Category: Things I’ve learned (Page 2 of 4)

A Little Secret: Shoplifters Can Ignore Exit Alarms

but they debase honest shoppers as well as our freedom

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on shoplifting ever since my Assemblywoman, Mary Hayashi, was arrested and then convicted for stealing over $2,445  in merchandize from Neiman Marcus.  I wanted to understand what made her do it, and at some point I will write about it.

But in researching shoplifting techniques, I found quite a few threads about the electronic/magnetic anti-theft tags that are now put on products of all kinds, from books to electronics (though items of clothing use a different kind).  There are actually several types of these, some hidden within the products.   They are made so that they will be detected by sensors near the exit, which will be if the tag is activated.   When you purchase the product, the checker deactivates it to avoid the beeping.  Shoplifters, as you can expect, try to remove these tags and avoid the beep.  They shouldn’t bother.

The problem with these systems is that they are not sophisticated.  They are often, if not always, calibrated in a way that is not exclusive to the tags used by a given store – so they will be beep if you pass the sensors with an active tag from a product that you bought elsewhere.  Moreover, the deactivation process doesn’t always work, so the sensors may beep when you go by with a product you have actually purchased.  Stores know this, and while they may request patrons to stop (though this is rare), they won’t force the issue.  What generally happens is that the honest shoppers (and inexperienced shoplifters) will stop to have their bags searched.

It may be that these devices deter shoplifting by incompetent shoplifters (which may be a good thing if it stops potential shoplifters from trying it in the first place), but they also present an inconvenience to shoppers.  For one, the implication is that all shoppers may be shoplifters, a “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy which is both baseless and dangerous in what should be a free society.  For another, it embarrasses honest shoppers publicly, as many people do interpret the “beep” as evidence of shoplifting.  Moreover, it makes shoppers waste time.  Needless to say, I disapprove of these devices just as much as of having “greeters” demand to see your receipt and bags when you exit a store.  I’m writing this article to let you know that you too, my honest reader, can just ignore them.

I have a friend that has the same philosophy but is a little more daring than I.  He took one of these devices that had not been deactivated and placed it in his wallet.  Pretty much every time he goes into and out of a store the device makes the sensors beep.  Sometimes he getslooks from the sellers or guards, but never once has he been stopped.  Stopping him, after all, might make the store liable for a claim of false imprisonment.  While stores have a “merchant privilege” of stopping you if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have stolen something, the sensors have too many false-positives to make any suspicion reasonable.

There is actually a protocol that merchants should follow to support actual arrests and convictions for shoplifting and avoid false arrest charges.  Neiman Marcus loss prevention agents followed this protocol to the letter when they detained Mary Hayashi.  As there was no question that she had shoplifted, she plead guilty to a misdemeanor to avoid a felony conviction.  She got a slap on the wrist for doing it, though, and she still may be able to salvage her political career: she’s currently running for Alameda County Supervisor.


Facebooks How To’s

There are often things I want to do on Facebook that FB tries to stop users from doing.  Fortunately there are people out there trying to best them, and I’ll be posting here some of the things I’ve tried to do, and what worked.  Note that FB changes its site frequently, so tricks stop working from time to time.


Regularly, Facebook forces you to click next to the name of the friend you want to invite to an event.  You can force your browser to click on all the names by using the javascript below.  Note that it didn’t work for me using Firefox (it said something about FB disabling it to keep social engineering away), but it did work perfectly in Opera.

This is what you do:

– Go the page of the event you want to invite people to

– Click on “Invite Friends” on the top right-side of the window

– A pop up window opens up with the pictures/names of your friends. This window only displays a few friends at a time.  Scroll down to add more.  Continue scrolling until all your friends are shown.

– Copy this script:

javascript:elms=document.getElementsByName(“checkableitems[]”);for (i=0;i<elms.length;i++){if (elms[i].type=”checkbox” )elms[i].click()};

– Paste it in the url bar (replacing the url of the page you are in).

– Click “enter”

– Wait until the squares by the pictures of all your friends are clicked (it can take a few minutes, depending on how many friends you have) and then press “submit”.


You are done!

Internet Puppy Scam

We’ve been talking about getting a dog for a while.  We figured we’d wait until the kids were a bit older and, all of sudden, we realized that they were already older (7 and 10) and that if we didn’t get a dog soon they’d go much of their childhood without one.  Camila, in particular, has been asking for a dog for a LONG time.  Last year I promised her I’d get her one if she didn’t whine until the summer.  She actually managed to do that (though I had to remind her each time).  The weekend before last, for some reason Mike told her that we could get a dog now – so I started looking.

The kids didn’t care too much about what type of dog we got, but I was pretty adamant that it had to be cute.  For me, that meant no mutts (let’s be honest, most of them are ugly), no hounds or other skinny dogs and no small dogs – they are just too precious.  Going through the breeds of dogs that I could actually find around here, I ended up deciding it had to be a Goldern or Labrador retriever, a German or Australian Shepherd, a Siberian Husky or a Border collie.  I had originally wanted a grown dog – so I wouldn’t have to house train it – but Mike wanted a puppy or a young dog, so that’s what I started to look for.

I first started looking on Petfinder, a wonderful website that lists adoptable pets from shelters and rescue groups throughout the country (and more important, the Bay Area).  But I quickly realized my chances of finding a dog with those characteristic were minimal.  Plus the rescue groups, in particular, have pretty onerous adoption processes that include “thorough” questionnaires and home visits, I definitely didn’t want to bother with that.  Plus adoption “donations” for these groups can be as high as $250!

My next place to look was Craigslist.  Some shelters advertise here, but there are also ads from people re-homing their dogs and selling puppies.  Now, Craigslist doesn’t allow people to actually sell dogs but they allow “small” re-homing fees, but what constitutes “small” seems open to interpretation.  Anyway, most of the puppies we called about seemed to be in the $150 to $400 range.  Unfortunately, Craigslist didn’t have any puppies I wanted when I looked, though they do add new ones daily.

By searching around the net, I then came across oodle marketplace, an online classified website.  Here I found lots of listings for puppies at very reasonable prices (about $200-300).  I hurried to e-mail the owners, asking for more information on the puppies as well as pictures.  Almost immediately the replies started coming.  I wrote to seven people, and got five replies back.  All of those were SCAMS.  I’m copying the responses below though they are pretty much the same:

  1. They are all written in bad English (typical of Nigerian scams)
  2. They all offer say their puppies are AKC registered, yet the puppies are free or too cheap
  3. The puppies all come with equipment, guarantees or other things that cost money
  4. They claim that what they most care about is a good home for the puppies and send a long questionnaire.

As I’m a big fan of reading scam baiter e-mail threads (and I have to recommend them to you, the baits are soo funny though sometimes really cruel), I could tell from the first e-mail that it was a scam.  A quick google search for the e-mail address led me to many ads offering all sorts of puppies for sale, in many cities.  But how did the scam work?

Another quick search leads to the answer:  the scammer tells you that she’s no longer in your city but she’ll be more than happy to mail you the puppy.  All you have to do is pay for the shipping (or a low price that includes shipping), directly to the shipping company.  The shipping company they’ll use is a fake and requires payment by Western Union or Moneygram (which will be untraceable to them once they receive it).

Personally, I don’t know why anyone would buy a puppy sight unseen (even from a reputable breeder) but these scams must work because they continue doing them.

Oh, well.  At least scam baiters are having fun with these scams, this one is hilarious.  And as for me, I went back to Craigslist and got a gorgeous German Shepherd puppy from a private party for a very reasonable price.

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$40 for a link!

I just got an offer from someone I suppose works for a search engine optimization (SEO) company offering to pay me $40 to advertise on one of my web pages.  I get these offers from time to time, but this time I decided to inquire a little bit further and find out exactly what they wanted from me.  It turned out that they wanted me to place 3 links on my Cantabrian cheesecake recipe page.  That, in itself, was pretty weird, as I can’t imagine that page gets many visitors, but what was weirder was the actual links they wanted me to include.  They were to websites for building birdhouses!  Two of the websites, moreover, where government websites (I guess park departments must encourage birdhouses).   Now, this puzzled me as I was sure that government websites would not be paying for links, specially from irrelevant pages like mine, so I decided to do a bit of investigation.  This is what I found out:

– Nobody knows exactly what Google’s algorithm for listing websites is, but one factor is how many other sites link to that one site.

– The “quality” of the site where the link is matters, Google gives more weight to websites that it deems “legitimate” (i.e. not created for the sole purpose of linking to other sites).

– The word it links from matters too.  In this case, the SEO seller asked me to add the words “cottage cheese” to my description of queso fresco and link to the one commercial birdhouse site from the word “cottage”.

– Google, however, does not assess the relevancy of the link to the subject matter of the page.  In other words, Google won’t notice/care that the link to a page on building birdhouses came from a recipe page.

– If Google catches you buying or selling links, it will penalize you by not having your website show up at all or in the first few pages of search results.

I still don’t quite understand how this person actually found my Cantabrian cheesecake page (what word could she have been searching for that would have led her to that page?).  In any case, I thought this was interesting to share.

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