I Know That You’ve Already Forgotten This, But…

the residents of Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands are still in dire need of assistance, and they are your fellow American citizens. If you truly have empathy for others, and you really want to help your fellow Americans, then why aren’t you doing so? Quit talking and do something already! Following are links to reputable organizations which are doing their best to provide assistance.

Direct Relief

American Red Cross

Americares

Humane Society of the United States

Here, too, is an informative article about those territories and how hurricane relief isn’t the only problem they’re facing. Following is a small portion of it, from The Atlantic:

Puerto Rico Needs More Than Relief—It Needs Reconstruction

Recovering from the devastation of two hurricanes raises tough questions about the legacy of American colonialism.

Right now, it’s hard to tell in what direction Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are heading after sustaining hits from Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria in September. The picture of the damage in Puerto Rico verges on the apocalyptic now, and much of the situation is currently deteriorating. Millions are still without power, fuel, food, and water are running out, hospitals are overwhelmed and mostly inoperable, and bodies are “piling up” in morgues. Struggles in the Virgin Islands are less documented, but no less real: Power is still tenuous, flooding is still rampant, most of the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and many roads are ruined.

Federal aid is arriving to help deal with the onslaught of disasters, but even if that aid were adequate and weren’t heavily criticized by residents for being late or ineffective, aid alone won’t lead to recovery. Existing challenges that plagued the territories before Irma and Maria multiply the effects of the storms, and must themselves be dealt with in order for recovery to be a reality. But dealing with those issues will require examining the legacies of colonialism, racism, and erratic federal policy in shaping the destinies of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and how those forces contributed to the destruction on display today.

President Trump has—if nothing else—outlined just how deeply those legacies run in his direction of the federal response. When Trump attacked San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Twitter last weekend, his remarks that the relief effort was hampered by “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help” and that “they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” played on similar themes as an 1899 colonial governor bemoaning the lack of “Anglo-Saxon energy to face a gloomy outlook” among his black and brown constituents on the island, which had just been taken from Spain as the United States built its own empire.

When Trump expanded on his comments Tuesday, just hours before his first trip to San Juan, he paired praise to federal responders for “the great job we’ve done” with criticism of the efforts of local officials. It was a contrast that recalled the opinion of Justice Henry Billings Brown in the 1901 Downes v. Bidwell case—one of the so-called “Insular Cases” that now form the basis of governance over the U.S. territories, and helped create the status quo where residents of the territories are citizens who pay taxes and serve in the military, but have neither representation in Congress nor sovereignty. There, Brown said that for the “alien races … the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible.”

Wordless Wednesday: Vintage Americana

The title says it all…enjoy!

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Monday Montage: Sepultura’s Screen-Shots!

I was putting the finishing touches on my next few excerpts, and that involves a bit of sorting through the many screen-shots I take during my gaming sessions. These help me keep the details of my tale fresh!

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Introduction to one of the many dungeons one can explore…

Spiders and a snake – my special little friends!

A mystic ritual…

…riddles in the dark.

A new trophy…

…emergence of a goddess!

The heat of battle

Grabbing a quick nap

A crowded bank – tending to business

Time to sort some parchments!

Blessed Beltane…2017!!!

Beltane blessings…Blessed Be! I hope you enjoy the musical selection at the end of this post, and I hope that you clicked on this link to garner a bit of information. Celebrations of the Festival of Fire, during this transit of Mercury Retrograde!

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Tuesday Tidbits: Trifling, Troublesome Bots!

Scams: those have been around for as long as humans became “civilized,” it would seem! Various Saturday-morning cartoons have spoofed them from time to time, IIRC; these days, entire television shows are dedicated to them – Catfish: The TV Show being one.

When the Internet was nothing more than a conglomeration of online forums and message-boards, with only a select few knowing about it or even interacting on it regularly, online scams were few and far between. After everybody and their mother, grandmother, and great-grandfather’s dog suddenly had access to the World Wide Web, the scammers followed, and online scams became the new threat. As scams became as obvious as Doctor Stanley’s Snake-Oil Cure-All and his wife’s genuine imitation pearls, they ‘evolved’ to circumvent security programs and firewalls. Now, one has to be aware of the sophisticated means others use to scam people online, and there are many!

For example, how many people are aware of the relatively ancient, but insidious, ‘Nigerian Prince’ email phishing scam? A good number of people have fallen prey to it, even though it is such an obvious contrivance that I question how and why they were susceptible to it. It is certainly the most popular one, in that is still the go-to scam that is blamed for malware and hacking intrusions, but it isn’t the only one! For this post, I am going to be talking specifically about ‘bots’ and the ways that they are able to mimic a genuine, ‘real’ account.

For lay-people, a ‘bot’ is, essentially, a hijacked computer; one that has been programmed and coded to do specific things without the knowledge of the user. Email ‘phishing’ scams are usually the culprit, the aforementioned ‘Nigerian Prince’ being one; others involve dating or porn sites, ‘mail-order’ bride scams, or ad-scams for cheap Viagra, Cialis, or Extense from Canada and other places overseas. Funny to get scams for male ‘enhancement,’ especially when one isn’t a man, or a cruiser of dating or porn-sites. This only goes to show how careful anyone must be when giving out one’s email address, and how much caution should be used when responding to emails. Those which haven’t been expressly solicited are major tells, as are emails with questionable attachments and / or subject lines.

Digressing: the hijacked computer-bot can now do whatever it has been programmed to do. Usually, this involves sending its malware / virus / Trojan-Horse code to as many other computers as possible, generally as an attachment in an email. This attachment gets sent to people on the contact list of the infected computer, even if the user doesn’t have…oh, let’s say, an Outlook account, as an example. The recipient might think that they have a legitimate email from a friend and open it, but find out later on that the email contained malware, because it wasn’t really from a friend.

Bots are quite common in MMOs, and my online game is no different. In the halcyon days of The Elder Scrolls Online, bots were everywhere and incredibly obvious! The in-game bots were of three different types: spam-bots, ‘train’ bots, and ‘collector’ bots. The spam-bots are almost always seen at dolmens or in delves, right on the spot that the boss will spawn at, and they are always using the same ‘ultimate’ move over, and over, and over again.

Spam-bots may or may not be accompanied by the ‘train’ bots. The name is self-explanatory; you might see a ‘train’ of four or five characters running in a circle. The train runs…well, like a train! You have the ‘engine’ doing the main action, then the bots in the train do the exact same motion / action as the ‘engine’ does, only a nanosecond or three later. These types of bots farm bosses for loot, and / or nodes for materials – slower and less efficient than the other types, but still a major nuisance in their own right.

The ‘collector’ bots are the most difficult to see, as they have been programmed to do one thing: collect a certain material from a certain node. In-game, there are materials which are valuable to the crafters who make armour, weapons, and other things for their friends and / or guild-mates. The collectors basically ‘farm’ these nodes unfairly, flying through the air at hyperspeed, or sliding underground out of sight, taking the nodes and everything on them and making it impossible for the regular player to harvest these materials fairly.

During the evolution of TESO, the programmers / code-writers behind the bots have evolved as well. Now, the bots are as big an issue as they were when the game was first launched, but a bit more difficult to spot. It isn’t impossible, but it takes a bit of observation and vigilance on the part of any player who espies them. Once they’ve been identified and reported, the ban-hammer is laid down by the overseeing overlords, and the offending account(s) are terminated – permanently. I will post some in-game screen-shots of the bots that I see, in the near future – both before and after they’ve been caught!

You might be asking yourself, “What the hell does this have to do with ME?!? I don’t play online games; if I do, I’m safe on my little console because people who play games on PCs are morons! Also, I’m far too involved in my Twitter-pated Facebooking and Instagramming, so this doesn’t affect me at all!” Guess what, sunshine – this affects you, too. You know how you have your little ‘newsfeed’ on Facebook? Yep – bots can have their way with it, and you, and you are completely unaware of it. The whole “Fake News” bullshit is directly related to Facebook and Twitter-bots, and the ignorance of those who became willing patsies of same, due to their narcissistic need for a bandwagon to jump on for popularity, stat-padding, and ‘friend’ collecting. Even WordPress isn’t immune to these insidious bots! I can think of more than a few blogs which have red flags waving at me the moment I click on them and view the first page or post. The ones which allow ads are the worst culprits, and they always warn me with this:

This is why some comments get put in my WordPress trash barrel: if I click on your site and get a security warning, then I’m not going to link to it – even via my comment section. If your site is compromised, then I’m not comfortable directing others to it. It’s as simple as that. Trashing a comment isn’t putting it into the Spam folder indefinitely, either; it is simply putting it in the ‘circular file’ until you get your security issues taken care of. If you can’t be bothered with paying to keep insidious, annoying, security-breaching ads off of your site, then I can’t be bothered with reading your site and exposing my computer to potential malware. Nothing personal, I just value my privacy and security more than you value your oodles of readers and followers. Besides, if all you’re doing is collecting followers, then it begs the question: Why? To what end are you collecting the information of thousands of people? What is your objective or your agenda? These are questions which flit across my mind, from time to time, when I surf the web and read various news-sites or blogs, or watch a music video on YouTube. “Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.” Those song lyrics perfectly convey the way that I am when I’m online, in pretty much every online activity in which I might engage. Question everything! It isn’t a bad thing to do.

International Images for International Women’s Day

I decided to post some multi-cultural images in observation of International Women’s Day. Other blogs and articles that I read today are strictly focused on European or Asian women, so I wanted to give those of us who are severely under-represented the spotlight!

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Excerpt: The Entertainer

*** Author’s Note: These excerpts aren’t in chronological order, in case you’re trying to follow the story-line…I’m just posting some of the revisions I’ve made since NaNoWriMo ended! It helps me with the editing.

Sepultur’a sits at a small vanity, holding a mudcrab-shell powder-case, eyeing her reflection in the tiny mirror. She touches the puff to her nose and cheeks, delicately removing any gleam of sweat or oil. Her eyes are accented by black liner, while her lips look full and pouting with a glistening rouge applied to them. A beaten-silver collar adorns her neck, matching the tiara that holds back her hair from her face. She is clad in a harem-outfit of diaphanous, iridescent material; the hue mimics the shifting colours on the wings of a butterfly she had seen in the manor garden at home.

Cuffs of silver clasp her biceps and wrists, and belled anklets adorn her slender ankles. Bangles and baubles accentuate the slim girdle encasing her waist, and matching beads have been threaded intricately throughout her braided hair, cleverly attaching to the tiara and weaving a gleaming pattern that is caught by the firelight.

Taking a final, appraising look at her appearance, she closes the powder-case and sets it aside. She stands gracefully and stretches, loosening her muscles and relieving any final tension. This will be her first performance, and she is incredibly nervous. She won’t be performing solo, over which she feels great relief, but the attending crowd will be larger than any she has seen to date. The crowd will mainly consist of soldiers, as well: most of whom are battle-hardened, grown men.

She wanders to the privacy curtain and peeks out at the stage and the gathering people milling about beyond. Onstage, a jester in a jaunty hat and a brightly-coloured outfit is juggling knives. Out in the audience, two serving-girls make their way through the throng and top off empty tankards with sweet mead or foamy ale wherever needed.

She backs away from the curtain and moves to a small table lined with snacks for the performers. A stout keg rests next to the table – they have been given excellent refreshments, here; the soldiers have spared no expense for this night of respite. Succulent cuts of meat, fresh bread, aged cheeses, and ripe local fruits have been served. The keg is filled with the best mead in the lands, shipped directly from the brewer’s private stock. It has been fermenting slowly for ten years, she’d heard from a couple of the women who had been chatting in the dressing-area, and is rumored to be of fine vintage. The keg will be tapped at the culmination of the performance, and the entertainers will mingle with the audience and serve them the heady brew.

Sepultur’a nibbles on a bit of bread with a slice of meat and cheese folded on top, snacking to ease her anxiety. She tries not to overthink the moves of the sword-dance she will be performing – instead, she visualizes the motions in her mind, feeling her innate fire blossoming in her core. She can conjure flames at will, having learned how to control her inborn gift – and this fire enhances her dancing performance, earning her this place of honour at the center of the stage on this night.

The other performers begin stretching, going through their warm-up exercises as well, and Sepultur’a watches them with a smile, enjoying the camaraderie and easy-going atmosphere of her fellow caravaneers. There is Rocklin, the Nord strong-man, who conjures great balls of stone and hurls them to incredible distances. Shimmer-Scales, the lizard-man sorcerer, who does a fantastic lightning show which has a notable finale: the calling forth of a storm-golem. Tsuri-daro, a lithe cat-woman who is a fantastic contortionist: she bends her supple body into the most unbelievable postures, doing cart-wheels and back-flips, delighting and amazing even the most sour-faced observer.

Last but not least, is Sepultur’a’s tutor: the fire-breathing sword-dancer known only by her stage-name: Flame-Heart. She is a dark elf with a trim, muscular figure, skin the hue of the midnight sky, and blazing red eyes and hair to match. She wears a bra-top and tiny skirt of fine chain, exposing an intricately-designed, full-body tattoo which scrolls and spirals from her neck to her ankles – only her face, hands, and feet are bare of the adorning ink. Her hair is pulled up into a tight, severe ponytail that is wrapped and secured with leather laces. The loose hair of the ponytail flutters about as she goes through her pre-performance exercises. She sees Sepultur’a eating, smiles, and walks over to her protégé and enfolds her in a warm embrace. “Are you ready for this, dear?” She enquires, taking up a slice of meat and nibbling it delicately. “I think that you will do splendidly. Just remember what I said – don’t overthink things. Just move with the music and concentrate on your inner fire, and all will be well.” She smiles encouragingly, nodding at her own words.

Sepultur’a looks down at the filmy material she’s wearing. “I hope that I don’t burn my clothing off!” she laughs. Flame-Heart joins her with her own throaty laughter. She hugs Sepultur’a once more for luck, then meanders off. Flame-Heart always does the finale; her mastery of fire is well-known throughout the land, and she draws a great crowd even in the smallest communities. She never stays with any one caravan for long, nor does she have to – she travels until she runs into a caravan that is heading in whichever direction her heart and whims desire – then she will be off with them; perhaps only for a day or so, perhaps a week, and sometimes two or three months pass by before she is off again.

Sepultur’a checks her reflection in the mirror once more, affixing the veil over her face that completes her costume, then prepares to take the stage. As always, she hopes that there will be at least once man in the audience who reminds her of Endymion. Her performances are much better when she imagines him at the front of the crowd; with a crowd of tall, burly soldiers present, the odds are that much greater. The drums begin their steady beat, and she hears the caravan-master’s loud voice announcing her. Swaying her hips, she sidles through the gap in the curtain, undulating sensually forward. She scans the crowd through slitted eyes as she turns and bends. There – she sees an older man with wild, white hair and war-paint on half of his face. He is standing off to the side, holding a large tankard of ale. His intense blue eyes remind her of Endymion’s, and his tall, sturdy frame is massive in spite of his apparent age. He looks her over appreciatively and moves closer to the stage. He doesn’t move to sit. His armour is a shade of black that she has never seen before, and is a mixture of intricate leatherwork, chain-mail, and tooled plate. His legs are clad in tight leather and fastened with cunning bits of silver. The sleeves of his chain-and-leather jack are short, showing off well-muscled, tattooed arms. More than a few scars are evident on his biceps and forearms.

Sepultur’a smiles under her veil and sways closer. If all goes well, she might earn more coin than usual this evening…his interest is apparent. She is secretly glad that Flame-Heart is the final performer. This man might be here to see Flame-Heart, after all, and any coin that he tips to Sepultur’a will be hard-earned. She hopes that he likes her performance well enough to spend more of his coin on. She relaxes, smiles and breathes a deep calming breath, and allows some of her inner flame to come forth. A ball of fire puffs from her nostrils and floats about her twirling form, orbiting slowly but not so close that her clothes smolder as they did the first few times she’d attempted the trick.

She dances away from the large man, giving her attention to the rest of the crowd, doing a series of back-flips across the stage. The drums keep a steady rhythm for her hips to bounce and roll to; she extends her arms above her head, laces her fingers, and undulates to furious applause and stamping feet. She spins slowly back towards the man with war-paint on his face, sinking to the floor of the stage and writhing sensually, moving her body as she imagines Endymion before her, enraptured and captivated. She conjures a whip of flame and flicks it out, taking the man’s empty tankard from his hands and sending it sailing expertly into the waiting hands of the keg-tender. He fills it and takes it over to the large man, handing it to him with a low bow. “Compliments of the young lady,” says the keg-tender as he returns to his post. The large man looks even more impressed and raises the tankard to Sepultur’a in a toast before taking a healthy swig. He drops her a sly wink – he is very much intrigued by this sultry dancer. His eyes follow her as she completes her performance and skips off the stage. He wants to know who she is…

Sunday Screen-Shots: 22 January 2017

I selected some screen-shots of a few of the pets that I “own” in-game. Every warrior needs a good companion, especially we solitary roamers! A friendly ear is always good to have around.

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Winged Adder

Desert Hound

Floating Baby Jelly

Winged Orange Flame-Toad

Black n’ White Piggy

Turquoise Dragonfly-Pixie

Black Panthers

Miniature Mammoth

Sun Salutation

Thursday Thoughts: A Timely Reminder

What an interesting day it was yesterday, to say the least! Not that anything major happened, but something did happen that reminded me of the infrastructures that we all use and rely on, daily, and might tend to take for granted. I’m specifically speaking of the main ways we communicate and get information in this day and age: via the internet and cell phone.

The problem was noticed after waking up and showering, having the morning coffee, putting the garbage out for the weekly pick-up, and turning on the radio for some light, relaxing music at 0645. I plugged in the modem for the computer, but noticed that it wasn’t connecting – it just blinked, indicating that there was an issue with the internet. Another odd thing was this: the digital clocks on the DVD unit and the stove read the correct time, but the ones on the microwave oven and the coffee-maker were blinking as if there had been a power outage. Sometimes, a power outage affects the internet connection, so I wasn’t terribly concerned. I turned on the TV to see if the cable was out as well, since it isn’t unusual to have cable and internet issues following a power surge or outage. All of the channels were blank; nothing was being broadcast. Since the same company provides the internet and cable service, I turned on my cell phone to call and report a service outage – but, there was no cellular service either; not even a 4G signal. Wi-fi was completely non-existent, so the phone was useless unless there was an emergency, as 911 is still active under those conditions. It was quite odd to have all three lines of information inaccessible at the same time, and it got me to thinking: we’re prepared for a lengthy power outage, but having backup access for telephone, internet, and other forms of communication are also necessary – especially in this brave, new world we’re entering in this wonderful year of two-aught-one-seven.

Just the other day, people were stuck at airports because of some mysterious issue with the computer system associated with U. S. Customs. We’ve been aware, for some time now, of hacking and other denial-of-service attacks on everything that is automated and / or computer-controlled. To me, being ultra-reliant on things that can be woefully unreliable isn’t the wisest course – and far too many people take way too many things for granted.

Myself, I rely on my computer and cell phone for many things. If those things are unavailable, however, I know what alternatives I can use to maintain contact with family and friends. Growing up, my family lived in places that had no electricity other than the battery-power provided by the boat engines. I’ve gone months without television, and know what it’s like to have no computer or cell phone – so, I’m not rendered helpless without them. I don’t take those things for granted and expect them to always be there, but I have a feeling that quite a few people worldwide do. I wonder, sometimes…what will those people do if the things that they take for granted disappeared tomorrow? How many people would really be prepared to deal with lack of internet access?

How about you? Would you know how to cope? Would you be able to communicate with family and friends without computer or cell phone? Can you even conceive of that possibility? I can think of probably two people, out of all the blogs I follow, who could answer “Yes” – and I believe them. They demonstrate the ability to do so, in their daily lives! Most people, though, only THINK that they’re prepared…and I seriously doubt their abilities, intellect, self-reliance and competency. Nothing personal, of course!

Oh, in case you wondered, all systems were back on by 1600 hours. This gave me more than enough time to drag old equipment out, dust it off, and test it out. Things that many people consider archaic are life-savers – and they might be needed sooner than we think. It is what it is…being prepared is crucial. I’d rather have something available and not need it, than need it and not have it. That one bit of personal dedication has saved my life more than once. There is something to be said about knowing how to utilize analog equipment in this overly-automated, digital world!

Beautiful Images…15 December 2016

I found out this morning that I have been nominated for a blog award, and I’m prepping for a B2B (blogger-to-blogger) interview! I’m humbled and honoured to be noted by these bloggers, and am very appreciative of their support. I can’t thank them enough!

I’m combing the vast corners of cyberspace for inspiration, and happened to find these wonderful images and pictures – so, I figured that I’d share them! Enjoy…

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(Image by Terry Love, Love Plumbing & Remodel)

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