Recommendation: “Terms and Conditions May Apply”. A Documentary on the Absence of Privacy.

I’m subscribed to a number of social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+… And probably a few more that I can’t even remember the names of. I’m not an avid poster, I may do one update a week, a few if the power of sharing really compels me, but I do use a good bit of time on following what fellow social networkers are up to on the aforementioned platforms; clicking, reading, sharing and liking.

I spend even more time on the powerhouse search engine (that doesn’t need to be named for everyone to know which one I’m talking about) typing in things like… healthy snacks, bodyweight workouts, parson russell terriers, stuff that’s pretty normal, stuff that anyone reading my search history would think this person is trying to get in shape, and possibly has a dog. And they would be correct.

Then there’s this I’ve typed in the search box: Wormholes, black holes, time travel, the Manhattan project, Nazis, aliens, abductions, cattle mutilations, shadow government, black ops… Need I go on? I hope whoever finds that, also sees the searches I’ve made for common sci-fi topics, writing and writing competitions. I write sci-fi. No one has diagnosed me as bat crazy yet, but my search history would undeniably suggest that.

One of those bat crazy searches landed a documentary on my lap titled “Terms and Conditions May Apply”, released in 2013. It highlights the absence of digital privacy and the surveillance conducted on average people, which in turn, results in profiling based on their digital behavior, and one may ask …so what? I got nothing to hide. Well, the documentary also paints the scenario depicted in the movie “Minority Report”, where people are arrested pre-emptively (and prosecuted) for crimes they did not commit yet, a society where a digital eye prevents its members from behaving in an undesired way. Worrisome. And it’s already happening as we learn through three different cases in the UK from recent years.

Here are a few quotes of interest from “Terms and Conditions May Apply”:

“The Patriot Act expanded the ability of the Federal Government to do surveillance in a lot of little ways. You don’t need a judge’s approval for instance to find out what websites someone visited, what search terms they typed into Google–“

 Declan McCullagh,CNET’s news.com Chief Political Correspondent

“There are companies you’ve never heard of, like Axiom, that claim to have about 1,500 points of data on the average American citizen, everything from, you know, whether you’re right or left handed, what kind of dog you have, what your sort of psychological outlook is, and all of that can be used to inform the decisions that businesses make about us as well.”

Eli Pariser, Author (“The Filter Bubble)

“According to the Department of Homeland Security reports Facebook has replaced almost every other CIA information gathering program since it was launched in 2004.”

A News clip in “Terms and Conditions May Apply”

“After years of secretly monitoring the public, we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, and advertise lists of all their friends, personal email addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves, and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment– It is truly a dream come true for the CIA.”

Christopher Sartinsky, Deputy CIA Director

“It turns out that, in this environment, a digital environment, there’s a loophole to the Fourth Amendment, which is, if a third party collects a lot of this information, that government doesn’t have to go through those same hoops, it’s called the third party doctrine.”

John Palfrey, Professor of Law (Harvard Law School) on government acquiring private records through third parties such as Google and Facebook.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” is a must watch for anyone living in the digital age and partaking actively in it. The illusion of the delete button fools a lot of cyber citizens, and this documentary served as a reminder that whatever happens on the internet, stays on the internet, and it’s guaranteed someone is following your digital footprints.

I also recommend the Apple agreements episode by South Park:

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Drawing of the Week: Eva Green in Penny Dreadful

I decided the next subject of my experimentation should be Eva Green’s character Miss Ives in Penny Dreadful. A show that lives up to its name. And here’s a blurb on it from the official website to anyone unfamiliar with it:

“Some of literature’s most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. PENNY DREADFUL is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.”


Eva

This one I could keep working on, for example I could blend the shadows and lines further to make it less “crude”, balance out the tones, but I already spent a good bit of time on what I have here, my eyes are tired and my supply of patience ran dry to be honest, so here’s where I am stopping this time. I am pretty excited about making progress with each little drawing, and also learning how to control the need to rush the drawing to the finish line. That’s a huge problem of mine.

Not sure if I captured the likeness of Eva Green, I developed graphite madness (everything becomes a blur and you’re just basically blind to every line) towards the end of the drawing session, but it was a good learning experience yet again, regardless of whether I mutilated her features or not ;) I’m thinking of “experimenting” with some other characters from the show as well.

The show itself I binge-watched in two days (no spoilers will follow). The first two episodes were quite interesting, and the cinematography was simply beautiful. Penny Dreadful is not absent of problems though, it has some really good moments, honest and moving encounters, high quality drama, but the bad, boring moments are equally bad. One scene I watched borderline embarrassed, laughing at the melodramatic performance unfolding on screen. At times the show falls into heavy self-indulgence and not even stunning imagery can save the corniness.

The story has potential, the set of characters can be complex, if allowed to be, and the acting (the overkills left out) is superb… But I wish the pace was tighter, after episode two, it took four episodes for the actual story to pick up again. I’m not expecting an action flick, but the pace just dragged to the point I was bored. The source material for the TV show is too rich to allow for so much fluff, filler, fat around the meat. I understand painting a landscape, exploring emotions and setting up scenes, but don’t bore me with the unnecessary details and backstory told in voice-over that could have been revealed in a much more exciting way.

I binge-watched the show because I kept hoping for (the promise was there) what episode seven and eight finally delivered, a frightening psychological thriller acted out by some of the most famous characters in the history of horror, basically what the description of the show suggested. And also, the cinematography kept me glued to the screen. It really is worth a peek just because of the imagery. Of course, I had to go and butcher Miss Ives with my pencils ;)

Did you watch Penny Dreadful? What did you think? What about American Horror Story? Which one would you pick to watch late at night, all alone in the dark?

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Recommendation: “On Writing” by Stephen King

Stephen King terrorized me in my childhood with his stories. Did I use reader discretion before venturing into the horror section of the local library? No, but I was done with the Nancy Drew series that summer (of 1994… 1995ish) and needed something else to read. Stephen King seemed like a good choice. A solid choice. I saw a long row of books with his name written on the spines and thought… I’ll give him a chance.

20 years later and I can honestly say that while reading “On Writing”, I yipped “read it!” after every title he used as an example in the book (well, except for the works he published as a youngster in school). And that is no coincidence. I devoured every story by him I could get my hands on. The stories penned by Stephen King are probably one of the reasons why my 11 year old self (or 10) was convinced that she wouldn’t live to see her 25th birthday, something out there, or someone, was bound to get her!

“On Writing” is a funny, witty and insightful memoir, just like the author himself called it: a memoir of a craft. You won’t find lectures on grammar, but stories of events that had a big impact on his writing, and what he learned through them, and it’s those revelations that became his tools of the trade. I howled with laughter while reading and had my husband laugh with me, when I shared selected passages with him.

Here are a few nuggets of gold gracing the pages of “On Writing” with their presence:

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” 

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

“I had written three other novels before Carrie — But none of them taught me the things I learned from Carrie White. The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

Read the book. You won’t regret it. I finished it in two sittings (I wish it had been longer, but as the author promised, he kept it short and sweet).

There is one book by Mr. King I had to put down mid reading a long time ago: Pet Sematary. The terrors the dead pets and people brought on were too much, but I’m going to have another crack at it very soon inspired by the brief  peek into the author’s mind. I almost got to the very end of the movie adaptation in my teenage years before going for the remote and turning off the TV. That was the beginning of a very long night with very little sleep, and that is when many  of my own stories begun to take shape with a simple question… what if -

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Snapshots: My Week and Hitting the Big Three-0

Sunday: At the end of the week I had the chance of going to a friend’s cabin in the woods after work. Around 2 PM we drove out of the city with 4 people and one dog in the car and didn’t look back.

We grilled some yummy food, played a hilarious game called “Cards Against Humanity” (their website describes it as a party game for horrible people), we bathed in the sauna and swam in the lake (one of the most serene lakes I’ve been to, no kidding), and let me tell you, that is exactly what I needed to dust the work week off my shoulders.

This guy had a blast swimming in the lake and playing ball, and when we got back home at night, she basically said beddy-bye and see you in the morning. And make sure my breakfast is ready, when I wake up. Over and out.

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My Little Piper

 

 

Monday: Cool morning walks around 6-7 AM are the best right now as we are living in the midst of a record breaking heat wave in Finland.

WP_20140719_09_29_21_Pro (2)Living right next to a bird sanctuary is pretty awesome, the little paths circling this lake can get pretty hard to navigate with tree roots sticking out of the ground, but it’s worth it, when you find yourself in little nooks with amazing views.

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Tuesday: I re-discovered my Kindle wearing fashionable purple and swore I would finally finish reading the books and short stories I downloaded over my summer vacation in May. There are so many of them… And all of them good reads! Look out for a review or two.

MyKindle

 

My digital collection of novels I actually enjoyed reading and the “trophy” novels (featuring Dante, Dostoyevsky… You get the idea …explanation on the trophy novel further ahead). Jk. Okay, not really. Well. I mean. They’re classics, so you should read them, right?

 

 

 

Wednesday: This day was your typical “get out of bed, go to work, spend 8 hours at your desk, go back home, rinse and repeat” – kinda day. With the exception that Wednesday was my Friday for the week. While I waited outside our apartment complex for my husband and dog (we always take her out together for a walk after I get home from work), I snapped this picture:

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I remember my first class in Uni for aesthetics, the teacher asked us all to pick one post card from a pile of cards and explain to the group why we picked it. Well, I don’t remember which card I picked, but I will always remember our assignment for the class next week: Look for a glimpse of beauty in an unexpected place.

The point was to train your eye to see your environment in a different light, and eventually art, that you normally would not pause to look at and appreciate. That simple exercise has helped me tremendously later on with my writing for example.

This was my glimpse of beauty for the day. I just really like the rich colors of the rust and the different textures of the concrete wall.

Thursday: Ahh… Day off. All around relaxation. Take the dog out, coffee, browse the internets, converse with the husband, work out… Maybe do some laundry. Stare at this guy on the desk:

YouandMeDraft

 

I need to re-print this first draft in a different format. It’s sitting on the desk and screaming it’s about time to go over it. Just that… I forgot to leave space for notes. Sometimes the screams contain offensive language that I have omitted from this post.

 

 

 

Friday: One day before I hit the big three-O! I decided to welcome the thirties with grace and dignity. On the inside… I was whaling and staring at my face in the mirror, looking for those damn wrinkles. And I’m sure those guys exist somewhere in there, just haven’t found them yet.

I spent the day reading “On Writing” By Stephen King, I kind of wish I could add the book on my shelf in physical form (I got a digital edition):

WP_20140808_17_18_39_ProI used to vouch for books (and I still do, but just not on the same die heart level), I’d say I even used to collect those printed goodies like trophies… Like hey, check this out, yeah… I read that book, that’s right, it’s tedious as hell, but it’s a classic and I read it. So, what’s up? Now I collect the digital editions. The box shaped monster on the top shelf is my Kindle again. Me and my Kindle… good times, good times.

 

 

Saturday: I’m an old woman! Whaa! So much for dignity and grace.

LauraEFlores

No but for reals, it’s all good… it’s all good. If you really think about it, now the countdown begins again, ten more years to go before the big four-O! In the thirties club, I’m a youngster all over again!

Have a good weekend all! I’m off to eat some cake.

PS. How did you celebrate turning 30? Or your last birthday?

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Back to My Roots: Drawing of the Week

So, I decided to get back in the game of drawing. Here is my first try (of many to come):

PipersEyeI used a photo of my dog’s eye as a reference, and turned it into “a beast eye”.

I thought twice about sharing this, because… well, it’s not a finished drawing (and when are they?). I’m not entirely happy with it for a list of reasons, but this is where I stopped working on it nevertheless, and decided to let go of it. I got what I wanted out of the experience, which is getting a little bit of drawing time in after months and months of not really practicing.

The art of drawing is so rewarding, when I’m happy with the end result, after trying to “get it right”, and sometimes getting it right equals countless hours of tedious and grindy work and an infinite source of patience. And I may be happy with what I produced for some time… but then the uneasiness settles in again, and I have to push myself some more with another challenge, just to see how far I can get.

So, here’s to the many hours of sweating over getting “there”, a land of mad drawing skills, or until I find another meaning to the definition of mad skills ;)

 

 

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Educational: A Panel Discussion on Traditional, Indie and Self-Publishing

I’ve been poking my nose all over the place lately. Publishing wise. I’ve given “the first draft” of my novel a couple of months now before going back to it, and in the meanwhile, I decided to do a little bit of research on the practical aspects of different publishing options to educate myself (mostly on self-publishing, because that looks like the way to go for me business wise), to see what’s out there and what I should expect. And while poking around I found this video on YouTube, I basically just typed “self-publishing” in the search box (and no… just typing self-publishing on YouTube does not cover all of my research, lol) and this is what popped up:

 

 

Full Sail University has their own YouTube channel and they have uploaded a lot of “how to” videos (film, music, writing, business), which is nice, and this one particularly caught my attention, it’s titled “A Beginner’s Guide to the World of Self-Publishing”, and it was uploaded in March 2014.

It’s a panel discussion with people, who have had experience in traditional, indie and self-publishing, and they will tell you about the practical steps you actually need to take to get there, whichever route you wanna go.

 

A few of the points this panel touches on:

- The differences between traditional, indie and self-publishing, royalty wise as well!

- Marketing and distribution of works (e.g print on demand services and aggregators)

- Self-publishing with Amazon and CreateSpace as your publisher vs. creating your own publishing company

- The importance of finding your audience and niche

- Questions and answers section from the audience

 

I found the video quite interesting with some good practical tips and insights on different aspects of publishing, and there were some fascinating personal stories there as well! Now, just remember that they are based in the United States, so if that’s not where you are located, some of the advice given here might not apply to you. I am looking into how much of this I can apply to my own situation as I am in Finland… Sigh. Just kidding with the sigh. Partially. Regardless of that, this video is a must see in my opinion.

Looking at writing as a business is definitely something I am still getting used to, but it’s a fact of life, if you wanna make a little bit of coin while doing it.

I’m gonna keep looking around of course and will post my findings if of use!

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Autumn Pending (And Other Things)

Two days ago I woke up around 1:30 AM and it was dark. I was borderline shocked. Now, to most people it wouldn’t be an utmost surprise that it may be a tad darker during the night hours than the day hours, but summer nights in Finland are typically quite… bright. So there I was in bed smiling like a lunatic in the sweet darkness of night (maybe even relieved that autumn was finally coming), knowing in two hours I’d have to wake up for work, and it would already be sunny by then. As of now the dark lasts for 1 hour and 23 minutes in central Finland. That’s a whole lot of sunlight in 24 hours. And more sleepless nights than I care to admit.

Yes, we haven’t even hit August yet, and I’m already talking about autumn. But such is living in the land of extremes, here in Finland we are on the brink of transitioning seasons. You can practically smell it in the air, when you’re out and about before 5 AM; the wind is crispier ever so slightly these days and the nights are getting longer and longer. Or I might be bat crazy and imagining it all, lol. After all, we are living a record breaking week here, the hottest week in 50 years temperature wise and I’m gushing over sensing autumn in the air. Imagine that.

My crazier than ever schedule has lately dictated (for the past…. two months now?) that I must be available to work pretty much at any hour of the day, which is fine for now, I’m young and healthy so I can deal with it most days… The other days I get overwhelmed with tiredness and daily life is about crawling through the day, just waiting for the end of the work week… which is not synonymous with Friday.

The irregular hours combined with the midnight Sun equaled a hiatus from my modest online presence. And that’s fine by me, life happens and people need a break from whatever they’r doing for the sake of sanity, for lack of a better way of phrasing it I suppose. And that’s that.

Nevertheless, I’m quite excited to be at the edge of autumn, when it’s still warm and sunny… But the schools are about to start and the leaves on the trees will begin turning all kinds of vibrant colors. Same story every year, yes, but this year is a little different on my end.

This autumn I will be going over the first draft of my novel to be that I printed out. I haven’t touched it ever since May. The stack of papers is collecting dust under a pile of other things. From time to time I look at the disorganized mess on my desk just to make sure it’s still there, waiting. And it is.

I work best in the dark. That is to say, when the light/darkness ratio during a 24 hour period of time is more on the normal side of things, and it’s easier to get adequate rest, which means more energy for mental exercise, let’s say writing for the sake of an example, lol. The normal side of things lasts for some weeks before we are back to another extreme, long hours of darkness in the advanced autumn and eventually winter, when all light seems to escape to some unexplained black abyss.

And while waiting for that, and the period of normality, I shall be sipping on a cool drink, relaxing, before it’s show time again in a few weeks.

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