Welcome to The Funny/Alerts Newsletter. My surgery went well, although a little longer than expected. The surgeon found a "fatty tumor" attached to my esophagus, which she removed, but didn't think it was a big problem. After the surgery on Wednesday, they checked me into the hospital for observation. When I came to, my guardian angel was smiling down at me and I knew that everything was going to be OK.
Saline I.V., anti-biotics, Morphine drip with a "booster button" and some sort of leg wrappings that pumped up with air a couple of times each minute made it difficult to get comfortable and impossible to get out of bed. When I told the nurse I had to go to the bathroom, she offered to catheterize me. No way! I stripped off the "leggings" and dragged my "coat rack" into the bathroom, but even behind a locked door I wasn't safe. They wanted to monitor my "out-put" so I had to go into a collecting vessel which the nurse wanted to examine afterwards. Oh, the humiliation. After a while I started tracking the time and volume myself and simply reported it to the nurse. Also, they gave up putting my "leggings" back on me and encouraged me to get out of bed and move around. This would prevent the blood clots associated with being bed-ridden and they wouldn't have to keep wrapping me up in the "leggings".
Anne stayed with me that night and, again, all day Thursday. Friday morning one of my surgeon's associates came by "doing rounds" and asked if I wanted to go home. "Don't stand in the doorway!", I told him. When Anne called to say when she'd be arriving, I told her the good news and she hurried down to pick me up. Friday night was tough; on Hydrocodone instead of Morphine and without an adjustable bed it was impossible to get comfortable. Poor Anne slept very still so that I could use her to put pressure on my stomach (the Laparoscopic surgery has left me looking like the victim of a gang shooting). The nights since have been a little better as my body adjusts to the change in medication, but I still wake up at 4-5 AM needing pain relief. I wish they made some sort of night system that would hold me over 'till morning. But, this is temporary and should only last a couple of weeks.
None-the-less, my incisions are itching (a sign of healing) and, whether I like it or not, I'm now the proud owner of a toupee', which is what they call the 1/2 Fundoplication I ended up with. (This is an inside joke: As most of you know, I'm as bald as Dad Wick and have always eschewed the wigs and "comb-overs" that some men use to cover their natural state). But the remarkable thing is that the reflux is gone! Just like magic, I can now lay down with something in my stomach and not have it try to escape. I can't remember the last time I didn't worry about this. What a blessing! If you suffer as I did, you should seriously consider talking to a Gastroenterologist about having this done. The post-surgery discomfort is minor compared to the lasting relief I've been given. I'd do it again in a heart-beat!

Co-Conspirator To Make The World A Better Place

Mornin', my little Vet Visit

Judi brought in a litter of golden retriever puppies to a veterinary clinic for inoculations and worming. As the look-alike pups squirmed over and under one another in their box, the vet realized it would be difficult to tell the treated ones from the rest. So, the vet turned on the water faucet, wet his fingers, and moistened each dog's head when he had finished.

After the fourth puppy, the vet noticed Judi, who'd been chattering her fool head off up to that point, had grown silent. As the vet sprinkled the last pup's head, the woman leaned forward and whispered, "I didn't know they had to be baptized, too."


DJ wrote viruses that hit 27,000 computers
By Charles Arthur 

A disc jockey pleaded guilty yesterday to spreading computer viruses through the internet to tens of thousands of PCs across the world from his home in north Wales.

Simon Vallor, 22, threatened to destroy data on hard drives on 11 November 2001 amid concern about "cyber-terrorism" in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the United States. If anyone opened an infected e-mail, a copy of the virus would be sent to everyone in their address book.

Vallor, a DJ and web designer, was caught with the help of the FBI in Baltimore, who passed his details to Scotland Yard's computer crime unit. The unit found that a person using the name "Gobo" had claimed to have written the GoKar virus in a number of postings in chat rooms.

Police traced Vallor through his BT internet account, which was registered at his home in Llandudno. Officers raided his home and arrested him.

At Bow Street magistrates' court in central London yesterday, Vallor admitted releasing three viruses, called "Redesi", "GoKar" and "Admirer", which affected 27,000 computers in 42 countries. He spoke only to confirm his name during the 15-minute hearing.

Rachel Cooper, for the defense, said her client had no previous convictions and was of good character. A charge of possessing an indecent image of children was withdrawn.

District Judge Nicholas Evans told Vallor he would get credit for pleading guilty to the charges. He ordered pre-sentence reports and committed him on unconditional bail to Southwark Crown Court at a date to be fixed.

Vallor left the court without comment but on his web site he said it would be unjust to give him a prison sentence. "I caused no harm, endangered no one, hurt no one, damaged nothing yet I may very well be going to prison, while there are drink-drivers, rapists, even murderers who get let off," he wrote in an online diary at the end of October.

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at the antivirus company Sophos, welcomed the conviction for sending a warning to others. "It's encouraging that people who write viruses are being told through this case that if you distribute them then it's against the law," he said. 

ID Theft Increase Doesn't Deter E-Shoppers
Stephen Chiger

WASHINGTON--Identity theft may be one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, but it shows no signs of squelching e-commerce, experts say.

Compared to a projected $7.2 billion 2002 online retail industry, identity theft trends are only a trickle amid the gushing growth of online spending, says Forrester analyst Chris Kelley.

"It's very tempting for politicians, the press, anybody to see identity theft and see that it's rising and say the sky is falling," Kelley says. In reality, the crime's impact on e-commerce is "very, very small," he says.

Many details surrounding identity theft remain a mystery. Law enforcement has no statistic on how often the Internet is used for these crimes. No firm numbers are available on how the crimes start or how often they are solved. And if the crime is spreading, it's difficult to say how fast and how far.

Crime Opportunity
Identity theft is the dark side of the last decade's tech boom. Brave new technologies put consumer information online where it is easy to access. The Internet creates new avenues for criminals to steal and exploit personal information such as a Social Security or credit card number. Stolen identities can be used to open credit cards, obtain loans, or even launder money.

For example, identity theft victim Lisa Sharf says it took criminals using the Internet less than a week to open six credit cards in her name. Heidi Anderson says an identity thief used the Web to help open more than 30 accounts in her name--fraudulently charging more than $45,000. Even a PCWorld editor has experienced such fraud.

The government and other experts say identity theft, facilitated by the Internet, is rising rapidly. Official estimates are that between 500,000 and 1.1 million crimes will occur this year. Some 700,000 consumers became victims of identity theft during 2001, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, which follows the crime.

"The Internet . . . has made it so much easier to engage in this kind of fraud," says Betsy Broder, a manager with the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors and investigates thousands of identity theft complaints each year. "Gone are the days when everyone you do business with knows your name," Broder adds.

But Forrester's Kelley says identity theft ranks only fourth among consumer concerns when they shop online. He thinks that's about the right ranking. 

"In the grand scheme of things, it's not the biggest thing people should be worried about," Kelley says.

Spending Jumps
American spending on non-travel Web sites last quarter increased 41 percent over last year, says ComScore Networks, a firm that tracks e-commerce. Americans also spent three times as much time banking online as they did a year earlier.

These numbers "indicate to me anecdotally that the fear of identity theft is shrinking," says Brian Methvin, a ComScore division president.

A study released last week by the U.S. General Accounting Office found no comprehensive central database tracking prosecution of identity theft, let alone singling out Internet-based cases. Still, the GAO, Congress' investigative arm, has said since 1998 that Americans are becoming less skittish about cyber crime.

Identity theft is hard to track because it is usually a part of a larger crime and because it hasn't received priority attention from police, says Linda Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

"These cases often go to the bottom of the file when it comes to investigations," Foley says. "The victim becomes the chief investigator."

New Priorities
The GAO concurs that identity theft is dealt with infrequently. According to its recent report, "Officials in several of the ten states [examined] told us that limited resources are allocated to priorities such as violent crimes and drug offenses and, thus, the number of investigators and prosecutors for addressing identity theft often is insufficient."

About 18 percent of those who try to file a police report before contacting the FTC are unable to do so, said Howard Beales, director of its Bureau of Consumer Protection, at a July hearing. That number is down from 35 percent since International Association of Chiefs of Police renewed their commitment to address the crime in late 2000, he testified.

Federal officials, hoping to quell the crime's growth, are trying to prioritize identity theft investigations. In the past month, at least two hearings reviewed the subject. Lawmakers also are considering bills to enhance identity theft penalties and make it easier for victims to recover from the crime.

In May, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced an initiative to ferret out and prosecute identity thieves. That effort combines with penalty-enhancements to take a "two-pronged" approach to stopping the crime.

The Identity Theft Resource Center says consumers can help protect themselves by annually checking their credit reports, guarding their Social Security numbers, shredding waste paper that contains sensitive information, and being wary of phone solicitors who ask for personal details.


Sneak preview of one of the early alpha editions of the next major version of Windows.

Longhorn isn't far enough along at this point to make any relevant conclusions... the alpha build [seen here] is analogous to early Whistler builds, or perhaps the first December 1996 Memphis release (which became Windows 98), because it's really just a holding place for a few technology tests at this point. Ultimately, the best is yet to come for Longhorn, but some of the bits present here are still interesting. With over two years of development time left, don't be surprised if the final Longhorn version bears little resemblance to what we see here today.


Security Firm Deserts Users
By Chris Gonsalves and Dennis Fisher

A company that once promised to find stolen corporate laptops is now itself missing in action. And left behind are countless customers stuck for the prepaid service and saddled with a software agent that not only resists being disabled but can still transmit sensitive data over the Internet.

Lucira Technologies Inc. has been defunct since August, when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Boston, federal court records show. Nearly two dozen users contacted by eWeek, however, say they've never been notified that the managed service has been terminated. All telephones to the company's Boston headquarters have been disconnected, Lucira's corporate Web site has been shuttered, and the company's landlord said the firm moved out several months ago leaving no forwarding address.

The company, which was founded in 1999 as CyberTrak Systems Inc., marketed a service alternately called MobileSecure or SecurePC. At the heart of Lucira's service is a technology dubbed Pinpoint, which makes regular, automatic checks to a Lucira server when a client computer is logged on to the Internet. When a machine is reported stolen, the software could be used to log trace routes and locate the machine for recovery by police. A Lucira official once bragged in published reports that the company's client-side software agent was so robust that the only way to defeat it once installed was to physically remove the laptop's hard disk drive.

More troubling to users today, Pinpoint also allows data on the client's machine to be retrieved, destroyed or encrypted by remote control.

"I can understand a company just not making it. But how expensive is it to e-mail customers and tell them, 'Sorry ... take other measures to protect yourself,'?" said Craig Uselman, corporate IT support manager at American Packaging Corp., in Rochester, N.Y. Uselman in April bought a one-year package from Lucira to protect his laptop for $49. While the contact information for Lucira is no longer valid, Uselman said Lucira's software agent continues to transmit data when he is logged on to the Internet.

Running totals show more than 8,000 copies of the free version of Lucira's software were downloaded from popular download sites. And though the vendor is out of business, the product remained available at sites such as Amazon.com until late last week.

To help Lucira users left in the lurch, one former competitor, Ztrace Inc., is stepping in. Former customers with time still left on their paid contracts with Lucira can contact Ztrace for instructions for transitioning to the Waltham, Mass., vendor's laptop security service.

"Whatever time they have left, we'll give them for free with our service," said Alexander Kesler, president of Ztrace. Kesler said instructions for removing the old Lucira agent would be included. Ztrace has been contacted by about a dozen Lucira enterprise users so far.

Lucira was founded by 24-year-old University of Pennsylvania medical school dropout Ravi Hariprasad, who was inspired into entrepreneurship when his laptop was stolen. After winning several business plan competitions, Hariprasad scored $10 million in venture funding in early 2000 and started peppering press releases with well-known names.

Despite bright beginnings for Lucira, by early this year, the money was running out. By the time the company filed for bankruptcy Aug. 6, it had debts of more than $900,000. The case, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston, is still pending, but none of the company's creditors has filed objections.

Investors say they're more angry than surprised.

"When you invest in something, you take a risk," said Darrell Browning, president of Browning Communications Inc., based in Philadelphia, which invested in Lucira and did some public relations work for the company. "But all we got was a letter telling us they had ceased operations."

Lucira's key officials, CEO Hariprasad and Chief Technology Officer Zulfikar Ramzan, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

"It's a poor practice for any company, be it Enron [Corp.] or Lucira, to just walk away and leave users holding the bag," said Bradley Lide, president of Computer Sentry Software Inc., in Nashville, Tenn.

Since 1996, CSS has been making CyberAngel, which protects laptops much the same way as Lucira's technology. Lide said he understands Lucira's trouble in the tough economy. "But a company like that needs to have an exit strategy that includes helping users uninstall at least," he said.

The business of protecting corporate mobile computers with hidden agents that turn into Internet beacons was pioneered in 1995 by Absolute Software Inc. with its Computrace product. CEO John Livingston said the failure of Lucira shows "it's important to deal with companies of substance that can grow and maintain current services."

"[Lucira] should have had a mechanism to turn the server over to the customers ... to allow users to take over and run it themselves," said Livingston, in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Half a Sandwich
by Clair Smith
West Yorkshire, England

As the run up to Christmas 2002 continued I found it difficult to get into the season's festive mood. At 19 and being a university student, I can't afford to buy people all that I would like. That, plus the bustling crowds and the whole commercialism of Christmas were getting to me.

I'm a first year student at a university in England, and whenever I go in to the town center I am confronted by numerous people begging or asking for money. I always feel terrible but tend to just scuttle by with a muttered "sorry".

I have been told various times that often the money given to people in the streets is spent on drugs and alcohol and doesn't help anybody.
I don't believe this is true for the most part, but understand why giving the equivalent money to charity instead is a good idea. However, like many people, I have taken to giving food to people on the street, maybe the leftover pizza from a meal or some fruit. Not much, but something.

I went in to town a couple of weeks ago to brave the crowds in the search for Christmas presents for family and friends. As I got close to town, I saw a man, only a couple of years older than me, sitting on the pavement. He was very scruffy and if I'm honest, I felt a little intimidated by him. He was eating a burger faster than I had ever seen someone eat before.

As I approached, I saw him look at his half-finished burger, inwardly debating; he then stood up and crossed the road.

On the other side of the street was another man, older this time, but just as scruffy. Into his hands was pushed the half-eaten snack.
The look of surprise and gratitude was overwhelming. Then without exchange of words the man returned. He obviously felt the other man's need was greater than his own.

In a rush, I walked on, smiling. His actions had reconfirmed my faith in people. Suddenly I had found my Christmas spirit. As I returned from town a few hours later I hoped to pass the man, to wish him a good Christmas and gave him a cup of tea I had bought for him.

He wasn't there, nor was his friend. I gave the tea to a lady I passed on my way home, she looked quite grateful -- maybe more for the few brief words than the drink itself.

I was able to share with her because of the man I saw on the street.
He rekindled in my mind the understanding that it is not the size of the gift, but the sentiment behind it which really counts.


Do you like computer games? Do you like pasta? Well, here's a ShockWave(tm) game that transmutes that old favorite Asteroids(c) with bowtie pasta! Just let the Macromedia player load it's plug-in for your browser and you'll be destroying those dangerous noodles in no time.


The New Carcinogens
From the Dec. 23, 2002 issue of TIME magazine

Last week, the U.S. government added steroidal estrogen -- like the kind used in hormone-replacement therapy and birth control pills -- to its list of "known human carcinogens," a catalog that also includes asbestos, tobacco and mustard gas. The Report on Carcinogens, issued every two years by the National Toxicology Program, associates steroidal estrogen with increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer, based on data from studies of HRT and birth-control pills. Still, scientists debate whether such treatments -- which combine estrogen with other hormones -- pose the same threat as estrogen alone. "If this concerns you, talk to your physician about it," says Dr. Christopher Portier, associate director of the NTP. Among the 14 other substances to make the NTP list: wood dust, common in sawmills and furniture-or cabinetmaking workshops; broad-spectrum ultraviolet radiation, from the sun or tanning beds; and IQ, a compound found in cigarette smoke that is also formed when foods like meats and eggs are cooked in high heat. For more detail, find the report online at niehs.nih.gov.


by Chris Pirillo

I can tell that some people have been opening up their presents a few days early. How? It has nothing to do with psychic energy; it has everything to do with the influx of viruses that has entered my inbox in recent days. And it's going to get worse in the coming weeks. Yes, it's fun to see someone get online for the first time, but before you pass along the mouse, pass on a couple of my personal 32-bit "newbie safety" instructions. (1) Don't open attachments that you didn't ask for, even if you think you know who's sending them; (2) make sure your software and OS are up-to-date. If you don't have a broadband connection, take the machine somewhere that does; (3) If something asks to install itself on your computer, just say no. Call your local geek and ask how to proceed. (4) You cannot initiate World War III by pressing the wrong key; (5) Sign up for a computer class. It's a proven fact that family members suck at teaching the basics. (6) Do not give out credit card information to anybody through e-mail or an instant messenger, no matter how official it sounds. Again, call your geek first. (7) If you want to find something online, go to Google.com; (8) Do not eat or drink near your computer system unless your hardware is orange juice compatible; (9) CTRL+Z will usually undo the last thing you did, no matter where you are or what you're doing; (10) Do not use the CAPS LOCK key; that is for expert users only. 

(11) If something doesn't want to go into a port, don't force it; chances are, it's not supposed to go in there. At least, not the way you think it should go. (12) Those are floppy disks. Yes, I realize their case is hard, but the hard drive is actually inside that case; (13) Yes, that's the case. The CPU is sitting inside of it on the motherboard - which is the stage upon which all of your computer components sit; (14) Memory is not the same thing as a hard drive; memory is also known as RAM, which is where programs and open documents are loaded. The hard drive is where your files sit silently, waiting for you to put them into memory; (15) A screen saver is not the same thing as a desktop wallpaper; screen savers are animated, whereas a wallpaper is the picture that sits behind your icons; (16) There's more than one way to do complete a task - this isn't math class; (17) Don't get mad at me when something doesn't work; don't get mad at the computer when something doesn't work; don't get mad at yourself when something doesn't work; (18) Be inquisitive, but understand that certain answers may not exist - no matter how many ways you try to ask the same question; (19) You're probably not going to get hacked; ask your geek how to best protect yourself if you're worried; (20) Forwarding joke mails is not funny. 

(21) The Internet doesn't always move as fast as you'd like it to go; you're not the only person online right now; (22) Don't respond to special offers you didn't ask for through e-mail; (23) Try right-clicking on your icons to see what you can do with each one; (24) Keep all of your saved files, word processing documents, spreadsheets, cards, etc. in the "My Documents" folder. Whenever a program asks you to save something somewhere, save it in there; (25) There's more on your computer than "the Internet" and Solitaire; (26) You don't need Photoshop to edit your digital photos; (27) Don't send videos through e-mail; (28) The computer only does what you tell it to do; there are exceptions to this rule, but if you keep running into the same walls, you're probably doing something wrong. That's okay, even geeks make mistakes; (29) You usually can't return opened software; learn how to download files to try them before you buy them; (30) You won't need to upgrade everything tomorrow; this system will not be obsolete until it can't do something you need it to do; (31) Have fun! If you take this activity too seriously, you won't want to play with the computer too often; and (32) subscribe to Lockergnome! It may not make much sense at first, but you'll start catching on in a few weeks. I hope. 


Let go of whatever holds you back