Chain Letters and Ponzi schemes

My wife got a chain letter in the mail the other day from a friend. At first we weren’t really sure if it was a chain letter or not. Nether of us had ever seen one before, but it sure did sound like one when reading it. Of course, the letter said “this is not chain letter,” but we were a little skeptical of that claim.

That evening I found some websites online that described chain letters, and learned that chain letters violate federal law because they constitute an illegal lottery. This website has a good writeup on the topic: Regardless of what the author of the letter says, it violates Title 18, section 1302 of the United States Code, which makes it illegal to knowingly deposit in the mail any letter, package, postal card, or circular concerning any lottery, gift enterprise or similar scheme, offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance. It also violates Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, prohibiting misrepresentations in advertising even if the mails are not employed in operating the program.

I also learned that there are certain types of chain letters that are legal. If the chain letter does not involve money or any other item of value then it is not an illegal chain letter. Postcard chain letters, for example, are not illegal.

This chain letter was especially illegal because it not only sent an item of value, it sent a gambling instrument. This chain letter asks you to send a lottery scratch-it ticket through the mail, which violates postal service codes that prohibit the mailing of gambling instruments.

Another interesting aspect of this chain letter was the depth of the pyramid was really low. Most chain letter schemes I’ve read about have a list of 5-6 people on them, meaning the chain would need to go 5-6 levels deep before you saw a reward. This chain letter only listed 2 people. I suppose as chain letters go this was a pretty mild one. Or possibly it was just in the early stages and no one figured out yet to increase the depth of it.

That evening I also read about ponzi schemes, a system created where you convince people to make an investment in something and then you pay them off using money contributed by later investors, and so on and so forth until you’ve scraped enough money off the top that you can flee the country before the whole thing colaspes on you. Kind-of reminds you of a big government program that we all pay for in the form of a payroll deduction…. Social Security??

Dang, I wasn’t the first person to think of that. The forth hit is a link to, titled: “Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme?”

Unboxing a MacBook Pro

A blog on zdnet has photos of unboxing a MacBook Pro. Part of me wants to say this is inconsiderate to future Mac purchasers… It’s a huge spoiler!

If you’ve ever unboxed an Apple product in the last 3-4 years you know what I mean. Apple’s packaging is the best in the tech industry. When I unboxed an iPod for the first time a few years ago I was stunned how well it was put together. The box for my 12″ PB G4 was no dissapointment either..

If you’re thinking about buying a MacBook, DON’T click the link above! πŸ™‚

Removing Spyware/Adware/Malware

My computer was infected with a spyware/adware app a few months ago. Determined not to let another hacker “beat me” I set out to remove it on my own. After a couple hours discovering all the tricks adware use to stay on your computer, I finally got the damn thing off my computer. This thing used just about every thing available in Windows to launch a program at startup, and everytime I discovered one it unlocked another. It had a circular process where one installation method kicked off the next just in case something had failed. I ended up breaking the cycle by locking the files it was writing too.

Since then I’ve removed spyware from two other computers, and every time it was another battle learning the tricks they were using to keep the program the installed.

Well today one of my relatives calls me up with an adware problem, and I’m not there in person to fix things, so I did some research on what tools are available to try against malware. I suggested she try these programs:

1) Try Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal tool (Requires Internet Explorer). It doesn’t sound like the adware she’s got is listed on their site, but it’s free so it’s worth a shot.

2) PC World Magazine has positive things to say about Ad-Aware SE Personal and Spybot Search and Destroy, both free spyware removal tools. They claim these tools stop 65% and 54% of spyware, respectively. They’re both free so you might as well try them.

3) Try McAfee’s Free Online Virus Scanner (Requires Internet Explorer). It doesn’t remove infected files, but it tells you where they are so you can delete them yourself. I’ve only seen a few spyware programs, but so far none of them infect files that are used by Windows. They usually name the files they infect with something that sounds like a critical Windows file but isn’t. If you’re lucky, this might point you to where the malware is operating from. You might not get the malware removed, but at least you won’t have to worry about viruses.

4) The last option is to start paying money. The problem here is you could spend money on a tool that doesn’t work. It’s very difficult (if you don’t know what you’re doing) to determine what malware you have installed on your computer, so then there’s no way to know if the tool you’re thinking about buying will uninstall it. If you’re gonna spend money on a spyware removal tool I would recommend reading PC World’s Spyware Stoppers article for reviews.

If you don’t want to pay money, then the next option for you is to reformat/reinstall Windows. OH BOY is that a fun use of your afternoon!

Actually, there is another option, and this is what I tell all of my relatives that call me with PC computer problems……… GET A MAC. If all you’re doing is word processing and web surfing…. GET A MAC. If you don’t want to deal with malware or viruses….. GET A MAC. Get a mac, get a mac, get a mac…

Going HD

Thanks Steve for responding to my No more NTSC broadcasts in 2009 post from July. I’ve been on the mission for an ATSC tuner for some time.

Yeah every couple of weeks I scout froogle and ebay for cheap ATSC tuners. I haven’t given up on this! πŸ™‚ It looks like now you can get the original first-generation tuners new for about $180-200, used for $110-130 if you work for it on ebay. There’s also ebay deals for ATSC PCI capture cards from $80-100, but then you have to dedicate a fairly high-end PC to recording the broadcasts.

I’ve been looking at TVs every now and then, and I think what I want is one of these new LCD systems. Have you seen the 34″ Bravia? OMG that thing looks amazing. But those are triple what my current tube cost me.. It’s hard to justify.

I think you’re right.. I think the thing to do at the moment is to wait for HDTV prices to drop, and get an ATSC tuner if I’m desperate.

But… I’m stickin to what I wrote back in July: $50 is my price point for an ATSC tuner. When the tuners get down to $50 I’ll buy one.

Every couple of weeks I come to the same conclusion.. it’s just not worth going HD right now.

The look of Dark Mirror

Wow, the press has some amazingly positive things to say about Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror.


“Dark Mirror is shaping up to be one of the better-looking PSP games we’ve seen”


“Visually, it’s fairly evident that the Bend team has been putting their all into making the game one of the prettiest PSP titles out there. From glances around various gaming message boards, there seems to be occasional moments of disbelief that this is a PSP game. Yeah, it looks that good.”


“…the game looks downright impressive. Dark mirror’s visual presentation rivals anything on the system. Here’s a perfect example of a portable game that blurs the line between console and handheld in terms of graphics.”

“In short, things are looking pretty damn good.”


“I can’t say enough about the interactive environments and amazing graphics, they really pushed the graphics to the limit on this game.”


“When it comes to graphics, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror easily surpasses all games on the system so far.”