ArcoJedi's Holocron

Who is ArcoJedi? A life-journeying Christian, ecstatic husband, proud father of four, web guru, all-around geek and Star Wars fanatic. Read these thoughts that he felt were worthwhile. Then wonder why he thought that way.

2017/10/02

The Role of the Media In Perpetuating Mass Shootings

Or... What Not to Do Next Time

There was once again another mass shooting today in America. And the blood hasn't even dried on the pavement this morning and there are already pundits of every conceivable flavor discussing the event and the larger issue of gun violence and gun control in this country. I tried really hard not to say anything. I quite purposely won't write about the details of yesterday's event or include names. Perhaps you'll see why. But I do want to talk about the controversy a bit.

First off, a preface. I think that all of the really divisive issues we have in this country are difficult problems to solve because maybe we've already solved all the "easy" problems. These more difficult issues have many layers and contributing factors from multiple angles. And some of them --racism, health care, drug addiction, the war on terror, global trade-- are so large and institutionally spread out that we can't even wrap our heads around them sometimes. Cannot-separate-forest-from-the-trees sort of problems? I'm thinking of a quote here...

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
― Albert Einstein

In addition to the complexity of these issues, in most cases there are big players on both sides with vested interest in the story being told their way. And emotion gets in the way of logic, and everyone gets more entrenched in their own beliefs and biases, we get defensive and things devolve into name-calling.

What I'm about to suggest regarding mass shootings and television news is not the sole contributing factor. But the news media does play some part in encouraging and glorifying the perpetrators of mass shootings. And they need to get their act together OR be made to using the clumsy hammer of legislation. Sure, we should probably have a rational discussion about gun control. Sure, we should probably have a rational discussion about mental health. But in addition, we should hold the news stations, anchors, producers and writers accountable for their role. And their contribution looks like this:

That's not pretty. There's more of the full program, and it's available in the UK via BBC iPlayer. For those that can't see either video, I'll summarize. Every time there's a mass shooting, everyone keeps asking why these events happen. But if you ask forensic psychiatrists, they know one answer to that question. There's always 24 hour coverage now, there's always big pictures of the suspect or suspects splashed in high definition, their social media accounts are raided for deeper meaning, their personal lives heavily scrutinized. In no time at all, the perpetrators become famous. And that's often what they want. I can't summarize it better than this section from the video:

We've had 20 years of mass murderers throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don't want to propagate more mass murderers

  • Don't start the story with sirens blaring
  • Don't have photographs of the killer
  • Don't make this 24/7 coverage
  • Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story
  • Try not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero
  • Do localize the story to the affected community
  • Make it as boring as possible in every other market

Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.

― Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Psychiatrist

When I saw the television news this morning and as I first learned of what had transpired overnight, I saw right away that they were doing everything wrong from this list. Sirens were blaring, the "record-setting" body count was the lead headline, there were shaky cell phone videos shown of the event from twitter streams,... and although they didn't yet have a picture of the perpetrator, they had the spouse's license photo. As an aside, since the spouse was out of the country during the shooting and had been ruled out as a person of interest, I'm not sure why that was relevant. Fast forward a few hours and there are now disheveled pictures of the perpetrator on Facebook and I'm sure other places. You could say that with social media, the responsibility the news organizations have has been spread around to all of us as well, but they could be the better example first and the rest of us would follow.

But as they say; if it bleeds, it leads.

2017/09/02

I May Have a Problem: Collector of Music - 25,000 Songs

This past September, I wrote a post where I bragged about collecting over 20,000 songs in my Google Music library. Well, I'm up over 25,000 songs now. In fact, my total at the moment is 25,989 Songs. The site layout has changed a tiny bit to match up with other Google products, but otherwise it's still same.

If I load up the service and go with a full shuffle of music, I never know what I'm going to get. It's interesting that I've got so much eclectic stuff; ethnic Russian music from my coworker friend Gary, EDM podcasts, Top 500 Songs from Rolling Stone Magazine, 8 bit video game music, horrible music from Lance Gargoyle (ugh), NPR's All Songs Considered, and more and more and more. Still, it seems that even with random shuffle, there is a loose thread pulling through the music that Google lines up on any given day. Sure, services like Pandora and Spotify Radio try and line up stuff that's related, but Google's shuffle just sounds like something else is invisibly going on behind-the-scenes.

2017/06/23

Delicious Bookmarks - What's Happening Now?

My favorite social bookmarking service, the one and only original Del.icio.us has sort of languished for a while without any real obvious development or changes. Stagnant. The mobile app had stopped working for me and possibly others. There has not been any blog posts from them in over a year and their social feeds are also non-responsive. But that suddenly changed earlier this month.

Now there's been a sudden flurry of blog posts since the beginning of June. Mostly they are a review of del.icio.us site history and some evolution and foibles. They seem nostalgic without being unrealistic.

But... what does that mean? Are we going to see some improvements / changes / new features? 

Update

No. We are not going to see updates. After a little more digging, I found a tweet that announced that Delicious had been sold again! And upon further reading I gather this will be the last time.

You can read more on the Pinboard Blog. But the short version is that del.icio.us is going away. And though I'm saddened, perhaps it's time. I can lead cheers for free web services at the top of my lungs, but some of them just can't last forever. Perhaps none of them can.

The longer version of the announcement is that the company was purchased by a competitor. The new owner has updated and reactivated the export feature but that's probably it. The site is going into "read-only" mode (should already be happening, but to my tests has not yet) and I'll have to find another social bookmark service eventually. Perhaps it will be Pinboard? My initial read of the new owner's blog posts gave me the impression that he's a bit of an arrogant snob, but further along and I have decided I was being hasty. He's knowledgeable and seems to have a good strategy with Pinboard's minimalism. There are other options I've looked at briefly, but $11/year is cheap compared to most other options.

2017/01/28

Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster - President Ronald Reagan's Speech

This was January 28th, 1986.

2016/09/05

Collector of Music - 20,000 Songs

I reached a personal milestone this past week I'd like to mention here. I now have over TWENTY THOUSAND songs on my Google Play library. I'm sorry, let me say that a bit louder…

20,000 Song Files!

Check out the screen shot below of the menu and you'll see the little highlighted section. That's a lot of music.

Google Music 20,000 Songs

I'm not sure I've ever owned 20,000 of anything. And for the most part, I legally own all of these files, at least as much as anyone can claim to own music. Sure, back in the day I did my fair share of Napster, WinMX and Kazaa (*cringe*). But that's a few computer migrations ago. I still have those old files packed up in mothballs, perhaps retrievable but not easily. A larger portion of the music in my Google Music library arrived completely free, but still legally.

First, I should start with an introduction to Google Music for those of you who don't know. If you have an Android phone, you should be familiar with the official app store, otherwise known as Google Play. It's where you browse and get new apps for your phone. You can also purchase music, ebooks and digital magazines.

But my introduction to Google Music came before I owned an Android phone. In fact, my first smart phone was an iPhone I got from my work. Through the iTunes store I found there was a music section with a "iTunes Single of the Week" and I checked it regularly to get that free song. Sometimes it was pretty good, sometimes just blah. One standout that I still listen to regularly is a Gregory Porter song called Real Good Hands.

In the iTunes store, when you clicked a song it got downloaded and added to your iTunes library automatically. And it also got added to your phone at your preference. Each song was brand new. Additionally, I was getting exposed to a lot of international / world music due to the one coworker friend from Armenia that had a huge collection. Come to think of it, we had a lot of different music backgrounds in that department at the time, and I was constantly hearing something new. And I was also in a band at the time, getting exposed to all kinds of new music there too.

Somewhere along the way, the company switched cell providers and were offered iPhones OR Android phones. I didn't switch, but some did. And they discovered quickly that whereas Apple's iTunes had a free single each week, Google Play had a new free song almost every day. But you didn't NEED to have an Android phone for it, just a Google account (like Gmail). Not only did they make these songs available for free download, they also had an online library where you could store them as well as any other mp3s you wanted to listen to -- up to 20,000 at the time. There was a plugin you could get that would sync upload your whole iTunes library. Since having my collection in more than one place seemed attractive, I set that up pretty quickly. It was easy and I could continue adding new songs form the iTunes store and they'd be synced up to Google Play in a day or two. I could then listen to the same library from my computer at work AND my computer at home AND my phone.

In addition, there were several free music blogs that I subscribed to. You can subscribe to blogs/podcasts in iTunes and I grabbed a lot of files here. I could review some of them, but I'll just quickly list.

I could list more, but that's a sprinkling. I had all this music coming into my iTunes library from various sources then uploading to the Google Play library and it grew. And grew and grew. And of course, I was also adding music from my physical media CD collection. Keep that up for weeks and weeks and months, and now years and here you go.

Somewhere along the way, I switched from iTunes mostly with a little bit of Google Play to the opposite. Additionally, Google's music library limit was increased to 50,000. And I'm pretty sure that if you've downloaded the music from their free/paid service it does not count towards that limit. Google has stopped promoting and giving away free music in favor of their radio service, which I pretty much eschew in favor of Spotify or Pandora when I'm in the mood for that. I could write a post in response to the folks I love who favor physical media, be it CD or vinyl, but I kind of get it so I won't talk about that here.

2016/04/06

Fighting Fraud

I got a phone call this past Saturday and I wanted to write a quick post with my methods on how to fight phone fraud. First off, this is not a post about how to protect your identity, how to obscure your publicly available information, how to add yourself to the 'do-not-call' list, or anything correct and vanilla like that. This is a post about what I do when I get a call that I KNOW for a fact is someone sloppily attempting to gather information from me to defraud me.

This past Saturday, the lady was supposedly calling from "The Government" to get me money that was due to me ($8,000? Wow!) due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is an actual thing but was enacted in 2009. In addition to the standard red flags -- her accent, stumbling with English, nervous fast-talking -- there was also the fact that she was calling at all. If the "government" actually owed me money, they'd likely just mail me a check assuming they were to notify me. Add to this the fact that it was a 2009 stimulus thing, and I was pretty sure all the money from that had already been given out by now.

So clearly this phone caller was a liar trying to trick me and it was a waste of my time even talking to her at all. OR WAS IT? Lucky enough for her (and me) I happened to be between tasks.

I guess a lot of people would have just hung up the phone or told her where to stuff it. And my belief is that this is a mistake. Hang up, and then this predator moves on to the next potential victim. And that person might not be alert or smart enough to spot the thief.

The Way to Stop Phone Fraud and Phone Spam is To Distract Them

So I talked with her, asked a lot of questions, sometimes the same questions more than once, gave her no real accurate personal information and kept her talking to me as long as I possibly could. I've done this many times before, when the timing of the call is convenient. In this particular instance, I was only able to keep her going for 15 minutes before her script was overly exhausted. At that point, she gave me a different number that I should call and give my "money password" to an "accounting officer" which I promised dutifully that I would do. Of course, I was lying. My record for this type of call is just under an hour and a half.

And before you ask, no I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it. Sure, you could argue that the person on the other end of the phone may not be aware they are part of a fraud scheme. Or perhaps they are in an extremely poor situation and this is their only way out of it. There may be no other economic option in their country. Sure. That's certainly possible.

But I'm not fighting them individually. I'm fighting the industry. The people at the top, making the decisions, setting up the scams. They are only successful if the small army of poorly paid people who do these canvas calls can churn out 1,000 calls in a week and get 10 successful marks to hand over vital information like bank accounts, social security numbers and so forth. Certainly the larger percentage of people are aware of these schemes and can spot them, but it's still a numbers game. As long as most people who know it's a scam hang up immediately, they can move on to the next potential fish. So I instead keep them talking. The longer they talk to me and the more fake personal details I give them -- "Yes, my full name is Galen Marek..." -- and the more fake credit card numbers I offer them -- "My Visa card number is 4012888888881881..." -- the longer they spend with me and the more frustrated they get with me. The more times they attempt to run a credit card number that won't work, the more times their processor charges them a fee.

You could argue that in the grand scheme of things, me doing this all by my lonesome self is not going to really do much to a huge criminal industry of fly-by-night jerks. It's just me, taking one call at a time in my spare time and I can't possibly cause that much wasted time and damage.

Unless that is, I'm not alone in my methods. That's right, I'm talking to you now, silent reader. The next time you get a call from a number you don't recognize, take a second. Deep breath. Don't block or ignore that call. Answer it. If it's a scammer, dive right into the role of the confused older naive person who legitimately is curious about what the person on the other end is trying to supposedly offer them. Have fun.


Alternatively,... Officially Reporting Fraud

Still with me so far? Okay, so perhaps the above suggestions make you uncomfortable. I get it. But don't just hang up. Grab a pen and paper, and record as many details of the caller and what they are trying to do then politely decline and hang up. Then take all of the details and submit them to the FBI's public tip page. For the specific fraud call related to the ARRA, people are supposed to report it on the Recovery.org fraud page, but sadly that entire web site is buggy and broken. I think the site is abandoned. I never got the form page to load at all.

And that was after researching all over the place for the proper department or entity, page, email address or phone number to which I was supposed to report this kind of thing. Here's a list of the other stops along my route.


Addendum: Also check out what this guy does with a spam email that got through his filter. Hilarious.


Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Be careful out there folks.

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Lucas James Arconati

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