Let Us Fix Your Problem: Latest Internet Scam

Apple logoWaking this morning to a splendid 3G signal in the desert from my iPhone’s Hotspot, I finished up my previous night’s review and uploaded it. As I went to publicize the piece I got an “alert” from applemac.us saying that a porn site “pornjizz” was attempting to hack my system. It warned that stopping my browser or restarting my computer would cause valuable information to become more accessible and to stop what I was doing immediately and ring the support number – 1-844-608-4612.

Alarm bells ringing in my mind, I did indeed cease and desist my publicity efforts and rang the number. The first clue that told me something was wrong here was the lack of Apple-ness by the chap who answered the phone. Indian, as in from India or Pakistan, he was polite enough but answered as technical department and not with his name.

I read off the message on the screen and he immediately informed me that they could take care of my problem with little fuss and I did not need to do a thing. Okay, I responded slowly, what happens next, the technician then read me off a url which I needed to type into my search engine, it was: www dot fast support dot com.

The second alarm went off because there was an obvious lack of Apple anywhere in the address provided. The third and final alarm, which by this time sounded like a fire alarm on steroids, was the next thing out of the technician’s mouth.

“We will take control of your computer and fix the problem in minutes.”

*Freeze Frame.*

I thanked the chap for his help and told him that my phone signal was fading and needed to ring him back. He offered to ring me back within the next 10 minutes. I thanked him and when he rang back, explained that I could not use my laptop and my phone at the same time and would ring them later.

Ringing the real Apple support number which is a 1-800 number…always…I got the familiar Apple answer where I was informed how long my wait would be, asked certain questions, sent to the right department and when the technician came on the line she gave me her name. The lovely lady informed me that yes this was a scam where they could charge you for the amount of time they took to “fix” your problem.

I pointed out that they also wanted to take control of my laptop which would have given them access to all my information. She congratulated me on recognizing that it was a scam and for calling them to double check.

Speaking earlier to the fake technician at no time did he ask for my serial number or what Apple product I had. He also zoomed in on the “let us take control of your computer” bit. With nothing but an on-screen alert, which claimed to be from Apple, and a 1-844 number he expected me to let him access my computer.

Not happening mate.

Looking at the site later the thing looks genuine enough but it is not, just as the real Apple folks.

So be advised there is a new scam in town. I assumed it was a Chrome issue but Stephanie at Apple assured me that the message was showing up on Safari as well. So consider yourself warned, if you see a message from applemac.us with the following number attached 1-844-607-4612 disregard the information and do not bother to call the number. Completely ignore the fast support dot com instructions, if you do ring, and do not let anyone you do not know or trust take control of your computer or laptop.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the above urls have been spelled out since I could not get WordPress to stop putting a link to the fraudulent site in my article.

10 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Experience Counts for Little With a Writing Sample: The Inquisitr

Screenshot of The Inquisitr recruitment page
It is interesting to note that The Inquisitr, which appears at first glance to be a content mill which requires 100 plus articles per month from its “staff,” require applicants to provide three examples of work published and then ask for a written sample. When submitting your three urls of past work they then state that to save time you may want to write a sample article based on topics provided by them.

After submitting prior work they then inform you that the sample must be written anyway. Fair enough. It is, after all, their company and if they prefer to not mention up front that the sample article is a requirement, so be it.

At no time are any guidelines offered for this sample. After punching out a fluff piece on Heidi Swedberg, a former Seinfeld cast member, I waited over the weekend with no response from my contact at The Inquistr. No email stating that they had received the sample and no feedback. After following up my submission with two emails, the first was a one-word query, “Feedback?” The second asked if they had even gotten the sample.

After getting a response saying that they had and it was being evaluated, the very next day I learn that they do not like the sample and it has not “passed the quality” evaluation required. Could I please write another one.

Uh…That would be a no.

Since 2011 I have written 2478 blog posts for my personal site, I wrote just under 2000 articles for the Guardian Liberty Voice, where I worked as Deputy Managing Editor for Entertainment, 40 articles for Viral Global News, since December 2014, around 7 for Rogue Cinema, I left to work at GLV, and around 3 or 4 for another company called WhatCulture! the last two sites paid nothing to their writers. These stories include interviews, film reviews, television recaps and reviews as well as other types of articles.

I did mention that I’d worked at the Guardian Liberty Voice for 18 months, my position and even provided a link to the site, where I wrote my little heart out, for pay. Their response was that they still required the sample. Again, fair enough. Except for the lack of guidelines, apart from it had to be around 400 words, I had no real issue with the requirement.

Such a short bit of work was a “walk in the park” and took little time to put together. Ensuring that nothing was plagiarized (to the best of my knowledge) and that it contained the “trending” information relevant to Ms. Swedberg was not a problem. This was to be, after all, a sample article, not to be published but used, I thought, to show what I could do. A little something that they would use to provide proper feedback on what they were looking for.

This was not the case. Their response? Write another one which may show your skills a bit better. There was no explanation of what I did “wrong” or what they were expecting. Entertainment pieces are not “real” journalism per se, I should know I’ve been writing these pieces for the last two years, so the bit I submitted should have been fine, on the off chance it was not, I expected a reason more forthcoming than “sorry, it’s not good enough.”

This “writing in the dark” process of applying for what appears to be a content mill site may work fine for them, and for other writers, but I am not playing this game. For one thing, it tells me that this is some sort of power play thing where they can tell then me I cannot write, ergo justifying a lower wage for my product. Either that or they surprised me and read my other blog post where I voiced my suspicions that they were either a sweat shop or content mill publication. I sincerely doubt the latter as they seem to have a system in place that does not recognize other work.

It seems that the requirement to submit three url’s of published work is nothing more than a chance to prove you have been published. The real part of the application is the sample article which does not include any guidelines.

Perhaps I am being picky here. They may be assuming that the basic journo rules that have been in effect for ever and ever, amen, are enough in the way of guidance. Fair enough, if that is the case, but when writing fluff, aka gossip, aka entertainment, the rules bend…a lot.

I already write for a site, which may or may not ever pay me anything. I do not contribute on a daily basis for a number of reasons which includes divvying up my time between memoirs, their site and my own personal blog all while trying to get my site monetized. On top of these time consuming things, I have no Internet, apart from my slow iPhone hotspot so I must ride to either the library or Burger King for Wi-Fi on my bike. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the trip takes a minimum of 45 minutes one way.

Living on a pittance, and believe me it is a pittance, and trying to come up with money for Internet and still be able to eat is a challenge and one that I will not attempt until I can get a few more paying jobs under my belt.

I will end this long winded rant with one thought.

I worked for almost two years on a site that recruited new writers constantly. Hundreds applied on a regular basis and out of the stream of applicants who thought they could write, very few actually could string a sentence together and many of them knew English only as a second, or third, language. So thanks, but no thanks chaps at The Inquisitr. I’ll not play your game. Many will, I have no doubt, but I refuse to believe that my work failed a “quality” check and will not submit again (as I stated in my short email back).

Your loss.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Freelance Writers: Content Mills and Sweat Shops Everywhere Oh My

Photo of author circa 2012
For those who want to be freelance writers working on the Internet it can be a tad depressing. There are content mills and sweat shops everywhere. After writing for at least one; the Guardian Liberty Voice (which qualified as both sweat shop and content mill) and cruising the net looking for other sites that advertise for writers it appears that publishers all want a plethora of poorly written articles cribbed from other more reputable sites. There are, of course, sites which pay nothing for the privilege of “working” for their site.

The sites that do pay, want to fork out damned little for your hard work. (If you don’t believe that cranking out 100 plus articles per month is hard work, the door is that way. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.) I hasten to add that a lot of sites appear to use article spinners in order to fill up their pages with poorly written rubbish that Facebook promotes.

Most sites also hide their intent to pay peanuts by quoting annual income figures. Sure 48,000 sounds great as a top figure. 24,000 less so when the 100 per month limit is factored in. This particular site, The Inquistr does not go into any “requirements” for the articles.

To explain, let’s look at the Guardian Liberty Voice. Each article was required to be a minimum of 500 words. For “breaking news” articles a minimum of 120, at last count, was needed with a follow up story to follow with a minimum of, you guessed it, 500 words. Since GLV does not, or did not, pay per article this meant a whole lot of writing for very little return for a lot of writers. Consider also that the initial contractual amount of articles per month was 128. I should point out that at my peak I was writing over 300 articles per month for ridiculously low pay.

The Inquisitr does advertise that their writers make good money and that they reach over 50 million viewers every day. Reading a rough sample of the site’s output reveals that in Entertainment at least, the quality falls pretty squarely in the “okay,” category. Granted, this particular area of “news” is not the most journalistic in appearance or nature. While it seems that most new writers in this category all want to be the next Perez Hilton, there are a few who are trying to put their own proper spin on reporting the “fluff.”

Just out of interest, I have submitted their employment “form.” They also ask, if you want to expedite the process, that you take a 20 minute test on grammar and rules. There are apparently 20 questions and the time limit, obviously, matches the questions. Interesting. I will not be taking the test, I really can not be bothered to prove that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Journalism via the 101 class taken in 1976.

Yes, it was that long ago.

I am still in the process of trying to learn how to get advertisers on my site. WordPress have, rather snootily, explained that my 4,000 to 6,000 views per month is not worthy of inclusion in their Adwords program. It is worth mentioning that whenever one inquires about the lack of response to their advert, they give a stock answer of, “Your site needs monthly traffic in the thousands. Get your family, friends, loved ones, etc to follow your blog to increase visibility.” When I pointed out that my blog already had “thousands” of views per month, and volunteered that perhaps he meant tens-of-thousands, the WordPress staffer grabbed that lifeline and said, “Yes, that is what I meant.”

However, if you look at other blogger’s experiences with “Adwords” you’ll find the same stock answer given to each applicant.

I’ve gotten offers before. One enthusiastic advertiser thought my site would be perfect and made an offer that I could not stop laughing at. The money was $100 per year. This was quite some time ago and the latest offer from a company has never gone past the “we think your site is perfect,” stage. Another low payment advertiser I am sure will eventually get back to me. They really should not waste their or my time.

The point behind the poorly paid advertiser anecdote is that no one really wants to pay you for your work. Whether it be a publication or a company wanting to purchase advertising space, the money offered is laughable.

I started out blogging regularly back in November 2011. I never intended to use this particular platform as a source of income. It was a way to work on my skills and build up a body of work. All practice for when I would begin writing my first book. I stumbled onto the GLV, and began an odyssey of learning that not all is as it seems and that I was a much better writer than I’d thought.

Working for that publication did result in things learned that helped me out. There were also things that burned me out. Writing up to 10 stories a day at 500 words a whack seven days a week is madness. It is also a good way to exhaust yourself. I struggle now to get out three to four articles a day.

At this moment in time, I am not being paid for anything I write. The new publication I’ve been writing for has not resulted in payment of any type. While I enjoy getting more views…sometimes…I do not enjoy grafting for naught. Perhaps a change of venue is in order here. I will keep you all posted as I continue my search for paid employment that does not require sweat shop or content mill environments. Working as a Freelance writer has been interesting, and fun at times, but it has not put a lot of money in my pocket.

The original boast of the publication I used to write for was good pay for good work. That never happened and it now feels like an uphill battle finding somewhere else to hang my hat. I’ve taken the first step in shifting my hosting to another site, not WordPress, but that is proving to be confusing and in some instances annoying.

Beware the marketplace sellers. Having stupidly purchased a template for my site which, I assumed, would allow me to download the format and set up my blog in the fashion advertised, I found that it did not. A further $100 was expected in order to format the style purchased. Asking for a refund was refused and I was told to act like a professional, which, pardon me for thinking so, I am.

Still, this journey is interesting and it is challenging. For those that are interested in where this ends up, stay tuned.

3 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Close to Death

Buzzard in desert,
It is safe to say that my day got off to a bad start. The old prospector next door, with his eight noisy mongrels, woke me up when two of the animals began barking at just before 6 a.m. Despite best attempts to head back to the Land of Nod (I was tired as sleep in the night was interrupted by an idiot who was trying to start an engine with no muffler, aka exhaust pipe, attached to it from 23:30 to 00:30, that is half 11 pm to half gone midnight for those who have difficulty with the 24 hour clock) I was unsuccessful, it was too light and I was too annoyed. On top of that it was blooming hot and once awake, both at night and in the morning, sleep was, in the former instance a long time coming and in the latter, not approachable at all.

To exacerbate the poor start to my day, literally yards from my desert dwelling, an elderly neighbour came within a cat’s whisker of knocking me and my bike right off the road. Completely oblivious, at least I hope he was and that this was not a deliberate attempt to help me meet my maker, the sod never slowed down, although to be fair he was not travelling that fast, nor did he acknowledge my shouts of fury and my, very, rude gestures. As my adrenaline surged, I found myself making obscene remarks about his lineage and accusing him of self masturbation, in other words of being a wanker. Had I thought of it, I would have grabbed a rock and sincerely tried to hit the windscreen on the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

I am, it is safe to say, still furious. I still have the huge bump and bruising on my right leg from the other unconscious prat who knocked me off the car park surface, aka parking lot, at Love’s Truck Stop. *A place I have avoided like the plague since that little incident in March.* After my close brush with yet another attempt on my life, I was paranoid about every vehicle that passed me.

I realize that many of my fellow desert dwellers are, as stated in the title, close to death. Failing skill sets, a lack of cohesive attention to tasks at hand, failing health and, in some cases, just a bad attitude full stop, do not make these folks the best of neighbours.

Needless to say, blogging while angry is not a good idea, but, like the Incredible Hulk, sans the green and the increased size, my rage has been running on high since this idiot almost hit me with his bloody truck. All the way to the public library, titles for my first blog post scampered across my imaginary laptop screen, the one in my head, each more annoyed and insulting than the last.

Title’s like, “Rednecks Never Die, They Just Move to Quartzsite,” was the least offensive of the lot. The thing that calmed me down was the continual attempt to rework the old mot, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed Jack is king.” This last internal dialogue, where I kept trying to substitute several annoyed phrases in place of blind, finally allowed the worst of my vitriol to dissipate.

Not completely though.

Just enough to stop the “Hulk smash” urge.

The problem is not just living amongst folks who are closer to death than I am, at least in terms of age. With an existing hole, apparently still in my aortic arch and damage to veins and arteries, as well as in one kidney, I may pop off more quickly than they will. With the exception of a dear new neighbour who has only a short time to live, and this lovely chap will be sorely missed by all who know him, the rest of the population in the neighborhood are a mixed bag who may all outlive me, especially if they persist in trying to kill me with their effing motor vehicles and that is where the problem lies.

These inept drivers may be quite nice away from their cars, trucks, vans and ATVs, although others seem to have the type of bad attitude that brings out the worst in me. If I can keep from becoming road statistic, I will remain tickled to death to have survived my further close brushes with the grim reaper.

Hopefully writing this rant out on a hot and dry day in the desert will help my anger and annoyance to abate further. If not my next update may come from behind bars and not, I hasten to add, the kind that serve drinks.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith