What’s all this technobabble about the Heartbleed bug?

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.38.03 AMI’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of the Heartbleed bug by now. However, while many people want to shut out all the technobabble on the internet, this is one issue we should all be paying attention to.

What is the Heartbleed bug?

The Heartbleed bug is a security flaw in the programming code used for secure websites.  The flaw allowed hackers to steal the last piece of data processed on the website. It didn’t matter what the last transaction was, that’s what could be retrieved by the hacker. To make matters worse, the hacker could set up a program to continually query the secure site for the last piece of data. In other words, everything could be stolen.

Am I affected?

Not all secure websites were affected by this bug because not all use the OpenSSL code. However, unless you were paying attention and were doing your own amateur sleuthing (I confess, I did), there’s really no way to know whether you were affected unless the company behind the website sent you a notice explicitly stating their site and been compromised.

What should I be doing to protect myself from the Heartbleed bug?

It’s a pain, but the best way to cut off access anyone might have gained is to change your passwords immediately. When you do make the change, be sure you’re creating a secure password. By the way, is keeping all those passwords in your head overwhelming? If so, use a password manager. If you don’t already have one of these super-helpful programs, check out my March post, The password manager age is upon us. You’ll never want to go back to the days of remembering passwords. Been there, done that, not again.

Review of ‘The Collector of Dying Breaths’ by M.J. Rose

Collector of Dying Breaths by MJ Rose“The Collector of Dying Breaths” by M.J. Rose brings together two stories, one from the 16th century, the other modern day. The fascinating historical portion of this novel revolves around René le Florentine. That story begins in 1573, with René recalling the story of his life, which included time spent training to become a perfumer, as a prisoner when he is found guilty of murder, and later, in the court of Catherine de Medici. Like the man who trained him, René is far more than an ordinary perfumer. He is dedicated to finding a secret—how to reanimate a dead person’s soul by capturing their final breath.

In current day, Jac L’Etoile is suffering from the loss of her brother when she is contacted by the woman who was his last employer. Upon visiting her brother’s laboratory, Jac begins to experience frequent flashbacks that connect her with a previous life. She doesn’t realize it at first, but as the flashbacks become more frequent and intense, she learns they involve René and the search for the secret to reanimate a soul.

René is the most fascinating character in “The Collector of Dying Breaths.” He’s a man of great passion, but has always restrained himself. Jac, the current-day protagonist, is not only troubled by the loss of her brother, but the incidence of the flashbacks.

“The Collector of Dying Breaths” is a story of choices—not only those of the characters, but also those of the author. For instance, the style of writing is consistent, whether the chapter is current day or historical. Historical information and details about the craft of perfumery in the book add authenticity. Some readers will find this bogs down the story, others will relish Rose’s attention to detail.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

The Patriot Survival Plan email scam

keyboardscamYesterday, I received two emails from “Patriot Survival Plan” offering me survival tips on how to make it though the coming crisis in America. There may be a looming crisis, there may not. There have been plenty of previous predictions of this sort over the years and they’ve all been proven wrong when the crisis date passed. Sooner or later, maybe one of them will come true. Until then, I’ll just deal with my email.

What I do know is that I didn’t sign up to receive “Patriot Survival Plan” emails from “foxgroveentertainment.com,” which is who sent the two from yesterday. As a result, I got curious about who might be behind this latest intrusion into my privacy and whether they’re real or not.

First off, let’s see who’s sending these things. No surprise, both emails have different sending addresses. What is a surprise is that they both come from the foxgroveentertainment.com domain.

Both of the emails have the same sender’s name: “Patriot Survival Plan.” In doing a search, I came across a website that sells a product promising to get you through the coming crisis. Technically, the real “Patriot Survival Plan” website is not a scam because their customers pay money and receive something in return. Personally, I don’t think I’d trust anyone who sells everyone the same “guaranteed” way to survive a catastrophic meltdown of our country. And, as far as “foxgroveentertainment.com,” I also don’t want to trust my survival in this country to someone who has their domain protected by a company in Panama or has their web server in Luxembourg.

If you get one of these emails, just put it in junk mail. And, if you decide to check out the real Patriot Survival Plan, be sure to look at the reviews such as this one at reviewopedia.com. You might just change your mind on that one, too.

James Moushon enjoys wearing three hats

Game of Fire by James MoushonJames Moushon and I met at the Tucson Festival of Books in 2013. James recently released his third Jonathon Stone Mystery, “Game of Fire.” In “Game of Fire,” CIA agent Jonathon Stone is brought up against his old nemesis, Tay Minh, when the investigation into an arson fire indicates it might have been an act of terrorism.

When asked why he wrote “Game of Fire,”  James said, “There still remains a huge divide between the North and South Vietnamese immigrates. Each year someone in the Garden Grove area (Little Saigon) of California will fly the North’s flag or display a picture of Ho Chi Minh and violence will occur.”

“The story is based on the Anti-Ho Chi Minh protest during the New Year celebrations of 1999,” said James. “A Vietnamese-American video store owner caused controversy when he displayed in his store a portrait of Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. Several demonstrations came close to a full scale riot in front of the store.”

Born in Illinois and a graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, James helped lead the startup of the electronic forms industry in its early days. That background of providing an industry with published literature, software products, and training seminars, eventually led James to seek a more creative outlet. He said, “I am currently wearing three hats. I am a mystery writer, a book publishing blogger and a computer consultant.”

Even though the Jonathon Stone mysteries have a CIA operative as the protagonist, they are written in the style of cozy mysteries, i.e., no graphic sex, violence, or language. James pulls on his computer background to make them as accurate as possible. He said, “I do a lot of research. Coming from a computer background, I handle all my writing chores with a database system and some custom programming I threw together. Story lines, character profiles and even common editing problem-areas are neatly controlled. I even use my own software to do the ebook conversion to check out how the ebook format will appear on the various ebook devices.”

James is also concerned that the locations he describes in his books are accurate. “The places I use in my books are places I have firsthand knowledge, backed by a detailed study. I lived in the area the story takes place and the scenes are really snapshots of the good times I had there. I tried to stay away from LA and concentrate on some of the little-known sections like Belmont Shore, Huntington Harbour, Signal Hill and, of course, Little Saigon.”

Book summary

An explosion and fire rocks a Southern California mall and it is quickly determined to be arson. The timing of the incident is special because it interrupts the Tet New Year’s Festival and Parade in Little Saigon, an area just east of Long Beach.

Enter veteran CIA Agent Jonathon Stone. Already in pursuit of the gunrunning Minh family, he connects with a special FBI task force to assist in the investigation of the explosion and Minh quickly becomes their number one suspect.

Stone teams up with FBI Agent Jodi Shannon to pursue the people behind the arson fire. Jodi is a serious, no nonsense agent who leads the FBI Arson Task Force. While she fights to solve the mystery, she also fights Stone’s advances. As always, he tries to mix business with pleasure.

More information

James Moushon runs three blogs as well as his own website. Those sites are:

Website – http://www.jamesmoushon.com/

Blogs:

eBook Authors Corner – http://bit.ly/TauYkJ

HBS Author’s Spotlight – http://bit.ly/QVEMix

HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle – http://bit.ly/19Nfrx8

McKenna checks out the hotel phone call scam

iStock_000024086772LargeThe hotel phone call scam is back in business. A friend of mine just told me how her son received a phone call in the middle of the night while he was staying at a hotel. Sometime in the middle of the night, the phone in her son’s hotel room rang and he was told that there had been a “glitch” in the computer system. The caller was apologetic, but explained how all of the credit card numbers had been lost and the hotel needed to reconstruct the billing information.

Being somewhat groggy—he’d just been woken from a sound sleep—her son gave the caller an address, but balked when they asked for his credit card number. He told the caller he’d go down to the front desk to give them the card, at which point the caller hung up.

This particular scam has been around for years. It usually travels around from state-to-state so the scammers avoid getting caught. In my book, it gets an F rating for courtesy—who wants to be woken in the middle of the night? It’s tough enough to get a good night’s sleep in a hotel without having some scammer pulling this stunt.

There’s not much you can do about it except to report the call to the front desk. Most likely, they’ll tell you there’s not much they can do about it either, but that other guests are receiving similar calls. The hotel phone call scam is currently making the rounds, so if you’re traveling and a very courteous person asks you for your credit card number in the middle of the night, you’ve got my permission to be not so nice in return.

Behind the story of the Nora Abbott mysteries

Broken Trust by Shannon BakerShannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott Mystery Series. In this interview, Baker talks about the series, which is set in Flagstaff, AZ and raises environmental issues that could affect the Hopi Indians and the world.

“One of the reasons I love writing fiction is that I don’t have to vote on the issues,” said Baker. “I get to present both sides of everything through my characters. Like people, most issues have good and bad. Sometimes I have an opinion and the most fun for me is giving a character the opposite opinion and letting them convince me to change my mind.“

Baker’s protagonist is Nora Abbott, a strong environmentalist. While Baker worked for an environmental nonprofit, she says she’s not sure she fits the definition, perhaps because she’s too open-minded. “In my books,” said Baker, “I don’t have to defend anything. The characters get to have their say.”

The Nora Abbott Mystery series, according to Baker, is a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians. That interest began in 2006 when she moved to Flagstaff. She said, “There was a huge controversy raging about man-made snow on the San Francisco Peaks. Those peaks are sacred to 12 tribes and featured in their creation stories. I started researching Hopi and was fascinated by this tiny, ancient, mystical culture. They believe they hold responsibility for the balance of the whole world.”

After learning more about the tribe and its history, Baker says she’s not going to dispute that claim. She said, “How could I not write about it?” The second book in the series, “Broken Trust,” goes deeper into this issue when Nora Abbott takes a job at Loving Earth Trust in Boulder, CO. When she encounters several murders, Nora enlists the aid of her mother and a Hopi kachina to stop an attempt to decimate one of our greatest natural resources.

One of the things Baker learned when she started writing about the Hopi, was how difficult it would be for a white person to get information. “Hopi are extremely secretive and protective about their rituals and beliefs. I’ve been really fortunate to know a couple of Hopi who’ve read my books and given me advice. Theirs is a complicated and rich history and so thick I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one book. Nora gets to learn along with me as each book explores a different aspect of the Hopi.”

During the past few years, Baker has been living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. She said, “I didn’t set out to be gypsy and poor Nora has been dragged along with me everywhere. I escaped from Nebraska in 2004 and landed in Boulder, then off to Flagstaff, back to Boulder in 2012. In the meantime, we bought a house in Tucson where we plan to be in 515 days, when real retirement commences so I’ve spent bits of time there. Sadly, and thankfully temporarily, I’m back in Nebraska.”

One of those people who loves the outdoors, Baker considers herself lucky that she will soon have the Grand Canyon and the Rockies in her backyard. Baker quipped, “Now all I have is windswept prairie.”

The future will bring more Nora Abbott mysteries, according to Baker. So far, Nora has been in the iconic landscapes of Northern Arizona, the wilds of the Rockies and Boulder, CO. She added, “In book three, Nora gets to hang in the red rocks of Moab. I don’t see her coming to Nebraska, though I am working on a new mystery series set in Nebraska cattle country.”

More information

“Tainted Mountain” and “Broken Trust” are published by Midnight Ink (www.midnightinkbooks.com). “Tainted Mountain,” the first in the series, is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist.

Learn more about Shannon Baker on her website at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Attorney General says bitcoin creates regulatory challenges

Bitcoin-Graphics-300x211On Tuesday, April 8, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Committee on the Judiciary to express concerns about the long-term viability of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin.

In his address, Holder said, “Virtual currencies can pose challenges for law enforcement given the appeal they have among those seeking to conceal illegal activity.  This potential must be closely considered.  We are working with our financial regulatory partners to account for this emerging technology.  Those who favor virtual currencies solely for their ability to help mask drug trafficking or other illicit conduct should think twice; the Department is committed to innovating alongside this new technology in order to ensure our investigations are not impeded by any improvement in criminals’ ability to move funds anonymously.  As virtual currency systems develop, it will be imperative to law enforcement interests that those systems comply with applicable anti-money laundering statutes and know-your-customer controls.”

Bitcoin has become increasingly popular as an easy way to move money, but the collapse of Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange in February dealt a serious blow to the integrity of the currency. Further complicating matters are the wild fluctuations in bitcoin valuation, which has made bitcoin a popular commodity among day traders, yet may make it difficult to establish as a viable long-term currency.

Interview with international bestselling author MJ Rose

Collector of Dying Breaths by MJ RoseThe latest novel from international bestselling author M.J. Rose, “The Collector of Dying Breaths,” has just been released. For this interview, Rose talked about what was behind the novel and how she became fascinated with the concept of souls leaving a body with the dying breath.

Rose was doing research on another book when she learned that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who both believed in reincarnation, supported the idea that in death, the soul leaves the body with its last breath. Rose said, “Edison’s dying breath, collected by his son, Charles, is in fact on display at the Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers, Florida.  I was totally taken with the idea of our souls being expelled in that last breath and it became the thesis of my novel.”

“There is a lot of fact mixed in with this fictional tale,” said Rose. “The main historical character is a 16th century perfumer named René le Florentin, who was an apprentice at the Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. Founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars, the pharmacy was famous for its herbal remedies and potions.”

“When Catherine de Medici was young she bought scents and creams there. And when the fourteen-year-old duchessina traveled to France to marry the prince, she took René with her. He and Catherine are credited with bringing perfume to their newly adopted country.”

As part of her research for the book, Rose found many fascinating practices. She said, “There was an ingredient used in perfumes and remedies in the middle ages called ‘momie’ that is certainly one of the most fascinating I’ve come across.

“Momie is found in the tombs of the people who have been embalmed with spices, as they used to do in ancient times. It’s found near the brain and the spine. Instruction manuals from the 15th century suggest it should be shining, black, strong smelling, and firm. And that the white kind, which is rather opaque, does not stick, is not firm and easily crumbles to powder, must be refused.”

Rose did extensive research on middle age practices because she wanted the science to be historically accurate. When it came to dialogue, however, she chose a different path. “I read as much as I could get my hands on of things written during the period. But this is fiction and I wanted it to be a good read so in the end I closed all the research books and wrote from the characters mind. After all, there’s no one alive who knows for sure how people sounded in conversation in the 1500s. We only know how they wrote.”

Through the ages, the concept of reincarnation and other worlds has fascinated mankind. Rose wanted to look closer at this fascination. She said, “I was exploring this idea, expressed so well by H.G. Wells.

‘You may think me superstitious, if you will, and foolish; but indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had, in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something—I know not what—that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world.’”

With all of her research into past lives and reincarnation, would Rose want her dying breath captured for possible reincarnation? She said, “I think that we need to live our lives for the present . . . as if it is our one and only wild and wonderful life. If it turns out we do get to come back then I’d want to start fresh and so I hope my last breath is expelled near an open window on a balmy night so that it can blow away and mix with the stars.”

More information

M.J. Rose is the international bestselling author of fourteen novels, one of which, “The Reincarnationist,” was the basis of the television series “Past Lives.”

McKenna takes on the Terrible Three tax scams

Business UnderworldIt’s that time again—April. Those good old April showers bring May flowers. The days get a little warmer. The birds start to sing. And, yes, even the tax man starts to sing, “My turn, my turn.” The trouble is, the tax man who is singing may not be for real. Each year, the IRS publishes its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. Well, this year, I’m starting “McKenna’s Terrible Three.” So, here we go.

In first place on the McKenna’s Terrible Three list are the scammers who take the personal approach and make threatening phone calls, promising to have you thrown in jail unless you pay your taxes in GreenDot Money Paks. Seriously? Money Paks? Most of us would say, who would fall for that? Yet, people do. In that moment of panic, their brain stops working and fear runs the show. I’m pretty sure the IRS would prefer to be paid with a check or, better yet, an electronic funds transfer.

Second place on the list goes to those who prefer efficiency. These are the guys who send out those emails demanding you click links or you will face dire consequences. The links, of course, go to sites where you might pick up some fancy little malware or a virus. My advice? The only thing you want to click is the delete key to send that email into the trash.

How about free money from the IRS? You’ve got to be kidding me, right? People are going to fall for this? But, yes, they do. So, let’s be clear. People! The IRS is charged with collecting taxes, not running contests.

Okay, that ought to cover it. If you fall for one of these scams after this warning, Bob over at the IRS is definitely not going to forgive your taxes just because you didn’t pay attention. Don’t believe me? Call him up and ask.

The Chase falls short of what it could be

The Chase by Evanovich and GoldbergNick Fox is a world-class con man. Kate O’Hare is a kick-ass FBI agent. The two began working together when Kate eventually tracked down and arrested Nick. Together their job is to bring down the bad guys—those that always stay one step ahead of the normal law-enforcement channels.

The characters, both Nick and Kate, tend to be somewhat one-dimensional. He’s a dashing, handsome, and brilliant playboy type who is as smooth with the ladies as he is with a set of lock picks. Kate is tough, smart, and beautiful, capable of catching the eye of any man she wants, especially one with a love of life such as Nick.

The premise, finding the worst of the worst, as far as criminals go, and bringing them to justice, is popular with today’s writers as well as readers.

The problem with “The Chase” is that it, much like the characters, falls flat in several ways. Where the banter between the characters should be sharp and witty, it feels like a huge cliché. Dialogue is not crisp and sharp, but convenient and designed to move the plot forward in obvious ways. The other major issue is changes in point of view. The authors alternate point of view constantly, which removes any element of suspense.

The good news is that plotting and pacing are well done. This story moves quickly from scene to scene to a final climax that puts both characters at risk. Readers who want the equivalent of a TV series on the written page should enjoy “The Chase.”