Archive for September, 2008

Shareholder data lost

September 30, 2008

If you received an alarming letter recently from an unfamiliar entity calling itself BNY Mellon Shareholder Services, well, it was for real.

bny-mellon.gifThe company — part of the result of the 2007 merger of Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corp. — works for many public companies as their stock transfer agent, their stock plan administrator and in other capacities.

As such, it maintains the personal info of all those companies’ past and present shareholders.

But in February, BNY Mellon learned that a box of tapes containing that data had been lost by the vendor who’d been archiving the info for the company. Oops.

The missing tapes contained such details as names, addresses, Social Security numbers and/or shareholder account information.

If that happened in February, why is it coming out now? It did come out in March but, at that point, BNY Mellon thought the incident affected only a few thousand people, whom it notified.

In late spring, it expanded the notification to a few million people.

In September, it expanded that notification to several million more people.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper says 248,000 North Carolinians are among them.

BNY Mellon says it has no indication that anyone’s information has been accessed or misused. But it’s offering everyone whose data was lost the chance to sign up for two free years with a credit-monitoring service called Triple Alert. The service is operated by Experian.

If you choose to place a freeze on your credit files, BNY Mellon will reimburse you the cost of one lifting of that freeze.

You have to sign up within 90 days of the date on your notification letter. For more information, check this BNY Mellon site or call (877) 289-0136.

Cooper also suggests visiting this site — operated by his office — for tips on protecting yourself from identity theft.


Getting rid of cell-phone spam

September 27, 2008

Whoops. I posted this too early. Tomorrow‘s column talks about how to stop unwanted ads from being texted to your cell phone. NYT tech guru David Pogue has information at his blog about spam-blocking options offered by some of the different carriers. Check it out. And good luck!

Their date with the day that lives in infamy

September 23, 2008

Today’s column tackles a question from G.H. about the fates of the U.S. and Japanese ambassadors to each other’s country after war between the two countries began on Dec. 7, 1941.


By extension, it also dealt with when war was officially declared. (In the absence of words — and the express words to that effect were indeed still absent at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941 — the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was an obvious de facto declaration. But G.H. spoke of the “official” declaration by Japan — the words.)

If you’re interested, here’s more information about all of that.

As noted in the column, on the evening of Dec. 6, the Americans intercepted an incomplete message and instructions on when to deliver it that Japan sent to its two ambassadors in this country.

In the wee hours of Dec. 7, the last part of the message was sent — and intercepted.

President Roosevelt believed it meant war — though it wasn’t an outright declaration to that effect. (The full text of the long message is at the bottom of the previous link.)

Most interesting — and alarming — to the handful of U.S. officials who tried to puzzle out the meaning of the message was a specific instruction to the ambassadors that itself wasn’t meant to be conveyed to the U.S. It was that the message was to be delivered to the U.S. at 1 p.m. Washington time.

The message didn’t note that the intended delivery time equated to 7:30 a.m. Hawaii time — or that Japan planned to attack Pearl Harbor 25 minutes after that.

But it was clear to U.S. officials that the specific instruction about the delivery time meant… something and probably something of a warlike nature.

Just what, though, was unclear — though critics have said the time was a clear indicator that Pearl was the target instead of Panama (where it would have been noon at 1 p.m. DC time) or the Philippines (where it would have still been nighttime then).

Washington had previously warned U.S. commanders in the Pacific that war was imminent. Then, when Army Chief of Staff George Marshall finally read the message, he sent another warning — but it failed to get there in time.

Meanwhile, ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu had trouble decoding the long message and had to ask the Americans to postpone their meeting — until 2 p.m.

l-r-is-nomura-hull-and-kurusu.jpgThe attack had already begun and U.S. officials already had the briefest word of it. At 2:20 p.m., U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with Nomura and Kurusu and said nothing of the attack. Instead, he pretended to read the message for the first time, gave a blistering rebuke to the ambassadors, and that was it.

Nomura and Kurusu left and were later packed off with their staff to be interned at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. (Note: The U.S. interned German and Italian diplomats at another luxurious resort — The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.V.

If you’d like to hear radio reports from the time about the attacks, go here. For an account of that day by FDR secretary Grace Tully, go here. And here you can read the text of a radio address made in 1942 by Joseph C. Grew, the  U.S. ambassador to Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, after he was released from his detention in that country.

Deadline nearing for claims in GM class-action settlement

September 19, 2008

This has to do with GM cars that were damaged by a faulty orange coolant called Dex-Cool.

People who paid for related repairs may be eligible for a cash reimbursement.

But the claim deadline is approaching. It’s Oct. 27. For info or to make a claim, go here or call (866) 245-4291.

The settlement covers current and former owners and lessees of certain 1995-2004 model year GM vehicles with 3.1-liter, 3.4-liter, 3.8-liter or 4.3-liter engines.

The repairs had to occur within seven years or 150,000 miles (whichever is earlier) of original vehicle purchase. The repairs include intake manifold gasket replacements, cooling system flushes and heater core repairs.

Frank talk

September 19, 2008

I promised to explain here why so many people wrongly think Columbo‘s first name is Philip.


You can follow the trail of misinformation back to a single, deliberate perpetrator — the author of “The Trivia Encyclopedia,” which was published back in the ’70s.

In an attempt to keep others from looting and profiting off of the trivia-collection that he’d compiled, Fred L. Worth made up a fact in his book, thinking it would serve as a legal copyright trap.

When he learned that a couple of someones had used the Fake Fact — and many other real facts that he’d compiled — for a trivia-based board game that they were selling, Worth brandished the Fake Fact and its deliberate fakeness in a lawsuit.

columbo.jpgHe lost, but much lives on, including Worth, who apparently still works in the trivia biz; the board game — Trivial Pursuit, which remains hugely successful; and the fake fact — that Columbo’s first name is Philip.

As I say in today’s column, both the creators of the TV series and Columbo portrayer Peter Falk insist the detective’s first name was never revealed.


But devoted fans have found a brief close-up from an episode in the first season showing Columbo’s badge beside an ID card. His signature there reads “Frank Columbo.”

Info on free mammograms

September 18, 2008

breast-cancer-ribbonjpg.jpgI wanted to put a spotlight on a recent post by Faith Graham in this thread: “Cheap — or even free — mammograms.”

Graham is the daughter of Sherri Arnold Graham, whose foundation is a subject of the post. The foundation arranges free mammograms in the Fayetteville area on several dates throughout the year and one of those days is coming up — on Oct. 9 — according to Faith Graham.

That day, the foundation will send a mobile mammography unit to Simon Temple A.M.E. Zion Church at 5760 Yadkin Road from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. You have to pre-register for an appointment and be approved. To do that, call 223-7420.


See Graham’s post for other details and the rest of that thread for other options for low-cost and discounted mammograms in the area.

More digital TV stuff

September 17, 2008

aka: Forget about picking up WECT over the air up here with rabbit ears and the ABCs of rabbit-ears.jpgUHF v. VHF when it comes to antennas.

Readers in Bladenboro and Lumberton say they can no longer pick up WECT’s signal with their TVs’ rabbit ears even though they’ve got the converter boxes or digital tuners or whatever.


In large part, that seems to be because the station moved its transmitter from southeast Bladen County (“A,” in the graphic) to a location in Brunswick County that’s understandably much closer to Wilmington (and that’s regrettably much farther from us). (It’s “B” in that thrillingly high-tech homemade graphic.)


An outside antenna might help. But not just any outside antenna. For WECT, you need one that’s made to pick up UHF transmissions, not VHF transmissions.

Sigh. (You’re entitled to do that — and more — if this is going to adversely affect your pocketbook or usual TV watching or both.) There are no antenna coupons. (That I know of.)

WECT says it plans to increase the power of its signal in coming months. Meanwhile, it has lots of information about antenna selection, erection and direction here.

And there’s loads more information about antennas at this site operated by the Consumer Electronics Association and National Association of Broadcasters. Check the FAQ.

You may also want to check Consumer Reports’ info about the digital TV transition. And this site has Consumer Reports’ assessments of the various brands of converter boxes.

TV or not TV? That is the question.

September 17, 2008

Is your TV ready for the digital age?old-tv.jpg

If you don’t know, you can find out tonight. Or check here.

But! If you’re a cable or satellite customer, it won’t matter if your TV contains a digital tuner. They’ll convert the signal for you.

How many people are unready? Who knows? John Harris, director of programming at WRAL, told me the station estimates that 12-15 percent of its audience uses analog TVs and antennas to pull in signals. They’ll all need to change.

For even more info about all things digital TV and the Feb. 17 deadline, look to the post right below this one.

And now… a station break — no, a YouTube break — for the goofy TV riff that I couldn’t help remembering (and singing) when I came up with this post’s Hamletesque title. It’s from wayyyy before we ever heard of digital TV.

If your TV screen looks like this tomorrow…

September 16, 2008


…you will probably want to start considering your options for dealing with the rapidly approaching digital age (as it regards TV).

More than a dozen of the state’s TV stations, including WRAL, WTVD, WNCN and WUVC, plan to turn off their analog signals for a minute tomorrow night between 6 and 6:30 so people can check to see if their TVs can handle an only-digital signal.

Those who have no picture then on those channels will need to do one of these things to continue watching TV after the broadcasters permanently switch to digital signals-only on Feb. 17:

1) Get a converter box for their current TV. (Coupons are available.)


2) Sign up for satellite or cable service (which would convert the signal for them, thus no box necessary).


3) Get a digital TV.

More info on the subject:

*Not all converter boxes are alike. Some include an “analog pass-through” feature.


*Wilmington-area stations have already gone all-digital — to the displeased surprise of many unprepared viewers. See —–>

*More explanations right here.

Re: China, occupied Japan, and culling your jets on eBay

September 15, 2008

In Sunday’s column, H.S. asked how she might find the value of a set of 10 teacups and saucers that she had inherited.


They’re marked “made in occupied Japan.”

I suggested that she check eBay, the online auction site where people sell anything you can think of, from toy planes to actual jets.


Wait, I don’t know if an actual jet has ever been sold on eBay. Sarah Palin, Alaska’s governor and John McCain’s running mate, has famously and repeatedly remarked that she helped cut extraneous costs by putting her gubernatorial jet on eBay.

But it didn’t actually ever sell there. A private broker handled the sale — in which, contrary to a claim by McCain, the state of Alaska lost money on the deal.

Oh well. Back to H.S. and her teacups and saucers. If you do a search for “occupied Japan” in eBay’s “pottery and glass” section, you’ll find hundreds of such items for sale. And if you’re a member of eBay — it’s easy and free to sign up — you can check completed listings to see what similar items actually sold for — or if they sold at all.


G.L. read the item and e-mailed to say Replacements Ltd is another great source for establishing the value of china, crystal and the like. (It’s also a great place to buy hard-to-find replacement pieces for dinnerware sets.) You can do a search at the Replacements site for “occupied Japan.” So thanks for that reminder, G.L.

Pottery and porcelain items made in occupied Japan can vary widely in value. Some look like they’re from a dime store while others are desirable collectibles, according to this article by “Price It Yourself” authors Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson.

And there are some ardent collectors out there. This woman has so many pieces of china made in occupied China that she can’t remember them all. So she created a database of all the makers’ marks. She notes that she uses resource books and, yes, eBay to check values of items.