My Dream Job

I love my job. But whenever I look at Craiglist, I realize there’s something even more fun I’d like to do.

It blows my mind that there is so much fraud on Craiglist. Take a look at the cars, for example. Just the 100 most recently-posted in your area. See the handful that are unreasonably good deals? The 2007 Mercedes for $5500? Check it out. It’s got photos of the car with palm trees in the background, but it’s listed in Boston. The whole post is one image, and it encourages you to send them an e-mail at their GMail address. If you contact them, they fess up that the car was mistakenly listed, but that it’s a bargain and they can ship it to you really cheap. See the giant warning in Craigslist, bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, saying “offers to ship cars are 100% fraudulent,” only in h1 tags and all caps?

Why isn’t the FBI “buying” these cars and following the money trail before bringing down what’s probably a lucrative fraud enterprise? (For that matter, it’s a pervasive Craigslist problem. Why aren’t they doing more to stop it?) Same thing with the other fraud and phishing attempts that land in my inbox every single day. Sure, a lot have ties to other countries. But some of this is surely happening here in the US, and it’s not as if the federal government is powerless against international crime rings.

I can think of nothing more enjoyable than having a job that allowed me to play the part of many gullible folks amazed at the great deals on Craiglist and wanting to buy the $4500 2008 Mercedes and have it shipped cross-country, and then passing the team on to the SWAT team that would bring them down.

The only thing is that, if the FBI does have a team that’s busting open lots of fraud rings, they sure do keep quiet about their work. It seems that there’s rampant, unchecked fraud going on with no one doing much to stop it.

Driving Advice

I’m one of the considerably-more-than-half of drivers who think they’re above average drivers, so I’d like to present some tips to fellow drivers:

  • The left-hand lane is for going fast. If there is a line of cars behind you, please get over a lane to the right. If people are passing you on the right, get over a lane or three and do penance when you arrive at your destination. This has got to be my biggest pet peeve. People just sit in the right-hand lane and drive slow.
  • When two lanes are merging, it’s a “zipper merge.” Let one car go, and then pull in. Ninety-nine percent of people seem to do this without thought, and it works great. One percent try to cut and they cause absolute mayhem.
  • If you happen to be in a minor fender-bender, you’re supposed to pull off the highway. There happen to be lanes on both sides of the highway for your safety and convenience. Otherwise you (a) stand in the high-speed lane exchanging paperwork, which is practically putting a “Please run me over” sign on, and (b) back up traffic for miles. (This obviously does not apply for serious accidents, though you’re still probably safest if you can pull over.)
  • When entering a highway, you should be traveling at the same speed as those on the highway. You should not (a) be going 60mph when the highway is stopped, or (b) yield at the end of the onramp.
  • If you wish to change lanes, please move your finger an inch to turn the blinker on. It’s actually quite helpful when other people know your intentions.
  • If you’re trying to pull in front of me, the above advice applies double. If you start to drift into my lane, I’m going to assume you’re asleep at the wheel and lean in on my horn to alert you. If you put your blinker on, I’m going to back off on the gas just a tad to give you room. So will 99% of drivers.
  • After you have changed lanes, please turn your blinker off. (How do people not notice this?) You have no idea how confusing it is to be behind someone who has their blinker on. Are they really, really timid but trying to change lanes? Are they oblivious? Or will they change lanes as soon as you decide that their blinker is just stuck on and crash into you?
  • You can’t send text messages and drive. You think you can, but you can’t. I observe this fact daily. Please don’t try.
  • If traffic is bumper-to-bumper, please don’t leave fifty car lengths in front of you. True, we won’t really get to our destination any faster, but it drives people insane when you do that. Why do you do that, anyway?
  • If you come around the corner and it’s sunny, slamming on your brakes is about the worst possible thing you could do. I have an always-dirty, scratched-up windshield and I can see okay with the sun shining right on my windshield. Who are the people who are completely blinded and instinctively slam on their brakes? And do they realize that the people behind them are probably similarly blinded, and thus almost guaranteed to plow into them?

These really aren’t that many rules, and they’re self-evident to 99% of drivers. But there’s that 1% that clearly slept through driver’s ed.

Questionable Inbox

I’ve used GMail for my primary e-mail account for a few years now. A handful of and mailboxes still forward to a real mailbox. A handful of oft-spammed addresses need to exist, though, so they collect mail. My current setup is geared more towards collecting spam samples than on excellent filtering, so plenty of junk slips through.

Here’s what my Inbox looks like:

Questionable Inbox

Twitter, Eons, and Facebook are real. But I don’t have accounts at any of those banks, and am pretty sure that I didn’t horribly screw up my taxes.

Edit: After neutering the URLs in the links (to not contain unique identifiers, so they couldn’t use it to confirm my e-mail), I was seriously disappointed. Of the ones I’ve checked, Firefox has blocked them all so far, and, if I tell it to view the site despite the warning, the site doesn’t exist, and whois records seem to indicate that many domains have been suspended. Kind of hard to figure out what they’re trying to con me into doing. 🙁

Why you should use a CMS

I’ve designed a handful of small, static sites in my time. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that a CMS is mandatory if you want to keep your sanity.

CMSs seem like they’re meant for big sites, and certainly feel like they’re overkill on a small site. There are probably lots of features that clutter the interface when trying to use a CMS on a site with just a few pages. So why bother?

For one simple reason: a CMS makes it easy to divorce content from your layout. CSS fanatics might interject here saying that this is what CSS does, but it’s not the same. Do you have an h1 with your company name across the top of every page? A copyright footer? A navigation bar with links? That’s HTML, not CSS. So you add a new page, and then groan as you go about copying-and-pasting the new navigation bar changes into each of your existing pages. You inevitably mess up and paste it in the wrong place on one, screwing up the formatting of the whole page. Or you miss a page and soon your site starts to look totally different depending on what page you view. With a CMS, you update the navigation bar partial and the change applies site-wide.

As an extension of the same thing, divorcing layout from content means that, when you decide to add a page, you just create content. You don’t care about trying to make sure the background is the same as other pages, or that you remember to include all the right CSS files. You just write out the text that should be on the page and the rest happens automatically.

I’m working on porting a static-HTML site I host over to Radiant CMS. It’s not quite my dream CMS, but it’s small, easy, and it’s fast. That’s because it addresses the one pet peeve I have with most CMSs: they turn requests for mostly-static pages into dynamic pages that are database-heavy, sometimes reducing your maximum throughput from a few thousand pages a second to a few dozen a second. Radiant, though, caches the generated page and serves it as straight HTML for a bit, meaning that if you’re hit with a lot of traffic, your site won’t come to a grinding halt.

Incidentally, I see WordPress being used as a CMS pretty often. It seems like it could be used to that end pretty well.

One Hundred Paper Cuts

I just saw a reference to Ubuntu’s One Hundred Paper Cuts initiative. It’s basically a round-up of 100 minor but irritating bugs and oddities, with a goal to fix them for the next release. I must confess, I love this idea. It’s quite common to get bogged down in the big tasks and churn through them, while the little knock-off tasks pile up. And it matches up nicely with the “mini-sprint” concept we have at work, where we periodically identify a thematic group of long-standing, quick-fix bugs and spend a day knocking them down, often closing 100+ tickets in a day. “100 Papercuts” seems like a neat trick to keep in the back of your mind next time you’re looking to mix things up a bit and get a lot done.

On Being Cool

This latest anti-piracy ad seems to only get across one point: its makers are horribly out of touch with this “21st Century” thing.

Furthermore, selling pirated software? If you were going to buy a pirated application or video, why not just download it yourself? I’m pretty sure that’s not what the video wants me to take away, though.

Thoughts on the Kindle

I’ve been looking at the Kindle again lately. I have a lot of PDFs, so I would have to get the Kindle DX, which is $489. (Incidentally, the small/normal Kindle appears to have been reduced to $299 recently.) The DX looks unreasonably big, but I think that it’s pretty comparable to an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper. Electronics should be small, but the screen to read books on should be big.

$489 is a lot of money. The ability to consolidate many PDFs on it is neat. If I were still in school I would give a lot of thought to getting it, photographing all the pages in my textbooks, and converting to PDF. Textbooks are heavy. (I don’t condone it, but there is apparently such a thing as pirated e-books, including textbooks.)

You can subscribe to many major newspapers and have them delivered to your Kindle. The same is true of a few dozen magazines. This is an incredible idea. The pricing seems off to me, though. $14/month for the New York Times? It’s cheaper than subscribing to the print edition, true. But it’s enough to make me realize that it’s probably not worth it. If it were, say, $5/month, I’d sign up without thinking. (If I had a Kindle.) Additionally, they have poor reviews, with users complaining that graphics don’t always look good at all, and that the Kindle versions often don’t have the full content, with articles occasionally being truncated.

I’m not really into buying books, though. I like libraries. When libraries don’t have the books I want, I often try to get them from $10 for a book is a bargain in some cases, but it’s still $10 more than the library charges. I buy a handful of books, but not if I don’t have to. Plus “buying” an e-book isn’t really teh same as buying a dead-tree book. I think it’s going to take a long time for people, myself included, to see them as analogous. The whole scandal with Amazon deleting a book from customers’ devices that they found was sold without proper arrangements for loyalties set them far, far back in this area, too.

The browser is fairly basic, but pretty awesome. I don’t go anywhere without a 3G iPhone, though, so it’s not as if having “real” Internet access with me is something new. And it sounds like Safari on the iPhone does a much better job of handling graphics, etc. than does the Kindle. Having looked into this a bit, it seems that you’re effectively forced to go through their proxy servers, and that nothing, not even DNS, will work if you don’t. This works great for what it’s intended for, but poorly if you’d hoped to “hack” it to do more. (For example, if it had an ssh client, it might be much more attractive to me, since it would be of great benefit to me professionally. But it doesn’t, and one won’t work, unless it’s through a webpage.)

It’s also disappointing that there’s not an SD slot for expansion.

At the end of the day, though, $489 is way too much. If I could use it for ssh anywhere, and if there was a wealth of free content, it might be worth it. But if I’m buying it to buy books for, I don’t think it’s worth more than about $199 to me. Sorry, Amazon.

Plants as Air Filters

I found a TED talk, How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air. A firm was tasked with improving air quality at an office park in New Delhi, where the air quality was very poor. They have a blog post with more details if you’re impatient.

Here are 30 Areca Palm seeds on eBay, though it seems that it might take a few years for them to grow to maturity. The Areca palms apparently not only help to purify air, but they are humidifiers, too. It seems like it’s the most difficult to grow, though, but far from impossible.

Poor Reporting

A lot of news agencies are reputed to have banks of scanners, to ensure they’re hearing everything public safety agencies are doing. In a discussion of some “sensitive” frequencies used for surveillance in the area on a local scanner group, there were a few references to the local media having been aware of them for a long time.

So it’s easy to see how this happened. Some guy in a news agency heard the Coast Guard on an alternate channel of theirs discussing a “suspect vessel” firing shots, and knew that Obama was in the area at the time. Instant pressing news! Except it turns out that the Coast Guard was conducting a drill. It’s really pretty common practice. A few years ago I spent about 30 minutes glued to the scanner hearing about a bomb that had gone off in a neighboring town’s high school, and the enormous response by the police department and SWAT team, until someone finally said something over the air indicating that it was a drill. My local fire department is much better at stating “This is a drill!” as often as possible, to the point of annoyance.

It does seem a bit insensitive to have a training exercise on 9/11, but then again, not many people would be aware of it if the news agencies hadn’t blindly reported what they heard on the scanner.