Where Would Anne Frank Hide Today?

choose%20privacy%20iconWe complain about a lot of things here in the States, but for the most part we’re still a free country. We voice our opinions, purchase what we want, vote how we choose, and pursue careers of our own design (more or less). We post “on-the-go” location  data on social media so anyone can find us at any time, without worrying about being gunned down by our own government.

Will it always be this way?

History tells us that even the strongest empires fall, and that even the best leaders can become corrupt if given enough power.

My daughter is learning about World War II in her sixth grade history class, and for the first time in her life she’s grasping the horrors of war. It astounds her that people can be so cruel. We’ve had several discussions about why it’s important to study even the worst parts of history: so we’re not doomed to repeat it.

Yesterday in the car driving home from the middle school, I remembered that Anne Frank received her diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday. As my daughter approaches thirteen, I can’t help but wonder…if something changed in our country, where would my children hide?

There is nowhere. Satellite surveillance, facial recognition technology, GPS tracking, social media investigation, cameras in every corner of the world…

In our global fascination with the Digital Age and our desire to own the latest gadget, we’ve given away freedoms we might never get back.

Let’s get serious about our privacy rights, just in case history repeats itself. For more information about the privacy revolution, take a look at The American Library Association’s “Choose Privacy Week,” scheduled for May 1-7.

anne frank

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Cyberpunk: Past, Present or Future?

640x960_17218_Coffee_time_2d_sci_fi_cyborg_robot_girl_woman_picture_image_digital_artThe Matrix. Blade Runner. Terminator. These films have come to define our mainstream perception of cyberpunk. And when we think of the cyberpunk genre, we often imagine some far-off future, a cityscape of neon lights and flying vehicles, a world foreign from our own.

But is it?

I’m writing this from my favorite Starbucks, where I’m huddled in the corner, trying to stay warm. It’s drafty in here, everyone wearing coats and hats even while inside. A couple of older gentlemen sit across from me, discussing their plans for a new church program. I can hear them in between songs, but I’m concentrating, focusing, trying to put words to the thoughts in my head. I’m listening to The Matrix soundtrack on repeat, my headphones plugged into my touchscreen laptop computer. My iPhone sits face-up on my armchair so I can easily see new texts. The woman two seats away keys something into her laptop while holding a device to her ear. Beyond her, a man in a leather jacket appears to be talking to himself. Upon further inspection, I see he’s wearing a Bluetooth.

So much technology. Everywhere.

Merriam-Webster defines cyberpunk as “science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.” As a genre it became popular in the early 1980s. Authors like William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was made into the film Blade Runner) tapped into societal fear about an unknown future, a future of machines and widespread enslavement to technology. Films like the Terminator series, Johnny Mnemonic, Robocop, 12 Monkeys, and The Matrix trilogy all fall in the cyberpunk genre.

Early cyberpunk described a future society dominated by technology.

Sound familiar?

In a thoughtful post entitled Whatever Happened to Cyberpunk, sci-fi writer Damien Walter says the futuristic world described in Neuromancer and other early cyberpunk works has already come and gone.

“Being a teenager in the 90s was like living half your life in a digital mind-control experiment, as advertisers vied to control our spending patterns,” Walter writes. “Here…where screens occupy every corner of our world, I’m guessing being a teenager is like living 98% of your life in a digital mind control that is no longer experimental.”

Scary. And true. Observe any group of teens at the mall. Observe anybody anywhere, for that matter.

Face it, early cyberpunk described societal fears that have already become manifest. We’re living in that world right now.

Kinda makes me wonder…what’s coming next?

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Writing: It’s All the Playground

creepy-girl-playground-sky-swing-Favim_com-241414Writing is a lonely craft. When a writer sits down to write—really write, not just talk about writing—there are only three components involved: a writing utensil, a blank page, and the writer’s own mind. Through the years, writing utensils and the blank page have changed drastically. Ink and quill morphed into typewriters, then laptop keyboards. The blank surface of papyrus became pressed printer paper, then mere pixels on a screen.

But while the instruments of writing transformed over time, their function remained mostly the same: to be a playground for the writer’s own mind.

A playground?

Yes, indeed.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” (Virginia Woolf)

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” (James A. Michener)

Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” (Ray Bradbury)

You can make ANYTHING by writing.” (C.S. Lewis)

For the next month, I’m diving deep into the writing cave to make some headway on my next novel. I’ve been working on this one for a while, I’m stuck at 21,000 words, and I need something to push me. By the end of November (National Novel Writing Month), I’m hoping to add another 30,000 words to the draft.

I won’t be blogging until at least early December. But rest assured, I will be writing.

I’ll also be on Twitter. Why? Because I usually tweet when I write, even if only a meager “Need more coffee #amwriting.” And I’ll continue posting regularly to my FB author page, often in ways that provide hints to my mental state (if you haven’t liked my page yet, please do. I post regularly about coffee and writing, with some cyberpunk thrown into the mix).

Social media and events like NaNoWriMo remind us that as writers, we’re not alone. We desperately need this reminder.

But the truth of the matter—for every writer—is that the act of writing is lonely.

There’s a keyboard.

The blank page.

And the writer’s own mind—that fun place of chaos, characters, and worlds within worlds within worlds that have yet to be discovered.

“When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Time to come out and play.

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Spam with Typos: Like Cyborgs with Water Damage

typos-typos-everywhereLately my WordPress posts have been inundated with spammers. Unlike the obscene spam of years past, these more innovative folks prefer to make a flattering, ambiguous comment in hopes that readers would click on their name, which links to a retail website (or something). Unfortunately, my free Akismet filters don’t catch this stuff, so bloggers like me must manually unapprove each comment as it appears.

It’s annoying. But to any spammers out there reading this, I understand the need to sell a product. Really, I sympathize with your plight.

However, I absolutely cannot tolerate spam with typos.

To be clear, I don’t mind typos in personal correspondence. If we have a personal relationship, this post isn’t about you, so please don’t be self-conscious. Typos in our FB posts, chats, emails, texts, Twitter replies, Goodreads messages, even friendly blog comments—these don’t bother me. But strangers who just want me to click a link? C’mon. Get real.

Even in spam, I can handle certain things. Generic compliments? Love them. Who doesn’t, right? And half-hearted attempts to sound contextually relevant? Sometimes lame, but usually amusing. At least you tried. Points for the effort.

Careless typos?

Forget about it.

No flippin’ way I’m clicking on that link now, buddy.

Despite my friendly nature, I’m a suspicious type of person at heart. If you’ve read my fiction, then you understand this about me. I can usually sense a sales pitch from a mile away.

Several years back, my husband and I got talked into letting a salesman come to our home to analyze our tap water. For TWO HOURS on a weeknight, he explained that his amazing filtration system could reverse all our health problems, make our clothing last longer, improve the quality of our skin and hair, increase the longevity of our household appliances, and get rid of all those little hard water stains on the dishes. The fine lines around my eyes would disappear, and my house would be *ahem* MUCH CLEANER. Quite honestly, I wanted to spray the guy down with our chemical-laden tap water.

When we thanked him and said we’d think about it (which we wouldn’t), he went for the hard sell. Surely we didn’t want to waste another day with that awful, horrid water from the bowels of the city. Not after he spent so much time with us! He drove all the way out there, his kids were sick, his wife was about to leave him, blah, blah, blah.

email editWe said no, closed the door after he left, and locked it behind us with a collective sigh of relief.

I don’t remember why we initially agreed to the demo, but I think it must have sounded worth the time. At first.

So here’s my point: Spammers, if you’re going to sell something in a sneaky, roundabout kind of way, at least make the effort to be professional—especially in the first attempt.

Show me an eloquent spammer who knows how to proofread, and I might let the comment remain on my blog for longer than usual.

But I’m still not clicking the link.

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What Ebola Can Teach Us about Cybersecurity

ebola-dallasI live near Dallas, otherwise known in social media as ground zero of the American zombie apocalypse.

Ebola is a nasty virus. Nobody wants it, so I certainly understand the concern. But here’s the deal: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and we are much more likely to fall victim to hackers than we are to contract Ebola. Someday the hacking threat may extend to implanted medical devices and e-health records, but hopefully that’s just science fiction. For now.

In this pre-cyborg age, we as individuals must prioritize cybersecurity. If you’re a celebrity with a nude photo you could’ve sworn you deleted, or a Christmas shopper with a credit card, or if you own an electronic device of any kind, you’re at risk.

As with infectious disease prevention, a little knowledge goes a long way.

Here are three things about cybersecurity we can learn from Ebola:

Nobody is safe. The 80-100 people who came into contact with our Dallas Ebola patient had NO IDEA they were near a deadly, contagious virus from halfway across the world. Ebola wasn’t even on their radars. Likewise, you might think there’s nothing worth stealing on your computer, or that hackers wouldn’t go through all that trouble for your credit card information. You’re wrong. Anyone can be a hacking victim.

Points-of-contact matter. Ebola is a public health emergency. The CDC is tracking down everyone who may have been in contact with the patient, probably down to the people who touched affected doorknobs. Same goes for cybersecurity. So you deleted the obscene picture. Great. Where was it stored? Who else saw it? Could it be on their device? Did you save it to a cloud-based program? Celebrities are learning the hard way that nothing in the cloud goes away. Ever.

Get help from the experts. Ebola isn’t the common cold. Granted, some patients might slip through the cracks. You might wander into the hospital feeling icky, fail to mention international travel, and leave undiagnosed. But if you truly have Ebola, you’ll go back to the hospital in an ambulance, the CDC will show up in hazmat suits, and your entire family will be quarantined. The same goes for cybersecurity. Do your homework, understand what’s at stake, and invest in quality products for virus and spyware protection. Don’t assume your computer is safe because you bought a virus protection program four years ago. Stay up-to-date.

Infectious disease experts aren’t the least bit surprised that Ebola came to the United States. They say it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Hacking is the same kind of risk: it can happen to anyone, at any time.

Be ready.

(Special thanks to Lisa Margetis from SingleHop, who provided information that inspired this post.)

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Cemetery Cats? Yep. Just in time for fall…

2e8230b84a9bf246b0a65e06a8d5c8dc_largeEvery now and then a story captures my imagination enough that I break with my traditional blog format to do something different. This is one of those stories.

Cemeteries are usually eerie, lonely places—barren reminders of the dearly departed. Not in Buenos Aires, home to one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. For the record, I’ve never been to Buenos Aires. But it’s come to my attention that something strange (and furry) walks between the graves of the Buenos Aires cemetery.

Cats. All kinds of cats.

Despite how it sounds in this pre-Halloween season, this is not from the pages of a Stephen King book. It’s the subject of a documentary called “The Guardians of Recoleta,” currently in production with BE MORE REAL, a global media production firm owned by Blake Kuhre and his wife, Adrienne.

I went to high school with Blake, where we worked together at the student newspaper and other journalistic endeavors on campus. Since then, he’s built a thriving career in broadcast journalism and new media, including ten years with the Walt Disney Company. As director of BE MORE REAL, Blake now describes himself as “a former Mouseketeer turned storyteller.”

Ok, back to the cats.

I want to know more about them.

Cats that hang out in one of the most beautiful cemeteries of the world fascinate me. Maybe I read too many cat stories as a child. Or the early introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte to the Starbucks menu has me feeling all spooky. But I think cemetery cats are kind of cool…

And yes, perhaps also a bit spooky. In a beautiful feline sort of way.

“Millions of tourists, thousands of souls, and 9 lives.” – The Guardians of Recoleta.

 

(Love animals? Interested in these cemetery cats? Crowd funding for “The Guardians of Recoleta” is open through 10/2… click here to support this unique documentary.)

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Seven Reasons Gen X Parents Rock

breakfast-club-1985-08-gMy oldest child is about to turn twelve. This freaks me out. I remember being twelve, and that’s why I just don’t think it’s possible for me to actually raise a child of this age. So I wrote this blog post as therapy. An affirmation, so to speak. (I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!)

Here are my top seven reasons why Generation X Parents ROCK:

1. We survived some of the 70s, and all of the 80s and 90s. Think about it. These three decades defined disco, big hair, bigger hair, the entire span of Michael Jackson’s fame and demise, Nirvana, OJ Simpson, Columbine. Our parents might have been hippies or beatniks. We’ve been through it. Just sayin’.

2. We have choices. Diet or regular. Organic or pesticide-laden. McDonalds or Chic-Fil-A. Netflix or satellite. Our choices are endless. If anything, we have WAY TOO MANY CHOICES. What a great problem to have, right?

3. We have resources our parents didn’t have. A seatbelt requirement, for example. Sturdy infant carseats. Oh, and yeah…the entire span of human knowledge at our fingertips. Plus…wait for it…this one is my favorite one…A SMALL, VERY IMPORTANT DEVICE that can always be taken away. Worse than grounding. Worse than losing allowance. It’s the best incentive for good behavior EVER.

4. We’re streetwise about boy bands and fame. We weren’t surprised when Justin Bieber was arrested for DUI and resisting arrest. I mean, seriously. We were raised by people who had Elvis, the Beatles and the Doors. We cut our pop culture teeth on Madonna, LL Cool J, Metallica, and Kurt Cobain. We had Snoop Dogg, NKOTB, NSync, Color Me Badd, and Milli Vanilli. We know how to guide our kids through celebrity worship. We know the limitations of entertainment.

5. We embrace technology. We understand it’s a necessary tool. We know that children who have access to the latest technology will have more opportunities in a future workplace, so as taxpayers we vote for tech funding in even the lowest income schools. We know that kids pick up on this stuff faster than we do, because they grew up with it, literally from the cradle. We might be jealous of this. But we’d never say so.

6. We absolutely don’t trust technology. Facebook isn’t private, no matter what the settings tell you. Since logging into the online world sometime in our early-ish years, we’ve been hacked, tracked, and digitally violated in so many ways it’s not even funny. As children we thought mandatory finger-printing was sort of creepy. Now we cyberstalk our kids and feel no shame in doing so. It’s part of the job description.

7. We could survive without smartphones. Granted, it wouldn’t be pretty. But most of us remember a world without texting, Google, or Siri. We could do it, if we absolutely had to. We might wander the countryside aimlessly, looking for a payphone or the Encyclopedia Britannica or something, but we’d pull it off somehow. Our kids, on the other hand… well, I guess we better teach them. Just in case.

I mean, that’s what parents are for, right!?

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