www.ethanwiner.com - since 1997

Ethan's Letters to the Editor

Handwriting Analysis Not "Harmless"

Ann Landers,

You really blew it when you told "Just Askin'" that you see no harm in believing in handwriting analysis. Magical thinking like this is indeed harmful, and is a slap in the face to all legitimate science. Many qualified job applicants have been denied work by superstitious employers who use handwriting analysis as a gauge for their honesty or other personality traits.

But the problem goes much deeper. Folks with such "harmless beliefs" do great damage when they go to a new age healer instead of a doctor, or waste money on psychics instead of seeking real therapy for their problems. As a nation we say we're concerned about how poorly so many of our youngsters do in science and math. The best way to solve this is by teaching logic, science, and common sense. Not by accepting superstition as "harmless."

--(never published) February 21, 2000

Easy to protect your computer from viruses

Hardly a day goes by without the press reporting on the dangers of computer viruses. Two weeks ago, it was the Melissa virus. Last week, it was the Chernobyl virus. And you can be sure that next week there will be some other virus du jour. As a computing professional since the early 1980s, I have never had a computer virus, and I've never even owned an anti-virus software utility.

It's ridiculously easy to protect yourself completely against any and all computer viruses. Here's how:

BallDon't download programs from Web sites or newsgroups. While you can safely download an updated driver from, say, Microsoft's Web site, or a utility from the PC Magazine Web site, never download a program from anywhere other than a known and trusted source. The same goes for running programs that arrive by email. If a friend sends you a program and swears it's just a harmless game or maybe a funny animation, delete it without running it and explain that you never run unsolicited programs.

BallIf you use Microsoft Word, disable auto-run macros. From the Tools menu select Options and click the General tab. Then check the Macro Virus Protection box. This way, if you open a document that might contain a virus, Word will warn you and give you a chance to cancel opening the file.

BallMost Internet browser programs have a setting called "security level." Adjust that to the most secure setting, so you will be warned if a web site you are visiting tries to run a possibly harmful program without your permission.

That's it! The only way a virus can get into your computer is if you run a program that contains the virus, or if you open a Word document that has a macro virus.

--Danbury News-Times, May, 1999

Weird Science

I was sorely disappointed by your recent Road Test report on MIT brand cables. Although your reviewer claimed to be skeptical of "snake oil," he in fact bought into a classic example of pseudo-science. No audio cable needs or benefits from a "break-in period," and there's no such thing as a "better direction" for speaker cables since they carry AC signals. I also dispute that a replacement power cord can reduce background circuit noise from a guitar amplifier. By how many dB was the noise reduced and over what frequency range? To conclude that these cables will "improve your sound dramatically" is a disservice to your readers, who probably have better things to spend their money on than $100+ guitar and speaker cables. I have no vendetta against any company trying to earn a legitimate buck, but in this case you have lost all objectivity and diminished your credibility.

--Gig Magazine, December, 1998

Newspaper no place for psychic predictions

I was more than a little annoyed by your recent AP article, Psychics busy predicting what lies ahead in '98. I believe the most important goal of any newspaper is to provide balanced coverage. Yet in your haste to fawn over area psychics, lending them credibility they hardly deserve, you failed to note the utter failure of psychic predictions made in 1997.

For example, not one of the supermarket tabloid psychics predicted the death of Princess Diana. Nor did Jeane Dixon foresee her own death. They did predict that 1997 was to be the year that Angela Lansbury (of Murder, She Wrote) solved the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Rush Limbaugh became a liberal, Walter Cronkite became a lounge singer, and Hillary Clinton gave birth to a second daughter. The list of failed psychic predictions for 1997 is long indeed, yet these failures were forgotten as soon as 1998 arrived.

People have a hard enough time confusing fact with fiction. The last thing we need is further blurring of those lines from a publication that should be providing a much-needed dose of reality.

I'd also like to suggest that you place the following disclaimer above the daily horoscope: This column is presented for amusement only. Astrology has no basis in scientific fact.

--Danbury News-Times, February 1, 1998

No harm in movie kids peeking at magazine

I'm writing to comment on Steve Weise's objection (letter, Aug. 25) to the movie Jack for a scene where the kids try to get a copy of Penthouse magazine. Since Jack is rated PG-13, clearly it is not aimed at very young children. So where's the harm? I'd be interested to learn of any legitimate research which concludes that a teen-age boy or girl has ever been harmed by looking at the kind of pictures shown in Penthouse and Playboy. In fact, I would argue exactly the opposite - suppressing a youngster's natural curiosity about sex seems to me far more harmful than simply answering such questions openly and honestly.

Here's a quote from Our Sexuality, a 1993 graduate-level psychology text by Robert Crooks and Karla Baur: "It has been widely reported by a variety of therapist researchers that severe religious orthodoxy equating sex with sin is common to the backgrounds of many sexually troubled people."

I'd be surprised if Mr. Weise never saw that type of magazine when he was a teenager, though I'm sure that he thinks he turned out okay anyway.

--Danbury News-Times, September 5, 1996

TV violence, not sex, harmful to children

I was disappointed to read Jane Eisner's Feb. 6 column about bringing family hour back to television. I agree that excessive violence on TV and in movies can be harmful, but I fail to see a relationship between sex and morals. Sex is an integral part of life and nature. Hiding it from our children and teaching them it is wrong to be curious causes far more harm than talking about it openly. Cheating on your spouse is immoral, stealing from a store is immoral, and bullying your children is immoral. But there's nothing immoral about sex or any part of the human anatomy.

--Danbury News-Times, February 18, 1996

How much do you really love her?

Diamonds not seen as good investment

I was really disappointed to see the article in the Feb.19 Sunday Magazine perpetuating the myth that diamonds have inherent value. Rather than expose this age-old fraud, you serve as a mouthpiece for the Diamond Information Center by echoing their recommendation that newlyweds spend two months salary for an engagement ring.

Of all the things a young couple needs, a diamond ring is at the bottom of the list. Handing over a wad of cash to a salesperson is a poor way indeed for a young couple to express their love for each other. A reliable car, furniture, or a down payment on a house are a lot more important and infinitely more practical.

It is also a myth that diamonds have investment value. You'll do at least as well investing in a decent fund, and your money will also remain more accessible. And who buys diamonds for investing anyway? That's merely a justification for spending so much money irrationally in the first place. If Donald Trump wants to buy diamond baubles for his latest flame, that's fine because he can afford it. For most people a diamond is a huge waste of money.

A diamond may look nice, but so does a stone made of crystal or even zirconium. And who can honestly say they see a difference? The only real value a diamond has is its industrial properties (hardness), and you can be sure that industrial users don't pay the same wildly inflated markups consumers endure.

--Danbury News-Times, February 26, 1996

Added July 21, 2008: This amazing article chronicles the history of the diamond business, and shows how diamond marketing developed into the calculated scam it is today: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/198202/diamond

You talk, but who listens?

I first noticed it at a local diner. When I asked the waitress for a hamburger well done, I was dismayed to hear her yell to the kitchen, "hamburger." My friend who hates anything even remotely burned ordered a grilled cheese sandwich adding, "and please tell them not to burn the bread." The waitress shouted, "grilled cheese."

More recently I needed a postage machine for a new business. I called you-know-who and asked to speak with a salesperson. "He's not available now," I was told, "but give me your phone number and address, and he'll contact you." I carefully explained that I'm rarely in, so the salesman should call and not just show up. Two days later I find a business card waiting with my mail. My secretary tells me, "some guy was here and left this for you."

Last week I needed some stationery. I brought the logo artwork to my local printer, along with a small drawing showing how to position the various pieces. They were halfway done when I stopped by later in the day. Unfortunately, the name and address were underneath the logo, instead of beside it like the drawing. "Sorry, would you like us to do it again?" "Don't bother," I said, "it looks fine like that." "Would you like us to do the rest of them like the drawing?" "No," I explained, "that would be inconsistent, just leave it the way it is." Needless to say, they changed it anyway and some of my letterheads and envelopes were printed in one style, and some another.

And then there's the salespeople who won't return your calls. What's really amazing is the more expensive the product, the more likely this is to happen. If you inquire about a two dollar widget, they'll call ten times from California to see if you received their literature. As the price approaches a hundred dollars, you can expect to wait a day or two before you hear back from them. And for anything over a thousand dollars, you can forget it. The company could be across the street, but just try to get someone to return your calls.

--The Hour (Norwalk, CT), October 11, 1986

Entire contents of this web site Copyright 1997- by Ethan Winer. All rights reserved.