Showing posts with label cell phones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cell phones. Show all posts

19 July 2018

Yet Another Innocent Abroad


by Eve Fisher

I got back from vacation June 28th and walked straight into the arms of grocery shopping, laundry, mail, e-mail, and jet lag.  It took me a good week to climb out and start getting on top of things again.  We've all read that Americans take less vacation time than anyone else in the industrialized Western world.  Well, I think it's because we all know we're going to have to work twice as hard when we get back to catch up.

We went on a European cruise, and it was great.  I'm not going to give you all a travelogue, other than the fact that I won
"Stump the Tour Guide!!!" 
in Ghent, when I asked where John of Gaunt (medieval pronunciation of "Ghent") was born.  The son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault (medieval Belgium/ Netherlands), John of Gaunt fathered eight children by 2 wives and 1 mistress (Chaucer's sister-in-law, you might remember) who became his wife in old age.  Anyway, the guide had no idea where he was born, but the answer is in the abbey that used to be behind the St. Bavo Cathedral church on the right in the photo.

Actually, it was a John of Gaunt kind of trip:  I also saw the tomb of one of his sons, Cardinal Beaufort, in Winchester Cathedral in England (see photo at right).

Just as exciting, Winchester is where Jane Austen is buried, and I paid my very deep respects to her.  Let us never forget that, at heart, "Emma" is a mystery story, and "Northanger Abbey" is a satire of a Gothic thriller.  Add in the fact that Miss Austen practically invented the romantic comedy, and you have an incredibly versatile author who is still a delight to read.

And read I did:  "Emma" was my traveling companion this vacation, mainly because of something someone, somewhere wrote (and I cannot remember where), that if you really want to know what's going on in this novel, you need to listen to Miss Bates.  I thought I'd double-check.  And they were right.  Tucked into all those garrulous monologues is the absolute truth, rarely found anywhere else.  Everyone else is an unreliable narrator.  Witty, but unreliable.  After a hard day's sightseeing, it was the perfect vacation novel.

All in all, it was a great trip, and my only real moments of horror involved people with smart phones.  At least in the old days, when cameras required expensive film, there were fewer photographers, less photos were taken, and most people bought postcards instead.  (Believe it or not, the postcard and calendar manufacturers can still produce better photographs than the average person with a smart phone.)  Now, everyone has a smart phone, and they cannot put it away for one second, but have to snap 100 shots per minute of anything and everything that is directly in front of them, and don't even think of trying to see around them or asking them to move.

And the selfies!  I now truly realize that, to many people, if they don't have a selfie of it, they weren't there.  Now I know that egomania has never known any bounds, but I still think that selfie sticks should be declared hazardous to everyone's health. For one thing, sooner or later I'm going to wrest one out of someone's hands and start beating them with it.

And, finally, the video games.  We were on a nine-hour bus tour of the Scottish Highlands:

Ben Nevis (Wikipedia)

Fabulous.  Beautiful.  I saw deer.  We saw Loch Ness.  We saw Ben Nevis and other "Munro" mountains.  And, in front of me, was a lady who spent the entire 9 hours on her cell phone, playing Tetris.  At one point she wanted to close the bus curtain, so she could see the game better.  Her husband (thank God!) objected, so I didn't have to, and she moved across the aisle, where she continued doggedly with her game.  Whenever we stopped, for photo ops, a little walk, comfort, lunch, etc., she got up and went outside and posed as if she were thrilled to be there - including taking endless selfies! - and then went back to her seat, and back to Tetris.


Image result for head pounding meme


Meanwhile, in keeping with Miss Austen's wit, a few common phrases heard on cruises:
"The food was better last year."
"I've never told anyone this before."
"It looks smaller in real life."
"I think they're cheaper in ___"
"When's happy hour?"


BTW - Breaking news tells me that Mariia Butina has been indicted and arrested for being an unregistered Russian agent, i.e., a spy.  For those of you who have followed my blogs on South Dakota politics, you may remember that I talked about her in Just Another January in South Dakota.  I'll be talking about her South Dakota speaking tour, and her arrest, and who knows what else in my next blog post on August 2nd!

03 June 2018

Hot Spot


I’ve fallen off the grid. Unintentionally. No T-Mobile, No AT&T, no Virgin Wireless, no voice mail, no cell phone. Also no email, no web, no internet access. Neither of my phones nor my computer work. Both fruitlessly scan for radio signals, not picking up even a blip, not even alien static from distant Roswell.
phone, no bars

I didn’t plan it this way. I’m spending five weeks in Arizona. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon, but here in the town of Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in eastern Arizona, the telegraph bypassed the town, never mind Pony Express and the telephone. When I enquired about a hotspot, bemused residents said, “It’s 109°F in May. How damn hot do you want it?”

109°F… Here F, usually preceded by a plosive ‘holy’, stands for a word other than Fahrenheit, usually heard when sliding into a rental car seat. I never knew leather could melt. Steering wheels appear inspired by paintings of Salvador Dalí. Truthfully, the steel door handle of a downtown restaurant is wrapped with pipe insulation and electrical tape, presumably after a few people involuntarily left skin samples.

Century Link is establishing a presence in the county seat. When I enquired, they said, “Congratulations, you qualify for high-speed internet.” They went on to define ‘high speed’ as 3Mbps, the approximate walking speed of a one-legged dog. Computers think data rates that slow mean the internet is broken. Compare 3Mbps to my suddenly much less despised Spectrum/Brighthouse ISP at 100Mbps or even optional 1000Mbps if that’s too slow.

100-1g Mbps

At 3Mbps, news can take a long time to crawl through copper wires. Folks asked about rumors a black man had been hired in the White House. They seemed politely dubious when I said more like a weird orange.

As for my computer, I plugged it into a socket. The wiring exploded with a shower of sparks, barbecuing my power supply. This is what we call a ‘challenge’.

Knowing I had a SleuthSayers article due, kind people came together to help out. One lent an old laptop. When connected to the internet for the first time in eons, it launched into mass Windows 7 updates taking most of a 24-hour day and burning through the data allocation of that person’s telephone hotspot. At that point, another person stunned me by buying a new cell phone to provide a fresh hotspot. Folks are asking around for an old cell to lend me. Life is good.

But wait, there’s more.

FedEx delivered a new computer power supply. As before, neither of my phones can pick up a signal, this coming from a guy who for years refused to own any phone. The nearest AT&T tower is thirty miles in one direction, fifty in another. An internet solution remains questionable, but I’m not yet out of options. SleuthSayers’ Dixon Hill has invited me to stop in, and Scottsdale definitely has internet and phone service.

Life is good.

19 December 2014

The Cell Phone as Murder Weapon


Melodie Campbell's post on December 6th gave me the idea for this post, so if you don't like it complain to her.  Because it's her fault!  (Just kidding of course.)

Surely everyone has read about cell phones being used to detonate improvised explosives, but I'm not going to address that issue in this post.  Clearly, too many bad guys already know how to set up such triggers, and -- though I think I have a pretty good idea how to rig one up -- I am not going to propagate such knowledge among more of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

There is an aspect about cell phones, however, that some mystery writers may be unaware of, which could potentially render them highly useful as items involved in fictional extortion plots, arson plots, and even potential murder plots.

I don't feel I'm letting anything out of the bag by writing this, because:

  1. This aspect is widely reported on the internet, complete with accompanying photos.
  2. Recent television newscasts have covered this aspect, and its associated potential for downing aircraft.  
  3. I have certainly never been trained in using a cell phone as an explosive device, as this aspect did not exist -- or, at least, was not nearly as wide-spread -- during my military career.
  4. Having a certain rudimentary knowledge that something is possible, is a far cry (imho) from having the technical expertise and equipment to successfully execute that thing.


The aspect of cell phones that I'm addressing is:  Exploding Batteries.

Now, you may have just scoffed, and asked, "How much damage could one little battery do?"
Below is a photo of a house reportedly gutted by the fire an exploding cell phone battery started:


Is there any question in your mind, now, that a cell phone battery could figure prominently in the plot of a mystery concerning arson?





These two photos show folks who have survived phone battery explosions or fires:

I recall being told of a case, in which terrorists set up a booby trap, which fired a small explosive device mounted behind the mirror on a car's sun visor.  The daughter of a man, whom the terrorists were trying to influence, owned the car and often used the flip-down mirror (which had lights on either side, that came on when it was flipped open) to do her makeup.  The idea behind the attack, was not to kill the daughter, but to maim her.  To mar her face.


This is a horrible thing to do to someone, but since we write about horrible people perpetrating crimes, consider:  Imagine how organized crime members might use a cell battery to carry out their threat to maim family members of someone they were trying to extort into doing something illegal.

Sound like part of a plot?

What if the explosion that hurt the man's ear, in the photo above, were amped-up to be more powerful?  The target gets a call, and when he answer it -- WHAM!  Of course, the device would probably be more effective if the battery detonated five to ten seconds after the target answered, increasing the likelihood that the phone was tucked tight to the target's head (Charge-to-target contact -- remember?).  Now, we could be talking about fictional murder.


To watch a BBC clip concerning exploding cell batteries (along with some interesting demonstrations) CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read about ways to prevent cell phone batteries from exploding.  The idea here is: Learning what prevents them from exploding, might help you get started, when it comes to plotting techniques that your fictional character can use to make his/her targeted cell phone battery explode, wreaking fictional havoc upon the opposition.

CLICK HERE for Times of India information about "call bombing" and how this might help a cell phone to cause damage.  Scroll down to "How and why do mobile phone blasts happen?" for the requisite information.

Now: Let's be frank.  If you've read through some of the links above, then you know that most phones and batteries are well designed and manufactured, and very seldom explode.  Further, even if a battery were to explode, I think it would be quite difficult to rig up a system that would make it explode at a specific time -- which is an important consideration when working with explosive or assassination devices.  After all, if the thing blows up when it's nowhere near the targeted individual or structure, the blast will not accomplish the desired results.

On the other hand, we're writing fiction here.  So . . . maybe -- using the links above, and possibly others -- you might figure out a way to sell such an exciting plot, in a way that's convincing to readers.  If so, I hope you "Have at it!"

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

06 December 2014

Today’s Phones are Ruining Crime Fiction!


(Yes, this post actually gets around to mentioning crime fiction.  Wait for it…)
I’m getting awfully tired of ads for phone companies, begging me to switch, hounding me to spend more money for their latest plan, month after month after month.

Frankly, I’m longing for the good old days, when all you could get from a phone company was an ugly black rotary phone.  And by gawd, you were grateful for it too, because you had to sweat to get it.

Remember those days?  You would move into a new apartment in November, and you would phone up some snotty service rep at Ma Bell, who would treat you as if you were some sort of macrobiotic slime culture.  <Sniff – sorry!  I’m becoming nostalgic.>

You:  I’d like to get a phone as soon as possible, please.

Rep:  Let me see…how about…say…July 2017?  We can send a man out sometime between the 4th and the 28th.  You’ll have to make sure that someone’s home every second.

You:  Yes!  Oh Yes!  I’m so grateful.  Thank you!

Rep:   The colour will be black.

You:  Great! Black is cool.

Rep:  Okay, now we’ll need your first born as a deposit.

I really liked those old back dial phones.  I mean, those phones had substance; they had weight.  You could do a lot to them and they would bounce back.  I remember once playing kickball in the hallway at university, and our team would have won, but the darn ball (phone) started ringing and some fool on the other team picked it up.

Try playing kickball with a smartphone.  It ain’t so smart after a play or two.

Take my word for it: today’s flimsy phones are simply wuss. Not to mention, they are ruining crime fiction. 

At this point, I know readers are going to say, ‘Of course they are ruining crime fiction!  You can’t isolate your protagonist anymore.”  And yes, this is a problem, unless your protagonist has the intelligence of a demented chipmonk and perpetually forgets to charge their phone just before the climax in every book you write (cliché alert).

But I’m thinking beyond the obvious here.

Think of how those old black phones had significance in old black and white movies.  Remember Jimmy Stewart with the broken leg in Rear Window?  Remember those desperate calls he made over the heavy 1950s telephone…would they really be as fear-inducing if he was using an iPhone with a ring tone of ‘La Bomba?’

I mean, really.  How can you commit a really good murder with a receiver that weighs less than a padded bra?  What are you supposed to do…stuff it down someone’s throat until they choke on it?

What’s more, who can get really excited about an obscene phone call made over a cellphone the size of a playing card?  Come on now…do I really need to spell out the symbolism?

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like the award-winning mob comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge.  You can buy them in stores and online at all the usual sources.