The vulnerability of the lovelorn

Men in California oversaw a romance scam that targeted women worldwide, feds say

It is certainly easy to scam some people with get-rich-quick schemes. But it is perhaps equally easy to scam a lonely person looking for amorous company of the opposite sex.

And as the above article demonstrates, the most willing victims aren’t always randy men seeking impossibly beautiful foreign brides.

Hobbits beat Jedi

Lord of the Rings Trumps Star Wars in New Online Poll

I am not surprised. The Star Wars franchise has grown stale in recent years (as in–the last 20 years). 

As I’ve written before, I remember watching the first Star Wars ever, at the cinema with my dad in the summer of ’77.

I was nine. My dad was twenty years younger than I am today.

The first three movies–Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi–were true originals. Absolutely amazing, in that time and place.

But they should have stopped in 1983, with the last of those three original films. Everything they’ve done since then has detracted from the power of what was done in the 1970s and 1980s.

Return of the Jedi, 1983

George RR Martin, writers, and time

George RR Martin: ‘Game of Thrones finishing is freeing, I’m at my own pace

Professionally, Martin is at the height of his success. But he’s also a septuagenarian writer who has a tendency to take on long, ambitious projects.

One thing about writing: There is a never enough time to get everything done.

Ergo, writers of any age have to become adept at time management.

The end of YouTube comments?

Comments: a thing of the past at YouTube?

Look for more changes to come…especially if advertising revenue is on the line

The big story on YouTube of late is the gradual phasing out of comments. (Listen to the video embedded above.) YouTube has been trying to ween both viewers and creators off the comments system. 

Not everyone is happy about this. Creators who depend on Adsense revenue often like comments because comments increase page views (and thereby, Adsense revenues.)

Many others enjoy the voyeuristic diversion of sifting through the profane cesspools that YouTube comments have become.  So YouTube comments, as toxic as they are, do have a certain following. 

But are comments truly useful? And are they truly representative of the viewers?

The 1/9/90 rule

Maybe not. Statistics show only about ten percent of viewers/readers comment on online content, and one percent will tend to dominate the comment sections for any site/article/video. This is called the 1/9/90  rule.

From a participation standpoint, then, comments exist for ten percent of the audience some of the time, and one percent of the audience most of the time. 

YouTube’s comment problems

Comments, moreover, have become an acute problem for YouTube. A few months ago, YouTube abruptly and unilaterally disabled comments on a large swath of videos featuring children.

Why were videos with children targeted?

Pedophiles were aggregating in the comment sections of family channel videos that included kids. They were making the kinds of comments that you might expect. (No–I’m not going to cite examples; use your imagination.)

This is obviously horrible. But even before that, “Don’t read the comments” has long been a catchphrase (and a piece of good advice) on the Internet.

YouTube has had difficulty in recent years retaining advertisers, who have demanded that the site be cleaned up. Profane, sexually explicit, and hate-filled comment sections have been a big part of YouTube’s image problem with corporate advertisers.

So why not just get rid of comments altogether? someone at YouTube has apparently asked. 

Whether or not this change will be fully implemented remains to be seen. YouTube seems to be opting for a gradual approach. In some markets, comments are now invisible and disabled by default, so that viewers and creatives have to proactively enable/activate them. 

Look for more changes to come…especially if advertising revenue is on the line. 

Crocodiles in Ohio?

Welcome to Ohio!

No, this isn’t a plot from one of my stories, but an actual news report: 

A 7-foot crocodile was swimming in an Ohio creek as elementary school kids played in the water

This occurred in West Alexandria, about 1.5 hours from my front door by car. (I haven’t been to West Alexandria, but I have been to nearby Eaton.)

Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

The article notes that crocodiles are “not native to Ohio”. Indeed. That is one of the payoffs of the sometimes bitter winters here. 

Tumblr sells for pennies on the dollar after adult content ban

Verizon Sells Tumblr for 98% Discount After Banning Adult Content

No, this isn’t a free speech/censorship piece. How much skin should be allowed on social media platforms is a worthwhile topic…but a topic for another day.

Apparently Tumblr had become a haven for escorts, sugar babies, sex workers, and other purveyors of X-rated entertainment.

Then after Tumblr banned the sex, management was shocked to discover that no one cared about Tumblr.

I briefly dabbled with Tumblr two years ago, before discovering that I had almost no use for it.

Tumblr is a sort of microblogging site, more flexible than Twitter, but not nearly as robust as WordPress, or even Google Blogger.

The site is neither fish nor fowl, really; and it’s difficult to see why anyone would have a use for it…once you take out the sex.

Apparently, both the old and the new owners of Tumblr agreed. Hence the fire sale of the platform at 2% of its former value–prior to the porn ban.

The future of Barnes & Noble

Some of you have been asking my opinion regarding new Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt’s plan for the struggling book retailer.

Daunt plans to make B&N stores stripped-down versions of what they currently are. The model here is the airport bookstore on one hand, the local, neighborhood bookstore on the other.

In other words, small bookstores that carry about the same inventory as the book section of the nearest Walmart, Costco, or Kroger.

So why do you even need a bookstore, if Walmart already stocks about the same number of books? 

Daunt is British, and this might be a viable strategy for the British retail market, which is decades behind that of the United States.

It isn’t a winning strategy for the US, where Amazon dominates by virtue of its wide selection, low prices, and economies of scale.

Daunt clearly has no plan to compete with Amazon. He plans to compete with…small neighborhood bookstores that have already gone out of business in most of the U.S.

Forgive me if I’m underwhelmed.

FREE horror: new in Kindle Unlimited

Just in time for late summer reading, I’ve added these horror titles for you to enjoy FREE in Kindle Unlimited:

(Click the links to view them on Amazon.)

Revolutionary Ghosts

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. A dark fantasy horror thriller filled with wayward spirits, historical figures, and a 1970s vibe.

12 Hours of Halloween

Halloween night 1980: The suburbs are haunted, as three young friends endure twelve hours of nonstop supernatural terror. Will they survive the night?

Eleven Miles of Night

Would you risk your life and sanity on the most haunted road in Ohio for a $2000 prize?

Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense

16 horrific tales filled with monsters, ghosts, and deadly people. For fans of Stephen King’s short story collections.

Luk Thep: a horror novella

An American executive in exotic Thailand. An evil spirit that follows her home. Supernatural mystery and terror on two continents.

You can read all of the above titles for FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

Not a member of Kindle Unlimited? Check out the FREE trial!

GLOW: trashing the 1980s?

‘GLOW’ shines a less flattering light on life during the 1980s

Brian Lowry of CNN is delighted that a Netflix series, GLOW, examines the dark side of the decade of Ronald Reagan and hair bands:

The series, about a female wrestling program, has already dealt with sexual harassment, blatantly objectifying women and dismissing them in workplace settings. The new season proceeds along those paths while also tackling homophobia, the AIDS crisis, bulimia, fear of coming out as LGBT and the packaging of xenophobia and racism as entertainment.

CNN

I try to maintain some objectivity here. I am admittedly nostalgic for the 1980s; but the 1980s are also a decade that I remember fondly, for personal reasons that have little to do with broader societal trends. I was a teenager throughout most of that decade, and I lived in the self-absorbed bubble that all teenagers inhabit. 

I’m sure that if you were LGBT in 1985, you did feel a lot more constrained than you would in 2019. There were plenty of openly gay people in Hollywood by then; but yes, being gay was somewhat controversial in environments like suburban Ohio (where I grew up).

There was a fairly obvious, fairly openly gay member of my high school class. He was never physically attacked or outright bullied (so far as I know); but he was very much made to feel like an outsider. He was occasionally teased about his orientation. He has not returned to a single class reunion since we graduated in 1986….One need not wonder why.

On a more immediately personal note: I remember my mom coming home from work, circa 1983, irate and in tears, because her boss had said, “women belong in the kitchen or the bedroom”.  

Her boss had said this jokingly, matter-of-factly, but it nevertheless stung. I often wonder if her life (she passed away in 2015) would have been happier if “political correctness” had come to the workplace a few decades sooner. 

No decade is perfect–including this one. Societal failures, moreover, are not uniformly failures to be sufficiently progressive. Because of lax sexual mores (among other factors),  an unprecedented percentage of children now grow up in single-mother households, with all of the challenges that entails.

Neither my childhood, nor my parents, were perfect. But I benefited from having two married, committed parents, living under the same roof with me. Many children today grow up without that advantage. 

I get what Brian Lowry is saying, but we must always remain vigilant for the bias of presentism: There is a natural tendency to assume that the present age is more advanced, and more “correct” than previous ones, in every imaginable way. History often proves that assumption wrong. 

The Amazon paradox

Amazon’s quest for constant growth is not leaving it with many friends — except for Wall Street

The article basically says that Amazon is successful, but is attracting a lot of detractors. The stock is doing well, but Amazon has drawn fire from corporate partners and politicians–on both the right and the left.

(There is one thing that Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can agree on: They both dislike Amazon.)

As an indie author, I’m acutely aware of the paradox here. Indie authors are divided on the subject of Amazon. (That’s a longer discussion best left for another time.)

What the above-linked article leaves out is that Amazon is where the shoppers are

I’ve taken an (admittedly unscientific) poll among my friends and acquaintances. None of them orders anything online from non-Amazon sources.

Take a poll among your inner circle; you’ll likely get similar results. Amazon, with its wide selection, customer service, and fast, free shipping, has simply eaten everyone else’s lunch. 

I would love to see another company truly compete with Amazon. In the book space, of course (which is nearest and dearest to my heart), and elsewhere, too. 

But the bottom line is: No other company (including Walmart) is even close to seriously challenging Amazon in the online retail space. 

Like it or not, that’s the truth. 

Alcohol and Amazon

Amazon Plans to Open a Liquor Store Because Sure, Why Not

This is interesting. At present, at least, you can’t order alcoholic beverages off the Amazon site. You can order liquor paraphernalia on Amazon, though.

Being a teetotaler, I’ll stick to Amazon’s books and such.

But if you, dear reader, enjoy the occasional glass of wine, you might consider some of the items below, which you can order directly from Amazon right now:

‘Revolutionary Ghosts’ $0.99 sale: update

Thanks to everyone who purchased the book  yesterday.  I’ll leave it at 99 cents throughout today, and reset it to the usual ($3.99) price tomorrow.

Also, a reminder that the book is always free in Kindle Unlimited.

If you are not a member of Kindle Unlimited, check out the free trial.

Birthday number fifty-one

Since my birthday only comes around once per year, I had might as well announce it. Today I turned fifty-one.

Decades, literally, have passed since I was sentimental or celebratory about this day. I have long subscribed to the late Andy Rooney’s dictum: Twenty-two or twenty-three is the last birthday that is really worth making a fuss over.

That said, I don’t necessarily dread this day, either. And neither should you, if you’re getting on in years.

Time is going to pass whether you like it or not. You need to make terms with that fact. If your entire self-identity is founded on being a cutting-edge youngster, you are going to be miserable for most of your life (unless you plan on dying very young, which I don’t advise).

For my fifty-first birthday, forget the corny celebrations. Forget about the “ironic” black balloons, too.

At my age, having passed the half-century mark, a birthday takes on a new significance: I have cheated death for more than half a hundred years. This day (assuming I live through it) is a finger raised at the Grim Reaper.

But I won’t allow myself to get too cocky—even on my birthday. True, I have outwitted and out-lucked that skull-faced figure with the scythe for 51 years, as of today.

But there’s always tomorrow, and he’ll be back.

The return of cassettes

Cassettes Are Back, and It’s Not About the Music

I wouldn’t have expected this one.

I remember cassettes well, of course. (I even owned a few 8-tracks, as they were being phased out, in the very early 1980s.)

There are a lot of things that I miss about the last century, but the hissing, easily tangled audiocassette is not one of them. (That and typewriter correction fluid.)

As the above-linked article states, the big selling point of the cassette was its distinction as the most portable audio format, under the technological constraints we faced in the 1980s. No one loved them for their sound, or their reliability.

Get your house on Amazon, too

Amazon Is Now Selling an Expandable Tiny House That Requires Zero DIY Work

I might have to give this one some serious consideration. There’s nothing I hate quite as much as working around the house. 

Check out Amazon pre-fab houses here 

FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

For a limited time: a tale of horror, American history, and coming-of-age. 

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again!

Steve Wagner is an ordinary Ohio teenager in the year of America’s Bicentennial, 1976. As that summer begins, his thoughts are mostly about girls, finishing high school, and driving his 1968 Pontiac Bonneville.

But this will be no ordinary summer. Steve sees evidence of supernatural activity in the area near his home: mysterious hoof prints and missing persons reports, and unusual, violently inclined men with British accents.

There is a also a hideous woman–the vengeful ghost of a condemned Loyalist spy–who appears in the doorway of Steve’s bedroom. 

Filled with angry spirits, historical figures, and the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Revolutionary Ghosts is a terrifying coming-of-age story with a groovy 1970s vibe.

Read it for FREE in Kindle unlimited, or for just $2.99

Don’t have Kindle Unlimited? Try Kindle Unlimited for FREE!

Blood Flats: Chapter 32

Phelps watched Justin Hathaway—now a civilian—exit his office. A part of him envied the young man. This was a part of himself that he despised, although his self-reproach was tempered by two realizations: One, he knew that he would never—could never—abandon the citizens and taxpayers who had elected him. No, he could not leave them in the lurch with so much violence afoot. He also knew that his second thoughts about law enforcement were inevitable.

Phelps had gone to Iraq with a sense of fatalism. He was by no means seeking death; but he was seeking some sort of absolution for what he perceived as his own weakness. Lori Mills had already spurned him by then. Phelps had believed then that Lori’s rejection had placed him in Iraq, though that was unfair. She had been an excuse for him to run away to what he hoped would be an adventure consisting of black-and-white lines. Pure good against pure evil. At the time, that had seemed preferable to facing the implications of Lori’s recent announcement.

Phelps stopped himself from journeying any farther down that particular branch of memory lane. He did not want to untangle the events and ill-considered decisions that had caused him to drop out of college all those years ago and enlist in the army. He knew well enough that his life could have been—should have been—much different. But that was the oldest story in the world, wasn’t it?

There were more current matters that demanded his thought and attention.

He had barely made this decision when the phone on his desk rang. A call to his direct line. He lifted the receiver and it was Jim Ferris, asking him how the hell he was holding out.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Ferris headed the Operations Division of the Kentucky State Police. Ferris reported directly to the state’s Police Commissioner. If anyone in the state could secure more law enforcement resources for Hawkins County, it was Jim Ferris.

“Well,” Phelps said in response to his question. “I’ve got two dead bodies and a suspect loose in the woods. One of my three deputies just resigned.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve seen better days. But I’m working on it.”

“Well, you’ve done all you can with limited resources, Sheriff. You won’t be working alone much longer, though.”

“Good.” These were welcome words, indeed. “I appreciate the assistance from the state helicopter yesterday. But what I really need is more manpower. Our only suspect is somewhere in Hawkins County. I sorely need a state police team here. We need to search every barn and every patch of woods in the area. We need to knock on every door.”

Simply describing this task reminded him of how herculean the challenge was—even in a sparsely populated place like Hawkins County. Phelps had arisen at four in the morning. He had spent several predawn hours driving the local roads and stopping by some of the obvious places where a fugitive might hide. Beginning at seven-thirty, he had knocked on some doors. But it was truly like looking for a needle in a haystack. No one seemed to have seen Lee McCabe.

Ferris said nothing in response, and Phelps wondered if he had said something wrong. Perhaps he had overstated the obvious. Of course a lieutenant colonel of the state police would understand the details of a manhunt. Ferris wouldn’t need someone to draw him a picture, as Phelps had just done.

“Help is on the way Sheriff, but not from the state. At least not for a few days.”

“I see,” Phelps said noncommittally.

“I’ve taken the liberty of asking for federal law enforcement resources on your behalf,” Ferris said. “Two agents from the FBI’s Louisville field office will be in contact with you. Very soon.”

The FBI. This was not the help that Phelps had been expecting. Nor did he believe it was the help he needed. He knew that a county-level sheriff could count on the state police—they shared the same concerns, spoke the same language. But the FBI was part of the Washington morass, and that often meant a different agenda.

“I had thought that this would escalate according to a certain pattern of progression,” Phelps said. “I want to find out who killed two local citizens. I believe that will have a local answer. I don’t want to spend valuable time trying to connect a local crime to whatever happens to be on the FBI’s top ten list at the moment.”

“What happens in Hawkins County is on the feds’ top ten list now,” Ferris said. “Have you been keeping up with the reports from around the region? There’s been a string of homicides just like this—two-bit meth dealers gunned down for no apparent reason. Just last week a meth dealer fifty miles east of Cincinnati was found in the cab of his pickup truck with this throat cut ear-to-ear. Two more small-timers were gunned down in Nashville less than a month ago. One of them right in front of his family, I might add.”

“And you think that what happened here is somehow connected? It’s not like drug dealers never kill each other.”

“The federal government believes that someone outside the region is trying to consolidate the meth market in the middle southern states. And that theory, quite frankly, makes a lot of sense. Why do you think that young man—an ex-marine of all things—gunned down two of his neighbors in cold blood? Neighbors who happened to be engaged in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, by the way. Do you think that was a crime of passion?”

“I don’t think we’ll know for sure what happened until we apprehend Lee McCabe and question him.”

“That’s exactly what the FBI is going to help you with. For the record, Sheriff, I would like nothing better than to send a state police team down to Hawkins County this minute. But we’re bleeding from budget cuts, and record crime rates in Lexington and Louisville. Every marginal character who isn’t doing meth seems to be busy with other sorts of criminal activity at the moment. Car theft in both cities is up by more than thirty percent. I’ll have some state personnel freed up later in the week.”

“I understand,” Phelps said. “And of course we’ll appreciate whatever help the FBI can provide in the meantime.”

“Hold that thought, Sheriff. If you take a moment to consider the situation, I think you’ll find that FBI involvement will actually work to your advantage, both in terms of solving the crime as well as politically.”

Politically? Phelps didn’t see this is a political issue. There was nothing political about the carnage he had seen in that trailer.

“What are you getting at, Colonel?”

“I’m sure you know about the criticism you’ve been receiving from certain quarters,” Ferris said. “An editorial in the Louisville Sun gave you some very sharp criticism. Sad to say that wasn’t the only source of criticism, Sheriff. Our constituents and politicians consume a lot of cops-and-robbers movies, you know. There were a lot of folks out there who were expecting a little more of a chase.”

Phelps felt his cheeks turn red. He had not read the editorial in the Louisville Sun—but he could imagine the recriminations. He had seen something similar in some of the faces at the trailer park.

“There was no practical way we could have apprehended the suspect at that moment in those woods,” Phelps said. “There were only two of us, and we had a crime scene with two corpses to secure. When we first arrived, we didn’t know if there were more gunmen in the vicinity. I had to decide how to allocate minimal resources in a very unusual situation, for Hawkins County.”

“You have the support of everyone in this office,” Ferris said. “We catch our share of flak from the papers and politicians too, by the way. It comes with the job. I’m simply saying, Sheriff, that it might not be a completely bad thing if the FBI ends up with primary jurisdiction here. Those murders might be the tip of the iceberg. If the feds are right, things may get a whole lot worse in your part of the world before they even think about getting better.”

“And when will this federal help be arriving?” Phelps asked.

“As a matter of fact, I believe they are in transit to Perryston even as we speak.”

Chapter 33

Table of contents

Luk Thep: Chapter 11

Jane had been asleep for several hours when she saw the image of the little village. She was alone in the dream (at least at its beginning) without any guides or emissaries from that world. Nevertheless, she knew immediately, instinctively, that the sun-baked collection of thatch and bamboo huts was a village in Thailand—a village not far from Bangkok, in fact.

Continue reading “Luk Thep: Chapter 11”