2021: Week 1

12 Days of ChristmasAlthough the New Year is a few days off (you still have time to stock up on champagne), most calendars start on Sunday, so today is the first day of the first week of 2021. More to the point, all 52 weeks of 2020 are now officially behind us. We can begin the process of shaking the dust of an awful year off our shoes.

How many times have I said I look around and forward, but rarely backward. (Lots of times!) Of course I’m more than willing to see the tail end of a wretched year and an even more wretched Presidency. (Easily, at this point, the worst in our history.)

Anyway: On the third day of Chillaxmas, my blog post is about…

Three piles full of begging, two files full of spammers, and a phone full of robo call-ers. (Yeah, this one’s kind of a rant. I’m clearing the queue for the new year.)

In truth, the first group is in an entirely different category than the last two groups, but, putative good intentions aside, they have begun to annoy me along the same axis as the other two. It’s the constant nagging that’s gotten under my skin. Especially when they should know better.

{{Speaking of long-time annoyances: Despite knowing my theatrical past, despite knowing my grounding as an artist, far too many people, both in my life and in my writing, don’t seem to get that my rants are nearly all bark. I’m, in part, a performance artist — a flamboyant ham. Maybe I’m too good an actor. Even the buddy I’ve hung with 30+ years can be taken aback and think I’m totally serious when I’m, like, 3% serious, 42% venting, and 55% inventing. I guess that 3% puts too much oomph in the act. More about this sort of thing in posts to come. Is it because I’m so serious other times?}}

Anyway…

§

What I mean by three piles full of begging is this:


For many years I’ve tithed — given 10% of my income to charity. Over the years I’ve ending up heavily supporting a regular pair, Habitat for Humanity and my local Union Gospel Mission, along with various others (such as Wikipedia) to one degree or other.

I think these are all worthy organizations, and I’m proud and more than willing to support them. I do feel those of us fortunate enough to have are obligated to share some of that with those that don’t.

Every year near Christmas (literally with A Christmas Carol in mind), I write two big checks and some small ones (actually, I’ve been using PayPal for the small ones lately). I’ve been doing this for almost two decades.

It’s annoying, then, to receive a steady stream of mail begging me for more. It’s especially annoying from the two who, in theory, know I’ll be sending them a large check in due time.

In the photo above, the right-hand pile is all the mail Hab4Hum has sent me this year. (Bets on whether I get more in the next few days?) The middle pile is all the mail from the UGM. The left-hand pile is a mix of other regulars. (I saved it all because I wanted to see how much there was. Plenty. For the big two, it’s roughly every other week.)

I have a friend who has told me how she’d respond to those constant begs by sending a bit here and a bit there. Then she started paying attention to how often and how much and realized it was too often and too much. She was being cynically nickel-and-dimed to death by those she favored.

It has the effect of turning one against the very charity one would support, which is an ironic result.

Let me be clear: Totally down with the idea and practice of charity, but I’m increasingly unhappy with the business of it.

§

The spammers and scammers, however, are a different matter, a class of human scum. In opposition to charity, they’re an illustration of what’s wrong with people.

WordPress does a great job of filtering spam. I can’t recall the last time I had a spam comment pending — they’re always in the Spam folder. I’ll come back to that. Let me jump to the robo calls.

I get a fair number per day on my land line (which I’ll keep as long as possible; land lines still work in a total power outage). Given that they’re all robo calls now and one can’t mess with the humans, my current tactic for unknown callers is to answer and say nothing. Just listen.

These robo-systems seem to want a human voice — I’ve noticed some will speak to my voice mail message, but none speak into my silence. (In the rare cases it’s a human, they eventually say, “Hello? Is anyone there??”)

I’ve also notice some systems hang up almost immediately upon the silence whereas others wait the ten seconds most of them seem programmed for. This tells me time is money to these folks, so holding their system in silence for as many seconds as possible is a tiny, tiny, tiny way to hurt them.

And I do so want to hurt them. (I’m not opposed to military action; they seem a clear and present danger.)

§

The thing about spam is that it’s super cheap. It takes money to mount a robo-call campaign, let alone a snail mail campaign, but any jackass with a computer can be a spammer.

I forget where I saw it, but it was an ad for an app that could defeat the various tools sites use to block spam. As I recall, the product was called XEvil version whatever, and I was struck by their literal embrace of evil. Wouldn’t the internet be great without all that evil?

The thing for me about comment spam is that I find it hilarious. I just love the murdering of vocabulary and grammar they present.

It cracks me up how the wording praises my post without mentioning a topic or specific:

Nearly all of the things you point out happens to be astonishingly appropriate and it makes me ponder why I hadn’t looked at this with this light previously. Your piece truly did switch the light on for me as far as this specific subject goes. However there is one position I am not too cozy with and while I try to reconcile that with the actual central idea of the issue, allow me see just what all the rest of the readers have to point out.Well done.

Nearly all! Well. It uses length to make it look more legit, but the wording give it away. Likewise:

Most of what you state happens to be astonishingly legitimate and it makes me ponder the reason why […] so whilst I attempt to reconcile that with the actual core idea of your point, permit me see what the rest of the readers have to say.Well done.

Note the similarities (including the missing space before the last sentence). Someone’s using a simple word generator. Badly.

The slightly more savvy approach tries to get my goat:

Hello, you used to write fantastic, but the last few posts have been kinda boring?I miss your tremendous writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

Oh, dear! I’ll get right on that. I got a huge kick out of this one:

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

Ha! Have you actually seen this blog? This one is pretty funny, too:

I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images. Maybe you could space it out better?

Note the missing apostrophes in both. But maybe I’d better a little more in the way of content for all my base.

Then there are the ones that complain about technical issues:

Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

That one was humble — the problem could be on their end. This one is a bit more sure the problem is on this end:

Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

Then there’s the blunt:

Your web page won’t show up properly on my iphone4 – you might wanna try and fix that

It’s even correct phone-speak; no final period. There’s the nearly as terse:

I think one of your advertisements caused my web browser to resize, you may well want to put that on your blacklist.

As if. What advertisements?

Finally there’s the earnest blogger approach:

Hello this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Others have asked about plugins to guard against hackers or the best blog platforms or how to safeguard their writing from being copied.

The thing is that all these (and more) came from the same host (extraproxies[dot]ykw), came from various groups of rotated IPs, and all featured “ordinary” names from Yahoo(dot)ykw.

These are all well-worn bits I’ve been seeing for ages. I can’t help but wonder what the success rate is, how large is the ROI? Granted the outlay is small, but I’m amazed anyone is fooled anymore.

§

My email Span folder also snags some interesting fish, although they aren’t as funny as the comment spam.

More alarming, actually. Various aggressive scams. I saw one involving a supposed problem with my PayPal account, and I’ve seen a whole lot about renewing McAfee. It’s email spam that’s probably the most dangerous, especially if you use a local email client.

But this has gotten way longer than intended, so I’ll stop.

§ §

This year, and the several previous, have had the effect of making me completely fed up with all forms of BS and social fantasy. Going forward I’m going to be very much sticking to the physical and the known.

In the same sense that the present and (a small bit of) the future are more than enough for me, so is the physical and the known.

Stay real, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

18 responses to “2021: Week 1

  • Wyrd Smythe

    No, this isn’t the start of a weekly series! 😀

  • Wyrd Smythe

    ATTENTION: WordPress is working on a bug I discovered regarding how some posts render in the Reader. All paragraphs are mushed into one big one. I’m told they’re working on it, but have no indication they’ve identified the bug or a fix.

    This may apply only to posts created in the classic editor. What happens is that, in that editor (also in comment boxes), blocks of text with blank lines are treated as paragraphs. Even though the comment or post doesn’t use <P> tags around each text block, WP puts them in. (In posts, I think they do it when they save the post, but I’m not sure.)

    Anyway, what’s happening is that sometimes the Reader strips out (or doesn’t insert) those <P> tags and so all the text runs together. The issue is intermittent. Editing the post seems to make it go away temporarily, but it often returns.

    I’ve gone back and added explicit <P> tags to my paragraphs (which is a huge pain in the ass), and that seems to make my posts render as intended. Not sure what’ll happen regarding the bug. I increasingly feel I’m on borrowed time with the classic editor. 😦

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You might want to check how your own posts render, was my point.

      Try viewing from the Reader Following section, but also try clicking on your name to get a listing of just your posts and then try viewing a few. I found — despite the post having the same URL — one way would render okay while the other (usually the latter) wouldn’t. Very upsetting.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I hate spam. Thankfully the filters keep most of it away from me, and I rarely venture into the depths of the spam folders, unless someone asks me where something went. Lately though, SMS spam has become a thing, which really sucks.

    My posts look okay under the reader, even going back to my use of he classic editor. But so do yours, or at least the ones I pulled up. Maybe they fixed it?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Well, I went back and edited the most recent 21 posts to have explicit <P> tags on paragraphs. That seems to prevent the bug from happening. And I have noticed not noticing it the last few days, so maybe they are trying a fix, and I just haven’t heard back about it.

  • Brian

    The previous owner of my house was evidently a big giver to charity since I was for a while inundated with such requests for donations. With this and other junk mail of the paper variety I generally put it in my nearest postbox with “Return to sender” written clearly on it. It seems to have done the trick.

    I’ve been tempted to do this with requests to pay for a TV licence (as we have to here in the UK if we watch TV), but I don’t want to acknowledge receipt of this stuff; it just irritates me how much money they have spent over the years sending me automated letters and threats. Likewise, I wouldn’t pay for a TV licence (or donate to a charity who behaves like this) because of how much money they seemingly waste (or pay to their ‘big bosses’).

    I commend you for your tithing though; I am admittedly both tight with money, and consider myself a low-earner. I will happily shop at charity shops though.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, exactly. They spend so much money on sending all that stuff. That’s the part that gets me.

      And it’s not just a simple letter asking for money. These things come with return address labels or stickers or pins I’ll never wear or bookmarks or cards I’ll never use or whatever junk they send. I have a lifetime supply of address labels by now. The waste just astonishes me. I start to wonder if these charities are mainly in the business of being charities.

      To be honest, in my disgust, I did reduce my giving this year. I think I need to let these folks know my concerns before I continue with them. I’d like to give them an opportunity to demonstrate better CRM. Who knows, maybe they’ll respond.

      The thing about tithing is it tracks one’s income. When I retired my income dropped to about 1/3, but so did the giving. That said, at some point one’s income is so low that any expenditure hurts and then one is in a different position entirely. Things were tight when I was growing up, so I’ve been there. (It’s one reason I love libraries so much. Free books!)

      • Brian

        I have some Christmas-themed coasters that came in the post one year from a charity… actually they sent my two lots. I bring them out once a year with my box of Christmas decorations.

        I have a lenticular* bookmark from a cat charity that I quite like. (*I had to look up that term!)

        I used to find the free pens useful (I assume one was supposed to use them to fill in the forms and payment), that was until our postal service increased the cost to send a letter of that thickness and the charities started issuing thin and flimsy pens instead. It would seem they didn’t check to see if it was possible to write with them because I can’t manage it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The coasters sound kinda cool. I’ve never gotten anything that nice. (Or pens, but I have more pens than I can use.)

        I’m an avid reader and a book lover, so you’d think I’d be into bookmarks, but somehow they never grabbed me. I have a small box of now obsolete calling cards I use and just leave in books (that I own). As I recall, back in the day I just used whatever was handy. (Often the fast food receipt for the burger I was having while I read. 😀 )

        As we move more and more to the internet I suppose I won’t even get address labels anymore. 😮

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  • rung2diotimasladder

    “I start to wonder if these charities are mainly in the business of being charities.”

    I hate to say it, but probably so. I wonder if that money would be better put to use by simply giving it to an individual who could use it. We have a lot of homeless folks hanging around on the street corners here (probably more than most places due to the climate)…but with that you have to be careful. When I lived in Albuquerque I was around a lot of homeless folks, and I got to know a few of them from playing guitar in the street (actually, in front of Whole Foods—that’s where the $ is.) I can tell you, the safest thing is to buy them some food. It’s always appreciated.

    It tricky, though, trying to figure out how to help. I tend to be cynical, so I look for ways to make a direct impact, but that’s hard to do with covid. I think we’re still donating to PBS on an ongoing basis. But I hardly consider that a donation, considering how much PBS we watch.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Those are all really good points. In theory (ha!), charities should be able to do more with the aggregate than giving to one person. They have collective power to spread the money among many (if done right, and again, ha). I do very much agree that giving clothing or food to individuals beats giving them money. Living out in the suburbs, I don’t encounter the homeless.

      The main reason I give to Union Gospel Mission is that their mission is the local homeless, and they seem to be a good outfit. (I’m just tired of a begging mail literally every other week all damn year long. Their outreach budget seems too high to me. Spend it on food!)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Out here we have Gospel Rescue Mission… they seem to have a new Tv ad every week. I wonder if the two missions are related.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The names are certainly very similar. Could be a church organization behind them. (I’d like to think so. I checked them out back when I started donating to them, but maybe I should look deeper. My other usual one, Habitat for Humanity, is national, obviously. They seem pretty legit, too; I’ve worked on volunteer crews building houses a couple times. But still, so much mail.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    It’s the 11th day of Chillaxmas! Enjoy!!

    (Only one more to go.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Man, the spamming crooks are out big time with the new year. I’ve gotten a ton of spam about renewing McAfee, a number about Norton, and here’s a new one today!

    An email (from a gmail account!) confirming my order of Windows Defender (for $299) from (supposedly) Microsoft. The email has apparent errors, such as %CUSTID% or %INVOICE%, perhaps as a trick to avoid making up obviously fake numbers.

    Windows Defender, of course, comes with Windows.

    Yet another reason to educate oneself enough to not get fooled by obvious bullshit. (Truth is, you have to be almost willfully stupid to be a computer user and yet fall for something this lame.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha! I got another one. Apparently the first guy was just an idiot who didn’t know how to set up his EZ-SPAM kit. In this version, which is identical otherwise, those fields are filled in with what are supposed to look like Customer ID and Invoice ID values.

      Looks like the same sender, so apparently the same moron thinks repeating his bullshit will work better.

      If I ever go crazy with a machete, you can assume you’re safe… unless you’re a fucking POS spammer. Tiny pieces, you worthless dung beetles.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      This McAfee scam seems to be a big new thing. I’ve been getting multiple emails per day claiming my anti-virus has expired, or will expire, and I need to RENEW IMMEDIATELY!!!!

      [sigh]

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