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HDTV’s widely adopted by American households

From Alex Mindlin’s “Room to Grow as Homes Add HD TVs” (The New York Times: 21 November 2010):

High-definition televisions have entered American homes with startling speed; 56 percent of households now have at least some HD channels and an HD set, according to Nielsen. Among consumer technologies, that speed of adoption is rivaled only by the VCR.

But the average television viewer is still unlikely to watch television in high definition. One reason is that people watch some standard channels on their HD sets. But a more important reason for the low HD viewing rate is that most homes have several televisions, of which the HD set is only one.

“What we’re seeing,” [Pat McDonough, a senior television analyst at Nielsen] said, “is that people want a second high-definition set pretty quickly, once they get used to watching it.”

Indeed, in households with a single HD set, family members diverge from normal American viewing patterns; rather than migrating to their rooms at night to watch TV on separate sets, they cluster in the living room around the HD set.

There, on the Darkened Deathbed by John Masefield

This is pretty much what I think happens when we die, and unfortunately, what happens eventually after we die.

There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain
That flared three several times in seventy years;
It cannot lift the silly hand again,
Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears.
And muffled mourners put it in the ground
And then go home, and in the earth it lies,
Too dark for vision and too deep for sound,
The million cells that made a good man wise.
Yet for a few short years an influence stirs,
A sense or wraith or essence of him dead,
Which makes insensate things its ministers
To those beloved, his spirit’s daily bread;
Then that, too, fades; in book or deed a spark
Lingers, then that, too, fades; then all is dark.

Various confidence scams, tricks, & frauds

From “List of confidence tricks” (Wikipedia: 3 July 2009):

Get-rich-quick schemes

Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied. For example, fake franchises, real estate “sure things”, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans are all used to separate the mark from his money. Variations include the pyramid scheme, Ponzi scheme and Matrix sale.

Count Victor Lustig sold the “money-printing machine” which could copy $100 bills. The client, sensing huge profits, would buy the machines for a high price (usually over $30,000). Over the next twelve hours, the machine would produce just two more $100 bills, but after that it produced only blank paper, as its supply of hidden $100 bills would have become exhausted. This type of scheme is also called the “money box” scheme.

The wire game, as depicted in the movie The Sting, trades on the promise of insider knowledge to beat a gamble, stock trade or other monetary action. In the wire game, a “mob” composed of dozens of grifters simulates a “wire store”, i.e., a place where results from horse races are received by telegram and posted on a large board, while also being read aloud by an announcer. The griftee is given secret foreknowledge of the race results minutes before the race is broadcast, and is therefore able to place a sure bet at the wire store. In reality, of course, the con artists who set up the wire store are the providers of the inside information, and the mark eventually is led to place a large bet, thinking it to be a sure win. At this point, some mistake is made, which actually makes the bet a loss. …

Salting or to salt the mine are terms for a scam in which gems or gold ore are planted in a mine or on the landscape, duping the greedy mark into purchasing shares in a worthless or non-existent mining company.[2] During the Gold Rush, scammers would load shotguns with gold dust and shoot into the sides of the mine to give the appearance of a rich ore, thus “salting the mine”. …

The Spanish Prisoner scam – and its modern variant, the advance fee fraud or Nigerian scam – take advantage of the victim’s greed. The basic premise involves enlisting the mark to aid in retrieving some stolen money from its hiding place. The victim sometimes believes he can cheat the con artists out of their money, but anyone trying this has already fallen for the essential con by believing that the money is there to steal (see also Black money scam). …

Many conmen employ extra tricks to keep the victim from going to the police. A common ploy of investment scammers is to encourage a mark to use money concealed from tax authorities. The mark cannot go to the authorities without revealing that he or she has committed tax fraud. Many swindles involve a minor element of crime or some other misdeed. The mark is made to think that he or she will gain money by helping fraudsters get huge sums out of a country (the classic Nigerian scam); hence marks cannot go to the police without revealing that they planned to commit a crime themselves.

Gold brick scams

Gold brick scams involve selling a tangible item for more than it is worth; named after selling the victim an allegedly golden ingot which turns out to be gold-coated lead.

Pig-in-a-poke originated in the late Middle Ages. The con entails a sale of a (suckling) “pig” in a “poke” (bag). The bag ostensibly contains a live healthy little pig, but actually contains a cat (not particularly prized as a source of meat, and at any rate, quite unlikely to grow to be a large hog). If one buys a “pig in a poke” without looking in the bag (a colloquial expression in the English language, meaning “to be a sucker”), the person has bought something of less value than was assumed, and has learned firsthand the lesson caveat emptor.

The Thai gem scam involves layers of con men and helpers who tell a tourist in Bangkok of an opportunity to earn money by buying duty-free jewelry and having it shipped back to the tourist’s home country. The mark is driven around the city in a tuk-tuk operated by one of the con men, who ensures that the mark meets one helper after another, until the mark is persuaded to buy the jewelry from a store also operated by the swindlers. The gems are real but significantly overpriced. This scam has been operating for 20 years in Bangkok, and is said to be protected by Thai police and politicians. A similar scam usually runs in parallel for custom-made suits.

Extortion or false-injury tricks

The badger game extortion is often perpetrated on married men. The mark is deliberately coerced into a compromising position, a supposed affair for example, then threatened with public exposure of his acts unless blackmail money is paid.

The Melon Drop is a scam in which the scammer will intentionally bump into the mark and drop a package containing (already broken) glass. He will blame the damage on the clumsiness of the mark, and demand money in compensation. This con arose when artists discovered that the Japanese paid large sums of money for watermelons. The scammer would go to a supermarket to buy a cheap watermelon, then bump into a Japanese tourist and set a high price.

Gambling tricks

Three-card Monte, ‘Find The Queen’, the “Three-card Trick”, or “Follow The Lady”, is (except for the props) essentially the same as the probably centuries-older shell game or thimblerig. The trickster shows three playing cards to the audience, one of which is a queen (the “lady”), then places the cards face-down, shuffles them around and invites the audience to bet on which one is the queen. At first the audience is skeptical, so the shill places a bet and the scammer allows him to win. In one variation of the game, the shill will (apparently surreptitiously) peek at the lady, ensuring that the mark also sees the card. This is sometimes enough to entice the audience to place bets, but the trickster uses sleight of hand to ensure that they always lose, unless the conman decides to let them win, hoping to lure them into betting much more. The mark loses whenever the dealer chooses to make him lose. This con appears in the Eric Garcia novel Matchstick Men and is featured in the movie Edmond.

A variation on this scam exists in Barcelona, Spain, but with the addition of a pickpocket. The dealer and shill behave in an overtly obvious manner, attracting a larger audience. When the pickpocket succeeds in stealing from a member of the audience, he signals the dealer. The dealer then shouts the word “aqua”, and the three split up. The audience is left believing that “aqua” is a code word indicating the police are coming, and that the performance was a failed scam.

In the Football Picks Scam the scammer sends out tip sheet stating a game will go one way to 100 potential victims and the other way to another 100. The next week, the 100 or so who received the correct answer are divided into two groups and fed another pick. This is repeated until a small population have (apparently) received a series of supernaturally perfect picks, then the final pick is offered for sale. Despite being well-known (it was even described completely on an episode of The Simpsons and used by Derren Brown in “The System”), this scam is run almost continuously in different forms by different operators. The sports picks can also be replaced with securities, or any other random process, in an alternative form. This scam has also been called the inverted pyramid scheme, because of the steadily decreasing population of victims at each stage.

Visitors to Las Vegas or other gambling towns often encounter the Barred Winner scam, a form of advance fee fraud performed in person. The artist will approach his mark outside a casino with a stack or bag of high-value casino chips and say that he just won big, but the casino accused him of cheating and threw him out without letting him redeem the chips. The artist asks the mark to go in and cash the chips for him. The artist will often offer a percentage of the winnings to the mark for his trouble. But, when the mark agrees, the artist feigns suspicion and asks the mark to put up something of value “for insurance”. The mark agrees, hands over jewelry, a credit card or their wallet, then goes in to cash the chips. When the mark arrives at the cashier, they are informed the chips are fake. The artist, by this time, is long gone with the mark’s valuables.

False reward tricks

The glim-dropper requires several accomplices, one of whom must be a one-eyed man. One grifter goes into a store and pretends he has lost his glass eye. Everyone looks around, but the eye cannot be found. He declares that he will pay a thousand-dollar reward for the return of his eye, leaving contact information. The next day, an accomplice enters the store and pretends to find the eye. The storekeeper (the intended griftee), thinking of the reward, offers to take it and return it to its owner. The finder insists he will return it himself, and demands the owner’s address. Thinking he will lose all chance of the reward, the storekeeper offers a hundred dollars for the eye. The finder bargains him up to $250, and departs.…

The fiddle game uses the pigeon drop technique. A pair of con men work together, one going into an expensive restaurant in shabby clothes, eating, and claiming to have left his wallet at home, which is nearby. As collateral, the con man leaves his only worldly possession, the violin that provides his livelihood. After he leaves, the second con man swoops in, offers an outrageously large amount (for example $50,000) for such a rare instrument, then looks at his watch and runs off to an appointment, leaving his card for the mark to call him when the fiddle-owner returns. The mark’s greed comes into play when the “poor man” comes back, having gotten the money to pay for his meal and redeem his violin. The mark, thinking he has an offer on the table, then buys the violin from the fiddle player (who “reluctantly” sells it eventually for, say, $5,000). The result is the two conmen are $5,000 richer (less the cost of the violin), and the mark is left with a cheap instrument.

Other confidence tricks and techniques

The Landlord Scam advertises an apartment for rent at an attractive price. The con artist, usually someone who is house-sitting or has a short-term sublet at the unit, takes a deposit and first/last month’s rent from every person who views the suite. When move-in day arrives, the con artist is of course gone, and the apartment belongs to none of the angry people carrying boxes.

Change raising is a common short con and involves an offer to change an amount of money with someone, while at the same time taking change or bills back and forth to confuse the person as to how much money is actually being changed. The most common form, “the Short Count”, has been featured prominently in several movies about grifting, notably Nueve Reinas, The Grifters and Paper Moon. A con artist shopping at, say a gas station, is given 80 cents in change because he lacks two dimes to complete the sale (say the sale cost is $19.20 and the con man has a 20 dollar bill). He goes out to his car and returns a short time later, with 20 cents. He returns them, saying that he found the rest of the change to make a dollar, and asking for a bill so he will not have to carry coins. The confused store clerk agrees, exchanging a dollar for the 20 cents the conman returned. In essence, the mark makes change twice.

Beijing tea scam is a famous scam in and around Beijing. The artists (usually female and working in pairs) will approach tourists and try to make friends. After chatting, they will suggest a trip to see a tea ceremony, claiming that they have never been to one before. The tourist is never shown a menu, but assumes that this is how things are done in China. After the ceremony, the bill is presented to the tourist, charging upwards of $100 per head. The artists will then hand over their bills, and the tourists are obliged to follow suit.

David Foster Wallace on postmodernism & waiting for the parents to come home

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993):

For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you’re in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You get all your friends over and throw this wild disgusting fabulous party. For a while it’s great, free and freeing, parental authority gone and overthrown, a cat’s-away-let’s-play Dionysian revel. But then time passes and the party gets louder and louder, and you run out of drugs, and nobody’s got any money for more drugs, and things get broken and spilled, and there’s a cigarette burn on the couch, and you’re the host and it’s your house too, and you gradually start wishing your parents would come back and restore some fucking order in your house. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it’s 3:00 A.M. and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody’s thrown up in the umbrella stand and we’re wishing the revel would end. The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. We’re kind of wishing some parents would come back. And of course we’re uneasy about the fact that we wish they’d come back—I mean, what’s wrong with us? Are we total pussies? Is there something about authority and limits we actually need? And then the uneasiest feeling of all, as we start gradually to realize that parents in fact aren’t ever coming back—which means we’re going to have to be the parents.

David Foster Wallace on Kafka

From David Foster Wallace’s “Laughing With Kafka” (Harper’s Magazine: July 1998, pg. 26):

… the really central Kafka joke – that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.

Add houseplants to your home & office

From David Pogue’s “TED’s Greatest Hits” (The New York Times: 10 February 2009):

Kamal Meattle reported the results of his efforts to fill an office building with plants, in an effort to reduce headache, asthma, and other productivity-sapping aliments in thickly polluted India. After researching NASA documents, he concluded that a set of three particular common, waist-high houseplants—areca palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, and Money Plant—could be combined to scrub the air of carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and other pollutants.

At about four plants per occupant (1200 plants in all), the building’s air freshened considerably, and the health and productivity results were staggering. Eye irritation dropped by 52 percent, lower respiratory symptoms by 34 percent, headaches by 24 percent and asthma by 9 percent. There were fewer sick days, employee productivity increased, and energy costs dropped by 15 percent.

Craigslist “everything is free!” scams

Robert Salisbury

From “Man scammed by Craigslist ad” (The Seattle Times: 24 March 2008):

The ads popped up Saturday afternoon, saying the owner of a Jacksonville home was forced to leave the area suddenly and his belongings, including a horse, were free for the taking, said Jackson County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan.

But Robert Salisbury had no plans to leave. The independent contractor was at Emigrant Lake when he got a call from a woman who had stopped by his house to claim his horse.

On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.

“I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back,” Salisbury said. “They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did.”

The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings.

Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.

From “Couple held in Craigslist theft case” (The Seattle Times: 1 April 2008):

Police on Monday arrested a Medford couple who allegedly used hoax postings on Craigslist to cover up their own thefts from a rural Jacksonville residence later inundated by Craigslist readers who thought the house’s contents were free pickings for the taking.

Amber D. Herbert, 28, and Brandon D. Herbert, 29, were taken into custody on burglary, theft and computer crime charges involving the Craigslist hoax that drew international attention and cost the victim several thousand dollars, authorities said.

…the Herberts told police they took several saddles from the property and sold them over the Internet.

Laurie Raye

From “Tacoma woman’s house emptied after craigslist hoax” (The Seattle Times: 5 April 2007):

Laurie Raye said she had everything stripped from her home after someone placed a fake ad on the San Francisco-based Internet site, a collection of online classifieds.

Raye had recently evicted a tenant and cleaned out the rental.

The ad posted last weekend welcomed people to take for free anything they wanted from the home. It has since been pulled from the site, but not before the residence was stripped of light fixtures, the hot water heater and the kitchen sink.

Neighbors said they saw strangers hauling items away, apparently looking for salvage material.

Even the front door and a vinyl window were pilfered, Raye said.

“In the ad, it said come and take what you want. Everything is free,” she said. “Please help yourself to anything on the property.”

From “Woman charged after Craigslist posting resulted in a house stripped” (The Seattle Times: 17 May 2007):

Pierce County prosecutors have filed charges against the niece of a woman whose house was stripped clean after a Craigslist.org posting advertised that everything in the home was free.

Nichole Blackwell, 28, was charged with second-degree burglary, malicious mischief and criminal impersonation for allegedly posting an ad that read, “Moving out … House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits,” on the online classifieds Web site, according to charging documents from Pierce County Superior Court.

It wasn’t until six days after the ad was posted that Laurie Raye, owner of the home in the 1200 block of East 64th Street in Tacoma, checked on the house to find it stripped.

Nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down — and some stuff that was — was taken.

People, thinking that they could remove whatever they wanted, grabbed the refrigerator, front door and kitchen sink, among other things, according to the documents.

Police believe Blackwell disliked Raye and was particularly upset because Raye had recently evicted Blackwell’s mother from the house.

Abuse of “terrorist” investigative powers

From BBC News’ “Council admits spying on family” (10 April 2008):

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment.

A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks.

The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.

Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.

RIPA legislation allows councils to carry out surveillance if it suspects criminal activity.

On its website, the Home Office says: “The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.”

Energy-efficient washing machines

From Is a Dishwasher a Green Machine?:

To really green up your automatic dishwashing, you should always use the air-drying function, avoid the profligate “rinse hold” setting, wash only full loads, and install the machine far away from your refrigerator.

Just promise that you’ll scrape your dishes instead of pre-rinsing, use the shortest wash cycles possible, and buy phosphate-free detergents – or, if you’re handy with a blender, make your own.