This week’s photo leak is a reminder of the need for good passwords

This week, numerous celebrities, mostly female, had their Apple accounts hacked and intimate photos stolen and leaked. There are several things we all need to learn from this.

We don’t know yet exactly what happened, though I’ve heard several theories. One possibility is that the celebrities’ accounts were hacked recently. Another is that someone who’s been collecting these photos through various means was hacked.

The incident probably was inevitable, but it’s also entirely preventable. I can think of three things that led to it. While this discussion may seem purely academic, there are misconceptions many people, famous and not, have and need to get rid of.

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Exploiting Twitter

It’s interesting that I read two things about buying Twitter publicity today: John C Dvorak’s experiment for PC Magazine and an interview with my classmate and friend Ken. The idea is that people buy Twitter followers to make themselves look bigger than they are, whether they’re celebrities trying to make themselves look like they’re on their way up rather than down, or, like the scam my friend discovered, indie book authors trying to build a following.

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Remembering Rossino’s

I thought of Rossino’s, a hideaway Italian restaurant in St. Louis’ Central West End the other day. And then today, I saw the obituary for Nina Lee Russo, one of the owners of the secluded yet popular restaurant.

The obituary mentioned the restaurant closed in 2006, when the second generation wanted to retire. But the obituary mentioned some other facts that explained a few things. Read more

Do I believe the Enquirer story about Steve Jobs?

I don’t like gossip, and normally I wouldn’t stoop to the level of commenting on the National Enquirer’s claims that Steve Jobs has six weeks to live.

But it seems to me that a legitimate journalist’s opinion might interest someone. As someone who worked for a daily newspaper in 1996-97, I have a little bit of perspective on that.
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The death of Lyman Bostock

In September 1978, the death of Lyman Bostock rattled the California Angels’ heated division title race with the Kansas City Royals. The Angels’ star outfielder was murdered in Gary, Indiana at the age of 27.

ESPN has a tribute.

He’s the best baseball player you’ve never heard of, and quite possibly also the greatest human being you never heard of.My favorite quote from the ESPN tribute comes near the end. “I am parked outside his building, waiting, thinking, if I am a righteous, hard-nosed journalist, or whether — as my wife insists — I have taken this Lyman Bostock thing too far.

Lyman Bostock has that effect on the handful of people who know about him, even from the grave. Perhaps especially from the grave.

My pastor talked a few Sundays ago about heroes, and how athletes are often described as heroes, but they’re really just celebrities doing their job. Curt Schilling’s efforts to pitch the Boston Red Sox to a World Series on a crudely stitched together tendon in 2006 is often described as heroic, but it’s nothing like the people who put their very lives on the line every day to save other people’s lives–sometimes while injured just as badly as Schilling was.

I might actually be able to argue successfully that Bostock was a hero. He was one of baseball’s first big money free agents, signing a $2.5 million deal with the California Angels in 1978. His job: Play Hall of Fame-caliber defense in right field and hit .300. But in his first month, he went all Andruw Jones on the Angels and hit only .147. While lots of players will happily collect big paychecks while hitting like pitchers, Bostock went to the owner and tried to return his paycheck. The owner refused, so he gave the money to charity instead. Thousands of charities wrote asking for the money, and he read every letter, trying to determine where the money would do the most good.

The year before, he made $20,000 and had been living in an apartment. So this really was his first really big paycheck.

Bostock wasn’t used to hitting like Tony Pena Jr. He was used to challenging the likes of George Brett and Rod Carew (now both Hall of Famers) for batting titles. He worked hard to pull his batting average back up to .300. On September 23, while playing the Chicago White Sox, he went 2 for 4 and raised his batting average to .296 but grounded into the final out of a 5-4 loss.

He never played another major league game.

That night, he visited his uncle, Tom Turner, and other relatives in nearby Gary, Indiana. While eating dinner, he asked about Joan Hawkins, a girl he used to read to as a child. They drove over for a brief visit. She and her sister Barbara asked if they could have a ride to a neighbor’s. Turner agreed, so they piled into the car.

Little did anyone know that Barbara’s estranged husband, Leonard Smith, was sitting outside Hawkins’ house in his car. And he had a gun. Smith saw Barbara get into the back seat of the car with Bostock, concluded the two were having an affair, and followed them.

At the corner of Fifth and Jackson, Smith pulled up next to Turner’s car. He rolled down the window, looked into the car, smirked, and fired a .410 bore shotgun blast into the back window. Bostock slumped over onto Barbara’s shoulder. It was 10:44 PM.

Bostock died a few hours later in the ICU at St. Mary’s Mercy hospital.

The police found Smith later that same day. Barbara recognized him when he fired the shot, and when police knocked on his door, he was even wearing the same clothes. They had their man, and everyone knew it.

No one contested he fired the shot that killed Lyman Bostock. But in June 1980, he was released from Logansport State Hospital after less than a year. He’s been a free man ever since.

Smith had a good lawyer who knew Indiana law at the time had a loophole so big he could fly a 747 through it. He argued that Smith was temporarily insane when he murdered Lyman Bostock. Then he turned around and won his client’s release by arguing that he was no longer insane.

The Bostock murder caused that law to change. But no law could bring back Lyman Bostock, the ballplayer with the bat of Rod Carew and the heart of Mother Theresa. And he did it against the odds. His father, a former Negro Leagues first baseman, walked out on his mother when he was two years old, and like a plotline from a Tyler Perry movie, never made any attempt to be in his son’s life until he made it big as a professional ballplayer.

I was three years old when Bostock died. If I ever saw him play, I don’t remember it. I first read about him in 1984, in a book titled The Image of their Greatness. I still have the book and I never forgot its brief, haunting paragraph on Bostock, who even then was less well known than Ken Landreaux, the reserve outfielder who took his spot in the lineup the day Bostock died.

Lyman Bostock, 27 years of age, fleet hard-hitting Angels outfielder, was accidentally shot and killed on September 23, 1978. Bostock hit .323 in 1976 and .336 in 1977. One of the highest-paid players in baseball, he started slowly in 1978 and offered to return his April salary because he felt he didn’t deserve it. When the Angels declined his offer, he proved it was no empty gesture by donating the money to charity. The good, it has often been said, die young.

Had it not been for that day, Bostock probably still would have been playing baseball in 1984. Former teammate and Hall of Famer Rod Carew says Bostock was his equal with the bat. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said Bostock would win 5-6 batting titles before his career ended. It’s easy to imagine Bostock playing well into the 1990s, probably spending most of those years with his adopted hometown Angels, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame sometime around 2005 or 2006.

In some ways, Bostock reminds me of Bo Jackson: enough potential to be a Hall of Famer, but his career cut tragically short long before he could pile up the credentials to warrant induction into Cooperstown.

The difference is that senseless murder trumps a hip injury every day of the week.

I wish someone would make a movie about Lyman Bostock. I’d really like to take my son to see it. Of course I’d be delighted if my son can someday hit a baseball like Lyman Bostock, but more than that, I want him to be the kind of person he was.

There are precious few professional athletes I can say that about.

Still no (legal) prosecution for the Megan Meier Myspace suicide

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced today that he won’t prosecute the online vigilantes who drove Megan Meier to suicide in October 2006. Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, which has more details than the AP story.

Not only is the legal system failing Ron and Tina Meier, it’s also failing Lori Drew, her husband Curt, and Drew’s employee and co-participant, Ashley Grills.Here’s why I say that. Since the legal system offers no justice in this case, we’re seeing a mob of (rightfully) enraged people take matters into their own hands. Through these means, there is no due process, there’s no innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. There’s also collateral damage.

The real estate firm where Curt Drew used to work continues to get harassing phone calls from vigilantes. They dismissed him the week the story broke. The company did all that it could do, weeks ago. Now it’s someone’s job to sort through the legitimate phone calls and the calls telling them what rotten people they are for employing Curt Drew. Given the comments I see on online forums, it’s probably not a pleasant job.

According to another account I read, for all intents and purposes, Lori Drew’s junk-mail company, Drew Ad Vantage, is out of business. But the companies that once advertised with her continue to get phone calls. Some of them pulled their ads pretty quickly. The point is moot now, but the phone calls continue.

Police are having to patrol the neighborhood more often now because of threats and random acts of violence. Right now the neighbors don’t seem to mind–they’re as mad as anyone else, and have been for more than a year–but won’t that eventually grow tiresome?

This Riverfront Times article (the RFT is St. Louis’ equivalent of The Village Voice, if you want context) quotes Ron Meier as saying that now the Drews are tasting a bit of the hell he’s tasted for the past year.

I have a difficult time feeling sorry for these people. But the Internet isn’t exactly known for restraint.

It bothers me that Banas doesn’t think this case meets the requirements for state laws for either harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child. To mock the Megan Had it Coming blog, I showed all this to a friend of mine who is not only in college, he has two college degrees and is really smart, and he says that harassment over the phone or mail is illegal (celebrities prosecute people for it all the time, after all). You just prove point of origin. On the Internet, it’s possible to prove point of origin (it’s how the RIAA prosecutes people who download MP3s off P2P services). So what’s the difference? It’s just coming over a different pair of wires. Well, and it’s digital instead of analog. I guess that makes a difference, since everyone knows digital is better than analog.

It’s too bad The Honorable Jack Banas, Esq. didn’t ask my friend if it’s possible to trace communications over the Internet. Having degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he would know. Or he could ask me (I have to trace origins from time to time as part of my job), but my friend actually lives in St. Charles County, so he’s a constituent. It would probably be more appropriate to ask him. Plus, my friend is smarter than me (and not just because he has twice as many degrees as I have).

Banas says that some of what we’re seeing in news accounts isn’t true, actually going so far as to deny that Lori Drew participated in this harassment. In that case, she’s guilty of filing a false police report, since she stated as much in the police report, which anyone can read on the Smoking Gun.

I’ll share one final observation from my friend who’s really smart. I’ve seen pictures that purport to be of Lori Drew. Other people claiming to know her have surfaced on blogs and various other online hangouts and stated she is not an attractive woman. Tina Meier is a traditionally attractive woman, and Megan looks good in the most commonly used photo of her. It’s not hard to imagine that Lori Drew and her daughter were jealous of the Meier women, and some of their actions were motivated by it. Perhaps the things they said were things people had said to them, or things they thought about themselves.

I will grant the people who insist on playing devil’s advocate that Megan Meier has been sainted and the media accounts don’t provide a complete picture of her. But we do know she was getting treatment for her problems, she was taking her medicine, she was playing sports and she was losing weight. For a time, up until October 16, 2006, she was handling her problems in a constructive and proper manner.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been any good news on this front since that day.

This author says used book sales don\’t hurt authors or publishers

In case you didn’t know it, Amazon.com sells used books as well as new books. This New York Times story (via News.com) says authors and publishers still don’t like used book sales because they say it hurts new book sales.

I happen to be a published author. I say they need to quit whining.In case you didn’t know it, here’s how authors are generally paid. Authors get a royalty on each copy of the book sold. The royalty varies. On a typical Dummies book, the royalty is about 25 cents. Other publishers pay closer to 10 percent of the cover price. When you buy a book for $25, the author will probably see $1.50-$3 of it.

When the publisher agrees to take the book, the author gets an advance, usually of a few thousand dollars. Celebrities might get half a million or more. A first-time author might get less than $10,000. Generally the advance is determined based on expected sales. So I’ll always get a fraction of what a marketing machine like Phil McGraw gets, since he can essentially turn his daily TV show into an hour-long commercial for his book until he’s happy with the sales.

The advance is paid back by withholding royalties. So, if I were to get a $6,000 advance to write a book and got a royalty of $1 per copy, I would start seeing royalties after 6,000 books were sold.

Some people say used book sales hurt authors and publishers because these books exist and are bought and sold outside of this royalty structure. If you buy a used copy of Optimizing Windows, I don’t see a penny of it. Unfair, right?

Wrong. I got my royalty on that copy when the copy sold the first time.

The only time that a used book sale truly hurts the author or the publisher is when a copy that was sent to a reviewer or an otherwise free copy ends up on the used book market. This happens, even when the free copy is stamped “Not for resale” or something similar. But even then, the harm is minimal. Optimizing Windows got a huge burst in sales when Sandy McMurray reviewed it. Thanks to him, the book made Amazon’s Top 10 in Canada and even hit #1 a couple of times. He made me thousands sales. I don’t give a rip if he resold his review copy–it’s still a huge gain for me. As far as I’m concerned, if a review results in two book sales–which it inevitably will–that free copy did its job.

And, sadly, books go out of print. Once that happens, the only way to get a copy is to buy a used one.

I have no problem at all with used books. It keeps books circulating, and I believe that people who buy used books also buy new books. They’re also more likely to talk about books, which will result in more sales of both used and new books.

Besides, if you buy a book and you don’t think enough of it to keep it, shouldn’t you be able to get some of your money back out of it?

The RIAA owes you $20

In case you haven’t read about this elsewhere, be sure to file your claim if you purchased a CD, tape, or record at retail between the dates of Jan. 1, 1995 and Dec. 22, 2000.
This is the RIAA’s slap-on-the-wrist punishment for price fixing. If too many people file, the money goes to charity. And I’m curious what this will do to CD prices.

On an only semi-related topic, the RIAA asks for the last four digits of your social security number. I don’t know why they need that. You can find social security numbers of several of your favorite dead celebrities, including Richard Nixon, Dr. Seuss, and Kurt Cobain, here. (If the link goes dead, plug the URL into the Wayback Machine.

History, from the R.P. perspective.

Back in j-school, news directors and editors and professors extolled the virtues of the R.P. That’s journo-lingo for “Real person.” Not celebrities. Not network talking heads. Not news anchors. Not beat writers with agendas. Real people. People like you. And your next door neighbor.
The reason for that is pretty simple. Journalists don’t trust R.P.s, at least not in my experience, but the masses do. At least they trust R.P.s more than they trust slimy journalists. Not all R.P.s are trustworthy, but if you have to take odds, a higher percentage of R.P.s are trustworthy than journalists. So it goes. As a former journalist, I will have to say one thing about the almighty R.P.: Frequently the R.P. has seen or considered things that talking heads haven’t. Plus R.P.s tend to be more honest, because they don’t feel as much need to protect a public image. So they’re more likely to shoot straight with you.

And that’s why I think this is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a really long time. Google somehow got its mitts on some 20 years’ worth of Usenet messages. None of the news stories I saw on it said how they got this stuff, which is what I want to know. I’d love to know how complete it is.

But you’d probably love to know what Usenet is. Usenet is the ultimate public bulletin board system. Yes, most of its bandwidth is dedicated to the swapping of illegal copies of software and porn, but there’s a lot of chatter going on too, about every subject imaginable, plus all manner of subjects you never dared imagine.

The signal-to-noise ratio is really low. But that’s where Google comes in. You can search on a subject with a few keywords, sort by date, and find out what people were saying about an event when it happened.

You can’t find out what real people were saying about the Challenger explosion in 1986. Well, you can ask people who were alive in 1986, but memories fade over time. You’ll find information at the library, but it’s filtered. But you can search Usenet and read people’s emotion dumps, raw, unedited, unfiltered, and uncensored. Granted, the Usenet community was limited in 1986, but any subset of the population is better than what you’ll find at the library.

For kicks, I did a search on Yuri Andropov, sorted by date, and then punched through to the end. What I found at the end were references to the Soviets downing a Korean airliner in 1983. I remember my dad talking about it at the dinner table, flaunting it as just one more example of Soviet evil. I found a long-forgotten joke (“Why did Yuri Andropov shoot down a Korean Airliner? To impress Jodi Foster.” Ten points if you get that.) and emotions running high. Really high. Yeah, the Cold War was nearly over, but no one would have guessed it then. We’ve forgotten that at one time, Yuri Andropov was the most hated man in America.

Where’d I get the name Yuri Andropov? No, my memory’s not that good. I did a vague search, found clues, and then got specific. That’s how.

Maybe I’m the only one who’s excited about this, because I love history and I know a lot of people don’t.

Television, the drug of the nation

I successfully edited DVD-quality video, pulled straight off a DVD, in Premeire last night. And I think I can do it again. I’ll share the secret if I succeed a second time.
I got tired of listening to my neighbors screaming–my former neighbors screamed at each other; my new neighbors, well, uh… never mind–so I went over to a friend’s house and watched the pilot episode of Quantum Leap, the last TV show I really liked. I loved the episode. He lept into a test pilot, then into a baseball player. Airplanes, baseball, and dated bad computer jokes. How could it be any better? Too bad they decided to ruin the show by trying to make it better–they tried to give it mass appeal by making him leap into lives close to celebrities. Didn’t work.

But I know I’ve been doing too much video editing. A few parts of that pilot episode were computer-rendered, and you could tell. Available technology in 1989 paled compared to today. In 1989, you couldn’t do a compelling render of a B-29 dropping an X-2 rocket, escorted by an F-86. And using the real thing was out of the question. There are a few flyable F-86s still around, but there’s only one flyable B-29 left (and they had to cobble it together from parts in the late ’60s) and the only X-2s left are in museums. And good luck finding someone who can fly an X-2.

So they used stock footage. And the stock footage didn’t go together–you could tell from the differing colors of the sky that the B-29/X-2 footage wasn’t even shot in the same part of the country as the F-86 footage they used. Well, I could tell. To an eye not looking for that kind of stuff, it’ll just look kind of wrong.

Today you could do some color correction on the video clips you used to make them match up more closely. Or you could just render the planes.

But Quantum Leap wasn’t about special effects. It was about emotion and nostalgia.

I’d say they don’t make TV shows like that anymore, but I can’t really say that. I honestly don’t know if they do or not. And I’m not sure that I want to know. It’s just a whole lot more fun for me these days to make the stuff appear on the tube than it is to watch someone else’s stuff on it.

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