It’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Reader – Kindle Part One

First let me start out by saying that I’m an absolutely voracious reader. I consume books at a very rapid rate, and I’m addicted to them. If I don’t have at least one more book lined up for when I finish the one I’m currently reading, I feel very anxious. I need my fix. So, believe me when I tell you that if there are more free books out there than even I can keep up with (and they’re in my favourite genres), I’m not blowing smoke. In fact, my phone is now completely overloaded with books waiting to be read. The vast majority of those books were completely free, and I downloaded them legally from Amazon.

So let me tell you how it works. No, it’s not a gimmick of any kind where you have to jump through any hoops other than technological ones in the form of downloading the Kindle app and the books themselves. There are two websites out there that I will recommend that sends you daily e-mails about free or nearly-free books. They don’t send you anything else. No spam at all. One is called Sweet Free Books, and the other is BookBub. The other thing you’ll need is an Amazon account. Just do their free sign-up thing if you don’t already have an account.

Both mailing lists ask you for your genre preferences, and that’s what they send you for recommendations, which include the Amazon link for getting the books you choose at that price. Now sometimes these deals go fast, but usually I can try the next day and they’re still there – some last much longer.

This works whether you have a physical Kindle or not. If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can read Kindle books. They have a downloadable app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. They even have it for Windows phones. They also have the app for your Windows PC, and possibly others. Just go to this link for the various apps. They can send it direct to your phone or e-mail you a link.

Personally, I didn’t like reading on my laptop. Reading on my phone, however, is a totally different story. You can change the font size, type and colour, it’s convenient, and you can carry dozens of books around with it – potentially thousands, depending on your phone’s memory capacity. You can also move the Kindle app to your replaceable memory card, so you have a lot of storage capability for books. It is so much more convenient (and lighter) than carting your current books around, and then your next one just in case you finish the one you’re already reading.

The other thing people need to know about, is that you can look at books by genre and sort by price on Amazon, and you’re going to find hundreds of free books available to you at any given moment. This is where I’ve managed to increase my collection so quickly. One or two books a day is great, and probably more than I’m going to be able to read, but I’m a total hoarder when it comes to reading material.

One more area to scavenge for free reading material are places that store out-of-copyright, or public domain books. After a certain number of years books lose their copyright status. It’s usually somewhere between fifty and a hundred years after the death of the author, depending on which country you live in (and I believe it’s the reader’s country of origin, not the author’s, but I could be wrong). So, if you’ve been looking to catch up on the classics, those are great places to start. Project Gutenberg has a huge collection. Google Books is doing some sort of online indexing now, too, but I haven’t ventured into that except when researching specific topics and I haven’t downloaded anything. Keep in mind that the major databases have books in multiple formats, so if you have a Kindle app you’re looking for the mobi format. Sony has a reader, as does Nook, and Kobo, etc., so make sure you pick the right file format.

However, if you’re looking for a book on one of those sites and it’s not available in mobi, you can download what they do have and convert it very easily using Online-Convert.com. I use this site for so many different things, and I have for years. The conversion works perfectly as far as I can tell. The link I’ve provided is for converting everything from Word documents to PDFs to LIT into mobi files. They also have audio and video converters on there, so it’s a really helpful website for pretty much anyone. I used to use the Microsoft reader, so I’ve got tons of books I’ve had to convert from LIT to mobi.

Let me reassure you once again that everything I’ve told you here is legal. These are books that are either out of copyright, or the authors have chosen to give the Kindle versions of their books away. Now this is the only part of the whole thing that you might be able to call a ploy. The reason authors give away their books is because they’re hoping you’ll love their work and want to buy the rest of them. Now for those of us who love books, paying for a book isn’t a hardship if we can afford it. We want to support the authors, because we want them to keep writing, and a good book is well worth its price. This works especially well when an author has written a series, and at the end of the first book, which they’ve given away free, there’s a link not only to rate the book, but also to purchase the next book(s) in the series.

I’m perfectly okay with that. In fact, it makes things really convenient for me if I love what I’m reading. In most cases the subsequent books are also very reasonably priced. Indie authors are doing this all the time, and they can afford to when they publish with Kindle. Amazon gives authors great royalty percentages on their books, unlike traditional publishers where authors will often make only a dime or so per book sold. Kindle authors can sell a book for under a dollar, and still make five times as much on it as they would have with a traditional publisher. They’re cutting out the biggest middle man. Amazon would be there anyway at the end of the retail chain, but suddenly the reader is no longer paying the bloated salaries of publishers that don’t really do much to help their authors anyway.

“Yeah, but are the books any good?” I can hear that question a thousand miles away. There is an absolute plethora of amazing authors out there, publishing independently. I have friends who have written great books, like the Time Change series written by +Alex Myers. They’re great books, fast-paced, fascinating, and with a ton of research put into them. No, I’m not saying those are free. I got copies of them so I could review the first one, and he was kind enough to send me a couple more of his books because I was so thrilled with the first one I read. I’ll be re-reading the first two Time Change books shortly, because I plan to buy the third one.

That’s the magic of being a reader (or a writer, which I’ll get into in the second part of this blog when I write it), in this ‘day and age’ as they say. There’s a connection between reader and author unlike anything that’s come before. Indie authors are approachable usually. Often they’re looking for feedback on their work. I read a book recently that was a really great story, but badly needed editing, so I e-mailed the author. I explained that I’d given him four stars on Amazon, and my reasons for not giving him five. Seriously, though, if you do that please be kind. Authors can be very sensitive. A story or book can be like one of our offspring, and we want everyone else to love it, too. Make any criticism constructive. I try to be very careful about what I say, and how I say it, because if I like someone’s work enough to want to go to the effort of critiquing it like that, I really want them to continue writing.

Thankfully the author I wrote to seemed to agree with what I’d said, and told me that I had given him new encouragement to finish the sequel. As I said, magic. He knows that there’s a fan out there who likes his brainchild enough to help it grow up a little bit. And he’ll be letting me know as soon as it’s available so I can read it right away.

Of course, it’s not just unknown or indie authors that are giving deals. I get quite a few that are New York Times Bestselling authors. Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic (yes, the one that became the movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), recently released a book that ended up on my e-mail list of deals. It’s a great marketing tool. A few people get the book and start raving about it, and soon others are buying it at full price, or at least buying other books by the same author.

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic fiction lately. A fair bit of zombie stuff, along with a few aliens, and a disease or two wiping out most of the population. It’s a pretty specific interest area, but as I said there’s an absolute plethora of free books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble does the same thing, but at a smaller volume, so I haven’t bothered with a membership with them. I don’t need it.

One series I read recently (that started with a free book), was just wonderful. I don’t know the author personally, though I might e-mail her just to beg her to write another book. Her name is Sarah Lyons Fleming, and the first book in the series is, “Until the End of the World.” There are three novels in the series, and one novella. At first glance the title made me think it was going to be a romance. Sure, there are relationships in it, but the main theme in the books revolves around a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus developed by the army. The main character’s parents were what are called ‘preppers’ who were of the homesteading type. They had backpacks ready to go at all times, a cabin with solar capabilities, canned food to last for years, you name it. Since I’m already personally interested in the topic, the stories were great from that perspective alone. On top of that, I fell in love with the characters. Important people die, and you actually care that they’re gone.

As you can imagine, I posted a great review for all of the books, other than the novella which I just haven’t gotten around to posting yet, except for giving it the five stars through my phone app.

The abundance of book is like a utopia for me, as I (ironically perhaps) read about dystopias. Those e-mails from BookBub and Sweet Free Books are ones that I eagerly anticipate each day, wondering what new literary treasure awaits me. Don’t get me wrong. I have hundreds of actual books on my shelves. I prefer hardcover when it comes to reference material I keep for my research, or even oversize softcover. I need to be able to glance over at the page continuously sometimes, and my phone shutting off automatically would get annoying for that. However, it’s just easier to relax with my phone for recreational reading, and outright reading of non-fiction.

If you’re a reader (and I assume you are if you’re even bothering to read this particular post), you’ll be ecstatic if you delve into these waters. They’re filled with wonderful stories, and every story that you read makes you a better person. Fiction teaches understanding and empathy in people, so if your kids have smartphones encourage them to read on them instead of spending hours on social media. There’s nothing more important to the development of human beings than reading, and the freedom to read as we like. From the time I got so angry reading Fahrenheit 451 that I threw the book across the room when they started burning books in the story, I’ve fervently believed that reading was vital. I was a young kid doing a book report – fifth grade I believe, because I remember who my teacher was – yet, books were so important to me even then.

I never finished reading Bradbury’s book, though I will someday, but my teacher didn’t punish me or give me a bad grade. In fact, I wrote the report based on what I’d read so far, if I remember correctly, and then explained what happened to my teacher. She was actually rather impressed by my ferocious love of books, and I got a really good mark.

Escapism is necessary to a healthy psyche. It helps us cope when things are difficult, allowing us a release valve. Some forms of escapism are harmful, though, whereas reading is not. The more we read, the more we open our minds and hearts. The more people in this world who do that, the more likely humanity is to move forward, rather than petering out.

Now, turn on that device and get downloading! Happy reading everyone!!

My Latest Snuggle Buddy

My Latest Snuggle Buddy

I’m madly in love, I tell you. After months of aridity – more months than I care to count – I’m finally getting it again. Coffee that is. I finally got a new coffee maker, and the coffee to go in it, and I’m thrilled to death to be able to report that I had my first cup today. Wow, yum. That’s all I can say. It’s the perfect little doodad for me, too. Just look at the picture and you’ll see what I mean. It does a cup at a time, which is all I can drink usually anyway. It came with a mug, scoop, and permanent filter. It’s absolutely sublime. I’m sure the infatuation will fade eventually, but for now I will revel in newfound love.

My New Snuggle Buddy

Additionally I’ve had some other wonderful things happen lately, and maybe a not-so-wonderful wake-up call, or two. For starters, I’m working on this great project. It’s a video about rape prevention, protection and recovery. As usual I’m working with my friend and business partner, +Steve Kovacs, who is really pushing this project. It says wonderful things about him that he feels this is so important. It’s a multi-prong approach to dealing with rape. Not just for women, either. It’s for parents who want to teach their boys not to rape, and their girls not to engage in victim-blaming. It’s for anyone who wants to physically prevent being raped using techniques from a real expert (that would be Steve, since he’s a 9th Dan Black Belt in Minna Jiu-Jitsu, and the soke of that style), and it’s for anyone who wants to recover from rape.

So, in the spirit of having to be on film for certain segments of this project, I knuckled under and decided it was time to do the wild and crazy things I’ve been putting off. Such as dyeing my hair a crazy colour, growing my nails, wearing make-up, etc. I actually had to go out and buy make-up, because mine is long past any expiration date. The one thing I should have bought, and didn’t, was mascara. That’s the one you have to watch for when it comes to bacteria getting into your eyes. I think I’ve got a fairly recent one, however, so I’ll take a chance. After all, the colour I get never really changes.

I wanted to get a haircut, too, but chose a six-pack of beer after a hard day’s shopping, rather than walk several blocks to the hair place. I was already worn out, and hey, The Beer Store was right there (yes, it’s actually called The Beer Store here in Ontario, Canada). I hadn’t had beer in so long. Sadly, six beers were only enough to get me mildly tipsy, despite the fact that I rarely drink. I have a very high tolerance for alcohol for some reason. Probably the Irish and Scottish in me.

I chose Manic Panic’s Hot Hot Pink for my new crazy colour. I’m not stripping it first, so it will come out sort of a raspberry colour I think, which really isn’t extreme, but I’ll get there eventually. I’m personally angling for bright purple, blue or green at some point, but I’ll surf through all the colours at some point.

I was a little confounded and depressed by the whole make-up thing. I mean, even the regular, drug-store type stuff like Revlon is getting expensive. $17 for an ounce of a substance that’s actually supposed to look invisible – also known as foundation. $70 later, and sans mascara or blush, we left the cosmetics department. Ugh. Still, it’ll be fun to play dress-up.

I’ve finally managed to set up my shot appointment again, too, for those ultrasound-guided injections into my hips. Took weeks of calling, but I finally got bumped way ahead on the list. I already had an appointment for July 3rd, but they cancelled, so by rights they had to put me in ahead of the pack. Yesterday I saw my doctor for a physical for the first time in about 4 or 5 years, and went through the whole deal. I also got my tetanus shot, and all the bloodwork, plus a liver function test and a check on my B12 levels. I’ll probably have to go back in once more to get my vial of B12, along with some needles, but if I have to go in there for the shots I’ll never stay with them consistently. Other than that, assuming my results are relatively normal from the tests, I won’t have to go back to my family doctor for years again, and I’m fully up-to-date on everything. Yeah, baby!

I’ve been put on Tylenol 3s, since I was taking far too many Tylenol 1s. This will save my liver a lot of aggravation, and hopefully I’ll notice fewer issues with my blood sugar. She’s also sending me for an x-ray and ultrasound on that knee I hurt in March. This was the first time a doctor has looked at it. I know, I’m terrible, but not being able to get down the stairs at the old place meant not getting to the ER when it would have made a difference. And then I procrastinated even though I knew something was still wrong with it.

There were two things from Friday and yesterday that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with, but I maintain my positive attitude anyway. The first is that it looks like our 15-year-old cat has cancer, but she’s still healthy and probably has a lot of life left. She goes back in a couple of weeks for a check-up and possible testing. I don’t think surgery will be viable, since they would have to remove her mammary area pretty much completely, along with spaying her to get rid of the hormones. The vet said the tumours tend to come back pretty aggressively if they miss anything, though, and it’s very hard to get it all. Plus she’s not exactly a kitten anymore, so I’m not sure if we’ll put her through surgery. We’ll decide when the time comes. As I said, she’s still acting completely normal, and the vet said she seems healthy and active, so we’re not borrowing trouble.

The other item that wasn’t great was my weight. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life, and I can’t fool myself into thinking it’s muscle these days, so I need to get a lot more serious about that exercise plan I mentioned in my last post. If I average out what I’ve done since my birthday, I’d say I’ve been getting some pretty loose exercise a couple of times a week. It’s not enough. I can still do sit-ups, touch my toes, and boogie to the music – I just don’t look as good doing it. So, it’s time to do more than a little yoga and a few sit-ups. I have to build up some muscle to start burning up my stored energy (also known as fat).

Still, things feel really good for me today. Knowing most of my issues are being taken care of, and that I’ve gone ahead with the plans I made for my life this year, makes me feel positive about pretty much everything. And now to celebrate, I think I’m going to snuggle up with that adorable little coffee maker again, and possibly wheedle another cup for myself. The first one went down just a little too smoothly.

Giving Myself a New Gift (or Three) Every Year

Change and movement are a part of life. Every year around my birthday I start to look at how things are at that moment, what I managed to accomplish in the last year, and what I’d like to accomplish by my next birthday. There’s been a lot of changes this last year, moving being one of the best ones. We’re in a place we really like now, and that makes a huge difference in how much I want people in my personal space. I’m no longer ashamed of where I live. I’m thrilled to be able to make plans about what furniture and other decor to buy, and where to put everything. I have an interest in having nice things again, where before I just looked around and shrugged, saying, “What the hell difference would it make? It’ll still look like a $#!thole.”

It was a psychological ‘giving up’ caused by depressing surroundings, and it really is amazing how much better I feel as a human being these days. I realize I haven’t been writing, but I don’t have a comfortable writing space set up with a chair and desk. At the moment I’m sitting on the edge of a mattress that’s sitting on the floor. My laptop is propped up with a large stack of reference books. I’m hunched over in an amazingly uncomfortable position just so I can bang out a few words to my regular readers. Well, that and I’m sort of organizing my thoughts for the year to come.

That being said, I need to get back on topic. Last year I became even more politically involved, particularly in my own country. I actually became an official member of a political party. I donated $25 I think, and I have a 3-year membership with the Green Party. I could have gone with the NDP, actually, but there are things that are annoying me about them. Still, either party is better than the Progressive Conservatives (or PC party) or the Liberal party. Both of those are in the pockets of big oil and all that jazz, and they both voted for Keystone XL. The only ones to vote against it were NDP and an Independent. I’m really hoping we can get rid of Harper in the next federal election, because he’s destroyed a lot of Canada – physically destroyed it, I mean.

The third gift I gave myself last year, though it wasn’t really under my control so much, was finally getting in to see the right orthopedic surgeon. Nothing has been done as yet, except to book me for a group of doctors that will be giving me a whole bunch of ultrasound-guided injections of long-acting local anesthesia. That won’t happen until after my birthday, so I can’t count pain relief for last year, but I can count the progress toward healing.

This coming year I’m looking at my last year before I hit 45. That’s kind of a milestone birthday, I think. So this next year I’m going to give myself some really important gifts for that birthday. The first is related to the last one I mentioned for last year. I’m going ahead with the treatment that will discover the extent of my injuries, and exactly where the worst of the pain is coming from. I want to be able to jump out of bed in the morning, rather than rolling cautiously, straightening each part of my body slowly so that I can finally stand up. The first couple of steps I take are pretty painful. I want that way of life gone this year. Maybe the doctors won’t be able to schedule my repairs fast enough for my next birthday, because it sounds like there’s a lot to be done. However, there’s something else I can do to help that along.

This leads me to my next gift to myself, and that simply physical fitness. Knowing that the vast majority of my pain will be treated, despite it being only a mask of the real problems, I’m confident I can start to move around a lot more. I’ll have to start out cautiously, because I’ve basically been in a chair or a bed for the last few years. It’s hard to exercise when it’s excruciating, but even more so when you’re told you’re not supposed to because it will cause more damage. In fact, I’ve been told a lot of crap from doctors that never told me there were ways around my various issues. I have a problem with my knees that could have been fixed with simple exercises, and I only found that out a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that my disc problems in my back can be healed, but I was told by another orthopedic surgeon that my back was permanently screwed.

In other words, I’m taking what the doctors tell me with a grain of salt, I’m doing my own research, and I’m going to start moving my body more and more throughout the year. Yoga, resistance/weight-training, and aerobic activity. I’m going to start recording my results, and maybe I’ll share them here, too. It depends on how I feel about it once I get going. I’m not sharing half-naked before & after pictures, don’t worry. I’ll spare everyone that much. I might do some fully-dressed, though. We’ll see. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be in a lot better shape by my next birthday, and I’m doing it the right way – as a lifestyle change, not a binge program. The last thing I need is more injuries, or to stop doing it because it’s just too drastic. I need to have fun with it. Thankfully I like the activities I’ve chosen, and they’re well-rounded with regard to a fitness program. Flexibility, strength and endurance, which are all things we need to live a full life.

I’m also setting up my home so that I have a nice working and living environment, so I can get back to serious and consistent writing again, in addition to my other work. I want to be able to put in the time on everything and feel productive again. In my head I’m almost always working, because I do love the things I do. However, translating that to actually getting the work done is a different story. Not being in so much pain will help a great deal there, too. Not only because pain is distracting and exhausting and makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, but because I take so many pills to counteract the pain that my brain just can’t stick with things long enough to accomplish anything. You wouldn’t believe how many blog posts and articles I’ve started and stalled out on halfway through. Once I stop working on a piece it ends up being deleted. I never go back to finish it off. I either rewrite the whole thing or just dump it entirely.

Cautiously I say, too, that this year I want to finish and publish at least one book. Even if it’s an anthology I edit where I’ve only written one or two short stories, and there are stories from other writers in it. It’s past time for me to get my fiction work out there. I’m also considering writing a small book on rape recovery. Never mind the fact that I’ve got the makings of more than one series of books. There’s my demon series and the serial killer one. I’ve got lots of notes, and the basic outlines for story arcs throughout, so I think they’ll be great if I ever have a comfortable place to sit and get some real writing done. I know…excuses, excuses…

I look forward to every single year of my life. I don’t celebrate birthdays with any brouhaha, because it’s just not the way I roll. I’d rather sit at home doing exactly the same things I’d be doing on any other day. The exception is that we usually have a special meal, with cake or pie after, and then my daughter and I watch a bunch of movies. That won’t be possible this year. My daughter is working 12-hours shifts on weird rotations, so she has to sleep the entire time she’s home. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t getting any shifts at all for a while there. We barely have the rent money now, so we won’t be buying steaks & cakes. That’s okay, too. I don’t mind being broke so long as we have the essentials and we’re not short on the rent. We won’t starve and the landlord is getting paid.

Maybe I’ll watch some movies on my own, but more likely I’ll play games on my computer or work toward this year’s goals.I still have to finish my starting routine for working out, and determine my level of progression, but I have fun planning that kind of thing. I can get bogged down in the details and find myself distracted, but as long as I cover the first few weeks I can always plan the next steps when I get to them.

Of course, I also continued my education last year, and that’s ongoing. I went through the MIT course on programming with Python, and I’m enrolled in Linux and calculus courses at the moment. I think there’s a chemistry course in there somewhere, too, but it hasn’t started yet. I plan to delve into CSS and Java, among other things. For me, I think the best part of living life is learning whatever I can latch my brain onto. We become so much more by educating ourselves, opening our horizons. Every course I take brings in new perspectives on life, no matter what the topic. I see just a slightly different slant, and that’s such a huge benefit – not only to me, but to my readers as well. I can offer so much more to everyone around me if I keep becoming more than what I am now.

I remember many years ago reading in a book about a married couple whose philosophy was that we are not human beings, but rather we’re human becomings, and for me that was a crystallizing moment. I understood right then that that was the person I need to be (or become, if you will). So, every year I get just a little bit closer to the person I’m supposed to grow into. Maybe I’ll make it there, and maybe I won’t, but it would be a real shame if I didn’t even try. Alas, no matter how many years are between this one and the one on my birth certificate, I don’t think I’ll ever really grow up, which makes me smile just thinking about it.

Powerful While Powerless, and a Refreshing Start

Let me get right down to the nitty-gritty. We finally got ourselves moved out of our old apartment. We also had some interesting times without electricity for the last 10 days we were there. It’s not the first time I’ve done without power, and I’m stubborn when it comes to paying a bill where I think I’m getting ripped off. Living in an apartment it’s very easy for people to patch into other people’s power lines. All you need is a little detector for electrical lines and a drill. For some reason, despite the fact that we weren’t using space heaters for those months, our usage was twice as high as it had been the previous year when we were using space heaters. I told the woman at the utility company this, and she simply didn’t care. Told us we had to pay well over $300 if we wanted to retain our service for the last ten days we’d be there. I told them to stuff it. Stealing utilities of any kind in this country is actually a very big offense, so you would think they’d be a little more interested, but they weren’t. Too much bother for them when they could simply demand their money from us.

We actually had the money to pay the bill. That wasn’t the point. The point was that someone was stealing from us and I wasn’t going to pay for it. Instead we bought some batteries for our LED lantern, and got a couple more LED lights. It being close to summer, we had a fair bit of daylight anyway, and at night we played board games or UNO. We had a lot of fun, and bought a bunch of ravioli to eat cold. We could have had other stuff, but we happen to like cold ravioli.

Right before our power was shut off our microwave blew, so this weekend we’re getting a new one. My daughter was cleaning it and may have sprayed the vinegar-water through the vent holes. Normally we put a cup of vinegar-water in it and turn it on to clean it, and it works miracles, but this time it started smoking and sparking and I told her to stick it in the pile going into the garbage.

We got rid of a lot of our stuff. There were various pests in that building and we had no interest in bringing any of them with us. Besides, my dresser and bed were already destroyed by water damage when the roof of the building leaked. Mildew had destroyed half my clothes in my closet, too. And this is the landlord that had the nerve to try to get $2,600 from us for damage to the floor. That didn’t work out so well for them. Thankfully they were nice enough to allow us to stay on a couple extra months when I injured my knee so badly I couldn’t get down the stairs.

As luck would have it, though, that delay from my injury was a blessing. Not that I enjoyed the pain or anything, but the delay is how we ended up finding a really great apartment. We went to look at two that day, and we figured from the address that the first one would be a dump and the second would be decent enough. It turned out that the first one was amazing. We were really surprised by it. We still went to see the other place, but I called the guy from the first place right after our second viewing and told him we wanted the place. The rent was higher, but all utilities are included and we also have central air. We no longer have to throw in a window unit. Yippee. In fact, we gave that window unit away by sticking a sign on it and putting it in the hallway of the old building. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

We’re still really thrilled with the new place. Every floor is tile. My bedroom has a ten-foot ceiling, which echoes like mad right now, but once I get a painting or two on the wall, and buy the area rug I want, it should be awesome. I’m going back to having a queen-size bed again in a couple of weeks. The room is huge, in addition to the high ceiling, so I now need furniture to fill it up. Thankfully the landlords left a wardrobe, a couple of bookshelves, a nice table and chairs, curtains on all the windows except one, and a couple of area rugs. The urgent stuff is no longer an issue.

We haven’t unpacked fully, yet, but we’ve unpacked more here than we did at the old place in nearly 3 years. Hopefully we’ll get everything done this weekend, as we’ll have been here two weeks by Sunday. We’re actually going to hire a friend of my daughter to come in and clean at least once a month. My daughter’s back at work with hours that are a crazy mix of continental days and nights, so she needs her time off to adjust between shifts, and I’m just not capable of cleaning a whole house anymore. We’ve been keeping up with the animals rather religiously, however. The ferrets are doing well with their puppy pads, and the cat was never a problem with her litter box. Apparently the people who lived here before wouldn’t change their cat’s litter, and so the landlord warned us ahead of time that we needed to keep everything really clean, especially since they’d never seen a ferret before. They haven’t had any complaints thus far, so hopefully we’re doing okay with that.

For the first time in about four years, we have a decent place to live. Actually, it’s closer to seven years. The place was clean when we moved in. It smells and feels clean, and it’s done up pretty nicely. I’ll be pleased to have people come over and visit, instead of being ashamed of it. It’s a huge change in mindset for me, and a great step toward regaining happiness in my life.

Another positive is that I finally got in to the orthopedic surgeon. He’s sending me to a group of doctors that will administer long-acting anesthetic injections, guided by ultrasound. I’ve got about four different problems with my hip joints, apparently, and so they want to deal with the pain first. Once the pain is eased, I can fix one of the problems myself – lack of exercise. It won’t matter anymore that I may be causing further damage by walking around, because it won’t hurt and they’re going to fix it at some point. My muscles have been atrophying for some time now, including the stabilizer muscles, so I’m looking forward to being able to exercise again. I miss it.

I still won’t be able to do my belly dancing until they fix the issue with my joints locking up, because my legs simply won’t do what the need to do right now, but maybe I can do a limited amount. Dancing is something I miss more than anything. I’ve been dancing in one form or another since I was a small child, and to have that taken from me is painful. I can wiggle my hips on the dance floor at a club or something, but I can’t do anything that requires real skill.

I go for the shots on July 3rd, so we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime I’m catching up on my reading and getting comfortable in our new home. We have office space now, which is awesome. I just can’t really use it yet. I need a proper desk and office chair. I bought an office chair from Staples a while back, but it doesn’t tilt back far enough so it’s uncomfortable for me. I do have a table I can use, but no chairs that will really work with it. Then I have to set up something for sound-proofing, or at least noise-reduction. I’m doing the intros for all the shows now, and I do other voiceover stuff, so I want to be able to record quality audio. I’ve done the last two in my bedroom, and the echo was pretty bad. I can get rid of some of it, but it’s better to not have it in the first place.

So I finally have peace in my life again. The stress of hearing people yelling in the hallway, swearing, coming in drunk in the middle of the night and carrying on loud conversations with other neighbours, people smoking in the hall so it surges into our apartment, and who-has-the-loudest-stereo competitions late at night – those are all things I do not need in my life. I despised living there, and the tension built up so much that I’m still letting go of it now. Situational depression, even when the situation is gone, doesn’t just magically disappear. Your behaviour becomes habitual in response, so those habits have to be broken. I cringe when I hear noises, still. Our only neighbours in the building are our landlords, and they live upstairs so we hear their dog barking and their voices when they talk loudly, so it trips the switch a little, but once I realized that was their natural speech pattern I was fine with it. I just hate people fighting. Drama is not something I seek out in life.

Now that a large number of problems have either been solved, or are about to be, I’m looking forward to seeing what I can make of my life once again. Giddyup!

A Current Outsider’s Perspective on America’s Political Situation

I’m not American, as my regular readers know, but I dabble in politics and you can’t really avoid American politics no matter what country you’re from. What they do affects the rest of the world in big and small ways. For the last couple of years I’ve been watching the US pretty closely, and what I’ve seen has been very disturbing. I was already well aware of certain tendencies within American culture that would most likely lead to the degradation of the country, but there’s been a very sharp downturn recently.

There’s been a lot of talk about the disappearance of the middle class in America, and it’s not a fallacy. It’s getting to the point where people are either poor or they’re extremely rich, and the vast majority are very poor. When you work full-time and can’t afford to pay your rent and utility bills, and still buy groceries, there’s a serious problem. Sadly those in higher income brackets fail to see (or care, perhaps) that this is a self-defeating system. After all, if you squeeze every drop of money out of people for basic necessities, they have nothing left over for luxuries of any kind and they don’t spend the money that fuels the economy. Eventually the machine is going to break down.

There are a lot of other problems, but the inability to secure a living wage is the biggest one, because it means there are kids going hungry, people without healthcare and losing their teeth. School programs are being gutted, and the curriculum is geared toward indoctrination rather than education. In some places it’s even worse, because the indoctrination comes in the form of religion that contradicts known scientific fact. It’s bad enough that people are uneducated. Now they’re being mis-educated. At the moment there’s a very large number of people who truly believe science has no place in the public school system, and religion is the true story.

Never mind my own personal bias against organized religion – and I freely admit I have one. Let’s just look at the big picture. Mis-education is creating states that will have generations of people believing scientific facts to be lies. The United States competes in a global market. How does it expect to continue being competitive when other countries are not only teaching the science these kids need to learn, but other countries are offering free university and college education? The answer is that they won’t. While politicians are debating religious dogma, the rest of the world is zipping on by. While politicians debate the reality of global warming and climate change, the rest of the world is looking for (and finding) the answers. Countries all over the world are reducing their dependency on fossil fuel products, and Americans are becoming more dependent.

Mainstream media in the US is too afraid to upset the corporations that sink millions of dollars into advertising on their networks, to subvert the propaganda they’re spreading about sustainable energy. So there’s still a large portion of the population that believes we’re not in an ecological crisis at this very moment. They’ve become blind to the massively lower water levels in California, and the 4-year drought that’s going to make food so expensive only the rich will be able to eat. Now they’re predicting that California only has a year of water left, but Nestle is sucking it up to bottle it.

Corporations are controlling every aspect of American lives. Some people are starting to understand that, but so many people still believe what’s being broadcast on so-called news programs. I’ve lost count of the number of studies I’ve seen that talk about how low the percentage is for truth actually being broadcast. Most news is opinion-based in the US now, much of it is outright deception, and every once in a while they throw in a small grain of truth to confuse everyone. Then that small grain gets lost in the avalanche of dishonesty.

Admittedly it’s not easy to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you. It’s not so hard to be honest in some ways, by making the choice never to lie. However, even if we think we’re telling the truth, it’s only the truth as we know it and perceive it. We can’t possibly know the whole story. Even people who are right there when something happens only see their version of it. Witness testimony is always suspect and inherently flawed by our own biases. All we can do is try to be as thorough and as honest as possible, but frankly mainstream media has no interest in adhering to a policy like that.

What’s needed in the US now is not just a strong middle class, but also to have the poorest among its population still being able to survive. Working a 40-hour week should be enough to do that. I believe in a fair minimum wage. If a company can’t pay someone that much, then they either need to raise their prices or bow out of the business altogether. If people don’t want to pay an extra 50 cents for a burger or a coffee so that the person behind the counter can afford to buy formula for their baby, then they shouldn’t be going out to eat or drink. I’ve always had that attitude when it comes to service employees. When I go out to eat I tip at least 15% unless the server was purposely terrible. I do the same with cab drivers because I know very well how little they make. My second husband drove a cab, and was stuck paying for fuel out of those tips. I figure if I can afford to buy pizza or whatever, the tip is a part of that expense.

The second thing they need to do is get corporate money out of politics altogether. This isn’t a new idea. What I don’t understand is how it ever happened in the first place. Did they not realize the danger? Didn’t they know there would be favouritism for big donors? Do the citizens not understand why their politicians are voting against what the people actually want for their country?

Then there are the big banks that are ripping everyone off. Having people who deal with money that are as unregulated as the financial industry in the US, is sheer idiocy. Bill Clinton drove the nail into the coffin that Reagan built with respect to all that, and it needs to be overturned, along with the aforementioned corporate sponsorship of politicians. I’m sure many Canadians, if they understood it, would hate the thought that they pay for the campaigns of their politicians, but the alternative is unacceptable. Sure we cover that with our taxes, but it’s an extremely small bite considering the cap they have on spending, and it means corporations aren’t buying/bribing our government officials – in that way anyway. We the people own the rights to our government, and that’s as it should be.

So along comes Bernie Sanders. I’ve been seeing him around the internet for a while now, and the more I learn about him the more I perceive him as the ideal candidate for POTUS. He just announced his run a little while ago, and the media sort of laughed him off at first, until the figures for his campaign donations were announced from the first 24 hours. He received more money than every one of the Republican candidates, his average donation was $43, and it was regular people who were sending him the money. Obviously he had a lot of donors. This is a man who understands that he works for the taxpayers. He’s not royalty looking down his nose at his constituents.

A look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign funding makes me shudder in sympathy for my American friends. All but one of her top ten contributors are big banks. I don’t like her, and I never have. She flip-flops with the wind. She sold out on healthcare many years ago, and she’s sold out on other things since. She can’t even settle on what name she’s using, because she bases it on what she thinks will garner her the highest approval rating rather than on what she really believes. I may be a feminist who looks forward to the day when females are elected as leaders as often as males, but that doesn’t mean I want the wrong woman voted in just because of her gender. I want the right person in office, regardless of their anatomy.

As for the Republican candidates, I don’t get it. I do not understand why any of them would have enough people backing them that they could even throw their hat in. Religious zeal is only one of the issues they’re having. Not everyone is a Christian, and the recent news that Christianity in America is losing ground should be a red flag for them. Campaigning with religion as your hook isn’t going to get you far. One big reason for that, which is also a reason the Republicans are in so much trouble with voters, is feminism. Women are subjugated in almost every religion ever invented. There are a few that do not, though they’re not widely accepted as religions, and have few practitioners. If you go around beating the drum for Christianity or any faith that doesn’t respect women, there are going to be a lot of women who want nothing to do with you. And that’s not even getting into the hundreds of anti-woman bills that were introduced in 2014 by Republican politicians.

If the Republicans are to have any hope of securing the top political seat, they need to find someone who isn’t going to offend women, LGBT, rape victims, people of colour, people who practice religions other than Christianity, and poor people. Their entire support system seems to be comprised of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled, entitled males (and they don’t make up a huge portion of the American population). A couple of them thought they were being funny or something when they started talking about how old and ugly Hillary Clinton is, yet there isn’t one among the males that doesn’t appear as though he’s been beaten with the ugly stick and nobody thinks that impacts their abilities in any way. Insulting Clinton’s appearance and age are going to backfire severely if they don’t put a stop to it. It amounts to name-calling at a high-school level. If they can’t debate the issues any more intelligently than that, I don’t see how anyone could believe they’re smart enough to run a country.

And back to Bernie Sanders. Do some research if you don’t believe me, but this is a man who has been saying the same things his entire political life. And finally people are listening and starting to realize that he’s most likely right. I truly believe he is the one person who might be able to get America back on track. On the international stage I’m sorry to say that the US has lost almost all respect. Maybe it’s not fair, but a lot of it is a kind of pettiness because America tooted its own horn for so long, telling everyone it was the greatest country in the world, and now that inspires people to cheer when they see it faltering. Pride goeth before a fall, to paraphrase Proverbs, and there are a lot of countries out there that would all too happily give them a surreptitious shove. Kind of like going to your high school reunion and finding out that the prom king is now 300 pounds and sells shoes for a living. You start hearing, “Nah nah nah nah nah nah,” in your head.

The problem with that is, America still hold the key to a great deal of security in the world. When they’re stable the rest of the world can latch on and be okay. When they’re not stable it’s like being in an earthquake and having the ground fall from beneath you. So many things in America impact every country on earth. Unless we’re willing to see our own countries suffer, we should be cheering on the States and helping them pull themselves together, rather than sticking out our foot to trip them up. We’ve got a giant rogue army taking over the middle east, sawing off people’s heads. What do we think is going to happen if America is no longer a threat to them?

In all sincerity and seriousness, America needs to get back on its collective feet. The infighting weakens it on the public stage, especially in the age of the internet where everyone gets to see what’s going on. Rumours start flying about every little scandal, and everyone has an opinion before the facts are even released. It’s one reason I never weighed in on the whole issue of the so-called wave of killings by police officers. When you start to look closely at those situations, and then go over the statistics, there really hasn’t been any sudden changes or increases. The difference lies in the focus. Thank mainstream media for turning every molehill into a mountain. Yes, every life is important, whatever race, colour or creed. I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but we have to look beyond what the media wants to show us.

Corporations that control the media are not doing their country any favours, and truthfully they don’t really care. They’re interested in nothing but pure profit. They don’t care if America is reduced to ashes. They build their business on the backs of fellow Americans, they squeeze out their profits, and then they take their money and stick it in offshore accounts. They move their headquarters to Canada because they prefer our less-complicated tax system, or they go to another country where the taxes are laughable. Their gratitude to the people that gave them their billions is non-existent.

Frankly I don’t want those companies in Canada. When I sell products to American customers, I’m required to pay taxes on that. Royalties through Amazon book sales are taxed through the IRS – I haven’t published a book yet, but they’ve already got my tax information for when that day comes. I don’t mind one bit. If I make a profit in a country, then I’m using or doing something that has been created through taxation and socialism, like postal services, or the roads that are used for shipping my items to customers. I have to pay for that, and I should, so corporations that don’t pay for it really burn my ass because they can well afford to. Instead of giving back to the community that made them what they are, they take the money and run. It’s contemptible, and tells you their true morality. If corporations are people and there is a God, then they’re going straight to Hell.

America has the foundation to make a comeback, despite the cracks in it. And whether or not they like socialism, I believe we all have to help one another. Socialism builds the roads we drive on, and the services we use, but it can also be a way to accomplish the big things, like protecting the rest of the world from the Islamic State and keeping the world economy stable. In my electronic travels I’ve made some very good friends, and many of those friends are American. I care what happens to them, and it doesn’t matter to me that we don’t share a country. We do share a planet and personal experiences. We share resources. We share technology and the responsibility of cleaning up our ecosystem. Without international cooperation and aid, we would all have faltered long ago, but I think we keep forgetting that. Our trade agreements allow us to have so many of the luxuries and necessities that we currently enjoy.

I’m very proud to be a Canadian, but (even if it perhaps sounds silly) I’m also proud to be a Terran. I want my whole planet to experience all the happiness and security we’re capable of. Linux users have heard of Ubuntu, which is a computer operating system used in lieu of Windows or Mac OS on Linux-based systems. However, many people don’t know the meaning behind the word Ubuntu. In short it means, “Humanity to others.” The longer version is, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” There’s a story that goes along with that about the sharing of apples between three friends and their refusal to race and have one of them win all the apples because the one couldn’t be happy if the other two were not. I think this is a truism of our world. We will never experience happiness the way we were meant to until everyone who shares our world has that same freedom. How can we sit, greedily eating all the apples while our friends have nothing?

Brushing Up Against Rental Fraud

The phrase, “Too good to be true,” was invented for a reason. Seriously. With my daughter and I looking for a new apartment, and not having a lot of time left to do it in unless we talk our current landlord into letting us stay another month, we’re looking at every advertisement online and culling out anything that seems decent. I’m even going into strange rental sections on Kijiji, like “Others,” just for the hell of it.

It was there we found the apartment of our dreams. Or so one might think. However, it could easily have turned into a nightmare if I were of a less suspicious bent. Believe me when I tell you there are con-artists everywhere, and it’s our disbelief that anything so unusual could happen to us that aids them in their victimization.

Imagine this, if you will:

2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, all appliances, all furniture, all utilities included. [Insert stunning description here along with 5 equally stunning photographs.] $819.00 per month.

Contact is made via e-mail, and more photos are sent. They’re not looking to make a profit, or turn it into a business, etc. They just want the apartment rented out to someone responsible so it’s not sitting there empty. They will buy a plane ticket to come show you the place, but they need you to do them a favour and place an ad for their spouse’s old apartment – apparently they are unable to do so because they are currently overseas and the classified ad website will not allow people overseas to place ads on the Canadian site. They dangle the carrot of removing the ad so that you’ll be the only prospective tenant.

Being of a suspicious and cynical nature, I took a good look at the ad before I even contacted them the first time. I decided I might as well check it out. If it was a scam, no harm done. Being of that suspicious and cynical nature, I did not send them anything other than our names and phone number, and I wasn’t about to send anyone any money, so I wasn’t concerned.

The first response was a long e-mail, and asked us to let them know if we’re interested. I said I was, and we wanted to view the place. I asked them to send the application, because I figured we could fill it out and give it to them when we saw the apartment. (I wasn’t sending them anything with personal details by e-mail.) The ‘application’ was a few questions in their reply e-mail, along with a request for a picture (that was not mandatory). I replied vaguely, saying my daughter has a full-time job in a factory and I’m on disability. When I came to the question about references I said I would provide references when we viewed the place. With my name and references they would be able to obtain my current address, and it’s more information than I want a stranger to have through these means.

No, I didn’t send a picture. I couldn’t see any valid reason why a prospective landlord would need a picture, and believe me when I say that sent up big red flags with sirens blaring and strobes flashing. My first thought was that the place might be real, but have hidden cameras for underground porn videos of the peeping Tom variety. So I figured if we viewed the place I’d be looking very carefully at mirror placement, and behind anything mounted on the walls.

The next e-mail was when they said they’re more than happy to book a flight back here to show us the apartment, but they needed our help in placing an ad for his wife’s old place so they can take care of that at the same time. Yeah…right. Just like the people who have fifteen million dollars waiting to be taken out of a bank account, but they need you to do it for them, and it doesn’t look like they’re asking much – and certainly nothing that will cost you anything – but it generally results in a person being stripped of their life savings.

My response was polite, because it’s just barely possible the apartment is real. However, I made it clear that it was their responsibility to be available for viewings, and if they found it inconvenient to do so, they could hire a property management firm. They have the added benefit of being licensed, and can run credit checks for prospective tenants as well. Or they could book a whole bunch of viewings all at once. This person said in the last e-mail that ‘he’ had come up here once before and the person hadn’t shown up – gee, people who break promises? Who’da thunkit? This is an old trick used by scammers who are trying to reassure someone by showing they know how that feels, and implies that they, themselves, would never do such a thing.

I also made it clear that, whatever they wrote in an e-mail, we did not know them. We were not going to place an ad for them which might result either in us being victimized or being accused of collaboration in a scheme meant to defraud others. I apologized, just in case they were on the level, but I very much doubt that they were.

After sending that last e-mail I started to do some research. I found an article in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper from 2009. It details how a woman lost $1200 in almost identical circumstances. In her case the gentleman had relocated from Winnipeg to New Jersey, but was currently in London. She sent $800 for a month’s rent, and $400 for a damage deposit. When she requested keys he demanded another $1200 before he was apparently willing to send them. Once the situation was investigated it was discovered that there was no one in the building by that name, and it was managed by a property management firm with no ties to this person. The police could do nothing. After all, she had sent her money out of the country.

Kijiji warns on every page that a person should never give money to someone they haven’t met in person. Their classified ads are meant for person-to-person sales, whether it’s an apartment or a bicycle. Near-identical ads for ‘dream’ apartments have appeared in major cities all over Canada, and I don’t doubt that they appear in most other countries as well.

People want to believe they’ve found a place to live. It hits in a vulnerable area, especially during a time when it’s difficult to find an apartment. In the last two and a half years since we moved into this apartment, rent prices have gone up considerably, and apartments are taken almost as soon as the ads appear. Then if you find yourself in a situation where you might not have a place to live in a couple of weeks, you really want to believe that this wonderful place is sitting there just for you. An answer to a prayer, basically. The thought of being homeless scares the crap out of pretty much anyone, and who can blame them?

Still, there are a few hard and fast rules out there if you don’t want to be a victim. The biggest one is that you should never trust anyone without reason. I mean, geez people! Why would you send money to someone outside the country for a place you’ve never even been in? An apartment has to be viewed in person. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality. Even real ads will often show an apartment that isn’t the one that’s available. Management companies have show suites. Even when you go to view an apartment, they often show one that has the same floor plan, but isn’t the one you’ll be renting. That’s pretty standard for big buildings, so then you have to do a walk-through of your actual apartment to list any damage that’s already there.

Trust is earned. It takes time to develop. Not everyone is trustworthy. In fact, a very large portion of the population cannot be trusted. I personally believe no one can be trusted for everything. Every human has flaws, and there are certain things each person can’t be trusted with. It all depends on their personality type. Some can’t be trusted to pay their bills exactly on time, even if they do eventually pay them. Some people don’t do things they’re supposed to do by the time they say they’ll do them. Some people show up late. Everyone has flaws, and those are the things that can’t be trusted in that person, but they may be completely trustworthy in every other way. Some people you could loan a million dollars to, and they would pay back every penny with interest, but you know they’re always going to blab secrets.

It takes time to know the flaws of a person, and thereby know which things can be trusted about them, and which things can’t. Trusting anyone without knowing them is ridiculous. The woman in the above-mentioned article said she trusted the person she sent money to because he claimed to be a Christian. Really? Wow. I can claim to be Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, I would be less likely to trust someone because they’re religious, than I would if they said they were atheists. I do not like organized religions, so I have a huge bias there.

Though I might vaguely feel sorry for anyone who has been ripped off, there’s a larger part of me that thinks, “What the hell were you thinking?” Then my sympathy tends to dry up. When it’s someone of diminished capacity who is scammed, I feel terrible for them, but with the general population I feel mostly disgusted that they’re not using their critical thinking skills. Of course, lack of critical thinking is something that drives me crazy to begin with. It’s the reason the vast majority of people believe what’s reported on the news. In the US they’re not obligated to tell the truth, yet people still believe what they’re saying. In Canada that’s against the CRTC regulations, and results in fines and other penalties, but that does not mean they don’t unknowingly report a falsehood – because it’s quite possible those who wrote the stories in the first place weren’t using their critical thinking skills and didn’t thoroughly investigate their sources. They might report the truth as they know it, but it’s quite likely not the whole story.

My basic point is exactly what I said in my very first sentence. Too good to be true is always too good to be true. Follow your instincts, use your brain, question everything, and don’t give people money for anything they’re not handing to you right then and there. Even when you’re doing business with people you know (perhaps especially when you know them), you don’t pay them until they’ve given you what you’re paying for – whether it’s a service or an item. I offer website design and maintenance as a service, but I certainly don’t expect anyone to pay me for something I haven’t done yet. Some companies may require a deposit, but it’s not necessary. Not when you can build the site and not post it, but still show your client what it will look like once it’s published, and there are other ways web designers can protect themselves if their clients don’t pay.

In all business dealings (and renting an apartment is a contract just like any other) both parties should be able to provide proof that they’re on the level. An apartment is visible proof. If you don’t see the place with your own eyes, there’s a good possibility it doesn’t exist. On the landlord’s end of things, they’re well within their rights to take a look at your identification and do a credit and reference check. Don’t be afraid to offend someone. Honest people will understand and respect skepticism if you’re polite about it. It’s only the dishonest ones who will react defensively and get angry – most likely because they see their scam falling apart and realize the money they foresaw is slipping through their fingers.

In our case I would expect that this supposed landlord would respect the fact that I’m mature and responsible enough to be careful with regard to my personal information and my money. If I just gave out money to everyone, it would show an obvious lack or responsibility and maturity. Sadly, there will be people desperate enough and gullible enough, who so badly want to believe their dreams have come true, that they will fork over most of their savings to secure a non-existent apartment. I’m not immune to those feelings myself, and I hoped we weren’t being scammed. I was polite in my last e-mail because a tiny part of me still hoped it was real. This was before I started researching rental scams and saw the various articles about the different ways people got fleeced. Then I started to see the similarities.

What’s funny is that I’m a huge believer in doing things online. I buy groceries that way sometimes, and have them delivered. I shop online for other things, paying for my items electronically. I honestly do not have to leave the house if I don’t want to, though you pay a little more sometimes for that privilege. Maybe it’s being experienced in the ways of online retail that helps me weed out the scams. The worst thing that ever happened to me was that a ring I ordered from eBay was never delivered, and since I only paid about $10 for it I wasn’t all that concerned, particularly since I’d ordered a bunch of other stuff at the same time and sort of forgot I was expecting it.

In fact we just ordered dinner online, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to deliver it since we haven’t given them any money yet.

Lying on My Back Isn’t as Fun as it Should Be, but I Still Feel Great!

Apparently I need to learn how to walk again. It’s become my arch-nemesis. I used to be an athlete, and I never injured myself as badly as I have just walking. A few weeks ago I slipped and did a number on my knee, but it’s not the first time I’ve caused major damage when I should be safe from myself.

This, of course, is the reason I haven’t been around lately. I’ve barely been on Facebook, and that only because I finally bought a new smartphone. I hate typing on the damn thing, because a touchscreen keyboard really sucks. I prefer actual keys so I know what I’m pressing. Still, it’s a temporary phone until I can afford the BlackBerry I really want. I had to cave and get a cheap Sony phone to tide me over, but at least my daughter will like it for the PlayStation aspect when I turn it over to her.

I’m finally back in a chair, instead of lying on my back for all the wrong reasons. I had to have my knee propped up, and was on crutches until a little over a week ago. Even now I’m really careful about what I do with that leg. Twisting it, or letting it go into the locked position, is something I avoid at all costs. Life doesn’t stop because you’ve got a funky pin, however, so I’ve got no choice to get moving on things.

Speaking of moving, the landlord was sympathetic enough to let us stay another month because there was no way I could move like that. Now we’re struggling to find an apartment, but a lot of that has to do with me hating that kind of thing. I have to force myself to spend just one day making all the calls I need to make. I’ve got a great list of places to call, at least. Technology is awesome. You don’t even have to go anywhere to see what a place looks like. You can weed out the ones that are completely unsuitable. Some sites have walk-through videos which are even better than pictures.

So, hopefully in less than two weeks we can get our butts into a better apartment. I don’t even want to talk about why this apartment is so terrible. It’s embarrassing. Let’s just say we’ve made friends with the mice, but there are other friendships we’re not willing to consider.

The great thing is, I’ve suddenly started feeling really good again. I had to rebook a specialist appointment because I couldn’t get down the stairs of my building, but on May 14th I finally see one of the best surgeons in Canada. I have hope in sight. My life is just over the horizon. I’ve tried to live as much as I can in my current situation, and keep my spirits up, but it’s not easy when you feel like everything wonderful has been taken from you. Now I feel like everything wonderful will be mine again, and the appreciation and anticipation are enough to get me off my butt to move my life forward again.

I haven’t been myself for a very long time. Now I’m gulping down the air and my mind is bursting with everything I’m going to do. There are things I’ve been doing already. I didn’t just lie down and die or anything. I mean, I was writing, I’ve been producing The Kovacs Perspective for more than two years now and taking it in a new direction with my partner, and I’ve been planning my future and looking forward to a time when I would be pain- and drug-free. When I say drugs, I’m talking about prescription and over-the-counter, not illicit. Not that I’m pure there, but it’s been many years since I delved into that goodie bag. A lot of people smoke pot to help with pain, but it has never helped my pain and I hated the way I felt on it so I don’t bother with it.

It’s kind of like the air is fresh, even when it’s not. I’m gulping down a mouthful of freedom I guess. I’ve been feeling trapped in my life, even knowing it was temporary. Knowing the cage door is about to open is a heady experience.

Whatever you do in life, appreciate every advantage you might have. If you can walk, be thankful for where your legs can take you. If you can hear, be thankful for the music that can fill up your life and the voices of loved ones. If you can see, relish the beauty of the world, whether it’s by reading an amazing book or watching a sunset over the water. No matter what has happened to you, what you may have lost, remember the things you still have. That’s the only thing that’s kept me going the last few years, having to wait to regain the full use of my body and mental faculties (which have been dimmed by the medication needed to handle the pain). Well, my ferrets have been a huge help, too, so I can’t forget them. They make me laugh when nothing else is funny.

One of the hardest things to deal with when encumbered by something that restricts your life, and especially something that causes chronic pain, is the emotional toll it takes. Most people suffer situational depression, and I’m no exception there. The problem is, if you tell your healthcare provider what you’re feeling the first thing they want to do is stick you on anti-depressants. I’d like to know how the hell they think that’s going to help. I mean, situational depression is not a chemical imbalance, so treating it with chemicals will do what, exactly? It’s just going to screw with your own brain chemistry and add a chemical imbalance you didn’t have before.

That was a lesson I learned when my ex started going through all that with his physical condition. It was severe, painful, caused irreversible damage to his body, and he was understandably miserable. Suddenly the doctor assumed he was going to attempt suicide, and then they took away the pain meds he needs so badly, which of course only made him more miserable. I mean, really! Talk about a stupid way to handle it. Getting rid of the pain is the only solution that works, not allowing a patient to suffer unnecessary pain.

So I never mentioned the frustration, despair, etc. I’ve got a lot of emotion locked up inside me now, waiting to be let out. I intend to use it to propel me forward. Back into the life that was delayed for so long. I’ve still got a bit of waiting to do, but I’m already cutting back on the pain killers. I can stand pain for a while, just not long-term when it starts driving me crazy, and as soon as my injuries are repaired I want to be able to get back to my life. I don’t want to have to wean myself off the drugs then, because that would only delay me further. The drugs I take affect my ability to think clearly, and to me that’s almost as intolerable as the pain. I have an affection for my strange little brain, so I’d like to get back in touch with it as soon as possible. My concentration has been shot, and there have been some projects I’ve put on the back burner because I just can’t deal with the steep learning curve right now. I’ve got new software to learn, and courses to take.

Still, I can only be grateful and appreciative that there’s an end to the misery in sight for me. There are too many people out there who know they’re stuck in their situations for the rest of their lives. They’re forced to make the best of it and fight off the inevitable depression. I think I could cope with almost anything except permanent pain, though I’ve dealt with pain most of my life so maybe I could cope with that, too. I just don’t want to have to, and it looks like I’m going to be one of the lucky ones. Plenty of reason to smile and feel good about the future opening up before me.

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

When I started publishing my writing, I took a step away from my personal information to make it more difficult for anyone to physically find me. I’ve been stalked before, and I knew the dangers. To this day, however, it scares me when I see how frighteningly easy it is to find people who are online – and even those that aren’t. In fact, that’s part of my job as a producer for The Kovacs Perspective. Sometimes there is a particular guest we want to have on the show, or even just an expert on a particular topic, that doesn’t come through our usual route for guests. Then I have to go online and find their contact information. It usually takes me less than five minutes, even if I don’t know their name when I start out.

That should scare you. Yes, you. Every one of my readers needs to understand how easy it is to find someone online. I can track down almost anyone, and I do not have access to police searches. Nor do I subscribe to any credit reporting service. I Google it. If a person is online in any fashion, their contact information is usually there for the taking. If someone even mentions their name online, I can find them. It happened today, in fact, when I was looking for a guest for the show.

Admittedly I have very good research skills, but you don’t even have to know how to use any of Google’s advanced search options. I used them years ago, but now I don’t even bother. I don’t have to. I don’t think there is anyone that I have looked for that I haven’t been able to find. Even people who do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Some people just shrug their shoulders at this – either because they don’t understand the danger, or because they’re already cynical about it. I can only be grateful that my stalker did not have access to the tools back then, that I have access to now. It was more than twenty years ago, and the internet wasn’t in everyone’s home yet. My parents had it, but I didn’t know anyone else that did. I didn’t even know how to use it, because I didn’t live with them anyone. It certainly wasn’t the indispensable tool then that it is now.

Imagine, though, that you’ve got a neighbour who doesn’t like you. Maybe they don’t even know your name, because you’ve never introduced yourself. A quick look online to match your address to a name listed in the White Pages, and suddenly they’re harassing you on social media because you waited an hour longer than usual to bring your garbage can inside. Yes, I’ve had neighbours that were like that. Not that incident specifically, but similar in magnitude. They didn’t like how fast I drove up to my house in my own driveway. Confused? Yeah, so was I. They almost killed a couple of friends of mine by messing with the tires on my car, which later caused it to flip over multiple times. It was a very good thing they were wearing their seat belts. They also thought it was a lark to siphon gas from my car, leaving me stranded many miles from a gas station.

Those kinds of people are everywhere in the world. They think you looked at them funny one day, and suddenly they’re justified in taking a crazy revenge on you, when what you were really thinking about at the time was that you forgot to buy sugar and you were really ticked at yourself. Now you have a mortal enemy you were completely unaware of making.

The fact that I’m very opinionated about certain things and express those views online, makes me a target as well, but at least I went into that knowingly. Every once in a while I have to take a break from it, because I don’t enjoy being called names. However, my beliefs don’t just disappear because someone calls me a political psycho or an idiot. It’s kind of like what Jon Stewart said about values.

I do not consider my values to be hobbies, and though I might not like how people speak to me, and the disrespect I’m occasionally subjected to, I don’t generally take it lying down. When I do take a break it’s always with the intent of coming back full-strength again.

I recently did that with Facebook. I was getting some strange characters commenting on some of my threads – people who were not friends of mine, but rather friends of friends. It was getting to me to the point where I stopped being polite and was on the verge of spewing my own vitriol. That’s not acceptable behaviour to me, so I walked away, figuratively speaking. This illustrates the complete lack of anonymity perfectly, though. People who don’t even know you will spew hatred toward you because they disagree with your views. You can’t stop them. You can only resist engaging with them.

There is a lot of hatred in the world, and a lot of anger. When I say I’m a feminist it raises a lot of hackles. All I mean is that I believe men and women are of equal value and deserve equal treatment. It does not mean I think women are superior, or that men are jerks. It does not mean I’m a lesbian, or that I refuse to shave, though I stand up for the rights of those who are gay or don’t want to shave. My ball-busting is limited to those who treat me as less worthy than a male, and I don’t care whether it’s a male or female engaging in that behaviour. Of course, it helps that I’ve broken a vast majority of the stereotypes myself, and that provides credibility when I speak.

I still keep in mind, however, that I should never assume a determined person won’t find me. They will. If they really hate me enough, I can be found and my safety can be threatened. I haven’t been threatened thus far, and I intend to keep it that way if possible. That means I try to see more than one side of an issue, and acknowledge that others may have good reason for disagreeing with me. I’m not always successful, certainly, but making an effort helps. I’ve written articles for feminist publications and actually had people thank me for acknowledging the abuse and rape that occurs against men. I’ve had friends subjected to both that were were male so I’m well aware it happens, and it’s no laughing matter when anyone is hurt that way.

On the flip-side of anonymity, there are also those who perform criminal actions online, and those people can almost always be found as well. Very few people even bother with a proxy server when they commit certain criminal acts. There have been a number of 12-year-old-boy types who have been found that were threatening to rape and kill women. That sort of thing is usually seen in gaming culture. For some reason they think it’s okay to issue those threats, and think they’re safe from anyone knowing who they are. It’s one thing parents need to spend more time actively teaching their kids these days. It wasn’t so much of a problem ten years ago when it might have applied to my daughter, because online gaming hadn’t hit the levels it has now. I severely restricted her internet time back then, too, to make sure her homework was being done. If it wasn’t, she was grounded from her computer for long stretches of time. ‘Forever’ to a teenager.

There’s a good reason children under the age of thirteen aren’t supposed to have a Facebook account. It’s bloody dangerous. I honestly think it’s a terrible idea for them to have an account before they’re legal adults. Pedophiles search for victims online, and find them all too easily. Teenagers think they’re invincible, which doesn’t help, and they also have no knowledge usually about how to protect their personal information online. I’d be monitoring my daughter’s account constantly, if she were still a teenager. She didn’t have an account until she was an adult, though it had nothing to do with me. She just didn’t want one. Even now she limits it to friends she actually knows, rather than just letting anyone friend her, and she’s inherited some of my paranoia about personal information thankfully.

Even if it’s not a stalker looking for you, there are always those that chase down credit card information, or want to steal identities. The latter is very very easy to do, by the way. I know exactly how to do it, though I have not. If you’ve ever misplaced your wallet, even if it was returned to you, you really need to monitor all activity under your own name, and you may have to do it for the rest of your life. Keep an eye on your credit, and make sure there are no alternative addresses associated with your name. Do yourself a favour and don’t keep your birth certificate or SIN or SSN card in your wallet. Only have it with you when you’re going to need it for something specific. If someone manages to make a copy of them, they can use that to get other ID, and the ID will be the real deal, unlike having forged documents. This is especially a problem when you can change your information online through official government websites. Their website security will mean little if someone else has all the right information to get past their security checks.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m not some hot blonde that shows her cleavage in every ID photo. I don’t do ‘duck face’. Ever. I’m not young. I’m not a famous celebrity. I’m not rich. I still take precautions, and so should you. I’ve chosen to have an online presence in order for my voice to be heard every once in a while, but just because you haven’t chosen that doesn’t mean you’re any less vulnerable than I am. A lot of information will already be available about you online, no matter what you do. Just don’t add to it and make it even easier for someone to find you

Stopping the Insidious Craving for Obsessive Love, Stalking and Domestic Violence

The massive popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is more than a little bit alarming. I have nothing against a little role playing, or even BDSM if that’s what you’re into in the bedroom. Two consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want. The problem I have is when it gets romanticized as a way of life. When a man tells a woman, “I will find you,” that’s the sign of someone who is seriously mentally disturbed. It’s not sexy – it’s very, very scary.

I come from a place of personal experience here. I’ve been raped, I’ve been stalked, and I’ve been held against my will. It was far from being a turn-on, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s called self-preservation and survival. When you’re in a seriously dangerous situation with someone who is unstable, it’s pretty damn stupid to want to jump their bones.

So why do people get off on this kind of thing? Because it’s a fantasy. Fantasy is fine, and frankly it’s a whole lot of fun. Fantasy with another person can be even more fun and sexy. What it requires, however, is a very deep level of trust. So many people are paying to read 50 Shades, and then they’re traipsing off to the theatre to see it. Far too many people are thinking it’s just opening up people’s minds to BDSM. It’s not. BDSM needs to remain in the bedroom. When one person in a relationship is being subjugated constantly and it becomes a way of life, eventually that person is going to want to do something their ‘master’ doesn’t want them to do. When that happens the reaction can be terrifying.

What we need to figure out is why this is still such a prevalent fantasy for women. If you’re one of those women, it’s extremely important. In fact, it can be life-and-death important. There are women in domestic violence situations who cannot break away because they’ve been conditioned to believe a man should have control over them. They believe that physical strength in men is to be desired, rather than mental strength. When it comes time to press charges they don’t want to, no matter how badly they may have been hurt. Men are constantly forgiven for abuses against the person they’re supposed to love and cherish above all others, society passing it off as a private issue.

I’m not one of those people, and I’ve personally boycotted any celebrities I’m aware of that have engaged in that sort of behaviour (once it’s been proven, of course). I’ll never pay for a Mel Gibson movie again in my life, or a Mötley Crüe CD or song as long as Tommy Lee is involved with the project. I don’t care if they’ve gone to jail and ‘paid’ for their crimes. I don’t think the criminal justice system takes it seriously enough, and that’s especially true of celebrities with lots of money to spend on high-priced lawyers. Real men do not lay hands on women in anger. They have no need to ‘prove’ their control over another person. Any man who does this is inherently weak, and is looking for ways to compensate.

This is what needs to be stressed to both women and men in order to avoid tragedies in the future, such as domestic violence and murder. The perception that a man is strong because he is physically capable of pushing someone around, and that it makes him sexy when he shows how ‘manly’ he is, is a very big part of the problem. Truly strong people have no need to do this. If more women understood this, they would be much less impressed by physically violent men. Controlling a woman doesn’t make a man strong – having no need to control anyone is the true indicator of strength. That’s called self-esteem. It’s only the men who feel insecure that attempt to control others, in part because they have no control over themselves or their own lives. The more insecure a person is, the more of a control-freak they usually are.

When you really stop and think about that – I mean sit down and actually concentrate on it – it’s not hard to start feeling contempt toward people who behave that way, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or woman exhibiting the behaviour. When you truly realize that only someone who feels weak will pick on others and bully them, we start to lose respect for them. We can see that they must have serious problems of their own that are triggering the behaviour, and it’s less and less likely that we will allow them that control over us. It doesn’t apply only to domestic violence, either.

When it comes to role-playing, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with it. As long as there’s a clear delineation between reality and fantasy. Some people enjoy subjugation, but when you take a mental trip and imagine your entire life spent in bending to the will of another, how many people truly want that as a part of their lives? What happens when you come home from a job you love, and your partner tells you that you have to quit so you can serve them? What happens when you’re not allowed to see friends and family members that you love? What happens when you start having to explain the bruises to other people? Are you going to start lying and covering up? If your response to a query is simply a smirk and a fond memory of the night before, that’s fine. If your response is along the lines of fearing what will happen if others find out, maybe you need to do some serious thinking about where you want your relationship to go, or if you want it going anywhere.

Stop Paying for Cable When You Can Get it Free – Legally

The cable broadcasting industry has always been less than stellar when it comes to value for your money, and in their business practices. It always starts out with that infamous introductory package where you can get basic cable for a low monthly rate for the first three months or so, but then the price goes up. Sure, they’re usually legally required to list in the fine print what your rates will go up to after that introductory period is over, and they have to tell you how long you need to use their services in order to get that temporary low price, but so much of our society is based on instant gratification and add-ons (otherwise known as up-selling) that it really isn’t hard for them to rip people off.

Almost everyone who subscribes to cable or satellite gets hooked into taking so-called specialty channels. Usually the one channel you actually want is grouped with several other channels, so you have to pay for the package rather than a la carte services. Even when they allow you to pay for a single channel’s subscription, the group price seems like it would be a much better deal. So, in addition to ‘basic cable’ which doesn’t seem to give anyone any of the channels they like, you go for the enhanced services.

Now, of course, we have high definition TVs, and even Ultra HD and 3D. Let me explain to you how high definition works. It’s exactly like the analogy about chains being only as strong as their weakest link. You will most likely never have true HDTV, because there is always a weak link in the signal chain. Somewhere along that chain there is a flaw where in one tiny little place (and often in many places) there is a wire or piece of equipment that is not HD-capable. Maybe it’s your neighbourhood wires, and chances are good you’re not among the 1% who live in fancy neighbourhoods with the best of everything. Most local cable outfitters do not have the money to replace the old, out-of-date equipment with HD. Small towns, people who live out in the country, poor neighbourhoods in every city, etc. You’re also going to have general signal loss, and if you’re paying for HD I bet you’ve noticed that it didn’t live up to your expactation. You were probably hoping it would be like watching a movie on Blu-ray. It should be, but it’s not.

It’s not uncommon for people to be paying up to $200 every month for their cable subscriptions. How much value are you getting for your money, do you think? Are you even aware that there’s a better way? Don’t forget all those additional fees and service charges they tack onto your bill that make absolutely no sense to you – and there’s a good reason they make no sense, since they’re total BS. If you watch 10 hours of television every month, you’re paying $20 an hour for your entertainment. Granted, most people watch a fair bit more than that. 5 hours per week is almost bare minimum for the average person, so you’re paying $10 even at that. I won’t bother calculating average number of family members. Most people at this point would say this is a reasonable price to pay for entertainment. Is television as good as a movie? That’s a highly subjective thing, so I can’t answer that. I just know that I have zero interest in watching TV, but I love movies, so I wouldn’t pay that much for TV since it isn’t worth it to me.

For those who love television programming, however, they’re still getting ripped off in a big way. Many of the shows broadcast on cable networks are available online. If you do not have a computer or internet access, then by all means do what you like regarding TV programming. If you’re paying for both cable/satellite TV and internet, however, they’re double-dipping into your wallet. A lot of networks stream their shows right on their own websites. Yes, there are commercials, because that’s how they pay their actors the big bucks, but it’s completely legal and you can watch it whenever you press the play button for the video to stream. All you’re doing is cutting out the middle man.

So, what about those who don’t like watching TV on their computers? Well, almost every computer now has an HDMI output that goes directly into your TV. Think of your mouse as your remote, and you’re all set. HDMI was a huge step forward in connectivity, because the wire acts as 2-way communication between devices, and a lot more than one signal is being sent at a time. All audio and video can be transmitted this way, and your computer will know it’s connected to a TV, and your TV will know if a signal is being transmitted. Like the old fax machines that almost no one has a need for these days (yes, there are free fax services available online, too), there is a handshake signal between devices. Kind of a, “Hi! How ya doin’?” in machine-speak. Except now you don’t need to hear those annoying squealing sounds as it sends frequencies across the line.

One big benefit to this is that any show you watch online, streaming from the original network, the resolution is usually very good. Like YouTube, there’s a lot of stuff shown in 1080p (which is literally 1,080 lines of resolution broadcast all at once – the little ‘p’ stands for progressive scan, as opposed to a little ‘i’ which means interlaced, where only half the lines are showing at a time). You’re really only limited by your own computer, and the cable that you use. Both are things you have control over, rather than some crappy cable line that might be a thousand miles away. The video is sent as a data packet, rather than a broadcast signal, and so it behaves more like a DVD or something similar.

If you really, really do not like connecting your laptop or PC to your TV, there are other alternatives to standard cable companies. Things like Hulu and Netflix. If you’re interested, I would suggest further reading here. Or simply do a Google search for ‘cable tv alternatives’ and lots of stuff will come up. In my case our major phone company does an internet TV service, in addition to the satellite service they already offer, but it’s Bell Canada, and I’ll never recommend them to anyone. They’re one of the worst price-gouging companies in my country. (They still haven’t realized that I can get cell service for about half the price they charge for a landline, and at least one cell provider is unlimited in both Canada and the US for everything including data.)

What it boils down to is this: Are you sick of paying for things you can get for free, or for reasonable amounts like $100 per year? That cable bill adds up, especially when you’re paying rental charges on receivers for every room in which you have a TV – and they charge more for the ones that have on-demand capability, like PVR/DVR boxes. When I had cable so I could watch the basketball games, it cost me a fortune – that sports package had an insane price attached to it. Now those games are broadcast online, and I’ve been watching them that way for years. It’s not just NBA games either. They have pretty much everything, including European football. The games are live, and they broadcast the ones that you can’t get on cable, too – you know, those ones they black out in your area to encourage people to go to the local games in person.

I don’t know about you, but I got really tired of them charging me almost $10 for licensing fees, $20 for equipment rental, $15 for the sports networks and enhanced cable, $5 for each additional channel pack, taxes, distribution, basic cable rates, etc. Never mind the sudden jump in price after the three months were over, or the pre-billing most cable companies do. That’s the reason your first bill is so high. They prorate what you’ve already used that month, and bill in advance for the next month. Not to mention the service fee for ‘installing’ your cable – ahem – that’s calling typing a command into their computers, usually, since it often doesn’t require a visit from a technician unless you’re technically inept enough that you can’t screw a cable line onto the threaded peg of your wall outlet. When you move, of course, you’re usually charged a service fee for ‘installation’ again. They have to shut off service at your old house, and turn it on in the new one. Woopee. I’m sure you can sense my sarcasm.

The fact is, cable and satellite TV are luxuries. They’re not necessary for us to survive. However, we live in a consumer society and we can’t stand being bored. We will go to any lengths not to have to entertain ourselves, apparently, and that means TV for most people. So, if you’re broke, or just interested in keeping the money you’ve worked so hard for, this is one way of lightening the monthly load on your wallet.

Most people need internet service (in North America at least), for one reason or another. In my case I make part of my livelihood online. Even for those who do not work online, there’s the simple fact that it’s impossible to even find a job now, if you don’t have internet. Most employers want resumes e-mailed, most job-finding can only be done online, and even the government (in Canada anyway) uses the internet as its main source for helping people find work (they have a Job Bank online), as well as for people using government services such as employment insurance (similar to UI in the states). Here we file reports every two weeks, and they encourage you to go online to do it. Even changing the address on your driver’s licence, or renewing it, is done online here. Same with our health cards. We can file our taxes online, and Revenue Canada prefers it that way since they’re stored more easily as data. Plus you get your refund a lot faster if you file online.

The internet is now an intrinsic part of our lives. TV might have been at one time, but so many of us get our entertainment in different ways these days that it seems pointless to be paying those ridiculous fees. If you’re anything like me, and any of what I’ve said here has sunk in, you’re probably pretty annoyed right now about how much money your cable company is getting from you. So, don’t just stand there – do something about it once your contract is up, and tell them why you’re leaving. Maybe they’ll pay attention if enough people get fed up. Probably not, but it’s always worth it to be honest.