When is an e-card not an e-card?

When it’s a trojan or virus, of course. Some of you may have received the following email from me:


I’m sending a quick email to a few friends/family just to alert about something I just noticed in my Gmail inbox.

I received an email that alleged itself to be from “GreetingCards.com” which is a respected Hallmark Cards site that happens, I think, to also allow you to send those cute e-mail postcards. The message says something like “someone who cares about you has just sent you a card. Click here to view it” (or something very similar (except “here” is underlined and an internet link).

Don’t click it. Especially if you’re using windows.

The link initiates a download to an ftp site and causes your computer to automatically run a .PIF file. This is the type of file that Windows uses to  run old-school MS-DOS programs. Lowly skilled and wannabe hackers use this to pass on viruses and the .PIF file itself is an executable Trojan.

I only sent this email because I *almost* clicked on it thinking it was really a greeting card. I realized that if I can almost be fooled (I like to think I’m pretty savy with a ‘puter), then some of my friends might not think to investigate the link a little closer.

I run a Linux operating system rather than Windows, so its likely that it wouldn’t have affected me in the least, but it will definately affect Windows users and possibly Mac (I don’t know if Macs handle .PIF files or not).

If you get an email like this, its always best to hover your mouse over the link and read the status bar at the bottom of FireFox, IE or Safari to see what the link resolves to. In this case, its a numeric IP and never a good thing to click. I already sent copies of the email to abuse@greetingcards.com and the ISP for the IP address.

And I was just thinking of sending you all a silly e-card when I got that….  🙂


I’m always an advocate of forwarding phishing emails and emails that clearly link to trojans (usually files with extensions like “.pif” or “.scr”) to the ISP or company that is being impersonated. This allows big corporations like Citi, Chase, Hallmark, etc to sic their IT pros on the issue and resolve problems a little quicker. There are methods they can take to eliminate fraud, phishing, and inadvertant hosting of harmful programs that shortens the lifespan of a given virus, worm, or trojan. And, the less lifespan these things get the less willing the no-good, low-life, wannabe hackers are to create or pass them on.

So, if you ever get an email that says its from Paypal, Citi, Chase, Bank of America, or any institution that handles your money which asks you to click a link to verify your contact information, don’t click that link unless you’re willing to load up your computer with spyware and answer questions that will let a bunch of theives call up the legitimate financial instutitions that you’re a client with to use that personal information against you. They need only your birthdate and last four of a social security number, or simply a mother’s maiden name to access all your banking info and make any changes they wish.

I know. I work for a bank (when I’m not an archaeology student).

What to do:
1) don’t click the links
2) hover your mouse over the links and look for IP addresses, different spellings (http://www. chasse.com), etc.
3) login to you bank’s website using the links provided on bank literature such as statements or the back of your credit card
4) call your bank, credit card or customer service for the institution through the number on your statement or card
5) ask them about the email -my bank usually knows about the latest phishing schemes within hours of them being started and gets daily updates to all customer service reps
6) forward a copy of the email to abuse@institution.com (where “institution” is the domain for your bank, etc. -i.e. abuse@ebay.com)

And there’s one other thing that I recommend for Gmail users:
7) click on the little down arrow in the email header just to the right of “reply” and you’ll find a list of options. One of these is “report phishing.” Doing this will send the email to Gmail and will improve Gmail’s spam/phishing filter for everyone else. Don’t believe me? If you have Gmail, click on “spam” along the left-hand sidebar and browse the messages Gmail catches!

Looting antiquities and hurt feelings and an appeal to Memorial Day

As many of you are aware, A Hot Cup of Joe is a blog that originated at Blogspot. In fact, the original blog is still there. I even continue to get hits and comments even though my last post was announcing the move to WordPress.

Some of the comments are interesting and I think each and every post that’s at Blogspot exists here thanks to the import feature of WordPress. But, occasionally, I’ll move a recent comment to the WP version just because its interesting, relevant or worthy of mention. Here’s a comment left on my last post at Blogspot:

Sheri said…
As this is day of memory and appreciation for those that have served our country, I would like to express my opinion on a particular blog that you placed in 2006 in Hot Cup of Joe. It was an Oregonian article by Brian Denson in regards to looting of Indian antiquities. I want to express to you that you do not have the facts and yet you revealed your non researched document as truth in the light of being an highly acclaimed archaeologist student. I too, am a student in college. I also have a love for the antiquities of the American Native Heritage as well does a fellow soldier, Harold Elliot, US Army six years active duty-Volunteered. Four of those years in Special Forces. One year in 82nd Airborne as officer. One year in 101 Airborne in Vietnam as an officer. Receiving Purple Heart, Silver Star, and the Vietnamese Cross of Galanty. Yes, He had a collection. That collection was honest and true and was with the heart of preservation of history and the respect for our Brothers the Native Americans. It is politics of those in office that want prestige and fame that disguise themselves as heroes. BLM Officials, Forest Service Officials, FBI Agents. All of whom have Antiquity collections themselves who steal from the confiscations under the name of operation bring em back. Not only has that been the case but they have destroyed these precious vessels and attempting to destroy the lives of two men, Harold Elliot and Miles Simpson who are innocent. THE GROWTH OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IN THE YEARS SINCE THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR HAS FED IN THE PARANOIA OF A PORTION OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC: MILITIA. AS IN 1692 WITH THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS, SOCIETY BREEDS INDIVIDUALS THAT REQUIRE THE NEED FOR CONTROL AND THE ENJOYMENT OF STRIPPING INNOCENT PEOPLE THEIR CIVIL FREEDOMS. Harold Elliot and Miles Simpson’s civil rights were and still are being violated. Look at your previous blog Phillip Fields,Bly Oregon. MORE INFO IS AVAILABLE IF THERE IS AN INTEREST.

May 26, 2008 8:23 AM
I think Sheri has totally misrepresented my post and my intent. But for anyone who wants to view the original and see for themselves, it resides here. Indeed, the only time I mention Elliot’s name at all is in quoting the article itself and then by providing commentary following the quote. The commentary stated, “I wonder if Elliot and Simpson have clear documentation that shows ownership of all of their artifacts prior to 1970? If not, then they clearly are looters, whether they got their hands in the dirt or not.”
My intent wasn’t to slander or ridicule a specific individual (which I didn’t, by the way) but rather to point out the problem of looting archaeological sites and how the buyers, dealers and collectors are every bit as culpable as those that actually do the digging.
Looting of antiquities is a problem for us all, not just archaeologists, because it cheats us out of our histories and obliterates the stories of our ancestors by destroying the contexts of the artifacts that are stolen from the ground. Looters care about quick sales and dollar figures -they discard contextual items of no intrinsic value without concern for information that can be gained from the broken pot sherds, burnt rock, or off-color dirt patches within the same strata as the artifacts they recovered. And the buyers and collectors, who may well believe that they are connoisseurs or cultural advocates who appreciate the ancient cultures the artifacts represent are every bit as culpable as the midnight diggers who rob graves, obliterate archaeological sites and leave behind rubble piles of contextually destroyed matrix.
So, do I know whether Elliot is a good person, a looter, guilty of violating antiquities laws. No. Of course not. Nor have I ever professed to. If Elliot is guilty or not is of little concern to me and was not the point of the post I created. As I said, IF he received stolen/looted goods, he’s every bit as culpable and is every bit as guilty of looting as the diggers that stole them. Period. QED.
It makes no difference whatever that he was a Vietnam Vet, a service member for 6 years or even a good father (his daughter also created a post on the old blog).
If Elliot did NOT receive stolen and looted goods, then he’s innocent.

Religion and the Imagination – Cue a John Lennon Song

According to an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, the very process that John Lennon suggested we use to put religion and other human institutions out our minds might very well be the reason we have religion to begin with.

Imagination, says Maurice Bloch [New Scientist], is what sets humans apart from other animal species. Unlike even our closest relatives, chimpanzees, humans have the unique ability to imagine things that do not exist.

It seems like common sense when you think about it: art, theater, cinema, music, and language it self are each derived from the human imagination. The suggestion that religion is a product of human imagination isn’t necessarily a new one. Modern popularizers of the atheist movement have suggested as links to religion and imagination, though perhaps not as explicit as Bloch.

Daniel Dennett, in Breaking The Spell, tells us that language makes it possible for us to, “remind ourselves of things not currently present to our senses, to dwell on topics that would otherwise be elusive” as we consider our ancestors or other absent and dead people. This is what Bloch refers to as the “transcendental social,” comprised of a group with members one may have never met (clan members, ancestors, gods, deities, etc.).

Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, writes, “[c]onstructing models is something the human brain is very good at. When we are asleep it is called dreaming; when we are awake we call it imagination […]”

V.S. Rmachandran, a prominent neuroscientist, describes many ways in which the human brain uses imagination to cope with damage to cognitive abilities of the brain after traumas or injuries. He includes an entire chapter on a syndrome known as anasognosia in which patients who suffer from strokes or  brain injuries that result in paralysis of a limb construct elaborate and imaginative denials of their paralysis to the point that they actually believe an otherwise paralyzed arm is perfectly normal and sometimes even stronger than the non-paralyzed arm!

Perhaps the same neurological and cognitive functions that inspired the pages of Rama’s Phantoms in the Brain are related to the neural architecture Bloch believes was developed in humans some 40-50,000 years ago. This is the period of the Upper Palaeological Revolution in which lithic technologies and art “suddenly exploded in sophistication” and where funerary artifacts, rock and cave paintings begin, and stone tools take on new styles that allow for more advanced and diverse uses.

In my studies of the Neanderthal to human switch in Europe, where the dominant species of residence changed from Neanderthals to humans, I’ve often considered that it may have been the willingness of humans to believe and imagine which gave them a competitive edge over Neanderthals. If Neanderthals had a diminished capacity to utilize their imaginations, they would have been less likely to develop or adapt to changing climates or environments. They would have been less likely to migrate and spread out except to put space between rival clans or groups. Humans, on the other hand, are naturally curious and imagine every sort of possibility, giving rise to in-groups and out-groups and a natural drive to explore and migrate, perhaps seeking “the good life” in the next valley, and quickly adapting to conditions ranging from desert to arctic using their imaginaitions.

Given that humanity has had thousands of gods and religions in recorded history alone, it isn’t hard at all to imagine that they are each the result of, well, imagination.

Books mentioned:

Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. London: Bantam.

Dennett, D. C. (2006). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. London: Viking.

Ramachandran, V., and Sandra Blakeslee, (1998). Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. New York: Morrow