Null And Void – Not

Earlier today I wrote about my EBay purchased intervlaometer and how I was going back to PayPal to undo a bad purchase.

It’s here in my grubby little hand. Rudy, our postman, just came by and had Helaine sign for it!

So, when GraceG at EBay said the sale was “null and void,” what she meant was, “I’m making this up since I have no clue what’s going on.”

I’ve apologized to the seller and canceled my PayPal dispute.

This is 100% EBay’s fault. If they would have told me what had happened with the seller, and when, I would have been much less antsy about my purchase.

The only problem now is, the weather is totally wrong for taking time lapse photography. Maybe later tonight.

A Modern Buyer’s Quandary – My EBay Story

EBay had done to my seller what George Bush wishes he could do to photos of him in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner! They made him disappear.

I’m a 21st Century guy. I buy online all the time. That’s why tonight, I am the proud recipient of this:

Item Not Received Dispute Open: Case #PP-448-713-624


I have become obsessed with time lapse photography, so I bought an intervalometer. That’s the instrument that rhythmically fires the shutter on my still camera, making the time lapse happen.

It was a good price from an EBay seller with an excellent and long track record. Sure he was in China, but I’ve bought from there before.

Because I had a small balance, two thirds of my purchase came from it, the rest from my credit card.

Today, 10 days after the sale, I went to show someone at work what I’d bought, only to find the listing gone. The seller’s gone too!

10:45:09 PM AgentGrace G.

the item has been removed on the site by our Trust and Safety Department due to listing violation.

10:45:19 PM AgentGrace G.

So the sale may be considered null and void.

10:45:39 PM AgentGrace G.

In this case, what you can do is to contact PayPal to file a claim to get a refund.

I can tell you from past experience, Grace wasn’t about to reveal what had gone wrong. EBay had done to my seller what George Bush wishes he could do to photos of him in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner! They made him disappear.

She added, “It’s a good thing that you paid it through PayPal as they offer money back guarantee.”

That would be great… except:

If the claim is decided in my favor, will I get all of my money back?

If a claim is decided in your favor, PayPal will make every effort to recover funds from the seller. The amount of money you are eligible to receive depends on a number of factors…

I’ll spare you the rest.

PayPal is owned by EBay, which is great, when it benefits them. When it doesn’t, they might as well be the Israelis and the Palestinians… and I’m some poor shnook from Gambia sent by the UN to stand between them.

I’ve chatted, been on the phone, and now filled out some forms. I’ve got a dispute going which PayPal promises to try and resolve it within thirty days. They’re promising to try, not promising to do. That’s the same as promising nothing.

So, what do I do? Should I plunk our another $50 and wait while someone else in China fills my order? None of these intervalometers with the proper cabling for my camera seem to exist in the states.

It’s possible my order could still come. It’s only been 10 days, which includes two weekends. China is still pretty far when surface transportation is being used. And, he could have shipped before EBay whacked him.

Tonight, I am frustrated and EBay’s the center of my frustration.

The Snowy Prize

The subject turned to snow and then a little friendly pool the guys were were having. Each threw in $5, with the winner getting the bundle for predicting the January snowfall at Madison’s Dane County Regional-Truax Field Airport.

I am lucky enough to be friendly with a bunch of the service techs at the company we buy our weather equipment from. They are squirreled away in Madison, WI, figuring out ways to make weather a more compelling story on TV.

Last month I was speaking with Bruce, one of those techs, and the subject turned to snow and then a little friendly pool the guys were were having. Each threw in $5, with the winner getting the bundle for predicting the January snowfall at Madison’s Dane County Regional-Truax Field Airport.

I asked in. I know nothing about winter weather in Wisconsin, except it’s cold, windy and snow filled.

My guess was 16″, which led Bruce to post this.

Thought I would give everyone a quick update on the KMSN January snow pool. Geoff Fox jumped in at the last second with a prediction of 16″. So the revised winning snowfall ranges are as follows…

Pat 4.2″, Brian 7.7″, Chris 8.2″ and John and Bruce both picked 8.7″ and Geoff at 16″

So the breakdown is as follows:

5.9″ or less Pat wins

6.0″ – 7.9″ Brian wins

8.0″ – 8.4″ Chris wins

8.5″ – 12.3″ John & Bruce win

12.4″ and higher Geoff wins

After 13 days, KMSN currently stands at 4.5″

My guess was way too high. It was obvious these other (mostly) meteorologists were more attuned to their local climatology than I was.

I sent Bruce $5 via PayPal and forgot about the whole thing until last night. Curious, I fired off an email with just two words: “How bad?”

Smarty pants…you smoked us…everyone else picked less than 10 inches. We are smarting from that.

We got 23.2 inches…which is was the eighth snowiest January on record. December-January of this year was the second snowiest 2-month period in Madison records…which go back to the 1880s. Since we got hit so hard in December, the thinking was that the odds were against back-2-back snowy months. However, La Ninas—if they have any trend at all–tend to make winters over the upper Midwest a bit more potent…whether that be cold or snow…or both.

In forecasting, as in life, it is much more profitable to be lucky than skilful.

Real Email From PayPal

I got a ‘real’ email from PayPal today (There has been some confusion because of the quotes. It really and truly was from PayPal). It is one of the zillions of emails I get all the time that have a PayPal return address. It is one of a handful that’s real… and within that group a smaller subset that wasn’t expected.

It ended up in my spam folder. Even as I began to read it, my original assumption was – scam.

I feel bad for PayPal, which manages to have the least trustworthy return address in cyberspace! There’s a dubious distinction.

What was missing from this email about privacy policies and security was any acknowledgment that PayPal attracts scamming emails the way poop attracts flies. Doesn’t PayPal owe it to their users a brief, “We’ve seen it all and here are some of things you should look out for,” in their emails?

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Unless email is cleaned up soon, its utility to advance our electronic society will stop dead in its tracks. Our email protocols were set up under the false assumption that Internet users would be trustworthy. Duh!

A switchover will be briefly painful and disruptive. However, the longer we wait, the worse the situation will become… and it will have to come. Not that I have to worry. Someone I’ve just met from Benin is giving me a lockbox full of gold bullion.

Scams – Why Spelling Counts

Remember when you were in school? Ever ask if spelling counts? It does.

Yes, I judge the writer of emails received by sentence structure and spelling. Who knew the Internet would make ‘written skills’ so much more necessary?

Of course, if you’re in business, proper usage can make you look professional… or not.

This email just came from “PayPal”… not! I’ll turn off the spell checker for a moment. The subject was: “IMPORTANT NOTICE: Dear Paypal Member Last 72 Hours For Uptade Your Billing Information.”

Security Center

Military Grade Encryption is Only Start

At PayPal, we want to increase your security and comfort level with every transaction. From our Buyer and Seller Protection Policies to out Verification and Reputation systems, we`ll help to keep you safe.

* We Recently noticed one or more attempts to log in to your PayPal account from foreign IP adress and we have reasons to believe that your account was hijacked by a third party without your authorization

* If you recently noticed one or more attempts your account while traveling, the unusual log in attempts may have been initiated by you. However, if your are rightful holder of the account, click on the link below to log into your account and fallow the intrusctions.

* If you choose to ignore our request, you leave us no choise but not temporaly suspend account.

* We ask that you fallow at least 72 hours for the case to be investigated and we strongly recomanded to verify your account in that time.

* If you recived this notice and you are not the authorized account holder, please be aware that it is in violation of PayPal policy to represent oneself as another PayPal user.Such action may also be in violation of local, national, and/or international law. Paypal is misappropriate at the request of law enforment agencies to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

* Thanks for your patiance as we work togheter to protect your account.

* Sincerly,

* PayPal Account Review Department

* PayPal, an ebay Company

* Please do not respond to this e-mail adress as your reply will not be recived

* Paypal E-mail ID – #98754

I’ve reread it a few times. Forget the obvious misspellings. Look at what else is wrong. The sentences are missing articles, like ‘the’.

Using your best Boris Badinov imitation, say “Military Grade Encryption is Only Start.” It works. Russia is a perfect candidate for the native language of this sender, though others work too.

Some sad sack is going to believe this and sign on, giving up their username and password. You can’t thwart stupidity!

What I don’t understand is why these phishing expeditions aren’t combated by PayPal, or whomever the attack targets, seeding the phisher with identifiable usernames and passwords? They can then immediately tag who is using this info and where they are.

It seems so simple. I must be missing something?

How many highly publicized arrests need there be before this would stop? As it is now, have you ever heard of anyone being caught for doing this?

Criminals Of The Internet

I am fascinated by the ‘dark side’ of the Internet.  Maybe that’s because I was here (wherever here actually is), back when it all began… or close to it.

How long ago was that?  My first surfing of the Internet was done with a browser (Lynx) that only saw text – no images, much less multimedia content.  I remember sending a  technical comment to Yahoo!.  The person responding (get an actual person to respond today) said he’s pass it along to “Jerry.”  He was talking about  Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder.

The Internet was trustworthy.  In fact, many of the Internet’s biggest weaknesses are caused by the innocence of software coders who didn’t feel it was necessary to verify much of anything because it was a relatively small group of American geeks – mostly affiliated with colleges, universities or the military.

When I send email from home on my account, it comes from servers run by Comcast.  The same mail, sent from work, comes from a server I use at (not the station’s mail server).  I hardly ever use the server assigned to (long story about its dependability).

No one checks to make sure I really am entitled to use  I could use anything as my return address with little fear of getting caught or suffering consequences!

It’s that ability to do what you wish with little scrutiny that has allowed parts of the Internet to become a cesspool.

I am often call upon to fix friend’s computers that have slowed down, as if a computer was a mechanical device that doesn’t run quite as well with age.  Of course the real reason for the slowdown is that they’ve been bogged down by hidden garbage on our trustworthy Internet

I read a long article, Invasion of the Computer Snatchers , in today’s Washington Post that shows how far all this scamming is going.  It’s scary.

Compromised computers are turned into ‘bots.’  It’s the PC equivalent of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

As is so often the case with crime, a few criminals can affect hundreds or thousands of unsuspecting computer owners.  And, since the thieves and scammers are giving away your time or money or convenience, they really don’t care how insidious their actions are.

What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a more concentrated effort to crack down on this crime?  OK – maybe mere individuals don’t have much pull, but Citibank, Bank of America, PayPal and others must.

And, since at some point these transactions must lead to the movement of money – why can’t it be tracked down and stopped?  I just don’t get it.

The Internet has such an incredible promise, which will never come to fruition if the net is allowed to remain the cyber equivalent of Times Square, circa 1975.

The Phisher’s Still There

I can’t believe the faux PayPal site is still up and running. I have dropped a note to Apollo Hosting to see if there’s an explanation. This is very strange indeed. Apollo looks like a legitimate company. Why let this site remain up, possibly trapping innocent people?

Maybe they have an explanation?

Blogger’s Addendum – This page sat with a brutal error for 363 days! “Phisher” had been spelled “Phiser” – making me #1 on Google if you happened to be searching for Phiser.

Troubling Trend in Retail

Steffie and Helaine found a fashion accessory they were looking for. I have been sworn to secrecy about what it is. It is a hot item, that much I can say.

They found a website that had it and ordered. Payment was made via PayPal. Since the account is in my name, I got the receipt and then the tracking data for the package.

I don’t think either of them knew they were ordering directly from China. The amazing thing is, from the time the item was dropped off at FedEx until we got it in Connecticut was two days!

This is part of a trend that will be as controversial as outsourcing. Because of the efficiency of FedEx (and I’m sure DHL and UPS aren’t far behind) the entire United States distribution chain has been eliminated. There’s no warehouse, no U.S. based store – nothing.

I’m going to have to think this through and decide how I feel. I can see how this is a troubling trend for retailers and those whose livelihood depend on them.

Blogger’s note: I believe it’s the International Date Line that allows the package to arrive in Alaska before it leaves China!

I Worry About the Internet

I’ve been on the Internet a while. The earliest post of mine that I can find on Usenet is from 1993. Before that I was on Compuserve and The Source (neither interconnected with anything else or each other at the time).

Even that’s not my beginning. In the Commodore 64 days I used to traipse around to BBS systems, downloading programs and trading messages locally.

Over time, I have seen the Internet change, drastically.

Some of those changes are very, very good. I love to read about what’s going on, and every newspaper is online, as is every magazine. A quick search on Google News for Rosie O’Donnell brought over 1,000 current citations. The amount of raw data here is astounding. And, with applications like Google to sort what we’ve got, you can actually find the worthwhile stuff you’re looking for.

Of course, not all that you find is good. I think I mentioned a few weeks back that Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy, said they can’t use the Internet as a source of answers/questions because so much of what’s here is incorrect. And there was Pierre Salinger’s Internet based theory on TWA Flight 800. Still, with a skeptical eye, it is possible to do your best in separating the wheat from the chaff.

The killer app on the Internet seemed to be email. But, I am afraid its effectiveness is rapidly diminishing.

Personally, the amount of spam I receive is astounding. I use an incredible (and totally free) program called Popfile to move my spam to a side directory so I only see it when I’m deleting it ‘en mass’.

Popfile works by actually watching what I do or don’t consider spam. Though spam is recent, the program is based on the work of Rev. Edward Bayes who lived in the 18th century.

It took a few weeks to teach Popfile what I want. Since then, the program has been pretty close to perfect (99.54% accuracy). Unfortunately, unless it is perfect, I still have to take a quick look, lest I allow a falsely categorized spam to be deleted – unread!

Since June 24, 2003, over 60% of my email has been spam.

Actually, it’s a lot worse than that! I have some filters at my server throwing away any messages that come addressed to a few addresses that I once used, but are now only spam magnets. And, since there’s a new method in spamming which includes using your name in the subject, anything that contains “me,” also gets dumped. Those messages never make it to my home computer and I can only guess that it’s throwing away dozens every day.

As unruly as spam is, it pales in comparison to the problems we face with no verification that email is coming from the account that claims to send it. I often send work related email, with my work email address through my mail server. It neither knows or cares. Helaine’s mail goes the same way, because it’s easier when we’re on the road. Unfortunately, this is the same method spammers use when the forge the return address on the unsolicited ads you get.

In the past few weeks I have gotten a few ‘phishing’ emails, which look like official letters from PayPal or Comcast or one of any number of companies I do business with. I can recognize a ‘phishing’ email, but I’m never sure when a legit one is legit – and that’s real trouble.

We should be paying bills and ordering merchandise and conducting our affairs online. But even if we can to a limited extent now, how can we in the future? How can we be sure we’re sending mail to the right place or responding to the right website?

It’s time for people much wiser than I to figure out a new method of sending verifiable email. If we must throw out the method we use now – a method formulated by geeks who never thought the Internet would be populated by anyone other than trusted users.

As much as I hate to see this happen, we can no longer operate where mail goes anonymously. I’m not saying your mail should be readable by others, only that the recipient knows it’s from you.

And now there’s more!

Companies have started burying ‘malware’, ‘adware’, and ‘spyware’ in otherwise innocuous programs. Download a program to keep your passwords or set your computer’s clock or any one of a number of simple tasks, and you might have some program popping up ads and watching where you surf while stealing clock cycles from your computer and in some cases making it totally unstable or unusable.

I cleaned out a friend’s computer a few weeks ago and it was like the Black Hole of Calcutta in there. The computer was no longer usable because of all the unwanted operations going on.

This stuff is going to get worse before it gets better. There are two things I can guarantee will happen:

1) Some people will be driven from the Internet as their ability to use it in any meaningful way will be gone.

2) Companies will be forced to make our systems less versatile, more skeptical and closed, in order to keep this stuff of PCs. That will lead to less innovation.

Unless something is done very soon, con men, shysters and crooks will turn this wonderful idea into a cesspool. It’s already on the way.

The Worm My Dad Sent Me

My dad loves his computer. I think, like his son, he is obsessed with this unbelievable access to nearly anything. But, he is not a sophisticated user. And, in his defense, that puts him squarely in line with the vast majority of other computer users.

Earlier this evening, my dad received the official looking email on the right from Microsoft. With all the viruses and worms going around, Microsoft was proactively sending out a patch to fix yet another weakness. Except, the message wasn’t from Microsoft.

I wouldn’t know any of this, except, sometime after 10:00 PM Thursday, I received the very same email. But, to me, something looked fishy. Microsoft doesn’t email software patches! In fact, though I’ve registered all my Microsoft products, I don’t think I’ve ever received anything from Microsoft.

I ‘opened’ the email up and took a look at the code. I could see the path the message took to get to me. It originated somewhere on Adelphia is a cable TV provider with high speed Internet service and my dad is a subscriber.

I looked closer.

The originator of the email was there… not in name, but in IP address. Though we type or email to, these ‘people friendly’ addresses are translated into the raw IP numbers (the equivalent of street addresses) before they’re sent on their way.

The IP address was my dad’s.

I said, “You know not to open unexpected attachments.” He said, “It was from Microsoft.” And, of course, to him that’s what it seemed.

The writers of this worm, which I’ve since learned is Win32.Swen.A, knew no one would execute this program unless they were tricked. And, it’s a damned good trick. The email message looks legit.

In the past I’ve gotten similar messages posing as security queries from PayPal. Send us your login name, password and credit card.

Enough is enough. It’s time we changed our methods of email.

As it stands right now, this network of networks, designed when only those invited could get on, is too trusting. If you say you’re someone, the Internet inherently believes that. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s time for a new mail protocol which will verify the sender is who he says he is. Maybe we can cut down on, or even eliminate, spam while we’re at it.

It will be a painful transition, because the mail programs we now use aren’t up to the task. But, we have gone beyond the point of hoping the Internet will cure itself.