Monday, August 31, 2009

An Episode of Anti-Bystander Effect

So I'm on my way to the pharmacy this afternoon to pick up some prescriptions. I'm tooling along at about 40 mph on a surface street when about a hundred yards ahead of me I suddenly see a half-trailer start fishtailing behind a pickup, and before I can do more than ease my foot off the gas, it overturns, scattering what looks like a small washing machine, and dumping out broken glass and various bits of metal as the truck comes to a stop. I put my foot on the brake and change lanes to avoid the wreckage, finally coming nearly to a stop about 20 feet away, not quite sure what to do. My first instinct is to simply go around it. The right lane is clear. But then my fear of the bystander effect kicks in.

Ever since the traumatic tale of Kitty Genovese in my high school psychology class, I have a heightened awareness of the fact that I should always try to step in and help in emergency situations. So I click on my hazard lights and ease back over into the left lane, coming to a crooked stop in the left lane behind the overturned trailer. I get out of the car to see the surprisingly-young round-faced driver shaking his head ruefully over the debris. I ask him if he's okay, and he says yes. "Is good, for me," he clarifies, waving me off cheerfully. He drags the washing machine out of the median handily, tactfully ignoring my ineffectual movements toward trying to help. Me, help. I was out of breath just from climbing out of my car.

To be sure, I'm fairly sure I'm currently experiencing a bout of anemia, and the downtown air-quality hasn't been much of a help lately. But really, to be of any help in a situation like that, you would practically need the body of a personal trainer. Just exactly what did I (pudgy weakling female that I am) think I could do to help?

So I slink back to my car, leaving any actual help to the able-bodied men converging from the auto-body shop across the street, switch off off my hazards, and drive on to retrieve my prescription medications. By the time I return past the spot, not 10 minutes later, I can't even tell anything happened there. Some industrious soul probably already used a push-broom on the site.

{sigh}. I don't know why I even bother.

This blog entry Copyright © 2009 Carol Hopper — All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Reduce Spam

The word “spam” was originally created during a contest held in 1937 by Hormel Foods to name their innovative wartime canned high-protein food, originally named “Hormel Spiced Ham.” The winner of the contest won $100 by simply combining the words “spiced ham” to form an acronym—SPAM™ (see

Among the children forced to eat SPAM™ luncheon meat (who didn’t necessarily like it) the word “spam” took on overtones of “cheap,” and “processed” food.

So it’s not too surprising that when those children grew up and needed a word to describe the vast numbers of unwanted marketing emails—often hawking scams, pornography, or illegal schemes—clogging their inboxes, they turned to a familiar word, and labeled the stuff “spam.”

I personally don’t mind the occasional SPAM™-containing meal, although the “spam” in my email can get irritating. And this blog entry is not about the canned spiced ham. It’s about email “spam.”

I don’t know if it is or ever will be possible to completely eliminate email spam, but these are my tips on how to prevent much of it:

Keep a Throwaway Email Address for Mailing Lists

If you really want to join a mailing list (or sign up for some online service or open an account with an online merchant), try to join only those that you trust not to sell your information to internet marketers. Read their privacy policies before signing up. (I know, I know, who wants to read the fine print? But it really will help you figure out who you should trust.)

And for the lists that you do sign up for, use a free email account separate from the one you use for personal friend-and-family communications. Just because it’s a throwaway address doesn’t mean you can’t check it frequently and still get all the updates from your mailing lists that you wish to receive.

I have found free Yahoo email accounts to be good as a throwaway address. You can get a gigabyte of free email storage space, plus a spam-blocking function. If you tag an email once as spam, you never have to look at emails from that address again, because they automatically go into a separate junk folder that doesn’t contribute to your storage space usage. The junk folder also gets emptied automatically after a month (which gives you time to realize it and go retrieve “good” emails if they mistakenly get sent to that folder).

Also, tell your friends and family that if they want to forward you stuff, to forward only to your throwaway email address. Read further for why this is a good strategy.

Keep Forwarding to a Minimum (Or at Least Forward Intelligently)

This is the main topic I would like all my readers to remember. There is an occupation out there on the wide world web called “spam harvester.” If this title calls to mind images of spidery machinery crawling menacingly around the electronic connections of cyberspace, you’re not alone.

These harvesters will glean any information about you that they can get, from anywhere they can find it. They compile all this information into lists, which they then sell to spam marketers. One source of their addresses is disreputable or scam mailing lists that people may sign up for, as I mentioned above.

But another source that many people may not think about is forwarded emails.

You could resolve to never forward jokes, thoughts, essays, or anything else to anyone. Ever. And that might help a little. But this is an area where you can’t necessarily control what happens to your own address. This time, we all have to help each other.

Even if you don’t forward something that a friend sends you and a bunch of other people, but any one of your friend’s recipients forwards that email to anyone else, all the addresses (including yours), as well as all of the addresses all the way down the “forwarding” line, will often just be sitting there right in the content of the email!

Some spammer will likely eventually get that email forwarded to him. And all it takes is one address harvester to pick up an address, sell it to dozens of spammers, and there goes the integrity of your email inbox.

The problem is the “TO” field. Whatever is entered into this field is visible to downstream recipients of an email. So here’s where your innate altruism and desire for good karma must come into play. You can’t necessarily stop this from happening to your own email address. Your actions can only directly affect those to whom you forward emails or from whom you receive emails.

To keep your forwarding “intelligent,” follow these steps:

1. Use the “BC” Field

To prevent your friends' email addresses from getting on any more spam lists, don't include your recipients’ email addresses in the “TO” or in the “CC” (carbon copy) fields on any widely-distributed emails.

In general, whenever you send an email to more than just a few people, you should put only your own email address (preferably your throwaway address) in the “TO” field, and “BC” (blind copy) everyone else that you want to send it to. This hides any email address except yours from the recipients, and keeps your recipients’ addresses from being received by downstream spam harvesters.

2. Delete Email Headers

When you receive a forward that you decide you will propel onward in its web journey (you do actually make considered judgments before automatically forwarding, don’t you?), don’t just click “forward” and then “send.” Spend a few more seconds, and clean up the headers first.

In general, don’t forward emails “as attachments,” because then you can’t edit what you’re forwarding. Forward items in the body of your new email—that way you can delete any email addresses that might remain in the content of the email. (You could also clean out those pesky “>>” symbols that some email programs put on every line every time you forward something, but that’s a pet peeve for another blog entry.)

Spread the Word

So now you know how to reduce spam.

We all need to educate our fellow netizens in the never-ending fight against spam. It's up to all of us to keep our friends’ addresses off those lists, and it’s up to our friends to keep our addresses off those lists. Nobody seems to have figured out a better way to prevent spam yet, so we all need to get on board with this strategy.

In that interest, please tell everyone you know.

Send them a link to this blog entry, for example. :)

And happy emailing to all of you!

Portions of this blog entry were based on an email from Spencer Hopper, October 12, 2004. Copyright © 2006 Carol Jeanne Hopper Holmes. This posting is offered to internet users free of charge under the following conditions: internet users may maintain one electronic copy and one print copy of the file for incidental, noncommercial use by members of the user’s household. This copyright notice must remain on all copies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to Make a Six-Pointed Snowflake

It’s already snowed twice in Salt Lake City. Winter seems to be upon us, here in the Northern Hemisphere. And even if it wasn’t, I suppose there’s some truth to the idea that it’s always snowing somewhere.

So what better time to make an attempt at eradicating those lame 4- or 8-pointed paper snowflakes that seem to pop up at this time of year as decorations in windows, in cubicles, on Christmas trees, and hanging from ceilings across this great nation?

In case you weren’t aware (and Stephenie Meyer for one apparently isn’t), snowflakes have six points. Always. (Unless they’re broken or deformed by atmospheric conditions.) The crystalline structure of water is hexagonal. That means six-sided. The rare snowflake may be found with only three sides or points, but water simply does not freeze into 4-sided crystals.

Common sheets of paper, however, do come in 4-sided forms. And these sheets of paper fold easily into shapes that when cut will produce (said lame) 4- or 8-pointed snowflakes. But really, it’s not as difficult as you might think to fold them into a shape that will help you cut a 6-pointed snowflake. Really. Let’s try it:

Step 1:

Take a sheet of 8½ × 11 rectangular white paper (see Fig. 1).


Fold one corner down so that the shorter edge of the paper meets the longer edge of the paper (see Fig. 2) and crease the paper along the fold.


Cut off the part of the sheet that isn’t folded against itself, leaving a triangular folded shape. (If you were to unfold the paper at this point, you would have a square instead of the rectangle you started with.)

Step 2:

Fold your triangle in half, so that it makes a smaller triangle of the same shape (Fig. 3).


This triangle has one longer side (the hypotenuse) and two shorter sides of the same length. (For those who care, it is a 45-45-90 isosceles right triangle.) When you folded your triangle in half, you may have ended up with one of the shorter sides at the bottom (see Fig. 4.1). If so, rotate your triangle so that the hypotenuse is at the bottom, or closest to you (see Fig. 4.2).


Step 3:

The point of the triangle formed by the two short sides should now be facing away from you. Visualize a line from that point straight down to the longest side. Fold one corner past that imaginary line until the edge of the paper is about 25% of the way between that imaginary line and the opposite corner (see Fig. 5.1). Before creasing the paper, fold the opposite corner in the same way, and make sure that the edges of the paper meet symmetrically so that the finished shape is in a kind of Star-Trek communicator-type chevron (see Fig 5.2).


Step 4:

This is the fun part. (At this point, the procedures for 4-pointed snowflakes and 6-pointed snowflakes merge.) Cut the tips of the chevron off the bottom at a sharp angle to create the points (or at a milder angle to create sides) of your snowflake. Cut off the tip of the resulting cone to make a hole in the center of your snowflake. Cut various wedges, arcs, circles, and other shapes into the sides of the cone, making sure never to cut all the way through the cone to the other side. Have fun!

Tip: to rid your paper snowflake of creases (and stiffen the paper) before displaying it, spray it with a bit of starch and iron it between two other sheets of paper or cloth.

This blog entry Copyright © 2008 Carol Hopper — All Rights Reserved.