Awesome Last-Minute Gift: Journal for Elderly Relative

I actually thought up this super awesome gift idea for my grandparents while walking the local shopping mall trying to think of something to get them after my usual $20 gift certificate for Picadilly (their favorite eat-out place). It’s a blank, lined journal, already bound and nifty — for recording memories “while the memory is still fresh and the hands are still able”.. so that someday when they’re house-bound or hospital-cooped they’ll have a volume of items written by their own hand to recall days of former glory — the day they met their spouse, incidents raising the kids, and such. It may even turn out to be a good keepsake for you someday, if perhaps you were to someday happen upon it when all you’ve got left of them are memories and photos.

The particular journal I bought for them is a PaperBlanks old leather style (the third one down), with a weak magnetic cover that pops into place to seal shut but is still easy to pry open. I got mine from Books-A-Million for $16.95 (which is a bargain compared to the intended $20 gift cert! stank cheap grandson right here, that’s right!)..

On the inside’s first page, I wrote..

Dear Nanny & Papa —

I bought you this handy journal to jot down fondly-recalled memories so someday in the far, far future, you can enjoy them again when memory seems to need an extra bump.

If you find yourselves with some extra time or just need a renewed reminder of good times, take a moment to jot something down about how you two first met, funny or tense moments about raising the kids that you’d forgotten all about, or recall friends whose memory ought best be kept alive.

I’ve kept a journal since the spring of 2001, and I marvel at the things that have completely slipped my mind in that short time. You’ll also be thankful that you bothered to record them While hands were still able and memories were still fresh.

From your first grandson, Mike, for Christmas 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1-55156-285-8
UPC: 0 64810 30285 3

Researching “American Agencies” @ 1-877-728-8912

Note: This article is taken as true on “presumed honesty” and is more just a culmination of the Internet version of group-think — people posting semi-random remarks on the same subject, and drawing a conclusion from the total. The article’s authority is based on unknown degrees of honesty from anonymous sources.

After doing a little research online and looking up 1-877-728-8912, random-ish and mostly-anonymous reports seem to pop up from number-alert sites that a company called “ACA Receivables” (that may or may not appear on Caller ID) may be the one making these calls (according to a few commenters here and here): under the guise of a collections agency. Another commenter reports being told they owed money for AT&T and that after checking with AT&T him/herself, that AT&T hadn’t used them for collections for at least four years.

There’s a website for AmericanAgencies.comAnother similarly-named company, AmericanAgency.com deals with insurance, and I suspect they may simply have a similar name — plus none of their contact numbers appear to match up.

CallerComplaints.com’s Entry lists around 35 reports for this number, a few citing actually calling the number and getting runaround about past debt and asking you to verify your information by telling the “first five digits” of your SSN. Yikes!

American-Agencies-Complaints.US appears to be a written by someone uninterested in web design, but contains a bit of info about a lawsuit that occured in 2003 involving ACA Receiveables.

I also looked up a few governmental fraud reporting sites for possible scams, and FTC Complain Assistant seems like the best place to official submit alerts if you’re in the US, as they need reports to track areas that are being hit. From the CallerComplaint site above, it seems various parts of the country may be getting singled out and some complaints date back to around October of 2007.

Hope this helps out! This very well may simply be a legitimate credit agency who has a wrong number for someone who does actually owe money. However, it hasn’t gotten to the point of irritation that I’ve yet been bothered to call the number to find out. If you do or did, please tell me your results in the comments below! If you recorded your conversation — send it to ablestmage@gmail.com so the rest of us will know what to expect. Don’t give out any pertinent info like SSN digits of any sort, but perhaps just with exploratory questions to see whether they might actually be kosher.

Debunking Forwards: Bird Feeder Syndrome

I received the following forward from a good-intentioned relative, but had to overtly disagree with its message. The article seems to rationalize a form of racism (nationalism, perhaps) whereby an absolute trait is labeled upon the entirety of a people-group based on speculation and rumor, perhaps in response to a perceived amount of injustice incurred by the presence of such people:

As usual, Maxine gets it right…
The Bird Feeder Syndrome – A Survival Thought For The Day

I bought a bird feeder. I hung it on my back porch and filled it with seed. What a beauty of a bird feeder it is, as I filled it lovingly with seed. Within a week we had hundreds of birds taking advantage of the continuous flow of free and easily accessible food.

But then the birds started building nests in the boards of the patio, above the table, and next to the barbecue. Then came the poop. It was everywhere: on the patio tile, the chairs, the table ..everywhere!

Then some of the birds turned mean. They would dive bomb me and try to peck me even though I had fed them out of my own pocket. And others birds were boisterous and loud. They sat on the feeder and squawked and screamed at all hours of the day and night and demanded that I fill it when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn’t even sit on my own back porch anymore. So I took down the bird feeder and in three days the birds were gone. I cleaned up their mess and took down the many nests they had built all over the patio. Soon, the back yard was like it used to be…. quiet, serene and no one demanding their rights to a free meal. Now let’s see.

Our government gives out free food, subsidized housing, free medical care, and free education and allows anyone born here to be an automatic citizen. Then the illegals came by the tens of thousands. Suddenly our taxes went up to pay for free services; small apartments are housing 5 families; you have to wait 6 hours to be seen by an emergency room doctor; your child’s 2nd grade class is behind other schools because over half the class doesn’t speak English.

Corn Flakes now come in a bilingual box; I have to ‘press one’ to hear my bank talk to me in English, and people waving flags other than ‘Our own’ are squawking and screaming in the streets, demanding more rights and free liberties.

Just my opinion, but maybe it’s time for the government to take down the bird feeder. If you agree, pass it on; if not, continue cleaning up the poop!

Firstly.. (a) Immgrants are not birds. There should not exist the perception that, by contrast, legal citizens are on an intellectual level of homeowners while immigrants possess the limited capacity of air fowl. That’s just terrible. It might not have been what she meant, but it’s pushing the boundary on outrightly stating it. (b) Maxine fails to put herself in their shoes. Imagine if the country you came from became so stank that you decided to actually move your family out of it, and into an country that offered nice surroundings but in which existed a people that spoke a language different than yours. Would you not, at first at least, take kindly to offerings of quality and genuine support so that you could get on your feet? Would it not be a temptation, as a person (regardless of where you came from) to perhaps rely on that support longer than was presumed socially permissible? I’m not asking if you would, but wouldn’t the very idea at least occur in your mind that, hmm, perhaps I might be able to? Do you not know actual citizens of this country that would jump onto that if it were offered to them? I know dozens who would snatch it up if offered. Could some of this resentment toward immigrants who are offered this assistance actually be a bit of avarice you possess, that you yourself “deserve it more than someone else” in regard to those benefits?

Secondly, Maxine (the person putting out the birdfeeder) epic-failed on a few key aspects, in terms of the story itself and not drawing any particular metaphors: (a) She didn’t have any idea what birds actually were. Birds CAN get noisy and may very well fight, especially over limted resources. (b) She blamed her overt lack of research on the birds themselves, rather than herself for not knowing this would happen. Instead of being irritated with her own decision to put the birdfeeder out, she projected the irritation onto the birds themselves, who were just being what birds are and have always been since birdfeeders were even around. (c) The birds may not actually possess the capacity to realize that she is the person supplying the feed, whereas she may simply be a large competitor for the feed itself, much less knowing how out-of-pocket economics work to realize it is a sacrifice for you to do this. The anger here is a transition from a long-held belief aligning itself with the facts of reality, and isn’t at all a fault of the birds themselves. The biggest factor is her self-sustained deception that birds were not what they actually were. Instead of treating it as a learning experience, she has now over-encumbered herself with a severe distaste for birds, and sits pridefully on her porch in the self-reinforced notion that she had been right all along.

Pass the shovel, fellow citizen. I’ll do the gruntwork of humanitarian aid if your butler says you’ve got other appointments for today! Puh!

Video: The Good-o-Meter

There are few things that simply explain the one thing Christians can all agree upon, and at the same time try to address how difficult the rest of the world makes it by refusing it even just consider the actual message instead of getting wrapped up in the side issues. YouTube to the rescue =P

Bah-dah-dah, doop-doop-doop!

$10 Vivitar Miniature Digital Camera @ Walgreens/CVS

While I was away in Idaho this past weekend — visiting relatives for the wedding of one of my cousins, seeing my uncle finish Boise’s first Iron Man half-triathalon, watching coverage of McDonald’s fries inventor and resident potato billionaire JR Simplot’s televised funeral, and impressing the in-folk with my Scattergories rectal-extractive point-scoring techniques (“things found in the sky” for S: Sinking Suborbital Satellite, and “playground objects” for W: Wildly-popular merry-go-round) — I was in need of a digital camera.

Having seen a digital camera in a CVS back in Texas, I got another cousin to ferry me to a Walgreens to see if they had one. They did, and ten dollars later I am the owner of a new Vivitar Miniature Digital Camera. It supposedly takes 243 pictures — but those are pictures of especially rancid quality, on the lowest res setting AND in “compressed” mode. Otherwise, it will take 60 hi-res (high for this camera, that is) which I would estimate in the sub-1MP range, comparable to a cell-phone pic.

I didn’t have a lot of trouble finding reference to the camera online, but it appears many of the references are irks regarding the driver compatibility. I did install the driver CD (which had a strange music background in the installer program and no apparent mute function) before I plugged it in. It required a reboot, so after that, I plugged in the USB cord appropriately and it still did not recognize the device, so I just let the machine (XP) search and it found it just fine by itself and initialized as it should have.

Already expecting it to have especially terrible quality, I had decided I would try my hand once again at making a large mosaic of pictures after taking a grid of smaller pictures that spanned a room. I wanted to show the insides and outsides of the nice houses so I could bring back (and remember) what it was like there. I stood on one extreme corner of a room and took a “grid” of pictures starting with the top corner of the room, rotating a few degrees and taking another, all the way to the opposite wall, rotating down a few degrees, taking another, and back across the room, so I had 40-60 pictures of the room in different sections. At first I only took about 12 in three rows of four pics, but decided I might as well max out the camera on a room to ensure I got complete coverage.

I downloaded all of the pictures onto the laptop via the spiffy “my camera” proggy, and fired up Corel PhotoPaint 6, started a new file of 40″x80″ and imported all of the smaller images onto the pallette for arranging — and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Almost 360′ of My Uncle’s Deck

All said, I think it was a pretty good investment considering the total cost was ten bucks, but it takes really terrible pictures in low lighting, and the little blip sound it makes when taking a picture is extremely faint and nearly inaudible if there is any other noise in the vicinity. I’m guessing that the shutter may stay open longer if there is insufficient light, which is why so many of my low-light shots are so terribly blurry. On the lowest quality setting, the divisions of the pixels themselves are clearer than the lines they are supposed to be showing in the actual photograph, as if someone has placed a pixellation-filter over a face to blur it out — but on the whole thing.

It does come with Arcsoft Photo Impressions 4.0, but I don’t plan on using it ^_^

Does Adbrite’s TOS contradict the Privacy Policy?

I’ve been looking into subtle advertising resources for the site here and I was just about to sign up with AdBrite, but it’s a good thing I opted to actually read the Terms of Service agreement.

I found a particular clause in the TOS that changed my mind about signing up, especially since you’re required to give an SSN as part of the signup details:

ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY ACT NOTICE (18USC 2701-2711): COMPANY MAKES NO GUARANTY OF CONFIDENTIALITY OR PRIVACY OF ANY COMMUNICATION OR INFORMATION TRANSMITTED ON OR THROUGH THE SITE, SERVICES OR ANY WEBSITE LINKED TO THE SITE. Company will not be liable for the privacy of e-mail addresses, registration and identification information, disk space, communications, confidential or trade-secret information, or any other Content stored on Company’s equipment, transmitted over networks accessed by the Site, or otherwise connected
with Subscriber’s use of the Services.
” (italicizing and bolding by me)

What this seems to say to me is that, although they have a Privacy Policy — which is not listed under items you must check off as having signed by entering into agreement — the part you actually sign up under as agreeing to states that they do not guarantee confidentiality or privacy of any information taken or given through the site.

I sent them a support ticket asking for clarification. Hmm…

Updatethis transcript details my conversation with them, affirming that their privacy policy is that AdBrite remain legally immune from all breeches in information security, should one occur but they’re do their best. Uhh.. no thanks.

Debunking Forwards — 809 Area Code Scam

I’ve recently been sent an email forward warning against use of the 809 Area Code for phone calls, for the reason the email states, lest I be charged $2425 per minute. Yikes.

Good ole Snopes to the rescue as usual! Snopes reports the email to be fradulent, but offers important clarification on telephone scams in general and details about the fact that 809, 284 and 876 area codes are not the only ones possible for scammage. Their page note that you can be scammed from practically any area code you’re unfamiliar with — so try to investigate area codes “strange to you” (regardless of whether they’re in the US or otherwise) to avoid future headaches with insane credit charges.

Solution: My Trac-Fone celly racks up a flat rate for both long distance and international calls both, at the same rate as domestic. I already have the landline at home (which I use more for DSL than calls) set with the service provider so that no long distance calls can be made from my line at all, so there’s not even a risk for me that I might call some crazy area code in the first place. Done!