All posts by zieak

Ryan "Zieak" McFarland dabbles. Beards. Making things. Travel. Genealogy. Frugality and excessiveness. Fitness and fatness. He's a PE teacher in India, usually calls Alaska home and is a happy father to two boys and the husband to a suddenly crafty wife.

Will the real Cobus Bester please stand up?

I went down the internet rabbit hole this evening.  I was watching YouTube videos about plastic recycling.  Then went into commercial composting solutions.  And found this manufacturer in India that seems to make a neat series of products to turn organic waste into

compost in a day!  I wanted customer reviews.  Well, they had a few on their products.  Here is a screen capture of the sidebar listing their popular products.

 


I wondered why their more expensive machine got a lower review than the least expensive one.  It had this review.

Wow Magnus.  That’s not a very helpful mediocre review.  And it is from a while ago.  Maybe some of the others have more recent feedback.  Maybe they have refined their machines and that’s why this one has only 3 stars.  Let’s look…

Ok, now I can’t help but notice that all of the reviews are made on the same day.  June 7th, 2013.  Interesting.  Maybe these are all just company shills that filled in product reviews when their new website went live.  Let’s check one more…

Alright.  Now I’m certain these reviews are bogus.  But why?  Why give one of your most expensive products a mediocre review?  Let’s find out who these people are.  I suspected that someone was just stealing an image for spammy reviews.  I used the profile photo for Cobus Bester and did a reverse image lookup.

Oh wow.  This image is being used on a wide variety of pages!  Let’s see how.  Is Cobus a prolific author?  I can’t find the image on the first link.  On the second I can’t either.  But there is a space for reviews of the electric hair clipper that MillionHair Salon is selling…

Um, Cobus and Maria seem to have reviewed a musical album and not hair clippers.  Hey, wait, Maria and Cobus wrote reviews on June 7, 2013?  Same day as the composting machine reviews?  What’s the deal?  Certainly their websites were not launched on the same day.  I do a whois lookup for the hair salon, compost company, HRCS Global, and the “Consulting WP” and they seem to all have different registrars and owners so  I have to assume that Cobus popping up is the result of a common plugin.  Here he is again.  This time with Coen Jacobs — one of the fellows that “reviewed” one of the composters, and this time like the poster so much he ordered 5 of them!

Wait, why would you order 5 of the same poster?  And hold on a second… HRCS Global is an Indian firm that does consultancy work.  Why would they be selling posters?

I loaded the shopping cart with, you guessed it, 5 posters and tried to check out.  But alas…

When I tried on a few other of the sites it did send me to a spot to add my card info.  I figure by now that there is some exploit going on.  So I dig around and figure out that all of these sites are using WordPress and for their shopping cart (and reviews) the WooCommerce plugin.  But WooCommerce is produced by Automattic who are the creators of WordPress.  So I’m not worried that the plugin itself is compromised.  Maybe these websites are running old versions of WordPress leaving themselves open to hacking?  Another look at Cobus Bester’s results and I see this…

There is a lot of placeholder Loem Ipsum text there.  That says to me that there is placeholder there from an installation that didn’t get cleaned up.

Sure enough, a little more digging and I found the real Cobus Bester.  He works for the company that developed WooCommerce.  Also, Coen Jacobs is another real person who has some fake reviews attributed to him as a result, I assume, of people using the plugin example reviews and re-writing them.

Curiosity satisfied, and rabbit hole of the internet I would like my time back.

The NY Times list of 52 places to go in 2018

Another new year, another list of places to go that I’ll look at and see if I’ve already checked them off.  This year is neat though because before promoting their list they sent out a request looking to hire someone to spend next year visiting these places and documenting them.  Dream retirement job right there!

Anyway, here are my run downs from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.  I went so far back that they were only doing 45 places then!

  1. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  2. Colombia
  3. Basilicata, Italy
  4. The Caribbean
  5. Vierwaldstättersee, Switzerland
  6. Route of Parks, Chile
  7. Gangwon Province, South Korea
  8. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  9. Bhutan
  10. Glasgow, Scotland
  11. East Cape and Corridor, Los Cabos, Mexico
  12. Top End, Australia
  13. Cambodian Coast
  14. Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia
  15. Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  16. Estonia
  17. Gansu, China
  18. Saskatoon, Canada
  19. Seville, Spain
  20. Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
  21. Branson, Missouri, USA
  22. São Tomé and Príncipe
  23. Germany’s Western States
  24. Fiji
  25. Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
  26. Oslo, Norway
  27. Honshu’s West Coast, Japan
  28. Arles, France
  29. Kuélap, Peru
  30. Denver, Colorado, USA
  31. Kigali, Rwanda
  32. Belgrade, Serbia
  33. Tasmania
  34. Iceland
  35. Rogue River, Oregon, USA
  36. Lithuania
  37. Buffalo, New York, USA
  38. La Paz, Bolivia
  39. Prague, Czech Republic
  40. Emilia-Romagna, Italy
  41. Disney Springs, Florida, USA
  42. Megève, France
  43. Chandigarh, India
  44. Seattle, Washington, USA
  45. Rotorua, New Zealand
  46. Ypres, Belgium
  47. Tangier, Morocco
  48. Ribera del Duero, Spain
  49. Montgomery, Alabama, USA
  50. Südtirol, Italy
  51. Bristol, England
  52. Luang Prabang, Laos

The places in bold I have been to.  Which means that yet again I have been to about 15% of the suggested destinations.

Comments against Net Neutrality posted by dead people

Amazing.  I read an article that the NY Attorney General is filing suit against the FCC because millions of comments in favor of the FCC discontinuation of Net Neutrality are fake.  The article pointed to a link where you can search the comments to see if your name was used falsely.  I searched mine, my wife’s, my brothers…  Here is a comment I found by someone named Kevin McFarland — though not my brother because the address is in Missouri.

A Google search for the text showed that it was one of the strings of text reused by many of the proponents and suspected bots.  Copy and paste is used by both sides of these types of public comment periods.  Nothing wrong with it.

Except then I found out that this Kevin McFarland died in 2014.  First I did a search for Kevin McFarland in O’Fallon, Missouri.  I found that, per the comment in favor of ending Net Neutrality, he and Susan own a home at 32 Hollywood Drive.  Then a search for Kevin and Susan McFarland led me to this obituary.  His obituary ends with…

Mr. McFarland was a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

Despicable.  Someone has programmed a bot to scrape death records and then upload them as comments in favor of deregulation.  This is just one that I happened to find.  Search for your name and then contact the Attorney General in your state to file a complaint.

 

Results of our DNA testing

For a long time we have wanted to do one of the 23andme DNA tests for ancestry.  Over the summer we ordered three of the kits (we couldn’t have Jordan do one because he wasn’t with us).  The kits cost us about $100 each.  [But there is a sale right now — buy one, get one free!  Just follow this link.]  The box came in a few days and we spit some saliva into the tubes and mailed them off.

Around a month later we all had our results and there were some surprises.

First, mine showed an even more European heritage than I was expecting.  I knew that as far back as I could go that everyone seemed to be from England, Germany, the Netherlands… but here are my results.

94% of my heritage is from NW Europe — currently Britain, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia and 61% is from Britain and Ireland.  I’m about as white as you get.  This may account for some of my genetic superpowers contributing to my hangover resistance, but counter to my ability to tan easily.

We had Jacob’s test done because it seems like whenever we travel he ends up looking like a local.  In Nepal last week and older woman kept telling me he was Nepali.  In Thailand we had a driver swear that Jacob had Thai ancestry.  We suspected he could have Mongolian or another Chinese ethnic minority like Tibetan ancestry.  But his results just give us more uncertainty.

His DNA is 85% Chinese  …and 8% Korean.  The results also show that he has 2% southern European DNA.  I think that is probably a Silk Road influence.  His results are shared via the DNA relatives tool through 23andme and there are already 18 people connected that are 3rd or 4th cousins.  It is just a matter of time before some closer relatives take a test and we can find out more about where he is from originally.

Ganesh immersion in Chennai

Today was the culmination of Ganesh Chaturthi (I believe yesterday was the end of the Muslim celebration of Bakra Eid and tomorrow is the height of Kerala’s Thiru Onam — India has no shortage of festivals) and that meant immersion of the Ganesh figures in the ocean.  Jacob and I didn’t spend much time there but I captured this…


 

The unanticipated expense of nesting

We moved.  Not far, just a few blocks away from the home we had for our first four years in India.  Things have been a little disruptive as a result.  

Before departing for the summer we packed most of our things.  We knew we would return and need to move immediately.  When we landed in Chennai we went straight to our new home.  Not everything had been moved many things had. We just had to find our bed sheets and get some rest. The next couple of days we spent unpacking, moving furniture, and getting settled.

This place has a big lawn so we now own a lawn mower and string trimmer which we didn’t plan on buying.  I would like to limit the number of continents that I own a lawnmower on to two.  

Sexism in the waiting room

Our boys had to get physicals done for school so we went to a nearby clinic.  We didn’t have their blood type information so that test became part of our scavenger-hunt-like wander through the hospital.  Jordan, who has a fear of needles, decided he wanted to go first and get it over with.  Pepper rubbed his back and shoulders as he had his head down and didn’t watch.  An older man in the wakting area (seated just two feet behind Jordan) noted Jordan’s fear and told him “boys don’t cry” and to “be a man” because he was a man and never cried.   

It took me no time at all to be shouting at him that men and boys do cry.  That I cry.  He flexed his bicep and held it up pointing to it saying he was a man.  Pepper was telling me to stop.  I visualized making the man cry which in my mind was quickly followed by my arrest.  I backed down.  I know I can not change him.  But I do not need either of my boys believing that they should not cry or that such gender stereotypes should be tolerated.  

Cyclone Vardah – our experience in Chennai in December 2016

For the second December in a row, Chennai had disaster strike in the form of a natural calamity.

For a week I watched this low pressure system build up over the Bay of Bengal using this wind visualization tool (use your mouse to move around and scroll in and out) and this cyclone and hurricane mapping site.  It ended up ramming right into Chennai.  Our home was just south of the center so the winds were actually coming from inland and heading to the sea, which I had never considered a possibility.

The cyclone rolled into Chennai on Monday the 12th.  School was closed by mid-day, but we were not able to leave until the Head of School because our car was being repaired and we were getting a ride with them.  Fortunately a neighbor took Jordan and Jacob home before we were able to leave.  We were without power before we arrived home and water on the roof had pooled and was coming in under the door.  I’ll let my video tell the story…

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