Wednesday, November 30, 2005


How can anyone ever forget when the great musician Prince Rogers Nelson, commonly referred to a Prince rebelliously changed his name to an unpronouncable symbol and was from that point referred to a TAFKAP, or The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

About a year or so ago, things were hectic here in academic computing land as a result of some system "upgrades" that made the logon process for our students a bit tricky. As the main support guy, I got lots of calls and people coming up to my desk. There was so much activity, I began to grow tired of hearing my own name and decided that I too would change my name to a symbol and see how that worked out.

Well, like Prince, I am back to being called by my given name but I thought you all might enjoy a peek at self designed symbol I was once know by.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Attack of the Earworms!

I don't recall who sent this article to me but I came across it today and really got a kick out of it. I like to call my friend Hatch and plant an earworm then hang up - lots of fun!

Attack of the earworms: No, we’re not talking about the latest Halloween movie: In this case, “earworms” are songs that get stuck in your head so firmly that you yearn to get them out. We recently ran a report about the study of sticky songs, conducted by University of Cincinnati marketing professor James Kellaris — and hundreds of readers responded with lists of their own most pernicious earworms, as well as their tried and true methods for removing them (such as drowning them out with the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song).
Several pointed out that the term “earworm” goes back to the German term “Ohrwurm,” with the same meaning. A goodly number of people said they welcomed having the music in their heads, and a similar number said they were plagued by earworms and felt relieved to hear that there were other sufferers. Here’s a sampling of the feedback:
Brian Stolte, Richmond Hill, Ontario: “I was in Home Depot on Saturday looking for screws, bolts, etc., and that annoying song, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ (you know ... ‘I love you, baby, and if it’s quite alright, I need you, baby, to warm a lonely night. I love you, baby’ ... etc.) was on the store PA system. Well, long after that cheesy song was over I found myself humming, singing and whistling it. Another shopper — very embarrassing — caught me. I then went to another aisle and I was looking for some other items and another guy next to me was humming, singing and whistling it. He realized I caught him and he quickly scurried away in embarrassment.
“Needless to say, that song was playing in my head all day and night Saturday, all day and night Sunday, and all day yesterday when I was at work in downtown Toronto. I couldn’t get rid of it. No matter how hard I tried. I tried Zeppelin, Petty, Floyd, Genesis, Sabbath ... nothing worked. I had let some colleagues in on my story because they were wondering why I was singing it, and I wanted to know if they knew who played it. One of them knew immediately it was Frankie Vallie.
“With that new knowledge and the Maple Leafs blowing a 2-0 lead to Atlanta, at some point last night the song left my head ... until today, when another colleague mentioned Home Depot!!!
K.C.: “I lived a personal hell for an entire summer years ago because of one song, and occasionally do still lapse into this most dreaded of earworms. Same song — 30 years later. It falls into the category of the Top 40 number you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to at home. And the song is ... (I’m almost afraid to type the words) ... ‘Kung Fu Fighting.’
“I’ve never actually known who sings it, nor do I care to know for fear of having to hunt that singer down at some future point.
“One other springs to mind but to a lesser degree — the always irritating ‘It’s My Party’ by Lesley Gore.
“Thanks for the chance to vent these demons. I only hope it doesn’t backfire and they will come back to haunt me once again. I’m putting a garland of garlic around my stereo tonight just to be safe.”
Pam: “I have been tormented by intermittent and varying songs stuck in my head for a couple of years now. It bothers me when I have to study for exams, and it is horrible because it is impossible to avoid music since it is played in every coffee shop, department store, restaurant, gym, even in friends’ cars.
“If I try to ‘hide out,’ I end up hearing hold music when I make phone calls. I have been on various types of medication for obsessive compulsive disorder, but none of them help for this problem. If you find a ‘cure’ for earworms, please let me know!”
Tricia: “When I was in the sixth grade, I had an earworm stick with me for nearly two days. When I told my art teacher about it, she said that you could be rid of it singing a different song. She said that if you hum the theme song from ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ out loud, while you focus on something, like looking at a picture or reading a sentence, the song will vanish. You’ll distract yourself long enough to not think of the song, but something else. It really works. To this day I use that point of advice she told me. Even my friends do, too.”
F.P.: “Got an earworm? Here’s how I get rid of them. When that annoying song is running through your head, take a deep breath, relax, and picture the song playing on a turntable, in a cassette deck, CD player, on the radio or television, whatever — then picture yourself with a sledgehammer, smashing the offending device and its song to smithereens! It’s the ultimate satisfaction!”
Catherine: “The only time I get an earworm is during a major exam. The only way to get rid of it is to listen to the worm for a bit, and then switch back to concentrating on the questions.”
Brendan, Toronto: “The absolute best way to end an earworm is to end the song in your mind. It doesn’t have to be a big KISS-type finish complete with ‘flashpots,’ although these are the most fun. Just simply ending it at a logical place will do. ...”
Nancy (Hakima) Biddle: “My remedy I learned from my dad, is to sing ‘God Save the Queen.’ It works, trust me.”
Susie: “Finally I have arrived at a solution for mine. The tune changes from time to time, and whatever it is, I give it a big production. In my mind I picture a sound stage with full orchestra, and then, like in the old musical movies, I allow it to play with full emphasis. Finally, as it comes to the end, there is a complete ending with the last strains fading away, and the song does the same thing ... gone, at last! “Until the next time, that is...”
Bob K.: “I usually find that if a song is stuck in my head, looking up the unknown lyrics and singing them when I’m home alone helps a lot. ‘Yellow Submarine’ has been stuck in my head for years, unfortunately, so I’m going to look up the lyrics right now and see if that helps.”
Alan Boyle replies: If you want to try this solution, there are many places on the Net where you can look up lyrics — I hesitate to name just one, but any search engine should bring up a selection.
Several song titles that weren’t mentioned in the original article or in the feedback above came up repeatedly. The squeamish should avoid reading the next paragraph.
Multiple votes for most pernicious earworm were cast for: “This Is the Song That Never Ends” ... “Sponge Bob Square Pants” theme ... “Copa Cabana,” by Barry Manilow ... “My Sharona” ... “Meow Mix” jingle ... “The Hamster Dance” ... “I Dream of Jeannie” theme song ... “Hey Jude,” by the Beatles ... “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” ... “Pina Colada” ... “American Pie” ... “Tom’s Diner,” by Suzanne Vega ... “I Drove All Night,” by Celine Dion ... “Without Me,” by Eminem ... and no doubt others that I just couldn’t bear to look at.
Update: I just couldn’t resist adding this follow-up observation from C. Towne of Las Vegas: “The great author Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story called ‘The Ultimate Melody,’ which I recommend to anyone suffering from earworms. Believe it or not, it could be worse. By the way, no one mentioned my (least) favorite: The obnoxious little song from the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride at Disneyland.”
Actually, “It’s a Small World After All” was included among the top 10 earworms in the Live Vote on the original story, so I didn’t think I needed to bring it up again. You can still register your vote for the song — or other notorious earworms from the University of Cincinnati study.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005 - The Photos, The Pie Recipe

This pie to the left is the "Bourbon and Chocolate Pecan Pie" that I made (completely from scratch) for Thanksgiving. It was my first attempt at a pie completely from scratch and I am proud to say it was quite successful. I got the recipe off the food network web site and offer it here to all of you with a strong recommendation. When gathering ingredients at the grocery store, though determined to make the pie crust from scratch (which was successful), I did think ahead to the possibility of error and bought some prepared crusts. The truth is that some of the premade products out there, such as pie crusts and pastry dough, are quite good and are a good time saver.

I posted all the photos taken by my camera over at my flickr site which can be viewed by clicking here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving 2005

It's been a hectic week but today is about giving thanks. So, thank you - to all of you here in Bloggerville who read my blog, write blogs that I read, read, write, and heck - how 'bout some 'rithmetic as well!

Here in MA we are having our first snowfall accumulation but I am fortunate to not have to prepare a meal today thanks to Linda of the Jeffrey's. This will be our third Thanksgiving with the Jeffrey family who so graciously open their family gathering to us - they are one fine, fun bunch.

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Getting in Touch with My Feminine Side

You are Brian Molko, the lead singer of Placebo.
You're the most androgynous of the bunch, so
much so that some are STILL not convinced
you're actually a boy. Even your *voice* could
concievably be a woman's. i mean, just look at
Cher. You're girlier than HER, anyway.
Interesting Fact: You're so sexy it hurts.

Which Androgynous Rocker are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

In My Previous Life...

Human Under Construction listed these 4 sites where you can find out what you were in your past life. Since I simply can't recall those years, I decided to give all 4 of them a go; here are the results:

I. The first site...

Your past life diagnosis:
I don't know how you feel about it, but you were male in your last earthly incarnation. You were born somewhere in the territory of modern Germany around the year 1025. Your profession was that of a teacher, mathematician or geologist.
Your brief psychological profile in your past life:
Inquisitive, inventive, you liked to get to the very bottom of things and to rummage in books. Talent for drama, natural born actor.
The lesson that your last past life brought to your present incarnation:
The world is full of ill and lonely people. You should help those, who are less fortunate than you are.
Do you remember now?

II. The second site...

Same exact setup/response as the first one (see above).

III. Quizilla had two such quizzes, here are the results:

(The first quizilla quiz)
Human... Normal and the adverage person. You had a different life and had that second chance you may just have wished for. Make it worth it!

What were you in your last life?

(The second quizilla quiz)

You were a Bohemian artist/poet in your past life! You may still be one now, but I'm talking about
the late 1800s type. You did a lot of dreaming, a lot of drinking, and maybe even a little creating now and then. You believed above all in the right to do your own thing, which, in your case, was usually drinking yourself into a stupor and waking up the next morning in a tiny bed crammed with six or seven other people of both sexes. If you were lucky, you even got a hermaphodite. Unfortunately, it was the hermaphrodite who killed you, when s/he accidentally shoved you off the bed and you suffered a fatal head wound.

What were you in your last past life?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Love Divine

I wrote this poem on 10/15/2004 and am not sure why it took until now for me to share it with the masses. In fact, only two or three people other than myself have seen it until now. Those of you who have read this blog since the beginning know that I have a love and fascination for the Haiku form of poetry. I recall sitting at my desk at work during some down time and just fiddling with some words and counting syllables when the idea for a long form poem of several stanzas where each stanza is written in the Haiku syllabic (5-7-5) form. Here is what I ended up with:

Love Divine

I thought I knew Love
But I'm certain I was wrong
My heart's been broken

I weep in silence
Pain and anger overwhelm
Lost for the moment

I search for answers
I need reasons to believe
Please Lord, answer me

Through prayer I seek hope
Through hope I seek renewal
Through renewal, Love

Real Love, inspired love
and I shall be completed
my heart filled with love

Friday, November 18, 2005


I’m at my desk and a colleague comes by to discuss baseball and the general state of the free agent season. Both being Yankees fans, we began discussing them and the re-signing of Hideki Matsui. All of a sudden, a student (who from past experiences I know is both a Yankee fan and a bit odd) zips over to us and makes himself a part of our conversation. Normally I wouldn’t oppose to this all that much but it did seem to indicate that either we were too loud or he was carefully tuning in to our conversation once the Yankee antenna (baseball cap) that my colleague was wearing came into his view. What made this particularly uncomfortable was the oozing creepiness of the student. There are a number of on campus stories that document his oddities and though I know he is a “special needs’ case, to which I am sensitive both as an educator and a human, but folks, this kid is CREEPsville with a capital C R E E P.

So, I acknowledge the kid’s presence and welcome him (reluctantly) to the conversation (against my better judgment) but he just starts pulling things out of a hat – both figuratively and literally (he kept reaching inside his fedora). My colleague rolled his eyes and bailed leaving me to fend for myself in a conversation that was rapidly degenerating into reason to run #268. I politely attempted to excuse myself and then walked away from my desk with a random sheet of paper in my hand with the intent of looking like it and I had a purpose for leaving. Off I go and about 10 minutes later return only to find kid creep still sitting next to my desk apparently having kept the conversation going with my chair and my return found him ready to resume chatting with me.

At this point I masked my fear with a sense of busy frustration and told the guy that I really needed to get back to work. The kid finally walked away in his usual dazed trance-like trot as I began to sort through email while contemplating what I might have for lunch.

About an hour if incident free procrastination led to my usual lunch time walk to Whole Foods Market. As I get about 100 yards or so away from the campus, I heard the sound of footsteps running feverishly in my general direction. I turn to look and it was psycho student running top speed with his back pack pouncing up and down, his umbrella flailing about, and his left hand firmly planted on top of his fedora to keep the wind from blowing it away. I took a side step before cautiously proceeding while nut case miraculously came to a full stop and regained his composure in an instant positioning himself to walk beside me and without missing a beat picked up the baseball conversation where we left in more than an hour before. Being the polite, yet terrified gentleman, I resume the conversation while trying to devise an escape strategy (seems like escape strategies are becoming a recurring theme for me) from the nut next to me.

I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my cell phone, flipped it open, and proceed to have a conversation with nobody. The strategy seemed to be working because after a minute or two the my stalker strayed onto a parallel path a short distance away reluctantly allowing me privacy for my call (while keeping me close enough to stalk) and apparently he had no problem continuing the conversation with the handle of his umbrella – or so it seemed. I continued my fictitious phone call as I/we approached the first of only two streets to turn off before the current road comes to an end. I noticed the nut turned up off the first street happily agreeing with his umbrella handle about whatever they were discussing. I continued speaking to nobody on my phone for half the way up to the next street before putting the phone away and crossing my fingers that kid cooky was not going to slip out from some shortcut and continue his reign of terror. Happily, I made it all the way to my destination where I enjoyed some yummy Indian food (including the best Samosas I’ve ever had). My walk back to campus was brisk and free of the insanity I had already survived.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I Got Ga$

The Hess Gift Card pictured at the right is the fruit of my labor in researching the answers to a bunch of nonsensical word origin trivia that was on my wife's company newsletter. It was nice to receive $10 worth of gas for doing something that was at least modestly entertaining (as well as somewhat geeky). Hey, I do geeky things all the time for nothing so at least this time I was rewarded.
Anyway, I stop at the Hess station because I needed gas. Actually it was my car that needed the gas, at the time, I had plenty of my own which I can only assume was the result of some spicy Thai food I had for lunch but hey, that's for another post (or not).
I first stop at the pump and insert the card and was told by the little display that I needed to bring the card inside to an attendant. So, I walk on over to the attendant and hand him my card and say "I'd like to use it on pump number 3". The attendant then takes my card and with uncertain authority swipes it through a computer terminal after which he offers a befuddled gaze and yelps "25?" I'm thinking and recall the newsletter saying that the prize was a $10 gift card but perhaps I got the grand prize for getting all of them correct or being first, or some other justification that may allow me to accept 25 dollars worth of Hess product. So after I say, "OK", the young and evidently clueless attendant swiped the card on yet another electronic device and pushed a sequence of numbers before calling for help from the other attendant.
So while all of this is going on, the "other attendant" was trying to help another gentleman who was attempting to pay for gas that he had already pumped but much to the chagrin of the confused attendant who was attending to him, there appeared to be no evidence of gas being pumped on the pump (#2) that he pumped from. The two attendants consult each other which is quite remarkable to witness as the level of unintelligible utterances was only believable because I was there to witness it. Anyway, the attendant who was helping me gave me back my card and said that I should go to pump my gas.
After obediently filling my tank, which came to $22. and some change, I returned to find that the other guy who was trying to pay for his gas was gone, and both attendants were waiting for me with a hearty apology for all the confusion, and $2. and some change to cover the difference from the aforementioned "$25." I graciously accepted the cash and was on my way. Once back in the comfort of my own car with the sounds of Dishwalla blasting through my crappy speakers, I was starting to regain my ability to think and ration with intellect and began to put the pieces together as to what just happened at the Hess station.
The way I figured it, the guy who was trying to pay for his gas probably pumped $25 worth of gas from pump #2. I arrive before him to the attendant and when my gift card was first swiped, the "25" yelped by my attendant was likely the reading from the pump of the other guy - the beginnings of all the crazy confusion - the rest is history. The only thing question that remained was whether or not my gift card, which as you may recall was returned to me, had been charged at all. I was pretty confident that those attendants simply handed me back my card and never charged it. Of course, either way I was ahead because between the gas I pumped and the change received, I had gotten $25 worth of Hess product for my $10 card. Curiosity got the better of me today as a result of my telling this story to the doctor of all Watson's downstairs. So I dialed the toll-free number on the back of the card and sure enough, there is still $10 of value on the card. Enough said.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Telephone Call

I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when my phone began to ring. Considering that there is usually a phone on the desk that I am sitting at and occasionally it rings, I thought nothing of answering it (in my usual pleasant voice). Here is the conversation that proceeded to piss me off for a brief time:

Me: “Good afternoon, this is Chris speaking. How may I help you?”
Bitch: “Do any of your computers have FireFox on them?”
Me: “No, we use Internet Explorer exclusively.”
Bitch: “Really? Why?”
Me: “We are a Microsoft shop.”
Bitch: “Internet Explorer has problems sometimes.”
Me: “As do most software products. It’s been quite stable in our environment. In fact, we’ve had quite a few complaints from users of FireFox and Opera when accessing our online services.”
Bitch: “Well, do you like FireFox?”
Me: “May I ask, with whom am I speaking?”
Bitch: “Oh! What’s the difference? I am just asking…
Me: (cutting her off, raising my voice, and losing all pleasantries) “Excuse me! You call here, ask question after question, refuse to identify yourself, and on top of that you cop a nasty attitude? Have a nice day!”

Then, I hung up on that bitch and proceeded to have a terrific rest of the day.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Can You say BadAss?

Ever the sucker for blog thingies, I saw this one on Michael's site and had to try for myself:

You're Jack Burton.
The Pork Chop Express.

Which B-Movie Badass Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, November 11, 2005

Chilly and Silly

The temperature today finally speaks to the time of year which amazingly leaves only 13 days until Thanksgiving. I had an early preview of the effects of Turkey as the cafeteria had a "Turkey Dinner" as the special for lunch yesterday. Dr. Watson, with whom I shared the lunch time ritual of eating with on that particular day decided on a Turkey Sandwich. Actually, Dr. Watson felt only like half a Turkey Sandwich was sufficient so the other half was gently, and kindly placed on my Styrofoam tray just beside my large container of Vegetable Bisque; which was quite delightful with its hints of curry and creamy yet rustic textures.

Anyway, before I took bite #1 of the tender and tasty turkey treat, I was bouncing off the walls with sharp comedic wit and the vigor of a young pup. However, after the half turkey sandwich was completely consumed, the tryptophan quickly entranced me into a lethargic state leaving me open to ridicule by both Dr. Watson and her dutiful sidekick Stephanie. Fortunately, the arrival of a colorful colleague, the one and only Jack Mulhall, was my saving grace.

The normally bowtied and blazered Mulhall was casually dressed in jeans and running shoes and talking faster that a speeding bullet, which in my turkey haze was almost dizzying, about odd topics such as the joys of a computer program called "Respondus" and a miracle of modern technology known as the "smart board." Upon his exit, I bailed for the crisp cool fall air and took a brisk walk hoping to emerge from my tryptophan coma.

My return to the campus eventually had me back visiting the office of Community & Corporate Education where Dr. Watson and Steph were more than ready to dish out another round of mockery about the effects of turkey on my existence but I jumped right into an impression of Jack Mulhall which left the room in a state of hysterical laughter. It was then that I knew I could move on with the rest of my day.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blog Thingie with a Twist

I was perusing blogs and saw an unusual form of the good old fashioned blog thingie where you respond to a set of questions. This was referred to as a "Visual Meme" where you type a question/statement into the google image search engine and post your favorite of the pictures from the first page google feedback.

Here are mine:

1. Your Home Town (City and State)

2. Where You Live Now (City and State)

3. Your Name

4. Your Grandmother's Name (I used my Paternal Grandma)

5. Favorite Food (Pizza)

6. Favorite Drink (Beer)

7. Favorite Smell (Wood Burning on a Cold Day)

8. Favorite Song ("What do all the People Know?")

Monday, November 07, 2005

300th Post - Goth Baby Goes Mod!

For my 300th post I thought I'd bring back a beloved character, Goth Baby. In this incarnation, our young child revisits the "MOD" era of the 1970's and sports quite an afro.

Thank you to everyone whose ever read any of the 300 posts, I hope you keep coming back for more.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

An Example of 2 People with Greater Problems than I

I heard about this on Howard Stern on Friday. Very sick indeed!

Lover really stuck it to him - twice
Friday, November 4th, 2005

A Pennsylvania man yesterday testified that an ex-lover really stuck it to him - using Super glue to attach his penis to his belly and then sealing his rear end shut.
Before a Westmoreland County jury, Kenneth Slaby detailed the shock of waking up with a misplaced member and a burning sensation in his nether regions.

"I woke up in extreme pain," he said. "My whole groin area was on fire."

The 58-year-old grandpa pressed charges against ex-flame Gail O'Toole after she manhandled his manhood during their May 2000 encounter.

O'Toole pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and has already served six months' probation.

Now Slaby is looking to score $30,000 in a civil suit that accuses O'Toole, 56, of "outrageous and inhumane" acts after a night of dancing.

An attorney for O'Toole said Slaby consented to having his genitals glued and that he suffered no permanent damage.

"This is a case that should have been left in the bedroom," said attorney Chuck Evans.

But Slaby contends O'Toole was dishing out some painful payback for their earlier breakup. The couple dated for 10 months in 1999.

He said O'Toole waited until he was asleep to put her Super glue scheme to work. He said she smeared gobs of the sticky substance onto his penis and backside, and applied nail polish to his hair.

Slaby said he woke up to a horrifying discovery - and a screeching woman.

"'I'm tired of your lies,'" Slaby said O'Toole screamed at him. "The veins were popping out of her neck."

Stuck without a ride home, Slaby said he walked a mile to a convenience store to call 911. He then had to wait four hours at a local hospital before medical personnel could put his penis back in its proper position.

But at least Slaby got off a lot easier than John Bobbitt, whose penis famously was hacked off by his wife in 1993 as he dozed.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Public Restroom Anxiety Story

So, this past Tuesday (11/1/05) I went to the restroom at work. On the Wellesley campus, I like to use the one on the third floor just outside of the IT department because it is a one person private restroom that tends to be a bit cleaner that those in heavier populated areas of the campus. Plus, the privacy factor goes a long way toward not having to deal with some of the various public restroom anxieties (just many of many anxieties I struggle with) that torture my mind regularly.

I had a pretty short to-do list upon entering the rest room but the shake up began instantly when I noticed that my sense of smell was receiving urgent information about the last usage of this same restroom, and let me tell you – it had nothing positive to say.

My anxieties kick in pretty good at this point because now I fear that if somebody is outside waiting or sees me leaving this restroom before they enter, I am going to have to take the blame for the odorous reminder/remainder of the John Doe who went before me. How brutally unfair, especially since my brief stay was scheduled to be a stand up affair.

All of this worry and anxiety about false accusation brought on yet another anxiety making it all the more difficult to take care of the business at hand, which of course was my number one priority.

I scoped out the place and saw no opportunities to quickly recirculate the air as there were no windows, ventilation, or air freshening devices or products. I did frighteningly notice and oddly crispy off-white paper towel dangerously balanced on the edge of the garbage pail seemingly contemplating whether it should fall out onto the ground or into the waste receptacle with the rest of the white trash.

I realized that I needed to get on with my business because any more time in here could potentially justify to anyone who may be waiting that I may have been guilty of creating the big stink. I simply had to hope for the best, not the easiest of tasks. In the position that I was in, a slight movement could trigger an automated flush and blow my meager escape plan. After closing up shop, I carefully reached over to the automated sink until water was flowing so that the sound of the flush would be drowned out by the sound of the running water. I washed and dried my hands, blew my nose, and made several gestures to myself in the mirror before initiating my exit.

I carefully reached for the handle and before turning it to unlock the door; I placed my ear to the door to see if there was any indication of human presence on the other side. I then slowly turned the handle while keeping my thumb in front of the pop-up lock to dampen the sound. I continued to slowly turn the handle and carefully open the door while peeking out at the visible portion of the hallway and hoping for a clean getaway. Once the door was open enough to exit, I peek around the blind spot, then down the hall and when I saw that the coast was clear, I ran to the stairwell and escaped to the fourth floor where I resumed my work day and left my moment with insanity on the floor below.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

10 Financial Urban Legends

I am a big fan of urban legends and folklore and all that stuff. I read the article below on MSN and found it iinteresting and thought I would share it with all of you...enjoy!

Writing checks in red ink won’t prolong the float, and yes, you really do have to pay income tax. Here's a look at these and other lingering myths…

Every now and then you read about a retiree snookered in a Nigerian bank scam, or some nitwit marched off to jail while still insisting the income tax is illegal, and you just shake your head and wonder who could believe that guff. Unfortunately, a lot of people.

Just ask Barbara Mikkelson, co-founder and researcher at, a Web site dedicated to the destruction of urban myths. Mikkelson spends a lot of time getting to the bottom of financial tall tales that she encounters.

So does Catherine Williams, vice president of financial literacy at the nonprofit credit counseling agency, Money Management International. Williams has a slew of oddball beliefs folks have shared with her during the company's educational seminars.

"We get into situations where we can't pay our bills, and we become like 3-year-olds: the 'dog ate my homework' routine," she says of Americans' willingness to latch onto urban legends. "We want to believe there is some excuse, and something will bail us out of still owing the money."

Legends and tall tales
It doesn't help that rooted in many myths is the tiniest grain of reality, she adds. The trick is extracting that truth. Check out this collection of legends:

Myth No. 1: You can float a check longer if you write in red ink. The theory is that a bank's equipment can't scan red ink, so it takes longer to process the check. Poppycock, says Williams. The color of the ink makes no difference. "However, gel ink doesn't image well, which makes it difficult to verify the signature and the check," says Tracey Mills, of the American Bankers Association. "As a result, the paying bank cannot authorize the transaction, and chances are the check will be returned to the creditor or merchant." Then, instead of getting some extra time on the float, you are socked with a returned-check fee.

Myth No. 2: You don't have to pay income tax -- it's illegal. Only foreign income is subject to Uncle Sam's cut, the story runs, and there's a form you can file to exempt yourself. But no one will tell you about it. The truth is, there is no form. You'll get arrested if you don't pay your taxes. "I have this flat spot on my forehead because I'm constantly striking it with the palm of my hand," Williams says. "Somebody has way too much time on his hands, usually because he's either done something illegal or he hasn't followed the rules of the game. So he looks for something that might get him off the hook for a period of time." Sorry, Charlie: You must fill out your IRS forms before April 15.

Myth No. 3: I'm under 18, so I can't be held accountable for a debt. (Variation: Credit-card debts are wiped out when you turn 19.) Spring-breakers love to use this one to justify running up a cruise or resort-hotel bill on their credit cards. This one is only partly myth, because it is true that people younger than 18 cannot sign a legally binding contract. So they can't take out a loan or sign a credit-card agreement. "You are legally an infant until you are age 18," Williams says. However, credit-card companies will allow a minor to have a card -- if an adult has co-signed the agreement or added the minor to their account as an authorized user. So someone will pay -- the adult who signed on the dotted line.

Myth No. 4: My hotel key card has my credit-card information. The ramification is that you'd better clutch it tightly or a con will decode it and rack up a big bill. This urban legend has an actual source: the police in Pasadena, Calif. A fraud-detection team had honed in on one such hotel key and notified each other before verifying whether it was standard practice in the industry. It wasn't, but they didn't find out until after the information leaked to the public and spread like wildfire. The Pasadena Police Department now has devoted a page to this accidental myth at its Web site. It says, "Detectives have contacted several large hotels and computer companies using plastic card key technology and they assure us that personal information, especially credit card information, is not included on their key cards. The one incident referred to appears to be several years old, and with today's newer technology, it would appear that no hotels engage in the practice of storing personal information on key cards." Luckily, the news has risen only to the annoyance level throughout the hotel industry, says Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. "It seems to crop up in 18-month cycles. But people are still staying in hotel rooms." The manufacturers who churn out these magnetic-strip room-key cards employ three embedded and encrypted tracks. Most hoteliers use track three, which contains locked information listing the guest's room number and check in/out dates. The remaining tracks -- if supplied by the hotel's property-management system -- provide additional, limited guest information like a folio number or name to identify guests at point-of-sale terminals located throughout the hotel. "Worst that ever happens to me is the key stops working promptly at 12:01 and I have to go to the reception desk to get back in my room," McInerney says.

Myth No. 5: Boycotting a few gasoline brands brings gas prices down. Poor Exxon and Mobil. They often show up as the bad guys in a mass e-mail urging Americans to avoid their pumps on a particular day. Its easy-to-understand language makes the plea plausible. The trouble lies in the fact it's too simple -- and economics don't work that way. For starters, gasoline is what's known as a fungible commodity -- if one company has an oversupply, it sells it to a competitor. No matter who you buy from, the basic supply numbers remain the same. Furthermore, prices at all the non-boycotted outlets would rise, thanks to the temporarily limited supply and increased demand, making the original prices look cheap by comparison, according to Besides, the industry is too large for a boycott of two companies to make a dent, says Stephen Ciccone, University of New Hampshire assistant professor of finance.

Myth No. 6: It's better if you don't sign the back of your credit card. Some well-meaning pigeon decided one day this would protect him from identify theft. Unfortunately, in the real world, it only "protects" you from having the merchant accept your payment at the checkout counter, says Mills. Not to mention that an unsigned card in the hands of fraudsters is much easier to use for unauthorized purchases. They can just sign the card themselves. Then their signature will always match the receipt signature.

Myth No. 7: You can make a pile of dough by helping a foreigner solve his money problems. "Hello, my name is unpronounceable, and I need to get money out of my country. Will you let me use your bank account?" is the gist of this e-mail plea. It's called the Nigerian bank scam, and it's among Mikkelson's favorites, mainly because the number of people asking about it is huge. "It is impossible for the average person to figure out what is going on unless they know there is such a thing as a Nigerian scam," she says. For one, the back-story changes constantly to reflect current events. Expect a new variation every time a foreign leader dies or is deposed. Presently, Yassar Arafat's widow is supposedly seeking help moving his secret bank account out of enemy hands, and the sergeant who found Saddam Hussein's hidden gold wants help keeping it out of insurgent hands.

Myth No. 8: You can now opt out of having credit bureaus give your information to anyone who asks. Just call (888) 567-8688 and give them the Social Security numbers of everyone in the household in a single call, says the message. But hurry -- you only have 60 days to take advantage of this ability. The credit-reporting bureaus are working hard to debunk this one, if only to stop people from calling that number. It merely connects you to an operator who can help you opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers. Keep in mind that if they weren't allowed to give out credit information on you, they wouldn't exist. The grain of truth lies in the fact that companies are required by law to inform their customers of their privacy policies. (Remember the flood of confusing legalese that showed up in your mailbox from every department store credit card prior to July 1, 2000?) If you don't want them to sell your personal information, you must call them directly -- one by one -- to halt the practice.

Myth No. 9: You can buy your way out of points on a speeding ticket. If you pay a bit more than your fine actually is, the state will send you a refund check for the difference. Don't cash it and they can't assess points because the transaction isn't complete. Hmmm, sounds good -- a way to circumvent rising insurance rates for a mere $5. But when Mikkelson checked into it, she discovered the popular e-mail advice originated in Australia. Maybe it works for Aussies, but Americans aren't so lucky.

Myth No. 10: Hotel Bibles often have $100 bills tucked into them. Heard the one that Gideons leave $100 bills in their hotel Bibles to reward folks who turn to the Good Book? Mikkelson rejoiced when she actually discovered such a treasure during her honeymoon -- and found out a few hours later that her new husband was pretending to be God. The only thing Gideons leave behind is the book.