Archive for the ‘Scams’ Category

Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

April 29, 2007

Audiophiles: Cable burn-in

Some people worship a God, others claim to see the future in the stars or banish evil with crystals. Even worse, some audiophiles claim to understand electronics while wasting their money on the audio equivalent of Kabalah Water.

This is a regular look at some of the crazy audophile products available to people with little sense but a lot of money.

Product: Cable burn-in services.

http://www.cableburner.com/technical.asp

Price: 1-2 metre cable = $30.00 per pair of cables. (bi-wire costs an additional $10.

Claims: To achieve optimum performance, speaker cables and interconnects must have signal run through them for hundreds of hours – a process that fine-tunes the cables, and makes a big difference in the sound of your system.

Cold reality: This claim is totally bogus. Equipment such as valve amplifiers and speakers (since they contain physical moving parts) do go through a ‘burn-in’ period before they settle down to a fairly consistent level of performance, but cables are just not prone to this.

Excluding physical damage to the cable or oxidisation on the connectors, there are tiny changes that take place during the life of a cable but certainly not detectable by the human ear. Imagine if you placed a block of aluminium in your garden and you tried over a period of 50 years to notice how much weight it has lost due to wind erosion? There will be some change but certainly not enough for you to notice.

The idea here is that they ‘burn-in’ the cable by running signals through it for a set period of time (72 hours according to this company). This is meant to create ‘significant audible improvements’ by changing the cable. Unless they are pumping excessive current through the cables, thus causing them to overheat, there will be no appreciable changes. The kind of heat needed to change the crystaline structure of the copper is likely to cause a fire – thus rendering the cable fairly useless anyway.

On the web site you’ll notice that they are careful to avoid making specific claims regarding the changes. As an electrical engineer, you would measure things like capacitance, impedance, resistance to determine the characteristics of the cable. Note that none of these ‘burn-in’ companies claim to change these characteristics in any way, all they do is make vague claims about ‘stunning musical performance’. Obviously something that can’t be measured with ease.

If you are considering using the services of this company, I’d suggest you do the following.

1) Take the cable to an electrical engineer and have them discover the electrical characteristics of the cable. Resistance, impedance and inductance are useful. You need to make sure that the connectors are clean since oxidisation can reduce the conductivity.

2) Send your cable away to be ‘burnt-in’.

3) When your cable comes back, use it. Do you notice any improvements?

4) Now have your engineer run the same tests on the cable. Are there any changes?

An audiophile will most likely answer ‘yes’ to question 3 and ‘no, but that’s not the point, it sounds better’ to question 4. I’m going to see if I can get a chance to test some of these cables myself but I welcome comments from anyone who has already tried this.

Chris. Heir to the power of Sylvia Browne

February 17, 2007

Since Sylvia is getting bad press at the moment, I’d like to help her out by telling you a bit about her services, her son in particular. I visited her web site to do some research.

Few people know that Sylvia is an amazing scientist, seriously. We know this she has managed to locate the psychic gene. See this text from her site.

“Chris is an authentic psychic from birth. Being Sylvia’s son he shares in her genetic predisposition to psychic excellence. Chris is the only other psychic recommended by Sylvia.”

Wow, she has isolated the genetic explanation for psychic power! Assuming she published a paper, I did some searching. I haven’t found the paper but It must be there somewhere. I wonder why these so called scientists have ignore her amazing find; probably because they aren’t proper scientists.

I’m sure that the genetic psychic powers of Chris, her son, are the only reason why Sylvia chose to recommend him, her son. She must have reviewed the work of many other psychics before deciding to recommend Chris, her son, as the only psychic she will recommend.

Sylvia’s site goes on to explain how her powers work.

“Sylvia brings into your life a little part of the Other Side. She reminds you that your soul is glorious, exalted, and very precious to God. The Holy Spirit works through Sylvia to emanate God’s love, grace, and blessings.”

As someone who is acting as a conduit, Sylvia only charges a tiny fee for her services.

Phone reading with Sylvia – $750
Phone reading with Chris (her son) – $450

A bargain indeed. I would like to personally thank Sylvia and Chris for sacrificing their time to share the power of God with us all. Well, not all us but at least the ones who can afford $450 upwards for a 20-30 minute telephone consultation. Randi commented that one of the most expensive lawyers in the US charges $1000 dollars for an hour-long consultation. We know that lawyers have a reputation for being expensive but Syvlia’s charge would be around $1500 per-hour.

I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t work for free either, they just edited the haggling out of the Bible. Here’s a price list found in St. Peter’s Gospel. I’ve converted the prices in to a modern form.

Jesus’ Price List
Leprosy cure: $300
Walking on water at parties: $800 (including travel costs)
Raising from dead: $700
Smiting fortune tellers and mediums: free

Personally I’d recommend Jesus since he can offer some pretty decent services, not just vague ficticious babble.

Randi makes a psychic squirm

January 27, 2007

In politics, there is an art in answering questions. When it’s a simple yes or no, there are some great steps you can take to blur the issue. See this wonderful Paxman interview for a quick lesson in evasion.

Redirection is a good step. Introduce new elements to the conversation, even if they are not relevant to the topic (the chewbacca defence). Try to redirect the conversation by asking a question instead of asking the one posed to you. Lying is a good one, dispute the facts that have been put to you. If the other person tries to prove you wrong, simply move on to a new subject. You don’t have to a politician to do this, you simply have to be someone who either knows they are wrong or someone who is unaware that they are wrong and cannot accept this to be the case. Randi has posted his recent Larry King Live appearance on his site. Following on from the recent Silvia Browne debacle, he is a guest on the show along with Rosmarie Altea, self-proclaimed psychic. Click here to view the videos.

Watch as she evades his questions regarding the million dollar challenge, she can’t give a simple yes or no answer. Randi’s face is a picture when she begins to advise scepticism when working with psychics. Kind of like an alcoholic advising people on how to drink moderately.

Music owners are thieves

November 14, 2006

This is a little departure from the usual topics but I figure it does rate as a scam.

With the decision of Microsoft to cave in to racketeering on the part of Universal, it’s interesting to reflect on some of the comments made by executives in the music business.

Media companies (music, video) are in a pretty much unique position. I can think of no other business where you can accuse your customers of being thieves yet still stay in business. Well, except perhaps for the police.

We’ll start with a quote from Edgar Bronfman Jr, boss of Warner Music.

<blockquote>”We are selling our songs through iPod, but we don’t have a share of iPod’s revenue. We want to share in those revenue streams. We have to get out of the mindset that our content has promotional value only. We have to keep thinking how we are going to monetize our product for our shareholders. We are the arms supplier in the device wars between Samsung, Sony, Apple, and others.” </blockquote>

“We want to share in those revenue streams” is business language for “we want the money”. Now consider the tortured logic being used here. He is suggesting that his company should get a share of iPod sales because people buy iPods so they can play music. Based on this reasoning, there are many companies who are not being justly rewarded for their contribution towards the sales of products.

Should ham and baloney manufacturers receive a cut from sales of bread? After all, who is going to buy bread unless they have something to put in it? Perhaps bread makers should receive a cut from the butter industry, what use is butter unless you have something to put it on?

Edgar, in case you hadn’t noticed, you have already ‘monetized’ your product. Last time I checked, Warner sell their music, they don’t just give it away. Also, they receive money from public broadcasts and performances.

Warner are not an arms supplier, they are an army that has declared war on their customers.

Now let’s look at a comment from David Geffen.

<blockquote>“Each of these devices is used to store unpaid-for material. This way, on top of the material people do pay for, the record companies are getting paid on the devices storing the copied music.”</blockquote>

If they are to levy this charge that assumes all users to be guilty, is there a way of getting a refund if you can prove that your music collection is legal? I doubt it, they assume guilt and punish everyone.

Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal has this to say of this customers.

“”These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it.. So it’s time to get paid for it.”

Again, assumption is making an ass of him. Since they can’t see who has illegal music, they want to simply grab money from everyone.

Too many people in the music industry have adopted the idea that their customers are thieves and are suggesting solutions that will actually hurt the people who are paying for the products they sell. Is it any wonder that some people see no problem with illegal downloading? Where is the incentive to be honest if you are paying a tax even if you’re honest. Since Microsoft are paying Universal a fee for every Zune sold, it appears that Zune owners should feel no guilt if they illegally download music. They are being punished whether they do it or not so they may as well just go and fire up a BitTorrent client and download to their hearts content. This is the message that Universal have sent to the world.

There can be no doubt that illegal sharing of music does happen. However, is it right for them to punish their honest customers. Where on earth is my incentive to be honest?

Derek Acorah’s Haunted Houses

October 10, 2006

I happened to catch a glimpse of Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns when I switched on the TV tonight. Here’s the synopsis from TV guide.

Chester: Derek Acorah investigates ghostly phenomena in British towns. Derek’s assistant collapses in a hairdressers, and Derek ascribes his condition to a paranormal occurrence.

Of course there could be a rational explanation for it but that isn’t as exciting as blaming energy or spirits.

For some reason, the whole show seems to be filmed in the dark. They use a mixture of lights and a night-vision system. This means that what we see is a black & white world full of strange people with alien eyes. It’s like the Paris Hilton videos but with without the excellent scripting and production values. Also, Ms Hilton probably isn’t faking anything.

Of course, it’s strange that ghosts are afraid of the light. If you were paranoid, you’d suspect that they deliberately film it this way for a spooky atmosphere.

Seems that Derek doesn’t just sense ghosts, he’s a ghost buster as well. Within a few seconds he was able to command a ghost that had died of a brain tumour to leave the location.

A lot of interesting facts arise during the show. We have to assume there are all correct since, well, we just do. There’s no section of the show where they seem to confirm these facts through proper historical research. If some facts turn out to be true, you have to wonder whether a psychic knew beforehand where they were going and simply did some research.

Randi has a nice story about Derek. In this instance, Derek was possessed by a spirit. Seems pretty exciting, Derek must be very sensitive to the spirit realm for this to happen. He must be bloody sensitive in fact since the spirit was a hoax. A sceptic who happened to be working on the show had invented this spirit. Prior to filming, Dr. O’Keeffe explained..

“I wrote the name down and asked another member of the crew to mention it to Derek before filming. I honestly didn’t think Derek would take the bait. But during the filming he actually got “possessed” by my fictional character!”.

This wasn’t the only irregularity, read the article for more details.

How sensitive to the spirit realm must you be to actually get possessed by a fictional spirit. What’s next? Is Sherlock Holmes going to be contacting us through Derek?

When they went to the hairdressers, they found a hairstylist who was determined that the place was haunted. He described, among other things, a door slamming behind him with no explanation. Hmm, no explanation so it must be ghosts? He said that the other people working there were sceptical and seemed unaffected by these ghosts. Strange that he’s the only one affected. Perhaps the simple answer is that he’s deluded, but that doesn’t make for good TV. Derek had an explanation though. He told his victim that the reason why he is being picked-on by spirits is because he’s actually psychic. This is a classic strategy to make people co-operate with you. Make them feel special. It’s not you that’s wrong, it’s the rest of the world, they’re not like us.

People like Derek present us with a few possibilities. They could be very talented people who will one day win a Nobel prize for physics by disproving the laws of physics as we know them. They could be misguided innocents who honestly believe that they have strange powers. The simplest answer, as Derek should learn, may be the correct one – psychics could simply be frauds.

First hand experience of a pyramid scheme

September 2, 2006

This is an interesting article posted over at Skepchick.

http://www.skepchick.org/7.15.06/prepaidlegal.html.

The article includes a first hand account of someone being targetted by such a scheme and he compares it to an attempt at religious indoctrination.

Charity scams: Bogus clothing collections

May 21, 2006

Ireland currently has an interested legal situation regards charities. Charities are registered and regulated in most countries. They are required to publish regular accounts so everyone knows how much they receive and how they use it.

On a side-note, this has led to some interesting revelations in the past. PeTA (the animal rights fundamentalist group popular mainly with empty-headed media whores and their followers) has been accused of funelling money in to groups like the ELF – a group described by the FBI as “the largest and most active U.S.-based terrorist group”.

Ireland seems to completely lack this kind of regulation. This is no central register and no requirement to publish accounts. Of course this lends itself to abuse. A good example of this would be the clothing collection scam. This is where little bags come through your door with a note asking for clothes to give to the needy. I received one of these a couple of weeks ago. Now, I can’t be certain it is a scam – it may just be a very poorly organised charity. Here’s why I’m suspicious.

Terrible English

If someone goes to the trouble of having these bags made and printed, you’d think they’d proof-read it first. Here’s an example.

We are small organization [sic] who helps families over seas [sic] that are in desperate [sic] of clothing. It’s your chance now to give us a hand to help these people in need. Your contributions might not seem like a whole lot to you but believe me it is to the people on the receiving end that aren’t as lucky as we are. We are all great full [sic] for your contributions. Unfortunately we do not accept cash donations.

They also quote a charity number at the bottom left of the bag but this is quite strange. The format of the number doesn’t match any in Ireland. The only ‘charity number’ that exists in Ireland would be the number used by Revenue (Irish tax office). The format of this number should read CHY xxxx (Where xxxx is a four digit number). The number quoted on the bag is C-Y 378973. In the UK, all registered charities have a 6 digit registration number. I searched the UK registry just in case this charity was registered there but found nothing.

They list no postal address, just a couple of contact numbers. The group seem to be called “Rose” but some fairly extensive googling turned up no results at all.

This is either a scam or a very poorly organised charity. Either way it’s probably best to simply bin the bag. What’s the point in giving them anything? If they can’t print a coherent appeal then how can they make sure that your donation will actually be used to help the needy?

Unfortunately I no longer have the contact number but if anyone knows about this charity or represents it, feel free to fill in the blanks. Here are some links with additional advice on charity collection scams

Trading Standards : Scam Charities
The Charity Commission : The Safer Giving Campaign

While Ireland has such lax charity regulation, I’d suggest that you’re better off visiting a known charity store and asking them how you can contribute clothes. Remember that anyone can post labels through your door and claim to be collecting clothes for charitable purposes.

(Update 19th July 2006)

Stickers continue to arrive. Some again from this ‘Rose’ charity. I think it’s called “Second Hand Rose”. I searched in the Irish company register and found a company called “Second Hand Rose Limited”. I don’t know if these are the people running the collection service.

(Update 1st June 2007)

Donncha O’Caoimh has posted some pretty decent information regarding these scammers. Theres also a lively discussion going on in the comments.

http://ocaoimh.ie/2006/11/13/do-not-delay-how-to-spot-a-fake-charity-flyer/