Beware of scareware

So there I was, minding my business this morning, browsing through the Cheezburger family of sites using Firefox, when all of a sudden I get a warning from Ad Aware that there’s a suspicious process (a keylogger) running on my computer and that it was running a scan in the background.

Of course, it wasn’t really Ad Aware telling me that. It was something calling itself XP Antimalware. (It’s hard to keep track of its various names but that’s the one it used on this occasion.) It really gave itself away when it popped up a fake Windows Internet Security window with completely wrong settings. It’s an interesting little bugger. It’s what’s known as a “rogue scanner” or scareware, which is an anti-virus or anti-spyware program that attempts to trick you into buying a full version of the program by popping up numerous warnings that your system is infected. It also sort of highjacks your existing anti-virus or anti-spyware programs — I couldn’t run Ad Aware from the Start menu, for example, because XP Antimalware would start running instead. Stopping the process in the Windows Task Manager and then clearing my cache and running Spybot cleaned up everything.

I have to reluctantly admire the manufacturers of the program. It mimics Windows messages and dialog boxes really well, which is why they are so successful at making money at this. People no doubt panic slightly when they see the initial message, and then even more so as the fake scanner pops up and lists dozens of infected files on their computer. And in their panic, they agree to buy a license for the scareware program.

The lesson to be learned from that is that people really need to be more aware of what their legitimate anti-virus, anti-spyware, and security programs look and behave like…and don’t click anything that you don’t recognize.


Our national self-deprecating sense of humour

Ottawa Citizen, March 4, 2010: Gag writer defends campy closing ceremony

Don’t blame Canada; blame Will Ferguson.

Depending on your reaction to Sunday’s closing ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the Calgary humourist is either a comic mastermind or the man behind an uncomfortably hackneyed dose of Canadiana served up on the world stage.

Ferguson was the lead writer, the man who put the words into the mouths of William Shatner, Catherine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox. Shatner’s references to “making love in a canoe,” O’Hara’s poking fun at our penchant for apologizing and Fox’s declaration that he’s a tuque-wearing poutine lover all came from the mind of one of the country’s most renowned humorists.

“I guess I’m the Nickelback of humorists now,” Ferguson says with a laugh of the strong reactions, both pro and con, to his monologues.

Some writers praised it as a welcome, witty display of self-deprecating humour.

Others just hated it. Criticism online was vicious, and some lambasted the show as “embarrassing” and “cringeworthy.”

I’m in the “witty” camp. I’m not sure I can really explain why I was less offended by the Vancouver 2010 closing ceremonies than I was by the opening ceremonies. I suppose it all depends on your sense of humour.

The opening ceremonies used a different set of Canadian stereotypes in an earnest and serious attempt to share our culture (do we really have one?) with the world, unfortunately reinforcing our image as a quaint and charming rustic little country. It’s a bit like proving that you really are the cute little kid your big brother keeps telling everyone you are.

It’s the seriousness with which the stereotypes were presented that annoyed me about the opening ceremonies,  not the stereotypes themselves. Seriousness has never really been our forte as a country. We’re the country that birthed Air Farce, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Kids in the Hall, and SCTV, after all. We’re a country that is most comfortable when its poking fun at itself. The closing ceremonies took all of the classic Canadian stereotypes and just had fun with them. (Come on, table top hockey? Even I did that as a kid, and I hate hockey. By the way, you can own the inflatable moose for about $5000.)

Whether or not you not think the closing were embarrassing probably depends a great deal on your own sense of humour.

One Ocean

One Ocean” is a four-part Nature of Things documentary that begins airing tonight on CBC. (National Geographic had a hand in it so I presume you’ll see it turning up on the National Geographic Channel at some point.) The series explores our planet’s oceans and their biosystems.

The companion site offers, in addition to other things, a series of pledges you can make to show your commitment to the oceans in particular and the environment in general. It’s an interesting way to try to engage the general public and encourage them to develop an interest in what’s happening to our oceans. But I question how it’s been implemented, and I question some of the pledges offered. For example, following the recent whale trainer death in Florida and the renewed criticisms of aquariums and captive marine life that erupted as a result, is a “visit an aquarium whenever possible” pledge (“Visiting an aquarium is a great opportunity to connect with marine life we may never get another chance to see. You’ll likely learn something new each time!“) really appropriate? Presumably the eco-credits assigned to each pledge will have something to do with the Biosphere gaming area that will be unveiled on March 11 since they seem to be valuing tasks that children can perform (pledging to go to aquariums or beaches more often) higher than tasks that adults are more likely to perform (presumably so as to not hinder their play time in the Biosphere). I’d be interested to know if anyone has actually been able to make a pledge — I tried it out and nothing at all happens. Perhaps it won’t be fully functional until the Biosphere is open.

The site appears to be somewhat under construction. The Biosphere isn’t ready yet; neither is the Ocean Explorer. But the Timeline works and is an interesting look at the history of ocean exploration and prehistoric creatures of the sea. There are video and audio extras (webisodes, interviews, and behind-the-scenes clips) and image galleries to go with each episode. (You can also see photos on their Flickr page.) There is supposed to be a blog, but I don’t see it there yet. Perhaps it’s still under construction as well.

In any case, it looks to be a really interesting series.

I can’t sing it as it is

Stop tinkering with the anthem.

I can’t remember the words to the current version as it is, and people look at me funny when I go all 70s retro.

Say, guys, while you’re in there making it all gender neutral and stuff, could you rethink the whole “God keep our land” thing? Surely religious freedom is as important as gender neutrality. (Besides, is it really God’s job to keep us glorious and free? Shouldn’t we be doing something about that ourselves? His/Her/Its/Their plate has got to be full by now…if, you know, he/she/it/they exists and all.)

Living in the present

I learned last night that a close friend of my parents’ passed away suddenly on Friday. I don’t know if his life went the way he’d expected it to, but I think he extracted all the enjoyment out of the hand he was dealt as he could. He was a big, loud, bearded Maritime fisherman who liked to scare little children and sensitive ladies with his gruffness and raucous sense of humour. A big bear with a soft gooey centre. I haven’t seen him in decades, but a little part of him lives in a tiny corner of my soul where my inner child hides in gleeful terror from his pranks. Mr. H, I hope you’re punking the spirits wherever you are. And I hope they’re giving you a kickass wake today.

If I could learn anything from my cat, it would be to live in the present. For him, as it is for most non-humans, the past is done and gone (no point worrying about it) and the future is an abstract concept (so no point worrying about it).

I dwell too much on the past, dream too much about the future, and spend too little time actually present in the present. To a certain extent, humans have to live their lives conscious of both past and future. (Bills don’t necessarily get paid if you don’t devote at least a little bit of your thinking time to future — “letting the universe provide” will only take you so far, even as a freegan — and we have ample evidence that failing to consider the past results in us repeating mistakes we should have learned from.) But many of us get bogged down in the minutiae of other times: baggage from the past that you drag around with you everywhere, worries about your future, dreams of a better life.

Even when I am actively doing something, I’m most likely thinking about something else entirely  — things I need to do, things I need to remember to not do, things I should do, things I wish I hadn’t done or had done differently, things I want to have/do/be. From the mundanity of what to have for supper to the profundity of the meaning of life, from the self-involvement of my own individuality to a contemplation of our vast global consciousness. But it’s rarely ever fully focused on what I’m doing or experiencing at the moment that I’m doing or experiencing it. It means I miss a great deal. I miss the beauty around me. I miss the opportunity to truly learn from what I’m experiencing. I miss the chance to grow, to be. I’d like to say that it’s a recent affliction, but I’ve been like this since I can remember. I’m a daydreamer supreme, all thought and little action. Is that really how I want my life to play out, as a spectator who isn’t even paying attention to the game?

I’m feeling my own mortality more and more with each passing day. The generation before me is slowly checking out, one-by-one. Sooner than we’d like, it will be our time to go, and I want to make my eventual exit with the knowledge that I lived every day, instead of just killing time.

Pulling up stakes

When I was a child, we lived on Vancouver Island for three years, mostly in and around the town of Sidney. I loved British Columbia in general and Vancouver Island in particular, and it’s always been one of the few places in Canada I could picture myself living. I miss the ocean a great deal and, while the North Atlantic is the ocean that is in my blood, the Pacific would be a fair second choice. Still, I’ve never really seriously considered moving to BC an option.

Moving to the West coast has been an ongoing joke between one of my friends and I for years. We’ve known each other since the early 80s. I moved here to Ottawa because she was here and had offered me a place to stay while I got settled. Within a year of me moving here, she moved to Vancouver with her then-husband. I’ve been telling her ever since that I am categorically not following her to BC. We laugh about it. It’s funny mostly because I think we both know subconsciously that it is probably going to happen anyway (and that she’ll probably then move somewhere else, where I will also categorically NOT follow her). My Universe is funny that way.

During a very recent conversation with someone (I can’t remember who) about “doing what you love”, I mentioned in passing that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up, but that I wished someone would pay to move me out to Vancouver Island for a well-paying job doing something at least moderately enjoyable. It’s the first time that I’d ever put that thought out there, in front of someone else. And it’s the first time in a long time that I’d actually considered the possibility of moving somewhere else.

Tonight, I got an e-mail from a recruiting company here in Ontario that was recruiting for a long-term contract in Vancouver. Not sure what about my Workopolis profile gave the impression that I was open to relocation (in fact, it clearly states that I am NOT open to it). I replied to the query indicating that I wasn’t a good fit unless they were looking for a telecommuter or wanted to pay to relocate someone. I don’t expect to get a response — I’m fairly certain the initial query was a mistake on their part — but it did get me thinking about the prospect of picking up and moving. If it’s something I would really like to one day do, then I should start preparing now. I don’t want another situation like the one that brought me to Ottawa.

Start as you mean to go on

Though I’ve been overweight for much of my adult life, I was never debilitated by it. Up until about 1999 or so, I could and did walk long distances, did Tai Chi and yoga, could walk up and down stairs without trouble, despite weighing at times the equivalent of two regular-sized women. I had some back problems, but that was intermittent and more related to my tendency to be accident prone (and to having an ample bosom) than to my weight or state of health, since it started long before I ever became significantly overweight.

Sometime during the year or so leading up to my pulmonary embolism at the beginning of 2000, and worsening significantly in the years following, my body started to break down. There isn’t a moment that I am awake or asleep that at least one part of my body doesn’t ache, a constant miasma of unwellness. From the top of my head, where the remnants of past fractures make my hair follicles hurt, to the constant ache in lymph nodes under my arm and jaw, to the aches and pains in every joint — arthritic fingers and toes; elbows and knees that bore the brunt of too many clumsy falls and broken bones; the almost permanently torn rotator cuffs from bra straps that struggle and fail to win against gravity.

That’s not even considering the other physical complaints and breathing that feels as though someone is sitting on your chest all the time. I feel permanently oxygen-starved. I can’t concentrate. I have the attention span of a squirrel. I feel like I’m constantly recovering from the achy, feverish, tired, slightly-drugged effects of the flu. I’ve put up with it all for so long, barely able to muster the interest to note the issues, let alone actually do something about them. A few half-hearted past efforts failed, unsurprisingly, because I just couldn’t sustain the attention long enough to break old habits and build up new ones, resulting a Catch-22 situation as neglect results in more and more damage to a body already under extreme duress, which in turn exacerbates the mental and emotional issues leading to more self-abuse and neglect, and the cycle continues. 

It really needs to stop.

I turn 45 in a couple of months, and I have the body of a 90-year-old. A sick, frail 90-year-old. If I want to see 46, I need to smarten the hell up.


Not tomorrow. Not in a month. Now.

Little steps can lead to big results, but only if you actually take those first steps. I know what I need to do, I just need to figure out how best to sustain my wandering attention span until better habits are in place and can sustain themselves. Weird as it may sound, I may end up having to temporarily rely on 5-Hour Energy as a daily supplement instead of an occasional pick-me-up, since it is one of the few things that actually helps me to concentrate when my mind is all over the place. (It’s certainly the only reason that I was even capable of writing and publishing this post, which would otherwise have remained a half-formed thought in my Drafts folder for months.)