Rogue Dialers Still On The Rampage

Seems that those rogue dialers are still out there: This from the Manchester Evening News: £8m net swindle

UP TO 300 internet users a day are targeted by a swindle which cost British consumers about £8m in a year, says BT.

The company has received more than 80,000 complaints from computer users whose machines are linked to premium rate or international numbers without their consent.

Up to 2,000 people a day are now signing up for new BT software which guards against the internet dialler scam.

Victims of the con have seen their BT bills soar by an average £100, with some customers being stung for up to £1,000.

Here’s the software site. The blurb says:

Once downloaded, the software automatically launches everytime you start your computer. It monitors internet dial-up connections and alerts you when unauthorised users attempt to dial restricted numbers. When suspicious activity is noticed a display window will warn “You are attempting to dial a premium rate, international or non-approved number. If you do not want to proceed with this call hang up. If in any doubt you should unplug your modem and check your settings before attempting to redial”.

Love Is In The Air, Or At Least A Captive Audience Is

Was reading a piece in the Journal (subscription only) saying Delta Air Lines’ Song division is going to plug the CD by Better Than Ezra (a band that last had a hit 10 years ago) to passengers, a captive audience Delta have just realised they can sell anything to so long as they batter them hard enough:

Better Than Ezra released its last and only big hit (“Good”) in 1995. But the one-hit wonder from the mid-’90s is on the forefront of an odd new experiment in promoting and selling music. The group’s new album is being released by Song Records, a collaborative effort between the airline, Artemis Records and Creative Branding Group Inc., a Los Angeles marketing company.

I can hear all sorts of people groaning about this. How bad do things have to get before you try and flog an over-the-hill rock band to people trapped inside an airplane? But it also made me think more generally about airlines and the whole sound thing. Why are the sounds they use, for example, the more soothing the more danger the passengers are in? The little ‘doong’ sound that means the seat-belt sign is on — “So get back to your seat, buckle up tight, we’re about to throw you around the cabin!” Who came up with that sound? Were they all sitting around their office at Boeing or Airbus and thinking what kind of sound could we have which wouldn’t frighten the bejesus out of the passengers, but which doesn’t sound like the passenger sitting next to them snoring? Was there a guy with a xylophone in the board room playing notes and waiting for the suits to say ‘that one! That’s the one which will calm down skittish fliers and sober up the drunken ones!’ Imagine you’re hearing that sound for the first time. ‘Doong’. It sounds kinda nice. “Ooo! A surprise!” No, it means you’re going to die.

Then there’s the piped muzak. They always put this on when something bad is about to happen, when you’re about to hit turbulence, or lose altitude, or when one of the wings has fallen off. Everyone’s screaming, praying, losing their hair, and you hear ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ played on a xylophone. Malaysian Airlines, I notice, plays Elton John’s Song For Guy during these special moments. Great. Do they know it’s about Elton John’s despatch rider who was killed in a car crash?

Then there’s the safety demonstration. The attendants are always smiling when they do this. The music is always cheesy, as if to say, “in the unlikely event of this airplane not making it, we’re going to inflate these life-rafts and have a picnic. It’ll be like a party. You each get these yellow vests and disco whistles, and we’ll even turn on some party lights. Only they’ll be on the floor, which is where you’ll be spending most of your time. It’ll be fun!”

I think they should be more honest. I think the safety demonstration should scare the hell out of passengers. I think they should start with something like “There’s a nine percent chance this plane will crash, a four percent chance it won’t take off, a two percent chance the pilot is considering suicide, a 0.45 percent chance the plane will just spontaneously combust without us ever really knowing why. We’d like to show you how you can improve your chances of survival by as much as 0.06 percent by wearing a piece of rubber over your head and curling up under your seat. Now if anyone still wants to fly, please remain seated and wait for the peanuts. And here’s another track from Better than Ezra.”

Skype Voicemail. Is Anybody There?

Either I’m even less popular than I thought, or I don’t seem to be getting my Skype voicemail. I know it’s beta, but what do you do when people say they’ve left a message and there’s no record of it?

Podentaries

Great piece (thanks, Bleeding Edge) by Randy Kennedy in today’s NYT about podcasting audio tours: With Irreverence and an iPod, Recreating the Museum Tour :

The creators of this guide, David Gilbert, a professor of communication at Marymount Manhattan College, and a group of his students, describe it on their Web site as a way to “hack the gallery experience” or “remix MoMa,” which they do with a distinctly collegiate blend of irony, pop music and heavy breathing. It is one of the newest adaptations in the world of podcasting – downloading radio shows, music and kitchen-sink audio to an MP3 player.

Specifically, these museum guides are an outgrowth of a recent podcasting trend called “sound seeing,” in which people record narrations of their travels – walking on the beach, wandering through the French Quarter – and upload them onto the Internet for others to enjoy. In that spirit, the creators of the unauthorized guides to the Modern have also invited anyone interested to submit his or her own tour for inclusion on the project’s Web site, mod.blogs.com/art_mobs. (Instructions are on the Web site.)

As Charles of Bleeding Edge points out, this is an outgrowth of the soundseeing movement, where people offer an audio narrative on something they do, or someplace they go.

What I’d like to see are audio commentaries to accompany movies, TV programs, sporting events, done by amateurs with interesting stuff to say. Is anyone doing this yet? A sort of alternative director’s commentary: Easy enough to synchronise with the program in question, it would be like having a knowledgeable friend come along to whisper interesting snippets of trivia in your ear while you watch. If nobody has really started off the movement, I want to call them Podentaries, just so I can get a silly name in there somewhere. Who’s up for it? I call Bladerunner.

The Blogosphere (Tree)mapped

I was intrigued by this effort to count the number of blogs around the world and offer a break down by region, if not country. The results, though very rough, and which include large slabs of the world (like South America), offer up some interesting conclusions, particularly for Asia. Bottom line is that there is a huge chunk of the world blogging outside the English language.

Here, just the hell of it, is a rough treemap I put together of the data provided by The Blog Herald’s Duncan:

Blogs5

The overall total is in the 60 million mark (and of course this figure is open to questioning, as it was by my colleague at WSJ.com, Carl the numbers guy). The pink covers the very broad figure of those U.S-based blog hosters, and includes speculative figures for the UK, Australasia etc. Light blue is Asia — the bits too small to have their labels visible are for South and South East Asia, both roughly host to 1 million bloggers each, and the much smaller, redder boxes cover Russia, Africa and the Middle East. The darker blue box is France.)

Even if the South Korean figure is off, there’s still a striking element to all this, which I think sometimes gets lost in the blogosphere noise: Asians are blogging in their own languages in huge numbers, roughly equal to the ‘Anglophone’ world, and yet there’s very little crossover between these groups, or even among them. Worthy of a closer look, methinks.

Giving Your Email Address Out By Phone

I don’t like working in the office. I’m there now, trying to do a column, and all I get is lots of people yelling on the phone, in their cubicles, in my cubicle. I can’t believe that once I used to write stories in an open-plan newsroom. I suppose it’s a skill worth working on, but when I’ve got a great set-up at home (or even in the hotel, where I’m esconced at the moment), why should I give that up?

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. I overheard one colleague trying to converse with someone on a bad line (she should have used Skype!). In the end she tries to give or get an email address to continue the transaction. But that’s no good over a bad (land) line. The chance of getting the email address right is remote. By now she’s given up.

So why isn’t there a way of doing this? Shouldn’t it be possible to key in a message via a touchtone phone, a la SMS (3 times the ’4’ key for ‘i’, for example)? The phone translates it to letters and displays it on the screen? (Even easier, of course, would be to SMS the address, but we’re assuming both ends are using a landline for this example).

So, anyone want to set that up? All you need is an LCD display on the recipient’s phone, right? Or am I missing something? Why does this bit have to be so, like, 1990s?

The Power Of Wikis, The Power Of Tags

I’m really getting into these client-side wikis. This one is especially cool — TiddlyTagWiki – Micro-content with the power of tags … — and is a great example of using tags on one’s own computer to tag one’s private content:

Welcome to TiddlyTagWiki – an adaptation of Jeremy Ruston’s TiddlyWiki. It’s a simple, self-contained, client-side, personal publishing engine. It’s a single web page containing all the content you create and the logic to link it all together. This makes it fast and portable.

The addition of TiddlyTags allows you greater control over how you group together your chunks of MicroContent.

Definitely worth a play.

Make Your Own Skype Phone

Want to save a few bucks and convert an old wireless phone into a Skype phone? Check out Jarnaker.com:

By having the phone off hook I carefully inserted my little screwdriver here and there until a heard a click in the handset. And when I found that click I injected a signal from my MP3 player – and it worked! Then reverse, by blowing in the handsets microphone I used the regular headphone for my MP3 player to see where I could ‘hear’ the phone. By grounding on wire and using the other as a probe I quickly found the spot next to the first spot.

Not for the faint of screwdriver.

Why Can’t Brits Dial The Right Number?

Exactly a month after my first one, I just got another SkypeIn miscall to my UK number. The guy was very apologetic, but what is it with us Brits that we can’t dial the right number?

It also made me realise there’s no way to mute the call or divert it to voicemail on Skype. Or is there?

The Toolbar That Works

Netcraft is now offering a Firefox version of its excellent anti-phishing Toolbar.

The toolbar runs on any operating system supported by Firefox and displays the hosting location, country, longevity, popularity, and an abstracted risk rating for each site visited.

Additionally, the toolbar blocks access to phishing sites reported by other members of the Netcraft Toolbar community and validated by Netcraft, mobilizing the community into a giant neighborhood watch scheme which empowers the most alert and experienced members to protect the vulnerable against fraud and phishing attacks. Well over 7,000 phishing sites have been detected and blocked by people using the Netcraft Toolbar since the system started at the turn of the year.

These were the only guys to spot some phishing scams I tested recently. So it’s well worth installing if you use Firefox or IE.