Tuesday Tip: Do-It-Yourself Research is Safer

Today’s tip is a source I found while cleaning out all those emails last week, and it reminded me of a funny story, with me playing the role of the “naive and somewhat idiotic writer.”

So, I was writing a personal essay. Now, you wouldn’t think a writer would need research for a personal essay, and generally speaking, when I write about events that happen to me personally, I pretty much know the ins and outs involved. BUT, this was a case where a large, retail chain store was involved (K-Mart, if you must know) and it occurred to me in the midst of this splendiferous essay that perhaps this store is regional rather than national.

Honestly, the store wasn’t really integral to the story, except for the teensy little fact that the store was the setting of the event and the store name was in the title of said essay. So I said to myself, “Self, you’d best look up K-Mart and make sure they’re all over the place so people reading this essay in Montana or Michigan or wherever will know what you’re talking about.”

First, I went to the website. Because even though this was back in the dark ages of my writing career, we still had the Great and Powerful Internet. And just for the record, K-Mart has a lovely website. But they do not have a big, giant map of the US of A with little dots where the stores are located. They have a “write in your state and we’ll show you the K-Marts near you” thingie. I ask you, people: who has time to look up every state?

So I called the information number on the website (it was a 1-800 number). Then I asked the nice gentleman, “Are there K-Marts all over the country?” And he said, “What state are you looking for a K-Mart in?” (Which is terribly poor grammar, but I did not feel as if I should correct him, as the call was long-distance.)

So I said, “I just need to know if there are K-Marts all over the United States.”

A long pause followed. Then the not-so-nice gentleman asked, “Why do you need that information, m’am?”

“I’m writing a story,”I said (which was technically not true, but I thought it sounded better than personal essay) “and I just need to know if there are K-Marts in all 50 states and possibly in Canada.”

Another pause, followed by, “Perhaps you could talk to a supervisor, m’am. I’m not allowed to divulge that sort of information.”

Wherein it suddenly occurred to me that this gentleman thought I was up to something of a nefarious nature. What is the world coming to, when a person can’t ask an innocent question about the location of stores throughout the US of A (and possibly Canada)?

“Never mind!” I squeaked, and hung up the phone tout de suite!

The point being, if you want information about subjects that might cause folks to ask for their supervisor, you’d best look it up yourself.

Which reminds me of today’s tip! Here is a wonderful link for would-be mystery writers called “Blood at the Source.”

Tuesday Tip Revisited or Oooooh, Those Hackers Hack Me Off

So, another friend had her email hacked and ended up asking all her contacts for help getting home from London.

But those shenanigans didn’t particularly hack me off. I’ve seen the “Stuck in London” ploy before. I was not, however, sure that my friend had. So I skipped over to Facebook to send her a little note and lo! There she was on Facebook!

How delightfully convenient. “Hey,” I chatted, “I’ll bet you’ve been getting tons of emails about your ‘unexpected’ London trip.” I added a smiley face, even.

“Am really stuck,” she chatted back. (No frowny face or anything.)

“Really?” I asked. ‘Cause I’d just seen her the day before. That’s some nervy hacker, I thought, chatting away on Facebook, trying to catch any friends who might be socially networking.

Granted, I was annoyed, but still not majorly hacked off. I mean, it takes A LOT to hack me off. And then I saw my friend that evening.

Naturally, we spoke of the email and London and the Facebook chatting, too. What’s the (wide web) world coming to? Apparently, what it’s coming to is hackers getting into email accounts and social networks and CHANGING PASSWORDS.

That’s right. My friend couldn’t get back into her own email since the hacker had changed her password. And what can be done to prevent this hijacking? Turns out, absolutely nothing.

That’s what really hacked me off.

P.S. You might want to make sure that your Facebook and email are not tied into each other. It won’t keep your email safe, but at least your friends won’t be chatting with despicable hackers.

Tuesday Tip: Clearing Contacts

I don’t really understand “the internets” all that well. But occasionally, I’m forced to figure out some internet-related glitch. So what I usually do is a. turn off my computer or b. scream at “the internets.”

Neither of these approaches worked very well when the Beneficent Mr. Hall had his Facebook account hacked into. Suddenly, very interesting, not to mention titillating messages were sent to his flock of friends. Which numbers about 10. Seriously.

Still. It was unnerving. Especially in light of the fact that the Beneficent Mr. Hall’s email account had been hacked-twice. Unfortunately, there were quite a few more contacts in that account, including business contacts. Um, oopsies!

So, what to do? For the Facebook account, he went all Terminator on it (I mean, who can blame him? The internet demons seem to have targeted him). He tried to terminate his email account, too, but couldn’t figure out how. So he cleared out all the contacts.

Which brings us to our Tuesday Tip. You never know when the internet demons might attack. You can have all kinds of internet protection in place, but you could still get hit. So, you might want to be careful about holding on to tons of contacts.

I go through my contacts and get rid of dated ones, but recently, I had a TON of editor/submission contacts hanging about in my email. Imagine if the editor at a Christian anthology received a very interesting, not to mention titillating message from yours truly.

She’d probably go all Terminator on me. So clean out those business contacts, just to be on the safe side. Oh, and change up your passwords once in awhile, to keep the demons on their toes.

And go ahead and scream at the computer. That always makes me feel better.

(P.S. If one of you, my personal and very bestest friend contacts, should get a very interesting, not to mention titillating message from me, please know that’s it’s not from me. Probably.)