Return of the audio format wars and other money-making scams

JR Hartley is my bitch

Something for the Weekend, Sir? The Ripper has returned.

I never imagined such a thing would be possible after all these years. Who's the culprit? Who's the 21st century Prince Albert, Walter Sickert or Sir William Gull on whom to pin the blame?

Well this time, it's hipsters. And audiophile bores.

It appears that having spent all their money on rebuilding their music collections unnecessarily on vinyl, they have discovered to their great surprise that they can't actually listen to any of it except when they're at home. Since they spend more time in cocktail bars and microbreweries (and running down pedestrians on pavements in Hackney with their bikes, scooters and skateboards) than they spend whiling away the hours in domestic bliss, listening to their ostentatiously purchased audio formats is proving to be inconvenient.

Against all probability, this has led to the re-emergence of a software utility I thought had gone forever: the CD audio ripper. Shamelessly updated for the current century with wireless knobs on, the new-age audio ripper helps the bearded, the check-shirted, the pot-bellied and the easily impressionable generate digital audio files from vinyl records so they can be played on their smartphones and digital wearables.

The travails of belonging to Vinyl Generation Lite, eh?

Whoa, it's easy to mock. Each generation has to make its own mistakes. As it is, this one is probably baffled by the expression "ripping", as it was coined by uncool oldsters before the modern era of vowel-free app orthography. According to the accepted formula of tech startup culture (ie, same old shit + infantile spelling = disruption), it might be helpful to rename the concept with a more acceptable term such as rPngg.

As you might have guessed, when it comes to contemporary tech-speak I'm well down with the kids, daddy-o. I've even learnt to talk about smishing.

For any squares, bogus and non-bodacious reading this, allow me to explain. A smishing attack is a fraudulent message directed straight to a mobile phone, attempting to fool you into handing over some or all of your personal ID, such as bank details, logins and so on. The message states that you have won a competition you never entered and you have to send some info or cash, or both, in order to claim your winnings. It's the same as "phishing" but sent via SMS text message.

It's all the rage in India at the moment, I hear. Given that the scam is limited so far to those with Nokia mobile phones, it's unlikely to tear much of a swathe into Europe or North America just yet.

Although… hmm, Nokia handsets… Perhaps I should warn my mum.

While I was looking up smishing – hey, I do the work so you don't have to – I came across another variant called spear phishing. This means targeting very specific types of recipient with email scams on seemingly relevant topics that come across as more convincing than the usual "we am you bank" stab in the dark. An example of spear phishing would be a message intended to persuade company executives to part with their online credentials by inviting them to reschedule a meeting.

Further investigation failed to reveal any more new buzz terms for phishing variants, so I have come up with a few of my own, just in case.

  • Phly phishing: catching email recipients unawares while the chilly waters of the internet gently freeze your gonads

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  • Rock phishing: unsolicited emails from Jimmy Page
  • Bottom phishing: unsolicited emails from the CEO of Anusol
  • Skypping: surviving a phishing attack during a video conference thanks to latency problems and frequent line-dropping
  • Slashing: receiving phishing messages on Slack while in the toilet
  • Kishing: trying to snog a colleague while pissed at the office party
  • Tishing: a sound that automatically follows when you tell a dad joke
  • Clashing: Sharif don't like it
  • Wyshing: upon a star
  • Plishking: Call me Snake

OK, famous last words and all that, but I have yet to receive a phishing attack that wasn't obvious. The unlikelihood of the content; the impersonal yet over-familiar nature of the greeting; HTML email layout inspired by MySpace; spelling so utterly unconventional it would even warn off an app developer; the total lack of rudimentary grammar... The scammers may as well embed an animated GIF of the words SCAM ALERT flashing away at the top.

What worries me is that one day it will occur to an online criminal that it might be worth hiring a proofreader. This small act would likely bring about the end of all civilisation as we know it. Luckily for us, it's harder to be a robber than to be robbed, and career criminals are doubly challenged since they're as thick as pigshit.

This is in sharp contrast to the high-IQ'd audiophiles with their vinyl rPr apps, of course. All they lack is experience. The only reason for anyone wanting to purchase themselves deliberately into an obligatory yet wholly unnecessary audio-ripping scenario is that he or she never suffered the portable format wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

I'm picking up a scent of opportunity. Perhaps I could persuade hipsters to purchase portable vinyl players, at least for a couple of years, after which I'll re-introduce crappy ferrous C90 cassettes and Walkmen knock-offs. Then they can waste their weekends recording mixtapes, only to rediscover compact audio disc a few years later.

At this point I will sell them skip-prone portable CD players and ensure every new CD release is proprietary DRM-protected. That'll be followed by a revival of MiniDisc, Iomega HipZip and 32kbps MP3. Then I might re-invent a means of downloading music, possibly even streaming. After that? Easy-peasy, I'll relaunch vinyl.

Ah, such it is to be a disruptor ahead of the game.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He apologises to neophyte readers for his embarrassing choice of music video with which to close this week's column. As long-time endurance readers already know, it is a contractual obligation for Gareth Webb to make an appearance at least every six weeks. @alidabbs

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