Central Hardware, St. Louis history

Central Hardware, St. Louis history

St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.

Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.

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Some tips for trolling fake technical support calls

I did a little more digging after getting yet another fake technical support phone call last week, and I’ve done some thinking on my own. If you want to troll these criminals when they call you, here are some ideas. Read more

Mr. Genius Man from “Windows Technical Support” gets nasty

I got another “Windows Technical Support” call on Friday evening. My caller ID said Minneapolis, and since I have coworkers in Minneapolis, I answered. But the guy on the other end was a long way from Minneapolis and probably doesn’t know diddly about ice hockey.

I’m pretty sure it was the same criminal as last time, but over a better VOIP connection. I remember the voice pretty well, because his parting lines from last time, “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man!” struck me as funny. And he started the conversation with, “I’m calling you again about your Windows 7 computer.”

My conversation with him revealed a few things about why this scam is likely to be profitable.

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This “Computer Maintenance Department” sure doesn’t know much about computer maintenance

“Peggy” from “Computer Maintenance Department” (1-645-781-2458 on my caller ID) called again. Lots of people are aware of these phone calls. They call, make vague claims about receiving a report that your computer is running slow and giving you errors, and are very careful not to say who they are or who they work for. Usually I just do whatever I can to get them off the phone.

But after having lunch with some other computer security professionals last week, a couple of them talked me into finding out how these guys operate. So I fired up a PC that turned out to have a real, legitimate issue. After resolving that issue myself, I turned the caller loose on my semi-functional PC so I could see what these scammers actually do. He had me connect to Teamviewer.com and run their remote access software. I followed his instructions, watched him connect, then slyly unplugged my network cable.

When my network connection dropped, “Peggy” quickly transferred me to a “senior technician” who used the name “Roy.” Read more

Short takes: Ed Felten, Sparky Anderson

Sparky Anderson died today. When I was a kid, Anderson was the manager of the Detroit Tigers and already a legend from having managed the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the 1970s. He was always a true gentleman in every possible regard.

He actually managed longer and won more games in Detroit, but his Tigers teams never matched the mystique of that great Reds dynasty.

A poignant quote from the article linked above: “The biggest thing that young people can learn is, do the best you can at what you do, and then when you’re through with it, don’t try to live it again. I don’t live baseball anymore.”

And in much happier news, Ed Felten got a job at the FTC. Felten is a rather outspoken computer science professor at Stanford. He famously demonstrated that Internet Explorer could be separated from Windows 98 in various ways during the Microsoft anti-trust trial in the late 1990s. He has a long history of being an advocate of allowing people to fix and modify the hardware devices they paid for, as opposed to the all-too-common-today idea that if you take something apart, you’ve violated some license agreement.

His insightful, sometimes snarky Freedom to Tinker blog is always a good read.  His series Fritz’s hit list is an Internet classic. 

Felten’s statement says his role will be an advisory role. They would do well to do whatever he says, because he understands technology much better than anyone else in Washington.

Adobe buys Macromedia!

I thought this was a joke at first, but it appears that Adobe really is buying competitor Macromedia.Ironically, the app that really put Macromedia on the map (before Flash) was Freehand, which was an old Aldus product that Adobe sold off when it bought the creator of Pagemaker.

This pretty much eliminates the only viable competition for Illustrator. I don’t know that anyone considered Fireworks a viable competitor to Photoshop or not. But essentially, when it comes to desktop publishing, the only companies left to compete with Adobe are Quark (who only have one viable product) and what’s left of Corel.

If I were the FTC, I would force Adobe to sell off its competing products, although I don’t know if Quark would want them, and Corel already has its line of graphics apps, although Macromedia’s are generally better respected. But since the current administration loves big business, probably what will happen is either the competing products will be discontinued or dummied down into consumer-level products.

I think the software industry is already consolidated more than it needs to be, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an acquisition actually result in a better product. But we’ll see what happens this time.

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