Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stickers, scribbles, cracks, and adventure

Seven years ago, I went on a big adventure. I spent the summer in Alaska volunteering at a Bible camp, then went on to Australia to see Jacob and Michelle get married, and proceeded on to South Korea for a semester abroad. All in all, it was a nine month trip. This Rubbermaid container was one of my pieces of luggage. It is covered in memories- stickers from Tokyo airport security, an "Ian was here" note, scuffs and cracks, and dozens of notes and phone numbers written during my missing-passport adventure in LAX. I was stuck for two days in LA because a Korean consulate employee dropped my urgent/overnight mail with my passport and visa into a drop box on a Friday afternoon and it was not picked up until Monday. I was able to crash with a friend of Ian's until it arrived, just in time for me to make it to the wedding and to lose my 20th birthday the international date line while flying west.



The nine-month experience was amazing and my thirst for adventure has burned ever since. My life is different now- I'm in loan repayment, have a rental house, and have embarked on the adventure of life together with Sarah. When such excellent adventures are in my past as a single man, it can make it hard to see weekend trips as adventures. It can even feel like a loss- and in a way it is. But what I have gained- progress towards financial freedom, a home, and a soulmate who loves me unconditionally- are more valuable than the most carefree international romp. There is a part of each of us that desires to have everything good with no sacrifice. As children, we learn that we can't hold every single toy in our little hands, that we cannot have energy to play if we do not go to sleep, and that we sometimes give up a demand in order to keep a friend. These simple concepts are really the same as opening up the joy of marriage by leaving behind the vacuum of responsibility that exists in singleness- but multiplied by the magnitude of a lifetime, they sometimes daunt me. I wish I had ridden a motorcycle across Vietnam, built a trebuchet, learned to freedive or play the guitar, turbo'd an E30, hiked the Appalachian trail or spent some of that freedom a thousand other ways than I did. (Video games, tinkering, and eating, mostly) 

I do not feel bitter, though, or underprivileged. I could compare myself with any epic Youtube video or somebody's amazing Facebook album, but that would be sad, untrue, and ungrateful. I've had a good run at youth. I went on big adventures and had wonderful experiences that many others more deserving than I did not. I did not deserve such a wonderful youth as I've had. The adventures are not over; I am not resigning myself to some boring picture of adulthood or placing the Ned I have been in a memory box. But I will acknowledge that my adventure looks different now, just like the Ned in the mirror. My knees are not what they once were, I need to avoid widowing Sarah via motorcycle wreck, and over the next couple decades, I'll probably be rediscovering the world through my children's eyes. My hope now, and my image of adventure to come, is to continue to discover the joy, the freedom, and the excitement of leaving an imprint on the world around me that will matter when the dust settles. Who will I have loved? With whom will I have shared the truth? What encouragement have I given to my family and friends? When this world fades away, will my adventure die with it, or will it be recorded in those whom I'll worship with, and in the book of life? So says the proverb, "as we spend our days, so we spend our lives". I'm not starting today- I started August 8, 1987. I am nearly 27 years into my adventure, and I intend to use what I have left to live with eternal purpose. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Origin-al Christmas

Friends and family,
You may get some strange gifts from the Funnells this Christmas, but it is for a good reason. In order to explain, imagine Sarah and I in a Meijer toy aisle, looking at an eye-catching board game. While Sarah appreciated the cute design on the box,  I flipped it over and searched for what I knew would be there: “Made in China”. As cute as the game was, I was not pleased with it because I knew the smiling face of whoever will receive that game this year is made possible by a blank, lifeless face somewhere in Guangzhou operating a printing press or assembling the pieces. I’m not comfortable giving gifts that reinforce a way of doing things where one Has because another Has Not. Sarah and I left that Meijer (without toys) having decided not to give any gifts this year that we weren't sure were produced way I’d be comfortable watching. Surely, endless rows of tables surrounded by Chinese (Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese…) men and women without opportunities to improve their situation, making far too little, and under a political regime that denies their right to hear the truth of Jesus would not be comfortable for me to watch. Sarah and I have chosen not to support that this year.

We’re not posting this because we want to be smug, but because of Romans 12:9- “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” I’d argue that love which pleases one while contributing to the suffering of another is not the most genuine. Isn’t the abuse of workers to produce luxury items for the wealthy evil, which we should abhor? We want our love to be the most genuine we can, so we are choosing only to give gifts we know and approve the origin of. Plastic toys from China, where preaching the true gospel is illegal: No. Wooden toys made by Ned: Yes! Kitchen tools from Vietnam, where the average factory worker makes $150 per month: No. Maple syrup from the local farmer’s market: Yes! A golden necklace, made with gold mined by Malian children using poisonous mercury: No. A cross necklace made by rescued Thai sex workers that supports their families: Yes! Cute and inexpensive garments sewn in Jordan, where immigrant seamstresses are regularly raped by their bosses: No. Gently-used clothes from a thrift store that don’t create demand in those factories: Yes! An electronic gadget made by factory workers in China whose dormitories are surrounded by nets to discourage suicide: No. A honorary gift from the World Vision catalog which benefits someone with great need: Yes!

This year, we will choose what is genuinely loving, not what is convenient. We’re not ashamed to post this although we know that it will make some uncomfortable- we know that the danger, pain, and abuse that others suffer when we choose to support their oppressors is more important. Let your love be genuine- not only for the recipients of your gifts as well as the people who made the gift. Will you consider making some, or all of your Christmas this year Origin-al? Consider the origin of your gift and whether it is fit for the holiday that bears Christ’s name. You may worry that if you make only this one change, you could be called a hypocrite- but how much more if you have heard the truth and do not change at all? Choose love, not comfort. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dances with the Nigerian Scammer

A few years ago, I was living in Marshalltown, Iowa, while working an internship with a company there. I was driving a Mitsubishi Montero at the time, and it was a good enough car for me. Unfortunately, I made a wonky left turn that spring and got nailed in a rear quarter by a speedy lady in a Blazer. Sorry, speeding lady! I hope Geico took care of you!

Having my car wrecked pretty intensely ruined my motoring prospects for a while. Fortunately, my roommate worked at the same company, so we just made our occasional carpooling arrangement full-time until I got some wheels under me again. I determined that I could stick my poor Montero on Craigslist and hope for a little bit of money, and replace it with something cheap. So, on Craigslist it went: the land of grammar abominations, sketchy used mattresses, and tiny, dark pictures of rusty cars. Prime location for my banged-up Montero!

I was hoping it would find a new owner soon in Marshalltown, but it was not to be. It did eventually find a new owner, in Texas, after some shady-but-functional repair work on my part. It got me back to college, despite VERY questionable brakes near the end of the non-air-conditioned August drive, during which it also nearly cut off my foot when it fell off of a borrowed jack during an freeway-side tire change.

I was younger then. I was more daring, and more stupid.

This tells you nothing, however, about the native of Nigeria who lusted after my heap-of-junk Montero! Was it the rollover-prone soccer-mom-mobile that he was after? Or... was it my checking account?

As you shall see, it turned out to be the latter. The poor Nigerian scammer, though, did not get his wish. It all started out with a simple inquiry:


As you can see, the English grammar requirements to be a scammer are not high. I was about 98% sure this was a scammer: the composition is poor, the specific item itself is not mentioned by name (allow mass copy/pasted messages), and the language is not natural. There was little risk in sending a brief response without personal info, though, so I gave him the same link to photos I had in my ad. If he replied the next email would give him away.

 ...and surely enough, it did! Obvious, classic scam material. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever and they have unnatural composition, they are a scammer. Since the gig was up for Mr. Moore of Nigeria, I decided to try and have some fun with him. I thought that he probably would notice that I was not in fact Mr. Obama, residing at the White House's address, but this fact seemed to slip by him.


Well, how about that! With a legitimate UPS tracking number, I'd have thought that this guy was a first-class scammer- except that he thought he was scamming B. H. Obama and remained clueless. I puzzled over the UPS tracking number for a while. It did in fact register a parcel on the UPS website, and one delivered to Ames, Iowa, which is pretty close to Marshalltown. How did he get that number? Did he actually send something to Ames in order to get it? Did he enter numbers on the UPS site randomly until he got something close to my location? Surely that'd take forever. I have no clue.

Let me briefly explain how his scam works: he pretends to send you a check for the purchase price of your item plus an additional amount that he needs you to forward on to a shipper. He never sends you a check (or sends you a fake one), but tells you that you need to send the shipper's payment immediately, and pressures you to do so. The victim, believing they're getting a great deal, sends the shipper's payment, which really ends up on Mr. Scammer's doorstep. You sent him real money, but his check never arrives, or is fake. He then disappears with your money and sips piƱa coladas in the hot West African sun.

I had thought he'd be tipped off after the second message, but apparently, he was so excited over the prospect of having an American wire him money, he forgot to have any sense. I was picturing a guy in an internet cafe in Abuja wetting his pants with excitement over the stupid American who fell for his scam. What luck! Time to make this interesting: now that I have him on the hook, he's in for the long haul.

Let's see if we can get this loser to fill out a form for me! He, of course, has no interest in doing anything of the sort. He just wants my money. This doesn't fit into his plan. There's a subtle nuance to this form, and I was incredibly lucky to find it. Here's why: I'm calling this guy Nigerian because nearly 100% of these scams original from Nigeria. They're called 419 scams, because it's section 419 of the Nigerian penal code that forbids them. This guy, surely, must have known the number 419, because it was his work. I'm imagining him sitting at his computer when he gets this: first, incredulous that this stupid American wants him to fill out of form- then, panic and fear at the sight of the number 419. Has he been found out? Are government agents coming to collect him even now? (No, they're not: Nigeria doesn't care that it's the scam capital of the world)  The form I found is US government for for requesting shipping, and happens to be form number... 419!

What's a poor scammer to do? Stick to the plan. Get the dumb American to send the money. That's the modus operandi, and he's sticking to it. Not going to happen, Mr. Scammer!



Now he's really incredulous: I won't send the money until I get the form, and I sound serious! Darn it all! What to do? Ah.... but of course. Promise that the non-existant all-lowercase shipper from Denver is going to bring the form! Brilliant! Mmmm... not going to happen, scam-man. How has he not caught onto the obvious yet? Did the earlier hope for a Western Union transfer rob him of all lucid thought?


Yes! Yes it did! That, my friends, is a scanned image of a US military request for shipping form, poorly filled out in pencil by a Nigerian scammer, and sent back to me in hopes that I would wire him some money. Take a look: 



(Click for full size)

Ahh... WOW. Writing in the column headers. "The number of item to be moved is"t one." And is it coming from Washington DC or Marshalltown? Is there a "Denver City", Colorado? "I count on on you and believe that, you will release the item to my prepaid mover when he gets to you." "Arriving Ariving contact contact on arriving"

Brilliant. I cannot express to you the degree of mirth that I experienced when I convinced a nigerian man who was trying to scam me to send me a form. The poor guy had to find a place to print out my form (costing him money), fill it out, and find a way to scan it. He must have been desperate, or completely oblivious. Wow.

Since he had gone so far, I had to congratulate him, but hope for a little more:


STOP PLAYING ME A GAME! Boy, I thought that dangling the promise of more money would get him coming my way, but the man had a plan, and he was sticking to it. It looks like belligerence was the next improvised step on our detour from his script. He dances out his UPS tracking number again (truly, it's a good trick), but I have some bad news for him:


I've got to play sympathetic- surely the man would be worried if his non-existent check had not been properly delivered to B. H. Obama at the White House! The best course of action would be to stop payment on that one and send me a new one- and of course, I'll get ready to send the 'shipper' a boatload of money! Better make it out for eleven grand, a cool ten thousand more than our original deal. He doesn't seem to notice that, though: the amount is of no concern to a man who's not really sending you checks!



I'm sad to say it my friends, but at this point, poor "David Moore" lost hope. Not even the promise of the very shiny Montero could get a response from him. Perhaps adopting strange parting statements tipped him off, or perhaps he returned to his senses. It was too much to hope for, I guess. One last email, months later, went unanswered:

Once burned, twice shy, I guess. No promise of fat American dollars could lure this guy out of his cave.

So there you have it: The story of how I trolled a Nigerian scammer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sad, Untimely Death of Your Car


You've probably heard this adage: "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out." Humbly, I would like to present another adage in the same vein: "If you can't afford maintenance, you can't afford a car." I possess a modicum of knowledge about cars. I have done work ranging from oil changes to transmission swaps on others' cars. I've seen a number of cars in various states of upkeep, but the vast majority of cars I've worked on for friends have left me shaking my head and thinking some variation of the above.

I intend to lecture you, reader, so feel free to leave off here if you're unwilling to listen.

Maintaining a car is optional in the same way that bathing is optional. You can skip it or put it off as long as you're prepared to deal with the consequences. If you don't bathe, you'll smell, have fewer friends, and probably get ill. If you skip or delay auto maintenance, you'll spend more on repairs, go through more cars, and maybe injure or kill yourself (and others) in an avoidable crash.

Let's talk about the costs first. If you keep your tires at the proper pressure, they'll last drastically longer than underfilled ones. (Like they're designed to) If you do oil changes with the proper oil at the correct interval, your engine will probably outlast your car- at least, if you live somewhere with salted roads. If you change your air filter at the proper interval, you'll enjoy the fuel economy your car ought to have. If you have the major manufacturer-recommended maintenance done when it's due, your car will likely last much longer, and you'll have significantly higher resale value to boot.

If you ignore these things, you'll have a car that burns more gas than it should, is less reliable, will die sooner, and could involve you, your loved ones, or someone elses' loved ones in a fatal accident.

Do you think I'm joking or exaggerating? Overworn or underpressurized tires, worn shocks, squealing brakes, and ignored dash warning lights are the kind of problems that make your car stop more slowly and fail to swerve like you want when another driver, deer, or child is in your path. Do you really think your car is going to perform like it should in an emergency driving situation when you've been treating it the way you have?

I did an oil change for a friend recently. The oil hadn't been changed since the car was bought months ago, and instead of the five quarts the automotive engineers mandated be in the engine, less than three drained out. The tires on the truck were visibly- dangerously- low, and the air filter had been changed recently, but only because I suggested it when I was ordering some parts online last month. The one that came out then looked like the inside of your vacuum cleaner bag. This is typical of what I see on friends' cars. This vehicle will inevitably die a early death, consuming plenty of the owner's dollars before it does, unless it takes someone's well-being or life first.

What about consequences that go deeper than your wallet or your health? I am a Christian. I know myself to be a steward charged to take care of and effectively use God's things that are on loan to me. This includes my time, my money, my health, my possessions- including my car. Before any Christian buys a car, they should assess whether they are ready to be a diligent and faithful steward of God's car. It's not a lofty ideal, it's a practical thing you do every day. You bathe the body you're the steward of every day, right? (...right?) If your car had arrived on your doorstep with a note from God saying "You may borrow my car, just take care of it and use it well." Would you lazily forget when the oil change is due on God's car? Would you fail to put air in the tires until they were visibly deformed? Would you drive God's kids in the car with shocks that won't be changed they're clunking?

I didn't think so. Whose car do you drive?

Owning a car is responsibility. It's not (just) a rite of passage, a necessity, or a convenience. You cannot and may not evade this responsibility by virtue of your lack of skills, brokeness, or busyness. Learning how to own a car isn't hard. Crack open your owner's manual and follow the maintenance schedule. If it's asking you to do things you don't know how to do, get on YouTube, CarBibles, or ask a friend. If that not your style, you'll garner no judgement from me, just crack open your wallet and have a professional do it. On time.

I'm considering advising my friends to buy electric cars. Sure, you can only go 60-90 miles on a charge, but all of the maintenance is so much less. The first oil change comes after 240 months in a i-MiEV. 20 years. Yes, you must still worry about tires, shocks, and brakes, but it's kind of like a Fisher-Price My First Car in the maintenance respect. Judging by the maintenance I typically see, that's what a lot of people need.

Although this is a topic for another time, your responsibility to drive your car well is arguably greater than your responsibility to maintain it. Learn how to drive your car properly, and don't assume that you know how to drive properly because you took the test 3 or 30 years ago and haven't killed anyone since then. In Finland, new drivers must have 15 hours of in-car training, 20 theory driving lessons, additional time driving on a slippery driving course, pass a theory exam and a 30-minute driving test in the city. Finlanders are three times less likely to be injured in an auto wreck than Americans*.

I'm not going to tell you how to maintain your car here, nor how to drive it. I'm just going to say that if you're not, you're the person who doesn't tip their server and hasn't showered lately. The difference is that you're not just hurting the waiter and smelling up the room, you're hurting yourself and endangering everyone you share the road with.


Before you turn the key next time, assess whether you've fulfilled the responsibilities of a car owner.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grocery store showdown: Germany vs. Arkansas. FIGHT!


I went price shopping lately, and compared Aldi with Walmart. Here are the results. These prices reflect the cheapest option and don't attempt to compare brand-for-brand, just equivalent items. The prices were current as of last week in Plainfield, Illinois. Note that this is an upscale area- Walmart probably has higher prices here than they would in another area, while Aldi's cost-cutting techniques probably serve them well, allowing them to keep their prices comparable to other Aldis elsewhere.

Item
Aldi
Walmart
Difference
Apples (Granny smith, 3lb)
$3.19
$4.47
40.1%
Milk (Whole, 1 gal)
$1.80
$1.78
1.1%
Eggs (large, dozen)
$1.28
$1.48
15.6%
Canola oil (48 fl oz)
$2.69
$2.68
0.4%
Bread (12 grain, loaf)
$1.69
$2.38
40.8%
Mayonnaise (Kraft Olive oil, 22 fl oz)
$2.89
$3.24
12.1%
Turkey deli meat, sliced, packaged (1 lb)
$3.29
$2.98
9.4%
Mangoes (each)
59 ¢
98 ¢
66.1%
Sausage links, Italian, packaged (per ounce)
14.7 ¢
15.7 ¢
6.8%
Sliced cheese, packaged, cheapest (per ounce)
24.9 ¢
27.7 ¢
11.2%
Baby swiss cheese wedges, foil wrapped (per ounce)
32.3 ¢
46.3 ¢
43.3%
Cooking spray oil, canola
$1.39
$1.50
7.9%
Green peppers, each (Sold by threes at Aldi)
50 ¢
74 ¢
48.0%
Red, orange, and yellow peppers, package with one each
$2.99
$3.98
33.1%
Boneless, skinless chicken breast (per lb)
$1.99
$2.19
10.1%
Onions, yellow (3lb bag)
$1.49
$1.96
31.5%
Flour tortillas, 6” (dozen)
89 ¢
98 ¢
10.1%
Peanut butter, chunky (per ounce)
11.3 ¢
13.7 ¢
21.2%
Olive oil (virgin)
17.7 ¢
16.0 ¢
9.6%
Tall kitchen bags (per bag)
6.3 ¢
13.5 ¢
114.3%
Black beans, 15 oz can
59 ¢
68 ¢
15.3%
Parmesan cheese, grated (per ounce)
29.9 ¢
33 ¢
10.4%
Paper towels, decent ones, but not name brand (per roll)
$1.35
$1.83
35.6%
Avocados, Hass
49 ¢
$1.49
204.1%

Some notes: Some items were on sale at either place. I don't remember them all, but some are the milk and canola oil at Walmart (competing with Aldi, I am sure), avocados both places (!), mangoes and onions at Aldi.

I shop at Aldi now. The reason is obvious- it so much cheaper! It's an almost meaningless statistic, but the cost-normalized savings* at Aldi is about 25.6%. The selection is not there for all the stuff I want, but I can go to Aldi for 80% of my trips.  I don't even want to know what this chart would look like vs. Meijer- the one here is amazingly expensive!

*I got this by multiplying the mean price of the item between the two stores with the percent savings at Aldi for each item, taking the mean of those, and dividing by the mean of the average price. Is this valid? I don't know. You should still shop at Aldi.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Breakfast bars

Update: Nevermind this wasn't very good at all. High hopes shattered. Perhaps it would be improved by drastically cutting back on wet ingredient content.

3 cups non-quick oatmeal
3 cups water
1.5 cups vanilla yogurt
2 barely-ripe bananas, mashed up

5 small granny smith apples, diced into 1/4" pieces (I guess you could use other apples, but granny smith apples are the only apples worth eating)
2 cups peanut butter
1 cup raisins
3 eggs
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp fake-o vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small crockpot and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a 12" cast iron skillet and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Cut into breakfast-sized bars or eat out of skillet with spoon.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Q: Is Clear 1.5mbps service fast enough to use Skype?

Q: Is Clear 1.5mbps service fast enough to use Skype?
A: Yes. On a Google Plus hangout, I get comfortably clear picture and audio with 1.5 service with the cheapo laptop dongle being in good range of a tower.

Here's what I get: