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Product Review: Lacrosse Technology ‘Atomic Clock’ (WS-8418U-IT)

The short version: Don’t bother. This product is manufactured by a company that does not stand behind its products.

While visiting my brother-in-law a few years ago I noticed a large digital clock on the wall of his family room. On closer inspection I discovered it was even cooler than it first appeared. It had a built-in radio that received signals from WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Radio geeks like myself will likely already know about WWV, but for those that do not, it is a radio station run by a federal agency known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST.

NIST operates a radio station with the call letters WWV that transmits powerful signals on the shortwave bands that include extremely accurate time information. They use atomic clocks to send out these precise time signals that anyone can tune into to find out exactly what time it is.

I can recall running into these signals as a young boy when I first started tuning around on the shortwave bands using a portable radio that belonged to my father. They have been broadcasting those signals for a long time. I tuned in to WWV many times through the years while setting a clock if I was feeling particularly fussy about making my setting accurate.

The clock my brother-in-law had was able to monitor those signals pretty continuously and that enabled the clock to adjust itself and pretty much always be displaying the time about as accurately as possible for a typical consumer that did not have access to an actual atomic clock.

When I saw my brother-in-law’s clock I knew I had to have one.My wife knew how impressed I was with it so she decided to get me one for Christmas and in November, 2016 she ordered what was advertised as an “Atomic Digital Wall Clock” on Amazon.com. The term atomic clock is not entirely accurate but it sounds cool, right? Since this clock is capable of receiving time signals from a source that actually does use atomic clocks, I suppose they think that is close enough to use that term when describing their product.

The one my wife purchased for me was from La Crosse Technology, a company that makes a wide range of clocks, weather stations and other products. I actually don’t know if my brother-in-law’s clock is made by the same company but the one my wife got for me looked pretty good. The one I have is called the “WS-8418U-IT Atomic Digital Wall Clock with Moon Phase by by La Crosse Technology.”

WS-8418U-IT-Atomic-Clock

Another nice feature of the clock I purchased is that it also displays both the inside and outside temperature but mine only displays dashes now where the outdoor temperature should be.

In order to display the outside temperature the clock relies on a small sensor unit that must be placed in an outdoor location and provided with cover that is sufficient to keep it from getting wet.

I found the perfect place for the sensor on my covered back deck and mounted it there. It started working right away and up until about a month ago, it displayed the outdoor temperature faithfully.

The clock seemed to work fine. I could tell from the on-screen icon that it was able to receive the WWV signal much of the time so I was confident that the time that was displayed was quite accurate. I was a happy camper.

I noticed one day about a month ago that the outdoor temperature was no longer being displayed. Naturally I assumed that the two AA batteries that power the sensor had drained. They had been in the unit for a long time and I was impressed with their longevity but I knew they would not last forever.

I purchased a fresh set of brand-new batteries and installed them before returning the sensor to its mounting bracket on my back deck. I was a bit surprised when the outdoor temperature still wasn’t displayed. I waited a few hours, knowing that sometimes these things can take a while to synchronize so I gave it plenty of time.

After a day or so of still not seeing the outdoor temperature displayed, I went out and retrieved the sensor to make sure I installed the batteries properly. I had indeed.

I messed around with it a bit trying to get it to work but the only real option I seemed to have was to remove the batteries from both the clock and the sensor and see if that managed to somehow reset things. It didn’t work and the clock still refused to display the outside temperature reading.

I then decided to consult the La Crosse Technology website to see if I could find any hints that might help me resolve the problem.

I will give credit where credit it due and gladly admit that their website has a lot of very useful information, including instructional videos for installing and setting the clock as well as an extensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document that included some good troubleshooting tips.

That is one thing they are doing right.

About the only thing I seemed able to find to attempt to correct my problem was a “Clock Factory Restart” procedure. That involved removing the batteries from both the clock and the sensor, pressing some buttons a bunch of times on the clock to “clear it” or something and then waiting at least 15 minutes before inserting the batteries in the clock and sensor.

I decided to give it plenty of time so I waited about an hour before I reinserted the batteries. I was disappointed to find out that my problem was still not resolved.

At this point I was convinced that the sensor had stopped working entirely and it had not stopped displaying the outdoor temperature because the batteries were drained.

Since I knew the sensor transmitted its signal on 915 MHz, I tested with a receiver to see if the sensor seemed to be transmitting anything. As far as I could tell, it was not.

I decided to contact the company’s “support” department through their website and explain the problem. I hoped they would be able to provide me with some useful suggestion that would get things working again.

A day later I heard back from La Crosse Technology “support” with their conclusion. In addition to suggesting something I had already tried numerous times, they did say they were “sorry” I was having difficulty with their product. Gee, thanks.

Other than that, they told me that it appeared that I might need to replace the sensor and gave me the link to their online store along with a coupon code. I had already visited their store and discovered that the sensor was priced at $14.95, which did not please me too much but I had hoped the coupon code might enable some kind of discount when I entered it into their store website during purchase.

I accessed their store website and went through the required steps to purchase a new sensor but discovered that they were “out of stock.” To test my coupon theory, I selected another sensor that was listed as compatible with my clock and followed the steps to purchase one. When I entered my coupon code I found that it did not provide any discount or anything else useful as far as I could tell. I did not follow through with the purchase.

I replied to La Crosse Technology’s email to let them know how disappointed I was with their product and their “support” but have not heard anything back from them, which does not surprise me.

I have no plans to ever purchase anything manufactured by La Cross Technology ever again and these are the reasons:

When I (or my wife) pay $40 to purchase a product, I do not expect to pay almost half of what was originally paid for it less than three years later just to get it to function the way it is supposed to.

Since it would cost me $14.95 plus $2.00 shipping (of course!) to replace the sensor that would total about $17.00 – just $3.00 shy of half the price my wife paid for it.

Even if I did purchase a new sensor, could I do so with the confidence that the replacement sensor would also not stop working before three years has passed? I don’t think so and here’s why.

I decided to check Amazon.com and look at the reviews for this product. While looking for the clock I purchased on Amazon in 2016, I instead discovered that they sell the exact same sensor I would need to replace the one I have. Unfortunately, it too is listed for about $15.00.

What was interesting, however, was the reviews that were posted for this sensor. It was abundantly clear that I was not the only one to have one fail in an unreasonably short amount of time. In fact, there were reports of failure that happened well before the nearly three years that passed before mine did.

A few quotes from different Amazon reviews for the sensor:

“Transmitter units died quickly. Unit 2 died in 3 days and Unit 3 died 2 days later.”

“Newest sensor lasted 4 days!!! Yep, 4 days.”

“My first unit lasted 8 months.”

“…these ‘outside’ monitors, all go bad in weeks.”

“…the first thermometer quit after a couple years.”

“Cannot keep unit transmitting for more than a day with new batteries. Now it has stopped working all together even with new batteries. Very unreliable.”

“HOWEVER, the outside temp sensor only lasts a short time.”

“The temp sensor I had that came with the station stopped working after 7 months.”

You get the idea. If these reviews are accurate – and I have every reason to believe they are – it seems clear that these sensors are an inferior product that does not last.

It’s advertised as an “outdoor sensor” so it certainly cannot be said that these sensors are dying because they are exposed to extremes in temperature. They should be designed to withstand that.

Like so many other things these days, both the clock and the sensor proudly display that they were “Made In China” on their identification labels.

And like so many other companies these days, it appears “La Crosse Technology” (I wonder how you say than in Mandarin) is a company that contracts with manufacturers in China that are interested only in manufacturing cheap products as quickly as possible for maximum profit and with minimal attention to quality.

On the other hand, I have at least one product that has been superbly reliable and long-lasting that was also manufactured in China. That goes to show that it can be done right when a U.S. company devotes the right amount of time and effort to see that a product is manufactured in a responsible way.

I have computers in my house that were probably manufactured in China as well and are older than 10 years old that are still functioning and have been used every day.

Surely a PC contains many more parts than a clock and a sensor and is a bit more complex. How can a PC (which generates a lot more heat, making it even more vulnerable to failure) last so long and a small sensor with a very limited number of parts fails in less than three years? And in some cases a lot sooner if the Amazon reviews can be believed.

I guess I will just chalk this up as another consumer lesson learned. If I ever desire to purchase another clock or weather station, I will look high and low to find one without a label that reads “La Crosse Technology.”

I should not be expected to spend an additional $17 (or perhaps $34 or $51 or more depending on how many sensors fail) to keep a product working properly.

By the way, I have a Davis weather station that has been in service every day for at least 15 years and it has not given me any trouble whatsoever. I will have to find out if they make an “Atomic Clock.”

Social Security Number Suspension

I have heard of this ridiculous scam before but this is the first time I have had any experience with it. This is the transcript of the voicemail message I received today:

This call is to inform you about a suspension notice we have received against your social security number by the federal crime and investigation department. We need to talk to you as soon as possible. Again, this call is from Social Security Administration number to reach the department is 986-200-0682. I repeat, it’s 986-200-0682. Thank you.

The voice of the caller was one of those computer-generated voices, which tells me that the people behind this are probably not too confident about their ability to speak English and are probably not located in the United States. Even so, the way they worded the message leaves much to be desired and I would still suspect it was concocted by someone who is not a native speaker of English.

While many of us would recognize the ridiculousness of a scam like this right away and perhaps even laugh at the idiots that engineered it, it is important to know that there are vulnerable people who could be duped by this. Many elderly people may be at risk of falling for something like this because they could be suffering from some cognitive decline such as dementia.

For those of us still blessed with the ability to think clearly, this is obviously a scam for at least two reasons:

A “suspension” of a Social Security number is something I have never in my life heard of and probably does not exist.

The “federal crime and investigation department” does not exist.

Although this isn’t a complete show stopper, I doubt vey much that any telephone number having anything to do with the Federal Government would not have an Idaho area code.

It’s amazing to me that there are human beings on this planet willing to cause harm to others this way for their own benefit. Sometimes, even though I surely doubt  it, I hope that there is final justice in some form of afterlife for scum like this.

Boeing 737 Max: The Truth Comes Out

I wish I could say this news surprises me. It doesn’t. Not even a little. Today you see, perhaps more than at any other time in history, the only thing that really matters is the bottom line. In other words: Money.

The level of greed I see displayed regularly in our world astounds me. It really does. Sure, we all love money and there are probably not too many of us that would deny that we would love to be millionaires.

But, how many of us would be willing to harm or even kill others to become rich? Perhaps more realistically, how many of us would be willing to endanger the health or even the lives of others to enrich ourselves? I’m pretty comfortable saying that it is something I would never do.

There are so many instances of powerful corporations putting the public’s health and well-being in jeopardy that I hardly no where to begin. Since this headline jumped out at me today, I decided to start with Boeing.

Like their corporate brethren, Boeing appears to have put its own financial interest above the safety of the millions of people who fly on the aircraft they design and manufacture.

This article reveals that Boeing has hired low-wage software developers from countries like India to design the software that controls the aircraft they produce. When you are writing software that controls multi-ton machines that fly through the air miles above the ground at hundreds of miles per hour with people inside, you would think there would be a considerable effort invested in making sure that software was bug-free and as solid as any piece of code could ever be. It sure doesn’t look like that was the case with the software that controls the now-infamous Boeing 737 Max.

Why would Boeing ever let such a thing happen? Lives are literally at stake, but as I indicated above, that priority pales in comparison to profits at many big corporations and I have no reason to believe that Boeing isn’t one of them.

As the article I linked to above points out, Boeing hired a software development company from India to work with their own engineers. American software engineers are quite expensive compared to those from India. Just as Disney did a few years ago when they fired some of their dedicated IT employees a few years ago, it appears Boeing is also trying to increase their profits by paying less for foreign workers that are obviously less capable. The Disney story is one I have known about since the beginning and the reason I would never again spend a dime on any of their products or services.

Naturally, both Boeing and the Indian software company they they hired deny that the recent 737 Max failures had anything to do with work done by the Indian software developers. I am reminded of a famous denial from the 1990s that went something like this: “I never had sex with that woman. Miss Lewinski.”

When you’re hurdling through the air at 500 miles per hour 6 miles above the earth you’d like to think that the contraption you are flying in has been designed and tested by the most capable people humanity has to offer. In the case of the Boeing 737 Max, it appears that may not have been the case. God knows if the same thing is true for Boeing’s other aircraft, hundreds or thousands of which are in the air right at this moment. Possibly right over your head.

If Boeing’s reliance on a foreign software development company did result in the errors that brought down two of their 737 Max jets packed with people, it would be interesting to ask company executives if the lives of 346 people is an acceptable price to pay in order to save some money by hiring low-wage programmers in order to increase profits.

There is little that disgusts me more these days than the increasing level of corporate misbehavior that can result in real harm to real people. The only thing I can think of that might disgust me more is the behavior or violent criminals, brutal regimes like North Korea and of course, the endless self-serving behavior of politicians.

Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage and Their Obnoxious Sales Tactics

Unless you like pushy salespeople showing up at your door unannounced, you probably do not want to send anything in to this outfit requesting more information in response to the junk mail you receive from them. A week or so ago my wife received something in the mail from Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage and thought their services sounded interesting so she returned the request for information they included and hoped to receive more information in the mail. I dropped the prepaid return envelope in the mail for her during my morning walk not too long ago.

Yesterday as I sat working in my home office I saw a strange car pulling into our driveway. We get people who turn around at the end of our driveway a lot so I figured it was someone else who was lost or became confused as they navigated the rural roads in our area. Nope, this car came all the way down the driveway and parked. I observed as a guy exited from the car and took a few seconds to grab a binder from the car as he prepared to approach the house. I could see he had some kind of insignia or logo on his shirt, so I thought he might be an appraiser from the county or some other type of municipal employee. He was driving a very new-looking and expensive car, so that kind of cast a bit of doubt on that theory.

I proceeded outside to meet him and see what he was there for. As he approached me he started with a bit of phony small talk as if he was someone I knew from high school or something. He introduced himself and said he was from some company that had to do with funeral planning or something. He then mentioned my wife’s name and asked if this is where she lives. I said that it was and he then informed me that she had sent something in the mail requesting information about their services. I remembered that I had mailed that envelope for her recently and knew she would not have sent anything in if she knew it involved someone showing up on our doorstep. That’s not the kind of thing my wife does. Ever.

I expressed that I was a bit surprised that someone would show up unannounced in response to something sent back in the mail for “more information” and he said that we should have received something in the mail about the visit. “It might have even come today,” he said, or something to the effect.

He handed me a piece of paper that had her name on it that was obviously produced by their system and given to him along with the names of all the other people he would annoy that day. He then said he would like to talk to her and asked if I could go get her. I told him that was not likely and that she is not interested in talking to anyone as a result of simply sending in a request for more information. I handed his paper back to him.

“Well, she did send in this request for more information,” he said, hoping that I would change my mind, and I told him once again that I was not going to get her.

I could tell he was considering the idea of pushing things a bit harder but apparently could tell by the look on my face that I was rapidly losing patience with him and he thought better of it.

At that point he more-or-less apologized and thanked me for my time and wanted to leave his business card, which I accepted. He wished me a good day and headed back to his car. I came back into the house and promptly tossed his card into the trash.

This morning on my morning walk I checked the mailbox as I usually do and guess what I found? Yes, a letter from Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage which must have been the letter that the salesman was referring to yesterday. As you can see, it does not state that someone will be visiting my home but it does say their sales pitch is delivered “most effectively through a personal visit with a local representative” and that someone will “contact you to provide information and answer all your questions.” Apparently, the “contact” will be in the form of a surprise visit to your home. How delightful!

The letter goes on to hint that you’ll be spending a “few minutes” with a representative but again does not come right out and say that someone will be showing up at your door. Who doesn’t enjoy surprise visits from salespeople? Someone needs to tell these people that it’s not 1956 any more.

Here’s a little hint for you, Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage: When someone returns an item in the mail with the intent of receiving more information about the services you offer, they are expecting to receive more information by mail and are not expecting some guy to show up at their door wanting to come in and deliver a sales pitch in person. That kind of thing has a tendency to piss people off and it really is downright obnoxious and rude.

Apparently, this tactic works for them or they would not be doing it. There must be a sufficient number of people out there who are naïve enough or simply too nice to turn people away when they show up at their door. Obviously, that does not apply here and I hope they are not foolish enough to show up at my door again because the next time I may not be so “nice.”

Protecting Your Credit Score

While it’s difficult for me to write anything relating to credit scores without spending the majority of my time ranting and raving about the self-proclaimed guardians of all things credit (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), it’s a sad fact of life that the average consumer must kowtow to these big companies if they want to be able to do things like finance a car or rent a place to live.

Unless you are wealthy, or simply don’t care about having to qualify for a loan or being approved to rent a place to live, keeping your credit score in or above a “Good” rating is pretty important. Although we keep hearing from politicians that the financial troubles that started in 2008 are behind us now, a lot of people are still struggling and are hard-pressed to find any evidence of a real “recovery.”money

Difficulty with finances can lead to a whole host of problems, including a reduction in your credit score. That may not seem like something that’s worth worrying too much about when you are struggling to scrape up enough money to put food on the table or a roof over your head, but maintaining a good credit score is something that is well worth the effort if it all possible.

Here are a few things you can do to prevent your credit score from dipping into negative territory.

1. Don’t Pay Late

Make no mistake, banks, credit card companies and other financial services companies take notice when you make a late payment. They notice this and they have a very long memory. Making payments late – or not making them at all – can have a very serious impact on your credit score.
Yes, it’s quite understandable that someone would opt to make a loan payment late or even skip it entirely when it’s becoming difficult to pay for things like food, heat and rent, but oftentimes it is worth it to get creative when it comes with coming up with cash to make loan payments. Perhaps there are some things you own that you can sell. It’s easier than ever to sell things for some quick cash, thanks to online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist.
Missing just one payment will often lead to missing many more, so it’s worth it to pull out all the stops and come up with a way to make your payments on time.

2. Don’t Max Out

At one time or another we have probably all joked about maxing out our credit cards for one reason or another. While it may sound like an attractive idea under some circumstances, in real life, running your credit card balance up to its limit is never a good idea.
It’s often very tempting to whip out the credit card when we want something that we currently cannot afford. That’s often the start of a trip down the road to financial trouble. As a general rule, it’s never a good idea to buy something when you cannot afford it. Saving up the money for something you want does not sound like an attractive prospect and can take a long time, but you’ll benefit in the long run by not going further into debt.
Saving up for something also allows you to continue to have access to your money in case of emergency. Instead of using a credit card to buy that new $600 smartphone, try saving up as much as you can afford each week. If, at some time during the time you are saving, you have an emergency, like your car breaking down, you will be able to use that money you saved to help pay for repairs. Sure, it stinks to wipe out your savings to get your car fixed, but it’s better than not having a way to get to work!

3. Applying Too Often

Yes, many of us are virtually flooded with offers for credit cards and other kinds of loans all the time, but that doesn’t mean you need to apply for every one that comes in the mail.
Every time you apply for credit, something called a “hard inquiry” bumps up against your credit history and can negatively impact your credit score. Yes, the credit bureaus watch everything very closely and hold it against you even for applying for more credit. Although these hard inquiries don’t have a huge effect on your credit score, all those applications for credit signal that you may be and indication that you are having financial problems and is not something the credit bureaus will look upon favorably.

4. Never Using Credit

This one is a bit counterintuitive for sure, but if you never bother to get a credit card or take out any type of loan, you can damage your credit. What happens is that you basically end up with no credit history at all, and that means you are kind of a “blank page” when and if you do try to get credit, and that will make potential creditors more wary about lending you money.
Even with no credit history it is possible to get started building up a good score. There are many credit card offers for people who have bad credit or simply want to get started building a good credit history. In some cases, it may be necessary to apply for a secured credit card which is one where you have to deposit money before the card is issued, but secured cards are still a good way to build credit.

5. Don’t Give Up

It can take a long time and a lot of effort to build up a good credit history, particularly if someone had serious financial problems that caused their credit score to sink into the “Poor” or “Very Poor” category.
It may take up to seven years for negative marks on your credit history to disappear and that can be discouraging, but it pays off in the long run to stick with a good plan to rebuild credit. It’s never too late to turn your credit score around and change a negative score into one that will open doors for you when you apply for a loan or a new place to live.

New Weapons To Fight Telemarketing Calls Coming?

Apparently the honchos at the Federal Communications Commission have been so deluged with complaints from consumers about telemarketing calls that they finally decided to do something about it. I will remain skeptical until I see some good come out of this new development but it looks like it may be a step in the right direction.

Most of us are now painfully aware that the government’s “Do Not Call” list is now virtually useless. For many consumers it has probably always been that way, but I believe it actually did some of some good for a while, and can be credited with reducing the number of telemarketing calls millions of Americans received for a few years.

A big part of what turned the “Do Not Call” list and the accompanying laws against telemarketing into a paper tiger can be blamed on “globalization.” For many of the same reasons that we often get connected to cCall Centerall centers in other countries when we try contacting a big company by phone, a lot of the telemarketing and scam telephone calls we receive now-a-days are coming from countries on the other side of the world. India and Pakistan are said to be big players in this business.

Another nail in the coffin of the “Do Not Call” list was probably the reluctance of the FCC and other regulatory agencies to actually do something when someone violated the law. See my story about how my complaints to federal regulatory agencies about telemarketing calls I received back in 2013 were a complete waste of my time.

Since people making telemarketing calls from foreign countries have no reason to care about our “Do Not Call” list or laws against making unsolicited sales calls, they are free to do whatever they please. They are also a very crafty bunch and will often manipulate caller ID data so they can make a call appear to be coming from wherever they want. If they want a call to show up on your caller ID as coming from “Mom,” they can do it.

Most of us do not like receiving telemarketing calls, whether they come from our hometown newspaper or from a bunch of crooks half-way around the world. As a result, the FCC has been deluged with complaints from consumers who are fed up with all these annoying calls they are receiving. And finally, the FCC took some action. Not a great deal of action, mind you, but they did something that may lead to consumers having access to new tools that can block calls.

Block calls? If you’re at all familiar with telephone technology, you know that it’s been possible to block calls for many years. The problem was that the FCC’s policies on blocking calls were a bit ambiguous, according to some of the big  telecommunications companies, and that made them a little skittish about offering consumers a way to block calls from certain telephone numbers. The companies claimed they were concerned about getting into legal trouble by allowing consumers to block calls. That’s their story and they seem to be sticking to it.

That is why people like myself have been wondering for years why our telephone companies did not offer us a way to block calls. Yes, some telecommunications companies did offer that ability to their customers but many did not. Now that the FCC has clarified the rules regarding call-blocking, it is believed that it will clear the way for all telecommunications companies to offer call-blocking capability to all of their customers.

The ability to block calls is the consumer’s best weapon against these morons that make their living by pestering people over the phone. It’s a sure bet that telephone companies will be offering call-blocking as another “premium” feature that we will all be expected to pay extra for. For many people this will be a feature that will be well worth paying for.

Fortunately, I don’t get a tremendous number of telemarketing calls these days but I know there are others out there who get these calls every day. And phone calls aren’t the only problem. Millions of people receive junk text messages every day advertising just about anything you can imagine. Spam isn’t just in your e-mail in-box any more, and some beleaguered consumers probably feel like there is no escape from an endless flood of spam and junk telephone calls.

The new call-blocking features many consumers may be able to take advantage of soon will also be able to block telephone numbers of people sending text messages as well, so that will be a big help.

Up until now, the telephone companies have been explaining away their refusal to offer call-blocking by claiming they were afraid of getting into legal trouble. With the FCC rules now clarified, they won’t be able to use that excuse, and hopefully they will step up to the plate and offer customers a comprehensive and affordable set of call-blocking features that will let consumers fight back against the flood of crap that seems to be coming at them from every direction these days.

Never Trust The Cloud. A Cautionary Tale.

The cloud is where it’s at, baby. That’s what big tech companies like Apple and Microsoft would like everyone to believe. Sure, there are advantages to putting your stuff in the cloud, like not losing it if your phone is lost or stolen, or your laptop hard drive crashes.

Now that one of the largest hacking scandals is playing itself in real time on the internet, it may be a good time to consider the downside of putting your stuff on the cloud. What is “the cloud,” anyway?

If you’re interested in what the cloud actually looks like, it’s safe to assume that it probably looks a lot like the accompanying photo. Despite the harmless, fluffy image that one might envision upon hearing aboutdata-center “the cloud,” it’s actually just a bunch of computers housed in some secure datacenter somewhere that have lots of storage space for all your stuff – and a few million other people.

What many people probably don’t consider – and who has time to think about this kind of thing these days? – is that when you place your stuff in the cloud, you are literally turning your stuff over to someone else to hold onto. You are trusting them to keep your stuff safe and secure. And, away from the prying eyes of hackers and other curious people.

Think of it as giving your diary to a friend to keep while you are away, and asking them to promise you that they will never open it. Or, in light of the current scandal where nude and semi-nude snaps of many A-List celebs were snatched from Apples iCloud – having them promise they they won’t lose it either.

Think about it. How many people would honor your request to keep their prying eyes away from the pages of your diary? There’s no question that the friend who agrees to hold onto the diary is going to be extraordinarily tempted to take a peek. Or two.

As for ever losing the diary, who could ever make a promise like that? Sometimes things happen. Burglaries, house fires, and the like. Granted, those are unlikely. Apple probably thought that iCloud was unlikely to be hacked, too.

While most people probably don’t give too much thought to the potential consequences of storing their personal data in the cloud, those of us with geekier pasts might be more hesitant.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s I worked for a very large computer manufacturer. I was a system administrator, which means I had the “keys” to all the computer systems I was assigned to manage. We didn’t have anything called a cloud back in those days, but not much has changed as far as data storage and security is concerned – at least not in a way that matters to the end user. In other words, people just used the systems I was in charge of and didn’t often worry about the privacy or security of their data.

There were a number of users on each system and they all went about their business of writing programs or managing their bosses calendar using the shared resources of the system. They all had their own space to store their data but were not able to access any data belonging to other users.

For myself, things were a bit different. I was able to access everyone’s data. There was no way to hide from the system administrator. Accessing other people’s data was done pretty rarely, and there were times where it was actually part if the job. At other times, not so much.

I was not a serial snooper by any means, but there were times when something that was going on at work resulted in temptation I was not able to resist. I should point out that these were all company-owned systems, and employees were given access to them only for work-related activities. The users did not have any valid ownership claim to the data they stored on those system. The company owned them and all the data that was stored on them as well. Period.

That, however, did not stop people from using the internal e-mail system to discuss all kinds of personal matters. Although I could have spent many hours sifting through countless e-mail exchanges, I can probably count the number of times I did so on my fingers. All ten of them. Still, I held back almost always because it just didn’t feel right.

The times I did wander to the dark side and sift through someone’s e-mail was done to gather information about something going on in the office that affected me. I remember one particular instance when a fellow I especially disliked reported me to my boss for not handling his request for technical support the way he wanted. He made it clear to me he was not happy, and I didn’t respond the way he expected, so I thought he might report me. I accessed my bosses e-mail and found a message from the guy informing my boss that I was “out of line.”

My boss never even mentioned it. Probably because the guy who complained about me was disliked by almost everyone in the office. My boss was also a man who disliked confrontation, and that probably helped. To this day I still chuckle when I think about that guy who thought he would get results by sending e-mail to my boss who never even brought it up.

On another occasion, it was office politics that drove me to access data that was part of an application that was used by managers at review time. Contained therein was aboard-meetingll of the information on pay raises and the salary history of every person in the office. Was that ever an eye-opener! It changed the way I looked at “working for the man” forever, and is a big part of the reason I no longer do.

As I mentioned earlier, on a fundamental level, the way data is stored and secured has not changed much since the 1990’s. It’s still a challenge to lock things down and keep everyone’s data secure. And that’s just keeping it secure from other users on the same system (or cloud) or from the relentless hackers who may try to gain unauthorized access to the system. The system administrators are an entirely different story. They need unrestricted access to everything on the system in order to do their job.

I don’t know if system administrators are subject to more oversight or have all their activities logged nowadays. Even so, a clever system administrator probably knows how to work around that stuff.

Think about it for a minute. All of these cloud systems absolutely require someone to manage them. Do you think a system administrator that has access to a cloud server where some of the most famous people in the world store their stuff isn’t tempted to have a peek?

Hackers are a risk just about everyone is aware of, but many people probably don’t consider the possibility of the other people you are handing your stuff over to and expecting it to stay private. My experience tells me that nothing like that is private, and I won’t even get into the whole NSA thing.

Big corporations offering cloud storage services use words like “safe” and “secure” to promote their products. Your data may be safe from the prying eyes of just about everyone on the planet, but don’t forget that there are a small number of people who will always have access to all of it. Do you really trust them with some of the most personal and intimate details of your life?

I realize many of you will say “yes.” That’s fine. All I want to do is make people aware of the risk. Having spent time on the other side, I know how easy it is to sift through someone else’s personal information. Would you be the friend that would keep your promise to leave your friend’s diary closed?

Why We Hate GMOs

It does not appear that that battle over the safety of Genetically-modified foods (GMOs) will end anytime soon. Food industry heavyweights are actually suing the state of Vermont trying to get their new GMO labeling law scuttled before it is even set to be enacted on 2016.

There’s a good reason the interests that profit from GMO foods are fighting the new law so hard. They think it will scare consumers away from buying their food. That’s probably a valid concern, but our right to know what we are eating trumps the food industry’s right to make billions selling us stuff that may not be safe to eat.

The food industry’s response is predictable, as is the response of those self-appointed internet science “experts” who write articles proclaiming that there is no evidence that GMOs present a danger while painting anyone who questions the safety of GMOs as an alarmist, lunatic or shill.

I’d like to take a look at GMO foods from a different angle, and leave the whole safety issue aside for a while. Let’s imagine that GMOs are completely safe and that they don’t present any danger whatsoever. This is the stance that all the GMO companies have taken, so let’s indulge them, shall we?

So why is it that the food industry fights tooth and nail against food labeling laws that would force them to disclose that there are GMO ingredients in the products that line supermarket shelves?

Money. As is always the case, it always comes down to money. And lots of it. The more time I spend on this planet, the more I begin to believe that money really is the root of all evil.

By now, just about everyone who is not living in a cave has heard about GMO foods. So far, that does not seem to have deterred the average consumer when it come to loading their shopping carts with processed foods that are made with GMO ingredients. So far so good for the food industry.

What scares them is the idea that food packaging that actually lists GMO food ingredients and discloses that they are GMO will scare consumers, and might make more of them reject GMO foods.

Big companies like Monsanto and Bayer have a lot invested in GMO foods, and to big corporations like that, money is their God. A lot of people might not realize that these companies are patenting the GMO seeds they sell to farmers. With these patents, special rules apply, such as forbidding the farmers to reuse seeds from the GMO crops they grow – presuming that seed-saving is even possible with GMO seeds.

Yes, it’s not good (or profitable enough) to simply sell a farmer the seeds he needs to grow his crop and leave it at that. The GMO seed companies use Orwellian tactics to exercise complete control over how it is used, meaning, of course, that the farmer has to buy all of his seeds from the GMO seed company each and every year if he wants to use their super-duper, whiz-bang, gee-whiz, high-tech seeds.

Let’s take a closer look at how Monsanto’s greed drove them to create a new strain of corn that gives them a lock on both what a farmer grows and how he grows it. The company’s “Round-Up Ready” corn has been modified to make it immune to the popular herbicide Round-Up. That allows farmers to apply the herbicide to their crops rather indiscriminately to kill off weeds without killing the corn.

You have to admit, that’s a pretty nifty trick. Want to know what makes it even niftier? Round-Up is Monsanto’s product. How cool is that for them? Not only do they make money off the seeds they sell, they also make a bundle on the back end since farmers pretty much have to use Round-Up to treat their “Round-Up” ready crops. Genius!

How about the claims that GMO food will increase food production so dramatically that they will one day help to stop hunger in the world? Well, why don’t you GMO proponents get back to me in about 50 years and we’ll see if those “Feed The Children” ads are still running on TV, or on your holographic projection system or whatever people are watching if the human race does not somehow manage to exterminate itself by then.

Big greedy, soulless corporations will always try to put the best face on their efforts to pump up their insanely vast fortunes to levels that even they probably find hard to believe. The consequences are usually irrelevant as long as it has no measurable effect on the bottom line.

Even when we ignore the issue of GMO safety, it’s still quite easy to see that the corporations that create GMO food ingredients have no interest in ending hunger or creating better or more healthy food for the masses. Their interests begin and end with profit, and I couldn’t mean that any more literally.

Take a look at something like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It has been quietly added to a vast number of foods as a replacement for sugar or as an additional sweetener for years. Now even mainstream science is admitting that HFCS presents a very real health risk and increases the risk of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

Does anyone believe that these massive corporations with billions and billions of dollars to spend on research didn’t know that HFCS was potentially harmful over the last three decades or so it has been used so heavily? If so, I hear there’s some prime oceanfront property in Arizona that might interest you.

My point here is that these big companies know exactly what they are doing, and whether or not GMO food is a danger. They simply don’t care. What they care about is how much they can profit from it. And if you haven’t figured that out by now, there really isn’t a whole lot anyone can do to make you see the light.

I Don’t Want Your Stinking App!

I may have been a bit behind-the-times since I started using a phone to browse the internet just two years ago. I still prefer my PC when it comes to doing just about anything, but I can’t deny the usefulness of being able to access the net just about anywhere I can get cell service.

About a year ago I decided to get a tablet which is also very cool, and I really love being able to download books and read them on my tablet.MT241216

There is at least one thing about using the internet on a mobile device that I find extremely irritating. A number of websites (particularly news websites) are constantly wanting me to download their app. Sometimes, a site will prompt me with their annoying “Download Our App!” pop-up every time I visit the site during a single browsing session.

Now I realize that many of them may be setting cookies so they can avoid throwing the same stupid pop-up in visitor’s faces every time they visit the site, but perhaps I have the security settings on my browser configured to block or delete pop-ups. And why wouldn’t I? With all this NSA spying and tracking for commercial purposes that goes on, maybe some of us just don’t like browsing while feeling like we have someone looking over our shoulder.

Here’s a clue, and one particularly apropos for news sites like local newspapers or TV and radio stations. Why in hell would I want to download your app when I live 2,000 miles away from your location and may visit your site only a couple of times per year?

Do they not realize that large numbers of visitors may be visiting their site when a story of theirs is featured on a big news site like DrudgeReport.com? Trust me, as someone living in the southeast, I am not the least bit interested in contributing to the bloat of the apps already resident on my phone or tablet by installing a news app from a newspaper site based in Fresno, California!

As most surfers probably already know, there are ways for website operators to determine where you are coming from when you visit their site. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, most sites can at least determine what country and state, province, prefecture or canton you are coming from.

Why not just throw the annoying pop-up for your nifty app up for people who actually live in your general area? As the owner of a few websites myself, I know this is very possible, and not that difficult – even for someone like me who is not a programmer.

So, give us a break will you please? Closing those pop-ups is a royal pain in the ass, especially on a mobile device where you have to hit that tiny “X” just right with your finger to close it.

Do you really think every visitor to your site wants to download your app? For people that are local to your area, perhaps so, but I highly doubt that visitors from other areas of the country or the world have even a slight desire to download it. Get real, please.

What Happened To The ‘Do Not Call’ List?

I recall back around 2005 when I was working for a company that was involved in sales. There was no telemarketing involved but we did have to call a potential client once in a while when they called the office after hours and left a message.

It was drilled into our heads that we had to honor the sacred “Do Not Call” list as if it were handed down by God himself. We were told again and again to never call a number that was listed on the “Do Not Call” list without proof that the person being called had given us permission to call them or that we were otherwise already involved with them as a client.

We were told that the company could face a fine of up to $11,000 if one of us called someone on the “Do Not Call” list and they decided to file a complaint against us. We were led to believe it was a big deal and were constantly reminded. Keep in mind that the business I was employed by wasn’t even using telephone calls for marketing and sales!

Well, here we are some eight years later and it appears that the “Do Not Call” list is a complete joke. Not that I’m surprised that something the federal government created would wind up failing! At this point, I’d call the “Do Not Call” list an epic fail.telephone-handset

It actually seemed like it worked for a while. I always made certain that all of our phone numbers were on that list and I must admit, for quite a few years we got very few telemarketing calls. At the time I attributed that to the success of the “Do Not Call” list but now I am starting to wonder.

We moved not that long ago and left our old telephone number behind. Since then I am beginning to think there was something about our old number that was responsible for the lack of telemarketing calls. Maybe the population in that area just wasn’t that responsive to telemarketing and the telemarketing companies didn’t bother much with it. I’m just taking stabs in the dark here and have no idea why we received so few telemarketing calls in all the years we lived there. It was a good run while it lasted!

When we moved I made sure that we got our new number submitted to the “Do Not Call” list right away. I know it can take a few months before the number was actually “live” on the list but we’re way past that point now.

As soon as we moved into our new home we started getting telemarketing calls. I figured it would go on until the “Do Not Call” list was updated and then things would get quiet once again. I was mistaken.

We don’t get an extraordinary amount of them – maybe one or two per week – but to me any telemarketing call is one too many. I can’t recall the specifics on each one of these calls (maybe I should start keeping records) but here are some of the numbers that have been showing up lately when telemarketers call:

661-748-0240
971-220-1967
201-606-3436
417-800-2363

That last one – believe it or not! – actually displayed “Lower Interest” on the caller ID when they called. I’ll give them a couple of points for not being completely deceptive but they shouldn’t be bothering people with unwanted phone calls at all.

Some of them are clearly using deceptive tactics and doing things like spoofing their outgoing caller ID data. One of the more common tricks is for it to show up displaying “Wireless Caller.” That’s clearly not the case since these automated robo-dialers are not calling on cell phones.

The latest one I got was just an hour or so ago and it was one of those that displayed “Wireless Caller” on the caller ID. The number shown was 919-741-5631 and it was a recording about some kind of alert system for elderly people. Brings to mind the old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” television commercials for those of us old enough to remember them.

Anyway, I always listen to these recordings when these morons call because sometimes they have instructions on what key to press to be removed from their list. That’s always at the very end of the message, of course.

What’s surprising is that pressing the number to be removed from their list actually seems to work in some cases. I have done it a few times and never heard from that particular caller again unless they are selling something different the next time and using a different caller ID number. This latest call instructed me to press 5 to be removed from their list and I did. We’ll see what happens.

I called the number back to give the idiots a piece of my mind but like so many other cases, all I got was a recording advising me that the number was “no longer in service.” That pretty much proves to me that they’re spoofing caller ID data. Nice folks.

Getting back to the “Do Not Call” list, my confidence in it was shaken a bit a few years ago when I received one of the few bona fide telemarketing calls we got at our previous home. I knew my number was on the list so I gathered as much information as I could about the caller and went to the proper website to report the violation and hoped they would make those idiots pay a hefty fine or something.

Weeks passed before I finally got something in the U.S. Mail. I cannot recall specifically what agency it was (it may have been the FTC) but the letter instructed me that I had to contact the FCC and file my complaint with them.

So, I diligently followed the procedure I was instructed to follow in order to lodge my complaint with the FCC. Weeks passed again. It may have even been months. I wish I had saved the letter I received from the FCC but I was probably so ticked off that I ripped it up and threw it out.

Basically, they told me there was nothing they could do! I jumped through all the hoops and filled out all the proper forms in order to report a blatant violation of the “Do Not Call” list only to have some bureaucrat tell me there was nothing they could do about it. Like I said, I wish I had saved the letter so I could post it here but my memory is very clear about one thing: They said there was nothing they could do.

So, if your phone number(s) are registered on the “Do Not Call” list and you start getting telemarketing calls (or perhaps they never stopped!) don’t be surprised. Just as they are in so many other areas, the federal government is mostly useless. They’re good at taking our money away and spending it foolishly as well as blowing people up on the other side of the world but beyond that, they can’t seem to get anything right. What a surprise!