared rival, there will finally be a corner-vs.-corner competition between CVS and Walgreens in Newnan.

©   Kevin McGehee

First World Problems

You know, it's bad enough that I have to expect to replace a car battery every three years. I could've sworn they used to last longer than that -- but I suppose that was back when your battery stopped draining the moment you switched off the motor. Nowadays, what with keyless entry and all, some systems have to be powered on all the time. Even user-set radio presets are stored in volatile memory now, so that disconnecting the big battery wipes them clean. Automakers, if you're going to make computers out of the cars you build, learn from the computer-makers, can't ya?

What bugs me more than that, though, is that this three-year obsolescence cycle is making its way into much, much more expensive items -- and they're getting much, much more expensive every year.


My current handbrain is only a bit under two-and-a-half years old or so, but it was released almost three years ago, which means one of the reasons I bought it, prompt operating system upgrades, has run out. Android 9 "Pie," the new version of my phone's operating system, has been released, but my phone won't be getting it. I'm looking to pay 20 to 30 percent more for my next phone than I paid for this one, if I want the full three years of updates. A few years ago I swore never to buy another phone from a carrier, but that was when a Google Nexus phone could be had for well under $500. Now that Apple has blazed the trail to prices with commas in them, and since Big Tech can't bear not to play follow the leader, I'm starting to reconsider.

Carrier phones, and even unlocked phones branded by their makers -- such as LG or Samsung -- may take longer to update to new Android versions, and may be pre-loaded with a bunch of OEM and carrier bullshit I don't want, but if they're slower to get updates, maybe they won't obsolesce quite so quickly?

I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting antsy, and maybe the recent news about the Pixel 3 XL's battery is hashtagable. The battery on my Nexus 6P doesn't really seem to be any worse off now than it was at the start of last year. And just how badly do I really need Pie?

©   Kevin McGehee

Breach of Content

We've been Tivo users for a long, long, damn long time -- but the prospect of moving to Wyoming, to a home out of reach of cable TV, has been getting less and less disturbing of late even though Tivo DVRs don't work with satellite TV services such as Dish or DirecTV.

Part of the reason for this is, Tivo's program guide updates often... don't. When we first signed up with our first DVR and subscription, it was normal to have at least two weeks' worth of programming scheduled in the DVR, as a result of the daily updates that require internet service. As I type this, we only have eight days of programming guide information in our DVR, and attempts to force an update get nowhere.

Going satellite will mean using a DVR provided by whichever satellite service we choose. We'd have to get our internet service via DSL (assuming we're not so far from town that we have to go with wireless internet) but we should be able to deal with that. It's hard to imagine the program guide updates would be as unreliable as Tivo's have become.

The devil on my left shoulder whispers in my ear that we're de-prioritized for updates because our DVR is several years old. Well, it's going to get several years older; this performance isn't encouraging us to shell out big bucks for a new one.

©   Kevin McGehee

Is There Supposed to Be an Earth-Shattering Kaboom?

Maybe not.

Every so often people get to clucking about the Yellowstone supervolcano. In fact, while I was re-reading some past entries recently in C.J. Box's "Joe Pickett" series of Wyoming-set thrillers, one story I read -- taking place in Yellowstone -- featured a character nicknamed Doomsayer, who enjoyed scaring people half to death with predictions of imminent global catastrophe from the giant ticking magma bomb underlying the world's first national park.

I recently stumbled on a three-year-old bucket of cold water on all that doomsday talk:

We can't help but notice the comments in social media, and even the ticklers and headlines in the newspapers and blogs. Sometimes, people spread misinformation even when they think they know the facts.

This comes straight from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, the boffins right there in the middle of the giant ticking magma bomb of doom, whose job it is to know what's really going on. And apparently supervolcano doom is a lot like Y2K doom, or climate-change doom. Get a load of these:

Misconception #1: When Yellowstone erupts…. it'll be Armageddon.

[E]ven previous Yellowstone supereruptions did not cause extinctions, and ash fallout on the other side of the continent was minimal.

Turns out, Yellowstone erupts a lot -- even leaving aside geysers spouting hot water. Actual non-explosive lava flows are a known event in the caldera. What explosions are seen there usually involve geysers spouting mud and rocks along with the usual squirtage.

Misconception #3: Yellowstone is overdue for a supereruption.

If it does erupt, it need not be a large eruption. Moreover, there's no necessity that there will be another supereruption. Most volcanic systems do not have multiple such events. When they do, the supereruptions are not evenly spaced in time. Finally, it is not valid to calculate a recurrence period solely on two values (the two intervals between supereruptions).

The part where I added emphasis is something that jumped out at me the first time I heard fearmongering about Yellowstone -- because I took a college course once about statistics, and like a lot of that college crap it's stuck with me.

There are five points in all, if you still need convincing.

©   Kevin McGehee

So, That Happened

Shortly after quitting Google's Project Fi, which had precluded the use of Google Voice, I claimed a new telephone number on the latter service. The idea being that as the day looms -- as it eventually will -- that Mrs. McG and I decamp for less humid climes, I wanted to already have a number that was local to said climes, that I could switch, with minimal muss/fuss, to our conventional carrier while moving my current number (temporarily) to Voice. That way I'd have already long since committed the new number to memory, and anyone overlooked in notifying about the new number would still be able to reach me without my having to pay for a second line.

In recent years Mrs. McG has noticed, I confess more than I have, that spam robocallers have been spoofing particular sets of numbers that share area code and prefix with their targets. Others online have remarked on this tactic as well. (I just don't seem to have this problem, just as I don't get as much spam email as others seem to.)

Well anyway, yesterday I got one of these calls, sharing the area code and prefix of my out-of-state Google Voice number.

How's that for a milestone? And no, it's extremely unlikely that the call was legit; the location has several number prefixes, so even if someone there had a legitimate reason to try to call me (no one would) it's extremely unlikely the source number for the first-ever call I received from there would have the exact same one.

These types of calls are problematical, because the spammers have no reason to reuse a number -- blocking it really won't help. Worse, if someone already owns that number, or does in the future, and just happens to have a legitimate reason to call me, they would find they've been blocked for a crime they didn't commit. There's a protocol in the works that, if implemented, might make headway by warning you when someone isn't entitled to use the number they're sending to your caller ID, but that's going to take a while.

Eventually, of course, it would evolve into a system where you can preemptively block callers that don't own their claimed source numbers, and spam callers will have to figure out some other way to intrude on your peace and quiet with their commercial spiels. I shudder to imagine how they'll do it.

©   Kevin McGehee

The Russians Never Deployed It on the Battlefield

...but they sold it to CNN.

Okay, Popular Mechanics doesn't actually say that...

In 2012 lurid headlines warned that Putin was developing a "zombie gun" which could take over people’s minds and turn them into mindless slaves.

In fact the timeline suggests that, if anything, Putin would have had to license it from CNN, which clearly had already used it in November of 2008.

©   Kevin McGehee

The Sog Days

It isn't enough it has to be hot. It isn't enough it has to be humid. It has to be literally dripping wet.

In other news, I suddenly have a craving for some Cap'n Crunch cereal.

Update: Some appropriate musical accompaniment...

Sometimes my musical ear syndrome's suggestions aren't so hard to identify.

©   Kevin McGehee

The Mustache Abides

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August 2018


Original content and design © 2018 Kevin McGehee. Images and excerpts are © their respective owners.