Friday Fotos—Big Island Lava

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Kilauea Volcano has been steadily emitting a flow of lava since January 1983. Historically, Kilauea has been one of the world’s most active volcanos. It’s frequent eruptions have shaped the island as well as the ecosystem of the Big Island. In recent years, even the banyan trees on the other side of the island have been showing signs of succumbing to the frequent presence of vog, or volcanic organic gasses.

The currently active flow that has been dominating island news began on June 27, 2014. The flow continues to extend its reach, passing through manmade structures as though they didn’t exist. Residential areas are now being impacted, with roads being closed, utilities threatened, businesses impacted, and more. Here are a few photos taken by the US Geological Survey that might help to put this tremendous power in perspective.

You can follow the latest developments and see new photos almost daily on the USGS website at hvo.wr.usgs.gov/

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Review of Aftershock by Joe Lane

Aftershock by Joe LanePilot Major Penelope Baldwin awakens after a dangerous mission to find that she’s lost her left leg and the ability to ever have children. Devastated, but with the help of her dog Cinnamon and her mother Evelyn, she tries to find her way in a new life outside the military.

When Evelyn loses her retirement savings in a market collapse, she’s forced into a retirement home while Penelope and Cinnamon become roommates with Tess, a new friend of Penelope’s.

On an icy winter night a freak accident happens when Evelyn, Penelope, Cinnamon and Tess are out for a walk. An out-of-control car slides down the street towards them, jumps the curb, hits, and kills Cinnamon. Evelyn, who is devastated by the accident, has a heart attack and dies. This double loss opens the door for Tess to convince Penelope that something needs to be done to stop the power hungry, greedy, and corrupt government officials as well as the wealthy who finance them.

Penelope, Tess and 7 other women with very specialized skills, come together to take down the top Wall Street financiers. In their efforts to change the way political campaigns are funded, they turn to a campaign of violence against those involved in the political system.

This thriller from Joe Lane contains both very poignant moments and scenes of graphic violence. Unfortunately, the novel is a one-sided argument against the evils of political corruption even as the protagonists commit acts of terrorism to initiate change.

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

The Lemon Orchard is an intriguing love story

The Lemon OrchardJulia has been mourning the loss of her daughter, Jenny, with whom she had a very strong connection. She feels guilty for not having seen signs of Jenny’s heartache over the breakup with her boyfriend and the dissolution of her parents’ marriage. When Julia’s uncle asks her to housesit Casa Riley in Malibu, where he has a lemon orchard, Julia looks forward to reliving some of her memories while finding peace from the nagging questions that have been with her for the past five years.

Roberto manages the lemon orchard for the Riley’s. He has great respect for the Riley’s and has grown to love the Santa Monica Mountains and his work in the orchard. Roberto is also filled with guilt, haunted by the loss of his own daughter. Roberto’s daughter, Rosa, died on the trip from Mexico to the U.S and the pain of reliving his crossing through the desert is more than he can bear. He keeps Rosa alive and well in his dreams but has lost hope of ever finding out what happened to her.

Upon arriving at Casa Riley Julia meets the orchard manager, Roberto and immediately feels a connection with him. As their conversations become more intimate, each reveals more details about the loss of their daughters. Eventually, Julia sees a way to help Roberto find closure over the loss of Rosa.

“The Lemon Orchard” is a story of love, loss, the strength of family ties and undocumented Mexicans illegally crossing the desert into the US. This story offers an uncharacteristic view of illegal crossings and undocumented migrant workers that is humanizing and engrossing. The characters are well-crafted into an intriguing storyline.

The insurance email scam

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 4.41.47 PMSo you want cheaper insurance. Don’t we all? Whether we’re talking about auto insurance or health insurance, our wallets are squeezed by the real insurance companies while our email inboxes are flooded with a barrage of messages touting better deals. Even if we’re sure that unbelievable insurance offer is a fake, we always wonder, what if it’s real? What could be the harm in checking it out? Let’s see why acting on one of those emails would be a really bad idea.

Here’s an example of an offer for “Cheaper Auto Coverage.” First off, let’s take a look at how “cheap” this coverage really is. The email offers rates “as low as $9 per week.” Hmmm, pop quiz, how many weeks in a year? Yup, fifty-two. And, if you’ve done the math and come up with that being equivalent to $468 per year, you can see that we’re not off to a very good start.

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That $468 is probably better than your current rate, but here’s the catch. Insurance rates are based on coverage. The minimum coverage you can take is that which is required by law. You can’t really name your price because the rates are negotiated between the insurance company and the regulating authority. If it even exists, that $9 weekly cost would be minimum coverage in the lowest-cost region for a driver with the lowest risk. In other words, it’s the equivalent of new car fuel economy ratings where a manufacturer claims the latest model gets 36 MPG—and you get 12.

All of the above assumes that the insurance offer is even legitimate. The truth is, what you received is quite likely a fake insurance email not even sent by a legitimate provider. For instance, the example I’m using came from an address with a European domain name.

The bottom line is that the email I received is not legitimate. Nor are the mass emails you receive. The pages linked to in the email are designed to deliver malware or steal personal information that you enter to obtain an insurance quote. We’re all so desperate for some sort of relief from insurance costs that ridiculous offers start looking good. Don’t click or call, just drop that email in the trash. Then, shop the legitimate insurance companies. You might just find a lower rate for the same coverage without paying a much bigger price.

Friday Fotos—spectacular Hawaiian waterfalls

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The Big Island of Hawaii has some fabulous waterfalls. Here are some of the best shots we’ve been able to find that show off this beauty. The tour goes from A-Z (actually, W, since there’s no Z in the Hawaiian language).  Some of these waterfalls can be viewed at no cost, while others may charge for parking—or for a guide to get you there. Of course, they’re all free to view here.

Whether you’re planning a trip to the Big Island or just want to learn more about any of these waterfalls, try going over to hawaii-guide.com, where you can get more info about most of these and much more. Information on Nanue Falls, which is on the Hamakua Coast, can be found on world-of-waterfalls.com.

Most of the waterfalls shown here are well known, but one in particular, Kahuna Falls, is a bit lesser known. Kahuna Falls is not as famous as its nearby neighbor Akaka Falls, but it does have a B&B named after it. While Akaka Falls doesn’t have a B&B, it does have a cool legend. It seems that Akaka Falls was named after King Akaka, whose wife returned home one day to find the king with his mistress. The wife began chasing her husband, who fell to his death at the falls.

Enjoy the photos and please share with your friends! Hint: you can manually advance through the slides by placing your mouse over the slideshow and clicking the pause button.

 

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What scares a horror writer?

The Wolves of LondonHave you ever wondered what scares a horror writer? For this interview, Mark Morris, winner of the 2007 British Fantasy Award discussed that, time travel, and his new release, “The Wolves of London.”

The Wolves of London” came about while Morris was researching what he calls the murky, occult underbelly of London. He said, “I like writing about damaged characters, so that was a starting point. I also like writing about London, even though I live up north. It’s such a rich, fecund environment, full of history and weirdness. Quite often I get a feel for the kind of book I want to write, and in this instance I decided I was in the mood to do something very dark, but very fantastical, and also something that sprawled across different time zones.”

Time zones, in this case, didn’t mean Greenwich Mean Time vs. Pacific Daylight. No, Morris was referring to something far deeper. “I wanted in particular to try and delve into the intricacies and implications of time travel as much as I could—which, let me tell you, when you really start thinking about it, ties you in so many knots that you soon realize how utterly unfeasible time travel would be in real life.”

The implications for what might happen if time travel were a real possibility could create historical changes that would have frightening effects. That, however, doesn’t worry Morris. When asked what did scare him, he said, “Oh, blimey, so many things! I’m terrified of heights and closed-in spaces. I’m terrified, as we all are, of illness and violence and pain and death—and not only of such things happening to me, but to my loved ones.”

In fact, it was one of those everyday occurrences that had a dramatic effect on Morris’s life. “My dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 49, so the idea that life—which we take so much for granted—can just end abruptly is, to me, a particularly terrifying prospect. I suppose it’s the mundane things, the real things, that I’m frightened of. I spend a lot of my time writing about the supernatural, but that doesn’t scare me—or at least not in the same way.”

Morris describes a fear of the supernatural as a “delicious fear.” He said, “There’s a thrill there; a sense of awe, of the numinous. Although I don’t necessarily believe in the supernatural, I still love the idea that there could be more out there than we currently understand and believe in. I’d love to see a ghost, for instance. It would probably scare the hell out of me, but afterwards I’m pretty sure I’d feel exhilarated, even comforted.”

While writing “The Wolves of London,” Morris’s main objective was to write a good story. He said, “I chose ex-con, single-parent Alex as my main character simply because characters with a lot of baggage are far more interesting to write about. I do go into some pretty murky areas in ‘The Wolves of London’, but I’m simply reflecting society, not passing judgement on it.”

Morris has been a full-time writer since 1988. His novels include “Toady,” “Stitch,” “The Immaculate,” and four original Doctor Who novels for BBC Books. He’s also the editor of Cinema Macabre, a book of horror movie essays, which won the 2007 British Fantasy Award. Morris describes the process of writing a book as “sheer hard work.”

Whereas some writers can pop out a first draft and head to publication, Morris describes himself as obsessive about rewriting and editing to make it as good as possible. He said, “Writing a book is mostly just a case of sitting alone at a desk every day for hours on end.”

More information

Learn more about Mark Morris on his website at www.markmorriswriter.com.

The Life We Bury is a compelling read

The Life We BuryJoe Talbert has never met his father; his mother is a bipolar alcoholic; and his younger brother is autistic. Joe works two part-time jobs to save money while attending a community college. He escapes his troubles by transferring as a junior to the University, which is two hours away.

Joe’s first English class assignment is to write a biography of a stranger. He decides the best place to start is at a nursing home, where he meets Carl Iverson—a dying Vietnam veteran and convicted murderer. As Joe spends time with Carl, he starts questioning the events that led to Carl’s conviction.

With the help of his neighbor, Lila, Joe looks into the trial transcripts and photos of the crime scene. Before long, he’s as interested in finding the real killer and getting the conviction overturned as he is in getting Carl’s biography written. Lila and Joe track down clues and people from the trial while weaving their way through the legal system, but time is running out for Carl, whose health is deteriorating rapidly.

As Joe and Lila try to uncover the truth, Joe struggles with his mother’s illness and guilt over leaving his brother in her care. Constantly being called back into the family drama that he’s fought so hard to leave behind, Joe realizes he may eventually have to give up his dreams of a college degree for his brother’s sake. But, his determination to clear Carl before the man dies puts Joe’s life, as well as his education, at risk.

Kudos and five stars to Allen Eskens for this intriguing debut, a combination coming-of-age and murder mystery. The complex characters are well-developed, and their paths to redemption, along with twists and turns, makes this a compelling read to the end.

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

Ebola Scareware: don’t get taken in

14-026CDCEbolaEbola’s all the rage. Not because we want it to be, but because it scares the hell out of people. It triggers fear, an emotion scammers love to prey on. Let’s look at the facts before getting into the tips.

The disease

• Ebola symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, and abnormal bleeding.

• Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure, but most commonly occur on days 8-10.

• In the US, Ebola is spread through body fluids. In other countries, the disease can also be spread by eating contaminated bush meat or plums eaten by bats that carry the disease.

• People who do not show symptoms are not contagious, but those symptoms can feel a lot like a cold or the flu.

The cures

  • At this time, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent Ebola.
  • Any “cures” are still experimental, which means they’re in development. This means there aren’t any approved vaccines, drugs or products that can be purchased online or in stores.

The scams

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Am I a medical expert? No. Do I know absolutely, 100%, for sure that there is no Ebola cure? That there is no super-secret stockpile of Ebola vaccines? No. Do I know that there are scammers ready to take advantage of people who suffer from the “You’ve Got to Believe” syndrome? Oh, boy, do I. So, here are five practical tips to avoid what I call Ebola Scareware.

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unless your mother was a computer hacker or a con artist, she should have taught you that lesson. Otherwise, she might have said, “If it sounds too good to be true, honey, raise the price.”
  2. Slick-looking is not the same as legitimate. There are huge numbers of phishing websites designed to convince unsuspecting visitors to give up their personal information or money. Scammers use slick videos, infographics, references, and more to make their sites as convincing as a legitimate site. So, don’t be fooled just because something looks convincing.
  3. Don’t let fear run your life. I often hear from people who think it’s okay to give up a few dollars in hopes that a miracle cure will work. Their philosophy is, if it doesn’t work, so what? The problem is, this funds the operations of the scammers and during any crisis, the scammers ramp up their operations for one simple reason: during a crisis, consumers make decisions based on emotion, not the facts.
  4. All natural is not always safe. A common email and internet claim is something to the effect of, “the medical profession doesn’t want you to know about this simple cure!” Hint: there’s usually a reason for that. Just because a remedy is touted as all natural, does not mean that it works or is safe, has been tested, or even contains the ingredients it claims to contain. Claims that the medical profession is deliberately burying a cure for something as serious as Ebola are a sure sign that someone’s hiding something—and I’d bet it’s not your doctor.
  5. The only miracle will be if you’re not being taken. Most of us will never need a cure for, or medication to prevent us from contracting, Ebola. But, if you think you have Ebola symptoms or need preventative medication, call your doctor. I’m pretty sure a medical professional will have more experience in treating serious diseases than the guy behind the emails flooding our inboxes or the websites cropping up like .

Ka Lae – past to present

Drawing of priests traveling across Kealakekua Bay (near Kona on the left side of the Big Island in the map). Drawing by John Webber.

Drawing of priests traveling across Kealakekua Bay (near Kona on the left side of the Big Island in the map). Drawing by John Webber.

From its windswept rolling hills to rocky cliffs, from the days of the first Polynesian visitors to today’s thrill seekers, Ka Lae, or South Point, has been through massive changes. Today, Ka Lae is a popular destination for adventure seekers and those who want to boast that they’ve been to the southernmost point in the US. I hope you enjoy the slideshow for this little tour of Ka Lae, past to present. The images included here are mostly in the public domain, but attributions are provided where appropriate.

Hawaiʻi is at the northernmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, which includes Easter Island (2) on the lower eastern corner and New Zealand (3) at the lower western corner. Depending upon which expert you listen to, settlement began as early as the 3rd century.

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In 1779, Captain James Cook and the crew of the Resolution “discovered” Hawaii. Cook actually visited Kauai first, then worked his way South. According to the Historical Background of South Point from the Bishop Museum, Cook’s journal of January 5, 1779 included the following.

This part of the coast is sheltered from the reigning winds but we could find no bottom  to Anchor upon, a line of 160 fathoms did not reach it at the distance of half a mile from the shore. Towards the evening all the islanders leaving us, we ran a few miles down the coast and there spent the night standing off and on (Cook/Beaglehole, 1967:487)

Cook’s visit set the stage for a massive depopulation of the islands beginning around 1800. Opinions as to the why the islands were hit so hard by pestilence vary, but by the mid 1800s, the population had been reduced to less than half of what it was when the Resolution made that fateful discovery.

Hint: you can manually advance through the slides by placing your mouse over the slideshow and clicking the pause button.

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Is the first 21st Century book here?

Endgame by James FreyInternational bestselling author James Frey was in San Diego on October 15 to promote his new project, “Endgame: The Calling.” For this interview, Frey said that what he’s trying to accomplish in this new project is to marry technology with traditional storytelling to create “the first 21st Century book.”

“First and foremost,” said Frey, “Endgame is a book that tells a story like any other book. Hopefully, people will read it and love it and get excited by it. The book has a puzzle written into it and readers can just read the book and love the book or they can choose to engage the puzzle and try to solve it. The first person to solve the puzzle will receive a key that opens a case at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with $500,000 of gold in it.”

Frey said this project was inspired by “Masquerade,” which was written by Kit Williams. Frey read “Masquerade” when he was ten-years-old and, like many others, holds fond memories of that experience. He said, “It was a book that I loved that I thought was awesome and that somehow became more than a book to me. It made me go back and read it over and over again. It got me excited about it, and it was fun and cool and weird and thrilling.”

There were also other factors Frey said influenced the project. “It was also inspired by ancient alien theory and conspiracy theories related to secret societies and the brotherhood of the snake.” As with any creative project, there are critics on both sides of the fence. Some have compared “Endgame” to “Hunger Games,” others claim it’s exactly the opposite. Frey feels that most of those comparisons came out before the reviewers had a chance to actually read “Endgame.”

“I wanted to write a book that we could put a puzzle into it and have a contest,” said Frey. “But, I also wanted to tell an awesome story that I thought was cool and exciting and fresh. I mean, people who’ve actually read the book know it’s not at all like Hunger Games except for the name with the word “game” in each of the titles.”

Should “Endgame” be compared to an interactive book? Frey doesn’t think so. “I think that’s a dirty word. I’m trying to make a 21st Century book. A book that uses technology to enhance it and make it better.”

There are several ways Frey said technology is being used to deepen the reader’s experience. For instance, readers can follow the Twitter feeds for characters, send messages and receive a response, and view videos on YouTube. Frey said, “It’s deepening the experience for the reader. It’s deepening the story. You can see what this person’s life is like outside of the book. You can read the book and never look at any of this stuff. But, if you want to look at this stuff, it’s all there for you.”

“Endgame” is, in a sense, taking a range of communication methods and bringing them together into a single project. The possibilities for this blending of methodologies excites Frey. “I don’t think anybody knows where it’s going to go, but we all know it’s going somewhere. There have been a few early-stage attempts to do stuff like what I’m trying to do, but nobody really knows where it’s going to be or where it’s going to go.”

Frey also said this is not just a new way of packaging an interactive book, a technology that was not readily embraced by consumers. “They haven’t worked,” said Frey. “They’re just not that exciting. People still want a traditional reading experience where they sit down and read, whether that’s a physical book or Kindle a Nook or an iPad. But, I think people are going to find out ways to enhance the story. Ways similar to what we’re doing.”

Fitting all of the pieces together, and making them all available worldwide on a single day was a very complex project. Frey said, “When you’re trying to do something nobody’s ever done before, you don’t have a model to follow. You have to invent your own.” Those issues included everything from the creative process of designing the “Endgame” world to convincing Google to participate to the logistics of distribution.

Creating a puzzle with a $500,000 prize that is bound to attract many players is much like walking a tightrope. Frey said, “We had to build a puzzle that we thought was guessable for readers and that would get them stoked and excited, but we had to make it a puzzle we thought was difficult enough to last more than a couple of days.”

“I think we’re doing something really exciting and fresh and new,” said Frey. “I think the future [of books] is a version of what we’re doing here. We’re just the first to do it.  I hope readers will give it a chance. I think we have a great story. Great characters. And an amazing puzzle if you choose to engage it. If not, just a fun book, a super-fun read.”