Award Winning Blog

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Tolerating Hubris at the New York Times

            While I am in the tilting at windows and then giving up mood (see entry on how Instagram will not help eliminate an impostor:, let us consider my multi-decade experience notifying the New York Times of unquestionable publishing errors.

            For some unknown reason, my bucket list includes persuading the Times to acknowledge a publication error about which I informed them.  I have identified five errors, most recently a report on a United Kingdom government Covid-19 employment subsidy reported as being paid in Euros, not Pounds.  See and scroll down to Looking to Britain.

            Other reported errors include:

The use of interbank exchange rates minus 2% for estimating tourist costs while traveling abroad by numerous article in the Sunday Travel section;

A report in the March 1, 2020 Sketchbook that the MEV-1 satellite repair vehicle will latch onto the Intelsat 901 bird for a few day and not the anticipated five years; see;;;

The failure to update national average gas prices to reflect a 30+ cent drop during the severe economic downturn as the pandemic took effect; and

The failure to update the sea water temperature chart in the weather section (a March, 2020 trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina had temps in the 60s not 50s as reported).

            The Times never acknowledged any of the mistakes.  I did have one instance where staffer, with righteous indignation, reported the use of the “official” interbank rate as discounted 2%.  I tried to explain that private travelers never get a bank rate, much less a further 2% reduction.  But of course what would I possible know that this guy did not already know?  Some time later, the Times stopped reporting the actual exchange rate used to estimate a tourist costs. 

            Over the years I have reduced by Times bucket list goal from a published op-ed, to an official correction prompted by my notification.  This small dose of humble pie reminds me of a life lesson: Lower your expectations.  Lower them a second time and be pleasantly surprised that things turn out better than anticipated.

            Good advice.

What Do Facebook and Outdoor Swimming Pools Have in Common?

            You do not have to be a public figure for someone to hack your social network account and attempt to charm your friends into doing something foolish like financially seeding a grant proposal.  It happened to me and the odds favor an impostor targeting you regardless of the likely payout.

            My experience with Instagram all but eliminates any expectation that Facebook, Twitter and others will make any significant effort in customer care.  They operate an attractive nuisance that entices us, sometimes with quite harmful outcomes.  The “bricks and mortar” equivalent are outdoor swimming pools that, without safeguards like fencing, act as a magnet for unsuspecting kids and childish adults who cannot swim while intoxicated.

            Someone with far too much time to waste found a way to access one or more contacts lists of mine, outside of Instagram, and then contact people via Instagram masquerading as me.  Some friends noticed the substandard English and the odd reference to academic grant seeking.  Perhaps having gained their trust, the impostor would hit them up for some sort of financial underwriting.

            I am glad to see that several reported this abuse to Instagram, but they purposefully and cynically dropped the ball.  No one from Instagram contacted me, not even a bot, or scripted messenger.  I still do not know if the impostor continues to masquerade as me under an account such as rmf21211.  For my part, after more effort than it should take, I found the well hidden form to fill in, presumably to launch an investigation by Instagram.  Facebook/Instagram requires a jpeg photograph of the victim holding some form of official identification.  I dutifully send a picture of me holding my passport page containing the required information to confirm I am the one being hacked.

            Instagram eventually sent me a scripted response stating that they could not start an investigation in light of the material I sent.  I resent the phot with greater pixel resolution only to receive the same rejection from the same “person.”

            I have now learned that millions of Instagram subscribers get hacked and follow the reporting protocol only to have Facebook reject the required picture, or find some other way to do nothing.  Here’s a link outlining how it is nearly impossible to get Facebook to do something constructive:

            Additionally, I foolishly thought I was corresponding with a real person who rejected my photo.  Of course it was a bot: Facebook lacks the personnel and commitment to employ enough people to resolve hacks and impersonations.  The surely have the financial resources, but consciously opt out. 

            Why?  Because Facebook management knows that most people will deal with the inconvenience and return to the fold quickly.  That probably would not happen if you got food poisoning at a bricks and mortar restaurant.  You would call and complain to a person.  You would post critical comments on web sites.  You would never return to that restaurant.

            In the world of social networking sites, Facebook has won the “winner take all” sweepstakes.  They do not have to commit sufficient resources to customer care.  They can program bots to reject complaints, particularly for someone like me who shut down his account.

            It was easy for me to throw in the Instagram towel.  I will miss the cute pictures of pets and the beautiful pictures of bread, etc.  However, I do not have years of pictures posted and fond memories associated with Instagram posts.

            Lucky me.