Saturday, November 28, 2009

Epic spam fail, or best scam e-mail ever?

I received this in my spam folder recently.

It's one of the more amusing scam e-mails I've read. I guess this is what people in third world countries write instead of really bad Star Trek slashfic. (The formatting, punctuation, etc. is from the original.)

From Sgt Herman Hansley
Camp MXP-512 Third Infantry Division
Abul Uruj, Baghdad, Iraq.

I am Herman R Hansley, a native of Iraq. I am a Military Contractor with the America troop currently serving in the third infantry division Unit in Iraq.

I am currently on duty break. My partner Darren D. Braswell,36, of Riverdale, Ga., died Jan. 7th near TalAfar, Iraq, when the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in which he was a Passenger crashed. Braswell worked For the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, before his death We secretly moved some abandoned cash in a mansion belonging to the former president, Saddam Hussein and the total cash is US$20,200,000.00 Twenty Million two hundred thousand Dollars.

As I write this letter to you, these boxes are in Security Company as I secretly moved it out of Baghdad to safe place.

Sir I seek your consent to help me move this money to your country location.

You do not have to be afraid of anything as no one else knows about this and everything is safe. I would be pleased and grateful to you if you could assist me and my late partner Darren D. Braswel in receiving this boxes for us on your behalf as I will be heading back soon to camp in Iraq to join my colleagues. Of course, I shall compensate you with an attractive percent of the total funds for your role/efforts. We have limited time now as you know that our evacuation agreement is been negotiated by the USA and IRAQI government, kindly get back to me immediately.

Moving the funds out of the security company is not going to be much of a problem as arrangements are being made towards that. All I want from you is your trust,

Please get back to me with your full name
Contact phone number

Preferable without delay and let’s negotiate terms.

Your response will determine our subsequent correspondence.

You can read more on this website for more information and explanations:

Yours in Service.
Herman R Hansley

The link, by the way, is to an article on the BBC News web site about a stash of $200 million found in Baghdad in 2003. Evidently this is some of the money that turned up missing.

The writer missed his calling. Instead of sending this out as spam, he should have sent it to Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Friday update: aborted attempt at TRU

Alana and I went to Toys 'R Us this evening. Their Black Friday sale starts at midnight.

If you check the timestamp on this post, you'll see that we didn't stay...

The line up was up one side of the plaza, down the other, and around the corner. There were hundreds of people in line.

We only had one thing we were looking for, for Logan, and it wasn't a toy. TRU has a good price on it, but nothing we couldn't get elsewhere.

Alana was in shock when she saw the line up. I believe her words were, "Is that the line? That's not the line!"

So, with a "Hell, no!" shouted out by both of us, in unison, we came home.

This also means we're not going to bother getting up, as a friend of Alana put it, at the "butt crack of morning", as we didn't really see anything we couldn't live without.

We'll probably go out in the morning to see if some of the stuff we could use is still available, but we're not going to do the crazy this year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Friday is getting earlier and earlier...

For folks not living in the United States, Black Friday is the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving. In spite of its name, it's considered a good thing. The day after Thanksgiving is the traditional start to the U.S. Christmas buying season. Stores started offering deep discounts on some items as loss leaders.

It's called Black Friday because for many stores it's the day, or the start of the period, where they make enough money to break even or make a profit.

(In recent years Black Friday is followed by Cyber Monday, the first day back at work when people had access to a good broadband connection and could order Christmas presents online.)

This is a uniquely American experience. Canada's Thanksgiving is a month and a half earlier (because Canadian harvests are brought in earlier) and so Canada doesn't have the same starter pistol-like start to Christmas buying. Canada makes up for it with Boxing Day sales, but that's another story.

Stores began opening their doors earlier and earlier. That's the point of this post.

When I first moved down here, I'd never actually participated in the craziness that is Black Friday. My first was in 2004. There was a bunch of good stuff to be had at Target. The night before I said something like, "So, we'll get up around 7 or so, get dressed, and go out to the store?" Alana just chuckled. "We have to be there for them opening. At 6 a.m."

I have to admit, it was fun. Tons of people in the early, early morning, after only a little bit of sleep, the air pretty chilly (at least for Louisiana). There was a charge in the air. We enjoyed it. I think Alana most enjoys the culture shock look on my face.

Now I get to the point of this post.

Monday night we were watching TV, and one store mentioned opening at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. That's, like, the traditional opening time. It's not the earliest. A bunch of stores open at 5 a.m. Then, Kohl's, the department store, ran an ad explaining that they are opening at 4 a.m. I turned to Alana with a WTF look on my face. "What's next, Black Friday on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving?"

I was joking. I shouldn't have.

K-Mart is opening on Thanksgiving Day. Black Friday on the Thursday of Thanksgiving.

And then today I received an e-mail from Borders. They are offering "early bird" access to their Black Friday sales to Borders Rewards members. Their sales start... today. Black Friday on the Wednesday.

I wonder how long it will take them until they take a page from Stupid Canadian Retailing and convert "Boxing Week" [sic] sales into "Black Friday Week". You heard it here, first!

Are we going to brave the elements, and the crazy people, Friday morning?

We're not sure. We haven't done it in a couple of years. Two years ago we were moving into the apartment. We went out shopping around 9. Last year there really wasn't anything worth getting.

This year's early ads don't really inspire much hope, either, though there are a couple of tempting items for Logan. One's at Wal-Mart, which we really don't want to go to on Black Friday. However, I understand that we might be able to get it at without having to rush out to that horrid place.

I didn't see much at Best Buy that grabbed me. Target had a couple of things, but nothing really "Wow!". Office Depot has a couple of things, but nothing that screams "5 a.m.".

I'll post an update later.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comcast and repetitive music

I like having music on when I write. Unfortunately, we get horrible reception in the house (but okay reception in the car) for the only radio station worth listening to in Monroe/West Monroe, KXUL, the local college station.

So, I listen to Comcast's Alternative digital music station.

What's with Comcast and the small stable of artists they play on this channel? Are they getting payola?

Right now "Kings and Queens" by 30 Seconds to Mars is playing. I like the song, don't get me wrong. But I am guaranteed to hear it at least once in a two hour session. It never fails. And they'll play another 30 Seconds to Mars song within another couple of hours.

Earlier they played She Wants Revenge. No problem with the group, but, again, I'm guaranteed to hear them once every couple of hours or so, sometimes more often than that. Because it's on the television, they have graphics for the bands they play, and these graphics tend to stick in your memory.

I guess maybe they want me to jump to another channel, one that pays them more. If I'm going to do that, I'm going to turn off the TV and plug in my PSP (as an MP3 player) or put on some CDs, none of which lets me hear new music.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching for an HTML editor

This shouldn't be so hard...

I'm searching for a freeware HTML editor. I code almost all of my HTML by hand (for instance, my web site) so I'm looking for a text editor that can make my life a bit easier.

I mostly need it for work, where I'm writing help files in HTML Help format.

Back in the late 90s I used a program called Arachnophilia. It was a pretty good program, but it had some warts and needed some additional options. Unfortunately, the developer changed it from a Windows program to a Java cross-platform program. I say "unfortunately" because he mucked about with the interface and made it much slower. I saw, recently, that there was an update. I downloaded it, installed it, and uninstalled it within 15 minutes.

(The guy also has a screed against Microsoft on his web site. Now, I'm not exactly pro-Microsoft. I thought the U.S. Justice Department gave them a slap on the wrist when much more was necessary. But it doesn't exactly make one feel comfortable downloading software from a guy who apparently wrote his app in Java in part to get back at Redmond.)

As I'm po', I'm looking for a freeware program but I'd purchase a program if it fit my needs. Unfortunately, most of the straight text editor programs are written by small companies and are somewhat buggy, and I can't afford the full blown programs — like Dreamweaver — which are complete overkill for what I do, and way too expensive (hundreds of dollars).

Here's the wish list of features:
  • Colour coding of the text compatible with HTML or XML, and cascading style sheets.
  • Ability to easily add links and graphics. Specifically, if adding text or graphics from your own web site, the program allows you to select the file and it will insert the correct link and image tag.
  • A function for easily adding special characters, such as the cents sign, etc. Preferably, it would display a set of special characters that the user clicks on to add to the text.
  • Allow the creation of macros or snippets, etc. This allows the user to create functions for easily adding repeated text to the document.
  • A spell checker.
  • Allow search and replace across multiple documents.
  • HTML tag reference for ease of entering new tags.
  • Preview your web page from within the program itself.
  • Cold folding (where you can close part of the code to make it easier to read and debug your code)
For the last several years I've used a program called HTML-Kit. The build 292 version is the last freeware version. Technically, I guess, it was shareware. Anyone could run it, but the developer encouraged people to register (at a cost of US$65, or there abouts). Sometime a couple of years ago the developer stopped working on the free version (though it's still available) and announced the release of HTML-Kit Tools. This version is only available for registered users.

I registered HTML-Kit to get HTML-Kit Tools. I'm not very happy with this decision. HTML-Kit has all my wish list items except code folding and search and replace across all documents. The search and replace it does have is a little annoying. There are also some bugs in the software. If you span across paragraphs and hit the backspace key to delete text, the program deletes too much. I made it crash the other day by typing too fast. It doesn't have an auto-recover during a crash.

The bugs were annoying, but I figured these were fixed in HTML-Kit Tools. They were, but now there are different bugs. The developer actually created a new version due to a crash bug I found.

Worse, it's missing an important feature of HTML-Kit, the spell checker. The search and replace is much worse on the new version (I really dislike it), the macro/snippet function is far less intuitive than the old version (and the old function wasn't exactly intuitive), and when you preview a web page it leaves a preview copy hanging around (I have to check to see if there's a way to shut it off). The interface has been simplified to look more like the ribbon in Microsoft Office 2007 products. The interface is cleaner, but it doesn't look as professional.

So, overall, I'm not that happy with HTML-Kit Tools. In fact, I went back to the old program.

In the meantime, I tested a few other programs (roughly in order of testing):
  • Notepad++: This one gets lots of good reviews. It's a generic code editor, and works with multiple languages. It is well supported, with lots of add-on modules. But, it doesn't have a way to easily add links or graphics to HTML, it doesn't have a spell checker, you can't preview within the program (which I can live without, to be honest) and it doesn't have a special character preview.

  • PSPad: I stumbled across this. It has most of what I want, including a spell checker, but it doesn't have a link/graphic function, it doesn't have a feature for adding special characters, and it doesn't do code-folding.

  • Notetab Light: This is the free version of a line of products, so it's possible that a "for pay" version has the features I'm after. The free version doesn't have colour code, nor does it have a spell checker, or code folding. It does have the other items on the list, and it's very good at search and replace (I keep it around for that reason).

  • Aptana Studio: This is the most professional looking of all the programs I tried. I really like the interface. I really want to use this. Again, though, it has some issues. I can't make the spell checker work, if it comes with one (it has a section under preferences that suggests it does have a spell checker, but I can't make it work). So far my question to their support forum has been unanswered. It has most of the other features. It does not have an easy way of inserting graphics and links, but if you find the file you want you can copy the link into the clipboard. So, we'll say that's about 1/3 what I'm after on that feature.

    As I said, I want to like this one, but I'm not getting the warm and fuzzies from their support.

  • CodeLobster: This is another freeware program. When I first ran it, it looked like it had everything I wanted. Digging a little deeper, it doesn't have a spell checker, it doesn't have a way to do macros, and it automatically saves your page when you go to preview it. They said today they are planning the macro feature and then, later, the spell checker. When this has a few more features it looks like it could replace HTML-Kit, but it's not there yet.

There were two other small programs I didn't keep around for long.

I'm also looking into Microsoft's Visual Web Developer Express tool, but I don't have much faith in it. It requires a whole web development environment. Then, it wanted to upgrade Visual Studio on my computer (it uses a version of Visual Studio) before it would proceed. Unfortunately, it took over an hour (!) to download the update and it's now taken more than half an hour to install it. All for something I think is going to end up being hideous overkill.

So, if you have any suggestions for HTML editors, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A head for lyrics

Sorry for the absence of blog posts. I've been incredibly busy at work, writing our help file, and at home I've been writing The Black Devils Brigade for the Godlike RPG. It's been hard to fit in blogging.

Last night brought to mind something I wanted to mention. I was doing some writing with the TV on in the background. The channel was one of the VH1 channels, and they were running a concert with various alt-rock groups performing songs by The Who. I was a huge fan of The Who. I even stood in line for several hours 27 years ago to get tickets for their first farewell tour.

While watching, I started singing along to some of their songs (completely destroying the whole point of spending the time writing). Alana turned to me, smiled, and asked how I can fit in all those lyrics in my head.

This goes back to our trip home from GenCon in August. We forgot to bring music with us (other than what was on my PSP, and we don't have a way of hooking up the PSP/MP3 players to the car's stereo), so we had to rely on local radio. On the way home, we tuned in to some classic rock outside of Memphis.

Now, I'm not one to listen to classic rock stations at home. We generally listen to KXUL, the local college station, which plays commercial free alt-rock. I like classic rock. I was listening to it before it was classic (as a very small child my mother had to break a vinyl 45 rpm record of The Beatles' "She Loves You" because I was driving her mad wanting to hear it all the time). However, they aren't making any more classic rock. It's the same two decades worth of stuff they play all the time. And, this being the U.S., you hear very little of the Canadian classic rock I grew up with (April Wine or Chilliwack, anyone?). I like listening to classic rock every now and again for the great nostalgia factor, but it soon becomes tiring. I was training users in northwest Tennessee in August and they played classic rock in their offices. I didn't hear Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or The Guess Who, or even that much Rush, but they were sure to play Van Halen at least twice every single day. But I digress...

So, we listened to classic rock until we got into the depths of northern Mississippi where there's not much more than country and western, or gospel in the wee hours of the morning (until we could pick up more classic rock outside Jackson). Early on, while we were still in Arkansas, Alana made a comment that I knew a lot of song lyrics. In fact, she seemed to think I could sing along with a staggering number of songs.

The radio had just started in on a three song set of The Who.

Just as she said this, a song from the album Tommy came on.

I looked at her, smiled, and sang, "Welcome to the camp, I guess you all know why we're here. My name is Tommy, and I became aware this year."

It was obvious from the look on Alana's face that she'd never heard the song in her life, and here I was singing every word.

It just served to prove to her that, yes, I was insane.

I never really thought about it before, but it's haunted me since: I really do pick up a lot of song lyrics. In fact, when I like a song I have this deep seated need to learn the words.

I'm not as good at it as Alana thinks I am. There are still some old songs that I don't know all the lyrics to, even 30 years later, in spite of trying. I have trouble memorizing all the lyrics to songs by The Tragically Hip, but The Hip's lyrics tend to the poetic and don't repeat themselves much. They're often hard to learn, and maybe deliberately so.

But, yeah, looking at it objectively, I know the lyrics to a huge number of songs. Unfortunately, I also like to sing them even though I couldn't carry a tune if it was strapped to my back. I sing a lot when I'm alone in the car; I try not to inflict it much on the people around me, except maybe when we're on long car trips and I'm getting a bit punchy.

Now, if only I could wipe out some old Loverboy (*shudder*) lyrics and remember my security alarm number at work. I think it starts with a 5...