How to become half the man you once were

Back in September I decided that it was time that I got into shape. I started a diet, did well for a few weeks, and then things started to go downhill. By the holidays, things were way downhill. After Thanksgiving and Christmas, I was totally off track, and had gained every pound I lost, and then some. Something had to change.

Let me back up. All my life, from as early as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. Truly, it’s been worse than that. Since at least my early teen years I was considered “obese”, and somewhere during high school and into college I grew into the “morbid obesity” category. Have you ever thought about that term, morbid obesity? I looked up the word morbid in the dictionary, and some of the words used to describe it were gruesome, ghoulish, disturbing. Sad, huh? I’m so overweight that it’s gruesome and disturbing. Sweet.

Through the years I’ve made a few attempts to turn this around. I’ll be honest, they were all halfhearted at best. Probably the most significant effort I made was during high school. I was pretty serious then, but unfortunately I was also intensely self-conscious at the time. As a result, when people started complimenting me on losing weight, I got horribly embarrassed. (I’m not sure why, maybe because the fact that they noticed I was losing weight also meant that they noticed how overweight I was.) Eventually my embarrassment over nothing was enough to push me off that diet. Then, like I said, the rest of my life was a chain of halfhearted efforts at best. Continue reading

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a MacGyverism, & Long time, no post

Okay, so it’s been a while since my last update. It’s been a busy few months here. Lots of really cool things are coming right around the corner, so I though it’s as good a time as any to get back into the blogging habit. And to kick off my first post in a while, I thought I’d share an experience I had yesterday.

Once a month my car club meets to rally the fans of Studebaker to one location. The meet locations jump around a bit, and this month, we were meeting at an antique mall about a half hour west of where I live. Naturally, I drove my ’63 Studebaker to the meet.

During the last couple miles of the trip to the meet, the car was acting a little odd. For reasons not known to me (at the time anyway) the car was shuddering just a little, almost like it was nearly misfiring. I’ve suspected for a while that it’s nearly time to replace my points, so I wrote it off as that, and had a good time with the Studebaker folks.

On the way home, things got interesting. About 8 minutes into the 35 minute drive home, the car went berserk. It lost all power, was backfiring like mad, and every time I hit the accelerator it bogged down. I managed to limp off the next exit, and as a precaution I called one of my buddies still at the meet to come over in case I needed a hand.

When I popped the hood, I realized something was very wrong almost immediately. I’m not a master mechanic, but when your distributor cap is not clipped to the distributor, it’s pretty clear that you have a problem. So I popped open the cap and discovered that the rotor had blown apart. The conductor had broken free from it’s restraints and was turned 90 degrees from where it ought to be.

Fortunately, I had some gaffers tape in my car (always be prepared!) and with my Studebaker friend there, this is what we did:

MacGyver would be proud

 

It did the trick, and I made it home safely. I even managed to drive it a couple more miles to go to my garage and look (in vein) for the old rotor I had as a backup. Oh well, off to the auto part store tomorrow I guess.

And that’s my adventure. Stay tuned. Big stuff is coming soon!

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Happy Studeversary

On May 18, 2012, I made one of my all time favorite purchases ever, my 1963 Studebaker Lark. Today, one year has passed from that day, and I’m still lovin’ it.

Here’s what the car looked like on day one:

The first day

 

And here was today:

Day 365

Differences on the outside are subtle. I replaced the tires with some nice thin whites. The radio antenna got knocked off a few months after I purchased it in a car wash. And I got those snazzy custom plates. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but the paint has definitely thinned some, which is to be expected on a 10 year old Maaco paint job, but over all, she’s aged well.

It’s customary to buy gifts for anniversaries, and I’m not one to throw customs to the wind, so I got the Lark a little something:

Better than a lame diamond

That’s a Carter 500cfm 4bbl carb. (The carb that Edelbrock cloned and labeled the 1401.) I’m going to be installing that this summer. I can’t wait!

More later!

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What the hail is all that white stuff?!?!

I love a good storm. (More so when my Studebaker is safe and sound in a garage as it was tonight!)

At the same time, too much of a good thing, even a spring rainstorm, can get, well, excessive.

This evening my wife and I were down in Benson, a quaint little neighborhood in Omaha where a lot of creative artists are regularly performing through various venues. During the comedy show we went to see, it was raining pretty hard. We came to find out however, that an even bigger show was taking place at home, where in the course of just a couple minutes, a few INCHES of hail fell. Trees were hit hard, cars were damages, and one poor little birdbath will never entertain fowl again. The interesting thing was that is was so localized that there wasn’t a pebble of hail, and as soon as we crossed the line the storm had passed as we drove home, it was like going onto a gravel road. Very weird.

Enjoy a few quick and dirty pictures I took of the aftermath. As I type this, mother nature is dumping gallons of water all over, melting the ice and erasing the evidence. Sorry mother, I had my camera.

Who wants grilled ice? Poor birdbath. Another angle of our front porch. The courtyard in front of our home. There's grass somewhere under that hail. The little birdbath that couldn't This is our front porch. Somebody grab a shovel! It was like piles and piles of snow. Except it was snow made out of ice that could destroy a car. Our poor assistant got her car battered. That's hail, not ice! Again, under the tree. Note: this is the sheltered bit under the tree!

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Goodbye my friend

misty - luke- jim last day

17 years ago today, on a little farm away from the city, a liter of pups were born. They were mixed breeds, part Great Pyrenees, part Black Lab. By most breeders’ standards, these dogs were sub-par. Besides being “mutts”, there are a number of potential health problems that can arise when those particular breeds combine. Of that litter, there was one particular dog that was insatiably personable. She would crawl away from her mom and the other pups, and would make her way into the farm house to see the humans.

At about the same time these dogs were getting old enough to sell, my family was going through a rough patch. My parents were splitting up and I was coming out of that very awkward time of life we all know as middle school. We desperately needed something. So when we found an ad for some very inexpensive puppies on a farm outside of town, we decided to go have a look. Some of the puppies had already gone to new homes by now, but a couple were left. We were introduced to them, and immediately took a liking to that personable pup that was always sneaking away from her mom.

We adopted that pup, and I remember how much fun it was getting to bring her home. Of course, I wanted to give her a very “cool” name, but my mom shot that down. She hadn’t been allowed to name any of the family pets to date, and so she asserted it was her turn to pick a name. She decided on Misty, which at the time as a 15 year old, didn’t sound like a very “cool” name. But even though the name wasn’t the coolest, I fell in love with that little puppy.

In the first few months that we had Misty, she and I were inseparable. I worked with her day and night, getting her house-trained  playing with her, and letting her sleep with me in my bed just about every night. During the first few weeks, she would whimper a bit from missing her mom, so we wrapped a ticking alarm clock in a towel, and she would sleep with me in my bed with her head on the towel-wrapped clock, comforted by the ticking.

As the years passed, we had many fond memories together. No matter what came up in my life, she would always be there for me, smiling, wagging her tail, and ready to jump up on me, even though we spent her entire life trying to train her not to do so. She was there to comfort me when I was sad, to play with me when I was happy, and she never ever treated me with anything less than complete reverence.

As life has progressed, she got older and older. She hit 8 years old, the age the vet gave her for a life expectancy, and was healthy as a pup. At 12, the average life expectancy for the longest lived of either of her breeds, she was still happy and going strong. Even at 15, almost twice her original projected life expectancy, she was still a happy, healthy dog despite some vision and hearing loss. But in the last few years, she had slowly began fading. Her vision got poorer, her legs got weaker. She started having bad days, a few at first, but as the years passed, they came more and more often.

For all her woes, she was still the good dog, ever driven to be faithful. Even when she was hurting, she tried not to show it. She would still wag her tail, still perk up her ears, still come running, and even try to jump on me, though in the last few months she just didn’t have the strength. To the core of her being, she truly put herself last, and always put being the good dog above herself. She was never upset with me, even though there were times I deserved it. Especially in the last few years with our time-intense job, I didn’t walk her as often as I should have, didn’t play with her as often as I should have, and sometimes aside from giving her food and water, I wouldn’t have any serious interaction with her for a day or two at a time. Any person in a relationship like that would want out, or at least be upset. Not Misty. She kept on loving me, and when we did spend quality time together, she treated it with even more reverence, and showed me that she would never stop loving me unconditionally, even if I didn’t always have the time to reciprocate.

Today, 17 years to the day after her birth, more that twice as long as she was originally projected to live, her day came. She was nearly completely blind, almost totally deaf, and she could hardly walk. But even today, as I was saying my final goodbyes, as I was scratching behind her ears she was still wagging her tail and shaking her leg, her lifelong way of saying “I really like this”. She probably would have kept going, driven by her passion to be the best dog for her master that she could be. She wasn’t a quitter, and even as much pain as she was in, so much pain that it hurt me to watch her, she still didn’t want to let me down. But enough was enough. Her pain was too great. Good days almost never came anymore, and even though she tried to hide it, you could see that the bad days were just getting worse. So at about 2:40 this afternoon, our vet came over, and after some tearful goodbyes, she breathed her last and silently fell asleep for the last time. Her pain is gone. She’s no longer suffering.

I took my son to the mall to play while the vet was at our home. I didn’t want him to see the injection or be scared, but I still wanted to be honest with him about what was happening. So after it was over, on the way home, I explained again (we’ve talked about this a few times in the last week) that the vet came over to make Misty feel better, and that Misty was going to die and go away, but that the vet was going to make sure she didn’t hurt until she was in heaven. He grasped that, and asked if Misty was going to heaven today. I told him yes, and he very matter of factly told me “It’s okay, Jesus will take care of Misty in heaven.” Through my tears as I tried to drive safely, I told him yes, Jesus is going to take good care of Misty for us.

For more than half my life, Misty was part of it. Some times were good, others not so much, but she never wavered. She was always there for me, never judged me or held grudges or snipped at me for not being a good enough master. She was a simple dog to most. A mutt to some. But this dog showed me the truest love I have ever known. She was a friend, and even to the very end, with her ears perked up and her happy demeanor, she made me feel as though I was the luckiest pet owner to ever live. And truly, I feel like I was.

Misty, you can rest in peace now. I’m going to miss you more that you know.  You were a very good dog.

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The benefit of letting go

Recently I had to give up something I cherished more than just about anything else, my Grandpa’s 1960 Studebaker. It wasn’t that I was forced to do so, or that I couldn’t have kept holding onto it indefinitely. I just realized that the time had come.

I suppose there’s need for a little backstory. I’m an 80′s child all the way. MacGyver, The A-Team, and synth pop music were some of my biggest influences growing up. But perhaps one of the biggest influences on my life was my grandpa. I don’t want to paint a false story here – I had a pretty good childhood. I was never in need of anything, and my parents did their best to keep clothes on our backs and shelter over our heads. But my grandparents, and especially my grandpa, held a very close place to my heart. My grandpa was more than my mom’s dad. He was my best friend. On nights when I spent the night, he would come wake me up when he got off his late shift at work, and we’d talk and look at his penny collection or build something. When he was off, just about anything went. He taught me Morse code, and even showed me how to build a Morse code machine from some old copper strapping, scrap wood, and parts from a smoke detector. He would watch the late night astronomy show on PBS with me, and then he’d bundle me up under his coat and sneak me outside so he could show me the stars the TV host was talking about. And of course, he gave me freedom, carte blanche, to play in, on, and around his Studebaker Lark, just so long as I never took off the parking brake.

And play I did. I was a taxi driver, a car mechanic, a race car driver. Just about anything you could imagine a kid doing in a car, I did with that car. It was my first real hands-on experience with any car, and I loved every second of it. I even talked to the car; it was practically as close a friend as my grandpa! Grandpa promoted it, so much so that at one point he bought a parts car primarily so I’d have a car to play in if he was busy working on his. The parts car was fun, and I was sad when it finally had to go, but his car, the one he loved, was always my first favorite.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away when I was still very young, and because nobody else in the family wanted the hassle of working on it, the car was towed off to sit on my great uncle’s farm. And it sat. And it sat. After nearly 20 years of slowly rotting into the ground, I came back and got the car. I put fresh tires on it, and hauled it to my home. On the outside, it still looked very much how I remembered it, though a lot dirtier. But once I got looking under the surface, the damage done by sitting for years outside in the elements became apparent. The poor car was in horrid shape. When it had been parked, fixing the brakes and a battery might have got it going. When I got it to my home those years later as an adult, that was just not going to happen.

So I started the process of trying to restore it. In an adventure that spanned two states and almost 1000 miles, I hauled the car from Nebraska to my home in Minnesota, did some work, moved it again, did some work, hauled it back to Nebraska when I moved, did some work, and moved it once more to where it was until last week. By this time, I had the car completely stripped to bare metal on a frame. The rust was horrible. There wasn’t much useful on the car. On top of that, due to some family shenanigans that took place shortly after my grandpa died, the car didn’t even have a title anymore, and getting one was going to be near impossible. Still, I carried on, and spent much of my time working on the car.

Then the unthinkable struck. In January of this year, someone broke into my garage, and stole pretty much all my tools. For the majority of my adult life, I’d been amassing tools that focused on car repair. Grinders, sanders, air tools, saws, welding gear, and on and on. In one blink of the eye, it was all gone. All I had left, was a rusty basket case of a car, and no tools to service it with.

For a month and a half I kind of hemmed and hawed about what to do. I knew that realistically, I was in over my head on the car before, when I had all my tools. And without them, there was no way this could carry forth. Some friends offered assistance, but the bottom line that I had to face was that his car was just too far gone for me to do anything with it.

Then, a week or two ago, I got a call. The president of our local chapter of the car club needed window parts from a 60 hardtop, and he wondered if I would sell mine. It forced me to make a decision, and I decided that I had to let go. I agreed, and last week he came and took the car away. I’d like to say I wasn’t emotional, and on the surface I was able to keep my cool. But inside, I was as upset as I had ever been in my life. I didn’t want to let go, but I knew I had to. So I gave them a hand loading the car off, and as quickly as it entered my life, it was gone.

Then tonight, something special happened. My family went over to my uncle’s house for dinner, and at the end of the night, my uncle asked me to hang on, because he had something for me. When he came back from his bedroom, he had a red box. He explained to me that he had meant to give this to me a few times in the past, but seeing my post about giving the car up reminded him again. When I opened the box, I was blown away. Inside was a gold watch and a similarly styled tie chain. But they weren’t just any watch and chain. They were my grandpa’s. I was beside myself. The tie chain was a gift for my grandpa’s 20th year working at his company, the watch for his 25th. They represented a quarter century of my grandfather’s life. My grandpa loved both of these. I actually remember him wearing both, and as I think about it more, I’m certain that on at least one occasion he explained to me why these very things which I was now holding were so special to him. In that one moment, I was brought back to those days of my childhood, and it was one of the best moments I can remember in recent history. I probably said thank you 20 times tonight, and even that felt inadequate. What a gift!

So the reminder in all of this is to hold onto things loosely. Giving up something special is hard. But after I was able to let go, I found myself receiving something so incredible that I’m still at a loss to describe my feelings. And that’s all I have to say about that, at least for now!

Grandpa's Watch Watch back

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YGTP 3: The four stages of bed ownership

bed ownership

 

Being a parent has taught me a lot about life. Mainly, life is not all about you, or even about you at all. I’m pretty sure egomaniacs would make horrible parents. “No Billy, I don’t have time to feed you. I’m too busy being amazing.”

While I’m releasing one of my drawings, I should take a second to brag on another cartoonist, Tim Schoenfeld of the hilarious 88improv. Unlike my drawing, his stuff is well drawn and makes me laugh. I was totally going to brag on his new website, but I recently found out that it doesn’t exist, and rumors to the contrary are false. However, if a website were to exist, I would say that it would be epic, and if you like funny stuff, you should probably go visit their page and lie in wait, because while he hasn’t officially released a website for his artwork yet, that day may or may not come soon.

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YGTP 2: Bullet points

Why “number of bullet points = amount of work done” is a bad formula.

ygtp - bullet points

 

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You want a free laptop? I got your free laptop right here!

The ins, outs, hows, and whys of the Apple product “giveaways” on Facebook. Consider this your online intervention. (Also, stay tuned for a real laptop giveaway.)

 

Hi Jim, kind of early in the day to be blogging, isn’t it?

Why don’t you sit down. We need to talk.

Talk? About what? Who are these other people?

They’re your Facebook friends, or what’s left of them. They’re here with me to tell you that enough is enough.

What do you mean? Seriously, what are you talking about?

Do you remember the post you shared this morning?

You mean that cutesy picture with that quote from Thomas Jefferson talking about the Internet?

That wasn’t actually a Jefferson quote, but no, not that post. I’m talking about the other one.

Oh, right! You mean my entry in that MacBook Pro giveaway. Did you need me to share the link again or something?

No. Look, this is sort of hard to say, but seriously, this needs to stop. I love you too much to let you throw your online life away, and that’s why I’ve gathered up the few people who haven’t unfriended you, and staged this intervention today.

Huh?

Let me make this really clear. That post you shared advertising the free MacBook Pro was a scam, and you fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

Oh come on, aren’t you overreacting a little?

Not at all. These scams are real, dangerous, and they can hurt you and those around you.

But it’s just a little harmless fun. Besides, isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, one of these things is real?

Tell me something, have you ever heard the expression “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?

Hmmm… nope.

Okay, let me put it another way. Let’s say you just went to the electronics store and bought a brand new $3,400 laptop. Would you just give it to me for free, with no strings attached?

Are you kidding? No way!

Right. Now let’s try something else. Let’s say you just won $340,000. What would you do with that money?

Vegas, baby! And when I got back from my vacation, I’d probably try to do some grown up stuff, like pay off my mortgage, buy a car, maybe put some into one of those bank CD things or find someone smart to help invest it.

So, to clarify, you wouldn’t spend that money on 100 laptops, which you would then give away to 100 perfect strangers, with absolutely no strings attached?

Haha, Not in this lifetime, pal!

Okay, so what part of your mind thinks that someone else out there would do that?

Erm. Well, I saw a picture with a bunch of boxes…

You mean pictures like these?

100 macbook pro scam macbook pro scam

Kind of. I mean, they don’t have all those words you added to them.

Right. And the reason I added those words is because I didn’t want scammers to use those photos to scam others. Because all those photos you see on those pages are pulled from the Internet, using search engines. More than likely, the people posting these pages have never used a MacBook Pro in their lives, and they certainly aren’t giving away 100 free ones. The truth is, nobody would do that. Normal people with normal amounts of money couldn’t afford to. Wealthy people with abnormal amounts of money became wealthy because they don’t do things like that.

But, um, what if they’re rich and they want to help people, or it’s a company marketing gimmick or something?

That doesn’t work either. Think about it, if you want to truly help people, are you going to randomly give away $340,000 of merchandise to people you know nothing about? Probably not. Without some knowledge of the recipients, you could give all 100 MacBooks to people rolling in cash who already own three and didn’t need them at all. No, if you wanted to help people, you could put that much money into an organization in a third world country and help tens of thousands. Or you could buy new computers for your local church or nonprofit, which would not only go to people serving others but it would also become a tax deduction, something you couldn’t claim by just haphazardly throwing out a bunch of laptops to random individuals. In fact, just about anything would be a better way to help others than randomly giving out 100 laptops.

A marketing gimmick isn’t realistic either. What sort of companies in our economy would have a third of a million dollars to throw out in computer giveaways, only to fail to let people know that they’re sponsoring it? If a company were backing this, they would be promoting the heck out of this, and their name would be plainly visible. Corporate sponsor logos would be stuck to everything like glue, which just isn’t there. Most of these free giveaway pages talk about “our sponsor” like they’re anonymous. Sorry, if I were doing a marketing gimmick, you’d know I were doing it. No matter which way you cut it, this doesn’t make sense.

Okay, fine, whatever. Maybe it’s somebody playing a joke. That doesn’t make it a scam.

According to the dictionary, a scam is a dishonest scheme, a fraud, or a swindle. By it’s very definition this is a scam, from beginning to end. If you follow all their rules you won’t have a laptop, and they’ll have some of your money, among other things.

Wait, how can they get my money? And what are these “other things” you’re talking about?

Alright, this is where things start to get a little more complex. There are a number of different scams that all start about the same way. You might as well let one of these folks hold your jacket and sit down.

Fine. I’ll have my Mom hold it for…wait a second, why isn’t she here?

Your mom unfriended you yesterday out of utter humiliation that one of her offspring is so gullible as to fall for this sort of thing. Just sit down and get comfy. Let me know when you’re ready.

Alright, go ahead. I’m listening.

Good. So like I was saying, these scams on Facebook all start about the same way. The scammer sets up a website and/or a Facebook page for “Free Macbook Pro” or “Free iPad or iPhone” or some sort of giveaway. It doesn’t have to be an Apple product. In fact, I’ve seen scams for free cars, or vacations, or whatever. The list is almost endless. The point is, they use a product that a lot of people want, and would sell their own organs and/or children for. Because most people treat Apple with the sort of enthusiasm that you would find in some backwoods complex of robe-wearing, kool-aid drinking fanatics, their products are an easy option.

Once their Facebook page is set up, they go on the quest for suckers. They start the cycle of sending out those posts like the one you forwarded. They often include a picture of some Apple Product, and the picture text will read something like this:

We are giving away 6 Macbook Laptops. All that you need to do is complete the easy steps below to participate! (Worldwide)

Step 1. Like this photo.
Step 2. Share this photo.
Step 3. Claim your Macbook HERE: (I’m removing the link, but it would go to a website they also set up earlier.)

or this:

We are giving away 100 Macbook Laptops. All that you need to do is complete the easy steps below to participate!

Step 1. Like this photo.
Step 2. Share this photo.
Step 3. Comment color black/white

Like us on FB: (Again, I’m removing the link. I don’t want anyone accidentally finding themselves there by my doing!)

The lucky winners will be selected in 24 hours. Only people that have completed all steps can participate. Winner will be announced at our Facebook fan page or in private message so make sure you like us on Facebook. Good luck.

Or any number of other ways. The point is, they want you to like their post, to share it, and to go to their landing page.

Hang on, question: How do they get these posts going out in the first place?

Good question. They can do it a few ways. The slow way would be to wait for people to find it using Facebook’s search feature. They would get a slow trickling like that, and so very few would ever leave it at that. Some will actually set up new accounts with the sole purpose of friending as many people as they can get to accept, and once they get a good seed amount of friends they strike. However, the more common and darker truth is that much of the time, these guys hijack Facebook accounts from their last scam, and use these to start the process of sharing their page’s starter post. This is the favored option in the scam world, because according to a recent survey, most facebook users have an average of about 260 friends, and your average young adult has about 430 of them. So let’s say they got the login credentials of 20 random people. That means in a matter of minutes they have spread the word to about 5,200 people. If even 5% of those people give in and follow their instructions, that’s 260 victims. Not a lot in comparison to the world’s population, but those 260 people who each have an average 260 friends have now shared this message, and now it’s hit as many as 67,000 people. (There will be some overlap of people who have multiple friends of course, which I’m not figuring in.) If another 5% forward it on, we’re looking at a potential of nearly a million people who could see this, all because of about 20 hijacked accounts. One more round at 5%, and now you’ve got 11 million shares. Fortunately, by this point, there would be a lot of overlap, and most people aren’t as gullible as yourself.

Wh, hey! I am not gullible.

Really? Did you see that I wrote gullible on the ceiling?

No. Where? It’s all pretty much white up there. Did you write it behind the light fixture or something?

Nevermind, Back on track. Now the scammer has posted his message, and maybe a few thousand victims have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. This is where the scam can take a number of turns.

The first option is that the scammer isn’t too nefarious. He might just be out to make a quick buck, and isn’t trying to really sink his claws into anyone. I’m going to pause and say that these kinds are really uncommon. Like, liberal who’s in favor of removing all gun laws type of uncommon. If you meet one, be surprised. Anyway, in this case, the scammer will usually tell you that you’ve won, or that you’re a finalist, and to claim your prize you have to go take some surveys. You go to their site, start taking surveys (which pay a commission to the scammer for every one completed), and eventually you burn out, waste several days, and give up. You’re upset, depressed that you’ve been had, and feeling betrayed because you have realized the prize does not exist. And you’re one of the lucky ones.

Lucky? How is that lucky?

It’s lucky because aside from time, you haven’t lost anything of real value. You still have all your money, and all of your online accounts are secure. When you get to the next level of scam, time and peace of mind are the least of your losses.

As I said, scammers who stop at just getting you to fill out surveys or click ads are a rare bunch. Mostly, they’re small time scammers or just starting out. More often than not, you’ll run into phishing in these sort of scams.

Fishing? Like trout?

No. Not fish, phish, with a ph. The name does actually have some origin in fishing though. Phishing is when someone uses a scam to extract information of value from a victim. More often than not, they use social engineering and “bait” sites that look like legitimate sites, in hopes of getting their victims to take the bait and willingly hand over their credentials. The scammers going this route will usually send you a message telling you that you were selected as a winner, then ask you to follow a link to claim your prize. Take a look at this picture. What does it look like?

facebook login

Oh, that’s a login page for Facebook.

WRONG. Actually, that’s a screenshot of a webpage I just visited that is not Facebook, nor has an affiliation with them in any way. A scammer set up this site, which looks very much like facebook, in hopes of getting people to enter their passwords. Once you follow that link your scam artist friend sent you, you will find a very legitimate looking site and most likely enter your username and password in a mad, frothy-mouthed sprint to get your free Mac. Unfortunately, you just gave them the key to your account. From there, they log your info into a database, and will eventually use it to get into your account and share posts like the ones we’ve been talking about. There are countless fake sites like this, many use variations of Facebook’s name, such as faceb00k, faceloook, and on and on. The more creative ones will use subdomains, sending you to places like www.facebook.app-register.com, hoping that people won’t realize that the website they visited is not an actual part of Facebook. Worse yet, some scammers with more than two brain cells to rub together have actually created real facebook apps that do things like ask for your password to do strength tests on them. These apps in turn copy your credentials and give the scam artist access just as an external website would, and from a real www.facebook.com web page!

That’s a little scary. But besides logging in to my facebook account, what harm is there?

Let me turn that back around with another question. Do you use the same email address as your Facebook account for most everything you do online.

Yeah.

And do you use the same password (or a similar variant of it, with maybe one different letter) on places like your bank website, or twitter, or your credit card site?

Ummm, no.

Be honest.

Maybe…

Exactly my point. We humans have finite space in our heads. When we fill that space with useless stuff like baseball stats or 12 hours of Facebook updates, there’s not enough room to manage a dozen completely distinct, separate online identities. So we link them together. Sometimes we use the same email address at several. Sometimes we use similar passwords. Sometimes it’s something as simple as having the same credit card number on file in multiple sites. Regardless, we all do it to some degree. So giving a hacker access to even one of these areas opens up a whole world of horrible possibilities. Recently, a reporter for wired had his entire online life destroyed, all because of one little crack that opened a floodgate. This guy was a tech pro, and all it took was one little mistake made by one company, and he lost it all. He didn’t even give his password away, so imagine how far a scammer could get if you just hand them that info!

So once your password is lost, you are now in a tight spot. You need to systematically go through, change every password, every security question, and everything you can. If not, you might find yourself in a world of hurt when you log in to your bank and find out that your money all got transferred overseas last night. All because you gave in to a free laptop gimmick.

That reminded me, I might need to go online for a bit when we’re done here. Hey, are we done?

I’m afraid not. There’s still another direction that these online scams can go. It’s entirely possible that the scammer is seeking a longer, more drawn out scam with a potentially bigger payout. Sometimes, this sort of scam is just a litmus test, to see if you’re a sucker who does stupid stuff like forwarding on obviously fake promotions. When the scammer finds your willingness to do this, they attack from other perspectives. Sometimes they will claim they can ship you a laptop, but you have to pay some sort of tariff or tax. Once you pay that, another tax pops up. Or a bribe for the crooked foreign officer that is holding your laptop. Maybe they will mail you a check that you are supposed to cash, use part of the check to buy a laptop from the local Best Buy, and wire the remainder of the cash to them. It won’t be until after they are gone that you find out the check was fake, and the bank wants you to pay for it. Some of these guys are so good that they can use twists and turns to drag you so far down the rabbit hole that by the end you’ve spent thousands of dollars chasing after something that never existed.

The sad part about all of this is that people really do fall for this stuff. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I know intelligent, educated people who have lost fortunes at the hands of scammers, and the whole time they thought they were getting close to a big payout. So when you play along and share those messages on Facebook, even if you know it’s not real and are doing it because it’s “harmless fun” like a lotto ticket, there could be one of your very own friends who falls for the scam and loses everything. It can happen. It has happened. It will happen.

That’s why we all got together, and why I shared all of this with you. By sharing that image, you’re not just having a little fun. You’re putting yourself and potentially others in danger. It’s easy to write it off as just a silly Facebook thing, but will you feel the same way if your siblings or your parents (well, not your mom, of course) lose everything they have set up online, or find themselves losing cash? So what I’m asking you, what we’re all asking you, is please, for yourself and for all of us, will you quit sharing those scams?

Wow, talk about closing on an over-dramatic note. Yeah, sure, I see what you’re saying. Next time I see one of those things, I’ll ignore it. Or maybe I’ll block or report it, so Facebook can deal with it.

Thank you. On behalf of all of us, we appreciate it. I’m sure in no time at all even your mom will come back around to refriending you.

I do have one question though.

What’s that?

That quote on the picture I posted earlier. If that wasn’t Jefferson, then who said it?

You mean the quote “Teh interwebs should always be free for patriots to post pics of cute kittehs”? Nobody notable ever said that.

Are you sure? It sounds really Jeffersonian.

Just…just, no.

 

Thanks for reading this little intervention! So, while you can’t get a free MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone, or iPod from facebook, you can find free stuff in unusual places. Like right here. If you want a free laptop, I’ve got one that you should love. Take a look at this sexy beast!

old crappy laptop

 

For the tech geeks in the crowd, here are the stats:

  • Pentium 4 processor, possibly burnt out
  • Charging port, does not work
  • VGA port, burnt out in a glorious fireworks show from a hack that channeled electricity through it to charge the laptop for the last few years
  • No hard drive
  • No OS
  • No RAM
  • Wifi and Bluetooth cards? Removed!
  • Two batteries with broken mounts included, will not stay mounted to laptop. Also, they are dead because the charging circuit died
  • DVD-RW drive has been removed
  • Some missing keys. Also, spills from a toddler running amuk.
  • 13″ monitor, good condition

This laptop is free. If you want it, you have to come get it. I’m not even wasting the postage to ship it to ya. And for the record, if anyone is offering a free laptop in better condition than this, as a rule of thumb, it’s probably a scam.

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How to save $40 building your own flash grid

When you cut through all the fluff, the honest truth is that photography is all about light. Your composure, subject matter, camera angle, and equipment are all wonderful things, but none of that is really the core component of the art. Rather, the core component is learning to control the light that hits your camera sensor or film, and to do so in a manner that you find pleasing. (If others also find it pleasing, that’s an added bonus!) I’ve seen photos shot on a cell phone that blew me away. I know an artist here in Omaha who makes a living taking photos of light blurs created by a long exposure combined with strategically moving the camera around.There are several photographers through history who have stunned audiences using exposures where the subject was intentionally out of focus or halfway out of the frame. None of these techniques might normally be considered “good photography”, but for the artists who took these shots, they are not just good; they’re exceptional! The common bond between all of these photographic artists is simple: they put the focus (no pun intended) on the light.

In the quest to control light, it’s easy to get into the mentality of adding light, buying copious numbers of strobes, floods, softboxes, and on and on. In the quest to add light, it’s easy to overlook the importance of subtracting light. A camera flash does a great job of filling a space with light, but what if you want to control that light so it’s not just pouring out everywhere? There are a few tools you can use to wield that light. One is called a snoot. Simply put, a snoot channels light onto a particular area. There are also gels, which change the color of the light, either to match the incidental lighting, or to add color. Finally, the one I’m going to discuss today is called a grid. Put in the most simple terms, a grid limits the angle of the light coming from your flash.

If you’ve never seen a grid for lighting, you can get an idea of what they do if you’ve ever been to an office building with those “egg crate” fluorescent lights in the ceiling. They channel the light more directly to the ground, minimizing glare in people’s eyes. Similarly a grid helps you direct the light to your subject without forcing you to light up places you don’t want lit. Grids are fairly affordable. In fact, I can find one that fits my flash for about $40, shipping included. However, you can build one without spending a penny, and it’s a fun project. (Plus, you can look at it as a right of passage, sort of how a Jedi has to build their own lightsaber.) So, if you’re so inclined, follow along as we build a handy tool for your photography toolkit that can create photos like this:

IMG_9447

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Amass the supplies

This is everything you need to put this thing together:

  • Scissors
  • Ruler – Using a hard ruler like the wood one pictured makes it easier to cut the straws
  • Gaff tape (I suppose if you don’t own gaff tape, you could use duct tape or something similar, as long as it’s dark
  • Adhesive (not pictured) – I used super glue, but just about any glue that’s safe on plastic is probably going to work
  • Light weight, non-corrugated cardboard or cardstock. Very conveniently, the back of a notebook works beautifully. Who said you’d never use all those notes from college?!
  • Pen (not pictured)
  • Black drinking straws – You probably want a dozen or so for a standard flash grid. They really should be black if it’s at all possible. The reason is that white or clear straws would allow light to pass through, killing some of the grid’s effect, and colored straws would unfavorably tint the light. I had a heck of a time finding black straws until I realized that a local fast food place has them. So I made a trip, bought something, and took a handful of straws while I filled my drink. Usually if you ask the store manager to take a dozen straws for a photography project, they won’t care, though you may get some weird looks. FYI – Black straws can often be found at Panera Bread, Fazoli’s, and a couple other fine fast food establishments.
  • Have your flash unit handy for measurements and fitting

If you’re asking where the black foam comes in, that just happened to by lying on my table for the snoot I also built. It was $0.50 at the craft store, if you want to build one. I’m not sure what the Sharpie was for.

Step 2: Build a straw-cutting jig

I have to pause for bad news. If you think this is a totally new idea that’s never been done, it’s not. In fact Google has about 3 million links that seem to be related. But there is one thing that I offer that can’t be found on any of these links (okay, the first couple dozen): a jig.

A jig is simply a device used to make mass-producing something easier. (It’s also a great little dance, but I’m not going to go there.) The thing that bugs me with a lot of DIY grids is that the straws used to create them are incredibly non-uniform. This not only doesn’t jive with my OCD, it also affects the quality of the light coming out of your grid. For the best, smoothest light, the flash from your speedlite must enter and exit the grid uniformly. A straw that’s too long will give the light passing through it a different angle of escape from the rest of the batch. Enough of these aberrations can lead to light that’s splotchy and uneven. A jig like the one pictured above solves all this.

To build the jig, first cut the edge off the notebook cover. Then, taking a couple inches of the edge material, make a little triangle wedge at about the one inch mark, taping down the bottom at the one inch mark, folding it up, and then back, and taping the top flap down over the lower piece. When you factor in the blade of the scissors, this will result in just about a 3cm straw, which will give you a pretty good light field for an average drinking straw diameter. (Geeks in the crowd: If you want to really hone in on exact straw lengths based on the angle you’d like the light to exit the grid, use this formula: Required length = Inside diameter of straw / TAN(desired angle / 2). Everyone else: just put the jig at the one inch mark.)

Step 3: Make the grid enclosure

This enclosure serves two purposes: giving you a platform to build the grid within, and anchoring it to the flash. Measure out the flash unit, and use the ruler to measure out a 5 panel section. The left, center, and right panels are equal in width to the flash height. The second and fourth are equal in width to the flash head width. It’s important to leave that 5th panel on, not only for extra stability, but also because depending on straw geometry, you might need to slightly adapt the enclosure size later on. (Protip: you can measure the straws and with a little math, figure out exact dimensions. But that is a lot of work.) Assuming you’re making the 3cm length straws from step two, an overall depth of about 2 and a half inches (about 6 and a half centimeters) is a good fit. Geeks in the crowd are on their own.

When you get the enclosure finished, use a little gaff tape to temporarily hold it together and make sure it fits snugly, like so:

Okay, that’s done. What could be next?

Step 4: Cut out about a bajillion straws

Right, that.

Take about 8 or 9 of your straws, and using the jig from step 2, start cutting them. I was able to get two straws side by side on the jig, which will halve the time of doing one straw at a time. It’s amazing how math works like that!

Step 5: Install the grid into the enclosure

Starting on the bottom of the enclosure, I glued a piece of gaff tape to the cardboard. While I could have glued the straws directly to the enclosure, doing it like this has a very strategic advantage: you can re-position the straws. With the tape firmly mounted, I laid out my first row, which looked like this:

From there, it was a process of adding row after row, until the entire height of the enclosure was filled. You could probably get away without doing this, but my OCD got the better of me, and I cut a bunch of straw sections in half to fill in the side gaps. It worked wonders for holding the structure firm as I added layers.

 

Step 6: Close up the enclosure

IMG_9311

If everything goes according to plan, at the end of the project you should have something that looks like the pictures in this step. To seal the enclosure, I first applied glue to the tops and sides of the grid, and then I closed it up and applied glue to the side panel where that fifth flap overlaps. At this point, the thing is solid.

IMG_9312

 

As I mentioned before, thanks to that jig, the straws are all very close to the same length. This will give you a great, uniform glow. It will also keep me from twitching when I look at it. When you’re done, you can wrap it in gaff tape to give it that sleek dark finish, and this is what you’ll be left with:

The end results

In the end, the grid should give you a very distinct spot of light with a nice gradient fade at the edges. Here’s a quick shot I took of the wall in my office to give you an idea:

IMG_9320

Now that you can control your flash, you’ll have more control over your light output. Having used professional grids, I can attest that the quality, while not an exact match, is so similar that you won’t need to spend the $40. For something that didn’t cost a dime, it gets some nice shots:

IMG_9340

IMG_9447

Happy shooting!

 

 

Posted in DIY Projects, photography | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off