Sunday, February 7, 2016

Potentially Dangerous #Apps Your Kids May Be Using - Info From the Fulshear Police



I'm re-posting Fulshear Police Department's Facebook post in it's entirety because I think that it's important information for parents. There are brand new apps available all of the time, but currently these are the most popular and have the most potential for abuse. A BIG thank you to Fulshear Police Dept in Houston, Texas, for putting this together and allowing me to share it.
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"Many of us at the police department have children as well, and find it hard to keep up with the ever changing technology regarding phone apps. We hear from parents with issues regarding their children's cell phones quite often. Even as informed as we are, it is still hard to keep up and understand exactly what the potential for danger is regarding current apps and new apps being developed daily. Please make sure you inspect your child's phone as much as possible. Please discuss the possible dangers of certain apps.
The following applications (to name a few) have their uses, but also could be dangerous if allowed to be used by young children or teenagers.
TINDER: An app that is used for dating. Users can find potential "dates" via GPS location tracking. This app pulls information from user’s Facebook profiles.
Possible issue: It is easy for adults and minors to find one another. Also, due to the rating system, it is often used for cyber-bullying because the app allows for ratings, which in turn, a group of kids could potentially rate another child.
SNAPCHAT: This app allows a user to send photos and videos to anyone on his/her friend list. The sender can determine how long the receiver can view the image and then the image “destructs” or disappears after the allotted time.
Possible Issue: It is the number one app used for "sexting," mostly because people think it is the safer way to "sext." However, the “snaps” can easily be recovered and the receiver can take a screen shot and share it with others. Also, a lot of images from Snapchat get posted to revenge porn sites.
BLENDR: A flirting app used to meet new people through GPS location services. You can send messages, photos, videos, rate the looks of other users, etc.
Possible Issue: There are no authentication requirements, so sexual predators can contact minors, minors can meet up with adults. And again, sexting can be an issue.
KIK MESSENGER: An instant messaging app that allows users to exchange videos, pics and sketches. Users can also send YouTube videos and create memes and digital gifs.
Possible Issue: Using the app for sexting and sending nude selfies through the app is common. The term “sext buddy” is being replaced with “Kik buddy.” Kids use Reddit and other forum sites to place classified ads for sex by giving out their Kik usernames. Also, Kik does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.
WHISPER: Whisper is an anonymous confession app. It allows users to superimpose text over a picture in order to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously. However, you post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can also search for users posting within a mile from you.
Possible Issue: Due to the anonymity, kids are posting pics of other kids with derogatory text superimposed on the image. Also, users do not have to register to use Whisper and can use the app to communicate with other users nearby through GPS. A quick look at the app and you can see that online relationships are forming through the use of this app, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. Sexual predators also use the app to locate kids and establish a relationship.
ASKFM: Askfm is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site that allows users to ask other users questions while remaining anonymous.
Possible Issue: Kids will often ask repeated derogatory questions that target one person. Due to the anonymity of the badgering, it creates a virtually consequence-free form of cyber-bullying.
YIK YAK: An app that allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters. The messages can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking.
Possible Issue: Users are exposed to and are contributing sexually explicit content, derogatory language and personal attacks. Although the posts are anonymous, kids start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users.
POOF: This app allows users to make other apps “disappear” on their phone. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see by opening the app and selecting other apps.
Possible Issue: You can no longer purchase this app. But, if it was downloaded before it became unavailable, your child may still have it. Keep in mind that these types of apps are created and then terminated quickly, but similar ones are continuously being created. Others to look for: Hidden Apps, App Lock and Hide It Pro.
OMEGLE: This app is primarily used for video chatting. When you use Omegle, you do not identify yourself through the service. Instead, chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger.” However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. When choosing this feature, an Omegle Facebook App will receive your Facebook “likes” and try to match you with a stranger with similar likes.
Possible Issue: Sexual predators use this app to find kids to collect personal information from in order to track them down more easily in person.
DOWN: This app, which used to be called Bang With Friends, is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends in one of two ways: They can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they’d like to hang with or someone they are “down” to hook-up with.
Possible Issue: Although identifying someone you are willing to hook-up with doesn’t mean you will actually hook-up with them, it creates a hook-up norm within a peer group. Depending on your sexual values, this might be something you don’t want for your child. Also, because of the classification system, a lot of kids will feel left out or unwanted, which can lead to anxiety or depression.
VINE: This app allows users to watch and post six second videos and share with friends.
Possible Issue: While many of the videos are harmless, porn videos do pop up into the feed, exposing your children to sexually explicit material. You can also search for access porn videos on this app. Predators can utilize this app to search for teens and find their location. Once found, try to connect with them via other messaging apps.
PERISCOPE: Periscope enables you to “go live” via your mobile device anytime and anywhere. The app enables you to become your own “on the go” broadcasting station, streaming video and audio to any viewers who join your broadcast.
Possible Issue: A potential source of sexual harassment and cyber-bullying. Main dangers of the Periscope app are sexual harassment, location tagging and non-monitored comments.
New apps are developed almost daily and some apps are removed. It is important to stay informed and aware as much as possible. Sites like foreverymom, crosswalk and educateempowerkids stay up to date regarding trending apps for teens.
Parenting can be difficult already, this can make it more difficult.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. We hope it helps."

Thank you for reading, and again a big thank you to Fulshear Police Dept for providing this information! Please pass this on to any parents/friends who might not be aware of these applications and how they work.
Find and like Fulshear Police on Facebook
Follow them on Twitter

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

BestReads 2015 - What I Read and Remembered

I didn't get to read as much as I wanted to this year, and there were several "bombs" - books which fell short of my expectations. But there were a few that stood out.

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

This was one of those books I grabbed on impulse, began reading, thought I might not finish...and ended up enjoying.  The time period is turn-of-the-century New York, and there is plenty of detail to feast on, from the seedy back passages and whorehouses of the city, to the jangling and peculiar excitement of a circus on Coney Island, to the claustrophic and appalling conditions of the Blackwell Island’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

The characters are richly drawn and seemed so disparate that I wondered how Parry would manage to thread them together. Sylvan (AKA Dogboy) is a "night soil man" who discovers an infant in a privy and chooses to keep it. Alphie finds herself in the Insane Asylum for no reason which she can fathom. The teenaged sword swallower Belle, one of two sisters who flees Coney Island after a fire burns down the theatre and kills their mother, has lost the ability to speak. Odile is desperately searching for her sister in the city among the theatres, brothels and opium dens that proliferated during the period.

One of my shortcomings as a reader is that I tend to become disgruntled with books which are built on coincidences and neatly tied plot resolutions. But The Church of Marvels was so richly textured that I happily went along for the ride this time, and there were plenty of twists and turns which I never saw coming.

Neurotribes: the Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman

This is a comprehensive history of the condition which is now referred to as autism, or the autism spectrum, as well as providing biographical sketches of those who may or may not have been "on the continuum" (Henry Cavendish, Nicola Tesla), modern case studies, and chronicling the lives of two notable researchers - Hans Aspberger and Leo Kanner.

Silberman makes the case that the recent spike in diagnoses, far from being the result of any one contemporary factor, is actually dawning recognition that the autism spectrum embraces those from the "lower functioning" scale all the way up to the "brilliant but eccentric".  Autism as a diagnosis allows for the provision of education and services tailored for a person's particular needs, to help them to realize their potential, but to lump them all together under one label makes no more sense than saying that all "neurotypicals" (the non-autistic population) think and act the same. There's a saying "if you've met one autistic child - well, you've met one autistic child". Neurotribes highlights the contributions made by both the well-known autistics (Tesla, Temple Grandin, James Durbin, ) and those unknown engineers, ham radio operators and innovators who have helped to push the world forward in their own way.

This is by no means an easy read. Silberman writes at length about Aspberger and Kanner as well as other researchers. Some chapters tend to be rather dry, especially if one isn't interested in clinical studies. The section which discusses the once-accepted ideas of sterilization, abortion and euthanization of the mentally ill I found wrenching. And while Silberman includes discussions and sketches of autistics on the lower end of the cognitive scale (as well as the difficulties of parents and families), his main spotlight is on those with the less debilitating forms.

If there is one message, it is this:  we need to accommodate, and appreciate, neurological differences.

Everyone has a place in this world.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I read this some time ago, and I'm re-reading it now. (It's still 2015 so I say it qualifies.) At almost 1000 pages it won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's a massive, semi-autobiographical tale of an escaped Australian bank robber and drug addict who ends up in Bombay. He settles into a slum, opens a small clinic, is arrested, tortured, even does a short stint as a Bollywood agent. Everything is in here; philosphical musings, intricate detail, larger-than-life characters, ridiculous set-ups, romance, mob bosses, a dancing bear...it feels like a mash-up of Hunter S. Thompson, Crime and Punishment, and the Sopranos. If even a third of this novel is true, than Roberts has led a charmed and somewhat delirious life.


I wonder where he is now?

Timeless by Kamoinge

This is sort of a cheat - it's a photo book, and I only got time to flip through it quickly. But I'd love to buy a copy some day. Close to 300 photos taken in NYC, suburban America and Africa. Portraits, landscapes and "shutter moments" capturing people doing everyday things. The photographs are by a collective of African-American photographers called Kamoinge, founded in 1963.


That's all for now. I've got places to go and people to see. I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR. May it be healthy and peaceful. Links below to a few other BestRead 2015 posts. Made your own list? Drop a comment and share it with us!

-John Wiswell's Bathroom Monologues
-Cat Russell
-Katherine Hajer
-Kat Clay
-Elephant's Child
-Marc Nash

-Janice Hardy





Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Writer's Wish List For 2016 - Starting With Best Creative Writing Software

The only Spider that I could possible love.



There are plenty of free options out there for authors, but if you don't mind investing a little cold hard cash - maybe as a late Christmas gift to yourself - here's a rundown by Top10Reviews of the best creative writing software. I love this site because it uses multiple side-by-side comparisons. The Gold award goes to WriteItNow5 at a reasonable $69.95.

Love to drink coffee or wine while writing? Need a gift for that member of the family that's impossible to buy for? Check out Amazing Clubs. They offer a wide selection of choices ranging from Hot Sauce Of the Month to Bacon to Dog Treats.

Beauty, horsepower and fair MPG. What's not to love about the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider? To save weight, the chassis is made entirely of carbon fiber. Acceleration is 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds. Price tag? Not so bad - starting at $63,900. Your kid doesn't REALLY want to go to college anyway. Arrive in style at your next book signing...

The Royal Epoch manual typewriter is currently sold out at Urban Outfitters, which just goes to show that many of us still stick with the old fashioned way of doing things when it comes to writing. But whether you're looking for a refurbished classic or a more modern version of the venerable typewriter, you can find it here at myTypewriter.com. They also sell manuals, replacement ribbons and gifts such as typewriter key cuff links.






If you really want to splurge on something like a fountain pen or a fine leather business bag or folio, you can find them at Levenger. (Of course, it's also fun to just browse if you can't afford $150 for a pen.)

I make my own paperweights by collecting rocks and painting them to look like animals. But for those with more discerning taste and a slightly heavier wallet, check out some of the gorgeous art glass paperweights at ArtfulHome.

Glass paperweight by Eric Bailey



I hope that all of you are enjoying the holidays and I wish all a happy, peaceful New Year.


    
   

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fiction University: 7 Keys to Irresistible Plots (Link)

Worthwhile read - a simple and effect way to remember the essential elements necessary for a story/novel. (Difficult but possible with flash fiction as well, BTW. You just have to weigh each and every word that you use in establishing things like setting, character flaws, conflicts, etc.)



Fiction University: 7 Keys to Irresistible Plots: By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton Part of the How They Do It Series. Anything that helps with plotting is welcomed with open arms ...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2016 Penn State THON - Use the Hashtag ‪#‎6abcFTK‬ and Help Fund the Cause!

Photo taken during the pep rally held during the 2007 w:Penn State Dance Marathon in the w:Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA.

"THON" is the largest student-run charity event in the world.  The Penn State University IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, shortened to THON, raises money for pediatric cancer. It was started in 1973 and in its first year, more than $2,000 was raised, with 39 couples dancing for 30 hours straight. In 1977 the Four Diamonds Fund was chosen as the recipient of marathon proceeds. Money is used to fund pediatric cancer research, treatment costs, and the  Pediatric Cancer Pavilion at the Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The actual marathon takes place the third week in February every year. Although it began as a competition with points for style and periodic breaks, Dance Marathon is now a no-sitting, no-sleeping marathon. Dancers are expected to remain awake and on their feet all weekend!

Fund raising has already begun and YOU CAN DONATE while sitting at your computer, staring at your phone, waiting in line......

Use the hashtag #6abcFTK on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share why you take action for THON and 6abc will donate $1 for each post ‪#‎ForTheKids‬

@6abc has partnered with @Ford to each donate $1 per post using ! Share what you "take action for"! 

Please take just a second to tweet or share. Every dollar makes a difference. Thank you! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

And If I Hang My Sword

   

     The mansion, built in the early 1800s, had been seemingly transported from the very heart of Dixie. Stout German neighbors on the one side viewed it with the same mixture of suspicion and curiosity as they might have an alien spacecraft. On the other side - well, the property still goes on and on out of view, until it butts up against a thick stand of brush too ugly and forsaken for anyone to try and make a living on it.
      Oh, it was beautiful:  the white columned facade, the gracefully curved walkway, the two-story veranda, the fountain in the courtyard. You can tell how the place once looked the same way that you can discern the sculpted cheekbones and delicate skin that still lie hidden under sagging jowls and caked foundation on Virginia Shippen.  I heard that Virginia got her looks from her mother, and her legendary vile temper from her father, and she's not selling the mansion until she drops as dead as a deer that's been gut-shot.
      Nobody that's local would look twice at the place, let alone consider buying it.  Hell, some of them won't even use the road that runs in front.  There've been too many accidents along that stretch. Horses spook and throw riders, or overturn carriages. Cars blow tires with alarming frequency.  And, by some trick of nature, thunderstorms seem to hang over the place in a near constant cannonade during the month of July.
      I didn't get the full tour, but I did get a look-see when I brought Virginia a third offer from our company.
      Stepping through the front door, I was struck by the 15 foot ceilings and the pervasive scent of gardenia.  A great fireplace yawned along one wall, and above hung the requisite oil paintings of sour and judgemental ancestors. I was struck by the one in the middle, however;  a beautiful woman with russet ringlets and full pouting lips seated next to a man with thin lips, pointy nose and a distinct resemblance to a possum. Ms. Shippen followed my gaze.
     "My parents. Well, just one of them, really."
      I raised one eyebrow, a trick which I had spent an entire year in elementary school perfecting.
      There was a far off rumbling, which I interpreted as yet another cold front moving into the area. Excellent. A good downpour would allow me to observe any telltale pooling of water outside or egregious leaks inside. Any excuse to tear the place down and build something new, something modern, with clean simple lines, lots of windows...
      "Good. You hear them."  The widow's voice jolted me from my mercenary reverie.
      "Sorry?"  My first thought was that "them" might be the scurrying of vermin. I resisted the urge to lift my feet.
      She smiled at me brightly.  "Would you like some sweet tea?"

      Rude as it may seem, I followed her into the kitchen so as to assess its potential use in the conference center of our dreams.  It wouldn't do at all. 
      I sat down at the wooden table as another drumroll sent vibrations through the soles of my feet, accompanied by a quick flare of bright light. 
      Locals say that an apparition is often spotted on the property - a Confederate soldier, dressed in an officer's uniform. While alive he marched past the mansion on his way to a nearby battle, where he met his end. His body forever trapped in the North, his spirit took refuge in the mansion as the closest and most familiar representation of his beloved South.
      "Poppycock," she ground out.
      My teeth clacked painfully on the rim of the glass.  I couldn't possibly have quoted that aloud;  the cold sticky tea was still trickling down my throat.
      "You aren't the first to sit here with that ridiculously sappy look on your face.  Romantic folklore. Pah."  
      Boom! went the thunder.  Or a thirty-two pounder.
       "My father had made his money breeding horses, and when war was declared the Union Army came and bought all but three. Two years later, when the Rebs had come close enough that we could smell 'em, Father took the last three and lit out for Yankee lines.  He couldn't fight - a horse kick had busted his kneecap the year he built White Chimneys- but he could drive a pony trap with the horses on behind. And the troops could certainly use fresh horses. Stop picking your cuticles."
       I slid my hands under the table guiltily, resisting the urge to say "Sorry, ma'am."
       "At any rate, while he was gone, a Confederate officer did come to the door.  You'd think that she would have hidden, but you would be wrong.  She met him at the door with a Remington 6 shot, saw that he was bleeding heavily from a head wound, and allowed him entrance.  As a Confederate, he was the enemy;  as an officer, and a well-bred man to boot, he posed no immediate threat.  She showed him to an unused servant's room - back that hallway."  She pointed to a doorway at the other end of the kitchen. 
     The air seemed to split with a deafening crack and I just managed to stop myself from covering my ears. She would have made an excellent stage manager, arranging for nature to perfectly punctuate her tale.
      "She told him 'My husband will be back shortly.  He's a decent sort of man, and will shelter you as long as you abide in a peaceful manner.  I'll ask you to hang your sword outside of the door as a token of trust.' So he did."
      "And what happened when your Father met him?"  I was so drawn into the story that I had forgotten why I was even there.
      "He killed him, or so the story goes. You see, when he got home Mother was nowhere to be found.  He found a smear of blood on the floor there - right over there - which led him to the room with the officer. And Father shot him."
      "But the sword!" Ugh. I sounded like a squealing school girl.
      What I presumed was hail rat-a-tatted against the wooden siding.
      "We can only surmise that the soldier was somehow in possession of the sword."
      I felt dumbfounded.  The story felt all wrong, somehow. Had I missed something?
      "So the Confederate officer had killed your mother?"
      The old woman smiled, and that's when I saw the faint outlines of her mother's beauty lingering subtly below the carunculated surface.
      "Oh no. She killed my father. Please close your mouth, dear."  She delicately added a sprig of mint from a china plate to her sweating glass of tea. "You see, she'd been out to the privy when Father arrived home.  That's why he couldn't find her."
      I wanted to beat my head on the table.  "I don't get it. I just don't get it."
      "Well, I guess it's a story about honor.  Or war.  Or love. I can't really know, can I?  I wasn't even born. It's like one of those - science things.  A dichotomous key.  There are choices, and each choice leads to a different outcome.  I know two things.  No one else in my family has blue eyes. And my Father supposedly broke the sword in anger.  And yet there it was, whole, at the bottom of Mother's cedar chest when she passed."
     I slowly digested this as watery light filled the kitchen.
     "Now then, young man, you may leave your paperwork in that fancy carrying case of yours. I have everything drawn up here, just so.  I'm ready - ready as I'll ever be - to move to the Cavalry Home.  I know, I know, it's Calvary, but it does make the erudite curl up and wither.  Your company agrees to keep and maintain the mansion, intact, and to make that a condition for future resale as well. You also agree to maintain and honor the graves of those who are buried in the cemetary in the copse over the hill.  In return, you may purchase the property for the princely sum of one dollar." 
     "Ah, well..." I ran a finger under the back of my collar.  Damned itching tags. "I'll have to...er...take this back and offer it for..."
     There was a deafening crash which sent me into a palsied leap from my chair. Out of the corner of my eye, floating in a lazy trajectory, was a glowing cannonball. I threw myself down on the cool tiled floor.
     "It's gone.  Suppose you get up on your hind legs and sign these papers.  A body's only born with so much patience."
     I scrambled to my feet, feeling my face flush hot with embarrassment.  She held out a pen. "The pen is mightier than the sword, boy.  Sign, and I'll even give you the sword as a gift."
     Picking up the pen, I toyed with it, rolling it between my fingers.  The noise outside had abated, a few muted thumps and a faraway voice calling unintelligibly.  I felt ridiculous; a tendril of insanity had been tickling the far reaches of my mind, it seemed.  Virginia's story had transported me to that other time.  It was just a storm.  The cannonball was just ball lightning.  
     "Poppycock," I said aloud, to reassure myself.
     "Is it?" Virginia countered. "Sign, and they will take their war back to where it belongs."
     "And if I hang my sword..."
     "...outside of your bedroom, as a sign of trust, you will always remain safe."

     Well, I signed of course.  After all, it's important to re-purpose and save structures of historic import.  The mansion is now a cozy conference center with two modern suites on the upper floor to house important overnight guests.  The locals still swear that they see apparitions about the place, but that just means more bookings for the center.  Outsiders are curious.
     Virginia's still at the old folks' home, as far as I know, and probably raising hell with residents and staff alike.
     Me, I moved to another country and took up bartending.  The sword is in a museum back in the US.  But just to be on the safe side, I bought a toy replica which I hang outside of my bedroom every night.
     Just to be on the safe side, you know.
     
     
    
    
      
     
     
       
     
  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Evening At the Mop and Pail - #FridayFlash

Part 1: From A Holler To Here

   The blonde in ISO-6 is slowly and methodically licking the viewing window.  It could be a side effect of whatever she's taken this evening, a deliberate bid for attention, or an attempt to rattle me. Every employee at the Washburn County jail knows that at some point they'll witness an event which will haunt them. But tasting the infrastructure is pretty tame compared to the usual Saturday shennanigans.
     "Git yer hands offa me, you fat-assed Mexican."
     "Over to the counter, sir. Feet on the blue tape. And I prefer to think of myself as husky." That's Officer Ramirez, who's Peruvian but has given up on mentioning it.
     We all get our lineage, our physical aspects and our mothers' marital status questioned. I happen to be part Native American, which elicits everything from offers to smoke a "peace pipe" (the guy actually pulled a crack pipe out of his ass) to war whoops and unsteady performances of Sugar Hill Gangs's Apache (Jump On It). 
     The best piece of advice I've ever been given came from my brother; "consider the source". The source is more than the mouth it came from.  The source is the history, the family, the home and the combined experiences of a lifetime. Drink from a dirty well and you get good and sick. And there's plenty of dirty wells in Washburn County.
     When the jail was built during the Depression, most of our business came from the Holler.  Drunks, petty thieves and the occasional moonshiner showed up on a pretty regular basis. We locked them up, dried them out, gave them a Bible and shipped them out to the judge by 8 AM the next morning.  Nobody held a grudge; the dude who tried to head butt you one night was fixing the steering on your truck a week later.  Hey Earl, can you check the pressure in the tires while you're at it? Sure, Chief. Might charge ya for the air though. Ten bucks a pound. Wink.
     Nowadays the menu has changed to include drug dealing, domestic violence, corruption of minors, mail fraud, burglary and cyberstalking. Yeah, that last one. Got a young man in here for violating a restraining order - he "liked" the girl's Facebook posts. Lots of the oldtimers chalk it up to newcomers moving in, people with too much money and time, big city problems and big world attitudes. You don't have much crime when nobody has anything to steal, when everybody knows who you are, where you live, and is ready and willing to sic your own grandma on you. Which might make you smile until I tell you that my own dear Grammy clobbered a bear over the head with a shovel while Pops ran to get the shotgun.
     "Hey JoJo."
     That's me she's talking to, Joseph Harjo. I'm not big on nicknames, but it beats most of the things that people come up with. You can just imagine. Everything from Chief Runs From Dogs to Squats In the Woods.
     "JoJo, quit starin' down the corridor.  You're creepin' out the inmates.  Remember that missing girl, Paisley Meadows?"
     "Yup. Her family still calling?  I feel bad for them, but she's 19.  No sign of foul play.  It's not a crime to leave town and not call your parents."
     "True.  But somebody else is looking for her now, and that IS gonna be our problem."

*********************
Author's note: The phrase "Mop and Pail" in the title refers to rhyming slang for "jail" used back in the thirties (US).  I don't know if it's still used today.
 
This is part of a series about the inhabitants of the fictional towns called Norgood Hollow and Pascutt Shores. I am clueless right now about where things are going - it might end up being a series of character portraits, or a murder mystery, or a really confusing mess completely lacking in plot or continuity. 

 
     
    

     
     
     

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Breath Of Kanaloa - #FlashFiction #WEPFF

Photo: Public Domain, NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons



     There are those who are sentenced to death, and those who greedily chase it with every penny, every thought, every heartbeat.
     I have tried to do the math. One cubic meter of ocean equals about one ton. A wave ten meters high, a horizontal portion twenty meters wide, that's some 400 tons barreling along at who knows what speed, chasing you down, curling over you, enough power to rupture your organs, slam you to the seabed, snap your bones in half.
     You say that you are never so "alive" as when you are cheating death.
     I say that I am never so dead as when you are feeling "alive".
     You share an intimacy with this colossus which confounds and exasperates me.
     Go, if you must, and call forth your dreams. 

     "Ku mai! Ku mai! Ka nalu nui mai Kahiki mai..."
         (arise, arise you great surfs from Kahiki)

     The waves have swallowed "us";  may they not swallow you.


POST THIS BADGE UNDER YOUR ENTRY
All of my blog posts are "FCA"
Word count: 166
 ******************************
 Written as part of the WEP Spectacular Settings Challenge. We are to "share a paragraph from a novel, or an extract from a poem, or a photograph that stopped your heart with a spectacular setting etc", describe what we liked about the setting, then share our own "setting piece" (new or from WIP). I chose to write a flash.

Big wave surfers pit themselves against one of the most powerful forces on earth. There are better photos available, but this one...well, those surfers look like tiny little stick figures.  It showcases the frailty of humans and the magnificent power of nature.

Thanks for reading! There will be more challenges in the future, so check out the link to WEP if you'd like to join the fun.




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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Revising A Boring Opening at Fiction University

    Fiction University - a blog by Janice Hardy - is one of my favorite stops on my weekly reading agenda.  It's jam packed with writing tips, guest posts, and prompts as well as articles covering everything from initial planning of a novel to publishing and marketing your work.
    I recently took a stab at one of her prompts;  "revise this boring opening page".  (Janice purposely created the opening, BTW, so it wasn't as though she was inviting us to rip apart some poor aspiring writer's infant novel.)
    The contest is closed but if you'd like to see what we did with that opening - or would like to privately have a go at it for practice - you can check it out HERE. The winner was Laura Rueckert (congrats!) but I'm pleased me to say that I at least made the cut to the final three.
     Fiction University is a tremendous resource for writers, so I urge you to check it out and browse through the archives.
   
     Also, if you're looking for a prompt this week, Write, Edit, Publish has a blog hop kicking off this week with the theme "Spectacular Settings". 
     Choose a setting which has inspired you/taken your breath away.  It can be a photo, artwork, poem, or bit of prose.  Then you may share something inspired by that work, write something that incorporates it, post a bit of a WIP...rules are fairly flexible. 
 
     That's it for now.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

From A Holler To Here - #FridayFlash

 
      I can remember the walk to the train station.  Fields of corn rustling and creaking, alive with chirping and buzzing, the night/day interface soft, heavy, with a hint of damp. Air like a thick warm quilt, fever-soaked, somewhere between comforting and suffocating.  Near the borough line a sign shot full of holes announced The Churches Of Norgood Welcome You and there was somewhere for everyone if you were a Protestant. I always assumed that the Catholics let the nuns do the recruiting, although the various phrases associated with the convents - Adoration Of the Blood Of Christ, Perpetual Sorrow, Our Lady Of the Snows - always brought to mind the Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons.  Maybe one day I will visit a nunnery, ring the bell and ask if I might have a look around.
      They will ask me where I'm from, and I will be tempted to say "NoGod Holler" which is what some folks called it instead of its official municipal name, which started out as "Norgood Hollow", but then they dropped the Hollow because only dirt-poor country places with shotgun shacks and barefooted, crust-covered kids had names with Hollow tacked on the end.
     They will ask me my name.
     Others did that before, but I first made the mistake of saying I don't have a fucking clue and so any moniker which I subsequently produced was instantly viewed with suspicion.  But it was easy to just walk away, took my clothes from the drawer and joined in the cattle call visiting hours are now over and once outside to find a bench, sit down and consider my options.
     It's funny, not ha ha funny but funny in that peculiar way you look at a three-legged dog or an old woman plastered with aquamarine eye shadow and fire engine red lipstick, that my memory encompasses a finite channel from the Holler to here. That comes of catching a beating from someone, somewhere prior to catching the train.  The bad thing about trains is that they require you to present ID.  The good thing about trains is that nobody bothers to enforce it.  You buy your ticket at an automated kiosk at the station (because no one wants to pay a body to sell maybe two or three tickets before 7:00A.M.), you board the train, you pick a seat - not too close to anyone, not in the first car (if there's a derailment you'll die) and not in the last car (if there's a derailment you'll die) and not in the middle car (because everyone else who's afraid to die will sit there, along with their cellphones and screaming kids) - and you put in your headphones, pull down your cap and stick your ticket under the little clip on top of the seat in front of you.  The conductor isn't going to shake you awake to look at your ID.  He's going to punch your ticket and sway along the line to the next and the next, a marginally better job than building sandwiches at Subway because the pay and benefits are higher.
     Maybe one day I will be a train conductor.
     But then I will be forced to choose whether I will ask for ID or not. I will scrutinize each face and if it bears the telltale signs of bruises or the swelling of tears or the lackluster gaze of the lost, I will ask them questions and I may or may not know what to do with the answers.  I will never even make it past the first few seats and so I will not be employed very long as a train conductor.
     Besides, here is where I need to be for now.  Here is a postcard-perfect town with a summer Chautauqua and a year-round community of artists. Here is a place where someone with nothing can get by on dreams and sweat and a pinch of luck.  Here is where all of these things are printed on glossy brochures and lying on just about every available horizontal surface.  And even if it seems just a little too desperate, just a little too much like a going-out-of-business sale, well it has to have its basis in something.  Every bit of advertising has a speck of truth in it, somewhere.
     A well-fed couple strolls by, the woman sailing along with a prow barely restrained by fabric, waves of decaying rose overwhelming the natural sea air.  They stop at the town fountain, and the man reaches a hand into his pocket, rummages around, examines the withdrawn contents and then tosses them into the basin.
     Their wishes grant mine.
     Perhaps that is the natural order of things; that what we wish for is given to others, and what someone else desires comes to us.
     When they have moved on, I nonchalantly make my way to the fountain, take a seat on the edge of the concrete basin, and dip my fingers into the water.  People have either made extravagant wishes, or they have left all of their pennies in jars at home.  The fountain is filled with silver and I carefully scoop the coins and put them into my pocket.  When I have as much as I deem safe to carry, I stand up and realize that my pants are soaked.  And so I extend my arms in the fountain, and whoop, and loudly display a manic enjoyment of the water on my skin.  The few people still walking in the area take note of my exuberance and are relatively unmoved.  They perceive me as a fellow vacationer, not a thief or a drunk.  Thieves are quiet and slink about in darkness; drunks take off their clothes, or curse, or fall face down in the fountain and then stagger out and off into the night. I retrieve a fragment of information from storage.
     It's very hard to kill a drunk.
     So I am here, I have money, and I have a name.  Not mine; that appears to be gone for now.  It is yours, written in silver metallic Sharpie on the insides of your shoes, it is here, written in purple ink on the outsides Pascutt Shore Or Bust!, the dot at the bottom made into a little flower, the treads still clutching grains of red clay from home, the pull tabs rubbing my heels raw as I walk.
      If I don't find you here, there is always another train. Always another road.
     Always another way.
    
     

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

nuqneH pa'!

File:Amazing Stories October 1957.jpg

nuqneH pa'! qalegh naDev DaHjaj jIQuch! 
(Hello there! I am happy to see you here today!)

This is the most entertaining bit of political news that I've seen in a while.

From BBC news: 
Klingon was the chosen language for the Welsh government in its response to queries about UFO sightings at Cardiff Airport.

"Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar had asked for details of UFOs sightings and asked if research would be funded.
A Welsh government spokesman responded with: "jang vIDa je due luq."
The Welsh government statement continued: "'ach ghotvam'e' QI'yaH devolve qaS."
In full it said it translated as: "The minister will reply in due course. However this is a non-devolved matter."
It is believed to be the first time the Welsh government has chosen to communicate in Klingon."
 10 July 2015


Use the translator at Bing to translate further Klingon communications.
Learn Huttese and Ewok here
Listverse has a few other fictional languages here  
There seem to be a TON of Minion translator apps available, too many to list here.

This was a just-for-fun post since I've been busy this summer and took a writing hiatus after the A to Z Challenge in April.

Have you done anything interesting this summer? Know anyone who has learned a fictional language?   Created a fictional language of your own?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Charlie Charlie Are You There? Or, How Modern Kids Are Scaring Themselves As They Have For Generations #CharlieCharlieChallenge


     Sitting in the Junior High school cafeteria the other day, I was bemused by the the following special announcement.
     "Attention students. Some of you have been engaging in the game called Charlie Charlie Are You There. Let me remind you that this is not an acceptable or appropriate activity during your lunch break, or during school hours for that matter..."
      I try to stay on top of new fads, but this one was unfamiliar to me. So I asked another instructor about it.
      "It's some sort of game played with a paper grid and pencils. I think they ask questions about the future."
      "No, they're trying to make contact with the dead," someone chimed in. "And then the pencil moves and some of these kids get scared."
     The teacher across from me nodded. "We now have students crying, who are afraid to be in the hallway or go to the bathroom by themselves."

     Since no one seemed to really know the details, I did a little digging when I got home from work that day.  Multiple sources state that it's been around for at least 6 or 7 years, but really took off via social media as participants filmed themselves and posted it using the tag #CharlieCharlieChallenge. A grid is drawn with yes, no, yes, and no in four corners.  Two pencils or pens are laid in the shape of a cross on the grid. Then a participant says either "Charlie, Charlie, are you there?" or "Charlie, Charlie, can you play?" and waits for the pen/pencil to move.  Just about all sources say that the game is calling upon a "Mexican demon" named Charlie and similar games played with pencil and paper. (Isn't it strange how dozens of entities quote the same information, but can't point to a single definitive source?)
      I did, however, finally track down a notation on Wikipedia stating that the game was engineered to promote an upcoming movie called The Gallows.  (I have no idea if it's true or not.)
     At any rate, the "game" has caused consternation among schools, some parents, and even the Vatican.  
     "The problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities which is not easily closed." - Father Stephen McCarthy of Saints John Neumann and Mario Goretti Catholic High School in Philadelphia was quoted as saying by The Independent.

     I have no intention of weighing in on the existence of spirits, demons, communication with the dead, or any sort of religious beliefs. I agree that schools should squelch this sort of activity during school hours;  good luck with that, however, as strictures against giving wedgies, texting during class and farting games seem to be relatively difficult to enforce. Besides, making it "forbidden" will just add to the air of fear and suspense that already surrounds it for some kids.
     There's nothing new about children scaring each other or themselves, and dabbling in magic, superstition and the occult.  Remember Huck and Tom with the dead cat in the graveyard?  And the Ouija board has been around since 1890 (although it began life as an adult parlor game). I don't know about boys, but girls have dozens of ways to predict who their future husbands will be.  We used to say the alphabet while twisting an apple stem; whatever letter was said when the stem snapped was the first letter of your future husband's last name. When I was in Girl Scouts, we would sit in a circle at night and try to "levitate" someone.  Then there were the hundreds of scary stories, urban legends, and half-baked theories about missing persons or abandoned properties that we would recite and embellish until someone would scream and the Scout leaders would shut us down for the night.
     Charlie Charlie has spread further and faster due to the "viral" nature of the internet, but rest assured that one day it will fade...to be replaced by some other method for kids to scare themselves silly.  It seems to be human nature.
     What about you? Have you heard of this game?  Any memories of doing spooky stuff as a kid?
---------------------------------

*Just as an aside, after writing the first paragraph of this post my computer inexplicably crashed.  Charlie, Charlie, are you...

     
     
    

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letter Z, The Choose Your Poison List and Wrap-Up #AtoZChallenge


Z is for Zyklon B, originally developed as a fumigant and pesticide but used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. You can read more here and here.  
I'll be honest. There's too much information on Zyklon B for it to be easily condensed, and I hadn't the stomach to try and create a fiction piece. I wasn't there, and I've never really been able to wrap my mind around what it must have been like in the death chambers at Auschwitz.


Poisons A to Z: the Wrap-Up

Through time, many plants and animals evolved toxins - and methods of administration - either to protect themselves or to actively prey on others. At some point humans learned to use these poisons themselves, at first probably for hunting but as time went on, also to treat disease, kill unwanted vegetation and vermin, and...unwanted humans as well.

Oldest traces of poison - Stone Age Tool With Ricinoleic Acid

Mentions of deliberate poisonings date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Poison was a very popular method of assassination.  Mithridates VI was so afraid of being poisoned that he began to test substances on criminals, experimenting with various strengths and combinations as well as antidotes. He even administered small amounts of poison to himself in an attempt to gain immunity.

Agathodaimon, an ancient alchemist, makes mention of a“fiery poison”; when mixed with natron and dissolved into water, the water stayed clear, but when copper was dunked into it that water, it turned a deep green (which leads experts to believe that he was describing arsenic trioxide). Only fragments of his texts remain.

Persian physician and scholar Rhazes wrote Secret of Secrets, a book of chemical compounds, minerals and apparatus. His was the first mention of mercury compounds (such as mercury chloride) as medicine, particularly as a laxative and an ingredient in ointments for skin diseases like scabies (caused by mites, which the mercury killed) and weeping sores (such as those caused by syphilis).

medieval poison ring was unearthed in Bulgaria in 2013. Murderous jewelry was thought of long before modern mystery writers came on the scene.

Poisons are still used today, both for good and for evil. People die daily, from accidental ingestion, environmental exposure, and by deliberate administration for purposes of murder (or 'sanctioned' execution).

The history of poison is intertwined with the history of mankind. I couldn't possibly cover all of them in the challenge. I've tried to use each post to highlight something unusual: a poison you might not have heard of, a more imaginative way to use it, a historical case which might be unfamiliar to you.

Other poisons/toxins/heavy metals which you may wish to research and include in your stories are listed below. (LInks are to my A to Z posts.) I have attempted to give each one a date or time frame, in case you are looking for a poison specific to a time period. The time is just a reference point; it doesn't mean that the poison was recognized as such. Many were first used as pigments, folk remedies, even hallucinogens. Some are also naturally occuring and have always been around, like mushrooms and castor beans. (I did not include all of the poisonous plants and venoms found in nature, as that would make the list far too long and unwieldy.)



Abrin                            (No dates found. Naturally occuring toxin.)
Aconite                         (Ancient)
Antimony                      (1540)
Arsenic                          (Ancient)
Aristolochia clematitis (Ancient)
Atropine                       (Ancient)
Belladonna                   (Ancient)
Brodifacoum                (1975)
Bromine/bromides (xylyl bromide) (1825)
Botulin                      (first medically described 1817)
Cadmium                     (1817)
Chlorine                       (1774)
Chloroform                  (1831)
Chromium                   (used by Q'in dynasty; named as element in 1761)
Cobalt                          (Ancient, used in pigment)
Colchicine                   (Ancient)
Cyanide                       (1700s)
Dioxin                         (1960s)
Ethylene glycol           (1859)
Ergot                             (Ancient)
Fluorine                        (1886) 
Formaldehyde              (1859)
Fugu (pufferfish)          (Ancient)
Furan                            (1780)
Green potatoes (solanine) (Ancient)
Hellebore                      (Medieval)
Hemlock                       (Ancient)
Henbane                        (Ancient)
Hydrogen cyanide         (1704) isolated from "Prussian Blue"
Inhalants                        varies according to substance inhaled
Lead                              (Ancient)
Mandrake                      (Ancient)
Mercury                        (Ancient)
Methyl bromide            (1932)      (Recent case: US Virgin Islands)
Mustard gas                   (1916)
Mycotoxins (fungi/mold) (Ancient)
Nicotine                          (Ancient, isolated 1828)
Nux vomica                   (Medieval)
Oleander                        (Ancient)
Paraquat                         (1882; first used as herbicide 1955)
Paris Green                    (1800s)
Phosgene                       (1812)
Phosphorus                    (1669)
Plutonium                      (1940)
Polonium                       (1898)
Potassium cyanide        Possibly 1807
Quinine                         Ancient
Ricin                              (Ancient. Identified 1889)
Sarin                              (1938)
Saxitoxin (paralytic shellfish toxin) (Identified 1927)
Strychnine                     (Ancient)
Thallium                        (1861)
Tutin                              (1909)
VX (nerve gas)              (1954)
Warfarin                         (1948)              







Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Letter Y: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Today's letter, Y, is represented by Mr. Yuk.
                                              




The idea for Mr.Yuk was conceived by Dr. Richard Moriarty of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1971. The design for Mr. Yuk was created by Wendy Courtney Brown, a 4th grader student at Liberty Elementary in West Virginia, USA as part of a contest.
     Mr. Yuk is used to educate children and adults about the dangers of poisonous substances.  Free sheets of stickers are available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Mr. Yuk
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
PFG 01-01-01
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Each sticker contains the national toll-free number to the Poison Control Center. Calling this number from anywhere in the US or its territories will connect you to the nearest regional poison center. Help is available 24/7.

For your viewing pleasure: a Mr. Yuk commercial from 1971. Very trippy.