Fake news and misleading stats…

February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

Read the rest of this entry »

Steve’s shorts: The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer…

February 22nd, 2017

The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Hiya Rollie.” I had to step aside as the ME, Big Tiny, stepped out of the small apartment into the corridor. “Prelim findings should be on your smartphone.”

“You can’t just tell me?”

Big Tiny carried a large super-mocha-double-double something-or-other in his large rubber-gloved paw. Whereas a defensive nose tackle is more muscle than fat, he was the reverse. A happy man, though, in spite of his profession.

“I’m off to another crime scene.”

“So this is a crime scene? It wasn’t clear before, but I preferred coming over to reviewing pending cases where Chen and I aren’t doing too well.”

“I expected to declare it a suicide, but I’m leaning to murder. The bottle of sleeping pills is almost full and there are signs of antifreeze. The tox workup will decide for certain.”

“CSU is still here, I presume?” He nodded. “They might come up with some more evidence.” Bid the big guy farewell, put on my Tyvek booties and rubber gloves, and went inside the apartment. “Anything?” I said to the first CSI I encountered.

He handed me a sealed plastic bag. A regular sheet of paper folded in half showed a crossword partially filled out.

“Right up your alley, o puzzle-meister,” he said.

Didn’t know the guy, but he knew something about me. “I don’t do crosswords. I’m more a math puzzle fellow. What’s special about this?”

“First, it’s homemade. Second, there’s a message. Take a look.”

He went about his business. I stared at the crossword.

Someone—the vic?—had started filling it in. None of the words were erudite—NY Times Monday level—but there was a message. “Death is a release. Relish it.” Huh? The crossword wasn’t large. How did it arrive at the apartment? If the vic had begun to solve it, where did she get it? Better yet, what amateur word smith had made the puzzle? Or, had the vic just taken the message as a sign to do herself in? That tox report would be important.

Hung around a bit more and then returned to the precinct. Chen had gone to chat with one of her snitches about another case, but she was back.

“Just received a message from Big Tiny,” she said. “He’s declaring your case a homicide.” I’d heard the ping but had ignored it. Guessed he didn’t take long on his other case. The big black bear had crawled back into his lair to drink his coffee thing in peace.

I’d snapped a photo of the crossword with my smartphone. Handed the phone to Chen. “This might be the murderer’s threat then.”

She studied the phone’s screen, nodded, and handed it back. “Just what we needed: a weird case. How do you want to handle it?”

***

Two days later, we had another murder with the same MO. This time the vic’s throat was slit. He was an old man. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the first vic. Random? Serial killers often act randomly. But old man v. young woman was interesting. Just a killing lust? I’m not an FBI profiler, so I was at a loss.

You want to make sense of killings like that. I knew that the psychotic mind was often not logical, but sane people want to look for the logic—something that makes sense of it all. The first often means the case isn’t solved. The second, if you can find it, often leads to solving the case.

“Undeserved death. Grim Reaper laughs.” That’s what the message said in this crossword. Still Monday level. The creator wasn’t the brightest serial killer we’d seen. But he had a way with words.

He? That was an assumption. I knew for a fact that women read a lot more than men. Did that extrapolate to women doing more crosswords than men? Didn’t know, but our killer could be a she. Had to keep an unbiased mind.

The throat-slitting had looked professional. Maybe ex-military? That still didn’t exclude a woman these days. Asked Chen’s opinion.

“Overpowering an old man is easier than a young woman,” said Chen, flashing her Asian Mona Lisa smile, “but you’re right. The perp could be a woman. I’m not seeing a pattern, though, besides the crosswords. Time to bring in the FBI?”

“Not on your life. We’ve barely started.”

***

My partner came up with a connection. It seemed tenuous. Both vics rented apartments in buildings owned by the same guy, a Richard Jenkins.

“Let’s find out more about this guy and then pay him a visit,” I said.

In that process, we discovered that Jenkins was a vocal opponent of rent control, and the two vics were in rent-controlled apartments. We started forming a theory. Chen didn’t think much of it—she thought rents should be tied to market value if they were regulated at all. Pam, my wife, and I had lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn for some time. We couldn’t have afforded a rent tied to market value. Maybe your opinion is biased if you’ve benefitted from rent control or not? Didn’t know what landlords thought, but suspected that they wouldn’t be in favor. Complex problem: How do you provide housing for poor city dwellers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Big Apple?

Pam and I now lived in Clifton, New Jersey, living the American Dream with our kids and heavily mortgaged house. Rent control was in our past. Still didn’t like what I saw in Jenkins’s record—he even went after New York mayors on the issue. Did that make him a killer? Doubted it, but it was time to interview the man.

***

Of course, Jenkins’s penthouse was luxurious compared to the two vics’ apartments. A maid showed us into a comfortable study and indicated two seats in front of a modest desk. We waited.

I studied the walls. Ex-Marine mementos, including ribbons. As an ex-Navy man, I liked Marines. Tough hombres who generally have your back. One pic on the wall showed our landlord, a heavyset man-bear, standing in a small group with a Navy captain in the middle. My captain—in the sense that I’d served on his carrier long ago in another more dangerous life where choppers would carry us off to wreak havoc and destruction for the Pentagon.

“Isn’t that our old friend?” said Chen. He had participated on a few cases. I nodded. “That’s some coincidence.”

“Not really. Jenkins and I are about the same age. Could be a good recommendation for him.”

We talked about our families until Jenkins showed up. He shook both our hands. For me, his grip was strong. For Chen, he let up a bit. Chivalry not dead?

“I understand you both have served,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk.

Pointed at the pic. “The captain is a good friend.”

“For me too,” said Jenkins. “I guess there are a few cops who served.” We nodded. “They probably have to tone down the military bravura on the beat. We’re not a fascist state, thank God. What can I do for you, detectives?”

I explained our case. “The only connection between the two victims is they both were your tenants in rent-controlled apartments.”

He frowned. “And I’m a suspect? Good Lord! I work within the system. I have to. I don’t have to like the fact that other landlords don’t have to put up with rent control, of course. It’s a bit random, you know. I’ve never met these two people, by the way. Where did they live?” I told him. “Yeah, those are my buildings. I’ll have to check with the agency that handles the rentals. They should have sent flowers to relatives if they’re local.”

“They’re not,” said Chen. She checked her smartphone. “Do you have an alibi for the range of times established by the ME in the TODs?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Is China or Russia more dangerous?

February 21st, 2017

When considering Russia’s brutal oligarchy v. China’s fascist capitalism, it’s hard to decide which one is worse. Trump seems to have a bromance with Putin and has long attacked China, but lately he seems to be waffling on both (although the bromance might get him or his administration in trouble). The split personality of his waffling is baffling too because some in his administration are talking about more sanctions against Russia. Moreover, the original tirade against the one-China policy has become a recognition of it. If, after this waffling, will he still keep his campaign promises: Be a friend of Russia and an enemy of China? The former seems in doubt after firing Flynn.

The waffling is strange because up until now Trump seems to checking off items on a list of campaign promises, even if they’re completely crazy, harmful to the country, and insulting to millions of people. Immigration? California farmers, even those who voted for Trump, are wondering where they’ll find the cheap labor needed to harvest their crops. The Muslim ban seems stymied, and his only response so far is to blast the judicial system like any tin-horn dictator would do. And many ICE cases not related to his unconscionable and unconstitutional Muslim ban are still ripping apart families.

Trump is a family man who doesn’t seem to care about any family except his own. He’ll stoop to blasting Nordstrom for daughter Ivanka when she’s in the White House and supposedly not working in her business anymore. He’ll also support Kellyanne Conway who should be brought up on charges for hawking Ivanka’s products. One son-in-law is in the White House (nepotism), while the other wants to buy the Marlins. Maybe Trump will send his family out to harvest the crops for the California farmers. Might be good for them to see what real work entails!

But back to China v. Russia. Which one is more dangerous? I can’t choose—I find the leadership and power structure of both countries despicable. The Chinese have adopted the most polluting, ruthless, and oppressive form of capitalism imaginable. They’re no longer communists but extreme fascist capitalists, willing to silence or murder anyone who goes against China Inc. The Russians can’t make anything worthwhile, but that doesn’t bother the oligarchy. Putin, the mafia don, makes sure that only the anointed (AKA sycophants to the Russian mob boss) get rich and any opposition is killed, from people running against him in their fake democracy to members of the press.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday words of wisdom

February 20th, 2017

The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right for its people.—Bernie Sanders

***

It’s Presidents’ Day—let’s remember some big-league presidents who made this country great, but let’s not forget that the position is far more important than any position-holder, especially those who embarrass us by not respecting it and not doing their job well.

***

Did you know the complete “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is now available on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and at all its affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, and so forth) and lenders (Overdrive, for example). The first book in the series is on sale at Smashwords until March 1. Of course, the entire series is also available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format.

In libris libertas.

Movie Reviews #44…

February 17th, 2017

Lion. Garth Davis, dir. Great movie, like many movies based on books and not cobbled together screenplays. The book in question, a true story, is A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. The movie stars Dev Patel as the older Saroo and the awesomely cute Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. Rooney Mara plays grown-up Saroo’s girlfriend, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, Sue and John Brierley, the couple who adopted Saroo, Priyanka Bose his birth-mother, and Abhishek Bharate the older brother who lost him.

Maybe the book covers the big gap in the middle where the young boy becomes a man in Tasmania. The movie doesn’t, but you will not miss it.  The story unfolds at a leisurely but intense pace. Some great scenery from the island and the depiction of impoverished existence in remote Indian villages and Calcutta provide an anguishing contrast between Third World and First World existence. I was moved by the children’s desperation in Saroo’s orphanage. This movie is definitely worth seeing. It received a Best Pic Golden Globe award and Kidman and Patel received supporting actor globes. I’m happy I didn’t miss it.

***

Gaia and the Goliaths. An environmental activist is murdered on a street in Manhattan after a protest. NYPD homicide Detectives Chen and Castilblanco get the case. While pursuing the clues to find those responsible, they discover the activist’s boyfriend is in danger because he has key information that will expose an international conspiracy involving Europe, Russia, and the U.S. As the tangled web unravels, an old nemesis of the detectives makes his appearance. #7 in the detectives’ series. Available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format and on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and all the latter’s affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). #1, The Midas Bomb, is on sale on Smashwords until March 1: use coupon code PV57D. The whole series is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!

 

The ugly stench of censorship…

February 16th, 2017

One parallel with 1930’s Germany that jumps out for any sane observer of today’s toxic political environment is censorship. This runs the gamut of a mob shouting down a speaker (they should have let the guy in Berkeley speak his mind so everyone could see what a bigot, hater, and idiot he is), to the statement from Stephen Bannon AKA Goebbels’s spawn that the media is the opposition. The latter, and Kellyanne Conway’s statement about “alternative facts” and blast that everyone in the media who criticizes Trump should be fired are only a step away from fascist censorship in this country.

Another example was Fox forcing the lumber company to edit their Super Bowl ad, something that company paid to produce. Why not run it instead of silencing debate? Let people express and discuss the merits of the ad. I suspect that Trump or his cronies pressured Fox to apply censorship. I’ve seen right-wing and insulting ads in the NY Times. They make money off them whether controversial or not, and Fox just made the real ad go viral on YouTube anyway. What did they accomplish?

The Fox example doesn’t even make sense. With respect to Trump’s Putin comment, which basically equated Russia to the U.S. for oppressive actions, Bill O’Reilly called Putin a murderer. Why didn’t Fox censor O’Reilly if Trump is such a friend of the despotic Putin? When censorship isn’t applied evenly, you have to question its application at least. Some censorship is justified, of course—the movie rankings X, R, PG-13, and so forth are a type of censorship, and it’s justified so that parents can make their own determination about whether their kids should see the movie. Excluding erotica and porn from public libraries might be justified too, but I’d hate to be on a panel that determines whether a book falls into one of those categories. I remember the case of some nut in Lexington, MA objecting to his children reading about modern families—maybe he’s moved out of the state by now to Texas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Steve’s shorts: Nth Contact…

February 15th, 2017

[In the sci-fi realm, we have subgenres like hard sci-fi, militaristic sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, and so forth. Star Trek episodes and movies can be considered everything except the first (reasonable scientific extrapolation is too often lacking). Star Wars movies are more akin to the last two. But the old stories that we now call space opera were a lot of fun. Consider this a bow to space opera with a wee bit of militaristic sci-fi and tongue-in-cheek. As they say, knowing the past can prevent us from committing errors in the present…]

Nth Contact

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Captain Rick Hastings watched the screen. The Star Queen had just popped out of hyperspace and entered the unexplored solar system.

“AI, what am I seeing?” Something that sounded like a chaotic series of grunts, whistles, and sounds passing through several octaves filled the ship’s control room. “Standard, dimwit, not Draconian.”

“My apologies. I was conversing with Nigel. My sensors tell me there are several large starships in orbit around the fourth planet. More details will become available as we approach.”

“That’s not good,” said Nigel, his XO. Like many Draconians, the large humanoid had adopted a name that could be pronounced by Humans. The AI had no problem with his real name. “The last survey of this solar system showed it wasn’t inhabited. Should we write it off?”

“Because some ETs decided to steal our real estate?” He shook his mop of black hair, wiggled his eyebrows, and thought a few seconds. Compared to his XO, the captain wasn’t tall and had legs shorter than his torso. He looked stumpy in a uniform, a characteristic of many from his home planet where genetics had taken over adaption to a high-g environment. “Let’s at least take a look.”

“They’re coming to meet us,” said the AI, flashing up images of three ships speeding towards them.

“They don’t look friendly,” said the XO. “We should throttle back or take evasive maneuvers. Those look like missile-launching ports.”

“We can’t go FTL this close to the star,” said the Star Queen’s navigator.

“Take a course perpendicular to the planetary orbits,” Hastings told the AI.

“That’s an indeterminate command,” said the AI. “There are two possible—”

“Either way works! Just do it. Go FTL ASAP!”

“They launched missiles at us just before we went FTL,” the AI announced twenty seconds later.

“I’m getting my bearings,” said the navigator. Hastings waited. “Very clever, AI. We’ll pop up near base.”

“Forget about admiring a stupid machine. Just get us back to HQ. I’m going to my stateroom. I need some time to write up the report about this new contact.”

“Be sure and explain why you decided to confront the ETs who had taken possession of the solar system,” said the XO.

“Go to hell!” Hastings stomped out of the control room. He’d said it in Draconian, one of the few phrases he knew.

***

                “I’ve read your report.” Admiral Bonaventura studied his captain. “Did your XO forget to sign off on it?”

“My XO is a Draconian asshole. I’ll have his hide if he mentioned anything to you.”

Bonaventura frowned. “Am I a Draconian asshole too?”

Hastings retreated. “That remains to be proven. The Star Queen is a survey ship. I was doing a survey. Nothing says I can’t see who the trespassers are.”

“Your only weapons are found in your security detail’s small arms cabinets. What were you thinking? Whoever establishes the first colony claims the real estate.”

“Don’t you want to know what they were doing there? Colony ships aren’t battle cruisers.”
Read the rest of this entry »

The missing romance?

February 14th, 2017

Valentine’s Day is here. For the last month I’ve been receiving emails from 1-800-FLOWERS, book offers for romance and erotica books, restaurants with special prix fixe menus for a romantic dinner, and so forth. Romance sells in the commercial world—or businesses think it does, at least. I continuously reevaluate my writing career, so maybe it’s time to ask myself, am I doing a disservice to readers? Should I include more romance?

I’ll have to admit that I’ve never used the genre label romance or erotica for any of my stories and never used those labels as keywords either (genres are just keywords, of course). Such labels should help the reader decide what’s emphasized in a story, so I’d be misleading readers by saying a story is a romance. My stories are about human beings, though, so romance is included—it’s a part of being human, either by participating in it, lacking it, or choosing to avoid it. In the wide spectrum of human behavior, romance plays an important role. I include it; I just don’t emphasize it. That’s a choice I’ve made. I won’t apologize for it.

One reviewer of Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder (#3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series”) complained that the title was deceiving—he was looking for more lust! Sexual lust is related to romance, of course, and Detective Chen felt both for her senator-lover in that story. “Sex games” was the SWAT team leader’s description of the murder scene where they found her with the senator’s body. What happens from thereon doesn’t have much lust or romance, so the reviewer was correct in a sense, but Chen’s lack of romance in her life and her search for it is still about romance—and that was a theme.

I generally put romance into my stories only if it fits—I’ve never sat down at my laptop saying, “I’m going to write a romantic tale today.” I don’t write romances, and I rarely read a story if that’s all it’s about. It’s not that I don’t think romance is important to human beings; it is. I’m just more interested in the rest of the plot and how it leads to romance…or destroys it. Somehow we’ve evolved to be the extreme sexual activists of the animal world. We’ve even tried to sanctify that sexuality to move beyond the obvious evidence that human beings are a randy bunch. We also sanitize it by calling it romance.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 13th, 2017

People who, like us, live in a dying civilization have three choices. We can attempt to avert the decline as a child builds a sand-castle on the edge of the advancing tide. We can ignore the death of beauty, of scholarship, of art, of intellectual integrity, finding solace in our own consolations. Thirdly, we can join the barbarians and take our share of the spoils.—mystery author P. D. James

***

Gaia and the Goliaths. An environmental activist is murdered on a street in Manhattan after a protest. NYPD homicide Detectives Chen and Castilblanco get the case. While pursuing the clues to find those responsible, they discover the activist’s boyfriend is in danger because he has key information that will expose an international conspiracy involving Europe, Russia, and the U.S. As the tangled web unravels, an old nemesis of the detectives makes his appearance. #7 in the detectives’ series. Available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format and on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and all the latter’s affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). #1, The Midas Bomb, is on sale on Smashwords until March 1: use coupon code PV57D. The whole series is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!

News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #139…

February 10th, 2017

Are you a public library patron? My local public library helped turned me into an avid reader when I was a kid. I’ve given many print versions of my books (I don’t have many—I’m working on that) to public libraries around the country. Public libraries seem as popular as ever. They offer valuable services to the community too—beyond books, internet access for those who can’t afford it, reading programs for kids, opportunities for the public to meet writers, editors, and other people in the publishing industry, and community meeting spots, to name a few.

I’m obviously a cheerleader and lament that public libraries are often among the first victims of budget axes when communities find themselves in a bind. Like public schools, these budget axes are often sharpened when fat cats in town governments feel they need more salary (why a mayor of a small town makes more than a scientist is beyond me)—of course, some of those fat cats are school administrators!

One of the reasons I’m ending exclusivity for my ebooks on Amazon and adding them to Smashwords is because Smashwords has many more affiliates that service public libraries or act like one so readers can borrow ebooks and not have to pay for them. I’m not sure how much this benefits me financially—it might not at all—but I feel it at least brings me some good karma like reviewing (see below). Anything I can do to increase reading and literacy is worthwhile.

A new affiliate was just added to Smashwords; it’s called Bibliotheca CloudLibrary. This service offers the entire Smashwords Prime Catalog to subscribing public libraries. Library patrons can also survey the catalog and ask that ebooks they find interesting be available to borrowers, if their public library allows that. Of course, if your public library doesn’t lend ebooks, you’re missing out on a lot of good books. Your public library should welcome ebooks, by the way—their shelves are probably sagging too, something that convinced me to switch to ebooks as much as possible.

Read the rest of this entry »