Pencil sharpeners are dangerous? Really?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports on one of the most bizarre examples of weapons control run amok. Charlotte Howard went to go buy pencils like any other 11-year-old schoolgirl who had exhausted her existing supply of writing utensils (or art utensils, as it appears from one of the pictures these may be colored art pencils).

But Charlotte was stopped cold by the cashier, who refused to complete the sale because the pack contained a pencil sharpener, which is classed as a “dangerous object.” It gets even better, though. Her mother, Allison Howard, was also refused the sale because she might give the pencils and sharpener to her daughter!

Thankfully, another store in the area completed the sale. However, to me, this is the truly shocking part (quoting the article):

…The 99p Store chain’s commercial director Hussein Lalani said he was ‘proud that our processes restricting the sale of certain items to under-18s have been proved to work’.

But he added: ‘We will look into the way this particular product is classified.’ Last year, the company made headlines after a 15-year- old boy was stopped from buying wine gums in case they contained alcohol.

Sure, the process works. There’s a saying from the early days of computer programming that applies here: Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). It would appear Mr. Lalani or one of the workers under his command (or maybe even elsewhere in the company) apparently programmed the cash register/point of sale systems with the garbage classifying a pencil sharpener as dangerous, and not surprisingly, that garbage came back out again.

Rather than celebrate that with a “hey, the computer is stupid and did what it was told” it would be more appropriate for Mr. Lalani to eat a double helping of humble pie, apologize profusely to the Howard family, and make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is a disgrace to civilized, intelligent society and deserves nothing short of absolute condemnation.

The thin line between art and vandalism

Featured on KTRK-TV (among other sources) was the story about Joseph Carnevale, a Raleigh, NC, college student who swiped three barrels from a construction site to make a larger-than-life sculpture of a surreal monster trying to hitch a ride.

News of Joseph’s arrest on two misdemeanor charges (larceny and destruction of property) is all it took to draw hundreds of supporters out of the woodwork demanding the charges be dropped.

And I think the supporters of Joseph’s work have a point. Absent any provable danger to the public (unlikely) there is really no need for a criminal trial. The only thing I can see for sure resulting with a criminal trial is more unneeded mistrust of the police and court system– which we already have way too much of as it is. And that happens whether or not our budding artist Joseph Carnevale is found guilty or not guilty.

(Note that given the positive publicity Hamlin Associates, the construction company, has received, a civil lawsuit is not in the cards either.)

One of the supporters on Facebook makes references to “carjackings, drug deals, domestic violence and murders” happening at the same time as all this. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The Raleigh police need a hard lesson in priorities.

The exposure of a weasel, part 2

Recap: In our last episode, I had just revealed how Jason Hoeffer used an offsite Javascript link to fool naive potential customers into thinking he was from the same city they were living in.

I continued posing as a potential customer, and clicked the “click here” link that purports to be available for only the $2.95 shipping. Having my previous skepticism thoroughly validated, I carefully looked at the terms and conditions. I was not surprised at what I found:

Upon submitting a request for Membership, a Member ID and Password are assigned to you and can be used to gain access to googletreasurechest.com. The initial shipping and handling charge of one dollars and ninety seven cents, includes the google treasure chest kit as well as seven days worth of access to the online directories and training. After seven days, if you choose not to cancel, you will be billed your first monthly membership fee of seventy two dollars and twenty one cents for the membership fee for the googletreasurechest.com membership.

Okay, the initial shipping and handling charge as listed here is a dollar lower. Someone forgot to update the T&C document with the new one. So a week later you get hit for $72.21, spelled out in words to make it much less obvious.

Membership fees will be charged to the credit card used by you to complete the transaction. You have also unlocked a fourteen-day trial and twenty one-day trial to the Fraud SafeLockID and GrantSpring for just $38.84 and $24.87 a month thereafter (shows as “SafeLockID” and “GrantSpring”) should you choose not to cancel.

These bring the total up to $135.92 if you don’t cancel in time.

Prior charges for all programs are non-refundable but bonus subscriptions can be cancelled and future charges stopped at any time by calling toll-free 866.951.1406 Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm. All offers come with a monthly newsletter.

Translation: Not only are we going to bilk you for almost $140, we’re going to spam you.

Skipping down further:

We handle all charge backs and reversals as potential cases of fraudulent use of our services and/or theft of services.

The nerve! The hypocrisy! The absolute, unmitigated audacity! After luring people in with what is arguably fraud itself, Jason Hoeffer turns around and says “if you ask for a chargeback, you’re a fraudster.”

After this, I decided the privacy policy was only worth a quick skim. I uncovered this little gem:

THE COMPANY MAY SELL OR TRANSFER INDIVIDUAL INFORMATION TO AFFILIATES OR THIRD-PARTIES FOR ANY PURPOSE IN COMPANY’S SOLE DISCRETION.

That speaks for itself.

More to come…

The exposure of a weasel, part 1

On a recent visit to Facebook, I stumbled across an ad which links to a Web site jasongetsrich.com showing a $5000 check from Google, and the opening line “Get paid $5 to $30 for every website link that you post on Google.”

The most obvious item I found, however, was that the paragraph after the check said “Thank you for visiting my site. This is Jason Hoeffer from .” Exactly as so, without the city name. It made me wonder what was going on.

I browse on Firefox (and another similar browser, Iceweasel) with NoScript. Allowing Javascript temporarily to all the sites using Javascript from this page filled in that blank space with “Houston.” Well, I’m in Houston. I wonder if that’s coincidence? Could Jason Hoeffer really be from my hometown?

Looking in the HTML source code revealed that the city name was inserted with a bit of off-site Javascript. My skepticism that this Jason Hoeffer guy is really from Houston just grew tremendously. Someone legitimate should not need to use Javascript to insert the city where he or she is from.

Retreiving the script (by itself) via Tor a few times confirmed what I thought. I got Vienna, Paris, and Columbus on three separate attempts. Someone from outside Houston has confirmed that indeed, for her Jason is from a city near where she lives.

The ad may well be off Facebook by now, as I reported this to them.

Morals: don’t take everything at face value, and browse with Javascript off by default. Sometimes, it’s best to assume someone is a pathological liar until you have hard evidence otherwise.

But there’s even more. (To be continued in part 2…)

Copyright, fair use, and officiating in professional sports

This was originally about an article about an NFL officiating blunder on statesman.com. I had the link saved as a draft with the idea of wrapping up the article as soon as I could watch the video.

However, today, I went to watch the video. I instead got a black screen with “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim from NFL Properties, LLC.”

Clearly, the use of a short video clip of part of an NFL game to illustrate a point is fair use, at least in spirit if not actually in letter. My comment (still pending approval at the moment) left on statesman.com implies that the real reason the NFL told YouTube to take it down was the fact that it made their officials look bad, and the number of other NFL clips that have been allowed to remain on YouTube tends to back that up. Shame on you, NFL.

I still haven’t gotten a chance to actually see the video that the article is about. If anyone has a copy, please let me know in the comments. I do look forward to writing the article I originally planned to write.