Your task this month, dear readers, is to determine which news is real and which news is fake. That’s a skill that will be increasingly valuable in the coming years. No hints will be given.

Those wishing to complain that I write this column every year will be directed to a possibly-real, or possibly-fake, website that will erase your hard drive, steal your passwords and sign you up for every teenage fan and/or clothing magazine ever created. You were warned.

1. Enough people will finally realize that Microsoft does not call you because “we have detected a problem,” and that scam will finally die. OK, so that’s a fantasy, but maybe, just maybe, those of us who keep screaming into the wind that “Microsoft doesn’t call you” will be vaguely heard. Repeat after me: “It’s a scam!” When someone calls you and starts the conversation in that manner, the only proper response is to scream that into their ear and slam down the phone so hard you worry if you broke it. It’s the same deal for that pop-up window in the corner of your screen that has an 800 number and tells you that “you need to call now.” Or that little picture of someone on a phone that attaches itself to the upper corner of your regular windows.

They’re scams, folks. For Lord’s sake, do not call — and for Heaven’s sake, do not allow them to remotely take control of your computer, unless you wish to be plagued forever by shuck and jive artists. Run a decent anti-malware program, like MalwareBytes, and clean off the source yourself. It’s free (no need to pay a huckster) and you will help rid the world of people who prey on vulnerable people. It’s a scam. It’s a scam. It’s …

In a related item, I have heard of one person who, upon realizing s/he’d been had, cancelled the charge on the credit card. The scammers came in through the backdoor they’d installed and erased the drive. If you do cancel, make sure you’ve removed access by anything like Cisco Remote before you pull the plug. It’s a jungle out there.

2. Google+ will die. OK, so it has about 360 million users, but Facebook (which it was going to kill. Remember that?) has 1.1 billion. Discount the number of Google employees who use it or face termination and it would be far smaller. It reminds me of Ashley Madison, the famous “cheating” website, which was hacked only to reveal that the vast majority of women on the site were Ashley Madison employees using fake logins to tempt men to stay subscribed.

3. Every company in the U.S., and later the world, will somehow merge with every other company. As the antitrust division of the Justice Department is ordered to open a snowball stand in order to “stay out of the way,” we will see AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast and Microsoft finally fuse into “ATTCYFTTW,” otherwise known as “A Time to Comcast Your Fate to the Windows.”

4. In keeping with No. 3 above, expect that concepts such as Net Neutrality (prohibiting favored or paid sites to gain faster web access speeds) or the recent Federal Communications Commission ruling limiting Internet service providers’ ability to sell your browsing and location information, will be toast. After all, business has always had the ability to properly regulate itself. Look for the return of derivatives of derivatives of derivatives being sold as Class A investments to widows and orphans, as well.

5. Bread and circuses will be revived as proper government functions — or maybe just circuses (and the elephants will definitely be making a comeback). After all, the new appointee for the head of the Small Business Administration is the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, who has a video showing her kneeing an announcer in the groin in the ring and pronouncing: “You’re fired!” That’s probably what got her the appointment.

Oh, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, noted as a prospective leader of the U.S. Department of Energy, did a gig on “Dancing With the Stars.” Next, the Oval Office gets a disco ball.

6. Chatbots will attempt to infect your Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook Messenger feeds. A chatbot is what it sounds like: a robot made to sound like a person chatting with you, using artificial intelligence to create human sounding phrases. Microsoft had one named Tay that it had to take down when real users manipulated it to start broadcasting offensive and racist messages. Unfazed by this, it has just launched a new one called Zo, which is being piloted now.

The real purpose of chatbots, which is no surprise, is to spread advertisements. After all, anti-spam legislation only applies to emails; chatrooms, forums or other feeds are unregulated. Joy.

So, looking forward to 2017? In the immortal words of John Belushi: “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.” Cheers.

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing, and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and other techno-wienie things — when not contemplating immortal words. He may be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are available online at