January 10, 2007
Horn Tooting

One of the many rules of thumb when it comes to being a writer is this:

NEVER READ YOUR REVIEWS.

There are three likely scenarios in reviews of your work:

  1. The review makes an unflattering remark about your work, and so you break down, feel worthless, and stop writing.
  2. The review makes a flattering remark about your work, and so you get greedy, go looking for more, and then encounter an unflattering remark, and you break down, feel worthless, and stop writing. That, or the reviews will get something wrong about your work, and that will send you into a tailspin of despair, and you'll stop writing.
  3. The review makes a bland reference to your work that is non-evaluative -- or, even worse, makes no reference to your contribution at all -- which leaves you feeling empty and hollow and overlooked, and you stop writing.

What you are supposed to do is NEVER READ YOUR REVIEWS and, instead, let trusted others cull them for you, passing along only the praise and leaving out the rest.

Alas, while I wholeheartedly subscribe to this philosophy, I nonetheless fail miserably at practicing it.

My pro fiction publications thus far appear in two anthologies (Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy and Cosmic Cocktails). The first antho, which was published this past summer, received many reviews, most of which either neglected to mention my contribution in particular, or mentioned it by way of a general list that gave a quick description of all or most of the stories. Of course, that stands to reason: out of twenty pieces, only a few will stand out; mine was a lighthearted take on the subject, and nothing more. There were far more compelling contributions than mine in the book.

There was *one* review that called my story as one of the highlights of the anthology. But, unfortunately, the review in question is in Swedish. Do any of you faithful readers know Swedish? Here's how an online translation engine interprets the passage into English:

"Band of Sisters", of Allan Rousselle, am acting in short gott if they four sirenerna. This story each both almighty funny and almighty shrewd. For that nots mention cruel. And then am meaning self cruel of the heartless battle.

Woo-hoo! Thanks! I think.

But all along, I had felt that my story in Cosmic Cocktails was a better piece, so I was waiting for that one to come out before I started nudging my friends to read my stuff. It turns out that some reviewers liked that one as well. SFRevu.com reviewer Ernest Lilley, for example, was kind enough to say:

... On the other hand, "Everybody stops at Boston's" does both right. It doesn't have to take place on Copernicus Station, orbiting Saturn after the Earth turns to nano-goo, or even in a bar where everybody on the station winds up...though it doesn't hurt. The intersection of time travel conundrum and human response is exactly what SF should be and this story at least hits the spot.

Amazon.com quotes Publisher's Weekly as saying:

... Others recall the mind-bending neo-noir of Philip K. Dick, as in Allan Rousselle's intoxicating story about a hired killer traveling back in time to terminate the inventor of a time machine.

For those of you who are not familiar with science fiction writers, being compared to Philip K. Dick like this is a happy thing. Having such a mention from Publisher's Weekly is even happier.

I also enjoyed a favorable mention in The Davis Enterprise, where book critic Kristin L. Gray said:

Allan Rousselle’s “Everybody Stops at Boston’s” also stands out. This is a time travel story with a chaser of assassination and a twist at the end. It asks a very simple question: Are certain inventions so inevitable that, no matter what happens, they’ll be created?

Are you intrigued? Then buy the book! Cosmic Cocktails is edited by Denise Little and available at fine bookstores everywhere. (Heck, special order it if they don't already have it on the shelves!)

As for me, well... I'm so happy with the reviews, I've stopped writing.

Posted by at 11:07 PM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (2)
 January 26, 2007
Good Advice and Good Advisors

Many years ago, after a long term relationship I'd been in started heading south, I came to the conclusion that I needed some good advice because whatever I was doing simply wasn't working. But to whom do you turn when you need some good advice? For whatever foolish reason, I decided that the best people to get advice from would be... people who had experience with making long term relationships work.

That ruled out taking advice from the likes of John "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Psychobabble is from Uranus" Gray. True, his specials on PBS or cable or whatever were entertaining, and from interviews I've heard, he sounds like a smart enough fellow. He's also been divorced (from another alleged relationship guru, no less) and spent almost a decade as a celibate monk (his term, not mine) for the Maharishi Yogi Bear guy (you know; the alleged spiritual guru who snookered the Beatles, etc.). John Gray may be a fascinating conversationalist, but I just don't think I'd be looking for relationship advice from him.

[While tooling around the Internet to fact-check today's brief missive, I came across an assessment that I rather liked. The writer panned his books, but recommended an interview with him that Tony Robbins had recorded. "Just two guys talking," was the way she described it, and she said it was much more worthwhile. Having heard the interview, I'm inclined to agree.]

Instead, I ended up taking the advice of people who had demonstrated more success (and less tendency toward cults), and because I successfully pulled that relationship out of its tailspin (at least for the most part), the experience reinforced my tendency toward choosiness in where I go to find good advice.

As circumstances would have it, I am aware of at least three friends of mine who are currently going through a divorce. As I recently had lunch with one such friend, I found myself constantly starting to say something and then stopping. I am *extremely* unqualified to utter anything that would count as advice to my friends who are going through this, because I have no personal experience whatsoever with divorce.

[Well, except for one thing: I am expertly qualified to give advice on password security issues because of the nature of my day job, and it seems to me that anyone getting a divorce is well advised to be aware of certain password security issues that make them potentially vulnerable to their future ex-spouses... but more on that in a future post.]

So instead, I offer my friend what little support I can, and I ask the same questions that I'm sure they have been asked a dozen times before. How does one go about finding a lawyer to represent you? How does one know if the lawyer is a good one, etc.?

But it occurred to me later: if you want to make sure you're getting good divorce advice, should your lawyer be divorced, him/herself?

Posted by at 12:45 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (2)
 January 28, 2007
Breaking and Entering

During those years that I was forced to attend middle school and high school, I chanced to hang out with a bunch of kids who were much smarter than me (er, smarter than I?) who introduced me to, among other things, the world of computers. I'll always recall fondly how one of my teachers had talked about how it was impossible to break the password scheme of our UNIX system at school, which promptly led a schoolmate and me to break the password scheme before we left for home that day, leaving a note to that effect in that teacher's .login file. (Last I checked, that schoolmate of mine became a sys admin for the computer network at SUNY Buffalo, or something like that.)

Other friends introduced me to the ins and outs of breaking software copy protection, and one even had the audacity to (gasp!) open up his computer and show me how to mess around with the hardware. These friends, likewise, went on to do great (legal) work in software engineering. At least one has already repaired to a life of semi-retirement following a cash-out before the dot com bust a few years ago.

In college, I likewise hung out with smarter-than-me friends (smarter-than-I friends?) who shared lock-picking techniques and showed me what's behind those "authorized personnel only" doors in the basements of those hallowed halls. One of these friends is now living under an assumed name in California, having married a school teacher and raising a kid without the benefits of early retirement.

As a personal hobby, I've also enjoyed studying how magic tricks and other acts of misdirection are performed. The principles are very similar to electronic and physical lock picking.

I'm such a square that I very rarely employ any of these tricks that I've learned over the years -- heck, I even pay for the songs I download -- but I'm always fascinated to learn how such tricks are done.

One of the foremost principles of computer password breaking, lock picking, and magic is these: whenever you can identify it, go for the weakest link in the chain. This sounds like common sense, but we are so easily trained to think of things and see things in a given way that we often never even consciously realize that there's an entire forest of possibility surrounding the trees we're focused on. We lock our convertibles while leaving the rooftops down. Go figure.

Pay attention. I'm actually going to say something that matters:

If you have an AOL account, a blog, or if you use Paypal or online banking, your password is pretty secure, right? Sure, it is. I'm not even being facetious. You know not to use "password" or "12345678" as your password, right? But a person who wants to break into your electronic identity doesn't necessarily have to go for your password. Why jimmy the locks if the convertible top is down?

If someone wants to get at your online identity, your weakest link (and therefore your greatest vulnerability) is probably your security question.

Many online data warehouses will, if you "forgot your password", simply e-mail your password or a password-reset link to your e-mail address. As long as you have reasonably good control over your e-mail address, that's fine. But many online data warehouses will, instead, ask a security question (possibly even one that you have picked). Upon successfully answering the question, *anyone* can be given complete access to *your* online identity.

This is particularly problematic for AOL and the major blog networks, where the user ID is already public. If Johnny Badguy wants to hijack your blog on BlogJournal, and he knows (isn't it always a 'he'?) that your blog belongs to "Victim-American", then he already knows the login ID to use. When asked the security question, well... all he has to do is look it up on the web, no?

It's like this: Johnny Badguy types in your login ID and clicks on "I forgot my password." He is then asked, "What year did you graduate college?" He then searches your blog (or elsewhere on the internet, as appropriate) for any references to your age, deduces what year you probably graduated, and then he's in. "What's your mother's maiden name?" He looks for any references you may have made to your grandparents. "Where were you born?" Again, not usually all that hard to find the clues necessary to come up with the answer.

I've been meaning for some time now to post an essay about an old car I owned, but I know I used that as a security question/answer for something, and until I track down what it was, I'm reticent to share that info online!

What's worse is if you're now under threat or potential threat by someone who knows you well. As I mentioned in a previous essay, friends of mine are getting divorced and it occurred to me: their soon-to-be-ex-spouses know the correct answers to all of those security questions! It's not enough for you to change your password! Your future Ex can still get in!

How do you close this gaping hole in your security blanket?

Make the answers to your security question something that is not obviously the correct answer. For example, "What city were you born in?" Your new answer could be, "42". Heck, you could make "42" the answer to "What's your mother's maiden name" and every other security question, as well. Unless, of course, it's generally known that you're a fan of Douglas Adams, in which case: choose something else.

My answer to every question is, of course, "That's what she said!"

I'm reticent to post this kind of information on a public forum, for fear of giving Johnny Badguy an idea that hasn't already occurred to him. But in addition to my above-mentioned friends who may be at risk, I've also recently had a good friend have his blog hijacked (I don't know if Johnny Badguy used the same technique in that case), and another colleague have her well-known-online-service screen name stolen (and this is exactly the technique that was used).

So, there. You've been warned. Update the answer to your security questions to something like, "Allan is the best."

[That's what she said!]

Posted by at 02:51 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (2)

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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