This morning, I was woken up at dawn because of an IT emergency. My mother had received a text from the FOD Financiën, telling her she owed them 11,50 for which they’d sent a debt collector. She sort-of-feared that this text message was real but also expected it to be an SMS scam. You can see the text she received below.

The SMS scam in questio.

Since I was up anyway, I decided I would deconstruct the scam. And if I have to get up early, you get to suffer with me so I’m writing this blog post.

Of course it’s an SMS scam

Our government agencies don’t use SMS to communicate and there are plenty of reasons to believe this is a scam. The domain name gave it away, because our government doesn’t use .com domains. And I’m sure they won’t be sending a debt collector over €11.

1. The domain name

The domain name for this scam is financien-overheid.com as you can see in the text. That allows us to lookup where the domain name is registered. I prefer using https://who.is to found out who the registrar of a domain name is, mostly because it’s so easy to remember.

This taught me that the domain name has been registered with Namecheap. I used that information to file a complaint with Namecheap about the domain. We’ll see what they do with that information, but I’ve done my job.

2. The hosting company

To find out where the website is hosted, we have to take a look at the IP address.

Finding the IP address is pretty simple. You open your Command prompt or terminal and ping the domain name. Doing so will teach you what IP address the domain points to. In this case, the IP address is 45.147.228.223

Now, we need to find out who that IP address belongs to. To do that, I’m going to https://whatsmyip.com and use their IP WHOIS tool. You can find this tool here:

This teaches me that the IP address belongs to a German hosting provider, Combahton GMBH. Since I just filled in a long form for Namecheap and web providers are notoriously unwilling to cooperate I just call them out on Twitter instead of trying to figure out how to file a complaint. Yay, slacktivism!

3. The website

You should never, ever visit a website of a subspect scam mail unless you know what you’re doing. Don’t let this section trick you into believing that it’s safe to do so!

I was curious about the website of the scammers, so I gave them a visit (using Tor and a Linux VM, of course). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see. It appears that the URL they provided through the URL redirects you to a real website of the FOD Financiën – a page that returns a 404 error anyway.

So I ended up learning nothing about the scam website. Or perhaps I’m not smart enough to figure out why they’d redirect people to a real website. That’s also an option.

4. The phone provider

Finally, I wanted to find out who the phone provider was. Our scamming friend appears to be sending his messages from a mobile phone number which belongs to Mobile Vikings. Since I have been a satisfied customer of those guys for ages, I contacted them on Twitter. They immediately forwarded the complaint to the proper department. Now that’s customer service!

But you might be wondering how I found out that the phone number belongs to Mobile Vikings. It’s pretty simple! Just Google “lookup phone carrier” or the equivalent for your language and you should find websites that’ll allow you to lookup phone carriers.

In my case, I ended up on the website https://www.crdc.be which pointed me in the right direction.

What can you do?

As you can see, it’s not that hard to deconstruct an SMS scam. There’s plenty of information that you can find. The next step is to then report the scammer with all the providers they are using. That might not be as easy as finding the information, so you’d need to have some patience.

However, even more important is to educate your user(s). Sure, I might have been woken up earlier than I wanted, but my mother had the right reflexes:

  1. Not clicking the link
  2. Contacting someone more tech savvy than herself

Teach the people around you these skills. Learn them to be suspicious about text messages, mails and links that they’re receiving. Even if that means they’ll be asking you to verify every single link, I can assure you that it’ll cost you less time and give you fewer head aches to do so than to deal with the aftermath of a scam they fell for.

Earlier today, I sat down to write a blog post about a topic. However, the problem is that I can’t tell you what that topic was. I forgot because of what happened after I sat down.

Once I was ready to start writing, I immediately got distracted. My brain kindly informed me that I have two blogs. One under this domain name and one under the Twitter handle that I am using. So it demanded to know where I was going to post the blog post.

Easy. I’m posting it on stevenzeegers.me. That’s where all my blog posts end up. How is this even a question?

My brain wasn’t satisfied with that answer. It told me I needed to consider all the angles. Was I really super sure that was the best approach?Continue reading

I have an announcement to make, and the title of this post mostly covers what I want to say. But most people will read that title and be confused about a thing or two, so here is a little backstory.

Computertaal is a technology blog that is more than a one and a half decade old. It has been an independant source of IT tips, tricks and articles ever since.

I joined the writer staff of the blog immediately when the blog was founded. I would hesitate to call myself a co-founder because the blog has always been the brain child of Peter D’Hollander, the main guy behind the blog that has kept the lights on for over more than a decade and whom is responsible for a large chunk of the 15,000 articles that you can currently find on the blog in Dutch.

About eight years ago, I took a “brief hiatus” from writing for Computertaal because I wanted to focus on writing about Joomla, a popular CMS. That was all I wrote a bout for a while, and people will tell you not to regret things from the past but I wish I would have found a better balance back then.

Anyhow, fast forward to 2020 (and skip a period where I didn’t write about anything for a long time because reasons) and I felt the urge to start covering broader tech topics again. Instead of starting a seven millionth website which I would never finished, I decided to see if there was a possibility to go back to my roots.

I’m happy to announce that there was still a spot available for a smart-ass like me who loves to write about everything tech related under the sun. So in 2020 I’ll be returning to Computertaal as a writer and start terrorizing the Dutch tech community again with my blog posts. You have been warned.

 

Car keys? Check.
The car itself? Check
Fuel card? Check.
Office keys? Check.
SIM card? Check.

Last Friday I dropped off the last of the items from my former employer. After working there for a little more than a decade, we decided to go separate ways. When two humans split up you are always wondering where things went wrong. That is hardly the case in this scenario. Don’t you worry, though. I am not going to bore you with my career at my former employer or an analysis of their operations.  I will also try and keep the clichés about chapters and “excitement” to a minimum.

However, I can’t deny that making this change has been treating me well so far. As I am writing this post I still have to figure out what the next step in my career will be. But I am cautiously excited about what will happen next. I am looking forward to interesting technological challenges and projects that will test my skills. There are a lot of things out there that caught my attention which I never got to research or implement and more than a few skills I would like to develop under the wings of my next employer.

I am usually not a big fan of change, but I am genuinely excited about the change in careers and the personal changes I get to make as a result. People around me are telling me that I am already far more relaxed than I was in the past and some people are even “concerned” about me because I seem to be more calm and excited around people. I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, sister. That was a compliment, right?

Originally, this blog post was supposed to be much longer and was supposed to sound like a standard LinkedIN post. But some things just don’t change and I hate writing those sort of posts just as much as I always used to, so this “into the future” post will have to do. For now.

I am looking at my Twitter feed in Tweetdeck. Tweets fly by, and I try to distill something useful or interesting from the stream of information in the awfully blue client. Somehow, it doesn’t click. Without reading a single tweet, I decide to close the tab, and I start wondering what happened.

There was a time where I was obsessed with Twitter. I send dozens of tweets daily, and on a yearly basis I probably sent thousand of tweets. But now, i feel indifferent towards the medium. “Oh, you felt like you had to tweet that, person? That’s nice. I don’t care, but it’s nice.”

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what changed the sentiment towards the micro blogging platform.

Perhaps it’s that it stopped being a micro blogging platform and wanted to be many things at once. Video, images and tweets up to 280 characters saturate a feed that once used to be pretty minimalistic. You could scroll through (or read) through a bunch of short tweets without having to filter through a lot of distractions. These times are long gone, now. Nowadays, your feed looks like a gigantic billboard where everyone is trying to advertize his or her product.

Twitter wanted to make changes to become relevant, of course. In order to do so they introduced ads. Personalised ads, based on your preferences. Or that is the theory, at least. In reality they probably have the least appealing ads in place.

Their ads don’t feel very relevant. Promoted tweets are often for companies I have no interest in whatsoever, and I don’t have a clue why Twitter thinks I would be interested in the tweets of yet another bank. Is it because I follow two banks on Twitter? Great job, Twitter. You just discovered I’m a customer for banks. Don’t need a third one, though. Sorry.  People might hate on personalised ads all they want and I am not excited to know that companies know a lot about me either, but if I have to watch ads at least make sure they’re not eye rolling bad. Facebook does a fairly good job at it. Not as good as Google, though. Their ads are usually pretty on point (minus the car ads, but I understand that that’s also a result of how their ads work).

But I didn’t want to talk about advertizing. This is a nostalgic “what happened” about Twitter.

Death of the desktop

One of the biggest reasons I lost interest is because Twitter decided to kill desktop clients.

They already pushed a lot of non-official apps out of the market, with API and other restrictions, which made it impossible to compete. What remained was then bought by, and folded into Twitter. But Tweetdeck is no longer, either. The “app” you download is a wrapper for the web version of Tweetdeck. The same, blue, chaotic, “How the hell does this work” mess, just downloadable. You can’t even start the app if you don’t have an internet connection.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. They also made an awful Windows 10 app to replace their official Windows entry. And things got worse on Mac OSX where they just killed the desktop client entirely.

So now, you are stuck with their website or the iOS version. Neither of which I have open all the time. I don’t feel an “urge” to check my phone or to check that one browser tab that’s lost in a forest of tabs.

Twitter basically killed the link between my eyeballs and tweets themselves. Nowadays, when I log in, it’s usually to post something myself or check my mentions. No point in checking my feed anyway, because they now also introduced a “Best of” algorytm. Which is also awful at it’s job. It lacks all the flexibility of Facebook and it’s predictions are not on YouTube’s levels. Youtube only sucks at suggesting new accounts to follow. No, YouTube, I don’t want to watch a video because I watched a slightly related video to the one this gamer douche once made.

Bottom line, I guess, is that I don’t like the “new Twitter” a lot, and since I lost touch with the people I used to talk to the most, Twitter is no longer a platform I am paying a lot of attention to. I might be using it occasionally, just like I check my mailbox daily despite not expecting a lot of letters. But the late night “Let’s check Twitter one more time” or the constant allure of the desktop client with interesting, short tweets I could read? Those days are long gone.

When I start writing this blog post, I sigh as I read the title. At the same time, I have got to accept that it really describes the app the most accurately. So, without further adue… allow me to explain.

About a year ago, I was standing in a store, helping my mother decide what detergent to buy. The store was throwing around with discounts and 2+1 sales. Both products were pretty much of similar quality. All she wanted to know which was really the best offer.

Because that’s the thing, right? Stores will try and trick you in different ways. Ever since that day I started paying attention, and discovered some of their schemes:

  • Bigger sizes of a product aren’t always cheaper.
  • The product on sale is still more expensive than the alternative, because of the price per content.
  • Hey, here’s a 15% discount. But you won’t know how much you saved until you pay for the product

Anyway, I decided to help my mother out by making a simple web app that would help her figure out which product was exactly the cheapest.

Since I’m not much of a developer I built the thing in HTML and Python. And all was well. It worked, she doesn’t care about the behind-the-scenes.

With that approach in mind, I started working on the app. I called it “Secret Formula”. There really aren’t any Secret Formula’s. It’s just math and common sense. But it sounds neat and to some people the math might sound like arcane spells written by an ancient wizard. But mostly it sounded good.

Ever since I “launched” the app I have been adding some new formulas. After the initial “This will help my mother” formula’s I started to think about formula’s that could help other people. I have since then added a formula to calculate gas prices, how much to tip, how much you save in a “Buy X, Get Y Free” sale… and so on.

So many plans (skip this if you just want to read about the app)

Over time I have developed some pretty wild plans for the app. That’s what usually happens when I have an idea.  One of the big ideas has always been to turn the app into a real iOS app. This is something I always keep postponing. It would mean I’d need to learn an actual programming language.

I was almost there when I tried to use Cordova to build an iOS / Android app built on HTML and Javascript. I quickly gave up on that idea because I can’t get Xcode to play nice. Yes, I’m quickly discouraged like that.

Talking about HTML and Javascript, though… I did rewrite the entire thing. Instead of using Python and CGI files and what not, it’s now a HTML/Javascript app. I’m proud to say it’s pretty damn fast and responsive. You can easily use it on your smart phone and it’ll be super fast.

For now, I have accepted that the HTML/Javascript app will be “the app” for the time being. It works! That’s what matters, right?

Get the app!

To get started with the app, simply go to https://toralkohost.com/apps/secretformula/en/ or, if you want the Dutch version, go to https://toralkohost.com/apps/secretformula/

You can start calculating things right away. Using the app is free and adfree. What I would appreciate, is if you let me know if you used and liked the app.

Neat detail: If you save the app to your iOS home screen, it’ll have it’s own icon and it’ll be searchable. So go ahead and do that, if you want.

Known problems are that there’s a grey button in an ocean of blue ones, that the “What’s new” is always in English no matter what version you are using and that you need to reload the page on the formula for splitting rent.  There’s also the problem that you need to use a dot instead of a comma as a decimal in most formula’s.

Another known “problem” is that the formula’s aren’t always self-explanatory. I am thinking of ways to make it clearer what they are for. Especially the newest formula, the one for splitting rent, might need a few words of explanation.

Other than that, the app is fairly functional and hopefully useful as well. Let me know in the comment or stalk me on social media.

Start Calculating Things

App Mirror (if the other one doesn’t load)

 

“I should have a personal blog. It would be great. Everyone important on the internet has got one.” – Me, when starting this blog.

versus

“What am I supposed to do with this blog? Everything I want to say is already published elsewhere.” – Also me, right now.

The above quotes actually define this blog. There was supposed to be a blog post here, too. About how I am perfectly capable of conjuring up blog posts out of thin air. But I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to write, kept rewriting it, got frustrated and figured that I would publish like this. Because of the irony.

Earlier last week, I got a reminder of how very, very old I am. This quarterlife crisis is sponsored by Xbox. Thanks a lot, Microsoft…

On a serious note, Xbox is celebrating it’s 15th anniversary. At first, I couldn’t believe I’ve been playing on the Xbox platform for so long. I’m still loving it! The only period where I really didn’t like being an Xbox user was after the launch of the One. Not only did we get screwed because it wasn’t available, they also screwed around with features and promises and the selection of launch games was… Well, it was really, really bad.

But this isn’t a post about gaming! Those tweets reminded me of something else. You guys, I’ve been “blogging” for fifteen years now!

I mean, technically maybe it wasn’t blogging. I started my online career by writing for a newsletter. That newsletter still exists, and it looks like the website was last updated about ten years ago.

It all pretty much started with the classic Xbox. I was given one to review, and that’s when I started to review my first games.

I’ve been doing that for a while, until I rebelled against the “restrictions” of the newsletter. They said my articles were too long. None of their readers was interested in articles over a thousand words!

Being the excited young kid I was, I wanted to take my articles elsewhere. That’s when I was being offered the opportunity to write about games elsewhere, for a popular blog. I wrote quite a few articles for them, until I discovered a little piece of software which intrigued me, called “Joomla”. So, I started blogging about Joomla and that pretty much became my main source of inspiration.

Fast forward to 2016 and I have been blogging about Joomla for quite a while now. I have talked about branching out, and while that never really happened the idea is always in the back of my mind. Truth be told, I haven’t been blogging enough to make more than one blog viable, but I’ve got some projects that are almost ready to go should I get that spark that tells me “Okay, now to the other thing.”

One thing I’d like to do, is to get back into reviewing video games and technology. However, that requires connections that I don’t neccessarily have at this point, and it’s hard to compete with Youtube which, if you’re asking me, is a far mor interesting platform for video games and technology to be showcased. A video says so much more than a thousand words and a picture or two.

Keeping that in mind, I’ve recently started experimenting with video. The first result(s) are online over at the Joomla & More Youtube channel. I’m still not convinced I have what it takes to use the platform (mainly I hate the sound of my voice to the point I don’t want to listen to the audio), but it’s a start.

Here’s to another fifteen years of blogging. Maybe we’ll be creating newspapers that people can read using their VR set in the next ten years. Time will tell.