Friday, May 21, 2010

Back to normal

Well, I finally got my computer back to normal. I lost a good day and a half of productivity last week thanks to that malware/spyware attack, and I'm still not totally back where I was. Though my computer is now virus-free (or so my MacAffee program says), and even though I didn't lose any actual files, I did lose my entire RSS feed. Which is a total bummer. (I had to completely disable it/delete it because that's where the spyware decided to attach itself to my computer).

For those of you who aren't familiar with RSS technology, it's basically a way for you to keep track of any new content that shows up on sites that you visit frequently. It first appeared in connection with blogs, and allowed you to track when your favorite bloggers posted new entries without actually having to go visit their sites over and over again. Then news/commentary sites got in on the bandwagon and added RSS feeds, then social networking sites, and so on.

I only had about 15 feeds set up in my desktop RSS widget (I know people who have hundreds), but I accumulated those feeds over a couple of years and now they would take me a long time to redo manually. I followed a few of my friends' blogs and those were in there, plus some publishing industry blogs, some Huffington Post commentators that I like, and a few custom online news feeds that I set up around certain keywords. Plus I had the news blog, which helps me keep up with Broadway and off-Broadway theater news.

The RSS feed really made my blog and news reading more convenient. Once or twice a day I'd look at the feed widget and see if any of my favorite sites had new content. If they did and it looked interesting (you'd get the blog/article heading and the first sentence) I'd click on it to go to the full site to read. It really saved me a lot of browsing time and also helped me be a little more choosy about what I read.

Of course, when the spyware made my computer blow up, the RSS feed went haywire. The spyware was probably running contantly, scanning every site I had linked in my feed looking for site traffic data. Popups kept appearing all over my screen, and eventually my computer shut down. I had no choice but to get rid of the whole thing. Which sucks, because now I either have to spend hours manually re-entering all my old feeds, or spend hours actually going directly to all those sites every day looking for new content. Neither of which I have time to do right now. So, I guess I just won't be reading online as much.

I think maybe this whole thing was a divine message from the universe sent to tell me that I waste too much time screwing around online when I should be working on my book.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Facebook users, beware

I love Facebook. You could probably say I'm addicted to it. I've found it can be a great networking/marketing tool (I have a bunch of romance novel fans who follow me on Facebook and that's helped beef up my book sales, for example). Plus it's a great way to keep up with friends and family that you rarely see in person. Not to mention get into interesting random discussions about random topics.

But Facebook has a dark side, too. It's a free site (for now), but the people who run it have to pay for things somehow, so they use advertising. And Facebook has been getting criticized lately for continually changing it's "privacy" (I use the term loosely) policies so it can have more leeway when it comes to tracking what Facebook users do online (so they can then sell that data to marketers/advertisers). And as such, there are a lot of "applications" floating around on Facebook that pretend to be fun little games and quizzes, but are really spyware apps designed to track and monitor all your Web browsing. (Surprisingly enough, despite the fact that marketing spyware usually acts like a virus on your computer, it's usually perfectly legal to spread, unlike hacker viruses).

The other day I made the mistake of taking one of those innocuous-looking Facebook "quizzes" and my computer has been behaving strangely ever since. First my Gmail and Google Calendar accounts started behaving strangely, with emails and email attachments getting corrupted, and appointments mysteriously disappearing off my Google calendar. Then my Internet Explorer browser window would shut itself down and restart itself right when I was in the middle of doing something. And then yesterday, the RSS feed widget on my desktop I use to track new content on some of my favorite blogs and news sites kept rebooting itself and sending me a popup message "You have new content" several times an hour, even when there was nothing new in my feed. And then when I closed the popup for the bazillionth time, my computer shut itself down.

That's when I figured out something was really wrong (and not just some random annoying Windows Vista system bugs). I ran a McAfee scan, and found some spyware/malware embedded in Internet Explorer and my RSS feed functionality---probably some kind of marketing spyware designed to track what kinds of sites I browse and then target advertising to me accordingly.

These online marketing types think that what they're doing is innocent enough (and they work hard to convince Congress of that fact) but the truth is, they're really doing a lot of damage. I wasted three hours trying to fix this late last night. And that's three hours I'll never get back.

I wish I could afford a Mac so I wouldn't have to deal with this at all.


Monday, May 3, 2010

The Irish Psyche

"This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever." -------Sigmund Freud (about the Irish).

Yeah, as someone who's about 90% Irish, I will say that this is definitely true.

I'm Irish on both sides of my family. Dad's family is working-class Irish-Catholic ("Black Irish," from Counties Derry and Donegal in Northern Ireland, no less, though they've been in this country for almost 200 years) and Mom's family is backwoods Appalachian "Scots-Irish" (otherwise known as Irish Protestants; in Ireland they're scathingly called "Orangemen" after their backing of William of Orange for the throne of England four hundred-odd years ago). "Black Irish" Catholics and Scots-Irish Protestants are separately two of the most stubborn, explosive, moody, bad-tempered and hardassed ethnic groups out there. Mix them together, and you get---well, me. So, you've been warned.

Here's a basic primer for dealing with a wild Irishwoman like me.

1) Don't ever lie to me. Seriously. Don't. Don't even do it out of politeness to save my feelings. Nothing ever infuriates me faster than catching someone in a lie, no matter how trivial. I'll respect you a lot more if you can always tell the truth, even when it hurts. (And I will always catch you in a lie sooner or later, and when I do, I'll be pissed).

2) Be a straight shooter. Don't play passive-aggressive mind games with me. The Irish in me does not like that one bit. Put all your cards on the table, don't hide anything behind your back. And most of all, don't say/do one thing and mean another, and then expect me to somehow be able to read your mind (and then complain about why I didn't get your hidden meaning somewhere down the road). Back when I was single I broke up with a lot of boyfriends over this very issue, and it's still something I have a lot of trouble with. Deal with me straight, or don't deal with me at all. (This would be a big reason why the Japanese and the Irish do not tend to get along. The same goes for the Irish and the British. 'Nuff said).

3) If you are a phony, I will tell you so. (And I'll tell everyone else, too.) My favorite fairy tale is "The Emperor's New Clothes." If you're walking around naked---literally or figuratively---you can be sure I'll be the first person to point it out.

4) Don't ever assume that I give a shit what you think. We Irish have based our very survival on thumbing our noses at all the people in power for hundreds of years now, so don't assume I'm going to change anything about myself or what I do just because somebody doesn't like it. And if you're powerful or important (or think that you are), that goes double.

5) Get to the heart of the matter. Whether it's relationships, art, or politics, the Irish in me wants your heart. All of it. If you aren't passionate about everything you do, you're wasting your own time and mine, too.

6) Have integrity. Be fair, be just, be compassionate when it counts, and don't tolerate evil, cruelty, bigotry, or general bullshit. And don't be a bully, either. We Irish hate bullies. (See our centuries of fighting the British for more information on that one.) If you are a bully, we will stand up to you, get in your face, and show the world just how much of a douchebag you are until you back down. And we don't give up easily, either. (See our centuries of fighting the British for that one, too).

7) Always have good beer and music available. I think that one's pretty much self-explanatory. (But if you need any clues, Guinness, U2, and the Chieftains are a good start.)

8) Oh and by the way, we Irish have most of the good writers. Joyce. Beckett. Wilde. Yeats. I could go on and on. . .