Seductive Scams

In the past few years I have been almost duped by two separate scams.  It was only a certain caution and the years of experience of doing business with people and companies which encouraged my suspicions and so caused me to investigate further and in the end to make right decisions.

The two scams appealed to their potential victim in opposite ways; one being a fabricated cry for help from an email apparently sent by a friend of mine; the other attempted to prey upon my more selfish parts of human motivation.

If there is one thing a person soon learns in life it is to look gift horses from strangers in the mouth.  Of course the Internet has made this maxim doubly relevant, since so many items are offered ‘free of charge’ or else are couched as ‘amazing offers and deals’ etc.

The present ‘get Windows 10 gratis’ offer from Microsoft does not look to be all it seems. Beware of Geeks bearing gifts. The license one is being offered for Windows 10 is non transferrable to any other piece of hardware. (I suspect also that there are other additional commercial reasons for Microsoft pitching its Windows 10 free offer, although I can’t say what they are? Corporations just don’t throw away potential commercial exploitation of new products).

And when one goes hunting on the web for a driver or an anti-virus and the attractiveness of so many free of charge items draws you to them, tempting one’s better reason and playing on ones self-concupiscence and parsimony; it is relatively easy to end up with quite a bit of junk you never wanted downloaded to your PC; or else for one to have given away so much saleable personal data about oneself in order to get the download.  The lesson is, that although there is to be no ostensible money transaction taking place between yourself and the guys offering you the freebies which you are in need of; there will in fact be a transaction of monetisable items going on ‘under the counter ‘and ‘behind one’s back’.

So a tip; go for the guys who ask for ‘a small donation’ in return for them giving you the ‘freebie’. And further, give them that ‘small donation’ because they are more than likely to have been ‘up front’ with you about their terms for downloading their stuff.  Also these guys are far less likely to throw in unwanted stuff (at least not without informing you beforehand) and are not usually seeking out personal data from you to sell it on for profit.

One usually doesn’t get malware in these downloads; for the wiseacres to sneak that in would be counter-productive to them in running these kind of sleights of hand; they need to keep punters ‘on-side’ so as to be able to exploit them quietly and in a small way; so that for them ‘many a mickle will eventually make for them a muckle’.

Like the guys who steal some of your virtual space on your PC; they only want enough so you won’t notice, otherwise their plans are scuppered, because otherwise you as their punters discover it and take action to erase their presence from your PCs.  The art in this kind of stealing by offering free downloads is to restrain oneself from being too greedy, and to be not too hasty to grab more than is able to go unnoticed.

Of course you get hasty and greedy guys but they get thwarted in their plans all the time; and they soon either learn patience and a greater stealth or else leave the business.  The smart guys restrain their appetites for others’ property and so make a fist of their operations and succeed in them, generally speaking.

But scammers like the two I began writing about are rather more manipulative and ambitious with managing human sympathies and appetites than the freebie download people generally are.  For these it is not about a quick and fairly plain interaction with a punter who is out for grabbing a download; it is more about an art of pretence and mimesis; so as to arouse say decent human feeling in order to provoke an equivalent and appropriate response from a sucker.  Going under guise of one of your friends they might email you saying:

‘Jonny, help! I got mugged an hour back and I’ve got no money. I’m in Dallas on business. My notebook is nearly out of power and I’m on a free wifi spot. Can you wire me $500 to get me home? To this local store on xxxxxx (the contact details follow)’

 The White Knight in each of us rises to the rescue – to the bait.  We feel almost blackmailed by our own sense of the wringer in appearances informing our private self that it is appropriate for our public self to respond with the money in this situation. One should not question or suspect. It is a buddy; and he needs help!

Like indoctrinated regimented recruits in Joe Soap’s Army we stand by our injured fellows on the principle of being co-opted to do so; and we pride ourselves on our fierce ethic and its noble selflessness.  It’s almost like throwing money away, into the lap of crooks; and all for the sake of looking the part to one’s community, and so avoiding a dreadful stigma arising from any refusal to pay up, a stigma raised up and fully indulged in amongst one’s local crowd, who will bring down a unified humiliation upon you otherwise via an absolute communal condemnation and ostracism.  To refuse to help is signing one’s own social-life’s death warrant.

I have heard the eternal footman hold my coat and snigger’

So the conmen are savvy and sly; they know the drill, and use the hooks and handles by which people are hung up and puppeteered upon.  Even to query such an email would smack of heresy.

The other set of guys at the other scam played me from another angle; drawing upon my secretive and grasping side.  I got an enquiry asking to do a website for a guy. From where the inquiry came and by whose reference the guy was led to me I was not certain. I was a little short of work and I had put as many feeler irons in the fire as I could muster; so it could have been out of one of many sources.

I wrote him a requirement document according to the information he had given me.  (The guy was claiming to be deaf, and so unable easily to Skype or to Hangout etc; which of course with hindsight I saw was so as to avoid contact with me.)

The first doubts came for me when he accepted the Requirement Document and the price and hours estimate without a haggle or a blink of an eye. Then he offered payment up front; offering his credit card details for me to deduct my fee AND for me to draw extra over my fee and send it back to him.  A quick Google using some of the salient parts of his initial email to me – the deaf bit and some other distinctive data from it; and hey presto! Others were reporting having had approaches from pretty much the same curious clientele, the ruse was well publicised on forums and on notice boards on the web.

So this guy was laundering stolen credit cards by way of me – if I had fallen for it. My name on the transaction; me responsible in law; and he away untraceable scot free

The lure of the fast buck; of the easy money; and the pressure of secret surges of avarice which we all have to repress so as to be able to do fair trading.

Hamlet-like, by these Guildensterns, I was being played upon:

HAMLET:  [Re-enter Players with recorders] O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with you: — why do you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into a toil?

GUILDENSTERN      O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too unmannerly

HAMLET                    I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this pipe?

GUILDENSTERN      My lord, I cannot.

HAMLET                    I pray you.

GUILDENSTERN      Believe me, I cannot.

HAMLET                    I do beseech you.

GUILDENSTERN      I know no touch of it, my lord.

HAMLET                    ‘Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.

GUILDENSTERN      But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I have not the skill.

HAMLET                    Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.

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The Importance of Clarity 2

 

The Importance of Clarity 2

Clarity in communications starts in one’s head. The value of giving over time and consideration to a work one is planning to execute, and so mulling things over, even sleeping on them, without any accompanying sense of haste or necessity, is much undervalued in a world where business is done on the hoof and demand drives by way of an urgent consumer desire for fulfilment of orders placed.

The idea that one is able to save time and work in the mid to longer term by shunting right up front a certain amount of mental legwork and precaution, sounds almost like a foreign language to many business persons; like a risk that is gambled on and which might not ‘pay off’.

When Woody in Toy Story 2 is being repaired and refurbished by the little hunched old guy with the hand lens and the watch repair toolkit and buffing equipment, and his customer, Al of Al’s Toy Barn, is breathing anxiously over his shoulders and willing him to go faster and to make it snappy – the little hunched old guy replies to Al; ‘You can’t rush art’. And this is a truth.

Conversely what is rushed and fretted over to get it done fast is too often a recipe for a need to backtrack and pick up at a point earlier whereabouts a shortcut or a stopgap was made or put in place so as to ‘save time’. But it has not been up to the task and has necessitated even more time taken backtracking than an unrushed job would have taken in the first place.

And will the customer pay for this ‘enforced error’ on your part; and for the diagnosis of it, and for the remedial work to fix it, and for the hours at $50 per hour to do all this? No, he will tell you it is your baby and you should take care of it and that you should foot the bill for it. And you have no argument to counter him with.

So clarity begins in one’s head. Get it clear in your mind first before you pick up a thread to sew or a code to write. Think it through first, in as far as you feel you are able to do so, look out for prospective pitfalls, and for things like optimum time management and deployment of your resources and crews. There is much that can be accomplished and much else that can be avoided simply by taking thought before one begins to act.

Here one is able to take a tip from those military personnel, who are not the greatest guys in the world maybe and maybe do a lot of harm; but they always and without fail never react and only respond to developments and situations in a war zone on the ground. The guys who are the strategic responders are the top brass. The guys who are the tactical responders are the officer class. Both sorts of forces guy are taught, selected, trained, until it is second nature, so that they never, never ever, act immediately in response to an adverse or even a lucky turn of events.

You hear the saying ‘Time is of the essence’ and this is a true saying; but not as one generally applies it. The forces guys will sit it out and consider on choices of action and think them through to likely prospective outcomes – scenarios as we call them in our civil language – even when there is a cut off point like a deadline or an ultimatum they will sit and ponder and debate so as to use best the time they have available for them to get into their heads the option which has the most desired likely outcome for them. In this way ‘Time is of the essence’ and not as a mad rush to stop a leak and so bring the whole working system crashing down.

‘In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse’

Military leaders and officers are very deliberately selected by buttonholing those guys who remain cool – under fire – under pressure to act – in emergencies. We don’t have the kinds of pressures they can face; but we can take a leaf from their book and learn from them about making a note of the time we have available and using it in the most efficient, effective and beneficial ways. And often the most efficient, effective and beneficial ways entail a good deal of time that is available being used by us to plan ahead and to try to pre-empt problems and errors.

So, once again, get it clear in your head your plan of action; choose it as the best choice from the options you have mustered. Once the way forward is mapped out, even say, skeletally, in your mind; then the writing down of requirement documents and of specifications and communications with customers are far less difficult to deal with.

One still has the oily hydra of language to handle and to try to subdue into allowing you to say what you want to say; but you do have a good idea about what it is you want to say, and so this means that that much more of your mental faculties are available and freed–up to be able to tackle intently this hydra of language and expression. For certain, when one does not know what one desires to say, and does not have a sketched out plan of action at least in germ in one’s mind, then one’s documentation is inevitably going to suffer and suffer badly.

Your plan or plans do not have to be rock solid and locked into a predetermined universe; there is always room for amendment and elaboration or revision up the road. If a person, even a military man, could see the future in fine detail it would be inhuman and unnatural. The old saying is:

‘There’s many a slip
Between the cup and the lip’

And so just as nothing written down is able exactly and absolutely to convey the whole shooting match of what one wanted to say, let alone what has been written being able exactly and fully to be representative of works as they are planned and envisaged to be done, nor yet as they are eventually done; likewise nothing ever transpires quite exactly as it is premeditated, or even as it was thought best to transpire at that time when one was without the benefit of hindsight.

These facts mean that one must not be afraid to modify, adjust, alter, add, take away, reconfigure etc etc, at any time; not only during actual building of works but also in one’s documentation and in the words one uses to write it.

The Renaissance English poet Edmund Spenser devoted the last Cantos (aptly uncompleted) of his epic ‘The Faerie Queene’ to the topic of ‘Mutabilitie’ whom he personifies as a female; saying of her:

‘For, she the face of earthly things so changed,
That all which Nature had establisht first
In good estate, and in meet order ranged,
She did pervert, and all their statutes burst:
And all the worlds faire frame (which none yet durst
Of Gods or men to alter or misguide)
She alter’d quite, and made them all accurst
That God had blest; and did at first prouide
In that still happy state for euer to abide’

And so for mere mortals like us to get things 95%+ well-executed, whether in writing or in the actual building, is work well done, and perhaps the best to be hoped for in such a mutable world as ours?

 

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The Importance of Clarity

‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be mistaken’ Karl Popper

Written and spoken language is not like mathematical symbols or software code script.  Ludwig Wittgenstein said about words:

‘…..many words…. Don’t have a strict meaning. But this is no defect. To think it is would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is not a real light because it has no sharp boundary.’

Mathematical symbols are usually used far more definitely than words are generally used.

So developers ‘know where they are’ with code and script; although with words, when it comes to drawing up a customer agreement or communicating to a customer about ways of doing things in ‘layman’s’ terms, developers face the same problems as the rest of us do when we want to speak to someone else clearly and accurately.

Hence the importance of clarity

Clarity is not always accuracy; but clarity has the virtue of being when it is achieved able to show up inaccuracies to common scrutiny; as far as inaccuracies are able to be shown up.  So that the developer ought to be able to spot them; and a customer has a chance of spotting them.

And so aiming for clarity is paramount and in this way it is prior to accuracy; although accuracy remains prior to clarity when it comes to actual use of code and script in development work.  Even to a developer a piece of software writing she creates might sometimes have to be complex and/or cutting edge; and so it might well not possess clarity when other developers come to look at it, and certainly not when a customer sees it.

Some things are just complex and involved and that’s that.

But there is an art to using words and language which is hard to attain to and which never reaches much more than a modest acquaintance with the full potential they possess for clarity, accuracy and meaning.

“Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,”

But because language and its expression is a hard taskmaster there is no reason a person should not attempt to write and to speak with precision and as clearly as the matter in hand will allow.

Now for some practical things; a few simple dos and don’ts which are able to make a huge difference to readability and understandableness of your  use of language, most particularly your written  language.

Possibly the most overused and so most liable to misinterpretation in written language are pronouns.  The personal pronouns are he, she, they, them, we, you, him, and her.  Add to these the pronouns commonly used to denote objects; that, this, it, those, they, there, then, and a string of others. These though are the main culprits.

Try disentangling a sentence written like this:

‘It was within his ability and he took it from him and he threw a glance at him and told him he was stealing’

Who is stealing? Which of the males? Who threw the glance? Who took the object ‘it’?

No mater how many times you read the sentence you can’t fathom it; its full meaning is not able to be fathomed – as it is written here. If we take a bit of care in our thought and write it this time thus:

‘It had been within his ability, and another had taken it from him; this other had then thrown a glance at him and at the same time had admitted stealing.’

Or maybe:

‘It had been within his ability, so he had taken it from another, and as he had taken it, he had thrown a glance and had said to that other ‘I am stealing’.’

Two near enough opposing situations either of which is derivable from the original sentence as a possible meaning.

You can see that a use of tenses has helped a lot in making the two situations in the two sentences derived from the first, clear sentences able to expresses meaning so as to be hardly mistakable.

The sentences that are clear in their meanings are perhaps more cumbersome to read than the first one is, but they are written as language being used so as to be clear, and were not written to offer entertainment or conversationally.

The use of the past perfect tense has enabled the writer to keep a grip on the meaning of the words closely and so he has been able to steer through the complicated actions that were to be communicated without him losing the thread of who did what to whom.

So a good rule of thumb is to keep pronouns to a minimum.  Instead of using them use the names of the things and the persons they are referring to, even when this means a lot of repetition of these names.  With technical language, and with legal language too it is better to be dull and clear than to be snappy and slack.

A second good rule of thumb is to think about the variety of tenses available to you before or as you write.  It takes time. At first it seems unnatural. As you get more practiced things will speed up and that sense of flow in writing will become easier.  If you really don’t know where to begin with tenses, get yourself a simple English grammar, nothing too technical, and gen up on a few. You only need to master the main ones people use in descriptive technical writing.

This recommendation of a simple grammar might sound daunting, or deathly boring, or both; but when you  find you have saved yourself from an otherwise costly and/or time-consuming ambiguity, or you find you have saved yourself from misunderstanding an important paragraph, you will get that buzz of  delight which will gladly lead you back into your simple grammar, there to learn some more saving graces.

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