Friday, November 25, 2011

Just in: Los Angeles to enforce its laws. Well, one law, anyway.

In a bold move, the mayor of Los Angeles said on November 25 that the city will soon be enforcing one of its laws. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city will stop allowing people to illegally camp in a park adjacent to City Hall, a mere seven weeks after the first campers showed up. (See "Villaraigosa announces impending shutdown of Occupy L.A. Camp.")

Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck said campers who refuse to leave the park will be dealt with harshly and may not get the free housing or other incentives the city will be giving to the others. Or at least they won't get as much.

No word yet on whether Los Angeles may try to enforce other laws.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Who is Sutherland Mortgage Services?

If you're looking for a home loan or trying to refinance, you may have come upon Sutherland Mortgage Services. This Texas firm appears to offer attractive rates. But who are they?

Sutherland was formerly known as Profolio Home Mortgage, according to the National Mortgage Licensing System, and a little research on that name makes it clear why the company changed its name. Online reviews of Profolio Home Mortgage are decidedly negative, with such comments as these:

"They are shady, unethical, unprofessional, and overly aggressive. AVOID THEM!!"

 "This company wasted my time and money and screwed me out of getting a refi."

"Profolio repeatedly mis-represented their lending costs, their loan requirements, and their ability to close the loan. ... They kept stalling and not responding to my phone calls nor emails for weeks on the second loan. No one even answered their customer service phone for a day!"

A year ago, I attempted to use Profolio myself for a refinance, and I don't find these complaints at all surprising. Looking back at the 10 refinancings I've done in my life, no company was as incompetent as Profolio.  They wasted my time, failed to deliver on their promises and still owe me $350.

So what do you do when your company gets a bad reputation? Well, you could try to improve, but in the case of this company you simply change the name.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The perils of automated online ads

The New York Times has a story today about how caller ID is being misused by telemarketers, collection agencies and criminal scammers to fool people into answering their phone. The article points out that "it is illegal to transmit inaccurate or misleading caller ID information 'with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.'"

Someone at the New York Times ought to look at the bottom of the page where the online version of this story is running.  There, you can find an ad that boasts, "Spoof Caller ID Now. Totally Private. Totally Fun."  See below.

See the NYT story here.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: "War Reporting for Cowards" by Chris Ayres

The image of the war correspondent is well-known. The intrepid reporter ventures fearlessly into combat, dodging bullets and bombs, in order to provide breathless eyewitness reports of front-line action. In the end, the journalist emerges from the dust and debris slightly scuffed, his hair tousled, but eager to do it all again.

Then there's Chris Ayres, a reporter for the London Times who didn't really want to go to war and once he was there couldn't wait to leave. Ayres' "War Reporting for Cowards" offers up a funny and fresh view of war reporting.

Ayers gives a down-to-earth accounting of being "embedded" with the U.S. Marines during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. No mundane detail is spared
he describes the necessity of digging a hole in the absence of a bathroom, the claustrophobic gas masks, the mud and dirt, and the barely concealed hostility of the Marines with whom he was traveling. It's hard to see the glory in this war story.

"Waking up in a Humvee ... on the front lines of an invasion, is different," Ayers writes. "The first thing you notice is the contortion necessary to sleep inside the vehicle: the head dangles inches from the bare metal floor; the right leg is to be found somewhere behind the left ear. The spine feels as though it has been splintered like a cocktail stick. If the war doesn't kill you, sleeping in the Humvee might."

Most of the book actually takes place before the war.  Ayers was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred and describes how, while other reporters ran toward the catastrophe, he ran as fast he could to get away. Later he moves to Los Angeles to cover celebrities, but is called to embed as the 2003 war approached (he accepted only because he feared to do otherwise would kill his career).

Given a list of supplies the military says he will need, he takes a comical shopping trip to an upscale sporting goods store to buy what he needs (he had never camped before). "You don't look the type," says the youthful salesman. "Doesn't the London Times have, like, war correspondents? Don't they need you to cover the Oscars or something?"  

The book is not without its flaws. Ayers sometimes meanders into social and political commentary that falls flat or is just puzzling.  At one point, he writes, "We learn from an early age that New York is the Best City in the World, and that to be a New Yorker is something noble and proud." Huh?  Who learns that? Certainly no one I know.

Still, these lapses can be skipped over, and as long as Ayers is telling his personal story and offering up his self-deprecating humor, it's worth reading.

If you like this sort of book, you might consider "This is Your War," by the famous World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. Or for something much more serious, try "The Forever War," by Dexter Filkins, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

What to do if your personal information is stolen

There are many ways your personal information could be stolen. Hackers break in to computer systems, thieves snatch laptops, disgruntled employees pilfer information. If you believe that your social security number or other personal information has been revealed to someone who may use it to impersonate you, here are key steps to take:

  • Contact the fraud department of one of the credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. When you ask for a fraud alert from one bureau, it will notify the other two, says the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. A fraud alert tells companies to take additional steps to confirm your identity before issuing credit.

  • Get a copy of your credit reports.  After establishing a fraud alert, you will get a letter from the credit bureaus explaining how to get free copies of your credit reports. You can request that the reports show only the last four digits of your social security number

  • Once you get your credit reports, look them over carefully for accounts that aren’t yours and other evidence of identity theft.  If someone is trying to open accounts using your name, each attempt will be shown on your credit reports.  Close accounts that are not yours.

  • Consider asking the credit bureaus for a security freeze. This prevents anyone from getting credit in your name. This can be inconvenient, though, since you will have to get the freeze lifted if you want to apply for new credit. There may be a fee for the freeze.

  • If the breach involves your credit card or bank accounts, monitor those accounts closely, checking online for unusual activity – every day if possible. Contact the company if your account statement doesn’t arrive in time – someone may have changed the address on the account. 

(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Notable targeted killings under the Obama Administration

Sept. 30, 2011: American-born Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki, accused of inspiring and plotting terrorist attacks on Americans, is  killed in Yemen by a missile fired from a drone aircraft operated by the CIA.

Aug. 22, 2011: Atiyah Abdul Rahman, Al Qaeda's second-in-command, is killed in a drone attack in Pakistan.

June 3, 2011: Ilyas Kashmiri, described by U.S. officials as a key Al Qaeda planner and trainer, is killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.

May 5, 2011: Anwar Awlaki eludes a drone attack in Yemen, but the missiles kill two Al Qaeda militants, brothers Musaid and Abdullah Mubarak Daghar.

May 2, 2011: Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, is killed by Navy SEALs in a raid on his compound in Pakistan.

Sept. 25, 2010:  An airstrike in eastern Afghanistan kills Abdallah Umar Qurayshi, who had led Al Qaeda-affiliated Arab fighters operating in two eastern provinces, and Abu Atta Kuwaiti, an explosives expert.

May 2010: A U.S. drone attack kills Sheik Said Masri, Al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader, in Pakistan.

March 8, 2010:  Hussein Yemeni, an Al Qaeda bomb expert and trainer, is killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike.

Aug. 27, 2009: Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Al Qaeda-allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is killed in a U.S. drone attack.

Aug. 5, 2009: A U.S. strike kills Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

The mystery of the furnace fan that won't shut off

When winter's chill set into our house, my wife and I were glad to hear the furnace click on and start pumping warm air into our home.

But something was amiss. After about 15 minutes or so, the air coming out the vents was no longer warm. The indoor temperature had not reached the thermostat's setting, but all the furnace was doing was blowing out room-temperature air. No amount of button-pushing on the thermostat even the "off" setting would stop the fan from blowing.

The blower eventually did stop, but not before it had run for more than hour. When the furnace started again, the same cycle repeated itself warm air at first, then unheated air being blown out for over an hour.

Visions of an expensive furnace bill danced in my head as I tried to figure this out. At first, I thought the problem might be the thermostat, since it didn't seem to respond. But once the fan had shut off, the thermostat acted normally, allowing us to turn on the heat.

Checking online, I found a suggestion that the problem might be a "stuck fan switch." To investigate this, I climbed into our attic and opened the front panel on the furnace. Immediately, the blower shut off.  I thought I was onto something, but later realized I had just tripped a safety mechanism that turns the fan off when the panel is opened.  Further, I had no clue where this "stuck fan switch" might be.

Digging deeper online, I learned that when furnaces overheat internally they shut off the burners while the blower keeps running. Aha! This sounded right. Why might the furnace be overheating?  One reason would be a dirty air filter.

Now here was a repair I could handle! I removed the old, dirty filter, bought a new one and put it in. And the furnace now works perfectly.  Grand total for this repair: $10.  Boy, would I have felt foolish calling in a repairman simply to change the filter.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)