Fact Controlled
for Special Learners

Busman's Holiday
It's a Macintosh Enigma
by Steve Wood
July 16, 1999



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The kids are gone and your significant other gives you THAT look, or, you've just sat down to dinner after a killer day, or, you've just gotten into the shower...and the phone rings! When you answer, a voice greets you saying:

Hello Mr. Horny, Hungry and Tired, or Wet and Dirty. I'm Jane Annoyance calling for your OverWorked Master/Visa/Discover card company. How are you this evening?

Instead of telling the telemarketer just how rude and annoying you find their call, you probably wimp out like me, and play along until you can tell them...usually several times before success..."No, thank you," and that you're not interested in a 40 foot boa, a "free" vacation in the tropics, or whatever else they're selling.

There's a new gun in town in anti-telemarketing for Mac users. This week Ryno Software released its Enigma for Macintosh (667K) port of Geoffrey Kloess's Enigma for Windows. Like its Windows predecessor, Enigma is a freeware database of questions to ask annoying telemarketers (Are there any other kind?) and to record their answers. Each item has the legal stuff you need to annoy, trip up, and generally put off the telemarketer from ever calling you again.

Enigma screenI tried Enigma for the first time last evening on a poor telemarketer calling for a magazine renewal. Enigma's direct questions allow you to take control of the conversation, putting the intruding caller completely on the defensive until you finish them off with a request to be put on their "Do Not Call" list. There's even a humorous page of Tormenting Techniques ("R-rated") for the telemarketer who has really, really upset you.

The "Enigma interview" worked like a charm! Thinking that maybe the successful first try might be a fluke, I was again pleasantly surprised when another call came in, this time from my 800 telephone number company. (No, we're not rich. Annie and I have kids living all over the place, and it's cheaper than collect!) The telemarketer even supplied the name of her telemarketing company before placing me on the "Do Not Call" list.

The core of all of this is the provision made in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 requiring telephone solicitors to not recall those who request placement on a "No Call List." Unfortunately, the FCC has interpreted this provision so that you must request this placement from each soliciting company when or after they call.

While prosecution of offending repeat telemarketers might be difficult, one of our daughters had worked briefly as a telemarketer while at school last winter. She's much tougher on such callers than we are, but says most telemarketers really respect the "no call list" provision.

Update 6/17/2000:
I've been using Enigma and it's techniques for almost a year now. We still get annoying telephone solicitation calls, but not nearly at the level they once were.
At one point the calls almost totally stopped. Then my wife switched jobs and the new job required a new credit card. The calls resumed in earnest with the telemarketers now asking for my wife by name instead of me. It appears the biggest offenders are credit card companies. They not only call, but apparently sell your personal information to telemarketers!

Since you'll have lots more free time once you start using Enigma, as you can't be getting "that look," eating, or showering all the time, let me briefly mention some other interesting freeware postings.

Tim Woodruff released Area Codes '99 this week. Area Codes '99 is a freeware area code database in both FileMaker Pro (332K) and stand-alone versions (2136K).

I was glad to see that Nisus has reposted the full version of Nisus Writer 4.1.6 (6148K) after pulling the file when Nisus Compact (1198K) was released. While the link above is a direct FTP download, you will still need to go to the Nisus register page, as you'll need a (free) serial number for Writer.

G3 w/ Shark DesktopI use several personal letterheads in AppleWorks, most adorned by a picture of a Mac sporting a great desktop picture. The shark desktop draws a lot of comments.

Desktop pictures have become the rage since Apple made it easy to display them through the Appearance control panel. In the past or with older systems, you could accomplish the same thing several ways, including using freeware utilities such as ZDNet's Backsplash II (640K) by Mike Throckmorton, or Sarwat Khan's Desktop Picture Changer (143K). Now the fun is in finding and using some great freeware desktop photos.

  • MacDesktops has an excellent and ever-growing collection of desktop photos and drawings available in multiple sizes.
  • Steven Fuchs maintains Steve's Free Desktop Pictures. It has lots of gorgeous desktop photos by Steve and other photographers.
  • Another great site for wildlife desktops (or wallpapers, for the Windows crowd) is the In Reality site. Theyhave a nice nebula collection.
  • If you're willing to tweak things a bit, NASA always has a bunch of photos that can make stunning desktops. I often start at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

We ended the 1998-99 school year with our Mac IIfx displaying dazzling planet photos as part of a high-interest program based upon JPL's excellent CD, Welcome to the Planets. Since the IIfx didn't have its own CD player at that time, we ran the program off the school's network. The kids independently completed worksheets using the multimedia program to find the answers. They loved it and felt proud of themselves.

The IIfx, running a changing background of high-res planet photos when not in use, heightened interest in the project. I used Backsplash II for the animation, but a JPEGView (769K) slide show would accomplish the same task. We set it to display the photos in solar system order, Mercury through Pluto, changing the desktop picture every 60 seconds.

Somewhere along the line, I'd seen a still gif similar to the one above. I spent half a day figuring out how to get the table right to merge the parts of the IIfx. Once I had that done, it took just a few minutes with GraphicConverter (opps, that's not a freeware) and Yves Piguet's GifBuilder (210K) to build the animated gif.

All of the links in this week's column are to freewares. While freewares may seem like an endangered species at times, a check of Version Tracker's freeware list reveals lots of them--old and new. I maintain a small page of freeware reviews and links, Fabulous Freewares. If you have an unquenchable thirst for freeware, check out the Mac's Diner freeware list!

And for those of you who've made it this far, there's even a freeware (but copyrighted) graphic at the bottom of this page with which you can dress up letters to Grandma!

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reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/17/2000
©1999 Steven L. Wood