Bank Scamster

This relatively new guy at my bank really wants me to cheat the IRS. I’m self-employed and I get checks from different companies, so he starts being nosy and asking what I do. He tells me I definitely need their business account for my business. I tell him I’ve had a business account before and all it did for me was cost me extra fees.

“Well if you have a business account, then you can claim expenses for your business!” he tells me, as if this is revolutionary advice that I’d never have thought of myself.

“I already claim expenses for my business,” I tell him. “I don’t need a business name or a business account to do that.” Then he really starts getting into arguing with me, telling me how I should claim fake expenses and how I should buy an entire car and claim it on my tax return, all while taking FOREVER to give me my money so I can leave. He constantly uses “air quotes” as he tells me about all the things I should be claiming on my return and tells me about how his uncle has his own business and does this stuff all the time.

I tell him that I really don’t think it’s a good idea to cheat the IRS. This, of course, starts another argument where he says it’s not cheating, but it’s “getting creative!” or something like that. It was another air quotes term. I couldn’t believe a bank teller was insisting that I cheat on my taxes, though. Sadly, none of the other tellers or employees were nearby, so they didn’t get to witness this weirdo giving me the worst advice ever.

A day or two later I was back in the bank and once again he was the only teller there. He was just as enthusiastic about cheating the IRS this time, but I managed to escape quickly. All I can remember from this conversation is that I should buy 30 flatscreen computer monitors to claim as expenses, or something like that. THIS IS THE GUY THAT HAS ACCESS TO MY MONEY!

I went home and looked up his name on Facebook, finding him easily. If he’d had his uncle listed under the Family section, I probably would have called him up to ask him about all the tax cheating advice that he gives his nephew, but he didn’t so I didn’t look into it further.

Between that and the other tellers trying to hard-sell me stuff every time I go in there, I’ve mostly stopped going inside the bank anymore. At least in the drive-thru I can avoid eye contact and ignore their sales pitches by turning up the radio. Thanks for making an asocial person like me even more asocial, bank!

Hackers vs. Magicians

There used to be a magic shop in downtown Albany and the kids and I would stop by there sometimes and look around. The owners were an old couple and the wife would rave about how awesome it was being a magician. She said learning all the tricks completely alters the way you see life. The way she talked about it reminded me of how hackers are pretty much the same way, feeling like they have a completely different grasp on life than “normal” people. I wonder, as someone who has an understanding of the way hackers see the world, would learning all the magician tricks add anything to that feeling or would it be basically all the same stuff. Or maybe magicians are just newbs and don’t really have the awesome enlightenment that hackers do. Stupid magicians.

Weird people at my door

Last night I got to bed around 3am. This morning, a Saturday, my doorbell rings at 8am. Ugh. I jump up and open the window to see a lady standing there, so I quickly get dressed and run downstairs to see who it is. She’s maybe 50 years old and asks me if some lady lives here. I tell her no, I’ve never heard of that person. Then she asks if I can call a cab for her. Doing an amazing job at being nice since she just woke me up at 8am on a Saturday, I tell her, “Sure, let me go grab my phone.” Before I can shut the door, she asks, “Is that your blanket?” looking at a folded green blanket sitting on one of my outdoor chairs. I’ve never seen the blanket before, but I’m not surprised because weird stuff is always showing up outside my house.

I tell her no and run back upstairs for my cell phone. I make the call for her, we say our goodbyes and she walks to the business next door. At this point going back to sleep is impossible. Once I’m up, I rarely go back to sleep, so I’ve been quietly hating that lady today as I drink Pepsi to stay awake.

The only reason I’m posting this boring story is because a few hours later, as me and the kids left the house to go to lunch, the blanket is gone. I guess the lady came back and took it. I was too asleep this morning to even wonder why she would ask me if a blanket sitting in my chair was mine. Why would she ask me that? It makes no sense. She knew something about this blanket that I didn’t! I told the kids about it as we walked to lunch and we concluded that the old lady was actually a ghost.

A couple days earlier, in the afternoon, the doorbell rang and I went downstairs to answer it. To get to the door, I have to walk down two flights of stairs and across the house, but I don’t think it really takes me that long to get there. I wasn’t fast enough for these old church people, though, because they were nearly out of the driveway by the time I opened the door. I stood there and watched them as they climbed into their car. When the man looked up and saw me, he waved so I slammed the door and went back upstairs.

Five minutes later, they come back and ring the bell again. Five minutes! What were they doing for five minutes? I sure don’t know. I opened the attic window, leaned out and yelled, “Hey, stop ringing my doorbell and running away!” Both of them looked around in confusion, but didn’t look up and see me. I yelled at them “Satan rules!” and the old lady gave an irritated “Okay” and began walking away. I felt bad so I yelled “I love you!” before shutting the window.

Last year, kids items started showing up on the table by my chairs. One day it was a purple stuffed dragon. About a week later a pair of shoes and toy gun was out there. I left the stuff out there for more than a week, hoping whoever mistakingly brought them by would come back and take them. I ended up giving the dragon to Emily and the shoes to Goodwill. I’m pretty sure a homeless man stole the gun. A neighbor of mine yelled at a homeless man one day because he was at their door, stealing cigarette butts from the ashtray. That’s the day that the gun was missing. This was one of those old toy guns made out of metal and could possibly be mistaken for a real gun since there was no giant orange tip on it. So if a 7-Eleven gets robbed by a homeless person, it might be my fault.

The last weird thing at my door was a sandwich in a ziplock bag, along with an unsigned note telling me that if I didn’t post a picture of myself eating it on Facebook, they would kill my children. This was last week and I’m pretty sure it was a drunken Lisa (friend of mine) and her sister leaving it. I threw it away without eating it and so far my kids are still alive.

Snail Mail My Email

Earlier this month my friend Jessica found an interesting program called Snail Mail My Email which was a free service that allowed you to have a typed email handwritten and sent to anywhere in the world. The transcribing was done by volunteers, so Jessica immediately signed up to be a volunteer. I’m not sure how many letters she got, but I think it was at least one per day. She even let me do a few of them. And I’m probably breaking federal postal regulations here, but I’m going to post the letters I did.

The first one was in French and didn’t have a name on it, so I addressed it to “Someone” on the envelope. I was too lazy to paste their short letter into a translator, so I have no idea what I wrote.

The next one I did on post-it notes and faked the lipstick kiss that they requested since I don’t own any lipstick.

And finally, I transcribed some guy’s girly letter to a girl he obviously has the hots for. He requested a unicorn near some trees and mountains. He failed to specify the type of unicorn, though, so I decided to draw a homicidal unicorn who’d just killed a bear.

The project at snailmailmyemail.org seems to be over now, but you can visit their site to look at some of the letters that other people did. It’s too bad because I would have enjoyed doing this kind of thing maybe once or twice a week for the rest of the year.

Baby Rattles

When I was in grade school, my teacher started us on a fun craft project. We made baby rattles! How do you make a baby rattle? It’s easy! Take a normal incandescent light bulb and paper-mache the entire thing. Then you paint it bright, happy colors. After the paint dries, you smash it against your desk so that the glass inside shatters into a hundreds of tiny glass shards. And that makes it rattle!

Yes, in the early 70’s / late 80’s, it was completely acceptable for your teacher to suggest that you give babies GLASS to play with. Of course, it was completely safe, being wrapped up in PAPER. What could possibly go wrong?

How To Make A Monitor Stand

After months of having my 23″ flatscreen computer monitor sit on a couple boxes of envelopes, I’ve finally gotten around to making a proper mount for it. And by proper, I mean by using old gas pipes and scratched up plexiglass because I’m too cheap to shell out nearly $100 for a real mount on eBay. About 7 years ago, I made a laptop mount for my car to use for cross-country trips. But these days, we all have little GPS screens in our car or on our phones, so mounting my laptop in the front seat is kind of pointless. This is why I disassembled my laptop mount and turned it into a monitor stand for my desk.

Monitor Stand

So that I wouldn’t have to spend any extra money on a single piece of pipe of perfect length, I bought a coupling and joined two of my old pieces together. I think those are 10″ and 4″ pieces. I also had to buy the 90 degree coupling. Fourteen inches is pretty high for a monitor, but I wanted it to be high enough so that my laptop could sit in front of it. I drilled 4 holes into my desk and tightly secured the pipes.

Monitor Stand

The plexiglass is looking pretty beat up and I didn’t even bother taking the piece of metal from the top of it. It’s all behind the monitor, so who cares. I had to drill 4 new holes into the plexiglass to mount the monitor on. Most monitors have mounting holes in the back.

Here are a couple shots of the completed project…

Monitor StandMonitor Stand

It’s the perfect height to have my laptop in front of now, and I have a ton of extra space on my desk. Using a “T” connector for the pipes, it would be easy to add a second monitor on top of the first or beside it. The pipe is strong enough to hold two monitors and I think my pressboard desk would be strong enough to support them both. I could have saved even more space by buying a 4′ or 5′ pipe and mounting it to a stand on the floor. This way is better for me, though, and now I can’t knock over my monitor in drunken accidents. I lose so many monitors that way.

The monitor easily swivels back and forth and I could even turn it vertical if I wanted to. The only downside is that it doesn’t swivel up and down. This isn’t a problem, though, since it’s nearly eye-level for me. If I do add a second monitor on top of it someday, I will probably use a 45 degree connector so that it’s facing down at me.

UPDATE! A few months after building this monitor stand, I added another one next to it. Instead of attaching a 2nd monitor onto a single stand, I just built a second stand next to it, mounted on the desk. Since I’m stupid, the new stand is about an inch lower than the first. It’ll be easy to fix that, someday when I decide not to be lazy anymore.

Monitor Stand

Taxi!

Okay, here’s what we need – a taxi/bus service that is run by every driver on the road. You leave your house, open up this amazing new taxi service app on your smart phone and you click the “PICK ME UP” button. Minutes later, a stranger in a car arrives and takes you to your destination. Drivers who run this app on their smartphone are alerted when they’re approaching a person who needs a ride so that they can pull over. GPS-equipped smartphones make all this happen, of course.

There’s a rating system, similar to eBay, so you can rate both drivers and passengers with things like “10 STARS, he took me directly to my destination!” or “1 STAR, he drove me into a back alley and molested me!” You’ll be able to set up your account so that you’re only picked up by people who have “x” amount of stars. On a normal day you could stick with 8+ star drivers, but when you’re desperate, you make an exception for any driver available. Same thing with passengers, you can set it up so you’re only alerted to 8+ star passengers so that you don’t get mugged or driven into the middle of a drug deal.

There would be minimal cost to passengers since drivers would already be out on the road, doing whatever it is they do. Maybe drivers could even set their own prices, but ideally this could all be based on some kind of credits system, where you earn credits for picking up passengers and you spend credits for getting rides. That way if you’re both a regular driver and a regular passenger, you might be able to get away with never having to spend any money. For those that only take rides, they could buy credits. Credits could be exchanged with other members of the service, so you could barter credits for goods or services. People would start listing their stuff on Craigslist or eBay with things like, “Dining table for sale. Price: 50 ride credits, or best offer.” Kind of like those existing online bartering services, where you trade stuff/services for stuff/services.

Since this would rely on existing smart phones that everyone already has, there would be no new infrastructure to build. All it would take would be an app on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. And I’m sure we’d work out a system for non-smart phones so that it could all be done via texting or by regular phone calls, like, “Press 1 if your GPS location is ________…”

This could become huge without government approval if an app were made for it for all the major smart phones. By the time government got around to whining that they’re not making any money from it, it would already be such a popular service that they’d have to accommodate the people who use it. Maybe they’d enforce some kind of tax on it, but it’d still be an awesomely cheap way to travel and run errands. Smaller cities would probably love an excuse to ditch their city buses since nobody ever uses them. Enterprising individuals could buy their own vans and make a living from going around and picking people up. Taxi companies would hate all of this and lobby for an end to it, but they would still have a few decades of life left from senior citizens that don’t know how to operate a cell phone.

If something like this existed, I would be both a driver and a rider. I like picking up hitchhikers anyway, and it’d be fun to have random strangers in my car as I drive to the grocery store or up to Salem. And I’d definitely use the service for my regular trips to Portland. That’s a 90 minute drive for me and at current gas prices, it costs me $15 – $20 just to drive to Portland and back. I usually park my car as soon as I get there so I can take the train everywhere. If I could “pay” half of that in credits, that would be awesome. And it would basically be free if I was giving people rides around town all the time. Eventually I would ditch my car if a service like this really took off.

And imagine having the ability to electronically hitch a ride with someone to take you across the country. The app would find people who’ve scheduled a trip to Florida and you could contact them to drop you off in Texas along the way. You wouldn’t have to worry about their car breaking down halfway there, because you’d just use your app to find a ride the rest of the way there from Arizona. You could also ditch that person halfway through the trip because they were annoying or listened to country music. I know people do this already on Craigslist, but this would even better.

In the end, a fairly large chunk of any given city’s population would ditch their cars because the service is so reliable. Even if a tiny percentage of the drivers on the road offered the service from their cars, that would still be a faster way to travel than by bus. Albany’s population is about 50,000 people. What if just 1% of the people offered the service? That’d be 500 rides available throughout the day. Compare that to the half dozen buses we’ve got in Albany, if we even have that many. Even 1/4th of a percent would be huge, compared to current public transportation. And the service could become so popular that we’d end up with a lot more than just 500 cars a day on the road. The government might end up loving the idea so much that they’d offer some kind of incentive for people to utilize the service.

It could go the other way too, though. The government might hate that people suddenly aren’t buying as much gas or paying taxes on their costly car repairs and they’d ban the service. Insurance companies might have issues with people using their cars “commercially.” Taxi companies would surely hate the entire idea and bus companies in big cities would too. But screw all of them! Somebody steal this idea ASAP and make it happen. And when you become rich from the idea, fly to Oregon and buy me a steak dinner.

I’ve posted before about how much I hate being such a slave to my car. Car payments, car repairs, oil changes, GAS, insurance, having to trade in for a new car every 5 – 10 years. That stuff really adds up. I would love having the option to ditch my car forever, and I probably will once my kids are grown up. Ditching your car isn’t an easy thing to do in a medium-sized town like this, though. Maybe by the time I’m ready to do that, someone will steal this idea of mine and we’ll have freelance bus drivers all over the road. Or maybe something like this already exists and I’ve just never heard of it. Hrmmmm, time to go look at my phone’s app store…

Memories of Sub7

Back in 1998, Cult of the Dead Cow released this revolutionary hacker tool called Back Orifice. Despite its dumb interface, it was fun to play with and I used it to jump into random home computers all over the world, mostly just exploring a users files. About a year after that is when I found a similar program called Sub7.

Sub7 was amazing. Not only did it have a nice, clean interface, it allowed me to do amazing things to random computer users, like see whatever their webcam could see, listen to their room through their microphone, watch their screen, control their mouse, type on their keyboard, change their Windows themes, open and close their CD tray, make official-looking alert boxes pop up on their screens, play sounds for them to hear, flip their screen upside down, reboot their computer, and so much more. I had a blast with this program for a year or two. I never infected a computer with the server software myself – I just scanned IP ranges that I found from users on IRC and from email headers. Nearly every IP range I scanned would find at least 1 computer to “hack” into.

I was surprised one day when my redneck neighbor Tom told me that he had been doing the exact same thing, finding infected computers and spying on them with Sub7. We became pretty good friends after that and regularly exchanged lists of infected computers with each other. I taught Tom to do more than just spy on users by actually having some FUN with them.

At the time, everyone used either Windows 95 or Windows 98. I created several kinds of “theme” packs for each system and uploaded files whenever I got into a new system. It would change a few of their key system sounds to silly things like farts or other annoying noises. It also changed their startup screen and their shutdown screen. Instead of seeing only the words “Windows 95” on bootup, they would see added text which made it say something like, “A hacker has infected your Windows 95 machine and has complete control over everything you do! Have a nice day!” The shutdown screen displayed something similar. I had other screens that were a little more subtle, but I can’t remember what many of them said. I made at least one set of them that advertised phonelosers.org, thinking it would be great if people started emailing me because phonelosers.org hacked their computer. Surprisingly, these systems wouldn’t usually disappear from my list of infected machines immediately after I uploaded these images. Either they didn’t care or they just didn’t know what to do about it.

I built my collection of mp3 music with Sub7. I think at the time the only way to get pirated music was from Usenet. We didn’t have Napster or Limewire or torrents back then. There were FTP sites and IRC channels to get music from, but I just wasn’t into piracy enough to bother with all that. But when I started finding mp3 files of popular music on peoples’ computers, I began slowly downloading them on my speedy 56k modem. This, of course, slowed down their internet connection to unbearable speeds. Sometimes they would log off in the middle of my download and I would end up with an incomplete song, something I wouldn’t notice until I was listening to music and it would stop playing before the song finished. It was a fun way to build up a music collection though. And it was a really sad thing when I’d find a computer full of mp3 tunes that I really wanted, but they would log off before I could take it all and I’d never find them again.

I won’t even get into all of the personal data I found on peoples computers, but there was a ton of it. I read financial documents, letters to friends and family, diaries and telephone books. I remember reading this incredibly long journal that a guy was writing in Microsoft Word, detailing his sadness and feelings over the divorce he was going through. I popped up a window on his screen one night that looked like a standard Windows alert box, telling him to hang in there and it would all get better soon. I bet he was confused to have his computer try and console him.

I did something to about 10 users in Bend, Oregon that I’m not too proud of. I deleted all of their files. At the time I was involved in a battle with Tannest and she worked at her brother’s Internet Service Provider in Bend. So I would regularly scan the IP ranges for her ISP (BendNet) and when I found an infected one, I would log in and delete pretty much the entire hard drive. I would leave most of the Windows directory intact so that their system wouldn’t actually crash. Then I would pop up an alert box titled BendNet Services. It would read, “You are currently more than 30 days past due on your internet bill. We have removed all of your computer files and will not return them until your bill is paid in full. Thank you for using BendNet internet. -Tannest.” I used her real name, of course. I’m sure she had a tough time convincing the angry users that stormed into her office that they weren’t the ones responsible for deleting all of their files. I seriously felt bad about doing this to people, but the hilarity of pissing off Tannest outweighed the guilt so I kept doing it. After awhile I could never find infected BendNet users anymore, so I always wondered if Tannest started scanning for them herself so she could contact them and fix their machines before I got to them.

I also helped a lot of infected people in my local area. After going through their files and figuring out what their ICQ member number was (Remember when we all used ICQ? Ugh, past, I don’t miss you at all.) I would send them a message on ICQ, using my real account, and explain to them that their machine was infected. I’d direct them to a website that contained a program that would remove Sub7 from their computer so that nobody else could hack them. I made a few local friends by doing this, people that I kept in touch with for years afterward and even met some of them in real life.

I could make a user’s modem dial phone numbers by adding standard modem commands to certain files. A few times I would want to know the identity of a computer that I had access to, but I couldn’t figure it out from their files, so I’d command their modem to hang up from their internet connection and call my home. A look on my caller ID box would give me their identity. Once they logged back on, I would remove my phone number. I could set up their systems to automatically dial any phone number I wanted each time they turned on their computer. It sure was tempting to buy a 1-900 number and make computers all over the country dial my number.

It was fun era of pretending to be a hax0r in the late 90’s and early 00’s and I doubt it’ll ever be so easy again. It’s just too bad that I never used Sub7 to pull any truly epic pranks on anyone. I saw other people post webcam shots of computer users looking thoroughly confused at the weird messages popping up on their computer, but I rarely found computers with webcams attached to them. That’d sure be a fun thing to do today with everyone owning laptops that have built-in webcams and microphones in them.

Middle of the night pranking at Circle K

When I worked the graveyard shift at one Circle K in Galveston, I passed the night by reading all of the magazines that were sold in the store. I rarely had more than a couple of customers per hour, so I did a ton of reading. I started reading the gruesome stories in the few detective magazines we sold and for some reason or another, I decided to start calling people in the stories in the middle of the night from Circle K’s pay phones. It was partially curiosity, to see if the stories were made up or if the magazines changed the names to protect the innocent. They didn’t.

I brought magazines outside to the pay phone and called directory assistance in the appropriate cities, using my red box to avoid the long distance charges. I took notes in the magazines, writing phone numbers of people related to the case next to their names in the magazine. I bet the people who purchased the magazines were surprised to find their home phone numbers written in there.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to people, but I’m sure I wasn’t entirely creepy about my calls. I mean, I wasn’t all “This is the ghost of ________ _______, and I’m going to haunt you with phone calls!” I’m sure it was still bizarre to get phone calls in the middle of the night about murder and fraud cases. I think I mostly just asked questions about the case to see if I really had the right people, probably posing as a reporter or something.

I still remember this one story about a teenager named Kenneth Glenn Milner, who attempted to murder a bunch of people in his small Texan town. The story was filled with tons of fail, because I don’t think he managed to actually kill anyone. I came across someone with the same last name as him today and suddenly remembered the whole thing, so I Googled his name and found this interview with him.

The end of my job at that particular Circle K ended my hobby of interviewing crime victims in the middle of the night. That is, until 2002 when I started interviewing random people in stories that I saw on Fark. I doubt any of those sound clips on that page still work.

I’m sure Richard Cardo will be noting this entry in his file on me. “Oh, so he has a FASCINATION and a HISTORY with murder!”

Big Beef Bueno Episode 007 – Rappy McRapperson Interview

I discovered a lot of awesome new music last year, but one artist has really stood out among my favorites and the more I listen to his music the more I like him. That artist is Rappy McRapperson. I think my love for Rappy has gone far beyond just a passing phase at this point. I originally found just 2 tracks of his on some compilation torrent – the Lick Your Own Butthole Party Dance and I’m A Gangster.

Months after being thoroughly amused by those two songs and giving them plenty of airplay on Cacti Radio, I began to crave more. I listened to all of the clips of his music on Amazon, but I was too cheap to pay for them. More months passed, and I eventually found a download link for 8 of his albums. This is when discovered the true brilliance of Rappy McRapperson.

Sure, his songs are funny and they make me laugh, but his music goes way beyond that. His musical style is truly unique and some of the lyrics are amazing. His latest album, For The Kids In Juvenile Detention is a masterpiece from beginning to end and it’s easily my favorite album by Rappy. (That’s his latest solo work, but he’s done an album since then with the frontman for Emergency Pizza Party.) That’s another great thing about Rappy – he’s good friends with all the members of Emergency Pizza Party, which is another band that I happen to really like and I’d discovered them completely separate from Rappy.

Last week I suckered Rappy into giving me his phone number, and after he realized what a huge mistake that was, we made a deal that if he did an interview with me, I would stop screwing with his Sprint wireless account. So here it is! After a 3.5 year hiatus, the Big Beef Bueno podcast is back! And to make up for those 3.5 years that I abandoned my listeners, I’ve made this episode 3 times as long as any of the previous episodes! And as an extra added bonus, the entire episode is filled with Rappy McRapperson’s music and our interview! You can’t go wrong, listening to this…

Click here to listen to BBB Episode 007

Eight of his previous albums are available to download for free by clicking on this link. If you like them, you should send no less than $300 to Rappy’s PayPal at mcrapperson AT gmail.com. If you’re not into paying for music, though, consider this amazing investment opportunity… Rappy will draw you blueprints for a spaceship for a mere $10!

Click the Buy Now button to take advantage of that amazing offer!




Rappy writes regularly in his blog at mcrapperson.blogspot.com and occasionally updates his website at rappymcrapperson.com. He also has a YouTube page with lots of homemade videos to his songs and a Facebook. If you’ve ever watched Captain Underpants, you might recognize Rappy’s voice in the theme song:

And here’s one more video of Rappy’s. Go to his YouTube page and watch them all, though.

I’m done with this post for now, but I’m sure I’ll come back and add a little more to it soon. If you want to subscribe to Big Beef Bueno on iTunes, the RSS feed is still notla.com/rss.xml. Subscribe!

Click here to listen to BBB Episode 007

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