From bobrankin@MHV.NET Fri Feb 27 22:40:04 1998
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 1998 09:03:42 -0500
From: Bob Rankin 

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Back on 11 December 1997, we talked about an urban legend floating
around the Net that said

     Hello everybody,

     My name is Bill Gates.  I have just written up an e-mail tracing
     program that traces everyone to whom this message is forwarded
     to.  I am experimenting with this and I need your help.  Forward
     this to everyone you know and if it reaches 1000 people everyone
     on the list will receive $1000 at my expense.  Enjoy.

     Your friend,
     Bill Gates

You will also remember that I called Microsoft back in December to
verify this story, and George Shaw, a spokesperson for Microsoft, told
me that the story is "officially not true."  More on that after this word
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Well, it seems that the "Bill Gates' $1000 email tracing program" hoax
recently morphed ... twice.  The first new story floating around the
Net is that in addition to $1000, Mr. Bill "custard face" Gates is
also going to send the first thousand people who respond to his email
a free copy of Windows 98 (a.k.a. "Macintosh 87").  The second
"morphization" congratulates you for being one of the first thousand
people to respond to Bill's email, and tells you that all that you
need to do to claim your prize is reply with your credit card number
and expiration date so that Bill can credit your account.  [If you are
dumb enough to fall for that last one, please remove yourself from the
gene pool.]

For the record, _ALL_ of the "Bill Gates' $1000 email tracing program"
stories are 100% untrue.  You can find out more about this hoax on the
Web at


After a particularly heart-wrenching experience with a young woman who
repeatedly showed her disdain for the Ninth Commandment, you fearless
bus driver will once again be celebrating Valentines Day by himself
(actually, I'll probably spend it with my parents because they always
have free food).  That's cool, though.  :)

What is _UNCOOL_ is that there are a couple spammers out there that
are trying to lure people into their Web sites by bulk emailing a
message that says something like

     Someone has sent you  a Valentines Day Card or Message. If you
     will go to [I just
     made this address up, by the way] you can receive your Valentine.

     Enter your name and the password below.
     Your password = love

How can you tell the legitimate online Valentines Day cards from the
spams?  Well, here are a few tips:

     1.  Look at the TO: line in the email letter.  If you don't see
         your name or your e-mail address, or if you see a whole mess
         of email addresses, chances are the letter is a spam.  Most
         legitimate online card companies will send a notification
         letter to only one email address: yours.

     2.  Look at the password required to retrieve your card.  Most
         legitimate online card sites send you a password that is
         unique, usually consisting of both numbers and letters (like
         "pc2678h65s785sa90fl225").  If it the password doesn't look
         like something that Adobe would require you to type in to
         register a copy of Photoshop, chances are the "card" is a

     3.  Any online card Web site that requires you to give them any
         personal information (with possibly the exception of your e-
         mail address) is a scam (and I would be leery of sites that
         asked for your e-mail address too).

Special thanks to Paul Collins at One Click Systems for alerting me to
this scam.


According to our next urban legend

     On Saturday, 24 January 1998, Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve
     Base, New Orleans' Quarterdeck received a telephone call from an
     individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician that
     was running a test on our telephone lines.  He stated that to
     complete the test the QMOW should touch nine (9), zero (0), pound
     sign (#) and hang up.  Luckily, the QMOW was suspicious and
     refused.  Upon contacting the telephone company we were informed
     that by using 90# you end up giving the individual that called
     you access to your telephone line and allows them to place a long
     distance telephone call, with the charge appearing on your
     telephone [bill].  We were further informed that this scam has
     been originating from many of the local jails/prisons.  Please
     'pass the word.'"

Well, you fearless bus driver spent most of Tuesday on the phone with
folks from both Force 3 (the company that originally reported this
story) and AT&T (the long distance telephone company whose logo looks
an awful lot like Darth Vader's Death Star).  As shocking as this may
sound, the "nine-zero-pound" story is true ... sort of.

What the warning letter floating around the Net doesn't say is that
this scam only works on telephones where you have to dial 9 to get an
outside line.  Unless you have to dial 9 to get an outside line at

home, this scam does not affect residential telephone users.  Dialing
"nine-zero-pound" on a residential phone will only give you a busy
signal.  That's it.

On some business phones, however, dialing "nine-zero-pound" may
transfer a call to an outside operator and give the caller the
opportunity to call anywhere in the world and charge it to your
business' phone bill ... maybe.  It all depends on how your business'
telephone system is set up.  If your company doesn't require you to
dial 9 to get an outside line (for example, if you have a direct
outside telephone line on your desk or if your company's phone system
requires you to dial a number other than 9 to get an outside line) the
"nine-zero-pound" scam does not affect you.  Also, if your company's
phone system is set up so that you cannot make a long distance call
once you have accessed an outside line (a lot of companies now limit
all outside lines to local calls only), the "nine-zero-pound" scam
does not affect you either.

The "nine-zero-pound" story only affects those businesses that require
you to dial 9 to get an outside line and then place no restrictions on
who or where you can call once you get that outside line.  And, just
to be anal-retentive, let me say one more time that, unless you have
to dial 9 to get an outside line at home, this scam does _not_ affect
residential telephone users.  [It also probably doesn't affect non-US
telephone users.  This is especially true for British telephone users
whose telephone system is so complex that NO ONE in the UK knows how
to use BT's phones (although I am sure that BT users are currently
dealing with some sort of "dial q-seven-pi-cromwell-eleventeen-tomato"


The rest of today's post doesn't have anything to do with urban
legends, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway.  First, in last
Saturday's TOURBUS Plus! post I said that one of the most over-hyped
things on the Internet is

     Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML).  I've been online since
     1992, and I know of only one person who is competent in VRML: my
     dad.  The technical community has been trying for years to take
     VRML into the mainstream, but no one seems to care.

First off, I want to congratulate my father for his recent election to
the eight-member International VRML Review Board.  With that said, it
doesn't take a genius to figure out that my father wasn't all that
pleased with my comments about VRML.  In fact, he put his response up
on the Web (in VRML, of course) at

You'll need a VRML 2.0 browser (like Cosmo player from SGI -- -- to be able to view this file).

With that said, let me explain why I believe that VRML is currently a
solution in search of a problem.  Right now, to be able to view VRML
worlds, you need to download a separate VRML browser (Cosmo is 3.1MB)
and the latest version of DirectX (3.49MB) ... and maybe even a copy
of AMovie (1.1MB).  I'm not sure about AMovie, though.

My point is this: you need to download a minimum 6 and a half MB of
stuff just to be able to view VRML worlds.  And, to put it bluntly,
the VRML worlds that I have seen recently really haven't knocked my
socks off.  While stuff like Floops ( is
neat at first, I still don't think VRML has what it takes to attract
the new breed of users who are hopping on the Net looking for the
latest information about Michael Jordan or Monica Lewinsky (or, for
that matter, Miss October).

That may change when VRML ships built-in to Windows 98, though.  :)

Oh, talking about knocking my socks off, if you are a techno wonk who
uses traceroute from time to time (and who uses Windows 95 or NT), you
have _GOT_ to check out a $15 shareware program called NeoTrace.
NeoTrace is a blazingly fast traceroute program that also
automatically does reverse DNS and Whois lookups (just do an
onmouseover over any of the displayed nodes to see that node's Whois

Jack Rickard wrote a great review of NeoTrace (and a _wonderful_
introduction to traceroute) which can be found on the Web at

You can find a complete, international list of NeoTrace download sites

By the way, in the two and half years that I have been driving our
little bus of Internet happiness, I have never given a public
recommendation for a particular piece of software (or at least I don't
remember ever doing so).  NeoTrace so impressed me that I had to break
that tradition.  If you use traceroute more than once a month, you
really owe it to yourself to check out NeoTrace.

That's it for this week!  Have a safe and happy Valentines Day!  :)


RUM (noun).  An enclosed place.
Usage: "Go to your rum!"

(Special thanks to me for today's wurd)


    For info on my book "Atlas for the Information Superhighway"

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