Great Groupon Scams

Whether it’s a Parisian pickpocket or a Roman wedding ring-finder, I’m fascinated by great scams. Especially ones I get sucked in to. (well, almost in this case). To me, great scams highlight powerful mental tricks.

The Set Up

I came across this great Groupon deal on Apple accessories — $25 for $150 of credit from TheSmartPhoneMall. What a deal! And Groupon, so it must be legit.

As I glanced through the site, I saw a few awesome accessories. Beats by Dre for $25! 2x Mophie Battery packs for $25! Awesome. It looked pretty good, so I sent the link to a few friends. Then, before I bought the gift card, I went to see the Mophie case I was going to buy.


OK. Well, howabout Beats by Dre? Those would still be good for $25.


Fine, I will wait for the backorder. A pair of expensive headphones or a nice iPhone charger will be just as useful a month from now, if that’s how long it takes. OK with me.

The Reveal

But, of course the backorder button goes nowhere. It doesn’t do anything.

That’s when I realized this is a Great Scam! Their business is impulse buyers on Groupon who see Beats+Mophie+quality names, and buy the deal. Later on, they figure out everything good is sold out. I almost fell for it, too.

TLDR: Basically what SmartPhoneMall did was post a bunch of CRAP items, mixed in a few GREAT items. All the great items as “backordered”. Groupon and SmartPhone Mall split the $25, and buyers end up with knock-off iPhone accessories that cost $1 each to make.

junk, junk, junk...oh sweet, Beats by Dre for $25!

junk, junk, junk…oh sweet, Beats by Dre for $25!


Everything Good is Backordered

Biology As Ideology

“Many people now believe that science is the religion of the twentieth century — that the authority of its clergy (scientists) is beyond question or challenge and that its recent findings can indisputably explain the past and predict the future of human existence and of our individual behaviors.

In this brief extraordinary work, RC Lewontin – – one the world’s most prominent geneticists – – takes to close and informed look at this tidy and showmanlike packaging of science as the panacea for global problems, persuasively demonstrating how science (and scientists) is molded by society and how the dominant social and economic forces in society determines for large extent what scientists do and how they do it.

Science and society in fact exist to symbiotically (hence the title of this book), and by admitting the shadings and limitations with in science we discover book the richness of human nature in the real value of science.”

Biology as Ideology, 1992
Quoted from the back cover
$10 on
 (not an affiliate link)

Space Kisses

My friend Dan Walsh just pointed out that it’s about $10,000 a pound to send stuff up into outer space.

I looked up the weight of a Hershey’s Kiss, and it’s about 5 grams. 453 grams in a pound.

I could send up 1 Hershey’s Kiss into outer space every day for a year for…$40,200.

Maybe a good Kiss-starter project :)

“The Garage Is a Bit of a Myth” says Woz

“The garage is a bit of a myth. It’s a bit overblown. The garage represents us better than anything else. But we did no designs there, we would drive the finished products down to the garage and make them work, and then drive them to the store that paid us cash.”

“We did no breadboarding, no prototyping, no planning of products. We did no manufacturing there. The garage didn’t serve much purpose, except it was something for us to feel was our home. We had no money. You have to work out of your home when you have no money.”

– Steve Wozniak, on the history of Apple

From a video interview with Businessweek about the history of Apple

*side note, it’s interesting to read the quotes in the article and compare them to what was said in the video.

Automatically Add Your “Currently Reading” GoodReads Book to Your Email Signature

Imagine if your signature automatically had a link to your latest updates, like this:

Email Sig Screenshot

I’ve been trying to find a way to add my latest tweet, blog post, and “currently reading” to my email signature. After a lot of searching, I found a Safari/Chrome/Thunderbird plugin called WiseStamp.

You can automatically include your top GoodReads “Currently Reading” book in every email signature. Twitter and Facebook, and other RSS feeds too!

Here’s how to add your GoodReads “Currently Reading” book to your email signature.

1. Download and Install WiseStamp

1. It’s free. Google Chrome, Thunderbird, Safari are all supported:

WiseStamp for Safari (Mac OS X)

WiseStamp on the Google Chrome Store

WiseStamp for Mozilla Thunderbird

Mail Mac OS X (not supported)

For $4 a month you can get rid of the “Designed with Wisestamp” it adds to your signature. You can also manually delete this from your sig every time.

2. Once you get WiseStamp installed, move on to the next step

2. Get Your GoodReads RSS Feed

1. Login to GoodReads and click “My Books” in the top menu

2. Click “currently-reading” on the left column

3. Click the “RSS” logo at the bottom of the page

GoodReads Currently Reading screenshot

3. You’ll see a big page of raw RSS text
RSS Screenshot4. Copy the link for this page. This page is a RSS feed of your latest books. GoodReads automatically updates it when your “current-reading” list changes.

For example, the link for my RSS “Currently Reading” feed is:

3. Put GoodReads in your WiseStamp Email Signature

1. In your WiseStamp Signature preferences, click on the “Email Apps” tab

Screenshot 2014-12-03 10.21.25

The WiseStamp Preferences page in Thunderbird


2. You’ll see the orange “RSS Feed” icon. Click on it. If not, it’s under the “Content” sub-tab.

3. You’re almost there!

RSS title: Whatever text you want, in my example at the start of this post I used “Currently Reading: ”

RSS URL: paste the RSS URL you copied from GoodReads

4. It automatically grabs your 1 most recent “Currently Reading” book. In my case, I have 4 books on GoodReads “Currently Reading”, but only the first one “How Music Works” shows in my signature. That’s fine with me, though WiseStamp doesn’t have options to show more.

5. Click “Add”, and you’re all set. At this point you can also include any of your other default email signature stuff, like your name.

5. The RSS feed probably doesn’t show up in the WiseStamp preview pane. To preview the result, start a new email and you *should* see your signature there.


Screenshot 2014-12-03 10.03.04

Robot Santa

I’ve only used WiseStamp for a few days, but it seems like a wonderful tool for getting the word out about a marketing campaign, twitter,  your blog, facebook, or anything with an RSS feed.

Howabout a Toys-for-Tots holiday gift giving thing where you get dozens of people to include your campaign in their signature, and it’s continually updated with the next gift on the list?

“Next on Santa’s Wishlist: 4M Kitchen Science Kit for Kids


The Earth Doesn’t Orbit The Sun

(edit: blah, I think this whole post is way off, and my title might be inaccurate/too sensationalist, might need to define what’s an orbit, etc…let me know helpful comments)

Santa Claus

The Easter Bunny

The Earth Orbits the Sun

All of these are made up.

Wait, what?

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to research the “fundamentals” I learned as a kid. You know, things that are “absolutely true”: 1+1=2, gravity pulls things down, it hurts to skin my knee. I started with “The Earth Orbits the Sun”. Of COURSE that’s true, right?

I was surprised to learn “The Earth Orbits the Sun” is wrong. No joke, it’s a misleading representation of our solar system and how physics works.

Center of Gravity of the Solar System

The Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun.

The Earth orbits the center of gravity of the solar system.

The Sun orbits the center of gravity of the solar system, too.

The center of gravity of the solar system is not inside the Sun.

An animation of a planet and a sun orbiting around the center of this minimal system (NASA)

A Helpful Diagram

This is a diagram from Wikipedia showing the center of gravity of the solar system, starting from 1945 up to 1994. The light yellow is the sun, and the dark yellow is the nucleus of the sun. As you can see, the center of gravity of the solar system moves around a lot. It isn’t always inside the sun.

The chart only goes to 1994, so I’m not sure where the center of gravity of the solar system is today, but as of 1994 it was about 400,000 miles from the surface of the Sun.

Motion of the Solar System barycenter relative to the Sun (Wikipedia)

That’s it

Anyway, it took about 20 minutes to research all of this. And I took something that I thought was a fact, and learned something better. Kind of a fun experience.

So What?

“OK, Tito” you say, “I get what you’re saying, it’s inaccurate. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s close enough to say that ‘the Earth orbits the Sun'”

You’re probably right. But here’s 2 thoughts I had on why this is more important than you might think.

1. On “Scientific Knowledge As Superiority”

(Or “Even NPR Has Ego”)

Now you see, this idea the Earth goes around the Sun is incorrect. Our solar system rotates around the center of gravity of the entire solar system. Yes, the Sun is the most massive object in our solar system. But that doesn’t mean it’s the center of gravity. If the Earth goes around the Sun, then by that same token, the Earth goes around Venus, and really, the Sun goes around the Earth too.

But here’s the problem. Often, we take the science we “know”, and we lord it over people that aren’t in the know. The National Science Foundation (NSF) surveyed Americans. One of their questions was:

Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

You know what my answer would be…”both” :)

The Results are in… 1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says

1 in 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth – NPR

“haha” we’re supposed to say, “what idiots other people are!”

Or “Oh no, gosh America is going down the tubes”. “Stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to have babies”, reads the bumper sticker on your car.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these survey results are positive, and better public education about science is a big opportunity. But I think NPR’s reaction points out a pressing cultural problem. Using scientific knowledge as a way to hold ourselves above others is a deep societal issue.

Especially when we clearly haven’t done the research ourselves.

Enough on that for now.

2. It’s a Western Way of Thinking

I want to point out that ideology is powerful. So here’s one last thought. I think the way we describe the relationship between the sun and the other planets says a lot about our culture. It seems to me that this model boils down to “The little planets follow the big sun around”. That sounds like the moral to a children’s book you would find in America. And in fact, it seems like a cornerstone of western society. Now instead think about this, “All the planets rotate around each other, even the massive sun is pulled by the smaller planets”. That sounds like something that would be written off as “hippy” or kind of “zen”.

I’d love to find out what metaphors and diagrams more Eastern cultures use to explain the physics of our solar system. How do they explain this in China or Japan?

References I Found Helpful

  1. – The Earth Doesn’t Actually Orbit the Sun?
  2. Science Questions with Surprising Answers – Why did people believe the Earth is the center of the solar system when it’s obvious the sun is?
    First sentence: “The sun is not the center of the solar system.”
  3. The scientific word for this “center of gravity” is the barycenter (Wikipedia) of the solar system, in case you like jargon. Barycenter – on Wikipedia *I never like when textbooks start out with jargon and acronyms before explaining anything. My motto — use long form 10 times and then introduce jargon. i.e. The first thing you need to know about DNA is that it encodes genetic instructions NOT that it stands for “deoxyribonucleic acid”, but most textbooks mess this up.
  4. Now, what about the Earth being flat? I checked that out, too. It looks spherical to me.
  5. Hmm, but what about atoms? Supposedly everything “orbits around the nucleus”. I wonder what the barycenter of an atom is.
  6. I hope my blog post doesn’t have that tone of “I know something, and you don’t, and you’re stupid”. But it easily could. I tried to make it as eye opening as possible without getting everyone defensive.

This New DNA Test Will Eat 23andme’s Lunch


Screenshot 2014-11-13 08.32.48


Yes, the website totally reeks of trying to sell work-out products. Look below the surface. This new “MuscleGenes” test shows the future of genetic testing — a narrow focus on solving a problem.  See how the underlying business of DNA sequencing is changing? I’m not even an athlete and this sounds way more valuable to me than the nebulous “DNA test” from 23andme.


“LEGO Analogy Sucks”

hmm. According to a report by the Wilson Center on “Communicating Synthetic Biology”, the term “Legos” had a negative effect when applied to synthetic biology.

I use this analogy all the time. Seems to work well, but surprised their study says different. Maybe participants simply checked negative because they were irritated because the term is actually LEGO? I would know but I only skimmed the rest of the study.

Read the full study here

Figure 7: Focus group participants illustrate which words they find negative (red), positive (blue) or neutral (light blue and pink) when applied to synthetic biology


Space Mirror


As I hiked along today, I thought of a space mirror. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to see dinosaurs as they roamed the Earth?

Well, the light is out there, somewhere in our universe! As in, the light that once reflected off of dinosaurs as they trudged the planet is still traveling through space at the speed of light. If we could somehow look at that light, we would glimpse back in time. Today, if you were a million light years away, looking at Earth, you would see what was going a million years ago. Imagine discovering a mirror in space. It reflects light back at Earth. When you look at it, you see back in time! You could setup a museum around this. Come in and see what the dinosaurs are up to! And how different life on Earth looks. Come back tomorrow and see what happens. Reality TV: “Earth 65,000,000 BC”. The trick would be finding an already existing space mirror. Perhaps if light traveled so close to something really gravitational, like a nest of quasars or a set of black holes, it could be bent 360 degrees, all the way back to Earth.

What would you look at if you had a space mirror?