Saturday, December 30, 2023

ANATOMY OF A SCAM

 

My topic for the day is "Pig Butchering", which is a brutal name for a type of scam. For my title (not to borrow someone else's title), I took Anatomy, with reference to meaning #6, Examination in detail.

Since the Welltock leak of more than the average amount of personal information, seniors (especially) have been receiving scam phonecalls from foreign-sounding persons who want to confirm that the person holding the handset has diabetes. Apparently, 11% of the American population is afflicted with that malady. One might be surprised. The way some politicians metaphorically beat their chests about the cost of insulin, one might have thought that the percentage would be at least double 11%. 

Or the affliction could be back pain (so much that one might jump at the chance of a free brace). Mixed metaphor deliberate.

That is probably closer to spear-phishing, if the calls are based on garbled information on the dark web. Pig butchery is a more lengthy process to cultivate misplaced trust, as Ian Debbage, legal blogger for the global law firm Squire Patton Boggs explains.

Lexology link:
 
Squire Patton Boggs link to the Pig Butchering scam story:

Ian Debbage concludes thus:

"Of course, the only sure-fire way to avoid losing money to the pig butcher is to avoid becoming the pig. This means being cautious of contacts that you do not properly know introducing investment opportunities and get-rich-quick scenarios that seem too good to be true."

The scams are not just shady investments. Some are much, much worse, especially with the rise in AI which facilitates deep-fakery, not to mention (which of course I am) the plethora of unreliably sourced information sold by dastardly "data-brokers".

"Granny, I've been arrested!" "You have a computer virus." "Your Everything-Store account has been hacked and you need to follow this link to reset your password..."

Katie Spence writes about what one might call apochryphal telephone scams that could cost the unwary recipient of a phone call or text message up to tens of thousands of dollars, and maybe a broken heart in the case of romance fraud. Click the apochryphal-word link to read dozens of stories of unfortunate, vulnerable people who got smished.

To add insult to injury, some cyber-criminals apparently keep a cruelly-named "suckers list".

Happy New Year!!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  

Friday, December 29, 2023

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories and Farthing House and Other Stories by Susan Hill



{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories

and

Farthing House and Other Stories

by Susan Hill

by Karen S. Wiesner

Susan Hill is one of those authors that effortlessly puts you directly into the fictional settings and personal lives of her characters with so much atmospheric reality, you're convinced of the authenticity of everything. While many of her stories are ghost and/or horror, as in the case of the first collection I'll review today The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories, others are simply brutally realistic and disturbing vignettes of the darker side of life, as we'll see in Farthing House and Other Stories. One reviewer describes Hill's work as "locating the horrific in everyday life". Simply put, few other authors capture such haunting qualities that linger on in the memory long after reading as Susan Hill does consistently.

 

The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories was published in 2016 and contains four short stories. The 2017 edition also included a fifth story, "Printer's Devil Court", which I reviewed previously in this column. The title story is classic Susan Hill, when revenge takes on a new supernatural twist. A wife searching for answers to her husband's untimely death brings in a psychic detective to find out the truth by utilizing the deceased doctor's favorite travelling bag. This is as good of a story as any Hill has written. The focus of the story is a man seeking revenge on his apprentice who stole his life's work while he was besieged by illness. The unexpected denouement really makes this story clever.

"Boy Twenty-One" harkens back to two of Hill's stories I reviewed previously "The Small Hand" (2010) and "Dolly" (2012), adding a hair-raising element to the slightly disturbing, undying friendship of a young boarder at a boys' school with a fellow student who doesn't return after the summer holiday. This particular tale got bad reviews. One in particular said of it that "it feels more like indecision on the writer's part, as though she is still playing with ideas", adding that it wasn't "fully realised". I, on the other hand, believe the faltering is what added to the creepy aspects of the story. The narrator had trouble establishing friendships, finally found of soulmate of sorts, and unfathomably lost that friend. The story ended abruptly in a way that felt shocking, incomplete, unresolved--just as it needed to in order to realistically portray the events and the character's stunned uncertainty combined with an unwillingness to let go.

The story "Alice Baker" is a strange, tragic little tale. Office workers are using an old building that harbors a forgotten origin while a better one is being constructed for them. An odd new employee brings both curiosity and dread to co-workers. All the senses come alive in this lovely little spine-chiller.

"The Front Room" is menacing and goes against everything we're taught is good and right. A couple is inspired by a sermon about feeding the hungry and being a blessing to the destitute. They invite the husband's aged stepmother Solange to live with them and their growing family. The woman they remember, but weren't particularly fond of, has changed almost beyond recognition. What a wonderfully warped, ominous (but intriguing) story that might draw from it a lesson opposite of what the Good Samaritan parable tried to establish.

All of these tales are perfect for Halloween or when you're just in the mood for really good, short ghost stories.


Most of the nine stories included in Farthing Hill and Other Stories aren't supernatural or have little to do with such mystic meanderings, although "Farthing Hill" itself is, "Kielty's" has an edge toward the strange, "Red and Green Beads" is the quintessential ghost story, and maybe "Mr Proudham and Mr Sleight" could be considered otherworldly but I honestly didn't understand that particular story at all enough to figure out what it was intended to be. Oddly enough, given my love of all Susan Hill's other ghost stories, the weird, extramundane stories in this collection are the ones I liked least (though I did enjoy all but the latter one I mentioned).

The tale that stood out most for me was titled "The Custodian". For a good portion of the story, I had no idea why it was named as it was. An old man sacrificially takes on the care of his young grandson. The old man is good to the young boy, and they learn and enjoy their time together. Everything changes when the boy's father returns unexpectedly. What a devastating, forlorn glimpse of a life and what a sad commentary about putting all of one's self into another being--and yet this is the very thing that can give life meaning and purpose. There's no good reconciliation to this existential quandary. I was left gasping at the contradiction and simple summary of life as we know it.

"The Albatross" is another mournful story of an 18-year-old boy with disabilities who's taking care of his wheelchair-ridden mother. The mother is hard and harsh and does everything in her power to keep her son with her, even when the home environment becomes toxic and the breaking point is reached. While not much sympathy can be roused for the mother, I nevertheless found it easy to imagine feeling helpless in her condition. To be alone when there's no one to care for or about you, or to share your life is a terrifying, lonely thought--not that it justifies her behavior toward her son. I appreciated the efforts of secondary characters to intervene, but sometimes in life we learn there is just no way to turn something horrible into something good.

"Halloran's Child" moved me with this shameful tale of a family treated badly and shunned without justification by fellow townsfolk. I've always been disturbed about the "levels" in society and how badly people can treat others in the name of social status. The rich, the poor, the middle-class--we're all guilty of this kind of thing. Why can't we just genuinely show respect and kindness to everyone around us, not setting ourselves up as more worthy than anyone else? Sigh. This story really brings mankind's cruelties home, but it's told from the point of view of a human being who's simple, humble, and even sweet, so the despicable events are that much more shocking and dismaying.

"How Soon Can I Leave?" is another odd little slice of life revealing two women who share a strange relationship that both enriches and hinders their lives. We're only in the point of view of one of them, and you can't help but see in this tragic tale how a person can lie to herself and manipulate her own mind to believe what she wants to about herself, her motives, and those of others.

"The Badness Within Him" shares the sadness of the previous installments in this collection with a boy considered the black sheep of the family, but there's a twist that I didn't expect at the end. It really made me think and grieve about similar things I've her about and experienced.

Susan Hill's stories consistently highlight the bleak darkness inherent within the commonplace; the sinister, preventable failures, wrong-headed foibles, and fragile beauty in a life where least expected. In these two collections, this author nails those bitter, heart-rending and life-changing concepts.

Note that these stories are published separately as well as in the author's other collections.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Celebrating Public Domain Day

January 1 is Public Domain Day for works still under copyright that were first released in 2028:

Public Domain Day 2024

The article includes selected lists of books, plays, films, and musical compositions being liberated, so to speak, in 2024. It also explains some of the intricacies of copyright law and explores the question, "Why Celebrate the Public Domain?"

Most famously, of course, the earliest version of Mickey and Minnie Mouse becomes available for public reproduction and reinterpretation in 2024 (with some qualifications and caveats -- trademark, for instance, has a longer and more tenacious life than copyright):

Mickey Mouse Will Soon Belong to You and Me

As an unintended side effect of what this essay labels "overlong" copyright protection under U.S. law, "many properties with less pedigree than Winnie [the Pooh] or Minnie can disappear or be forgotten with their copyrights murky." As Cory Doctorow is quoted as saying, the remarkable 95-year endurance of some classic works "makes you think about the stuff that we must have lost, that would still have currency," or might have, if that material had been freely available for reproduction and distribution.

As the first article cited above puts it, "Most older works are 'orphan works,' where the copyright owner cannot be found at all. Now that these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available to the public. This enables access to our cultural heritage -- access to materials that might otherwise be forgotten. 1928 was a long time ago and the vast majority of works from 1928 are not commercially available. You couldn’t buy them, or even find them, if you wanted. When they enter the public domain in 2024, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them."

Having had the experience of editing two paperback fiction anthologies in the early 1970s, I've often mentally grumbled about the problems inherent in the "life of author plus seventy years" rule that reigned for several decades. An editor who wanted to "rescue" an undeservedly neglected story from obscurity would have to find out whether copyright was renewed under the older system, when the author died, and who holds reprint rights -- if they're still in force -- in the present. For a very old, little-known work, the latter information might be almost impossible to discover, as the above quote mentions. Nobody benefits from continuation of the copyright, and readers who might enjoy the story and appreciate the long-dead writer's creation are deprived of that opportunity.

As Cory Doctorow, again, says in an essay on the Medium site, "First in 1976, and then again in 1998, Congress retroactively extended copyright’s duration by 20 years, for all works, including works whose authors were unknown and long dead, whose proper successors could not be located. Many of these authors were permanently erased from history as every known copy of their works disappeared before they could be brought back into our culture through reproduction, adaptation and re-use."

Public Domain Is a Banger

His characterization of this process as "slow-motion arson" might be a bit extreme, but he makes a point well worth considering.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

TONGUE IN CHEEK WITH A TROLL

If you do an internet search for images of Trolls, you are likely to find small, colorful creatures with wild hair, big toothy grins, and retrousse noses with large, wide nostrils.

The nostrils might be the only thing that Dreamworks Trolls and Pottermore Trolls have in common. Pottermore has a nice guide to Trolls. 

On the other hand, if one does a search for trolls on the Lexology database (which is very good indeed) there's not a lot of snot and drool, and not a great variety. A few legal bloggers have in depth expertise with copyright trolls and patent trolls.

Tongue-in-cheek is usually an adjective, it can be a noun used adjectivally, or it can be a noun as an idiom (tongue in cheek). An idiom is a group of words which are used in a set order, and which are understood to mean something other than the meaning of each component word used on its own.

On the other hand, when you combine that particular idiom with a troll, something disgusting comes to mind... at least for me. 

Legal blogger Darrin Klemchuk wrote a self described, tongue in cheek guide; "Copyright Troll Step-By-Step Guide: How to Make Thousands as a Hobbyist Photographer."

For the benefit of the humorless or the dense (my words), Darrin Klemchuk wrote two, more serious articles spelling out the steps  -seven of them- that a website owner or blogger should take to mitigate the damage after they receive what appears to be extortion attempts by apparent copyright trolls over the use of photographs.

https://www.klemchuk.com/ideate/in-house-counsel-solutions-series-4q-2023

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=95729806-4e28-44f1-91f4-3c78662f3eac

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f805d616-7cda-4a91-96bb-48c014b69563

The very valuable, and sometimes daunting advice of Darrin Klemchuk focuses on once the milk has been spilled and the horse is out of the proverbial barn. The unhappy defendant has made use of a photograph which they downloaded from the internet.

Possibly, if one absolutely must snag an image from the internet, one could extrapolate from Darrin's advice some precautions to take. Take a screenshot of the image in its context to show if it has any copyright-ownership information; which site it is on (for instance, a notorious pirate site, or a respectable site); whether there are any Terms of Use or Terms of Service posted on the site or page that might lead you to believe that the image was free to use; whether you paid for use of the image and if so, whom you paid and how much. 

Another step you might take, after snagging the image but before exploiting it, would be to use Google's excellent search-by-image feature to see where else the image appears. A copyright owner might have sued someone else over it, or the image might appear elsewhere on the web with copyright wording that might be missing on the copy that tempted you.

Ignorantia juris non excusat. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Jodi L. Miller writing for the New Jersey State Bar Foundation explains the ancient and almost global concept that "But I didn't know..." is not a legally persuasive defense.

https://njsbf.org/2018/04/23/ignorance-of-the-law-is-not-an-excuse/

It should be said, not every copyright owner who tries to protect their photographs or other intellectual property is automatically a "troll". 

Darrin Klemchuk offers this caveat, and it is a good one.

"By “copyright troll,” I am referring to a specific kind of plaintiff claiming ownership in a copyright with the intent to monetize it by cease-and-desist campaigns after the photograph becomes “available” on the Internet. Over the years, I have become suspicious that some of these plaintiffs purposely position images to be copied by na├»ve Internet users and use electronic files that can be detected by Internet crawlers to find potential infringers, then send demand letters seeking excessive payments."

 In 2018, legal blogger Brittany Frandsen of the law firm Workman Nydegger defined copyright trolls thus:

"A copyright troll owns a copyright, typically in a feature film or pornographic video, and attempts to enforce its copyright against individuals who download unauthorized copies of the copyrighted material using file-sharing software such as BitTorrent."
Visit her article for a clear explanation of how copyright trolls operated on BitTorrent, with the ability to target hundreds or thousands of copright infringers at once (because every pirated movie was shared in hundreds or thousands of fractions).

https://www.wnlaw.com/blog/copyright-trolls-new-face-copyright-litigation/#page=1

The troll business model was quite fiendish. Most illegal-file-sharers would pay the troll rather than face the embarrassment of defending themselves in open court over stealing porn, and risking a verdict against them of $150,000 in statutory damages.

Brittany Frandsen tells the tale of one accused "troll" who was said to have made six million dollars between 2011 and 2014. On the other hand, she points out that the type of troll action that she describes relies on the association of IP addresses with a pirated work. Yet, IP addresses are not reliable because routers can be hacked, and IP addresses can be spoofed.

At this point, the best advice is Benjamin Franklin's, "When in doubt, don't"

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Practice of Benevolence {A Reflection on Dickens' A Christmas Carol} by Karen S. Wiesner


The Practice of Benevolence

{A Reflection on Dickens' A Christmas Carol}

by Karen S. Wiesner


One of my all-time favorite stories is and always will be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843. I imagine it's a story nearly everyone everywhere has heard in one form or another. For my part, I try to read the novella and watch one of the countless film adaptations every year around Christmas. Dickens wrote, "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it."

The messages in this story are timeless. I did an internet search asking what the major themes in this undeniable classic are, and almost none of the offerings that came up could focus on just one because there are so many good messages in this one little tale. Here's my attempt at coming up with a motif for the story:

The spirit of benevolence and goodwill toward our fellow human beings throughout the year is in the eternal need for compassion, kindness, and mercy to all, as well as the transformative power of change coming from within.

Benevolence is the disposition to do good, embodying a genuine desire to promote kindness, charity, and positive attitudes toward others along with an inclination to perform acts of goodwill or extend help to those in need. A benevolent person actively seeks opportunities to benefit others, often without expecting anything in return.

Our world and the people in it often aren't a very good reflection of that description, wouldn't you agree? Selfishness, putting one's desires first, despising one another because of our differences looks like the norm in this day and age--as, in truth, it was at the time Dickens wrote the story and probably has been all throughout time. Does this description of Scrooge (written 180 years ago!) from the narrator of the story sound like anyone you know? I can think of several (including myself) who fit some or all of the points:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance..."

I thought it would be illuminating to explore the many good lessons taught, in quotes, by the characters in A Christmas Carol as they reflect on life. Draw what conclusions you will from each quote, but I think most of the truths are self-evident.

Jacob Marley's Reflections of Life:

“I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it."

"...no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!"

"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Fred 's (Scrooge's Nephew) Reflections of Life:

"...I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time...as...the only time I know of...when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave..."

“…his offences carry their own punishment… I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims! Himself, always."

Bob Crachit's Reflections of Life:

Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew… "…he is the pleasantest-spoken gentleman you ever heard… 'If I can be of service to you in any way,’ he said, giving me his card, ‘…Pray come to me.' "Now, it wasn’t for the sake of anything he might be able to do for us, so much as for his kind way..."

Ghost of Christmas Past's Reflections of Life:

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it…

 “What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!”

Ghost of Christmas Present's Reflections of Life:

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Ghost of Christmas Future's Reflections of Life (note: this ghost didn't actually speak out loud, but Scrooge inferred its intentions based on the things shown to him by it):

"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal! … No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly! … He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory of one kind word I will be kind to him... “Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope! ... Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

Ebenezer Scrooge's Reflections of Life:

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Narrator's Reflections of Life:

"He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…"

We live in a world that's ever in need of the very things that are least evident in it. Hatred, intolerance, and violence over things that shouldn't but inevitably and inescapably do divide us against our fellow human beings have become our daily bread. Every day, each one of us commits offenses against others in some way, shape, or form. As I reflect on this sad commentary, I often consider how much good benevolence would have on us and our world throughout the year, if only we practiced it.

Instead of fighting over all the wrong we see others doing, what if we as a whole didn't specify wrongdoing (as in transgressions, flaws, weaknesses, vices, and regrets) into its unlimited categories, instead generalizing wrongs as "wrongs"? We're all carrying around a big bag of those wrongs. If we didn't look inside everyone's "bag of wrongs", wouldn't we have to conclude that we're all equal in the eyes of God as well as each other? Would we then conclude--since we're all carrying around a bag of wrongs, regardless of what's inside--that maybe we should have compassion on one another and accept that we individually are not the only one in need of grace, forgiveness, and unquantified mercy? At that point, could we minister, show kindness and empathy for each other in the name of goodwill toward all? Consider also that, if we realize it's not our place to punish others for their perceived wrongs, a tremendous weight is lifted from our shoulders, leaving us free to pursue peace instead.

We're all on the road to death, and every single road in life inescapably leads to that conclusion. If we're all on even ground, then no one is better or more righteous than the next one, right? In the same vein, no one is more sinful than another either. We're all the same. If we each deserve unilateral hatred and scorn, then, by the same token, don't we all deserve unbiased love and tenderness? Shouldn't we then practice benevolence as our common ground? In this way, respect and courtesy could and should be given to every single person on the planet regardless of who we are and what's inside our particular bag of wrongs.

For as long as breath remains in our lungs, life in our bodies, blood in our veins, it's not too late to live out the benevolence of A Christmas Carol to the world around us every single day. In this way, we each do our part in sowing the world with life immortal.


Read A Christmas Carol free here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm#link12.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dangerous Gifts

The solstice is upon us! There's hope that within a few weeks darkness will stop falling at 5 p.m. Happy winter holidays!

It might seem natural that if people with arcane psychic talents existed, they would dominate the ungifted majority, whether officially or not, overtly or subtly, gently or cruelly. They might constitute a ruling class like the laran-wielding aristocrats of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, an order of official problem-solvers like the Heralds of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar, or an autocratic clique like the sociopathic tyrants of the STAR TREK episode "Plato's Stepchildren." More often than not, however, far from holding exalted status, fictional possessors of such talents are regarded with ambiguity or hostility by their societies.

For example, the Slans in A. E. Van Vogt's classic 1946 novel face relentless persecution because of their powers. Fictional vampires surely inspire deeper horror than many other imaginary monsters because of the hypnotic mind control that renders their victims helpless and even unwilling to resist. Zenna Henderson's People, refugees from a distant planet living secretly on Earth, although benign, are often confronted with suspicion or fear when ordinary earthlings discover their powers. In the Sime-Gen series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, Gens regard the much less numerous Simes with terror not only because they drain life-energy but because they're suspected of occult abilities such as mind-reading.

Historical romance author Mary Jo Putney recently published the first novel in a new series called "Dangerous Gifts." In this book's slightly altered version of Regency England, psychic powers are known to exist but often viewed negatively. The hero lives happily among a circle of people who share similar gifts, and he works for the Home Office using his abilities for the good of his country. As a child, though, he was brutally rejected by his father because of his wild talents. At the beginning of the story, the gifted heroine is being held prisoner by villains who keep her mind clouded as they plot to use her powers for their nefarious goals. Putney has also written a YA series about an alternate-world Britain where magic is considered a lower-class pursuit, a shameful defect if it shows up in a noble family. The magically endowed heroine's upper-class parents send her to an exclusive but very strict academy that exists to train gifted young people to suppress their powers.

In fiction, miracle workers in general often inspire fear and revulsion rather than awe. Consider Mike, the "Martian" in Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE land. In real life, too, such people sometimes meet violent ends.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Netflix Of His Time

It was a time when all women were men, at least on the stage. Boys and men played the female parts. The "nurses" and other character parts were the Mrs. Doubtfires of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. Lady MacBeth would have been Tootsie.

He worked his way from the groundlings up, holding the horses, and no doubt passing the hat. He acted his parts, he collaborated with other writers, his writing style changed with the times.

When he achieved some success he was roundly criticized by the glittering literary elites for being a common man (not university educated), and for being a jack-of-all trades within the entertainment industry.

He wrote plays, poems, sonnets, sagas, but he also (with others) tore down a theatre that they had constructed on rented land when a landlord tried to take advantage, and rebuilt the Globe theatre. One might compare him to PT Barnum.

No stranger to political patronage and sponsorship, he was a Lord Chancellor's Man during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and then a King's Man.

His Histories could have been compared to the sometimes scurrilous sagas about Royal Families, loosely based on someone's truth, and heavily laden with political brown-proboscising, to show first Gloriana's ancestral enemies and then the foes of James I and VI in a bad light, and to portray their royal forebears in the best possible taste.

Apart from Histories, he wrote Comedies, Tragedies, Tragi-Comedies, and so-called Problem plays. He borrowed other people's material, and pleased his crowds with jingoism, and the prejudices of his day, but interestingly the union between Othello and Desdemona was not remarkable for anything except the violent and tragic jealousy of Othello.

He wrote of Romans, Frenchmen, Englishmen of all degrees, Egyptians, Moors, Venetians, Italians, Scots, Fairies, Witches, Wizards, indecisive and dastardly Danes... and more; of lovers, soldiers, kings, ghosts, murderers, lawyers, rogues and rebels, horny teenagers, and victims of prejudice.

As for his education, he would have been strictly schooled in English grammar (no bad thing), and the latin classics. One interesting note is that he acted in a play called Sejanus His Fall. Today, we would call it Sejanus's Fall, but the apostrophe-s was not in vogue at the time.

Shakespeare is possibly the most influential writer in the English language, and there is so much more to his life, work and legacy than his pallor, gender, and nationality.

Credits to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare

All the best,

 

Friday, December 15, 2023

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Woman in Black and Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill


{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Woman in Black and Printer's Devil Court 

by Susan Hill

by Karen S. Wiesner

Susan Hill is one of those authors that effortlessly puts you directly into the fictional settings and personal lives of her characters (many of her stories are ghost and/or horror) with so much atmospheric reality, you're convinced of the authenticity of everything. Two stories that seem to go together extremely well are The Woman in Black and Printer's Devil Court. Both are haunting (forgive me but it's fitting) ghost stories that linger on in the memory long after they're read.


The Woman in Black was published in 1983. Most people have heard of it because of the 2012 film adaption starring (Harry Potter) Daniel Radcliffe, which was excellent but not quite as good as the book. There were changes made to the movie (ones that I think worked there) that weren't in the book, and it’s within the pages of the novel that the story, characters, and unforgettable settings are breathtakingly expanded.

The novel is narrated by Arthur Kipps and follows his life. In this one, we start at the end, and work our way to the beginning. In the initial scenes, we see Kipps settled with his wife and stepchildren. They ask him to tell them his own ghost story. Kipps resists but eventually decides to write it down. He starts at the beginning when he was young  and engaged to be married the following year. As a junior solicitor, Kipps is assigned to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow in Crythin Gifford, a small town on the coast of England. He’s charged with settling her estate, the secluded, desolate Eel Marsh House situated on Nine Lives Causeway, which is surrounded by marshes. At high tide, the property is completely cut off from the mainland.

During the funeral, Kipps sees a mysterious woman in black lurking in the background. As he learns more about his deceased client and her sister, who became pregnant out of wedlock, one of the wealthy landowners from town divulges the horrifying truth that none of the other townsfolk want to talk about--that Jennet has returned often in the years since her death, and a sighting of this “Woman in Black” presages the death of a child.

This story reflects on the deep, indelible impressions death can leave on lives, and the damage that harshness, unforgiveness, and loss can have on the mind. The Woman in Black is everything I love in a ghost tale. It has great potential for re-reading often.


In Printer's Devil Court, a Victorian spooky tale, four medical students discuss the ramifications of interfering with death as it approaches. In truth, they should have talked about whether it's advisable at all. But, in the throes of youth untouched by the taint of regret and uncertainty, so many evils are perpetrated and simply never questioned in the face of imminent exploration and discovery. The experiments the men embark on in the cellar of their lodgings in Printer's Devil Court and a little used mortuary in a subterranean annex of the hospital is unnatural and horrifying.

Hugh, one of the doctors, found he couldn't continue with the unethical undertakings, but years later he's called back to the unpleasant memories of the events he had a unwilling but intrigued hand in bringing about. Now he sees the damage that lives on unceasingly. But is it possible to change the consequences of monstrous actions?

This story reflects on the deep, indelible impressions of life and death, what happens in-between, and how inept man is at playing God in these areas. The reader is forced to consider the frailty and violence inside men. This Frankenstein-like story swept me along, unable to put it down for long. As an author, I couldn’t help marveling at how the author chose the best narrator for this story. If she’d chosen any of the other medical students, the story wouldn’t have any the same impact. Stories like these make for good warnings against getting involved in ambiguous things that make you uneasy and are sure to keep your conscience at full alarm until you extricate yourself.

If you haven’t read a ghost story before or are simply looking for the best of its kind, these two are not to be missed.

Note that these stories are published separately as well as in the author's own collections.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Decoding Brain Waves

Can a computer program read thoughts? An experimental project uses AI as a "brain decoder," in combination with brain scans, to "transcribe 'the gist' of what people are thinking, in what was described as a step toward mind reading":

Scientists Use Brain Scans to "Decode" Thoughts

The example in the article discusses how the program interprets what a person thinks while listening to spoken sentences. Although the system doesn't translate the subject's thoughts into the exact same words, it's capable of accurately rendering the "gist" into coherent language. Moreover, it can even accomplish the same thing when the subject simply thinks about a story or watches a silent movie. Therefore, the program is "decoding something that is deeper than language, then converting it into language." Unlike earlier types of brain-computer interfaces, this noninvasive system doesn't require implanting anything in the person's brain.

However, the decoder isn't perfect yet; it has trouble with personal pronouns, for instance. Moreover, it's possible for the subject to "sabotage" the process with mental tricks. Participating scientists reassure people concerned about "mental privacy" that the system works only after it has been trained on the particular person's brain activity through many hours in an MRI scanner. Nevertheless, David Rodriguez-Arias Vailhen, a bioethics professor at Spain's Granada University, expresses apprehension that the more highly developed versions of such programs might lead to "a future in which machines are 'able to read minds and transcribe thought'. . . warning this could possibly take place against people's will, such as when they are sleeping."

Here's another article about this project, explaining that the program functions on a predictive model similar to ChatGPT. As far as I can tell, the system works only with thoughts mentally expressed in words, not pure images:

Brain Activity Decoder Can Read Stories in People's Minds

Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin suggest as one positive application that the system "might help people who are mentally conscious yet unable to physically speak, such as those debilitated by strokes, to communicate intelligibly again."

An article on the Wired site explores in depth the nature of thought and its connection with language from the perspective of cognitive science.

Decoders Won't Just Read Your Mind -- They'll Change It

Suppose the mind isn't, as traditionally assumed, "a self-contained, self-sufficient, private entity"? If not, is there a realistic risk that "these machines will have the power to characterize and fix a thought’s limits and bounds through the very act of decoding and expressing that thought"?

How credible is the danger foreshadowed in this essay? If AI eventually gains the power to decode anyone's thoughts, not just those of individuals whose brain scans the system has been trained on, will literal mind-reading come into existence? Could a future Big Brother society watch citizens not just through two-way TV monitors but by inspecting the contents of their brains?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Whose Who?

Punctuation is a matter of courtesy to ones reader. I believe that Sir Ernest Gowers wrote words to that effect in his influential "Plain Words". He was a powerful advocate for brevity and precision in the use of English, particularly in the case of factual writing.

To my astonishment, I was able to find a biography of Sir Ernest Gowers on Wikipedia. I recommend it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Gowers

I was so impressed, I made a small donation to Wikipedia and discovered two wonderful things, to wit: donations to Wikipedia are classed as charitable and are tax-deductible; and if one makes a donation, one no longer sees fund-raising banners when revisiting the site.

That is the first time in my seventy years that I have had a good experience as a result of tracking cookies!

As far as I recall, it was Sir Ernest who said that one does not need the possessive apostophe in ones.

Now to "Whose Who?" which should not be confused with "Who Is Who?" (Or Who's Who?)

Much depends whether one is talking about the science fictional Dr. Who --which I will-- or Dr. Seuss's Whos of Whoville.

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/whos-vs-whos-vs-whose-grammar-rules

And for an interesting bit of grammatical esoterica, if the question could be, "Who is she?" the word would be "Who is who?" If it is "Who is him?" it could be "Who is whom?".

Source: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/192794/whos-who-or-whos-whom

For me, I lost interest when Dr. Who ceased to be a Gandalfian figure, but His Time-Lordliness is of enduring relevance when it comes to copyright.

Legal blogger, IP lawyer and of special counsel Nils Versemann of the lawfirm Macpherson Kelley discusses the legal impediments towards restoring the lost (in space and time) episodes of the Dr. Who episodes to posterity,

https://mk.com.au/copyright-concerns-about-private-doctor-who-collection/

Possibly, I had too much fun with that last sentence for a good student of Sir Ernest!

In short, the BBC failed to preserve certain episodes of the series. Ironically, some of those reasons were copyright-related. Now, the missing episodes are of great value, and it turns out that a few episodes are not altogether lost, but in the hands of private collectors.

The rub is that those private collectors might be barred by copyright laws from sharing what they might have scavenged from BBC dustbins or recorded at home from the TV (legally or otherwise) for private enjoyment.

  "This means that when the Doctor Who episodes were copied from the TV broadcast in the 1960s, they would have infringed copyright in that broadcast and the underlying cinematograph film.

There is an exception under section 111 of the Australian Copyright Act 1968. This includes making a recording of the broadcast for private and domestic use to watch at a more convenient time...[ ] However, that exception is taken to have never applied if a further copy is made..."

For the sake of posterity, and the Dr. Who canon, Nils Versemann suggests a pragmatic solution. 

"... the BBC should consider an amnesty to private collectors who historically made copies for their own personal use. The BBC’s objective is to receive these precious copies, rather than deal with somebody who is pirating them for profit..."

Or in this case, perhaps not "pirating them for profit" but saving them secretly.

Whose Dr. Who episode is it? And, does technical ownership matter. It would be an almost literal pyrrhic victory if the BBC defended its ancient copyright and lost the missing plot.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, December 08, 2023

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill



{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

by Karen S. Wiesner

Susan Hill is one of those authors that effortlessly puts you directly into the fictional settings and personal lives of her characters (many of her stories are ghost and/or horror) with so much atmospheric reality, you're convinced of the authenticity of everything. Two stories that seem to go together extremely well are The Small Hand and Dolly. Both are unforgettable ghost stories.

The Small Hand was published in 2010. In this story, an antiquarian book dealer gets lost in the countryside after visiting a client and ends up at a derelict Edwardian House. While there, he's compelled to the entrance, where he feels a small hand slip into his own. This experience haunts him over the next several weeks, plaguing him with nightmares, unexpected panic attacks, along with further visits from this disembodied, ghostly small hand. His only choice is to delve deeply into the mystery of the house and its desolate, overgrown garden.

While the description of this story may sound vaguely silly, nothing about the story was that. The mere idea of this experience was always rendered as a genuinely chilling occurrence. I invested myself in this tale, as well as into the point of view of the main character with his investigations. I wanted to know what was going on. The answer wasn’t what I was expecting—the twist was even better than I could have hoped for.

In Dolly, published in 2012, the main character is a boy Edward sent to live with his aunt. While there, his like-aged, spoiled cousin Leonora comes to stay for the "holiday" as well. They're the children of siblings who hated each other. Their aunt Kestrel was the older sister of the two siblings. Kestrel's decaying Iyot House is situated in the damp, desolate Fens of Eastern England. Edward is polite and withdrawn, having learned to keep his thoughts private to avoid trouble. What a contrast he is to his bratty cousin who throws a fit about everything and anything. While the reader can't help feeling sorry for her because the girl's mother treats her like possession she's only sometimes in the mood for having around, sympathy can only go so far with such bad behavior. The one thing Leonora has always wanted from her mother is a specific doll. Knowing only that Leonora wants a doll for her birthday, Kestrel makes a special trip to get her a beautiful, expensive one. However, it's not the one Leonora has always wanted. She proceeds to smash it in her terrible rage at again not getting what she wanted (and probably not from the person she'd wanted it from). Edward picks up the pieces and puts it back in the box. All that night, he hears the paper around the shattered doll rustling along with crying. At first he puts the box under his bed, then into a deep cupboard, but the crying so haunts him, he eventually takes it and buries it in the church cemetery not far from the house.

Edward is a character you can’t help but love. The author put us directly into his situation, into his heart and mind, seamlessly. I could feel his shock and even a bit of awe at his cousin, who was beautiful to look upon, but his wariness toward her was warranted. Even as he longed for a companion, she was too selfish and volatile. The story also takes place when they're adult, after their aunt had died and her will is to be read. Even then, the characters are wonderfully brought to life.

The brilliance in this disturbing horror story is in the delicate hand the author displayed in fleshing out the psychology of the characters. Edward and Leonora are opposites--light and dark, good and evil. But light and dark, good and evil aren't easily defined or examined. Using the doll to explore the angle of whether evil is inherent or whether psychological damage causes it leads to a question about forgiveness or the lack thereof passing down through the generations of a family like a dark stain that those who experience it (firsthand, second, and on and on) can never wash off.

Note that both of these stories are published separately as well as in the author's own collections.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor 

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, December 07, 2023

The Smartest Animals

Here's yet another list of the supposedly most intelligent nonhuman animals, or at least a selection of them:

11 of the World's Smartest Animals

How is intelligence defined for purposes of this kind of categorization? The article focuses on what scientists have discovered about any given animal’s "self-awareness, self-control, and memory, all of which influence how well a creature processes information and solves problems."

The list intrigues me partly because of a couple of unexpected creatures highlighted alongside the obvious ones. I expected to see animals such as chimpanzees, bonobos, dolphins, raccoons, pigs, elephants, and octopuses, plus birds such as ravens and parrots. But pigeons? Horses? And why don't dogs make the cut? Unlike chimps, they understand what we mean when we point to an object, probably because they've evolved for millennia to live with humans.

Raccoons might be prime candidates for evolving to replace us if we went extinct. Their forepaws, which they use like hands, could give them a technological edge over such potential rivals as pigs or dolphins, which lack manipulative appendages. Incidentally, bears are also good at breaking into locked spaces and opening receptacles such as coolers. The most intelligent animals on the list, chimpanzees and bonobos (formerly known as pigmy chimps) have small, threatened populations, whereas raccoons presently thrive in great numbers in many human-dominated environments. I also like the idea of an octopus-dominated world, though. Granted, their reign would be confined to the aquatic realm, but imagine if they evolved to overcome their main disadvantages, their short lifespans and solitary nature. An octopus species that mutated to survive for many years after procreating instead of dying as soon as they reproduce could pass on accumulated knowledge to their young, a process that might encourage development of social bonds. Has any SF author written about a mainly watery planet with octopus-like inhabitants as the dominant sapient species?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.