Good Guys

Why it Pays to Have Smart Guys with You in The Matrix

the-matrixEarlier today, I received an unsettling call from one of the longtime advertisers on my website CharterWave. He had just hired some web-security snoops to look around his own site, and they found strange patterns in some CharterWave URLs. Even though the CharterWave site itself looked normal to anyone viewing it, and even though it was functioning properly on the back end, some hackers had installed a program that made Google think a number of pages were for Cialis and Viagra, with links that sent users to sites for those drugs instead of to the real content.

This is sneaky stuff, done at the level of my website’s configuration file. I would have never known it was there if somebody hadn’t gone looking for it. And you don’t have to be a programmer to know that something at that level can infect a whole website, like agents moving all around The Matrix.

I paused for a momentary panic attack, envisioning the nightmare of having to untangle and possibly rebuild a site that I have updated daily since 2006, and then I contacted LS Media, which is the company I use to provide CharterWave’s server space. They’re a little more expensive than big-name companies that jam tons of websites onto various servers, but they’re much smaller and hugely professional—and they pick up the phone when I call. I got the principal on the phone within literally one minute, and just a couple of hours after that, LS Media’s expert had found the source of the hack and nullified it. He also sent me all the information that my own site programmer will need to ensure that there are no long-term effects for search engines, and to make a best effort to prevent something like this from happening again.

Kudos to the team at LS Media for being so great at what they do. And thanks also to that savvy CharterWave advertiser—who is sticking with me because he knows how important it is to have a smart team around you when you enter The Matrix.

An ASJA Award, and a Truly Rewarding Moment

2013awardsI recently hopped on the train into Manhattan for the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’m a longtime member of ASJA as well as a volunteer on the contracts committee, and the conference is always a bonanza of networking opportunities and publishing insights. This year, I was especially eager to attend because my book Little Boy Blue was being named one of the best general nonfiction books of 2012. Little Boy Blue was among four books that earned honorable mentions in the category, with the winner being Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day.

The awards ceremony is held in a banquet hall where everyone is mingling, sipping wine, and snacking on hors d’oeuvres. At some point, the host asked us all to quiet down and take a seat at one of the small, round tables in the hall. Each table is meant for four, maybe five people. There probably were at least 50 of the tables scattered about the place, as randomly as could be. I grabbed a chair and watched as a few men I’d never met sat down around me. One was grinning even wider than I was, so I reached out to shake his hand and introduce myself.

It turns out that he was smiling because he was Peter Zuckerman, the author of Buried in the Sky.

“Oh!” I said with a laugh. “You’re the guy who beat me for first place. Congratulations!”

“Which book was yours?” he asked.

“I wrote Little Boy Blue,” I said. “It’s a book about a rescue dog.”

“I blogged about your book!” he gushed. “It sounded so much more interesting than mine…”

We then had to stop chitchatting as the awards ceremony began. The honorable mentions were called first, and when the host announced my name, Peter Zuckerman cheered for me even louder than my own mother might have. Then his name got called, and I cheered just as loudly for him. I even took a photo of him at the podium so that he could use it for his online marketing.

It’s of course a huge honor to receive such a prestigious award from ASJA, but I must say that my experience that night at the ceremony was the definition of rewarding. Writers face enormous pressures these days when producing serious books, and that pressure can lead to some ugly competitive behavior. Here you had two head-to-head competitors not just congratulating each other, but also supporting each other—at top decibel levels. It was a moment in the publishing industry that nobody would ever know about, but that for me served as a reminder about why I am so proud to be a member of an organization like ASJA, and to call people like Peter Zuckerman my colleagues.

When you put yourself alongside the best of the best, you truly do become better in lots of ways.

2 Weeks, 2 Dogs, 2 Wonderful Homes

It’s been exactly two weeks since I returned from North Carolina, where I was reporting for my book “Little Boy Blue: One Puppy’s Great Escape.” On my way out of the county where Blue was found—where the shelter has a 95-percent kill rate and a gas chamber—I picked up two dogs named Izzy and Summer who, like Blue, had been rescued by a local charity and needed good homes.

As of today, both Izzy and Summer are with their new families in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They both live on cul-de-sacs with grassy backyards. They both have kids just bursting with love for them. And they both live in homes that, I think, most of us would describe as mini-mansions. Izzy even has a summer house down at the Shore where her new family is going to teach her to frolic in the surf.

Kudos to CARE in North Carolina for saving these wonderful dogs from the shelter’s gas chamber, and to Lulu’s Rescue in Pennsylvania for helping them to find great homes up North. I’m already looking forward to my next foster dog arriving about a week from now. I’m told that he’s a yellow Labrador mix, and that he’ll be touching down in New Jersey by way of a private plane thanks to the good people at Pilots N Paws.

All of these organizations, by the way, are among the more than two dozen sources that are featured in the working draft of “Little Boy Blue.” Wait until you read about all of the wonderful things they’re doing for homeless dogs. They have inspired me to help. I can’t wait to do more.

Citi Cards Fraud Protection: Creepishly Effective

I received a robo-call around 6 o’clock last night from the computer at Citi Cards fraud protection. It said the company had seen some unusual activity on my credit card account and asked me to call immediately. I dialed and got to a human being, who verified my identity and made sure I had my card with me.

“When was the last time you used your card?” the woman asked.

“This afternoon at lunch, around 2 o’clock” I answered. “The bill was about $35.”

“Well, we have a charge here from just over an hour ago of $82.93 on a website called Dr. Jays,” she said. “Did you make that charge?”

“I did not,” I said. “I’ve never heard of that website.”

“Oh, look at that—they’re trying to put through another purchase right now,” the lady said. “Let me cancel this card immediately. Somebody has gotten hold of your number.”

I was of course thankful that Citi Cards had caught the fraudulent charge and notified me so quickly—literally within two hours of the thief using my credit card number for the first time—but I was surprised that an $82.93 charge to a website would trigger the system. I use my credit card all the time to buy things online, including everything from e-books for my Kindle to much more expensive items like plane tickets for my travel-writing assignments.

“I’m just curious,” I said to the woman, “about why a charge of that amount would set off your system. How does that work?”

“The charge did not fit your normal spending pattern,” she said, without elaborating further.

It’s definitely approaching defcon creepy on the Big Brother scale to think that Citi Cards is keeping track not just of what I spend, but also of the types of websites where I spend it. But then again, it’s also really impressive on the consumer protection scale that they were able to catch the thief who stole my credit card number after a single purchase was attempted.

So I think kudos are in order for Citi Cards this morning, with a small side dish of paranoia that they’re reading this blog before I even get it posted online.

Eat, Bark, Bid

Lulu’s Rescue, the Pennsylvania-based group that helped to save my pup Blue from a gas chamber in North Carolina, is having its biggest-ever fund-raiser on July 16. “Eat, Bark, Bid” will include live and silent auctions, a catered dinner by renowned chef Max Hansen, and an appearance by the guys from the National Geographic television show “Rescue Ink.”

I already have my tickets to attend this fabulous evening in support of an even more fabulous charitable organization. To purchase tickets of your own, visit this page on the Lulu’s Rescue website. Here’s the official promo ad for the big night:

All Hail the Geek Squad (and Maybe the Blackberry People, Too)

On December 31, my hard drive ate itself. A virus tore into the deepest recesses of my computer, obliterating everything from my book proposals to my list of business contacts. Yes, I had serious virus protection on the computer. No, I hadn’t backed up in a good six months. Yes, I felt like I was bedside with a terminally ill relative as I pulled all the USB inputs, power sources, and cable wires from the dusty back of my machine.

I shuffled with worried eyes and my tower in my arms directly into the Best Buy of Bridgewater, N.J., where the Geek Squad has a service center. They’ve helped me with minor problems in the past, but nothing on this scale. I had no idea whether they even had the skills to resuscitate what was left of my business archives.

It took a few days of terrified waiting, plus a few more days of me re-installing and re-booting programs with the patience of a Buddhist monk, but as of today, I am 90 percent back in business. The only thing the Geek Squad was unable to save was my Microsoft Outlook contacts file—a serious problem, but one that can apparently be fixed by a reverse flow of information from my Blackberry. Once I complete that delicate procedure tomorrow, I should be nearly as good as new.

Except, of course, for the week’s worth of lost work time and the utter aggravation of having to rebuild my technological self. Back up your files, my friends, and have the good brains of the Geek Squad on standby just in case. I’ll take them over the captain of the baseball team any day of the week.

Wishing Good Luck to

From January 2004 through January 2010, my articles and photos appeared regularly in a perennial award-winning magazine that was first called Offshore, and later called Northeast Boating. The magazine was the essence of everything that a great regional title should be, offering boaters from Maine to New Jersey tons of information and entertainment in each issue.

The magazine closed its doors for financial reasons earlier this year, leaving some of my most talented marine journalism colleagues unemployed. It was a sad time for those of us who appreciated the home they had built for great writing—and it makes me all the happier to be able to announce today that they have already risen from the proverbial ashes.

Former Northeast Boating Editor-in-Chief Tom Richardson and Creative Director Dave Dauer have teamed to launch BoatingLocal, the definitive source of news and information for New England boaters. You will see my byline on this new site, as I was happy to be among the writers asked to contribute content in an effort to get the Google rankings going.

Good luck to Tom, Dave, and the entire BoatingLocal team. It is truly my pleasure to see great marine journalists bringing their excellence to new formats online.