Saturday, April 26, 2003

Just Passing Through: OK, so here I am, but I still can't promise posting regularity (no Metamucil jokes please). I've got an awful lot going on in the 3-D world, but the good news is that includes writing projects which you will see, so if I go the odd week or so with anything, it just means I'm sacrificing quantity for quality. That's the story I'm sticking to anyway. The alternative is to turn this into the The World's Most Boring Weblog, and nobody wants that.

For now, the good folks at have seen fit to post a review I put together of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale - the first appearance of James Bond. Check it out. is a interesting spot. Anyone can register and submit stories. The community of users offers editing advice, then votes on where the article gets posted. A fascinating publishing model; I may have more to say about it in the future.
Busted: A friend of mine recently had some trouble with a charge card getting rejected for no apparent reason. Coincidentally, I stumbled across an article in the 4/24 Wall Street Journal about just such a phenomenon, and why it seems to be happening more often. The WSJ story is subscriber only (I think), but I'll quote liberally.

When Robert Selander, the chief executive officer of MasterCard International, went out for a round of errands earlier this year, he decided to shop with a credit card that he hadn't used in a while.

That turned out to be a bad idea. By the time he reached the supermarket, a fraud alert was out on his card. The upshot: He got rejected at the checkout counter -- and came home to a message on his answering machine from the bank that issued the card.

These days, no one is immune from the campaign to stamp out credit-card fraud, not even CEOs of credit-card associations. Banks and retailers have an army of computers sniffing out unusual spending patterns, and every year they freeze spending on thousands of credit cards with little or no warning.

How bad is it? Well...

Internally, card issuers refer to this as the "insult rate." Some card issuers deny more than 100 legitimate charges for every fraudulent one they prohibit. Even the best operators turn down 10 legitimate purchases for every crooked one.

That's an insult rate worthy of Don Rickles. I suspect that hurts card companies more than they realize. I've never had a charge rejected, but if I did, I wouldn't bother calling them on the spot, I'd just whip out a different card, meaning a lost commission for the rejecting card company. A good reason to have more than one card. Most of us know that card companies will flag purchases that don't match a cardholder's normal patterns, but what does that mean?

The card companies raise the red fraud flag for any one of dozens of reasons. They're constantly looking for spending that doesn't fit normal cardholder patterns, or those of the retailers where people might be shopping. Most Americans don't buy computers in Paris, for instance, but a thief who stole their card might. Card companies are skeptical of purchases in foreign lands with high rates of fraud, including Russia, most of Eastern Europe and South Africa.

The alarm can also sound when it appears as if you've traveled faster than humanly possible. Two months ago, Jeff Foster, an executive vice president at Retail Decisions, a company based outside London that helps banks prevent card fraud, used his debit card right before he got on a flight in Boston and tapped it again as soon as he got off the plane in San Francisco. His bank, worried that two different people were using the card, cut him off.

One reason for the crackdown: the huge increase in Internet sales, which means there are many more transactions where the cardholder isn't present. That made it easier for crooks to assume someone else's identity, which forced credit-card issuers to take countermeasures that snared honest spenders too.

At the same time, the number of cards outstanding -- and the number of ways to use them -- has exploded in recent years. Many cardholders lard up their monthly bills with every possible charge in a quest for frequent-flier miles. Others now whip out their debit cards instead of writing checks. This means that ever-more transactions are pouring through the card networks.


When Mr. Selander, the MasterCard CEO, temporarily lost his charging privileges on his seldom-used card, his bank may have thought a thief had stolen his card and then put it on "ice." In that situation, crooks find a lost card but then wait several months before using it. By putting it away for a while, they're hoping the original owner has failed to report it and it will remain active.

Some of that makes sense, some doesn't. Not being able to verify Internet sales is meaningless. Half the time I'm not even asked to sign my card slip anymore, never mind have the signature checked or present ID. And where is the identity verification on a Mobil SpeedPass? (Not a surprising policy, though - there're a lot of misguided Internet security concerns.)

I happen to be one of those people who puts as much as possible on the credit card for the sake of airline miles or hotel points. That's why some of this seems so weird to me. I have never had a credit card purchase rejected despite the fact that I have three cards that I rotate through. That means, for instance, that one day I'll be charging frozen dinners at Meijer's on a certain card, then it won't see use again for a couple of weeks when, say, I suddenly use it to buy an fine glass of Bordeaux in Bermuda.

I suppose it would be defeating the purpose to explain the rejection rationale in detail - that would make it easy for the bad guys to circumvent - but it's instructive to note that I must have some of the most erratic purchase patterns imaginable and I have never been rejected, where as my friend, who has pretty consistent buying patterns, got an erroneous smackdown. It makes sense, I suppose. It just means the credit card companies have given up trying to figure me out, they're just letting everything go.

So if you want to avoid rejection at all costs, make a point of consistently making credit card purchases in a haphazard and irresponsible fashion. There's a moral in that somewhere, but I can't figure out what it is.
You Want Fries With That?: This has been bopping around the 'net via forwarded email for a while. It is supposedly an actual employment application filled out for a job McDonald's. It's probably a hoax, but I got a chuckle out of it.

NAME: Greg Bulmash.

SEX: Not yet. Still waiting for the right person.

DESIRED POSITION: Company's President or Vice President. But seriously, whatever's available. If I was in a position to be picky, I wouldn't be applying here in the first place.

DESIRED SALARY: $185,000 a year plus stock options and a Michael Ovitz style severance package. If that's not possible, make an offer and we can haggle.

EDUCATION: You realize this is McDonald's, don't you?

LAST POSITION HELD: Target for middle management hostility.

SALARY: Less than I'm worth.

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT: My incredible collection of stolen pens and post-it notes.



PREFERRED HOURS: 1:30-3:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL SKILLS?: Yes, but they're better suited to a more intimate environment.

MAY WE CONTACT YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYER?: If I had one, would I be here?


DO YOU HAVE A CAR?: I think the more appropriate question here would be, "Do you have a car that runs?"

HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY SPECIAL AWARDS OR RECOGNITION?: I may already be a winner of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

DO YOU SMOKE?: Only at very high temperatures.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING IN FIVE YEARS?: Living in the Bahamas with a fabulously wealthy dumb sexy blonde super model who thinks I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. Actually, I'd like to be doing that now.


Monday, April 21, 2003

Pardon Me: In the last couple of weeks I have been in Washington DC, Bermuda, and the North Carolina Outer Banks. Now I'm back and I am exhausted - Northwest Airlines reverted to form for my trip back. More travel info in due time.

Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), Slashdot isn't going to run my latest book review. I'm going to try another a couple other outlets but if they don't pan out, I'll post it anyway. And I have many writing projects in the works so here should be some good material soon, but it's going to be a few days until I can get back to things - with luck, I'll have some of my usual nonsense up this weekend.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Catch Ya On The Flipside: Time for another hiatus, since I have an awful lot to deal with in my alleged Real Life. It may be couple of weeks until the next update, but don't fret - as always, I will be back with a vengence and hijinks will ensue.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Status Memo: We're I a betting man, I would wager heavily that A Pleasure Doing Business With You will see light of day by year's end. And I am now thinking of changing the name back to Hijinks Ensue. The problem with APDBWY is that it is too long. The reason I changed it to begin with is most people I spoke with didn't seem to know what hijinks were, and many didn't know what ensue meant. Am I the only one who has employed the phrase 'hijinks ensue'? I think not. I'm beginning to think that if you really don't know the meaning of the words hijinks and ensue, you're unlikely to read it anyway, so it will do no harm to go back to the shorter title. I shall be agonizing over this for a while. You may just have to deal.

I have started work on a new essay - it will require a bit of research - with luck, by 4/8, without luck, 4/30. And I'm going on a minor adventure Wednesday night which I may document if it turns out to be interesting. Plus, still waiting my latest book review to hit the web. Don't touch that dial.
Toob Notes: The new season of Six Feet Under has been excellent so far. They have followed my advice and took it down a thousand, but I remain wary. The grimace inducing psycho chick from Nate's past returned this Sunday (haven't seen it yet, will have to catch a rerun) and that could destroy everything. We'll see. More comments will ensue as the season unfolds.

More importantly, I caught the World Poker Tournament on the Travel Channel the other night and it was wicked cool. They position a camera at each player's seat so that they can show what cards each player has. and so you can really see the thought processes of these guys as they place bets. It was engrossing. Here's the site. Somewhat disappointingly, the winner was determined by an incredible string of luck, not skill. I intend to watch each week. Vegas will fear me.
Link Roundup: A stupidity-free set of links for your viewing pleasure.
  • Roger Ebert is the dean of movie critics. Even though I think he's wrong 30-50% of the time, he does write awfully well. But who knew he was a "hard drinking, guy-on-the-make during the seventies"?

  • Check out these freaky cool paintings. At first glance you might think they are caricatures of some sort, but click through and look close, you can see influences of everything from Van Gogh to anime. Great stuff.

  • Would you laugh at me if I told you I was posting from this chair? Well, I'm not, so don't bother.

  • Finally a cell phone for the "descendents of Eve". Note the "features for women", including a "Fatness Index", a "Pink Schedule", and "Menstruation." (While you may think I'm documenting stupidity again, note that this is the Africa and Middle Eastern Samsung web site, so it's not stupid it's cultural.) Oddly, it does not include a cosmetics mirror or a burkha mending kit.

  • Interesting commentary on how TiVo will alter television as we know it. I should get one; I could really use another remote on my coffee table. [[edit: also check out the follow up]]

  • In honor of April Fools day, the 100 best hoaxes. Strangely, the George Foreman iGrill, a "low-fat, high-bandwidth solution to your networked cooking needs" is not included.
Blogology 101: ranks the best blogs in five categories, but makes you jump through hoops to find out what they are (links within links and pop-ups, ugh!). I'll do the hard work for you. I ashamed to say I'm not familiar with most of these (except, of course, for my buddies at Slashdot who publish my book reviews), so I post them without comment (imagine that!). I suspect all are worth checking out.