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May 30, 2005

The best article I've ever read on identity theft and what to do if and when it happens to you

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No hysteria, no over–the–top pronouncements, simply a dispassionate analysis of the problem and sensible remedies.

Alina Tugend wrote the piece; it appeared in this past Saturday's New York Times in the Personal Business section and is worth printing out and filing away "just in case."

I certainly did just that.

Good news/bad news: the single most interesting statistic in the article was that 35% of all identity theft victims resolve their problems within an hour or less; 6%, however, spend more than 240 hours.

In case you're too tired to bother with the math, that's an average of an hour a day for eight months straight — seven days a week.

Here's the story.

    Oh, No! My Identity's Gone! Call the Insurer.

    It's hard not to be frightened by identity theft these days, no matter how diligent you are.

    It seems as if tales of woe are everywhere: the stolen credit card, the compromised Social Security number, the lost wages.

    It happened to Tony Coretto of Larchmont, N.Y., six years ago.

    Someone used his name and Social Security number, supplied a different address and opened a checking account at Chase Manhattan Bank.

    That person then wrote a bad check for $7,500, and for years it haunted Mr. Coretto and his wife, Suzanne.

    You bought a shredder a few years back to avoid such a nightmare and use it religiously on those annoying preapproved credit card solicitations that clog your mailbox.

    You are aware of the e-mail schemes that are circulating and never provide personal information over the Internet, at least not on an unsecured Web site.

    And each time a company asks for your Social Security number or your mother's maiden name, you ask why and inquire how it will safeguard that information.

    You swallow hard and give the information, the same way you let a waiter take your credit card away for approval.

    Some things are just out of your control.

    Then you hear about security breaches at companies like MCI, Bank of America and Time Warner.

    And the scary statistic that almost 10 million people have been victims of identity thieves in the last year, according to the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

    So you wonder, is this getting out of hand? What else can I do?

    It may not come as a surprise that the insurance industry has found an eager market for a timely product: identity theft insurance.

    Before you start enjoying warm and fuzzy feelings of security, know that such insurance does not cover the thousands of dollars that thieves may rack up using your good credit; in fact, consumers are usually responsible for a maximum of $50.

    Rather, it is meant to reimburse, as much as possible, for the time and out-of-pocket expenses involved in purging the bad credit.

    It can be bought either as part of a homeowner's policy or as a stand-alone endorsement.

    It's free or cheap - usually no more than $50 a year, depending on the policy.

    And that generally covers up to $25,000, according to the Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org).

    Indeed, if you have a homeowner's policy, check with the insurance agent; you may already be covered and not know it.

    Most policies reimburse for lost wages associated with taking time off to clear up the problem, phone bills, notary and legal fees, money spent reapplying for loans that may have been rejected because of bad credit, and even medical bills if the client can prove that the identity theft caused physical or psychological problems that required a doctor's services.

    That's the catch; everything must be documented.

    Such products had only limited availability in 1999, when Mr. Coretto did what he was told to do by his creditors: report the situation immediately to the three major credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

    Still, "for the next several months," he recalled, "I was hounded by a collection agency and tried to get both Equifax and TransUnion to remove incorrect former addresses and former employment - not to mention the offending Chase revolving credit account I never had, as well as a phone bill for a number I had never had."

    Six years later, the exasperation was still in his voice.

    It took contacting the Better Business Bureau, his lawyer and the office of Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, to resolve the matter.

    But the story was not over yet.

    More than two years later, when he and his wife were preparing to refinance their mortgage, the bad credit still appeared on his credit reports, and he found that the Chase account had been transferred to another collection agency.

    Mr. Coretto again contacted the three reporting agencies, and filed a consumer identity theft affidavit with all three.

    After more frustrating hours spent on the phone and writing letters, he resolved the matter, for now at least.

    In all, he estimates that he lost at least 40 working hours over a period of three years clearing up the mess.

    Not every victim is plagued for years like Mr. Coretto.

    Betsy Broder, who oversees the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft program, noted that 35 percent of all victims resolve their problems within an hour or less.

    The bad news, however, is that 6 percent spend more than 240 hours.

    If you're caught in the web of identity theft and want to hand the whole problem over to someone else, some insurance companies offer what they call a restoration or resolution service.

    They provide either a specialist who guides you through the credit maze, or someone who actually does the work, such as filing police reports and contacting credit agencies.

    For example, Kroll Inc., a risk consultant company, offers restoration services and credit monitoring for $9.95 a month.

    It also supplies an after-the-fact restoration service for a flat fee, which can range from a few hundred dollars to $1,500, said Troy D. Allen, vice president for fraud solutions at Kroll.

    Identity theft insurance should not be confused with credit monitoring services.

    These online services offer, for $30 to $150 annually, monthly e-mail alerts about new credit inquiries, account openings or other changes to your credit records, as well as frequent credit reports.

    BUT Linda Foley, co-executive director for the Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), says such services are at best unnecessary, and also give a false sense of security.

    "They're accurate only up to a point," she said.

    Many times companies do not report right away who has tried to open an account in your name, so nothing appears for months.

    "If you don't catch the fraud at the time of application, it doesn't matter if you find out now or in a month," Ms. Foley said.

    Insurance, on the other hand, if it is low-cost or free and has good coverage, is not necessarily bad, Ms. Foley said.

    In general, however, consumer experts are not big advocates of insurance.

    They say that most people can resolve problems themselves, using the free resources available from organizations like Ms. Foley's, Consumers Union (www.consumersunion.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.gov/idtheft).

    Gail Hillebrand, a senior lawyer with the West Coast regional office of Consumers Union, noted that insurance was one response to identity theft, but consumers should also know - and use - new legislation put into place to protect them from identity theft.

    By federal law, you are allowed one free report a year from credit agencies; in the New York metropolitan area this provision will take effect on Sept. 1.

    A good tip is to stagger the reports by applying for one every four months from each credit agency instead of applying for them all at once.

    Also, the minute you are notified of a possible identity theft and ask a credit agency to put out a fraud alert, you are eligible for a free report.

    Five states already have laws allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports, then unfreeze them for a small fee.

    That means that anyone applying, for example, for a loan or benefits in someone else's name will be denied because access cannot be obtained to the credit report.

    Consumer advocates caution consumers not to think of insurance as a panacea.

    Just because you have a policy does not mean you can let down your guard: you still need to educate yourself about how to avoid identity theft.

    If you do decide to buy insurance, be sure to look at what it includes.

    Is there a limit on the number of hours the insurance company will reimburse for lost work time?

    Does it matter if you are a salaried or hourly worker?

    What about out-of-pocket expenses? What is the deductible?

    Read the policies carefully.

    Decide if it is worthwhile to spend the money.

    And don't forget to use that shredder.

May 30, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Husky Mini–Mouth Hold–All Bag

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7 storage pockets.

Made of heavy duty SpunTuff water–resistant material.

Belt strap.

I'm looking at a very nicely designed piece of kit.

Those stretchy cords on the back can carry lots of stuff.

The ring up top goes around your purse strap and voila, a tricked–out, right–at–hand cell phone holder with a place for your pen.

Nicely done.

$6.97 here (item #53769).

May 30, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is there anyone left on the planet who hasn't been offered a Gmail invite?

Nnnnn

Hey, you — yeah, you, in the cave on Mindanao: didn't you get the word World War II ended a while back?

No?

Well, no wonder you haven't received a Gmail invite.

Your 60–year wait is over.

Simply visit isnoop.com/gmail and pick up your invitation.

The site has distributed 1,142,251 Gmail invites since it went up on September 13 of last year.

They currently have 1,246,276 invites available for the asking.

So now what's your excuse?

Full disclosure: I do not now have — nor do I plan anytime in the near future to get — Gmail.

I've been offered about 1,246,276 invites to date and have turned them all down.

Why?

Why not?

May 30, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Heavy Duty Job Site Radio

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You know how construction workers have music going while they work?

They don't use a Bose Wave radio out in the dirt and dust and gravel — trust me on this.

What they use is a radio like the one pictured above, made by the same company — Milwaukee — that makes their professional–grade tools.

Tons of features, most important being it can withstand an 8 foot drop onto concrete.

Can your Bose Wave do that?

Mmmm_4

Didn't think so.

The Milwaukee costs $94.95 here.

Works with a rechargeable battery ($37.26 here) or you can plug it in.

Oh, yeah, you'll also need a charger: that'll be $49.95 here.

Add it all up and it's about half the cost of the Bose.

Except now you're ready to rock 'n roll anywhere.

Put the "boom" back in boom box.

Did someone say "par–táy?"

May 30, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iPod hack at MOMA

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One of the more interesting things I've come across in recent weeks was this past Saturday's New York Times front page story by Randy Kennedy on a very ingenious hack created by a college professor and his students that subverts the old–fashioned audio-guided museum tour.

Long story short: the group created their own narrative tracks for alternative, "unofficial" guided audio tours of New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Free downloads are here; go to the museum whenever you like and enjoy a "guided" tour narrated via your iPod.

Or take the tour at home while you chill or do whatever, or while you're running or biking or driving.

The Museum's being a good sport about it and not taking a position.

This idea is profound and has enormous implications.

I may give podcasting another look, as my technical wiz Phillip Winn suggested I do some time ago.

But really, bookofjoeTV is where it's at: I'm still reserving my prime wood for that arrow.

Here's the Times story.

    With Irreverence and an iPod, Recreating the Museum Tour

    If you soak up the Jackson Pollocks at the Museum of Modern Art while listening to the museum's official rented $5 audio guide, you will hear informative but slightly dry quotations from the artist and commentary from a renowned curator. ("The grand scale and apparently reckless approach seem wholly American.")

    But the other day, a college student, Malena Negrao, stood in front of Pollock's "Echo Number 25," and her audio guide featured something a little more lively.

    "Now, let's talk about this painting sexually," a man's deep voice said. "What do you see in this painting?"

    A woman, giggling, responded on the audio track: "Oh my God! You're such a pervert. I can't even say what that - am I allowed to say what that looks like?"

    The exchange sounded a lot more like MTV than Modern Art 101, but for Ms. Negrao it had a few things to recommend it.

    It was free.

    It didn't involve the museum's audio device, which resembles a cellphone crossed with a nightstick.

    And best of all, it was slightly subversive: an unofficial, homemade and thoroughly irreverent audio guide to MoMA, downloaded onto her own iPod.

    The creators of this guide, David Gilbert, a professor of communication at Marymount Manhattan College, and a group of his students, describe it on their Web site as a way to "hack the gallery experience" or "remix MoMa," which they do with a distinctly collegiate blend of irony, pop music and heavy breathing.

    It is one of the newest adaptations in the world of podcasting - downloading radio shows, music and kitchen-sink audio to an MP3 player.

    Specifically, these museum guides are an outgrowth of a recent podcasting trend called "sound seeing," in which people record narrations of their travels - walking on the beach, wandering through the French Quarter - and upload them onto the Internet for others to enjoy.

    In that spirit, the creators of the unauthorized guides to the Modern have also invited anyone interested to submit his or her own tour for inclusion on the project's Web site, mod.blogs.com/art_mobs. (Instructions are on the Web site.)

    In the museum world, where the popularity of audio tours has grown tremendously over the last decade, the use of commercial MP3 players seems to be catching on.

    Officials at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis have discussed putting their new audio guide material on the Web for downloading to portable players.

    Last year, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo lent viewers iPods to use as audio guides for one exhibition, and Apple Computer has helped the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley of France do the same thing, using the sonorous voice of the actor Michael Lonsdale.

    But the rise of podcasting is now enabling museumgoers not simply to enjoy audio guides on a sleeker-looking device but also to concoct their own guides and tours.

    A New York art Web site, woostercollective.com, recently made a sound-seeing tour of the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, which the Web site's creators made in hushed tones while wandering through the show, sometimes quoting from the museum's official audio guide, which they listened to as they chatted.

    At Marymount, on the Upper East Side, Dr. Gilbert said he was partly inspired to create the unofficial guides after listening to the museum's audio tours for children, which he found much more entertaining and engaging than the new ones recently introduced for grown-ups.

    But Dr. Gilbert said his larger point was to try to teach his students to stop being passive information consumers - whether through television, radio or an official audio guide - and to take more control, using as his model the guru of so-called remix culture, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School.

    "It's not incumbent on us to, you know, praise the art necessarily," Dr. Gilbert said recently at the museum, wearing neon-green sunglasses and leading a group of students through the underground tour.

    "That's part of the playfulness and fun of this project. If we want to say something irreverent or something scathing about the art, that can come out." (In the name of politeness, the project's Web site does tip its hat to the Modern: "Apologia: We love MoMA. Hackers hack a platform out of respect for it.")

    Informed about the project last week, museum officials declined to reciprocate with their opinions, but also made no comments about instituting an iPod ban.

    So far, the unofficial guides cover only a few of the museum's works - by artists like Pollock, Cindy Sherman, Francis Bacon, Picasso, Max Beckmann and Marc Chagall, whose well-known "I and the Village" comes in for a critical pummeling by Jason Rosenfeld, a Marymount professor of art history, who calls it "the worst, most reductive kind of art" and blames Chagall for all the "ugly menorahs" and tacky stained-glass windows in modern synagogues.

    "It's the worst style that ever developed in the history of art," he declares.

    A visceral Bacon painting called "Painting" (1946) gets an all-music treatment that sometimes sounds like Metallica.

    Beckmann receives a dark hip-hop soundtrack. ("If anybody cares/ I'll be in the basement slitting my throat/ Happy New Year.")

    And the Pollock guide, while mostly sex-obsessed, does include the owner of the deep voice, John Benton, another Marymount communication professor, talking about Pollock's calligraphic technique and his references to Roman art.

    But lest any of this become boring, the discussion is also sprinkled with driving guitar riffs from the 1970's song "Peaches," by the Stranglers, along with echo effects and the sound of a woman moaning in pleasure.

    "That's not me doing that," stressed Ms. Negrao, a Marymount junior who is one of the women's voices on the Pollock guide.

    "That's a sound effect."

    Last week, as she and her fellow students Liza Pastore, Cheryl Stoever and Aubrey Strickland gathered in a semicircle in front of the Pollock, other museumgoers crowding by would slow down and stare, wondering why the women were laughing and what they were hearing through those familiar white iPod earphones.

    Later, in front of Ms. Sherman's "Untitled No. 92," the group roped in a stranger, Ashkan Sahihi, and persuaded him to listen along on one of their iPods to a funny and sometimes silly recorded exchange between students and professors about the photograph, with the soundtrack from the movie "Kill Bill" blasting in the background.

    Mr. Sahihi smiled and bobbed his head to the beat and later pronounced the student production much better than the last audio guide he'd heard (and that was an official one narrated by David Bowie).

    "Anybody who listens to those guides that you really get in museums," he said, "you get pretty tired because usually it's a very drawn-out explanation of why the museum was willing to pay so much money for a picture."

    "This is not just some expensive name telling me about expensive art," he added.

    "Plus, it's funny."

May 30, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Obsessive–Compulsive Battery Management Tool

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It's here.

No more looking around for your batteries.

Put this puppy up against the wall and rejoice in your having covered all the bases.

Holds AAA, AA, C, D and 9–volt batteries neatly and ready for use.

Built–in LED battery tester lets you double–check those expiration dates.

I mean, come on now, who really believes that "March 2012" stuff you see on the sides of batteries?

I mean, it could actually be February 2012 when the thing goes dead.

So don't toy with us.

Made of polystyrene.

"Fits in drawers, shelves or mounts on the wall."

7.1"W x 12"H x 2"D.

$15.99 here (batteries not included).

Come on — you didn't think I'd let one slip by, did you?

You dog — you know me too well for my — and your — own good.

I'll bet you could make some very interesting wall art with this thing using different brands of batteries.

Who knows?

If somebody actually buys one of these and then takes a picture of their installation I just might feature it.

I've done worse.

May 30, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Who: The Movie

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Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the two surviving original members of The Who, are seeking video footage from fans for a new documentary tentatively titled "My Generation: Who's Still Who," scheduled for release next year.

Director Murray Lerner told Reuters, "There will be very unusual stuff, hopefully, that was never seen before. We're looking for material like fights between them, on and off the stage, unruly fans that make it difficult, weird incidents on the stage, interviews with ex–wives and girlfriends."

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If you'd like to contribute those pictures you've never shown anyone, well, here's your chance for your 15 seconds of fame: just click on www.thewhomovie.com and go from there.

Sure hope Petra Haden

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is somehow involved.

May 30, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Glass Water Faucet

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Res ipsa loquitur.

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$45 here.

May 30, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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