Phone scammers are getting sneaky

I just got a call from one of those scammers. I knew it was a scam call because the phone number only showed seven digits—we now have to dial ten, so this is always a sign of spoofing—and the first three for the exchange matched mine. Whenever it’s a call coming from a number with the first three digits as my own, I know it’s spoofed. I get the same spoofing on my cell from time to time. Both are in “unusual” exchanges where the odds of getting a call from someone else in the same one are about nil. (Although I did once get a call from someone who had themselves been on the receiving end of a spoof, with the scammers using my number.)

The big thing, though, is that if it’s a major company calling you, they probably have an 8xx toll free number.

Today’s call claimed to be from Visa/Mastercard—a red flag since they don’t act under the same umbrella—and said there would be changes to my account before the next billing cycle. The hook for me to talk to them was that I supposedly now qualify for 0% interest on certain purchases, and I’d have to talk to them to set that up. But that’s not the sneaky part.

The sneaky bit is where before they set that hook, they said that if I’d already received notification of the changes in the mail, I could press 3 to acknowledge I’d gotten the news and not be called again. Now of course, I know from experience the “don’t call me again” button doesn’t work, but it was exceptionally clever of these guys to suggest there was official communication inbound and that the call was just a courtesy to essentially save me time getting that shiny new rate.

And that’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize about con artists: The good ones will always give you an out, make sure you feel like you can walk away from their offer. There will be pressures to jump on their phony opportunity, like a supposedly limited time, high return on investment, etc., but they want you to talk yourself into going for it. Everyone is going to resist if they feel someone is pushing them, but if they don’t push, our own psychology can trick us into reaching for that carrot.

Well played, scammers. Enjoy it now, because when I become a supervillain I will make it legal to literally hunt you guys.

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The vernal equinox is a lie

The first day of spring is pretty much always a sick joke here in Syracuse. Today it’s in the mid-20s and we hope to cross just past freezing for today’s high.

I think the last time we had a truly nice first day of spring was in 2000, when for a week we had 80-degree weather after a very bitter cold winter, although that was followed by a crapload of rain for like two months so it wasn’t much of a spring after that. And I actually can’t remember if that nice patch came around the first day of spring or not. Mainly what I remember is that at the sorority house across the street from where I worked at the time, girls were hanging out on the front lawn.

Wait, where was I?

I don’t know what to expect of spring this year, but I’m hoping we at least get one. Last year we didn’t have spring at all, and I say that without hesitation because for the first time in more than twenty years, I didn’t have a zoo day. If the weather ever got nice, in April or in May, it was on a weekend, a Monday which doesn’t work, or as a complete overnight surprise. And then it went right back to lousy.

I don’t know what’ll happen yet, but we’re expected to get a few more nasty snow storms before the month is out, so I don’t see a zoo day being likely in early April at least. As it is if we get a lot more snow, I have no idea where it can go. My car is cleaned off but there’s a low wall around it.

With the way my mind works, now I’m wondering if there are ways to rapidly melt half a driveway’s worth of snow. Maybe thermite. Time to do a weird and suspicious Google search.

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Pointless controversy: In defense of daylight

We’ve all seen the Facebook memes about how daylight savings time just stole an hour of our lives, how it’s antiquated and needs to go away, etc., etc. And I get it: the switch to daylight time is freaking rough. I’ve always, always had trouble with it when it comes around, and this year is no exception. It’s about 12:30 now and I’m wishing I were back in bed, except for the promise of lunch.

Here’s the thing, though. For me, the pain of this transition is worth it.

I like that the sun is up later in the spring and summer. I like that right around peak summertime, it sets around 9:00. The afternoons feel stronger and better, and the nights are livelier. And if you’re not up before the sun, the extra daylight that would happen then is wasted on you, so why not shift it forward and enjoy it longer?

Yes it’s basically nothing more than an intentional mass delusion. But as delusions go, I think it’s a good one. That extra bit of daytime shifted into my own schedule is lovely, and it completely beats the alternative way to achieve the same thing: everyone setting their schedules an hour earlier for half the year but not changing the clocks.

As I just saw someone else put it in response to one of those memes: Funny how we don’t complain about this when we gain the hour back in fall. If we complain about anything it’s that the short days feel suddenly so much shorter, although to be honest I think in the fall that’s kind of wonderful too. When we go back to standard time it’s like a signal to start hibernation, and the borrowed hour being repaid is a comfy nudge in that direction.

Yep, I’m dragging today. I’ll probably be dragging all week. But I’m glad we have daylight savings, because it means in June I can appreciate the sun so much better. And grill outside for dinner, too, if I want.

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Today I learned khachapuri is a thing

I just saw a video that’s basically food porn for a number of cheese dishes. One of them I’d heard of before: raclette. I adore the concept of raclette but I hate Swiss cheese, so I’m torn on that one. But there was another dish I hadn’t heard of, called khachapuri.

Khachapuri is a Georgian dish—supposedly even more popular there than pizza—that’s basically a bread bowl filled with a gooey mix of cheeses and a slightly runny egg.

I am so in.

The question now is, when will Bad Idea Mode get bad enough that I feel emboldened to try making it? Follow-up questions:

Since I’m pretty sure I won’t like feta, should I just wing it with my own mix of cheeses? And if so will it veer towards cheddar or in an open-face calzone kind of direction?

Should I just admit to myself I want to pretzelfy it, and do so?

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Books in 3D

I’ve been an admirer for some time of the cool 3D images some authors are using to promote their books, and especially their box sets. I don’t have a box set yet, but I do have books and I’d love to get a little more pop in my images.

The problem is, the way people have been making those images doesn’t work for me. They involve Photoshop actions that cost money, or don’t work with Photoshop Elements which is what I use. So I thought: I’ll look into what it would take to make an Elements-friendly action.

And then I found out you can talk to Photoshop with JavaScript. Mind blown. With JavaScript, I don’t have to be locked in to a particular orientation for the image, and don’t have to worry about trying to painstakingly record a bunch of individual actions.

I’ve developed a script to create the kind of image I wanted, and to pay it forward, that script is free for anyone to use. You can download it here. This script was tested in Photoshop Elements 15, but I think it will work just peachy in older versions, and obviously the full Photoshop should have no issues with it either.

How does it work? You’ll probably want to make a copy of the script and move it into a folder where you keep your other art resources for the book in question. Open your finished cover file in Photoshop, and flatten the image if it needs flattening. (Best practice: Open the PNG file you saved instead of your raw .psd. You did save a PNG, didn’t you?) Now, open the script in a text editor and fill in the information you need:

  • What are the dimensions of the book?
  • Are the spine and back cover are included?
  • How many pixels of bleed are in the cover image?
  • Are the pages cream or paper?
  • What angle would you like to turn the book towards?
  • What size do you want for the result image file? (The 3D book will be scaled to fit that size.)

There are a couple of advanced settings you can change too, like lighting and a bit of the camera angle and settings, but those are the important ones. Now open the script in Photoshop, and let it take everything from there.

The resulting image will have a layer for each visible side of the book, a shadow layer, and also a quickie background that you may or may not care about. I removed the background for the image shown above, and that image has also been scaled down quite a bit. The script creates a very high-res image by default; you’ll probably want to leave the output resolution alone and simply scale the result when you’re done.

By default, this script is setup for a full wraparound cover with a 6″×9″ size at 300 dpi. I didn’t include any default bleed, but my covers always use 38 pixels (1/8″). If you change the angle of the book so the spine is facing away from the camera, you don’t necessarily need a spine image, just a front cover, and you can simply specify a dummy spine width. There’s already a dummy width of 1″ for the spine, but if you use a wraparound cover the spine width will be calculated for you.

So that’s it! Super simple, and all you need is Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, your cover file, and a text editor to load the script in. You don’t really need to know any JavaScript to make the appropriate configuration changes.

Update: I’ve added parameters to control the output scale and position, so you can more easily create consistently sized images of multiple books regardless of spine width (which would previously have impacted the scaling). The project is now hosted on GitHub and future modifications will be made there.

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SNHU Snafu

I always call out that one stupid SNHU commercial where a guy giving a commencement address says the world distributes talent equally but not opportunity, because he has it exactly backwards. Or at best, people can reasonably disagree about the opportunity part, but talent has never been distributed equally in THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY. Talent simply does not work that way. So that commercial always rubbed me the wrong way, just for that stupid line. I just found out, though, that SNHU has been playing limbo with a very low bar.

Just recently, they had to fire—they said “replace”—an adjunct sociology professor for not knowing, and doubling down on her ignorance of, a basic geography fact everyone learns in third grade. Let’s play a little quiz.


Is Australia a continent or a country?

If you didn’t answer “both”, then it’s time to go back to third grade.

A student in this professor’s online class did an assignment that involved comparing the US to another country, and the student chose to look at social media in Australia. The professor said Australia is a continent, not a country.

The student, having remembered something from third grade, fourth grade, all the other grades, news, movies, major events like the Olympics, or the bajillion other places anyone could have picked up this fact, tried to correct her professor. She even went so far as to send a link to the Australian government’s website. The professor was adamant, until finally somehow or other they had to learn something and upgraded the student’s paper to a B+.

Seriously? This isn’t just common knowledge, it’s beyond common knowledge. Like, there are sofas that know Australia is both a country and a continent. Never mind that any moron could simply go to Wikipedia, or Google, and confirm in literally one second that Australia is a country. But how anyone can go through life not knowing this, and yet land a job as a teacher, especially in a field that requires a good knowledge of geography, is mind-blowing.

This is equivalent to a math teacher not knowing that 8 is a thing. This hypothetical math teacher is handing out assignments in algebra, or maybe trigonometry, and yet when confronted with the digit 8 they go blank. It’s impossible to imagine the path from point A to point B that could let them skip over that piece.

Granted, sociology is one of the softest of soft sciences and most of its courses have the intellectual rigor of a Teletubbies episode written by Kim Kardashian, but hoo boy. How did this person even graduate high school, let alone go through years of academic BS to get a degree that undoubtedly SNHU requires before they can teach anyone, even as an adjunct? I don’t even know how it’s possible for any grown-ass adult to go out into the world and go through daily life without knowing this fact; not in the modern era. So how do you manage to be so completely ignorant your brain has to be actively throwing knowledge out by the bucket-load on an hourly basis—or spewing a powerful fountain of anti-knowledge as it were—yet clear the multiple hurdles it takes to get hired as a teacher?

To SNHU’s credit, they’re refunding the student’s tuition for the course, and that teacher has been, as I mentioned, “replaced”. Good first steps.

This reminds me of a little story. Back in the ’80s, my cousin was in grade school, and she scored perfectly on a math test. Her teacher didn’t give her the full grade, because she “didn’t know her students well enough yet”. I don’t think the teacher was ever flogged for that, but in a better world they would have been, and in a perfect world they would never have been hired.

SNHU now has a job to do. It’s time for them to go through and look critically at each and every one of the professors they’ve hired, because somehow this bozo made it through the filter. If one did, others might have, and that’s a credibility problem they’d better lock down.

Because talent, in fact, is not distributed equally.

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Pointless controversy: Mr. Brightside isn’t the best Killers song

Another meme from my meme-happy cousin today listed a bunch of songs that “white people” seem to always jam to. Lots of good entries were in that list, and some really questionable ones too even though they were all well-known songs, but one in particular got my goat: That’s Mr. Brightside by the Killers.

Look, let’s settle this once and for all. Mr. Brightside isn’t a very good song. It’s hard to sing along to. It isn’t nearly as fun as it should be. It’s whiny. You know what’s a much better, million times better song by the very same band? Somebody Told Me.

Somebody Told Me has intensity. It has flow. It has awesome percussion. The lyrics are more fun. When you sing to it you get to try to modulate a half-scream at the end. You can’t hear that song and not jam to it. (Disclosure: I am a “white people”.)

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