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Who you gonna call?

This is a tale of woe we want to share with you because it’s interesting – and it’s a great example of ‘buyer beware’. It’s technical, so read on at your own risk.

Like everyone else (almost) on the planet, we believed we had to have a third party anti-virus system on our computers. We’ve had a few over the years – Macafee, Norton, AVG. A few years ago we switched to Avast’s freebie, then I decided to upgrade to a paid plan because it countered risks like malware. We had the Premium package, and have run that for a couple of years. Last November, I splurged on the $80 secureline option which was supposed to secure my internet connection.

In the last few weeks, around Christmas time, Avast started coming up with error messages informing Pete, whose machine is connected to the router, that such and such network had been changed from private to public.  At first, we didn’t take much notice, but as it became more common, we paid attention. We didn’t even recognise some of the network names. We couldn’t find out anything much about the message, so we contacted what we thought was Avast’s Australian online support. This was conducted via a chat interface.

Peter explained the issue and asked if the network switching from private to public was something to worry about. Yes, was the answer. We were transferred to someone else, who put us in contact with technical support. The tech’s name was (apparently) Jones. He asked for permission to take over the machine so he could check the status of the firewall and settings. Since we were connected to Avast we granted permission, and the conversation proceeded. Here’s a transcript.

11:36 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:37 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:37 AM Jones restarting application as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Application running as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:38 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:38 AM You have granted full permission to Jones. To revoke, click the red X on the toolbar or press Pause/Break on the keyboard.

11:38 AM Remote Control started by Jones.

11:39 AM Jones: Hi, May I have your full name and your email address please?

11:39 AM Customer: Gret Johanna van der Rol gretavdr@gmail.com

11:39 AM Customer: Greta

11:40 AM Jones: Thank you, May I chck your fire wall settings?

11:40 AM Customer: Please do

11:41 AM Jones: Thank you, please dont move your mouse while I check

11:47 AM Jones: do you see those errors?

11:47 AM Customer: Yes, windows update failure

11:48 AM Jones: Most of the services were got effected. It seems already the security layer of your computer might have severely got effected  that may allow others to access your computer without any authorization anytime.

11:49 AM Jones: Did you download anything from internet recently?

11:49 AM Jones: From a non reliable resource

11:49 AM Customer: Free books from Instafreebie?

11:50 AM Jones: Okay, Let me check one more thing

11:50 AM Jones: Please wait

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

11:52 AM Customer: Yes. Can you turn it back on?

11:52 AM Jones: Sure, Even If I turn it on the onfection on your computer might turn it off soon

11:52 AM Jones: Let me show you something important

11:54 AM Jones: I hope you cane see the number of infections

11:55 AM Customer: Yes. What should I do?

11:55 AM Jones: We need to get rid of all these values fast, they could alter the functionality of software on your computer and may finally crash it. Eventually when the other programs are executed, even more programs may get “infected” with these self-replicating infected files.

11:56 AM Customer: Sure. How do we do that

11:56 AM Jones: Not to worry, We will do that for you. we found the exact locations to fix it. Today we will do a complete clean-up of your PC, fix your email issue, secure all the Pc and email ports, reconfigure all infected programming files, so that this issues is fixed and your computer would be safe without any data loss and computer crashes.

11:56 AM Customer: Excellent

11:57 AM Jones: Now for me to perform this task, we have few fix options for you. Let me give you a brief about the options. May I?

11:57 AM Customer: Yes please

11:58 AM Jones: 1. One time fix [Manual Clean-up + Today”s Fix] : $179.99

  1. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 1 Year : $299.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  2. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 2 Years : $399.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  3. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 3 Years : $499.99 (Includes today’s fix)

* The Unlimited plan also includes today’s fix.

* We will also install a calling card on your computer wherein you can reach our technicians automatically just by one click at any time.

Benefits of Unlimited Tech Plan : (Best value for money)

  1. Help to protect your privacy, data and online identity.
  2. Support for all kinds of Software related issues.
  3. Security against hackers programs, Viruses, spywares.
  4. Complete manual check-up periodically
  5. Cleanup of Registry & infected files.
  6. On Demand System Security Check.
  7. Fixing will be done in no time.
  8. We are just click away, no hold time to reach us.

I would suggest you to go for the long term as there are several issues on your PC and better value for your money.

12:00 PM Customer: Isn’t this what we’re paying Avast for, so this doesn’t happen?

12:00 PM Jones: the truth is no anti-virus is fool proof, so that’s the need of manual clean-up of any threats like Trojans, spywares at least once a month so that you can eliminate any threats immediately. This is where the human intervention is required.

12:01 PM Jones: Manual clean up is completly different from software clean up

12:03 PM Customer: I’ll do the option 1. Please make sure everything that should be turned on, is.

12:04 PM Jones: We will ensure that all the issues will be fixed

12:04 PM Jones: Shall I proceed with the one time fix

12:04 PM Customer: Yes please

12:06 PM Jones has sent a link: daskanini.com

12:08 PM Customer: Jonesy, we thought we were talking with Avast.  How did Log Me Rescuue get involved.

12:09 PM Jones: We do support for Avast products

12:09 PM Jones: Logmein rescue is the remote tool which is used to take the remote control

12:09 PM Jones: Thats a third party tool which everyone use

12:10 PM Customer: So who are you?

12:10 PM Jones: We are daskanini LLc

12:10 PM Jones: We support for Avast products

12:11 PM Customer: Well we’ll talk to Avast before we do anything.

12:11 PM Jones: Okay, I understand that, we gurantee 100 percent fix, if not you will get your money back

12:14 PM Customer: Send me your email address so we can get back to you, shortly.

12:18 PM Customer: You still there?

12:19 PM Customer: Email info@tekfixgo.com

12:19 PM Customer: Thks

12:19 PM Customer has revoked all permissions.

12:19 PM Remote Control by Jones stopped.

12:20 PM You have denied full permission to Jones.

12:21 PM Jones has ended the session.

We started getting suspicious at the size of the fee, although we seemed to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. So we got an email address, and closed the call. Then we did some homework.

First , note this statement.

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

In fact, when a third-party product like Avast is installed, Windows Defender has to be turned off.

Next, here’s a screen shot of Event Viewer from my machine. This was what Jones was showing us when he says ‘do you see all those errors?’ (Remember, my machine was fine – we were working on Peter’s)

Note the error messages. Scary stuff, huh? Well, no, actually. Scammers use that technique to trick people into thinking there’s a problem.
http://www.howtogeek.com/123646/htg-explains-what-the-windows-event-viewer-is-and-how-you-can-use-it/

The next thing to do was make sure the system on Peter’s machine was clean of any malware. I followed the steps detailed in this PC World article. Make sure you download a malware program such as MalwareBytes before you reboot your machine in safe mode. We were not surprised to discover there was nothing wrong with the machine and made sure to get rid of logmein, the program the scammers used to take over the machine.

We were pretty incensed that the support person had put us through to a scammer, so we contacted the company via email. After some discussion, we learned that we had not been talking to Avast at all. If you google Avast support you’ll see a list of sites purporting to support Avast customers. A couple of them are Avast.antivirussupportaustralia.com and getavast.net/support. They’re all scammers. We should have gone to the Avast site (Avast.com/en-au/support.) There’s nothing Avast or any of the other companies hit by these people can do to stop the scammers. They buy a domain name that sounds right (antivirus support australia). That’s perfectly legal. If we’d looked more carefully at the site, we would have found a very badly written disclaimer in the footer, stating that the company had no affiliation with Avast. But we didn’t.

So, we’ve learned a lesson. However, at least we had the sense to back off and investigate.

Take care out there, people. There are unscrupulous people who want to take advantage of you.

*******************************************************************************

Oh, and by the way, I’ve good a new book out if you’re into SF romance. Not too much romance, lots of intrigue and planet-hopping.

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother, and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

Buy it now on Amazon  Google iBooks Nook Kobo  (I’ll add them as they go live)

 

Teaser Tuesday – Starheart #sfrg

Today I’m sharing a short excerpt from one of my favourite scenes in Starheart. Do please note the use of coarse language. It’s one of Jess’s characteristics, so if you object to the F-word, this book is probably not for you. In this scene Admiral Hudson has had Jess’s ship stopped. She has been brought to his office to be interviewed.

_____________________________

Starheart coverHudson hardly had time to make himself comfortable in his chair when his clerk said via his implant, “Captain Sondijk is here, Sir.”

He sat back in his seat, watching the door when she entered. Her grey ship suit was unzipped at the front and the scoop-necked white shirt she wore underneath revealed a tantalizing expanse of breast. The last time she’d been brought aboard she’d dressed for the occasion but this time she probably didn’t even realize. Her eyes blazed with fury as she barged into his office, flanked by a lieutenant and two troopers. No, intimidation didn’t work on Jess Sondijk.

“What in blazes is this about? Annoyed I stood you up?”

“Thank you, Lieutenant, you may go,” Hudson said.

He waited until the door closed behind the troopers. “I admit, I’m not accustomed to being stood up.”

She slammed both her palms on his desk and leaned toward him, affording him a lovely view of her cleavage. “You are not the fucking center of the universe.”

His gaze slid down to admire the swell of her breasts. Nice. Exquisite. Two delicious handfuls. His mouth watered. The prospect of a close and personal encounter with that body was enough to give a man a hard-on.

She pushed herself upright. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Do you ever think about anything but your cock?”

He leaned back, grinning. “If you flaunt your assets, my dear, you can hardly blame me for looking.”

Scowling, she zipped up her suit.

“Very good. Now sit.” He pointed at the visitor’s chair beside her.

“Go to hell. You have no reason, no right to stop me and impound my ship. I’ve done nothing wrong and I’ve other things to do apart from some … some sort of verbal foreplay with you.” She folded her arms, staring down at him.

“You’re supposed to be having dinner with me at Aristides in a few hours’ time. Instead, you’ve careered off Nordheim as if all the demons in hell were after you. Where are you going and why?”

“None of your business.”

He held her gaze. “We can continue with this for as long as you like. But you will not be moving out of this office, let alone off this ship, unless you can give me a good reason.”

_________________________________

Starheart is available at all the usual places.

About that Clean Reader app…

canstockphoto6077467Of course I’ve got an opinion about the censorship app. But today is my turn on Spacefreighters’ Lounge, so you’ll be able to see me up on the soapbox over there. http://spacefreighters.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/if-that.html

Come on over and say g’day.

 

 

Teaser Tuesday – a piece from Morgan’s Choice #sfrgtt

MC Poster2Hi. It’s Teaser Tuesday again. Here’s a snippet from one of my earliest books, Morgan’s Choice. This is the first 230 words, where you’ll meet the main character, be introduced to the problem, and see the setting.

******************************

Steam rose from Jones’ food pack, filling Curlew’s tiny common room with the aroma of beef stew. “That’s one month down.” He took the container out of the warmer and brought it the two steps to the table.

Morgan glanced up at him, still chewing, as he sank down on the bench opposite. She swallowed her own food. “Yeah.”

One month’s worth of the existing food supply gone. Another month, maybe a little longer if they rationed even further and then perhaps they’d be fishing Tariq’s body out of the cargo hold, wondering if a bit of cannibalism might be in order. The thought made her gag but at least it was an option. Running out of air—that was something else altogether.

She speared some more synthetic plast-food from her own food pack and lifted it to her mouth.

A staccato bleeping shattered the silence.

She flung her fork on the table, leapt through the forward hatch into the bridge and dropped into the captain’s chair, her heart pounding with a mixture of excitement and tension, hope and apprehension. She flicked off the wide-range scanner’s alarm and reached into the computer system with her mind to adjust the sensors to maximum magnification. Something had just come out of shift-space close enough to trigger the warning. Maybe she’d got it all wrong and Curlew was still in Coalition space. Because otherwise…

********************************

Want to know more? Pick your favourite book seller here

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Butcher meets the berzhan #sfrgtt

http://www.canstockphoto.com/golden-chinese-dragon-5632075.html

http://www.canstockphoto.com/golden-chinese-dragon-5632075.html

Hi and thanks for coming. This is a snippet from Crisis at Validor, in which Brett Butcher meets the planet’s fabled berzhani for the first time. They are not unlike the creature in the picture – although that one’s a statue.

**********************************

The chamber glowed with soft light emanating from jewels set into carvings on the walls, the eyes of berzhani. They covered the surface, a mass of interweaving creatures with multi-colored backs. Butcher had trouble suppressing the shiver. He hadn’t see a live animal at all, so far. It was time he pulled himself together and stopped behaving like a child.

Lurmask stopped. “This is Berzhan Khun, the cavern of the dragon.” Xeszno and Lena stood beside him, while the khiphra approached the far wall, all her tentacles waving rhythmically.

Movement. Butcher stiffened.

The base of the wall seemed to shift and transform, taking on a different pattern, drawing back from the rock. A column rose up in front of the high priestess. A column with glowing red eyes.

Butcher’ legs turned to jelly. The breath caught in his throat. Fuck. Oh, fuck. The bloody thing was huge, as thick as his own body and he couldn’t see the end of its tail. The great tapered head hung above the khiphra like a portent of doom.

***********************************

Picture of cover for Crisis at ValidorNewly-promoted Captain Brett Butcher is about to achieve his life-long ambition to command a battle cruiser. But before he takes up his new posting, he goes home on leave, hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of his first love, the unattainable Lady Tarlyn.

When the queen is assassinated in a terrorist attack, Tarlyn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she, too, becomes a target. The last person she expects to rescue her is her childhood sweetheart, Brett Butcher.

As Validor’s Ptorix and human populations face off over a group of islands neither owns, the calls for war grow louder. Torn between duty and ambition, Butcher and Tarlyn struggle to prevent an inter-species conflict, while the ember of love that has smouldered for so long bursts into flame.

But with planetary peace at stake, both will be forced to choose; love or duty.

Buy the book

Happiness is a new camera #photo

When you get past a certain number of years on the timeline of life you don’t wait for birthdays to give yourself presents. I’ve had a Canon 550D camera for several years now, and it has served me very well, but I’d started to yearn for something better. My favourite subjects are moving birds and whales and there had been a few times when I’d thought I’d captured a stunner, only to find it was slightly out of focus, or fuzzy around the edges.This is an example. It looks great small, but blow it up to full resolution and it’s not quite there.

sea eagle

So when I discovered that a lot of photographers who published their work in National Geographic used the Canon 5D Mark III I went into lust overdrive. After a few sleepless nights I thought what the hell? You can’t take your money to heaven (or hell, for that matter). So I used some of my writing earnings and became the proud owner of a 5D.

It’s a whole new learning curve, but here are a few shots I’ve taken with it so far. I think it’s worth it already.

Hold on tight

Hold on tight

Coming in

Coming in

butterfly on rosemary

butterfly on rosemary

 

 

 

Should content warnings be standard on books?

WARNING symbol

The subject of ‘trigger warnings’ has come up for heated discussion among my circles of friends. For those of you who have just emerged from under a rock, “Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as ‘trigger warnings’, explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans,” The New York Times reports.

The debate has been split between (surprise) those who think this sort of thing is warranted, and those who do not. My knee-jerk reaction was that it’s nonsense. The blurb on the cover should be enough, that we already live in a nanny state that governs far too much. After all, readers can always stop reading.

But on the other hand, movies and TV shows have a code of practice. In Australia, the national broadcaster prefaces any show which will show the image of a deceased Aboriginal person with a warning for the benefit of Aboriginal people that such content will be shown. It’s part of their culture not to see images of the dead. We’re warned about movies which contain violence, nudity, bad language and the like, and in Australia the content is rated G, PG, M, MA 15+, R 18+ or X 18+. You’ll find the explanations here.

And that segues neatly into a discussion I had recently about the use of the “F-bomb” in books. I wrote a blog post on the subject. To save you bothering to read it, essentially I treat “fuck” as just another word. It has its place and conveys information about the person using it. I have received more than one complaint about the use of swearing in my books. I’m not sure why a written word offends anybody. But to each his/her own.

I have also received complaints about explicit sex scenes. I write mainly science fiction romance, so the book’s genre might be a clue that sex happens. Some of the online book stores (Omnilit and All Romance come to mind) ask authors to indicate the level of ‘heat’ in their books, going from none through to five, which means it’s erotic. I’d set mine as two or three on that scale: consenting sex between heterosexual adults once, maybe twice in the novel.

Perhaps larger sellers like Amazon and Smashwords should introduce a similar coding system for the benefit of readers. Perhaps a setup such as that used by The Fussy Librarian would work. Or maybe I need to add a sentence to my blurb:

WARNING contains bad language, violence and some explicit sex scenes

Mind you, most of my books are basically adventure stories, not intended to offend anybody. But what would I do with To Die a Dry Death, which contains terrible acts of violence, a couple of times graphically portrayed, and also an explicit sex scene? None of the content is there for gratuitous titillation. It’s part of the story – and it happens to be true. If I wrote this book with no overt violence, I’d be sanitisng events which should not be sanitised. I feel rather the same about the sex scene, which qualifies at best as dubious consent. So…

WARNING contains strong violence and one explicit sex scene depicting dubious consent

But then, where do you stop? Does the use of a word like ‘fuck’ qualify as profanity? What about ‘damn’ or ‘bugger’? How much violence is strong violence (if we’re not talking horror)? And then down to specifics. What sort of warning would you put on the bible, which includes rape, and incitement to violence, just to name a couple? What about a novel like John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, which has a number of harrowing scenes regarding the rape and torture of a young black girl, although it’s a story about a trial? Or for me, what about that dreadful, dreadful scene at the beginning of The Horse Whisperer, where the horse and the girl are hit by a truck?

Should we be warning our readers? If so, about what? I’d love to know what you think.

A place like home

picture of map of BataviaAlthough the vast majority of the action in To Die a Dry Death happens on the Abrolhos Islands, some of it takes place in the city of Batavia itself. Pelsaert had a meeting with Governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen to inform him the ship Batavia had been wrecked, Pelsaert had a second meeting with the new governor, Jaques Specx, when he returned with the survivors, and there were some brief scenes involving Captain Adriaen Jacobsz and the people in the longboat, both within the city and in the fort. To write those scenes with any conviction, I needed to be able to visualise the rooms, the harbour, the town square, and the dungeons in the fort.

While I’d been able to find plenty of information about the ship, the longboat and the Islands, the 1629 city of Batavia was another matter. I gleaned what I could from reading, and visited the website of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to find maps and paintings of the period. Then I used Google Earth to find the remains of Old Batavia in the city of Djakarta, looking up landmarks in plans I found to get a realistic idea of how the city was laid out. The formidable fort in which Jacobsz and the surviving members of Cornelisz’s gang were incarcerated had been torn down in Indonesia’s wrestle for independence after WW2. There’s no trace of it, now. The site is a railway yard. But the sea is close by, now, as it was then.

So what did Batavia look like? Go to any city in the ‘new world’ that was colonised by Europeans and you’ll see the new settlers tried to transplant what they knew into their new surroundings. You’ll find terrace houses lining streets in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Fremantle, to name just a few. There are no doubt examples all over America, too. The Dutch were no different. They built the city in the Dutch style, although of course, they had to cater for the heat and humidity, so their houses were more open. They also dug canals, just like in Amsterdam. This turned out to not be the best move. Relatively still water in the tropics leads to mosquitoes and mosquitoes lead to malaria and other diseases, which led to the deaths of many, many people.sketch of a market scene in Batavia

As for clothing, the Indonesians themselves wore loose, light garments but the Dutch tried to hold onto the dark, stiff clothing they would have worn in Europe. This sketch I found in the Rijksmuseum’s catalogues illustrates the difference between the locals and the newcomers. The Dutch held onto the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Dutch men who decided to marry a local at any of their trading ports could not bring the wife or any resulting children, back to Holland. Such a man was Governor Specx, who married a Japanese woman. His daughter, Saartje, was left in Batavia when he returned to Holland for a visit, where she became involved in a scandal with a young man.

So I had to show a city set firmly in Indonesia which was at the same time as close to ‘home’ as the Dutch could make it. I also had to take into account that the city of Batavia was besieged in 1629, while Pelsaert was off on his rescue mission to the shipwreck victims. Coen had the countryside past his city walls burnt. Unable to supply their troops, the besiegers withdrew – but this action had an impact on the food supply to the city. It’s a small detail, but small details matter. Don’t you think?

What a midsummer blast! (Or midwinter, in my case)

Whatever the season where you are, huge thanks to everybody who popped by my blog as part of the Science Fiction Romance Brigade’s midsummer blog hop. I gather a lot of you learnt something here, and elsewhere along your journey through some GREAT blogs. And now it’s time to announce the prize winners!

Susan W., you’ve won an e-book copy of whichever of my titles most captures your fancy. I’ve sent you an email.

Thanks so much for participating. Main prize winners will be announced on the SFR Brigade website.

Midsummer nights

Midsummer. Long days, bright nights, a play by Shakespeare, the fabled White Nights in St Petersburg, where people don’t bother going to bed. A brief chance to party before the sun recedes for another year. It’s all based on the Earth’s angle of inclination and the point of its path around the sun.

Stonehenge, the famous stone circle on the Salisbury Plain in England, is the site of one of the best known midsummer celebrations. On the day of the solstice it is claimed that an observer in the centre of the ring will see the sun rise over the heel stone. But actually, that isn’t true.

More than one person has pointed out that ancient people were less likely to care about the summer solstice than the winter solstice and indeed, it seems Stonehenge was set up to record the mid-winter event. This rather good article gives more information. Why? Because winter was a time of freezing cold and biting hunger. The nights were long and dark and people prayed and made sacrifices for the return of the sun. That’s why we celebrate Christmas in the way we do – many ancient traditions are mixed into the Christian myth.

Needless to say, lining the sun up with geological objects has made its way into science fiction and fantasy, too. One that springs to mind is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. Thread would return when the red star was bracketed in the star stone. The creation of the warning sign was part of the plot in Red Star Rising (Dragonseye in the US).

Mid winter isn’t always so awful, though. It depends on how far you live from the equator. It’s mid winter for me right now but in the sub-tropics it isn’t a real hardship. To those of you in the frozen north, enjoy your time in the sun.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something to read on the beach, and you like science fiction with a bit of romance on the side, you might like to download one of my books. Please come inside and check out the selection. Leave me a comment and be in the draw to win an ebook of your choice from my titles.

What’s more, you’ll be in the running to win one of TWO GRAND PRIZES!

1st Prize – a Kindle Touch or Nook Touch
2nd Prize -a library of science fiction romance titles from over 20 authors (these will be mostly ebooks with one print anthology), and an Anabanana Gift Card.

For more chances to win pop along to the blogs listed below and comment on as many as you want (only ONE comment per site will count as an entry). Each time you comment at a stop, you’ll earn one entry into the grand prize – so the more sites you visit, the greater your chances of winning. The winners will be drawn at random on the 24th June and announced on this site. The list of participating authors can be found at this link.