Tuesday, December 22, 2009

About vooks, digi-novels and hybrid books

You must have heard of it - the vook is here. A vook (video + book), also known as a digi-novel, combines videos with electronic text that can be read/viewed online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Simon & Schuster was the first publisher to for it with the release of four vooks.

Early September 2009, Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of the television series “CSI”) put the vook firmly on the map with his "Level 26: Dark Origins”. The novel is published on paper, as an e-book and in an audio version. Readers are invited to log on to a Web site to watch brief videos that flesh out the plot.
Brian Tart, publisher of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, which released “Level 26,” said he wanted the book’s text to be able to stand on its own, but the culture demanded rethinking the format.
Like everybody, you see people watching these three-minute YouTube videos and using social networks,” Mr. Tart said. “And there is an opportunity here to bring in more people who might have thought they were into the new media world.” Readers of “Level 26,” which Mr. Zuiker wrote with Duane Swierczynski, have mixed responses to what the publisher is marketing as a “digi-novel.”
It really makes a story more real if you know what the characters look like,” commented Fred L. Gronvall in a review on Amazon.com. The videos, he wrote, “add to the experience in a big way.”
But another reviewer, posting as Rj Granados, wrote, “Do you really think cheesy video vignettes will IMPROVE the book?”

Everybody is trying to think about how books and information will best be put together in the 21st century,” said Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, the Simon & Schuster imprint that is releasing the electronic editions in partnership with Vook, a multimedia company. She added, “You can’t just be linear anymore with your text.”

Another vook is “Embassy,” a short thriller about a kidnapping written by Richard Doetsch. It uses a video snippet that resembles a newscast reveals that the victim is the mayor’s daughter, replacing some of Mr. Doetsch’s original text. He said that the new editions should not replace the traditional book. He has written a forthcoming novel, “The 13th Hour,” that he thinks is too long to lend itself to the video-enhanced format. The new editions, he said, are “like dipping a novel into a cinematic pool and pulling it out and getting the best parts of each.”

Jude Deveraux, a popular romance author who has written 36 straightforward text novels, said she loved experimenting with “Promises,” an exclusive vook set on a 19th-century South Carolina plantation in which the integrated videos add snippets of dialogue and atmosphere. But the use of video clips to provide atmosphere, including fluttering shots of cernuous willows and Southern mansions don’t work so well. The text was produced separately from the videos, which makes the clips feel not only redundant, but distracting as well.

Not all authors are charmed by the idea. Some authors resent the idea of mixing mediums. Walter Mosley stated: “As a novelist I would never ever allow videos to substitute for prose. Reading is one of the few experiences we have outside of relationships in which our cognitive abilities grow, and our cognitive abilities actually go backwards when we’re watching television or doing stuff on computers.”

Personally, I like to snuggle to with an old-fashioned printed book. I love the smell and the sensation of turning pages. For me, video images would distract me - I like to use my own imagination to "picture" the story and its characters. I do see a future for vooks of the classics, such as "Ab Urbe Condita" and "La Chanson de Roland". Funny enough, I didn't see marketeers in the high-tech sector jump on it yet. A vook would be a great format for technical brochures and white papers and an amazing marketing tool.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Agassi’s amazing memoir collaborator

After reading the first chapter of “Open”, Agassi’s autobiography, I was amazed by the use of language. J.R. Moehringer paints a vivid picture of the painful memories of young Andre, using powerful prose. (The complementary first chapter can be found on BookArmy). For those of you not familiar with Moehriner, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner and wrote for the New York Times and Financial Times. He also wrote his own memoir “The Tender Bar” about his fatherless childhood that caught the eye of Agassi.

They started collaborating and taped 250 hours of sessions- a number any psychoanalyst would be jealous of. Moehringer was able to get inside Agassi’s head – not an easy thing to do. He read Freud, Jung and mythology to better understand the former tennis champ. Finding the right voice for telling the compelling story posed a challenge. Moehringer decided use the opposite of Bertrand Russell’s style and go for a stream of sentences in the present tense without any use of quotation marks.
The result is nothing short of stunning. To quote Janet Maslin of the New York Times: “The ease with which Mr. Moehringer slips into telling someone else’s story is both compelling and spooky”. I wholeheartedly agree – just read the first chapter.

You might wonder why Mr. Moehringer is not mentioned on the cover or on the title page. Before you draw wrong conclusions – it was Mr Moehringer’s own choice. To quote him: “The midwife doesn’t go home with the baby”.

That may be so, but Mr. Moehringer deserves accolades for giving Agassi such a powerful voice.

(Image courtesy of the New York Times)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Plain speaking, Aussie-style

Australians are known for their plain speaking, and their Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is no exception. Even post 9/11, many politicians are still bending backwards to be PC. Not so in the largest democracy Down Under.

Just look at the speech of Australia's PM below:


Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.

This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese,Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society . Learn the language!

Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.

We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.

This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, 'THE RIGHT TO LEAVE'. If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted."

Whether you agree with his sentiments or not - isn't it just great to live in a part of the world where you are able to express your opinions and for others comment on it without the fear of prosecution (or worse)?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reality Blurred

The fine line between reality and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. It's harder and harder to find out what is real, or what is staged for the tube viewers.

Striking examples include the infamous Balloon Boy, remember? Aptly named Falcon, the Heene boy was reported to be soared off in a balloon. The caper kept half of the globe glued to the TV screen, hoping that the boy would return safely to his (as it turned out) dysfunctional family. After a spellbinding moment when the landed balloon was empty of any life form (human or otherwise), Falcon turned up in the attic of his home. Proving the old movie adage "never work with kids and animals", he let slip during an CNN interview "you said we did it for the show". Turned out that his parents (who appeared on the reality show "Wife Swap") used the hoax to score their own reality show.

Then we were entertained by the "Tariq and Nichaele Salahi" -soap opera, remember, the couple who crashed Prez. Obama's first state dinner (and boasted about it on Facebook). The couple auditioned for Bravo's upcoming " the real housewives of DC" - but are reportedly not selected. They might get their day in court so to speak - they have been subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee. Let's hope for them that Court TV will broadcast it.

And now we are mesmerized with the Tiger Wood-sage, that is brought to us via a slew of media 24/7. He was able to knock the Climate Summit in Copenhagen off the headlines. Who cares about global warming and depleted resources when you can gobble up info on Tiger's growing number of bimbos? It's the stuff reality shows and soap operas are made of - drama, illicit love trysts, medical emergencies, and large sums of money changing hands......

While children are being chastised (and pushed into therapy) for having an invisible friend, their parents are glued to their TV screen to find out more about scandals in real-time. The rest of the household, especially their teenage daughters, go on dreaming about vampires and werewolves.

It makes you wonder if your own little life is real or fiction...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Astérix-phenomenon – how a little Gaul conquered the world

The US has Mickey, but the French gave the world Astérix. Fifty years ago, René Goscinny wrote and Albert Uderzo illustrated the first Astérix story for the magazine Pilote.

Half a century later, our favorite Gaul is still going strong. On 22 October, the 34th strip album in the series came out to celebrate: "Asterix and Obelix's birthday - The Gold Book".

You have to understand that comics are perceived differently in Europe than in the US. Especially the French and the Belgians take their Bandes Dessinées (BD, “drawn strips” or comic strip books) very serious indeed, and Astérix is part of this cultural heritage. In the last 50 years, 325 million Astérix strip albums have been sold in 107 languages.

What made our little Gaul such a success? It is based on the concept that modern-day France sees itself as beleaguered by the imperial forces of the US. So what better way to address this angst than by having a cunning little Gaul routinely and successfully outwitting and beating the cloddish forces of Caesar’s Rome?

Each comic book starts with “The year is 50 BCE and Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely. One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.”
It makes anyone who had to read Julius Caesar’s “de bello Gallico” (in Latin, mind you!) in high school chuckle…. The stories poke gentle fun at other countries, including the UK, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Switzerland - to name just a few.

The original French text has wonderful name puns for the various Gaulish and Roman characters, usually ending in "ix" for the Gauls or "us" or "a". It was quite a struggle for translators to make sure the humor was not lost in translation. The chief Druid, who mixes the magic potion, is "Panoramix" in French, "Getafix" in the UK and "Readymix" or "Magicmix" in the US (localization is in overdrive here!). The village chief is "Abraracoucix" in French, "Vitalstastix" in the UK, and "Macroeconomix" in the US. The fishmonger's wife is "Ielosubmarine" (Yellow Submarine) in French and "Bacteria" in the UK and the US.

Astérix is a short, cocky, clever, and hyper-energetic Gallic leader. Sound familiar? No, he doesn’t have a tall, glamorous wife of Roman origin. But Astérix has become part of current French politics. François Fillon, the French Prime Minister, is a sworn enemy of Xavier Bertrand, the Minister of Labor. Fillon accuses Bertrand of bearing malicious tales to President Nicolas Sarkozy, and thus refers to him (in private) as "Tullius Detritus". (Tullius Detritus is a Roman agent, who can divide the best of friends and families with a couple of ill-chosen words).

You have to understand that Astérix was created in the time that Charles de Gaulle was the French president. He saw the world as La France vs. the Rest of the World. The idea of the Asterix creators was to gently mock this French insularity.

In a delicious twist of fate, Astérix became as much a global brand as Mickey did. Up till now, our village-dwelling, Roman-bashing Gaul is the only serious competitor of America’s favorite rodent, including his own theme park outside of Paris.

Even more ironic is the fact that these ultra-French characters were created by children of immigrants: Uderzo's parents were Italian and Goscinny, who passed away in 1977, came from a Polish-Jewish family.

Little Astérix, his faithful pal Obélix and their posse of friends were cooked up during a 30-minute brain-storming session in a council flat in Paris. Who would have known that they would conquer the world by resisting the Romans?

It looks like we will enjoy our Gauls for many years to come. Mr Uderzo sold rights to the series to the publishing conglomerate Hachette, and he has appointed three young artists to take over when he dies.

Astérix also gave birth to a wonderful urban myth. On April 1st 1993, the UK newspaper “The Independent” claimed that French and British archaeologists had unearthed the remains of Asterix's "indomitable" village on a headland near Lannion in northern Brittany. The excavations at Le Yaudet had uncovered coins marked with images of wild boar, the favorite food of Obélix. Although the newspaper later reported that it was an April Fool's joke, an urban legend was born. In 1999, the Collège de France, the country's most prestigious academic institution, asked the French archaeologist Patrick Galliou to give a talk on the dig – much to his amusement. He was mentioned in the spoof article as one of the archaeologists.

For the numerous fans all over the world (myself included) - happy L Astérix!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The fishy tale of the Israeli mermaid

Every summer, most of the time during August, an alien/monster/mythical creature-story pops up.

This year, we enjoyed two: the Israeli mermaid and the Mexican alien baby (more on that one in my next blog post). It was for surea nice break from the overexposed Michael Jackson story (although he sort of fits in the alien scheme of things….)

Let us concentrate for now on our elusive mermaid. She was spotted in the Bay of Haifa during sunset, jumping and doing all kinds of tricks before disappearing. Sound like your average dolphin to me!
However, the small town of Kiryat Yam (“sea resort” in English, located just North of Haifa in case you are too lazy to google it) was quick to offer a cool million US$ to anyone who can supply proof.
Nice PR stunt if I ever saw one and uncannily similar to the whole Loch Ness spiel.
SKY news (UK) and ABC (USA) featured the news, as did other global media. Of course, our mermaid is a comely young woman. Funny, there are never sightings of ugly old fat mermen…..Maybe they dwell in an elderly cave home somewhere at the bottom of the sea and are not allowed to swim out?

Eyewitness Shlomo Cohen claimed, "I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail." Wow, our Shlomi must have been heavily under the influence!
I am still trying to figure out how a fishtail-impaired creature can jump up and dive into the sea in a New York minute. She must be one hell of an athlete, that one!
Strangely enough, our Shlomo did not take a pic with him mobile phone – a standard accessory for almost all Israelis. Pity, it would have made him an instant millionaire. May be he didn’t follow through due to the old Scottish joke (when two fishermen caught a mermaid, one of them immediately threw her back into the water. When asked “why”? he responded “how?”)

While the main media are debating the issue, the Weekly World News had the best coverage on this fishy subject. They quoted one resident as saying, “we are so shocked that they have begun showing up here. They usually observe below the surface, but we think this year they may be looking to spend the holidays with local residents.”

Another witness said: “Those mermaids are usually so snobby, always drumming up excitement and then leaving to go back to the depths of the sea as soon as they get some attention. I hope they choose one or the other before they start upsetting the locals.”

They just looked like pretty ladies with funny feet to me,” said one elderly resident. “But if they want to observe the holidays with me, I’d be happy to have them!” This laudable sentiment was not shared by one woman who snubbed: “They need to go back where they came from. They are scaring the children and bringing too many strangers to our shore. It’s disrupting the peace.”

The article went on stating that town officials have begun erecting small pools of water in local synagogues in hopes that the mermaids will feel welcome to spend their holiday (Jewish New Year) with residents. “We’ll do what it takes to make the merpeople feel as though they can come together with us as a unified people…of sorts.”
That’s the spirit! No word from the religious authorities if they consider our marine creatures Jewish or not. Ah well, for sure the reform jews will welcome them with open arms!
The whole story reached a new entertainment level (at least in my eyes) when the Israeli online newspaper Ynet claimed that an American organization claiming to defend the rights of mermaids is threatening to appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. I would love to preside over this one as a judge! I would encourage the whole court to conduct a "descente en lieu" (for the legal eagles among my readers) - let's have beach party on the shore of Kiryat Yam and wait for the mermaid to join!
Interesting enough, the organization is Brooklyn-based "Mermaid Medical Association" (MMA). How mermaids can effort US medicare is a mystery to me - even if Obama's health plan reform goes through. No word from the mermaid what her stand on this issue is. According to the local yellow pages, there is a medical service organization on 1704 Mermaid Avenue (Coney Island). My educated guess: the organization took their name from the location, not from the sort of patients they treat! No word from the PR office or managing director of the "official" MMA. They are quite likely thanking their lucky stars for this free publicity windfall......

(Since there is no picture available yet of our Israeli mermaid, I used the painting of J.W. Waterhouse for illustration)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Sonata Twitterata

It’s no secret that I love social media, like most writers. I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
(Feel free to contact to me on any of these social platforms!) I gave MySpace a pass – I test drove it, and didn’t like the spam I got.

Twitter is the latest Hot Thing – until something else comes around. It seems that everyone is tweeting to some extend: individuals like you and me, celebrities, and companies.
The tricky part with Twitter is that your “mini-blog posting” must be limited to 140 characters. This poses a huge challenge to the best of us. Tweeting about simple things is easy “going on vacation”, “still stuck in traffic”. If needed, a link or a shortened link (TinyURL) can be added in case you read a great article you want to share (or, as in my case, entice Twitterati to go to my recently published short story "Revenge will come....."– hint, hint!)

In case you wonder, yes, you can follow anyone you want to your heart’s content without being a stalker….hurray for cyberspace!

But I would never have thought that Twitterati could be such a source of amusement! (The word Twitterati is my invention; sounds a heck of a lot better than “twits” – ask any Brit for that connotation! The singular form is Twitterarus (m) or Twitterata (f) – Julius Caesar would have been proud of this. Come to think of it, he probably would have tweeted about his good-for-nothing relatives and of course about De Bello Gallico from the Forum Romanum, during senate meetings, and from the battle fields).

US politicians (already an ongoing source of media fodder for global comic relief) have embraced Twitter as well. It should come as no surprise that the two most prominent political Twitterati are…..Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Let’s start with our “I’ve gone fishing” Alaskan huntress. She twittered: “& mamma bear doesn’t look 2 anyone else 2 hand her anything; biologist say she works harder than males, is provide/protector for the future”.

In response, Durer’s rhino promptly quipped: “We have learned today that: bears are Real Americans that don't ask for or take handouts; and male bears are deadbeats and just sit around the forest in their boxers eating salmon and drinking berry juice.”

OK, her tweet might be a bit simple, but at least she is clever enough not the address major issues – or is she? Think again: our favorite pit bull with lipstick decided to respond to a new report on ethics charges against her on Twitter. She happily tweeted: “Re inaccurate story floating re:ethics violation/Legal Defense Fund;matter is still pending;new info was just requested even;no final report.”
My dear Saraleh, please listen to your legal team and don’t tweet about such sensitive topics! You should have stuck to your original statement calling any allegation that the defense fund accepted any inappropriate donations "misguided and factually in error." (That’s my advice as a lawyer – free of charge!)

She is not alone in her twitter blundering – our Ahnold is not far behind. Under his watch, the California deficit is a staggering $26 billion (try to figure out how you would spend that kind of dough to enhance your lifestyle!)
After negotiating a deal that will (hopefully) close the gap, Schwarzenegger posted a puzzling video message on his Twitter page. In it, the governor is wielding a huge knife, talking about selling state cars signed by the "celebrity governor." Even Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary, couldn't explain the knife: "I don't know why he is holding a knife. The message is in what he is saying, not what he is holding in his hand."

L.A. residents were heavily underwhelmed by both A.S. and his prop, as illustrated by the comment of local Giovanni Matallane: "he should be focusing on other things besides signing cars and holding a knife ... and being on Twitter."

Matt Littman , a political speech writer and blogger, was even more explicit: “7.3 billion in education cuts ... Kindergarten through college teachers are getting laid off and he wants to talk about signing cars at an auction ... Why doesn't he sign their pink slips?" and ended with the suggestion that the best way for our Arnoldus Twitteratus to proceed, would be to quit – Sarah Palin-style.

Wiser politicians stick to distributing press releases and friendly editorials on their Twitter account. Clever and proper, but hey, what would be the fun of that?! Don't we all love a mishap that could "launch a thousand" tweets?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dan Brown’s latest fruit of the pen

Dan Brown’s latest novel will come off the presses coming September. This new novel, The Lost Symbol, was previously titled The Solomon Key. I am not sure, but I think he changed it due to a slew of books already out in print with a similar title (and questionable content). The plot seems to evolve around a Conspiracy (what else?) and this time it’s the Freemasons that are involved. I wonder how that will go down, especially in the US.

Just in case you wonder about the origin of Solomon’s key (yes, I know, you have better things to do with your life, but why not ?) - here’s what it originally was all about. According to Biblical tradition, Solomon held the key to interpreting the language of animals and plants. (Not sure it this is really helpful for ruling a country, but that’s just me. I am glad I don’t understand what my cat is shouting at me; I have enough trouble figuring out what the heck my fellow human beings are talking about). The basis is a verse in Kings 1:”And [Solomon] spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” (Not my translation, so if a scholar feels it lacking, please put an update in the comments section of this blog. I will be more than happy to incorporate that version).

In all fairness, I am not a great fan of D. Brown. I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, and found a lot of research in his novels sadly lacking in scientific content. I am also not in favor of upsetting millions of Christians, especially Catholics (I grew up with very nice Catholic friends, so I have warm memories, although I am of a different faith). PR wise, the Catholic Church did more to promote the Da Vinci Code by being all huffy and puffy about it, than any PR company ever could. I wonder - will if this happen again this time around with the Freemasons?

Doubleday, the publisher behind the forthcoming follow-up, is conducting a promotional campaign comprising a series of puzzles on social networking sites, including Facebook.
The first print will have 5 million copies – for sure they will fly off the shelves. The future for The Lost Symbol looks good (especially for Mr. Brown’s bank account) – there is already talk about a movie. The Da Vinci Code-movie raked in $758 million in 2006 alone. Colombia Pictures released the "Angels and Demons"-movie in May 2009, so the timing is perfect.

The Lost Symbol is expected to dominate the book charts for months and is already in the number one spot on Amazon's pre-order list. Publisher Doubleday might have all their ducks in a row, but other publishers are not that lucky.

Penguin had to reshuffle publication of William Trevor's new novel Love and Summer and Nick Hornby's new book, Juliet Naked.I n the fight for space on supermarket shelves and on best-seller lists, there is just no chance of getting a book to number one with Dan Brown’s out. Hornby is no slouch when it comes to bestsellers. His books, including Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy have each sold more than a million copies New books by Coetzee, Iain Banks, Fay Weldon, Rachel Cusk, Sadie Jones, Margaret Atwood, Will Boyd and Nick Cave are also being launched before September 15, to avoid the Brown tsunami – no one can compete with the might of Brown (The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 81 million copies worldwide).

I have mixed feelings about it all – I love the fact that at least people read (even if it is Harry Potter and Dan Brown), but I don’t like these fashionable fruits of the pen pushing (better) novels out of the limelight.

Maybe book publishing has become too much of a marketing game?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Starry, starry face……tattoos gone wild (only in Belgium!)

The Belgian teenager Kimberley Vlaeminck (18) from Kortrijk (B) decided that she wanted three dots next to her right eye.

She went with her father Diego and sister to her local tattoo artist, ex-Parisian Rouslan Toumaniantz of Tattoo Box. Daddy was willing to pay for it, since the whole family has tattoos. The fact that she only speaks Flemish and that he only speaks French didn’t stop our enterprising girl to go under the tattoo needle. Fifty-six stars later, she claims that she asked him to tattoo only three small stars next to her left eye and not the whole Milky Way (my words, not hers).

Half a starry face later, when her family and boyfriend came back from eating ice cream, the reactions were less than enthusiastic. Our girl defended herself by saying “I must have dozed off”. She is a hairdresser and started working that day at 5am, you see…..

The tattoo guy stated that she did indeed gave him permission, but freaked out when her father and boyfriend disapproved. He cannot remove the tattoos himself, but is willing to lower the price of his handiwork to Euro 50 (just in case you want to know: that's the price of 5 tattooed stars).

She filed a complaint at the police station and is seeking damages. The spokesperson of the Kortrijk law enforcement (Tom Janssens, who for sure has better things to do during working hours), stated that the investigation will show if this is a case of bodily harm, of miscommunication or that Ms. Vlaemink simply changed her mind.

In the mean time, M. Rouslan Toumaniantz is not unhappy at all – he is now a well-know "artist". I cannot blame him, excellent free publicity for a young business, n'est-ce pas?

As for our little hairdresser – I just don’t get it. Getting tattoos is a personal matter (I am one of the few members in my fitness center that is tattooless – and I like to keep it that way!), but may be it would have been wise to avoid the face? Even Angelina Jolie doesn’t have any ink illustrations there!

As for falling asleep – makes as much sense as spontaneously dozing off during your standard dentist appointment.

As a lawyer, I can tell you that the “I didn’t give permission”- defense just wouldn’t fly, since she knew that the guy doesn’t speak any Flemish. Caveat emptor!

Both the French and the Dutch have a lot of jokes about the Belgians…that they are not that clever (to put it mildly and political correct). Well, this girl for sure doesn’t help matters!

For all you parents concerned about your offspring tattooing body parts - let them have a look at her starry face…..and whatever you do: don’t go out for ice cream when your heirs are falling asleep during the procedure!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cybercalypse Now! Cybercrime and Punishment

For years, the main threat to our safety was crime – the old fashioned one. There were burglars, robbers and other villains. But our main threat nowadays is of the sneaky variety – yes, I am referring to cybercrime.

My main fear is not that I will be robbed in the streets by some crazed junkie, but that my identity is stolen by person(s) unknown. The Four Horsemen of the Cybercalypse ride their Trojan horses through cyberspace – wracking havoc with our online data. Once they get their grubby hands on our bank account or SSN, we are toast. Forget about finding out who stole, traded and used your data – cyber crooks operate in cybergangs that could have given Al Capone a run for his money. The chance of them getting nabbed by law enforcement is very slim, and even fewer are ever convicted and thrown in the brick.

Personally, I think that only one punishment fits the crime – cyber crooks should go non-tech for the rest of their lives. Let them get water from a well, read books (remember those?) by candlelight, and walk or ride a bicycle to go shopping. They cannot use credit cards of course, so they have to queue in the nearest bank to get money from the bank clerk. The downside is that I don’t know if there are any places left on earth that are non-tech…may be Eastern Island or Rottumeroog?

To help them out, I composed a list of terms that they can refer to since they wouldn’t have access to Wikipedia or Google to help them out.

Dear evillenus,

Please memorize the following term and erase all previous definitions from your memory (the one in your brain, inside your skull, you know, that boney part between your ears)

Spam = SPAM®, a tinned hopped pork and ham concoction that only Brits like. Since its first introduction in 1937, it has been a firm favorite in Albion, which could explain the teeth. Still, you have to eat, so click here for recipes.

Cookies = biscuits, the ones you munch or crumble. The word cookie is derived from the Dutch word koekje, which means "small cake", which shows you that the Dutch settlers lived the good life when they came to the New World - way before Internet. Fortune cookies are allowed, as long as text is handwritten preferably with a quill.

Mouse = a little rodent from the Muridae family. It is the favorite food/toy of cats (from the Felidae family). You are allowed to 1) keep them as pets 2) eat them (no recipes available) 3) feed them to your cat.

Bug = insect that can come in many forms. To help you identify which one bit you or ate your food, here is a list. Enjoy!

Cache = a hiding place that you can use for storing provisions or valuables (from the French “to hide”). Since you have to walk or ride your bicycle to the market for food (remember, no car!), I advise you to maintain a cache of food in case of emergencies (e.g., your mice eating your provisions).

Shopping basket/trolley/cart = a metal or plastic basket with/without wheels that you push or carry to schlep groceries to the check out. Since you cannot shop in a supermarket, you might ask a homeless person near you for a demonstration on alternative uses.

The Web = a spider or cobweb. Quite likely, you will have multiple ones in your dwelling. To give you idea what you are up against, check out this YouTube video. And when you are cleaning the cobwebs, you might remember the famous quote from Sir Walter Scott: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.

Mail = letters, bills, etc. that a post office person drops off at your dwelling. It works both ways; you yourself can send mail by writing a letter, stuffing it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it and dropping it in a mailbox. It does require that you to know the physical addresses of hacker212 or lovemebigboy though.

Home = your dwelling, which in your case is hopefully a hut in the middle of nowhere.

Domain = a piece of land or real estate. In your case, your dwelling is located on a domain (Guantanamo Bay, maybe?)

Keyboard = the black and white keys on your piano. You are also allowed to play a harpsichord if you like.

Bit = a mall morsel. To help you with your withdrawal symptoms from hi-tech, you might consider biting on the bit of a pipe (the part of a pipe stem that you hold in your mouth)

Virus = a sub-microscopic infectious agent that is unable to grow or reproduce outside a host cell. To fight a virus infection, you might consider adding paracetamol (eg Panadol) or ibuprofen (eg Nurofen) to your cache.

Worm = an invertebrate animal that have a long, soft body and no legs whatsoever. They are part of the Platyhelminthethe family, which is the academic way of saying “flatworm”.

Trojan = a citizen of Troy, such as Hector and Paris (the guy, not the city)

Trojan horse = a sneaky ploy to hatched by Odysseus to get into Troy. If you are bored, you can build one following these instructions.

Microsoft = the unfortunate side effect of steroid use (males only)

I already found my first candidate – the cyber crook known as "the Analyzer”, who was arrested in Canada in September 2008 for hacking into a Canadian credit and debit card issuer and siphoning cash out of the compromised accounts. According to an affidavit, U.S. authorities also linked him to several data breach incidents at financial institutions across the country, resulting in losses of 10 million dollars.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Southern Writers

Charles Langley (born on March 28, 1917, worked as a journalist for the Morristown Daily Record, Morristown News, The Broadcaster, and High Point Journal Advertiser) posted the following on his yahoo group "one good turn". It makes excellent reading!

"Let me tell you about Southern writers. They are different from you, and from everyone else. For one thing, Southerners start living life much earlier than other people. Twelve year old boys operate farm tractors. Fourteen year old girls raise their siblings and keep house while their mother joins Dad in the fields. So when you have a Southern writer and one the same age from any other section of the country, the one from the South likely has more years of experience to write about.
Then there's the thing with words. Southerners have love affairs with words. People sometimes think they speak slowly because they think slower or because they are naturally lazy. Not so. They speak slower because their love of the words is so great that they can't stand to part with them. They caress them, massage them, polish them and linger over them lovingly before allowing them to go on their way with a lilt and an inflection found nowhere else in our country.They care about things deeply and when they talk about them, they use words unfamiliar to you. Sometime these words are right out of Elizabethan speech or are borrowed from Shakespeare or from works that Shakespeare borrowed from. Other times they are brand new, coined for the occasion, but perfectly understandable because they are crafted to fit the context in which they are used.

My mother used language which, when I was an ignorant, callow youth, I took to be the result of lack of higher education. When I later saw the same phrases in Shakespeare or Marlowe I was amazed that she had allowed them their use. She never came up short for a word to express any scene or any emotion because she so readily invented her own. "Any damn fool can use words they get from a book but it takes a fine mind to design words that are needed and will be understandable to anyone who reads them," she said. Others have said similar things, but I would bet that my mother beat them to it.

Southern writers have a way of putting a distinctive twist on their writing. Others write about a subject. The Southerner will write around it. Like a singer sings the note while a bel canto singer sings all around the note, the Southern writer will go so far afield in his or her embellishment of the writing that the meaning lies not in the lines but between the lines.

Actually, most Southern writers are not writers at all, but story-tellers who just happen to tell the story in writing. So you can ordinarily look for a rhythm and flow in the writing not often found in that of writers from different areas. William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe wrote in sentences that seemed to run on for half a page. It wasn't that they didn't know the ban on run-on sentences. I'm told it was because they had the habit of taking a sip of the elixir of life at the end of each sentence, and if the sentences were too short, so would be the story for they couldn't survive very many hours of short sentences.

I once asked a novelist friend of mine who had similar writing habits, "How long is your latest book?" "About a quart and a pint," he told me. I read the book. He was only off by two sips and a swallow......"