Probably you've read about ransomware, malware that encrypts all of the data on your computer, followed by demands for payment to restore your files.
An article in the Guardian estimated that 40% of businesses have been affected by it.
Paying up is no guarantee that you'll actually get your files back and may make you the target of further attacks. Law enforcement has been relatively ineffective in catching the attackers, who often are thousands of miles away.
The other day I thought it was my turn. A window popped up saying that unless I called the phone number in the window, all my data would be destroyed. I wasn't able to close that window nor to close the browser.
FAKE RANSOMEWARE--AND THE SOLUTION
Panic, especially since I thought I was protected by using a program called Bitdefender (which I recommend).
However, before doing anything, I looked up ransomware on my iPad and discovered that in some cases the demand is a fake and the information on the computer has not been affected. It's just a pop-up window and while you can't close it in the normal way, if you use the "force quit" command to close the browser and then open it again but without restoring the tabs you had open, you're back in business.
That, fortunately, is exactly what happened.
I have been using both Safari and Chrome; it seems to me that lately a lot of unwanted material is coming up when I use Chrome. I don't know whether others have had the same experience.
HACKED TWICE THIS YEAR
My sites have been the target of hackers twice in the past year. The first time, they took over my sites and posted weird images and a "tag" similar to the signage favoured by gangs. I don't think they targeted me specifically, my sites just happened to be among the many they took over.
I changed servers and had an expert increase the security settings, but several of the sites were hacked again, this time by criminals who used them to create home pages that looked like the home pages of banks and credit card companies and tried to get people to give up their banking details.
I've had the expert install even more security, but it seems that it's difficult, if not impossible, to be totally safe. Such attacks mean the sites are unavailable, and restoring them can be expensive. There's also a feeling of violation not unlike coming home and finding that someone has broken in.
TIP 1: CHECK THE ORIGIN OF EMAILS
By the way, if you get any emails that might not be genuine, check the full address from which the message was sent. Often a message that supposedly is from your bank turns out to have originated from an address like "odie1barclays." A fake message I got recently about a book not being delivered was from somebody at "Amazn.com".
The more sophisticated con artists are more clever than that, but quite a few depend on us being too busy to make even rudimentary checks.
TIP 2: USE AN ALTERNATIVE BROWSER FOR IMPROVED PRIVACY
If you don't like the idea of your browser tracking your every move, consider DuckDuckGo. Unlike most others, they don't keep a record of your internet activity. You can find out more at DuckDuckGo.com.
TIP 3: DO ONLINE AND OFFLINE BACK-UPS
Of course you should be backing up all of your files, and to be extra secure it makes sense to back up onto the cloud and also onto a storage device.
External hard drives have become very small and cheap now or you can still back up onto DVDs. However, to be totally safe you'd need to disconnect the drives when not actually backing up. Otherwise, apparently hackers can target connected external drives as well.
THE NEW REALITY
It seems that whether it's the US presidential election or our modest little websites, the internet is another front that requires us to be alert. I'm not an expert on any of this, just sharing what's happened to me in case you might find something useful in it. If in doubt, do a detailed internet search for fuller information and advice.
Apologies to my US readers, for whom the parody cover below won't ring a bell. I shall explain: Here in England there's a railway operated by a company called Southern. The people who run the company and the people who work for it don't get along well, which means there are lots of strikes. Which means lots of trains don't run when they're supposed to (or sometimes at all).
During commute times they pack people in like sardines, while charging very high rates...partly because eventually they give in to the strikers and that means paying more or hiring more people or both.
There's just enough of the "stiff upper lip" tendency left over in the UK for companies and unions to get away with situations like this. "Mustn't grumble," they say, grumbling. Perhaps one day a hero will arise to lead the downtrodden commuting masses. Me, I work at home.
I'm sure you can think of some more!
Of course sometimes we come up with "what if's" that are more fun: "What if it's a best-seller? What if it makes me a LOT of money? What if it turns out as well as I hope it will?"
If we spend too much time on either (or both) what if's, it can hold us back, according to professors and co-authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in this video.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2017: Tate Publishing has gone out of business. For the best current information, go here:
If you, like many other authors, have spent money and gotten little or nothing in return, this comment suggests one thing to try: If you've paid anything to Tate via credit card, dispute the charges (this goes for PayPal, too):
If you are a former recent Tate Authors who paid fees upfront with a credit card, DISPUTE THE CHARGES. I just got off the phone with Discover, who I paid all of my payments adding up to $900 with, and we are disputing all charges from July through November of last year. They investigate, and if they can't get contact with Tate (Lord knows they won't since no one can), then I win. The money will be returned to me. I don't know how other credit card companies handle disputes, but I will always use Discover if they get my money back...
update of October 2016:
I've written previously about Tate Publishing and now there's an update on the valuable "Writer Beware" website. You can read the whole thing there, but here are few tidbits:
The Better Business Bureau took away Tate Publishing's accreditation, after receiving more than a hundred complaints over the past three years;
Xerox is suing Tate Publishing for $1.89 million for non-payment on service agreements and promissory note payments;
There have been layoffs at Tate Publishing's printing plant;
Their employment practices are being investigated by the Department of Labor.
Previously, they threatened me with legal action for writing about their practices; now it looks like their lawyers will be busy on the other side of the fence.
If you are considering signing a contract with Tate, do your own diligence so you can make an informed decision.
Unfortunately that's not the way it works for authors, but it worked just fine for Ron Boire, the former CEO of floundering book chain Barnes & Noble.
He was fired in August of this year after less than a year in the post. During his tenure Barnes & Noble failed to thrive, so it's understandable that they wanted to replace him.
His reward for going away was $4.8 million.
Nice work if you can get it.
In the same week I noticed two mix-ups of the words demure and demur:
"The costumes ranged from the demur to the over-the-top." - Coachella Valley Weekly
"But ask him about it and he'll demure." - Reader's Digest (!)
Demure (dəˈmyo͝or), usually describing a woman, is an adjective meaning reserved, modest and shy.
Demur (dəˈmər) is a verb, meaning to raise doubts or objections or show reluctance, or a noun meaning the action or process of objecting to or hesitating over something. "They accepted the judge's decision without demur."
Other recent sightings:
"Chocked full" instead of "chock-full," meaning full to the limit.
"Peels of laughter," from the Hollywood Reporter, presumably not referring to someone doing a pratfall on a banana skin...Otherwise, it's peals of laughter.
In ScienceDaily, a reference to something being superior than, rather than superior to...
From our usual rich source, USA Today: "A video that shows he and Kate MacKinnon being transformed..." (instead of "a video that shows him and Kate McKinnon..."). My old English teacher gave a very useful tip: if unsure, try saying it without the second individual and see if it sounds right. You wouldn't say "A video that shows he being transformed." Thank you, Mrs. Drake.
And of course it wouldn't be a "Write it right" post without a sighting of our old favorite:
Yes, it's that shifty mountain again. Note to copywriter: take a peek at the dictionary.
By the way, of course I make lots of mistakes, too. My point is that professional publications seem to have stopped employing copy editors to check spelling, grammar and punctuation, which means readers are misled about the usage of words and phrases like the ones above.
This may be understandable in a small publication like the Coachella Valley Weekly, but I think we have the right to expect better of Reader's Digest, Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today.
IF DONALD TRUMP WERE A TRAGIC PROTAGONIST...
I can imagine two types of ending.
One is YOU DON’T DESERVE ME, I QUIT.
The protagonist, feeling betrayed, quits but remains defiant. Secretly he hopes people will come crawling back, begging him to return, at which point he’ll have the satisfaction of telling them no.
The other is I’LL GO DOWN BUT I’LL TAKE THEM WITH ME.
Feeling that the opposition has him surrounded, the protagonist decides on a scorched earth policy, leaving as much destruction behind him as possible.
Both ways out leave him the option of believing that if only the people had backed him, he would have been great.
At the moment, it looks like the real Donald Trump is opting for the latter but I wouldn’t totally rule out a last-minute switch to You Don’t Deserve Me, I Quit.
How do YOU think this drama will end?
I've seen a lot of promotion recently for courses that purport to show you how to make loads of money writing children's books and selling them on Amazon.
One of them shows you have to use clip art or public domain art for the illustrations.
Another suggests you hire people on Fiverr.com to do the illustrations for you for five dollars each.
Then you put your book on Amazon and wait for the money to roll in.
Prepare for a long wait.
Kids like holding books or sitting in their parents' laps while being read to from a traditional book.
Also, if you're very skilled maybe you can put together an attractive book with public domain illustrations or Fiverr art, but it's not easy.
The biggest question is how you get people to become aware of your book so that somebody buys it. Just putting it on Amazon is like throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean.
If you want to write a kids' book for fun or maybe as a present for your grandchildren, by all means go ahead. You can easily set it up as a print-on-demand book. Once in a very great while, such a book could take off.
Just don't count on it, and don't spend a lot of money on a course that pretends success is practically guaranteed.
The five-hour rule refers to spending at least five hours a week on improving your skill, and it's something practiced by Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and other very successful people, according to an article at inc.com.
The article's author, Michael Simmons, says he found that these leaders usually spent those five hours doing three things:
1. Reading. Oprah's dedication to reading is well known, and Simmons says entrepreneur Mark Cuban spends three hours a day reading.
2. Reflecting. This can take the form of meditation, brainstorming alone or with others, journaling, focusing on a particular issue while taking a walk, etc.
3. Experimenting. Simmons traces this back to Ben Franklin, who famously listed the qualities he wanted to exhibit and tracked his success daily. A modern example might be Richard Branson, who starts lots of businesses and quickly drops the ones that don't work out.
These days the unglamorous task of improving your skills, which often is not a lot of fun, tends to be overshadowed by stories of very young entrepreneurs and writers and artists who have huge success right away.
Unfortunately, for me and maybe for you it's too late to be a young genius, and I have to face the fact that i'm not even a middle-age genius. So continuing to try to improve is what's left. I'd better get started on this week's five hours...
PS: How to make sure you do it: I've found that the only way I consistently spend time on these kinds of tasks is to keep track of them day by day. You can do this on your calendar or whichever simple way works best for you.
Pixar has the most consistent record of success of any current studio. Why is that? Songwriter and composer Randy Newman said this:
"The Pixar people always emphasize that the characters in their films are adults and deal with adult emotions. That’s really kind of a big idea. I always worry toward the end of their process when the picture is about to lock in terms of story, script and form if it’s funny enough. They never worry about that. They worry about emotion. Whether an audience will feel it. Whether it’s got, I think it’s called heart."
What's the source of this heart? Newman says, "And, about heart, you can’t put it there, like you sometimes can a joke. It’s got to proceed from who’s up there on the screen and if we care about what happens to them. It must be hard to do, but they’ve done it over and over like no other studio ever has."
When I was story editing a sitcom, I had the same philosophy: first, let's make sure the story works, meaning that it presents a conflict that we will care about in terms of how it might affect our protagonist, and it has a beginning, middle, and end. Then we'll make it funny. If you concentrate on the funny first, it's easy to get distracted from the story.
Randy Newman's quotes above come from the notes with the new Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection, which has 20 hours worth of rarities in 12 discs. Each disc comes with an illustrated book, adding up to almost 50,000 words. You can read more about it here. Warning: it'll put a dent into your pocketbook: £222.96 (on Amazon.co.uk) or $240.03 (Amazon.com).
Did you know that people used to personalize their books by adding illustrations to them? Sometimes they drew or painted these or pasted in maps, engravings, letters, stamps, autographs or photographs.
Just like now, somebody figured out how to monetize the trend, although I doubt James Granger used that word.
In 1769, he published the Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution of 1796. It featured blank pages to which you could add your own prints, which you could buy from London print stalls.
This became so popular that the process was called Grangerizing and fans of the process were called Grangerites.
Many Grangerites were women. As a fascinating article by Amy Stewart in the Literary Hub points out, "It's one of those interesting, mostly forgotten domestic arts practiced by women at a time when they were barred from participating in so much of the arts, culture, and scholarship of their day."
As happens with most trends today as well, there was a backlash. Some people trolled the Grangerites, calling them "knights of the shear and paste," and made fun of the Grangerites who went to extremes and had books taken apart and rebound incorporating prints, turning one volume into six or seven.
It's an interesting footnote to popular history, but I wonder whether in this increasingly digital age, Grangerizing might make a comeback?
Some vanity publishers offer to put your book on display at book fairs, like the London Book Fair, the LA Times Festival of Books, and the Miami Book Fair.
Surely the people who organize those events check into the bonafides of the exhibitors, right?
Not so much, according to David Gaughran. He says, "The most prestigious event in the UK publishing calendar, the London Book Fair, welcomes predatory operators with open arms, deliberately positions them opposite author events for extra cash, and then helps to whitewash their reputation – even running misleading interviews and puff pieces on its own website to help them get more leads."
You can read the entire article here, and if you're tempted to take such a deal or know any author who might, please do read it.
What's the origin of the practice of starting a sentence with the word "so," even when that sentence is not following on from anything? It's not totally new (there are examples in Chaucer and Shakespeare) but it has become very common.
BLAME SILICON VALLEY
In his 1999 book, The New, New Thing, Michael Lewis noted: "When a computer programmer answers a question, he often begins with the word 'so'. (I don't know whether Lewis found this to be true only of male programmers or whether he just didn't encounter any female ones.)
Mr. Silicon Valley himself, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has the habit In an interview with the New York Times, he started four sentences with 'so' just in answering the first question. For example, "So Facebook is not one thing."
A NOXIOUS WEED?
Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys hates the practice. Really hates it.
In a column he wrote, "‘So I am beginning this sentence with a word that is so irritating when it’s used at the start of a sentence that I would understand if you were to rip out this column, screw it into a tight ball and hurl it at the radio the next time you hear my voice coming from it."
He added that "the misplaced 'so' has invaded everyday speech like some noxious weed in an untended garden."
WHAT DOES IT CONVEY?
Naturally a professor has a theory. Rutger University professor Galina Bolden says starting a sentence with so, “communicates that the speaker is interested in or concerned about the recipient… It also invokes prior conversations between the speaker and the recipient, drawing on their relationship history.”
To which I can only say another increasingly popular word: "Seriously?"
Think-tanker and speaker Hunter Thurman has a different interpretation of the effect. In 2014's most-read leadership article on Fastcompany.com, he says it insults your audience, undermines your credibility, and demonstrates that you're not 100% comfortable with what you're saying.
I think it's just an annoying substitution for "well," a way to buy an extra second to frame your answer.
I propose we stop using it, and instead choose a different random noun every time. Like radish, cartwheel or pickle.
It would perk up the audience if Zuckerberg said, "Pickle, Facebook is not one thing."
Radish, do you agree?
Galina quote from Ifoundouttoday.com
Humphrys quotes from Mail Online
Zuckerberg quote from BusinessInsider
Thurman opinion from FastCompany.com