Posts Tagged ‘internet’

I keep seeing people posting images in support of net neutrality, but beyond making people more aware that big money interests are trying to create fast and slow lanes on the internet, those images don’t do much to stop it from happening.

What can you, as a lone private citizen, do to protect net neutrality? The answer is surprisingly easy. You can tell the FCC that you want net neutrality. Courtesy of my friend Lucy Pick, here are the simple instructions for doing that.

1. Visit the FCC’s website here: http://fcc.gov/comments

2. Look for Proceeding 14-28

3. Enter your personal information. Yes, you will need to speak up as a citizen, and that means the FCC wants your name and address. Don’t be more scared than you are any other time you divulge this to the federal government.

4. In the comments section write, “I want internet service providers classified as common carriers.”

You can write other things as well, but the most important thing is to indicate that you want internet service providers to be considered common carriers. If that happens, internet service providers, like other companies which transport goods, would be prohibited from discriminating against customers based on what goods they want transported.

That would mean lowly bloggers have the right to expect the same service as big name companies. It’s essentially what we have now, and what we’re in danger of losing. Additionally, it would make it harder for disapproving providers to silence unpopular opinions. We never think about this until our opinion becomes unpopular.

So, if you’ve seen all these posts about net neutrality, but you weren’t sure what to do, now you do. It will take you less time than reading this post did.


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It’s what I consider one of the strangest writer interview questions: where do you get your ideas?  As more writers get interviewed on more blogs, I thought it was a question that was going to die, but it hasn’t.  I’ve seen it asked in two different author interviews just this week, despite the fact that the answer is almost always the same.  Writers get their story ideas from everywhere.  Everything.

A newspaper article.  An overheard conversation.  A non-verbal interaction glimpsed.  A random string of free associations.  A dream.

I like getting the occasional story idea from dreams, because I always assume that it must be a powerful distillation of my subconscious mind.  Something that has stewed for weeks, months, maybe years.  Of course, it could just be the mental equivalent of random detritus vacuumed out of the couch cushions.

I had one this week, involving a set of conjoined triplets.  I woke and scribbled down the details, some snatches of dialog, first impressions of narrator and characters.  The next morning, it made sense and it still intrigued, so I set to writing a first draft.



As do a lot of writers I know, I like research.  Even if I’ll never use the information gathered except as background, I like to learn more about the things I’m writing about.  This story idea is no exception.  The first thing I did was Google “conjoined triplets.”  I was quickly reminded that the internet is full of ignorance.  Places like Yahoo! Answers and Ask.com are just as likely to contain misinformation as they are to contain facts.

If you’re willing to rely on the guidance of random strangers, you’d leave your research into conjoined triplets fairly convinced that such a thing is unheard of and undocumented in medical history.  From that, I might well assume that my story idea is likely to be fantastical in nature.  One intrepid respondent to a question about conjoined triplets suggested that the odds were 1 in 11,000,000,000.  No idea how that was arrived at, but as a former Freshman Composition instructor, I knew what I had to do next: actual research.

Now here’s where the internet is fabulous: online access to the University’s database of journals, including full articles from The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  Just like that, the truth came out.  In Greece, in this century, doctors prenatally diagnosed a case of conjoined triplets.  Genetically identical females, well-developed, and sharing a single heart and liver, were diagnosed using three-dimensional ultrasound at 22 weeks gestation.

Although the fetuses were well-developed and might well have survived to birth, the pregnancy was terminated because of the mother’s health.  I won’t post them here, because they are rather disturbing, but the photos make clear that conjoined triplets, no matter how rare, are not merely in the realm of fantasy or science fiction.

It was also a good reminder that no matter where a story idea comes from, it needs to go to factual resources to get its legs.

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The thing about the internet and internet communities: instant gratification.  If you’re awake at 3 am, unable to sleep and pondering some mystery of life, writing, politics, whatever, you can find someone online who is also interested in pondering these things.  The problem arises when your preferred route to instant gratification dries up.

I’m addicted to the Absolute Write forums.  Hooked like an ignorant college co-ed who thought she’d try crack just the once.  You never realize the depth of your addiction until you  can’t get your fix, and Absolute Write has been down for hours, my people. Since yesterday afternoon. I’m having that same twitchy desperate feeling I had after I left Tampa and couldn’t get any Cuban coffee.

You’d think that this would open up possibilities.  Former smokers report having dramatically more free time once they stop sucking down their life 8-minutes at a time through a cigarette filter.  Except I already had plenty of free time in which I was writing.  AW was my reward, my down time, my breathing space.  Now I’m just sitting here trying not be too productive, because frankly I am one of those people who works too quickly anyway.  I can do most of my job in under 10 hours a week.  I can clean the whole house in two hours. Left to my own devices, I will write ten thousand words a day.  I tear through things like a spider monkey on trucker speed.  The internet has helped me waste enough time to give the appearance that I am a normal person instead of a freak.  Without AW, the threat of writing another novel in a week looms over me.

I’ve already tried alternatives.  Spent a few restless minutes on Facebook, checking things out, chatting with people, updating my status.  It’s like being a coke addict and trying to tide yourself over with baking powder.  Facebook.

At least I have a list of chores and errands to do today, so I won’t spend too much time writing and clicking Reload to see if AW is back up.

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Writers are an odd bunch.  The sort of people who sit around contemplating murder, rape, espionage, sabotage, and other heinous acts.  Writers probably spend more time thinking about these things than the people who actually commit them.  After all, we have to imagine the proper motivation, because we don’t have it on tap.

We also spend an inordinate amount of time research ways to torture, kill, and maim people.  Just know, my fellow writers, that you are in dangerous territory.  When you start to type in search terms on Google, think: if someone close to you were murdered, would you want the police to look at your search history and see “suffocation death” or “manual strangulation”?

When your average car mechanic, or CPA, or stay-at-home mom, does those searches, it may be an indication of nefarious intent, but writers are by-and-large non-violent people.  And they need to be careful.  Perhaps you find yourself writing a murder mystery, and you wonder, How could you kill someone so it would look like a suicide? You open up your internet browser, go to Google, and start to type in your search terms.

Stop. Meet Tom Murray:

In this picture, he doesn’t look like a respected linguistics professor at a Big Twelve university.  He was.  When I first met him, he was.  As a graduate student, I was his research assistant for two years, and I always admired him.  From this photo, you can see that he’s a big man, although  stress has made him lose weight.  The photo is a testament to the more subtle skills of a news photographer–the angle creates menace where it doesn’t exit.  Tom isn’t a menacing guy, despite his size.  At the moment this photo was snapped, however, he’d just been convicted of his wife’s murder.

Her death was brutal, bloody, violent, and likely rather prolonged, according to the coroner. With Tom and his ex in a custody disagreement over their daughter, the police started looking at Tom almost immediately.  There is no physical evidence to place him at the crime scene.  Not a fingerprint or stray hair or drop of blood, but when the police searched his computer they found what they considered incriminating evidence: an internet search for alternate routes between Manhattan and Lawrence, Kansas, their respective residences.  Another incriminating internet search: information on exotic poisons, including fugu fish.  Additionally, police retrieved some e-mails from his computer in which he expressed his concern that his ex-wife intended to move to California to be with her new boyfriend.

Of course, many innocent people check for alternate routes for drives they make regularly.  Of course, Tom’s ex-wife died as a result of being stabbed and beaten, not poisoned.  For the jury, though, it added up to murder.  Tom is serving a sentence life in prison in El Dorado, Kansas, although he is currently mounting an appeal.

What was Tom’s explanation for his internet searches?  He was sick of driving the interstate to pick up his daughter for custodial visits.  Like many college English professors, he dreamed of being a writer.  The story he was working on hinged on a murder by poison.

So think carefully.  Before you type in “garage door decapitation” or “insulin shock death,” turn off your computer, go down to the public library, and do your research there.

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