Scammy: A Public Service Reminder

The malware scam has a long and ignoble history. We’ve talked about them before, most notably in the context of confusing the scammers. Back then (2014), we were seeing the rise of the robo-scammer. Surprisingly, it seems that was a short-lived phenomenon.

For the record, I keep an eye on what scams are making the rounds both out of personal curiosity and as part of my day job. A rare occurrence, being paid to do something I’d do anyway (that doesn’t involve writing).

Anyway, in the absence of data, I speculate that people hate talking to a computer so much that not enough people pressed 1 to allow the auto-dialer to connect them to a human being. It seems logical, anyway: the reason these scams are so successful is that the caller has a well-written and well-practiced script to panic the recipient into forking over their money and opening up their computer. No one is going to trust a robotic voice that says “Your computer is under attack.”

Heck, most people are going to assume that the robotic voice is the one that’s doing the attacking.

So we’re back to more traditional methods of scamming. But there are still new wrinkles.

Remember those popups that claim you need to install a special codec to see the video you’ve clicked on? They’re still around, but they’ve been joined by a new come-on. With the long-awaited and well-publicized demise of Flash, now we’re seeing popups telling would-be viewers that they need to reinstall the Flash player that has been removed from their browser.

I would have thought people would stop to ask themselves why Flash was removed in the first place, but apparently there’s a sufficiency of people who aren’t that self-inquisitive. Sufficient enough to keep the scammers happy, anyway.

Of course email spam is still a potent venue for scammers. The “I’ve hacked your webcam and will send your family pictures of you masturbating” letters seem to be on the decline. And good riddance. The current popular approach is a subscription renewal. “Hey, this is [large corporate entity]. Your subscription to our service is about to expire. Your card will be charged [outrageously large fee] tomorrow.” This scam works well because the fee is so high. “Five hundred bucks for a magazine/website/streaming service?” If the victim is actually a subscriber, they call to correct what they figure must have been a typo; if they don’t have the service, they call to prevent the large charge. Of course, if they aren’t a subscriber, the scammer is set with a script to apologize for the incorrect message, pitch the service in glowing terms at a much more reasonable price, and get a credit card number that can then be wildly abused.

Oddly, while the scammers go to great lengths to make the emails look like they’re coming from the real company, incorporating stolen graphics and boilerplate legal text lifted from actual emails, they often don’t make the slightest effort to forge the “From” on the email. Though the evidence suggests that they don’t need to make the attempt. People seem to be quite willing to assume that “john.smith@yahoo.com” is fully authorized to speak for Netflix, Fox News, or Xfinity. Or, more likely, nobody even looks at the sender’s address. Those big numbers apparently attached to their credit cards exert a magnetic attraction on the eyes.

The big winner from a scammer’s perspective, however, is still the phone call. Yes, Sam and Nancy and their ilk are still in business. Apparently, however, enough people have figured out that Microsoft and Apple aren’t monitoring their customers’ computers and phones that claiming to be “Sam from Apple” doesn’t work well enough.

Today, the caller is much more likely put a gloss of plausibility on their claim. “Hi, this is Jolene from Norton Security Services.” LifeLock is popular with the scammers, since so many people have subscriptions to LifeLock, either directly or through their association with Norton. Other name-brand security companies’ names are being abused as well: McAfee (many computers come with a trial version of McAfee antivirus installed, so people are used to seeing or hearing the name) and ADT–“Hey, I got my burglar alarm from them, I guess they’re protecting my Internet too”–are at the top of the list.

So let’s be careful out there. Remember, when someone says they’re watching out for you online, they’re telling the exact truth. They’re watching out for you and your wallet.

WWDC 2021

I gotta say I’m underwhelmed by what I’m hearing from Apple. Unlike previous WWDCs, this year’s seems to be totally focused on software. Which, yes, needs to be updated and improved. But it sounds like what we’re going to be seeing from Apple is a bunch of minor evolutions with no revolutions in sight.

iOS 15 is bringing us such goodies as using audio positioning to make it sound like people’s voices are coming from where they’re shown on the screen in FaceTime and automatic filtering of ambient noise. Links to FaceTime calls that can be emailed or added to calendars are handy, but hardly the sort of thing to make someone run out to buy an iPhone. Some of the tweaks to Notifications sound handy–scheduling certain kinds of notifications so you’re not bothered with them when you’re focused on something else, for example. But again, would that be enough to encourage you to buy an iPhone if you were on the fence? I’ll admit “live text” sound sweet. Being able to select text in a picture, even one that’s part of a web page, so it could be copied, pasted, and even clicked if it’s a link is a really helpful tweak. But again, not the stuff of which dreams are made.

Then there are the enhancements to the Apple Wallet app. Sorry, but I have no interest at all in putting my work badge, hotel keys, or driver’s license on my phone. Privacy implications aside–and there are plenty of those–the practical issues are disturbing. Getting locked out of my room because my phone ran out of juice on the conference floor is bad enough. But fumbling with my phone if I get pulled over for speeding? Sounds like a good way to get shot–and I’m not even Black.

Then there’s iPadOS. It’s getting widget support like what iPhones got in iOS 14. Hurray? Oh, wait, they can be bigger and show more information, since the iPad screen is larger. The UI improvements to multitasking are nice, I suppose, but for the most part they’re adding new ways to do the same things. Granted, keyboard support is useful–necessary, even, with the way Apple is pushing keyboards for iPads–but again, not revolutionary.

Speaking as a former software tester, I’m dubious about the ability to build apps on an iPad. Agreed, a nice learning tool. But the ability to submit apps directly from the iPad to the App Store? Apple better exercise some editorial control, or we’re going to be buried under a flood of redundant MyFirstApp apps.

There is one area where I’m totally in favor of Apple’s moves in iPadOS 15, and that’s with the privacy enhancements. Blocking your IP address and location from websites is a plus. One that should have happened years ago, IMNSHO, but it’s here now, and I hope Google follows suit. Private Relay sounds like it’s stealing a trick from the anonymous Tor browser. Slick. Good for Apple.

Moving on to watchOS. Pardon me. Let’s skip that. I find Apple’s continuing fascination with the Breathe app and its progeny disturbing enough that I tuned out that whole section of the presentation.

As for the ability to let you unlock the door to your house by tapping your phone or watch… Uh, let’s just say I’m sure it’s more secure than any of the standalone Bluetooth locks out there. But that doesn’t mean its secure. Too much room for error here–I’ve double-tapped icons accidentally, turning something on and then immediately back off, way too many times to want to literally make them the keys to my castle.

And, of course, Apple is introducing a new version of MacOS. What comes after Catalina and Big Sur? Monterey, of course. All the whiz-bang feature updates from iOS and iPadOS seem to be making their way to the desktop as well. No surprise there. A few other little tweaks. You’ve been able to use your iPad as a second monitor for your Mac for a while. Now you’ll be able to move your cursor from one to another and drag and drop files seamlessly. Really making the iPad (or a second Mac!) work like a second monitor. That’s cool. And if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, I can see it being a way to persuade you to expand your hardware portfolio.

I’m going to skip the developer-oriented updates. Most of you won’t care, and those of you who will have probably already seen all of them. I could snark a bit about them, but really, some targets are too easy. (App Store, I’m looking at you.)

Bottom line, the new OSes–coming to public beta next month for a Fall release–will make existing Apple users’ lives easier in small ways, but by themselves, they’re not going to sell hardware. And there’s no word from Apple when they’ll be announcing new hardware.

Rationally Irrational

As I write this Tuesday evening, the Mariners are one game over .500 and trying to make it two. So, naturally, the newsosphere is full of caution. “The season is only a third over.” “A lot could change quickly.” “This is no time for irrational optimism.”

Talk about radical misperception.

Baseball is all about irrational optimism.

Think about it: At least 50 times in each game, somebody voluntarily confines himself to a small box while another guy throws rocks at him. Blunt force trauma is no less dangerous to life and limb than holes-poked-in-you trauma is. Yet these people are optimistic that those rocks won’t hit them–and that they can use a piece of wood to defend themselves against the rock-thrower.

That’s pretty darn irrational.

Every year fans decide, on no evidence whatsoever, that this will be their team’s year.

Ridiculously irrationally optimistic.

The commissioner forces through strange new rules in the hope of making games shorter, yet never addresses any of the delaying tactics players use to control the pace of the game.

Incredibly, stupidly, irrationally optimistic.

So don’t talk to me about keeping my hopes realistic.

Bigger picture: America is full of irrational optimists right now. Justifiably so in many ways.

Removing mask mandates and distancing rules even though vaccination rates are still hovering around 50%. Trusting the unvaccinated to not claim to be vaccinated. Expecting Republican lawmakers to respond favorably to appeals to patriotism, honor, and justice.

It’s been a very long year and a half. Nobody is going to dial it back and settle for rational optimism.

Not that rational optimism is even being offered. This is a confrontational, contrary age. Irrational optimism not your bag? Your only alternative today is irrational pessimism. “Earth is going to be destroyed by an asteroid.” “COVID-19 is the first stage of the zombie apocalypse.” “The Mariners won’t win another game this season.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to make that choice, I’m not going to pick looming disaster. We’ve been there and done that for quite long enough, thank you.

While I was writing the previous two paragraphs, the Mariners gave up six runs in one inning. I’m choosing irrational optimism. Maybe they’ll come back in the last three innings to win. If not, there’s going to be another game tomorrow. After all, the season is only a third over and a lot could change quickly.

It’s His Expression That Makes It Work

Sachiko has been feeling frisky lately. Since her usual tussling partner is Watanuki–tuxedo cats have to stick together–we get a lot of scenes like this.

“Hey, Big Brudder Nookles, let’s throw down! Imma take you dis time!”

You can just hear him thinking, “Yeah, right, Kid. Just like you have the last umpty-dozen times I’ve nipped your ears for you.”

So then, of course, he throws the first slap.

We get about ten seconds of mixed martial arts, followed by thundering hoofbeats as Sachiko heads for the supposed safety of one of the condos.

‘Nuki doesn’t bother to chase her. He knows she’ll be back for another round (more than) soon enough.

How to Tell

We all do it. No, not poops. I mean, yes, we do, but that’s not what I was going to talk about.

I mean, we all narrate our existence to ourselves.

It might be retrospective, speculative or projective, emotional or reactive, or simply an assertion that we’re present (the most basic form of “I think, therefore I am”).

“I should have gotten the chicken instead of the fish.”

“Should I do the laundry before or after I order the pizza? Is the delivery guy going to care if I have to answer the door in my PJs?”

“Ugh, it’s too early to be awake. Could I get back to sleep if I called in sick to work, or would it just be easier to go in?”

“I’m bored.”

Something else we all do: we edit our narration.

“Okay, once I finish the dishes, I can kick back and watch TV. No, I’d better check my email and pay the credit card bill first. So that’s dishes, bill, email, and then TV.”

But there’s something we don’t all do.

I was musing about internal narrations yesterday (see “I’m bored” above) and I realized that I was copyediting my narration.

That’s right: I was changing punctuation and digressing to decide whether certain words should be capitalized.

Worse yet, at the same time I was also doing a style edit.

“Is it funnier if I send out for pizza or Chinese food?”

“Is chicken versus fish too cliched, or should I go with it because it’s a cliché?”

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe everyone style edits their thoughts.

But I suspect that it’s a limited few of us.

Mind you, I’m not talking about editing an imaginary conversation– “Just wait until I see that louse! I’m going to give him a few choice words!” (because of course you want to have the perfect zinger ready when the louse in question walks in)–but all those other bits of narrative running through your head.

I submit that if you spend five minutes arguing with yourself over whether the internal rhyme in “It’s too far to go by car” is distracting and you should just think “It’s too far to drive” while you’re planning your vacation, you’re either already a writer or you should be.

Google I/O 2021

Sorry about the late post. I’ve been trying to get a handle on all of the critical news coming out of yesterday’s Google I/O keynote. Unlike years past, nobody’s done a live-blog of the presentation–not unreasonable, considering that it’s online for anyone to watch, but annoying for those of us who don’t want to be limited to realtime speed. (I don’t know about you, but I read a lot faster than I watch, and I don’t have much patience for videos that are, in effect, advertising.)

Anyway.

Google wants to be helpful. Well, Google wants to make lots of money, but if they can do it by being helpful, why not? So they’re introducing features like Google Maps routings that are optimized for fuel efficiency or weather-and-traffic safety. Seems like a useful initiative. I don’t have any more qualms about it than I do over any use Google makes of the information they’re gathering about us.

Google Workspace–the business-oriented set of tools that includes Docs, GMail, Meet, and so on–is getting something called “Smart Canvas”. It’s supposed to allow for better collaboration. For example, having a Meet video conference while collaboratively editing a Sheet document. Again, useful, at least for that subset of the world that needs it. And not hugely more intrusive than any of the individual tools alone.

Here’s one that really looks good: Google is adding an automatic password change feature to Chrome. This builds on the existing feature that alerts you if your password has been exposed in a data breach. Now it’ll have an option to take you to the site and walk through the password change process for you. I do wonder if you’ll be able to use it to change your Google password periodically; that’s something you should do anyway, and especially if you’re using the password manager built into Chrome. Speaking of which, that Chrome password manager will soon be able to import passwords from other password managers. Handy if you’re using Chrome everywhere, but those of us who use other browsers occasionally will probably want to stick with a third-party manager.

Some privacy additions here and there. A locked folder for Google Photos is a natural; we should have had that years ago.

Then there are the counter-privacy features. The keynote highlighted updates to Google Lens that will let you take a picture of somebody and find out where their shoes are sold. Because that’s not creepy at all.

What else?

New look and feel in Android 12–which will probably be released in the Fall–and some iOS-catchup features. Showing on-screen indicators when an app is using the camera or microphone is worthwhile, but they’re also introducing one of my least-favorite iOS features: using your phone as your car key. That’s coming first to BMW, which somehow doesn’t surprise me a bit. I suspect Lexus won’t be far behind. But I digress.

One useful update (for a small subset of users) is the ability to use your phone as a TV remote control. Mind you, it’ll only work with devices running Android TV OS. That does include the Chromecast with Google TV and NVidia Shield devices, so there’s a decent pool of users, but it’s unlikely to replace all your current remotes. There’s an opportunity here for somebody to step up and fill the universal remote void that Logitech’s decision to stop making Harmony remotes is leaving.

And that’s pretty much it. No hardware announcements. We’ll probably get those sometime in late summer, when we get close to the Android 12 release.