Well, perhaps just the good and the UGLY. Take a look at the image below, and decide for yourself which is which.
(Of course, I mean "ugly" in the nicest, sincerest, creepiest way.)
As I have mentioned in several previous blog posts, my short story "Worm Herding" was selected for the Pill Hill Press compilation BUGS! And here it is. The book is available right now on Amazon. According to the publisher, it will downloadable as an e-book "late next week."
So please buy two or three copies. Just kidding. Well, sort of. And I'm certain that the owner of my favorite bookstore, the best bookstore in the entire world, an icon among icons in iconic Chagrin Falls (did I suck up enough yet?) -- who follows my blogs as closely as I follow the stock market ticker -- will order at least five for the shop.
Some days, I really do enjoy my job...specifically, the knowledge that comes from being an infosec and privacy professional. For example, here is a spam email I received at work.
In case it's hard to see, it begins:
I hope you are doing fine. I am checking in to see if you are looking for marketing and data partners/supplier. We are providing b2b and b2c lists with email addresses and other information worldwide. We have 40 million b2b and 250 million b2c records across the world with their email addresses and other details. Here are some of the lists
Chief Executive Officer - CEO Email List 85,000 499 USD Chief Financial Officer - CFO Email List 56,000 429 USD
Though I'm getting ahead of myself, there is a certain irony in the fact that this clown is spamming me with an email to sell me the tools to spam others.
Here was my reply to him:
What a fascinating email.
It's fascinating, because it appears as though have no idea what the Federal CAN-SPAM Act requires of commercial email messages. It mandates (among other things) that:
1. The subject line reflect the content of the message. (I don't think"New Databases" counts.) 2. You include a valid street address. (I don't see one.) 3. You tell recipients how to opt-out of future annoying correspondence from you. (I don't see that either.)
I'm sure that the Federal Trade Commission (CC'd on this email) can fill you in on the rest of the details, including fines and penalties.
What an amazing episode of "Castle." (I was going to say, "awesome," but I'm a grown man.) The writers really worked a tightrope, teetering between dark and light. You had Slaughter's rough-housing of suspects and informants, balanced by Esposito and Ryan seeking favors from Castle in exchange for their help. The final scene, with Castle and Alexis racing for the ice cream, let us end on an up beat.
First of all, give a ton of credit to Adam Baldwin for his portrayal of Detective Ethan Slaughter. He was intense. (Though at the end, when she confronted Vales, Beckett showed that she could be intense, too.) As over-the-top as Slaughter was, the character easily could have been a caricature. Credit Baldwin for not letting that happen.
They gave him so many juicy lines:
- The aforementioned disparaging of "awesome."
- "I'm guessing 32s?" (Complemented by the camera panning up from the bullets to the medical examiner's...)
- "You got a skirt that says 'writer' on it, too?"
- "Real man land."
Two scenes stand out in my mind as being particularly engrossing and entertaining. First, Beckett's scene with "Counselor Worf" was great. Have you noticed that in her early therapy sessions, she sat and hugged herself, and now she paces and gestures? But the best was the entire scene in McCrawley's Bar when Castle:
1. Yells "NPYD" (yes, that's what he said) and then nearly get trampled.
2. Has his fight with Shea, all the while Slaughter is calmly holding Brian Reilly (the victim's father) at gunpoint and cracking peanuts.
3. Knocks out Shea with a beer bottle and, rather than make some sort of macho gesture, faints.
4. And (though it was not quite the same scene) struts into the precinct like he was a member of the Magnificent Seven.
Which leads us to "the looks."
- Beckett's disbelieving stare at Castle's triumphant entrance.
- The medical examiner's panicked "no" nod when Castle asked to ride along with Slaughter.
- Slaughter's glare when Castle offered him a cappuccino.
Though Slaughter would be too much as a regular, I certainly hope they bring him back for at least one curtain call.
I generally use this space to talk about writing. But as many of you know, my day job is as an infosec pro for a major bank. Occasionally, I come across something interesting in the world of cyber- (or not cyber-) crime.
Here is an example of the latter. The italics are mine.
ABA-Backed Bill Introduced to Repeal Outdated ATM Disclosure House Financial Services Committee members Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) on Tuesday introduced an ABA-supported bill (H.R. 4367) that would protect banks from frivolous lawsuits by repealing the outdated requirement that a placard must be attached to ATMs stating that a fee may be charged.
The placard disclosure is duplicative because the actual fee also appears on the ATM video monitor before the transaction is completed. But if the placard isn’t attached, Regulation E (Electronic Funds Transfer Act) permits successful class-action plaintiffs to recover the lesser of $500,000 or 1 percent of the ATM operator's net worth plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
As a result, some people have removed placards, photographed ATMs without them and filed lawsuits. In a February letter, ABA and six other trade groups asked the House Financial Services and Senate Banking Committees to pass a bill repealing the placard requirement because such lawsuits were growing precipitously and could reduce both the number of ATMs and consumer convenience.
While I don't condone criminal activity--in fact, it's part of my job to prevent it--I have to admit that there is a certain amount of clever malfeasance behind this scam.
Since it's Tax Day here in the U.S., I thought this would be timely...
A few weeks back, agent Rachelle Gardner posted a blog entitled "Writers And Taxes." Being that I'm pretty handy with finances, I felt compelled to offer a comment. One of the things Rachelle said was that you (we) should treat writing as a business. I thought back, and realized that around December of 2010 I did, in fact, make conscious decision to do just that. I have been using financial software -- first Microsoft Money and then Quicken -- for nearly two decades. But I realized that in order to make my writing a business, I needed to add the right "stuff" to Quicken.
I thought I'd put together some suggestions which have worked for me. Please pick and choose what works for you,
At the risk of stating the biggest oversimplification ever, you can make it as simple or as complex as you want to; just don't make it more complex than you need. For example, I've had a home office for years, so I already had a category called "Home Office Utilities." But, I had it broken out into several subcategories: electrical, water, phone, etc. Then I realized that the IRS doesn't care how much the phone bill is, how much electric bill is. They just care about utilities. So I changed it to "Writing Expenses:Home Office:Utilities," and assigned them all to that one. (If you don't use categories much, let me point out that the "top level" category is "Writing Expenses," with "Home Office" being a sub and "Utilities" being a sub of the sub.) Here is a screen shot of my Writing Expenses categories.
If you "tell" Quicken it's tax-related, the application will present the Schedule C Tax Line Item; you select it once, and then come Tax Time, you know what goes on Form 8829. Then, when you go to OfficeMax and buy some printer toner and paper, in your credit card's "register," you can choose the correct category, "Writing Expenses:Home Office:Supplies." Something to be aware of: Quicken tries to be "helpful" and make logical guesses for you. So for example, if the last time you went to the post office -- to mail a book to someone -- you put in Advertising Expenses as the category, the next time you go to the post office -- simply to buy stamps -- Quicken will automatically fill in the same category. I wouldn't call it a problem. You just have to be aware of it.
I guess I'm making a big assumption here...that you, at minimum, have Quicken set up to record your checking account spending and (as I do) to also download transactions from your credit card companies' online sites. If you don't, it's something to look into. But even if you don't...
Another Quicken feature to leverage are accounts, specifically cash accounts. I have created one called "Other Business Expense." (As an aside, I also have a cash account for "Other Medical Expenses" for health care expenses paid for with cash, and one for "Charitable Cash Or Item Donations" for donations which are not paid with a check or credit card.)
There's not that much to the "Other Business Expense" account, as you can see.
In most cases, for me, the entries in this account are "Writing Expenses:Home Office:Advertising," which is another way of saying, "I gave a book to someone in the hope that he would review it." To go into a little more detail, on the day that I mail it, I enter it in the register, and in the memo field I say one copy of Haunting Valley to John Smith, along with the value of the book. And, for that date, there will be a corresponding entry in the credit card register for the postage used to send it. It's a nice backup. Though books are the most common entry in this account, if (for example) I were at a conference and paid cash for coffee and cab fare, I could enter it here. At the end of the year, I add an entry to zero it out and start again.
There is an option you can choose so as to have these accounts not be part of your net worth. So in other words, the $200 you spent over the course of a year sending out books does not get subtracted from your overall account balances. Again, it's not a big deal. It's just something you can do in Quicken. Go to Tools / Account List. Scroll down to it, and click on the check box for "Don't include this account in net worth total."
One of the reasons that good record-keeping is important -- something I mentioned in my comment on Rachelle's blog -- is that you must make sure to pay at least 90% of your taxes during the year they were earned, as opposed to "squaring up" the following April 15. So if you normally get a pretty good refund, and only earn a few hundred dollars, you're probably safe. But if you earn a lot of royalties and usually don't get a refund, you will need to pay taxes on the amount earned quarterly. So for that reason, you will want to create one or more INCOME categories to go with your expense categories
and log your sales. Then, it's a fairly simple matter (a discussion for a future post, perhaps) to create quarterly income report.
A few weeks back, I listened to the Lana Del Rey album, "Born To Die," with the thought that I could review it in this space. But to be honest, I was less than impressed with the disk. If I were writing a CD review for a magazine or e-zine, well, that would be my honest assessment. But since this is my blog, I thought, Do I really want to devote an entry to saying, "It's so-so." So I had put aside the idea. But I kept coming back to it because of that song...
To this day, I can still remember the first time I heard Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (As an aside, we all know the original; have you ever heard the Tori Amos cover of it?) It made that much of an impact on me. And, I can say the same thing about Del Rey's "Video Games." (In fact, in both cases, I was driving in my car; the difference is that now I have a cell phone, which allowed me to call the radio station and say, "Who is this?")
Since, as I've stated in several previous posts, I don't listen to commercial radio stations, I don't know if the song is getting widespread airplay. So if you have not yet heard the song, find it and listen to it. (Or, just keep reading.)
There are so many adjectives I could use to describe "Video Games." Bittersweet. Magnificent. Mesmerizing. But I think "haunting" is the best. The song just grabs you, and stays with you. The musical arrangement is complex. Lyrics like "Take that body downtown" and "I say you the bestest," I simply adore. And her drawling vocal delivery is so dreamy. In fact, the latter is one of the things I would point out were I doing a full disk review: when she sings in her "girly voice," hit fast forward; but when she uses her lower range...wow!
The video is captivating as well. (And I think she borrowed Angelia Jolie's AND Steven Tyler's lips.)
There is a lot of talk these days in both the traditional media and cyberspace about targeted ads. I'm sure you've heard of them, but perhaps you are not exactly sure what targeted ads are. Forgive me if it seems like I'm questioning your intelligence; since I work as a privacy professional, targeted ads are something that I read about every day.
So if you don't know, as the name implies, targeted advertising strives to serve you online ads that are geared toward your tastes, based on your prior browsing habits. The end result, the folks paying the bills hope, is that the ad you see will resonate with you, and you'll buy the product.
For some people there is a certain "ick" factor. They worry that if they surf to a "bad site," they'll get advertisements for "bad things." First of all, those kinds of sites don't advertise on NewYorkTimes.com or Yahoo. Putting that aside, there are benefits to targeted ads. After all, if you're taking a trip to, for example, Boston, would you rather see an ad for a restaurant in Boston, or for a car?
Personally, I'm not sure how big of a threat targeted ads are. After all, as I often say, I can ignore a targeted ad just as easily as I can ignore a regular ad. And, consider the e-mail I got this week. Seeing it makes me think that their targeting systems are not as quite accurate as some people fear.
Those of you who know me know that nothing I do in life -- and therefore on the web -- should make an advertising bot "think," This is a good one to show Seese. I know he'll click through, and we'll earn money. In fact, you can see it appeared twice. So they're really off the mark.
Wow! We actually got to watch "The Limey" the day after it aired. How rare is that?
So what did I think of this episode? As I said last week, I knew that the focus would be the Castle-Beckett relationship; but, to keep true to form they have to throw in a murder. So, it was kind of like a soap opera. (I'm trying to come up with a clever pun -- "Precinct Place" or "All My Castle" -- but it's just not working. Yes, there is "Ryan's Hope" But it's not about him.)
The simple fact that Beckett and Lanie had a heart-to-heart at the beginning told you that she was looking for something other than a killer. I mean, really, when has Beckett girl-talked with anyone? And there were the not-so-subtle snips that both Castle and Beckett shared with Colin:
He said, "Sometimes it’s the people that we think we know best that we don’t really know at all."
She said, "...hanging on, hoping he'll change..."
Or, consider that the average case usually has...what...3, 4, 8 suspects, all with motive, all with opportunity, and none guilty (save for one) yet providing a subtle clue that leads the gang to the real murderer. In this case, there was one real suspect: Nigel. Heck, Biggie Slim wasn't even considered a suspect for more than two minutes. (By the way, I thought that Beckett said they were going to bring in his driver to confirm his alibi. How did that work out? Sorry.)
Still, there were a lot of very enjoyable moments in this episode. And some of them didn't even involve Stana Katic in her backless black gown.
I thought the opening scene was well done. There was the intense guitar music overlaying the quick cuts between Colin searching the body, and images of the body; then there was the tension generated by the maid searching for the right key, about to walk in.
I liked that Beckett was conflicted, and expressed that to Lanie.
"You're crazy about him. Oh, what, was that supposed to be some big secret?"
There also was a lot more humor than had been on display in "47 Seconds."
Even as a guy, I laughed at Castle's chivalrous covering of Beckett's eyes when Colin dropped the towel. (And her curious peek around.)
And you had to love Castle's plan to break into Nigel's apartment. "...then I rappel down the side with Nikolai..." Plus, extra points for the exchange with Esposito:
"Question. Why does the brown man got to be the hobo?"
"You want the flowers?"
"Hobo it is."
I thought that Colin did a great job with his faux-Texas accent when he visited the storage facility at JFK. Plus, I found it amazing that he could talk with a foreign (to him) accent (actor Brett Tucker is from Melbourne, Australia), fall back to his "own" accent (which, as it turns out, really isn't his own) when talking to Beckett, be in constant motion while looking over the boxes, and appear concerned the whole time. I suppose that's why he's an actor, and I'm a writer.
And, of course, there were looks: Beckett's aforementioned glance around Castle's protective hand, and Castle's amused "No," when Beckett said, "You showed the stewardess our evidence?"
Oh, and if I may boast...
In my review of "Til Death Do Us Part," I speculated that Lanie and Esposito would be getting back together. It appears that they have, at least at the "bootie call" level.
From what I hear, we have to wait for two week for our next "Castle" fix. Until then, feel free to share your thoughts.
Writers are used to hearing "no" a lot, as in "Thank you for your submission, but NO!" When we get a "no" that includes constructive criticism, or even sincere encouragement, we're thrilled. And when we get something like this...
Just about one month ago, I posted an entry about agent (and faithful blogger) Janet Reid, who decided to celebrate the publication of Unraveling by debut author Liz Norris by sponsoring a contest. We were asked to send in a work of fiction. Up for grabs:
1. Registration for the Backspace Writing Conference in New York, May 24-26
2. Hotel for three nights (Thurs, Fri, Sat)
3. Travel stipend of $300
4. Lunch with Liz Norris' agent
In short, 100% good.
Janet has been providing updates along the way. Some were a little discouraging, though helpful, as she basically smacked us down (nicely) for poorly named document titles and poorly formatted docs. I'm sure I speak for my writing brethren when I say her comments ultimately will help us. But seeing them made us think (and repeatedly post), "Uh-oh!"
As we read the entries it's clear it's not a question of sorting good from bad. Every entry has merit...every writer who entered is a good writer. The entries don't resemble the slush at all. They resemble finalists in writing contests I've judged over the years for MWA and RWA chapters.
Wow! Even though there only will be one winner, how can we not be totally psyched by her words? In previous posts, I've talked about "why I write." This is one of the reasons that I write.
If you want some insight into how grateful we are, stop by this post and read our comments.
IMHO, this week's episode of "Castle" served primarily to forward the Castle-Beckett relationship story arc. Look no further than the fact that at the end of the previous week's show, the previews focused on that ("I remembered every detail!" "She remembered?"), and at the end of "47 Seconds," the previews for "The Limey" showed Beckett and Lanie talking about "them" as well. That's OK. Characters need grow and change to stay interesting.
I'm sure a lot of folks felt this would be "it." But of course, you knew that when Castle sat down to tell Beckett exactly how he felt, something would interrupt.
I thought this was a fairly dark episode. There wasn't much levity. Perhaps the funniest exchange occurred when Castle said that he thinks the Captain is "starting to like me" and she replied, "No, I'm not."
I was happy to see the return of West Side Wally ("You know I prefer West Side"). I like recurring characters like that.
And there were very few "looks." In fact, no humorous glances come mind. Beckett smiled appreciatively when she saw Castle leading Alexis out. And you could see a smidge of confusion / realization crossing Becket's face when they were interrogating the TV reporter, and Castle made reference to lies. But other than that...
Speaking of which, in terms of solving the crime, this episode reminded me of a previous one, "Til Death Do Us Part." There were a lot of leads. Some seemed ironclad (primarily Andrew Haynes, the anti-protester). But then in the last five minutes Castle does a lightning-speed recap of the facts, which leads to a suspect who hadn't even been on the radar.