The Internet of Things: Who’s in Your Bed…or Toaster?

Toaster1

This is an article about your toasters, toothbrushes and TV’s, and your refrigerators and the locks on your front doors. Your new cars and baby monitors and your wrist-worn exercise trackers. And let’s not forget watches and even your mattress covers. Yes, I said mattress covers.

I’m talking about the “Internet of Things” and how our homes are ripe for anyone and everyone to use our gadgety-things as listening devices. That’s right, the tinfoil-hat-wearing-folks were absolutely and undeniably correct. Our toothbrushes are indeed capable of spying on us.

Averly_Tanner's_Tin_Foil_Hat_28_March_2009

The Internet of Things is basically a system of sorts that’s built on cloud computing, where sensors built into our gadgets—FitBit, TV, appliances, etc.—send and store collected data. Information received from those sensors is what allows the above-mentioned mattress cover to learn your sleeping habits and then adjust the temperature of your bed to one that’s comfortable to you. It even monitors your sleep through the night and makes whatever changes that may be needed as the night goes on.

The mattress cover also learns your normal bedtime and prepares the bed for you in advance of your pajama-wearing arrival. And…it checks the door locks to be sure they’re secure, switches off lights, sets the home thermostat, sets the alarm clock, switches off the stereo should you have forgotten to do so, and it’s even capable of turning on the coffee pot as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning.

The smart-mattress cover connects wirelessly to your other gadgets to gather intelligence about your daily activities, such as the amount of exercise you had and what you ate. It uses the data to create the perfect bedtime rest environment. This thing even wakes you when you’ve reached the precise moment of light sleep that’s optimal for starting your day.

Sure, all of this sounds wonderful, however, hackers can use current information to see when you’re in deep sleep and then use your very own mattress cover to switch off your alarm system, unlock your front door to gain access to and steal your other smart stuff, including the doorknob, if so desired. There’s even a built-in microphone and who knows what that’ll detect…

Next, your car with it’s fancy GPS, emergency response systems, and back-up cameras. Yes, those systems are easily hacked and easily used by both the government and bad guys, with the latter desiring to steal your car or to possibly kidnap the occupants. Hackers can listen to conversations, use the GPS to locate the car, and activate the camera to view its surroundings.

Of course, you’ve all heard about criminals activating baby monitors and other household cameras, and the WiFi enabled toys for the purpose of locating children. The same is so for wearers of exercise and activity monitoring devices whose wearers can be quickly and easily located.

Smart sensors are being installed in concrete bridge decks that will enable your car to know in advance if icy conditions exist, or if the bridge is damaged and in danger of structure failure. Your car will soon be able to communicate with bridges and roadways and then tell its driver to select an alternate route when problems exist.

Police body cams and dash cam video recording devices are all susceptible to hacking. I suppose it’s not necessary to detail how harmful it could be for a hacker to destroy official evidence footage.

Anyway, the Internet of Things is now freakishly huge and freakishly spooky. There’s even a search engine devoting to allowing subscribers view live streams of non password-protected webcams, such as those in baby monitors, security cameras, computers, and televisions. This particular search site also features back rooms of banks, marijuana grow operations, school classrooms, private residences, and more. Any camera that’s not protected could be sending its live feed to this site, among many others all over the world, including to your neighborhood robber-rapist-pedophile-killer’s computer.

Remember, some devices, especially newer ones, have the option of password protection and opting out of cloud storage and communication, but many users skip the “opt out” function during device set-up. 

Who knows, your car could soon talk to my car and tell it to stop tailgating. And, of course, my car could respond to yours with a flip of a middle mirror.

Seriously, secure your devices and encrypt the communication between them. Instruction manuals should provide all the necessary information. If you do nothing, the device may be set to send it’s data to a cloud thats accessible by the manufacturer which is likely in another country. And, by doing nothing you’re leaving your entire home open to cyber-snooping. Otherwise, set an extra place at the table and add another pillow to the bed, because you just might have unexpected company.

Sleep well tonight, my friends. Sleep well…

 

Read more
Danger! With Friends Like This…You Could Die

file000619017870

Most of us have known friends who’ve stabbed us in the back, betrayed us, or otherwise hurt us in some form or another. And, we’ve known people who seem to enjoy “sticking it” to others, even to people who’ve bent over backward to help them. This is especially so if those “jabs” help the “sticker” in some way, be it career advancement, attract a member of the opposite sex, or for some other form of personal gain.

Sure, these people are charming and they’re often the life of the party, making their way around the room chatting and yucking it up with anyone who’ll listen to their “smooth” words. But, while your so-called “friend” is flitting among your guests, lining up dates and one night stands with any and everyone in the place, they’re also likely to be busy putting you down simply for the purpose of appearing to be better than you, and they’ll say whatever it takes to achieve that goal. So…sound familiar? Do you know someone who fits this bill? Yeah, me too, unfortunately.

As bad and as sorry it is to be a lowlife phony backstabber, that might not be where the trouble ends. Believe it or not, that fake charm, those pretend smiles, and doing harm to people who trusted them could be an indication that the life of your party is a closet Ted Bundy.

Before we dig bit deeper into what makes these bewitching narcissistic traitors tick, we should first assign a name to our lying, cheating, done-somebody-wrong pretend friends, and that name is…PSYCHOPATH.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that involves/includes a menagerie of traits that make it extremely easy to like the person and to fall victim to their plans and plots. Those same pleasant mannerisms sometimes fool even the most skilled police investigators during interrogations. And, it’s those very qualities could make it quite easy to be killed by them.

Psychopaths are charismatic, alluring, and they’re quite skilled at carrying on a silver-tongued conversation that could charm the devil himself. They’re manipulative liars who use their abilities to have people do things for them, such as give them money. They’re predators who actually do know right from wrong, however their own personal gain trumps whatever consequences could come their way if caught.

Yes, some women are psychopaths, but most are men who often prey on women who fall for their convincing lies and grandiose schemes. Psychopaths are easily able to enter into careers in government, academia, and yes, even law enforcement.

Many are so skilled at lying and manipulation that they’re able to slip through the cracks and pass psych tests and evaluations, and they use people in any way they can to get whatever they want. They sometimes talk their way into high-profile jobs of power, and they absolutely love and cherish the dominance and control those positions afford them. Psychopaths regularly fool family members, and they use their abilities to gain the confidence of the people they desire to kill.

What are some red flag warning signs that you’re in some way involved with a psychopath?

1. They’re extremely charming, but the allure is superficial, shallow, and as phony as a three-dollar bill.

2. Psychopaths believe they’re more important than they really are. They believe their self-worth is practically immeasurable, and that others are beneath them. And, when they feel threatened by someone they seek to destroy that person. Destruction doesn’t always mean death, however. It could mean an all out attempt to ruin a person’s career, family, livelihood, etc.

3. They show no remorse for the bad things they do. They can easily collapse a person’s family life and profession and flippantly walk away smiling and not caring at all about the damage they’ve done.

4. They accept not one ounce of responsibility for their actions. They care about one thing and one thing only…ME, ME, ME. They’ll pretend to care about others, but it’s all an act because that’s what they do…act.

5. Psychopaths seem to love excitement and thrills. It’s an adrenaline rush for them to see others suffer emotionally, especially if it was they who caused the pain.

6. Hyper-inflated egos. They love themselves more than anyone else could.

7. They’re users who take whatever than can get from someone before moving on when the well runs dry. Spouses and other partners are often the ones on the losing end of this deal.

8. Rule-breakers. Rules do not apply to these folks, and they’ll circumvent them whenever possible because it’s a feeling of power and control.

9. These people are experts at manipulation and con games, and they may be so skilled at how they present the con that you’ll never see it coming. They’ll charm the boss, the preacher, family members and friends, subordinates and they’ll charm the garbage man if they think they could gain something from it.

1o. Psychopaths are pathological liars.

11. Psychopaths are often organized, careful planners who do not impulsively. (Sociopaths are easily angered and sometimes fly into sudden, spontaneous fits of rage).

12. Psychopaths feel entitled—the world owes them.

Finally, psychopaths will kill. Think Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Gacy, and even Hitler. But they’re are not always criminals and/or murderers. They could be your manipulative, lying, and narcissistic, backstabbing neighbor, your coworker, your boss, your writing coach, or…your spouse.

So…how do you feel about the psychopath in your life? You know you have one. The question is…how fast can you run away, before it’s too late?

 

Read more
Tips to Help Your Fictional Cop’s World Come Alive

20160316_124218

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been really creative and inserted lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well,  you’ve taken the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

Sure, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But, have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, call on past life experiences.

For example, Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself walking into a bar, or restaurant. What do you see? Can you transform those images into a few simple words? How do you choose which words to use? Which words will effectively paint the picture and take the reader with you on your visit to the bar?

Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all of those unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.

Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Think maybe it’s time to back away from them?

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.

Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers has called upon their experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only, well, read about. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

Next, I encourage you to attend local citizen’s police academies and ride-alongs with officers Hang out with cops, interview them, listen to them, watch their mannerisms, etc. Trust me, it’s a world that’s entirely different than the life of someone outside the profession.

Naturally, I highly recommend attending the Writers’ Police Academy. The WPA is carefully and meticulously designed to offer writers the inside experience of what it’s like to be a police officer, investigator, firefighter, EMS personnel, K-9 handler, etc. We do not mix writing craft with hands-on experiences. We feel you can attend any number of excellent writers conferences to get that sort of information. Instead, our focus is on providing writers with the best hands-on academy training available anywhere.

We burn things so you can experience the heat and smoke of structure and car fires. We put you, the writer, in positions where you must make the life and death decisions faced by officers. You’ll feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with car chases and shootouts (you’ll participate in both). You’ll see and experience the emotions felt by officers during stressful situations.

You’ll smell the gunpowder and gun oil. You’ll feel the texture, weight, and recoil of an AR-15 as you fire one at the range. You’ll hear, see, and smell the inside of a state prison in the section that houses the worst of the worst inmates. You’ll see the flashing police lights, hear the sirens, see and hear helicopters landing. The yells of entry teams (you’re a member of the team, by the way) as they storm a building to search for an armed bad guy. You’ll feel your heart thumping against the inside of your chests when you’re placed in a situation where you must instantly decide whether or not to use deadly force.

This, using a real-life experience such as the WPA, or walking through a cow-chip-spattered pasture, is what breathes life into a story.

To sum up:

– Use your experiences to activate the senses of your readers. Let them enjoy tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing the words on each of your pages.

– Attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It’s the gold standard of providing writers with the absolute best hands-on training available. If attending the WPA is not possible, consider participating in a local citizen’s police academy and/or ride-alongs with on-duty police officers.

– Read books by established authors who write about police officers and investigations. See how they do it.

– Take advantage of your personal life experiences to help transform flat text into a vivid 3D picture or painting.

– Avoid the use of too many “ly” words. Editor Jodie Renner addressed this and other problem areas in an article she wrote for Doug Lyle’s blog. Jodie’s article is titled, Style Blunders in Fiction. By the way, you should follow D.P. Lyle and Jodie Renner.

– Interview and/or chat with cops. Listen to what they have to say and watch their mannerisms. Does Officer G. R. Done hitch up his pants each time he stands? Ask him if the habit is due to gravity tugging on the weight of his gun belt? Does his wince when he slides into his car seat? The slight moment of pain could be caused by a bit of skin caught between the bottom of his vest and gun belt. Yes, it happens and it hurts. But you have to watch for the little things and you have to ask. Those sorts of things are second nature to cops, so they won’t think to tell you about them.

– Finally, remember to refer to Joseph Wambaugh’s words of wisdom.

“The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

 

Read more