Monday, September 30, 2013

Security Stupidity

We see the ads constantly for LifeLock, Norton, and the others. Secure your computer, your data.

Yeah, yeah.  I don't have anything of value. If somebody comes in and steals my identity, maybe they can make a better go of it than I have.


I sat down to my computer at 10pm on Tuesday night.  Surprise!  I got an email from China stating that my purchase had been declined and I should re-attempt it.  HUH?  The next email was form PayPal stating that the payment had been made. WHAT?  Next email was from the person in China again, but this time it was a thank you for my purchase.  WTF??

Not using any of the links in the emails, I opened a new browser window and checked my PayPal account. As expected, the balance was zero, just as it was suppose to be BUT there was a payment made only about 30 minutes earlier -- and to China.  It wasn't a huge sum but a tidy sum and more than I had in my bank account.

OMG!  PayPal had taken the money to pay this person from my checking account and now I was over-drafted.  Not good.  Not good, at all.

A panic call to PayPal and the worst nightmare was confirmed.  My money was in China.

After a lengthy discussion with an agent I was passed to a security person at PayPal.  First step - change my password.  Done!

Now I am patiently waiting the outcome of this endeavor.  I have claimed it to be an unauthorized purchase.  PayPal will validate my claim.  We wait.

Bottom line.  Change your passwords at least every 90 days.  I'd let my password for PayPal remain the same since I joined ... oh so many years ago.  Plus, my email password was the same as the day I set it up back in the early 90s.

I always assumed I didn't have anything anyone would want and jokingly would say "I ain't got nothing and they're welcome to it."  Well, somebody obviously took me up on my offer and took it.

Today I went to the bank, bright and early, to start the process there.  Not much to do but hang in there.  Came home and spent a lot of time going through my files to see what passwords I should change.  At first my thought was "just the important ones" but then realized, even the lesser ones have stuff to sell and whoever had my password, could use it to purchase something.  So I'm changing passwords where I can remember them.

That's the horror about passwords.  You're not suppose to use the same password for every place.  Really? I go to 73 locations -- I need 73 different passwords and remember who has which one?

Obviously somebody got into my computer and retrieved my passwords.  I have now removed my passwords, changed them, and no longer let my computer save the passwords for me.  HACKERS!!

I may just have to be more discreet on which sites I sign up for and need a password to access.

The above is just a word to the wise...

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reader Peeves

I'm a writer and hopefully, some will consider me an author.  I love to write and I also read books by other authors.  Sometimes I don't like what I read.  Trust me, that is not a sacrilege!

For instance, I read a fantasy. It was one of those "quest" types where a group go on a journey to gain/claim something of value and in the meantime, learn about themselves.  I was enjoying the story - a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, a knight and of course, a page.  The group encountered many chills and thrills.  As I continued to read, I started to notice that the end of the book was nearing quickly page by page.  I got nervous. "Don't tell me this a series!"  I quickly checked.  It wasn't.  Whew!  Finally they reached the destination and the wizard went to fight the bad wizard. The bad wizard is overcome by the good wizard and the item needed was retrieved.  Up to this point it had been a good book but there are like only a few pages left. And now this motley group needed to get home.  The wizard raises his hands over his head, claps them together three times and in a magical whirlwind, carries the group home where they discover the page is actually the lost son of the king, the elf is a princess and they marry.  Uh, the end?

I felt cheated.  If the wizard could transfer them so easily why the hell did I read 200 pages of trials and tribulations to get them to the bad wizard's lair?  None of the group fought the opposing wizard - it was wizard on wizard.  Other than the group fighting to get the wizard to the bad wizard's castle, they were of no other use.  So why didn't the wizard just whisk himself to the other wizard's domain, take care of business and call it another day at work? Why the long journey?  Why the quest at all other than to make a story?

When I was writing one of my books, my critique group reviewed it and the general consensus was: you're cheating the reader. You tease with a battle three separate times and it never culminates.  I was told battle scenes were like sex.  There is foreplay.  I had three sessions of such "foreplay" and then walked out of the room leaving the partner (reader) still wanting.  My choices were simple - either have a battle scene or trash the book.  I added the battle scene and was really glad it wasn't a sex scene!  Whew!  Of course, that was another point of discussion but I wasn't writing a romance novel and saw no reason to add anything beyond a touch, glance or the hint of a tryst.

Another pet peeve I discovered is formulaic writing. You start reading and quickly realize A->B->C and know who the killer is and why by the second chapter.  My friend loves murder mysteries but has found he prefers books written by men vs women since they tend to kill off the ex-boyfriend and 90% of his friends right at the beginning and, of course, the killer is always the ex-girlfriend.  He claims most male authors twist things a little more to keep the reader in suspense to the end.  Those are his words, not mine.

Some readers have mentioned they despise repetition of facts. It seems to them the author is beating them over the head to make sure that one fact is definitely lodged in their brain.  Readers are smart people and don't need this over-dramatization.  Trust me, the readers get it. Authors don't need to recap everything every time.

Have you ever heard a reader say they just finished a book that didn't have an error in it?  Imagine being able to do that - read a book and not find a spelling, grammar, punctuation, dialog or plot error. Imagine the chagrin of a reader who gets involved with a lesser character who gets shot but not killed. From that point on, the character is dropped from the story.  What happened?  Did s/he survive?  A plot line dead ends and the reader is left with no resolution.

Other pet peeves of some readers were unique: banal character names, lazy beginnings, stupid plots, and fluff writing.  Banal characters.  Interesting.  Your lead is Fred.  Really?  Why is his name Fred?  It's a romance novel and Fred is the lead?  Brock, Hayne, Patrick, or even Jasper are stronger names that give a connotation of a rugged character who takes charge.  Fred?  As to lazy beginnings, I, too, despise a story that starts out with three pages of description regarding the town setting and the house where the action will take place. Is it really critical for the reader to know that the northern brick wall has moss that is trickling early morning dew?  Unless that diminutive detail is vital to the plot - a moss-covered brick wall is all the reader needs to know.

Stupid plots was one that I thought interesting. I'm sure you've read a book where a plot is inserted into the narrative and, as described by the person telling me about this pet peeve, spackled into place in an attempt to make it work.  Having and adding a plot to have a plot at that point is... well, stupid. That is on the same level as fluff writing.  Fluff writing is when the author adds a lot of extra words to the story in an attempt to increase the word count.  An example: We watched the golden sun set in an azure sky filtered with streaks of fire red, smokey purples and harvest yellows over the distant dark blue ocean horizon. Yeah, fluff.  Why not: We watched the sun set in a sky of reds, purples and yellows over a serene ocean.  Sometimes the author tries too hard to paint the image in his mind into our mind for us to see.  Readers do have imaginations, let them use it.

These are a few pet peeves that authors should take into account.  Will they?

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Truth in Waisted Words

Sometimes you read a misspelled word in an article or story and snicker because it suddenly seems more appropriate than the proper word.

I saw a sign that read:

Your An Idiot. Learn to spell. Insult correctly.

I thought it quite humorous until I was reading another article and saw "Your never wrong if..."  Huh?  What editor let that slip by?  It should have read "You're never wrong if..."  

With today's smaller texting screens and the internet with all its acronyms, it is a wonder our children even have the slightest idea of how to spell anything.  In fact, most kids today would write the following sentence much differently.  You're too funny.  It would be: UR2funny.. In a way, it's ironic -- You're becomes UR.

There are homonyms, homophones and homographs. All the same yet each is different. 

Homonyms:  Same word sound, different meanings.
      Scale:  a) Step on the scale.   b) Scale the wall.
      Fair:  a) Go to the fair.   b) It is a fair deal.

Homophones: Words that sound alike, but spelled differently
     Flour / Flower:  a) Use white flour in the recipe.   b) Roses are a pretty flower.
     Sweet / Suite:  a) Sugar is sweet.   b) The wedding suite is available.

Homographs:  Same spelling but different pronunciation and meaning
     desert:  a) The Mojave Desert is in California.   b) He would desert his friends quickly.
     bow:  a) The bow of the ship.   b) The bow on the present.

Sometimes it can get a little confusing because some words can be in more than one category.  For instance, the word 'present' can be both a homonym and a homograph.
     a)  Here is your birthday present.  (Homonym)
     b)  Today is the present, tomorrow is the future.  (Homonym)
     c)  May I present Mr. Adams?   (Homograph)
     a) The Mojave Desert is in California. (Homograph)
     b) He would desert his friends quickly. (Homograph)
     c) The dessert was delicious. (Homophone)

I feel today's youth are losing the fine lines of the English language and in doing so, losing even more of themselves. I know the English language is transitioning but are we blurring the lines?  I've noticed more ebooks available with improper spelling or usage of words.  One website that is frequented by young writers offers their scribblings and I cringe when I read improper English usage. "Where it like a blouse." "Your the one who nose." Yes, I cringed.

In my attempt to lose weight, I found that sitting around to wait for it to happen, just wasn't going to work. It was over too many years of having kids that I gained all this excess baggage.  Okay, my wife really delivered them, I was just there for moral support.  As the father of four sons, it was my job to make sure there was food on their plates.  My attitude was, I worked to earn the money and 'By George, if you aren't going to eat it, I will.'  That was the beginning of my demise.  I wasn't about to throw food away.  Unfortunately, it didn't go to waste but it did go to my waist.  Now, twenty years later, I'm trying to get rid of it.  Wish me luck.

How many homonyms, homophones and/or homographs did you find in the above true paragraph?

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Perfect Book

You've written the novel.  You've edited the crap out of it. Your friends have gone over it. Your professional editor has gone over it. You finally read it aloud for final pass. Surprisingly, you find several errors that were glossed over and correct them.

You send it off to an editor who jumps at the chance to publish your novel. Again, more edits.

Finally!  The book is printed. Perfect. Flawless.


If you think that your book will be printed and be flawless, think again.  Any writer worth their merit will agree that by going back over the novel once it is in print is pure agony and shame.  Most of them know that some glaring error is going to blaze out of the page at them.  Many authors of published books agree that the worst thing a newly published author can do is to read the book.

I didn't believe that poppycock any more than you.

OMG!  They were right!

Within just a few pages I saw errors.  Some mine, some not.

Let me step back.  To begin, the publisher and I had gone over the edits more times than either of us wished to even count.  Finally, it went to print and the publisher received a "preview" copy.  He was horrified.  The printer had called to state that there was a problem.  Seems there are more shades of black than one.  The cover had three images and text.  Surprise!  The images were on black backgrounds and yet, when placed on the full screen background of black, they appeared to blend but when broken down into their respective CMYB components.  Okay, that's when it all fell apart.  In the RGB spectrum, they were fine.  But it seemed that the black on each image had a slightly different amount of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. This made each image stand out separately from the standard background black.  With some work by the art department, the colors were corrected and all the blacks were of the same quality and shade.

As stated, we'd worked the text and massaged the edits until it was a wonderful manuscript worthy of print.


There was a spelling error, an incorrect verb tense.  Oh my!  There was POV issues, not to mention tense issues.  Error after error literally glowed on the pages as I read.

Where were these errors in the drafts?  Did the alphabet gremlins attack the work when somebody wasn't watching?  Was the final copy lost or misplaced and an older version used?

After validation that the correct version (final) was used, all I could do was what other writers do.  I moved on, started writing on my next opus, ignoring the errors.  It was done. It was over with. There was nothing I or the publisher could do.  The book was in the public eye.  In other words - Live with it!

Surprisingly, many well-known authors experience the exact same thing.  They finish their work, get it published and move on to the next project.  Some may read the printed version.  Many won't.

A writer's life is about writing.  Not strictly writing. They are also readers.  A writer who doesn't read is a writer out of touch with trends.  So, most writers are voracious readers.  Just like web designers keep up with current design trends and new tools, so must a writer.  Any tax law attorney worth their weight will be current with new laws which means they read.

So, as a writer, read.  Just don't read your stuff.  Read other authors and then work on your next manuscript.  Yes, make it perfect so the next time you're published, you won't find any mistakes.

Even the best fantasy books printed (they come out every January) which are labeled "Seed Catalogs" have errors.  Imagine my surprise when I saw "Enjoys full shade. Plant in full sun."  Now, maybe this flower does enjoy full shade, but I am not about to plant something out in the full sunlight, if the plant loves shade!   That's giving "Full Shade" a whole new meaning.  If it had been a creeper-type plant, maybe I could have bought into the idea that it moves itself to the shade after it germinates.  No, I couldn't buy that.  Just like the home I saw for sale.  It had an out building with a new 6' cement floor.  I'm sure it was supposed to be six inches, not six feet. That's a lot of cement!

Typos occur.  I'll be going back over this entry to make sure I try to clean most of them out but I already know, more than likely, something will slip through.  Enjoy the fact -- I'm human.  I make errors.  Of course, I'm still fascinated by the six foot thick floor. I've heard of "cement boots" and wonder just how many bodies are in that floor. Maybe somebody got over zealous with their work?

I'm finishing up edits on a WIP.  Just found a sentence with ".. a the man..." which we all know is wrong.  It is either "a man" or "the man" and I corrected it.  This, after several edits by me, my beta-readers, and a professional editor.  It was still there.  I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't been asked to "up the word count" and was attempting to fluff the story.  Imagine my chagrin -- I'm adding words and had to delete some.  Uh, yes, I found more than just one error.

Wow.  Maybe this will be the perfect book!  Now quit giggling... it could happen!

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Long, Lonely Writer's Journey

You've seen those looks. That special smile somebody gives you when you announce "I'm a writer." or boldly say "I'm an author." to an acquaintance.

Of course, the next words heard are: Have you written anything I may have read?

Really? You just read without looking at the author's name?  It would be like reaching up in the library, grabbing a book and saying "Oh, let me read this." If you don't know the author, how do you make the judgment to read it? Yes, sometimes a reader must pick up an unknown author but remember, the author is only unknown until read.

I may not remember every author's name of the books I've read over the years, but I do believe if I heard the name when being introduced, it would ring familiar.

A writer at a party always gets the same response, repeatedly.  "What have you written?"

But let's step back a little.  Forget that many authors are intimidated by the possibility of any type of interaction with another human.  Not really, but since we, as authors, tend to work alone, most people consider us hermits.  Trust me, we are far from the stereotype, nervous ninny who bangs away on a typewriter.

I mentioned the lonely life.  Authors work alone and therefore are considered loners.  But, in truth, we, as authors, are not alone and we don't work alone.

Think about it!

You write an article.  What is the first thing you do?  Okay, you go back over it to do edits. THEN you send it to a friend or two for their reviews and insight.  You aren't done yet.  You take the feedback and fix parts of your project. Plus, you aren't finished.  You now send it off to a professional editor - that person who will rip apart your little baby and leave you feeling like the loser in the boxing ring.  That feeling is only a fleeting moment when the edits are realistically evaluated and you decide that some of them are of actual value.  Yes, as the author, you have the right to accept and reject those edits.  Now you send the article to a publisher... or two... or three.  You get accepted and again, you deal with another editor who suggest changes that must be made.

Did you catch the two operative words in that last sentence?  Suggest?  Must?  This is the publisher and unless you can validate your reasons for not making their suggested changes, they  must be made.

So, other than in the creative process -- a writer is not alone.  A writer has anywhere from one to perhaps twenty friends to work with as the process moves forward.

Therefore, in reality, only to an outsider does a writer's life appear to be a long, lonely existence. To those in the know, we have a rich collection of friends and acquaintances whom we are in daily contact.  Maybe many of them are cyber connections but I know, in my life, several are those who I visit, relax with and discuss writing issues - theirs and mine - over a wonderful cup of coffee. (And a muffin, if I'm lucky!)

When confronted with that look of sympathy as a poor, lonely writer hermit, I can hold my head high and smile inwardly, knowing I have a wonderful existence, filled with fantastic people who share my excitement by blending words to create a marvelous work to read.

Until next I ramble on...