Monthly Archives: October 2012

To Social Network, or Not to Social Network?

The Internet.  It is undeniably one of the modern world’s greatest inventions, and the main source of information gathering for many people.  It is also a daily mode of communication, along with text messaging.  Even though we have phones with us all day, it seems as if phone calls are an old-fashioned anomaly, a relic of a by-gone era.  In this day and age, it is as if every man, woman, and child – from toddlers to senior citizens – has technology at their fingertips.

Of course, in an article about the Internet, I would be remiss to not mention The social network of all social networks.  After all, whether you like it or not, Facebook is a part of our every day lives; it has even changed the way we speak: since Facebook, the word “friend” has now become a verb, i.e. “I need to friend her.” The advent of Facebook took place when I was in my first year of university.  I remember when a friend of mine with whom I went to high school, and subsequently college asked me if I had “The Facebook” during one of our breaks from class.  Prior to that, I had never even heard of the site.  She told me all about it, how you could add friends and people you knew, write a message to someone on his/her page, post photos, and provide information about yourself to others by listing your answers to the questions asked in the “about me” section.  I told her it sounded interesting, so she told me she would send me an invitation by email.

That night, I signed up for “The Facebook.”  During Facebook’s infancy, a user was required to be a university student.  It was further limited to only elite schools.  I filled out the required information, and quickly had myriad friends on my little piece of Internet acreage.

When I first filled out my “about me” section, I didn’t realize the power of what I was showing others.  Since then, I have grown a few years older and wiser.  I have also become very intrigued about Internet privacy and security.  Owe it to being overprotective of my younger family members, but what younger children are able to do on the Internet is baffling to me.  It is so different than even 10 years ago.  I do have a Facebook account, which is used mostly to keep up with family and old friends, as I’ve moved quite far from where I grew up.  Apart from being able to search my name and see my current profile photo, you won’t see much else.  With the rise of people having access to Facebook, it unnerves me how much anyone can find out about your personal information.

Lately, I’ve started using Facebook to promote my writing.  Soon, I will create a public profile so that I won’t expose friends and family to unwanted Internet traffic.  I have to admit, it disconcerts me to see that there are not higher security guidelines for social media – especially since teenagers and children are so lax with their security settings, and pedophiles, hate groups, and other unpleasant people (for lack of a better term…), can so easily access the Internet and these accounts.

For example, as I mentioned before, one used to need a university email account to access Facebook.  Now, I have seen kids as young as eight – EIGHT – have an account.  These eight-year-olds, especially if not monitored by a parent (what parent would let a child have an account is beyond me, but that’s another story), have no idea that what they put on their pages, be it photos, phone numbers, or statuses, can easily be accessed by anyone – chiefly, those unwanted and unpleasant individuals that I wrote of earlier – in the world.  Teenagers are even worse.  Because they work so hard to fit in and be “popular,” forget any security at all.  I have seen it in my own family, and I just have to shake my head.  I have seen “friend” lists of 3,000 people and higher.  Who in this world knows 3,000 people well enough to consider them all friends?  I have challenged friends (real life, human, friends) with 500 people on their accounts to tell me how they knew all of them.  Needless to say, they failed.  And these were very popular and well-liked peers of mine. 

It’s not just Facebook, though.  Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest are culprits just to name a few.  Just the other day, I read an article about some children in the U.S. who used XBOX’s online feature to communicate with an adult they did not know, and have disappeared.  As far as I know, it has been a week, and there is still no trace of them.  Interviews with the parents revealed that they knew their children played games online, but didn’t bother monitoring them – even though their children previously had similar “disappearances.” 

I don’t have children yet, so I can’t critique parenting with a fair view.  However, based on stories like these – they seem to be a dime a dozen these days – and having experience in the law enforcement field, I would monitor my children’s Internet usage carefully, making safeguards that deny access to certain sites, and continually educate myself with the new technology so that when they figure out how to bypass (the safeguards), they will be blocked yet again.  Furthermore, my future children may deem me as “lame,” but forget about Facebook and a mobile phone until I feel that they are mature enough to have them.  They want to speak with their friends (notice I write speak, actual human contact)?  They will be more than welcome to use the telephone.  Honestly, what will my (hypothetical) five-year-old be doing during the school day that would require her to take a break and text message someone?

My point here is not to say that the Internet and Facebook – or any social media – are “the devil.”  They aren’t.  They are things made with good intentions that have been, and are being, used by the wrong hands.  I just believe that higher security standards need to be made, or reinstated (i.e. Facebook’s past practices), and parents need to educate themselves, stay abreast with new technology, and monitor their children when they use these things. 

Let’s not forget that they can also talk to their children about consequences and dangers of the Internet and what they put out there for everyone to view.  I mean, really talk to them – don’t send them a text message about it.  Explain to them that even if they delete a less-than-complimentary photo, it’s never really deleted, and future employers may be able to see it.  

Like I said, it’s not all bad.  I have Facebook, Twitter, obviously WordPress, another writing account, and an Instagram.  All except Facebook, where my security settings are high, are open to anyone.  However, I am also an adult, aware that whatever I post is public domain.  And I’m using them to build my brand an market myself – something they were originally intended to do.




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The Message

    Afton came home from work after a long day on the job, pulling up to her house like any normal day.  Carrying her things in her arms, she stepped out of her car and around to the side door of the garage and locked it behind her.  She walked up to her front door, and her heart sank instantly.  It was ajar.  Being a police officer in Melbourne for the past five years, she instinctively reached for her holstered weapon.

     She entered her home tactfully, checking every closet, the shower, and any hiding place she could think of.  Checking under her bed, she let out a deep breath of relief and smiled.  She didn’t realize that she had been holding it in subconsciously out of anxiety until just then.  She slid her body halfway under her bed, pulling herself by her elbows, doing a sort of army crawl.  “Come on, girl, come on,” she called her dog.  “Let’s go girl, do you want a cookie?”  That was all she needed to say to get her out from under her refuge.  She must have hid under there when whoever it was was here.  After she gave the promised treat to her dog, Afton then began to go through the papers scattered everywhere.  This task was particularly annoying, as she always kept a meticulously clean house.  It would take at least a couple hours to sort and put all this away – something that took maybe just 15 minutes to mess up.

     “Nothing taken,” she said to herself.  Her safe, tucked away in the back of her closet, hadn’t been touched.  This person wasn’t after her important documents, her passport, and the stash of money she kept in case of an emergency.  There were no signs that it had even been tampered with.  Same with her desk.  Disturbed, yes, but nothing stolen.

     She picked up her phone and called the station.  They had advised her that an officer would be there shortly to take a report.  She asked if they would send Sean, her former partner of three years and first trainee.  She was just out of training school, and he was fresh out of the academy when they had been paired together.  She trusted him (which was hard to get from her), and wanted no one but him to do this for her.  As she went to return the phone to its receiver, she noticed a blinking light on the base.  She had three messages.  She pressed the button to play them.  The first was a dinner invitation from her older sister.  They had been trying to repair their relationship after years of a difference in beliefs.  “Alright, next one,” she thought, skipping her verbose sister’s invite. It was Afton’s friend.  She listened intently.  “I mean, of all the gin joints in the world!  There she was at Cotton On!  She had the nerve to talk to me, like you two were still together, like nothing happened and she never cheated.  She still can’t believe you broke up with her.  That snake of a-“.

     “Enough of that,” Afton decided, skipping to the final one.  This message scared her more than anything she had ever encountered in her five years of law enforcement.  It was a deep and raspy voice.  An inhuman voice, maybe someone speaking through one of those voice changers.  “Like the mothman,” she said aloud and shivered.  That movie had creeped her out. 

     The voice said “we are coming.”  A chill ran down her spine, but it wasn’t from the cold of the crisp July air.  The hair on the back of her neck began to stand up.  Suddenly, though she was a bit embarrassed to admit it, she was very uncomfortable being there by herself.  She was a police officer, after all, and she’d lived on her own since university.  But this was scary.  She looked at the time.  The minutes seemed like hours.  She was anxious for Sean to get there.  “Really, what’s taking him so damn long?” she wondered to herself.  Sean had been to her place tons of times.  He should be able to zip there from anywhere. 

     The phone rang.  Afton jumped back, startled.  Thinking it was one of her comrades, she answered it.  “Hello?” she said.  There was no voice.  It just sounded like static.  “Hello?” she asked once again.  Finally, just as she was about to hang up, the raspy voice broke through.  Again, it uttered the same message: “We are coming.”

     She slammed down the phone, and then picked it back up, planning to call the station to give them an update.  She put the phone to her ear.  There was nothing – no dial tone, no noise.  The lines must have been cut.  “Damn.”

     She thought she heard something outside, but there was no sign of a cruiser or Sean.  Next thing she knew, there was a knock at the door.  “Maybe he’s parked where I can’t see him,” she thought.  She opened the door.  Instantly, the pallor of her face changed from a youthful, young pink that had a glow about it to a ghostly white, devoid of all life.  It was like a bag of flour had been dumped on her.  Her eyes were the size of half dollars, and her mouth hung open like a cavernous hole.  In front of her stood a person in a simple mask.  Small round cut outs for eyes, and a thin strip at the mouth.  She immediately reached for her gun.  It wasn’t there.  She had left it on the counter.  “Great, what a time to start a bad habit,” she cursed herself in her mind.  She pulled her mobile out of her pocket.  The person just stood there, staring at her, let her put the phone to her ear, and then smacked it out of her hand.

     She stood still in shock.  Was this really happening?  Then she heard a bark and the tapping of her dog’s claws on the wood floor.  Her dog ran to the door, the masked figure making way for her and letting her pass.  Knowing she wouldn’t be so lucky, and not knowing what else to do, Afton ran for a window.  She saw what looked like the same figure, only a different build, outside it.  She went to another, then another.  It was the same at every outlet.  The side door.  The back door.  All with these people in simplistically terrifying masks.  And still no Sean or a cruiser.


21/10/2012 · 4:31 PM

Dollars and Sense

How much do you pay for coffee every morning?  Five dollars?  Seven Dollars?  And then, of course, you tip your caffeine dealer, right?  How long did it take that barista to make your drink?  Five minutes, perhaps, and if it is a busy day, add just a few more minutes.  You’re out the door and on your way, ready to start the day on the right foot. 

Now, let’s take a moment to calculate how long you are going to enjoy that hot beverage.  If you drink it in half an hour, you are sipping between 17 and 23 cents a minute if you pay between five and seven dollars, respectively.  Let’s say you nurse it for one full hour.  That is still eight to 12 cents every minute. 

Our society says breaking the bank for designer java is perfectly acceptable, but paying 10 bucks for a book is ludicrous.  And the author who wrote that book took much longer than five or 10 minutes to get it on that shelf.

It takes a lot of hard work – and money – to publish a book.  Step into the life of a writer.  Let us go to step one: the author’s (that’s your) head.  This is where it all begins.  Somewhere, somehow, you get an original idea, a spark of imagination, then the writing bug catches you.  You write vehemently for weeks.  Then, you inevitably hit that proverbial wall.  Sometimes, you can sit for hours and can only think of a few lines to put to paper.  It keeps you up at night, this block.  Sooner or later, you break through it, and, months later, you have it: the first draft of the manuscript.

After you break out and guzzle down that bottle of champagne, reality kicks in: you must edit it.  You look over it, fix the little grammatical errors, and change a thing or two here and there.  After that, you may look to a friend to review it and see what he or she thinks needs tweaking.  Voila!  It’s a masterpiece, right?  It is now time to share your brilliance with the world.  Not so fast.  You have to find an agent.  Very few publishers, if any, accept any works without agent representation.  You have to research and find an agent who represents the kind of work you have written.  Then you must query the agent.  This query usually includes a synopsis of the author’s work, and gives reasons as to why it should be published.  We will assume you get accepted by an agent (this process can be terribly lengthy, as some agents do not even consider writers who are not published), and he or she asks for a sample of your manuscript.

The sample you send to your agent is typically about the first three chapters of the manuscript.  If the agent likes what he or she reads, then the agent will ask for the entire manuscript.  The agent will now represent you, and submit and pitch the manuscript for publishing companies.  If you are a relative unknown, this part of the process can also be lengthy.  But, let’s say everything runs smoothly and a publisher buys the manuscript. 

You are so excited that someone has decided to take a chance on you, you can hardly think straight.  Then, you hear the word “contract.”  This binding document has the power to decide your future – and possibly your children and grandchildren’s futures.  The smart writer would do well to hire a lawyer at this point, someone who can read the legal jibber jabber of the document to benefit them.

The publisher likes the manuscript, but the editor sees some “minor changes” that need to be made.  What you get back are red marks and notes all over your amazing piece of literary genius, with paragraphs marked out entirely, and – you can’t believe it – even an entire page or two that needs to be omitted.  After the initial shock that everything you wrote is not pure gold, you put your nose to the grindstone and improve your work.  This could happen a few times, until the editor and you are pleased with the writing.  After that, it is a matter of waiting.  Waiting for the books to be printed and shipped to stores.  Once it hits the streets, it is up to readers to pick up the book and decide whether or not to purchase it. 

So, while you hold your 23-cent-per-minute tailor made latte in one hand, complaining that 10 dollars is an outlandish amount to pay for some “stupid book” you are holding in your other hand, please consider the time, work, and money invested in making the novel.  Which price is really more ridiculous?


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Of Music and Writing or On Inspiration

The word “music” is derived from the Greek “Mousike,” which literally means “(the art) of the Muse.”

I have decided that there are two types of people in the world: hearers and listeners.

For hearers, music comes as a happy escape.  These are the sorts of people who turn on the radio and listen to whatever happens to be playing and use it as background noise.  Hearers tend to be fans of “pop” music.  You know the stuff I’m talking about – those candy-coated lyrics with no meaning behind them, polished off with the facade of a Disney star that is distributed and sold in bulk to the sheep-like masses of the everyday consumer.  Ah, capitalism.

Listeners, on the other hand, have a deeper appreciation of music.  To them, it means something more.  Listeners seek to find the special type of music that moves them to create something wonderful, whether it be their own music, a painting, or a poem.  Just like anyone, listeners can be found everywhere.  However, one particular type of the listener often comes to mind: the one who is typically tucked away in a local coffee shop that sells fair trade, organic coffee in a concrete jungle filled with high rises, or on any university campus, sitting in a quad playing guitar in between their liberal arts classes. 

As for me, I fall into the latter category.  Ever since I can remember, music was always in my life.  My father was a musician, so up until he left, there would always be some sort of melody in the house.  Usually jazz or Rat Pack.  After he left, there was not a tune to be heard.  That is, until I discovered that my father’s love of music was something he passed on to me.

I am no musician, and I have never claimed to be.  But there is something that comes over me, much like a fire spreading, when I hear a particularly beautiful song.  It is much more than just some vocals backed up by instruments.  Music reaches into the very depths of my heart, somehow turning on the proverbial light bulb in my head.

I was recently asked one of those “worst-case-scenario” questions that went something like, “If you had to lose either your sight or your hearing, which would you choose?”  While neither sense would be particularly appealing to lose, I answered that life would be very dull without music.  I did not actually answer the question directly, but it did spur the conversation.  Apparently, I did not choose the “correct” answer.

I took music classes throughout my grammar and middle school years, and often begged my mother for piano lessons and an acoustic guitar, neither of which I ever received, but have since picked them up as an adult.  What I did get were CDs and stereos. 

In high school, I started focusing more on writing.  I did not take any music classes, as I was entirely preoccupied with submitting some haphazard manuscripts to places I had never heard of.  I was disheartened when they were not accepted, but now I thank them for not publishing me.  I would hate to be associated with such hurried and ill-written work (do not even get me started with my poor character development and imitation of style).

It was not until university that I brought the two arts together.  I found that listening to music was very soothing while cramming for my exams.  Then, when I was writing a paper, I had some music on low volume.  Listening to the words, my creativity became even more vibrant.  I can’t believe it took me so long to figure that the two are an inseparable pair.

Now, that’s the only way I can write, but only to certain music.  For about the past year, I have been having an intellectual love affair with a certain singer/songwriter/all around brilliant musician.  I cannot hide it.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am talking about none other than the immensely talented Missy Higgins.  Her smart lyrics enveloped into melodious ballads are my oxygen when I go to work.  Her music floats around wherever I go, and I have managed to accomplish quite a lot while listening.  I do not know how or why I came across her music, but I am thankful that I did.  Perhaps questions like that are not supposed to be answered, but to consider myself blessed.  And I do.

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