Musings On The Nature of Power

This is a post on villains. Think about the villains you’ve been exposed to over the years: The Purple Man, Khan Noonian Singh (bet you didn’t know he had a full name, did you?), Ramsay Bolton, Donald Trump – all the people we love to hate because they do awful things and get away with it.

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Not a bad guy, just misunderstood.

We love to watch a villain fall, but in order for us to love to watch them fall, we have to hate them enough that their eventual demise fulfills some part of us that demands they pay for their misdeeds. The Purple Man gets caught and thrown in a cage. Khan nukes himself with the Genesis Device. Ramsay Bolton gets eaten by his own dogs. Trump? Well, who knows? I like to think he’ll get his on November 8, 2016, but time will tell.

There’s a very specific reason we love to hate those people and it deals with how they manage to get away with all the horrible things they do. It really all comes down to power. Who’s got it, who wants it, who’s willing to abuse it. Bear with me for a moment and I’ll explain.

Ask the average person on the street what they want and you’ll likely get a varied response. Money, fame, beauty, tacos, more Legos, a fast car, etc., etc. While none of those are anything to scoff at, especially tacos, they’re not the real thing people want. The problem is you’re asking the wrong question.

Or, at the very least, you need to ask a supplementary question: Why? Why do you want those things?

This little bit of question and answer time serves a very valuable purpose. Namely to get to the bottom of what people really want. Money, fame, beauty, tacos, and all those other things we like to think we want are nothing more than smokescreens for the real motivator in the world: power.

Power
Hey, you try finding a good image for power.

Power is a very abstract thing. It can be fleeting or decade spanning. It can allow absolute control of the world or only the ability to catch someone’s eye from across the room. Some people amass political power, others physical power. For some, power stems from allies and is derived from a lifetime of hard work. Other people are born with it.

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Not quite born with it, but acquired it pretty young.

Some people view sex as power, others value only smarts. Some people think the fastest car, or the biggest collection of Legos, or the most tacos means power.

With all these disparate ways of amassing power, what the heck could power actually be. Surely it’s not just looks or tacos or cars, right? Absolutely correct. Those are the trappings of power, not power itself.

Power, in a nutshell, is the ability to get your way.

Surely there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get your way, right? Everyone likes to get their way and there’s really nothing wrong with that. If we never got our way we’d be miserable little critters. What separates the villains of the story from the heroes is how they get their power and what they do with their power.

Whether you like to admit it or not, life is a game. It’s a game we all play and we’ve all agreed on the rules. Even if the rules aren’t exactly articulated, we all know them and we all play by them. You can’t practice your stabbing in crowded supermarkets. You can’t drive as fast as you want all the time. You can’t take what you want without paying for it. You can’t fish off the back of a giraffe.

Don't do anything under penalty of law
Don’t do anything under penalty of law

On and on and on. The rules of the game are usually understood by everyone playing it, even if we don’t always agree with the rules. Power is based on those rules of the game. Senators and industrialists have great power – the kind of power that warps minds – but someone who refuses to play by their rules can undermine that power easily.

Some people don’t follow the rules. They lie. They kill and speed through school zones and fish off the backs of giraffes and generally go out of their way to do the wrong things. These are the villains of our stories and we need them if we’re going let the reader really engage in their two minutes hate.

Granted, it’s a matter of degrees and impact. Take over the world or plot to get rid of Congress and you’re a super villain. Steal some Twizzlers and you’re just a punk. Villains need to be big villains. The Joker wouldn’t be worth Batman’s time if all he did was walk out with paying for his waffles.

What does all this talk about crime have to do with power? I was watching the season finale of Game of Thrones this week and had a bit of an epiphany. When the High Sparrow aims to put Cersei on trial, he’s playing by the rules he and his cronies have agreed on. She’s supposed to show up and stand trial and everyone will have a jolly good time murdering her. When Cersei nukes the Sept (and everyone in it), she has decided to ignore his rules in favor of her own – and demonstrate one way of how to separate Church and State. That creates a shift in power. In the end, to paraphrase Ice-T, she got the power.

HighSparrowFeelTheBern
Felt the burn

That’s what power is and that’s where good villains should come from. Villains always want power of some sort or another and are quite willing to do anything to get it. Heroes and villains are both playing the same game: acquire power. But villains refuse to play by the rules and once they get the power, they immediately set about abusing it in really big ways.

And that’s what sets the heroes apart from the villains. Heroes can be incredibly powerful, but they’re stuck with the current rule book. Villains can be just as powerful, but they get to make up their own rules.

In the final analysis, all the machinations of power revolve around changing the rules. The bad guys do something horrific; something that changes the basic order of things, and get away with it. We hate that because they’re bad guys and we see changing the rules as cheating. But the mantra of every decent villain should be:

If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.

The good guys are stuck playing by the rules. That’s what makes them the good guys. They’re trying to maintain the social order, or prevent horrors, or save the girl from the oncoming train and they have to do it by the book. The bad guys don’t have those restrictions. Bad guys are trying to get power, but they’re not all hung up on rules. Rules, in their eyes, are for suckers.

In writing terms, what this means is your villains have to have a goal, a power grab of some sort or another. They have to want what they want and have no compunctions about breaking the rules to get it. If they followed the rules they wouldn’t be villains; they’d be bootstrappy and we’d praise them for their ingenuity. Since they’re kidnapping maidens or amassing occult power or stealing all the tacos they’re obviously bad guys.

Power + broken rules = good villain.

Power + followed rules = good hero.

Who are some of your favorite villains?

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Dear Writer … it’s not all about you, ya know! – Reminder #5

This is one of the reasons I vowed to review every book I read.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

In marketing, it’s said that a message must be repeated 7 times before people take action. Writers, here’s your #5 reminder …

I was going to write a blog post about social media and how I’ve been paring down my use of it, because I’m finding it to be not all that social or the best media for me at the moment. After discussing with a fellow author how disappointing Twitter is (and she cleverly described T. as “like a 4-lane highway at rush hour with cars bumper-to-bumper. It makes me nervous”), I realized what bothers me isn’t not being able to navigate and use Twitter properly, but more the barrage of Tweeps who constantly tweet: Look at me! Aren’t I clever! Buy my book!

Now I’m not saying that I don’t do some self-promotion on there, but I do try to balance that with tweets of value to others…

View original post 1,515 more words

Book Review – The Experiencers by Val Tobin

I had a fun childhood. I grew up looking for UFOs and buried treasure. Our school library had all manner of kick-ass books on UFOs and ghosts and MiBs. I got my first copy of Who Goes There? from a school book drive when I was 11. For those of you not in the know, Who Goes There? would later become a little movie called The Thing. These were the heady days when Star Trek and Space:1999 reruns could be found from time to time and movies like Hanger 18 were out there. My childhood also include V, that crazy series about spacefaring lizard people and the rebellion that fights them on Earth. The end result was I spent a lot of time thinking about aliens and UFOs and MiBs and all the other fun stuff that makes up a healthy childhood.

Space, you might say, was injected into my blood from a very early age. Maybe not injected. Maybe an IV drip would be a more apt description. At any rate, space is there.

Any time you start talking about UFOs and aliens, it’s only a matter of time before conspiracies start getting bandied about. That’s total X-Files territory. One of the things that always fascinated me about the totality of the UFO-MiB-Government Conspiracy mythology was the individual. Who would work for an organization that was hell-bent on covering it all up and why? Men In Black touched on this, but it was far too lighthearted a take on a group of people who silenced those who knew too much.

In saunters Val Tobin’s The Experiencers (The Valiant Chronicles) (Volume 1) and shows us the story of alien abduction and silencing those who know too much from the points of view of an abductee, a guy working to silence people, and the head of an organization working with the aliens. Tobin also manages to weave in other paranormal aspects through her psychic lead character.

Tobin (not the author of the Spirit Guide, BTW) doesn’t pull punches with her action or allow her characters to stray too far off into the woods. By adding the psychic element to the classical UFO tale, The Experiencers has a dimension most alien abduction stories lack. The story is tightly paced and full of enough wonder to keep everyone entertained. Amazingly, considering the subject matter, The Experiencers manages to feel grounded and grittily (if that wasn’t a word, it is now) realistic.

All in all, a unique mixture of UFO conspiracies and psychic theory wrapped in a bow and adorned with believable characters. An excellent read.

Michael Valiant, Agency black ops assassin, deals death without question. He knows it’s all in the name of duty and the fight against terror, particularly at a time when the earth is as close as it’s ever been to self-destructing. But when his orders include silencing members of a UFO group who look less like terrorists and more like housewives and UFO buffs, he decides to do some digging.

His curiosity arouses the ire of his boss and his partner, who warn Michael that his actions are putting him in danger. When Michael’s wife dies in what appears to be a traffic accident, Michael, with his partner’s help and support, pushes aside his doubts and immerses himself in the jobs he needs to complete.

Carolyn Fairchild, Psychic medium and believer in angels, lives happy and contented in a nice home in Newmarket, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. All Carolyn wants is to live in peaceful obscurity. When Carolyn loses her husband under suspicious circumstances, and other members of her group die or disappear, Carolyn grows desperate to uncover the truth and save herself and her daughter.

Ordered to kidnap Carolyn and turn her over to the Agency, Michael confronts Carolyn in her home, ready to complete his assignment. But when Carolyn connects to Michael’s dead wife and reveals to him the truth about her death, Carolyn forces him to choose between saving himself and doing what’s right.

Unaware that they are repeating a pattern enacted over many lifetimes, Michael and Carolyn must find a way to break the cycle, or continue playing it out over lifetimes to come.

A New Age Sci-Fi thriller that delves into existing UFO and doomsday weaponry conspiracy theories,The Experiencers keeps readers riveted with non-stop action while the characters struggle to control destinies that may have been predetermined lifetimes ago.

experiencers

Get your copy here

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Ah, Refreshing!

The Clock Man‘s gotten dinged a couple times by readers who felt it could have easily been expanded to a full-length novel. Doubtless, it would have been possible; the story clocked in at 34k words, after all. It’s hardly a short story at that length and is leaning heavily toward novel area.

For those of you unfamiliar with what constitutes a short story versus what constitutes a novel let me assure you that there are rules. No one completely agrees on those rules, but there are rules. I tend to follow the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s regulations for its Nebula award categories.

  • Short Story – Under 7,500 words
  • Novelette – 7,500 to 17,500 words
  • Novella – 17,500 words to 40,000 words
  • Novel – Over 40,000 words

Based on their rules, The Clock Man is heading toward the top end of the Novella category. Could I have eked out another 6k words in that story? Sure. Would I have published it as a stand-alone novel at 40,001 words? Probably not. You see, there’s an expectation of length among readers and, no matter what SFFWA thinks, most people consider a novel to start at about 60k-70k words. In case you’re wondering, the total word count of all eight stories in The Clock Man is about 110k.

To put those numbers into pages, the general rule of thumb is 250-300 words to a page. Obviously, this is variable based on page dimensions and type size and text density. Heck, even the typeface can change the word/page count, but 250-300 words per page is the industry standard. That means a 60k word book would be around 240-ish pages and a 70k word book bout would be around 280-ish pages. A 40k novel would only be 160 or so pages. Most readers want the longer books, so I would have had to add around 30k words to that story to put it in the realm of what’s commonly accepted as a novel.

Adding 26k-36k words to The Clock Man wouldn’t have made it any better and would probably have damaged the tale with unnecessary bloat. In my opinion, it was exactly as long as it needed to be. It told the tale of Crow and Chan and set things up for what will become a full-length novel tentatively titled Greetings From Sunny Aluna.

It’s funny; I’ve got the title picked out for a book I haven’t even started writing yet, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out a title for Henchmen 3 and that sucker’s about half written now. BTW, trust me, Henchmen 3 is going to be epic. It’ll tell the tale of Steven coming to grips with being a god and continue with the bad guys from Arise and even loop in some of the missing bits from Henchmen.

H3nchm3nComicAd1

But I digress. This post was supposed to be about a refresh on the look and feel of The Clock Man, not how awesome Henchmen 3 (of 4, in case you’re wondering) is going to be.

It’s going to be awesome, though.

So, anyway. I was working on a new Twitter ad for The Clock Man and something about that ad just freakin’ clicked. The ad in question is at the top of this post. I can’t exactly explain what I liked about it, but I just had to see how it would look as a book cover. A bit of tweaking later and I came up with the first cut and posted on IASD‘s Facebook group page. A few people and I went back and forth and the next thing I know, I’ve got this:

ClockManR2

Like I said: something about it just clicked. The original is on my Facebook author page if you ever want to see it. The end result is I accidentally redesigned the cover for The Clock Man. It’s not that I was disappointed with the original cover, I still like it. But, let’s face facts here, that new cover POPS like a mofo. Does it capture the feel of the book – or even the story? Kind of. But this is a collection of stories that are only somewhat interconnected so it’s difficult to pick a single image to capture the theme.

In a way, the dragon works as well as anything else.

Now, the technical notes:

The background was hand built in Inkscape. The image is from Vectorstock (drawn by pathique). The font is Akashi. The whole piece was assembled in Inkscape and I used GIMP to do some final modifications like resizing to keep the edges clean.

I find graphic design to be a good way to relax in a way that writing isn’t. I guess it uses a different part of my brain. If you ever find yourself with some free time and an idea, try it out. You might just create something cool.

Just as a side note, I do custom cover design. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

Have you ever redesigned one of your covers because you were bored?

Computers Made Easy Part II – Tech Overload

“The first step is spoofing the IP Address,” Max Power said. His eyes were hidden by the ever-present dark glasses. “That’s the easy part.”

Jolene nodded in agreement. “We’ve got access to their router. Well, it’s more technically a Layer 3 switch than a traditional router, so we’ve got their MAC address tables and IP routing tables.”

“Exactly,” Max said. He ran a hand through his puffy black hair. When he was tired or stressed, his Irish brogue came through. Right now Jolene had to focus to follow him. “So we intercept their packets, strip the header information off and replace it with our own custom information. They’ll keep trying to get the web server and that good old Apache box we’ve got running in the closet will pick up everything they’re sending.”

“How do you plan to get around the SSL encryption?”

“Aye, SSL. That wee beastie would be a tough nut. Asymmetric key encryption is notoriously difficult to break.”

Jolene’s eyes twinkled. Any time he referred to something as a wee beastie, it meant he respected it enough to find a way around it. “You got to their admin, did’t you?”

“That lass was helpless in the face of my Irish accent. Curled her toes, it did. While she slept it off, I found my way into her laptop. She’d set up her Remote Desktop Protocol client to remember her password. I didn’t have to crack a thing, just walked right onto the server desktop and pulled the certificate straight out of Internet Information Services.”

“You know, most people practice social engineering over the phone,” Jolene said.

“My way is much more fun for everyone involved. Besides, I bought her breakfast.”

“Okay, so we can spoof the IP addresses, we can circumvent the SSL cryptography. What’s left?”

Max nodded. This was always the hardest part. Anyone with a lick of experience at computer security would be wary of it, but it was the key part. So far they hadn’t shown a lot of technical prowess, so he felt his plan had a good chance of working. “I’ve got a port scanner ready to go. When the port is open we’re going in. We’ve got an ActiveX control running on the website that should open TCP Port 3389.”

“You’re going to open up their Remote Desktop Protocol services? You’re going straight for the gusto.”

“Right. Even after they shut down their browser, we’ll be able to sneak right in while no one’s looking. A little fiddling with the NTFS security and we’ll be golden.'”

whatamilookingat

I’m not really a techno-thriller writer. I spend most of my day hammering out code and fixing the odd server issue. When I sit down to write, I want to explore something I don’t do all the time. That said, Henchmen had a few moments that might have been over-the-top technobabble. And that’s the problem with writing what you know: it’s way too easy to add information that no one cares about.

My technobabble was a lot worse in the original cut of Henchmen. The few spots that were computer-oriented got a little too far into the weeds. I passed those sections off to my wife and her eyes rolled back into her head when she read those parts.

Lesson learned: Most people put their eyes on screensaver when computer terms start flying around. Stick to the fun stuff like fighting monsters and secret government guys.

HenchmenJessicaComicAd1

There are some stories that make excellent use of computer terminology and practices. Most of them don’t handle it all that well. Look back to the last Computers Made Easy post for an example that CSI pulled. That would be the bit about writing a GUI in Visual Basic to track an IP Address.

Andrew Updegrove’s Alexandria Project does a good job with computers and network technology. He kept it realistic enough to be, well, realistic, but it was exciting because he didn’t get bogged down in the details. Even a geek like me – who likes to look for technical problems – had trouble finding any and his technical descriptions didn’t interrupt the flow of the story.

Now, I get it: details are key to building an immersive story. But with computers it’s really easy to go way over the top or just start making things up. A lot of people have heard phrases like GUI, IP Address, and some may even have heard of Visual Basic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use those terms.

Take the introductory dialogue between Max Power (the man whose name you want to touch) and Jolene (whose name is significantly less interesting). It’s got a whack of technobabble in it. Layer 3 switch. MAC Address. SSL Encryption. Trojan Horse, TCP Ports, Remote Desktop Protocol. Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Fun movie, great soundtrack, total bs technology
Fun movie, great soundtrack, total bs technology

If you’re into those things, it makes for an interesting read, but the extraneous details don’t add anything to the narrative. Do we really need to know what port RDP runs on? Exactly how important is it that they have access to a layer 3 switch instead of a traditional router? I put those things in there because they popped into my head, but they’re burdensome. Technically, the information is mostly accurate, it’s just that it’s an info-dump of things most readers aren’t going to care about or even understand.

What about explaining all the terminology and the reasons why those things are important? Well, I’m not sure that’s a good idea, either. Then your techno-thriller goes from exciting to about as interesting as reading stereo instructions. And explaining what each piece does and why it’s important would add about a hundred pages to the book.

Remember: that’s a hundred pages that very few people will want to read.

bored

Just like adding in incorrect details about technology can make you look like a lazy writer, adding too much can pull the reader right out of the story. If you’re working on something technical, hand it off to a non-technical person and see if they still follow the story or if they get lost in all the acronyms.

Remember the cardinal rule of writing: Don’t confuse the reader. Give them what they need to understand the story and ditch the rest. Let the story be lean and mean and you can focus on the plot and the characters without worrying as much about replacing TCP headers.

Say Happy Birthday to JC Hannigan

You’ve got to love anyone who, for her birthday, give you a gift. Say Happy Birthday to J.C. Hannigan and get her books for free or on the cheap.

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I am so in love with this series. I have become emotionally attached to Harlow, Jax, Iain, Jenna, and Crimson. This is one of those series that just stays with you.” – Reviews By Reds (Dusty)

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Harlow Jones has a troubled past, and a questionable future. Surrounded by death, tragedy, and intrigue, she is forced to mature long before her time. Plagued by anxiety and depression, she hides her inner turmoil with spite and sarcasm. Her thick skin is impenetrable…or so she thought. Until she becomes involved with her grade twelve English teacher. In this exclusive entry into the new adult genre, with raw style that is as dark as it is poignant, Collide presents the ultimate choice: forbidden love or doing the right thing.

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Jax Walker is a hard man to resist. He’s tall, dark, and delicious. Harlow didn’t plan on falling for another, with her heart still stuck on Iain. But it’s so hard with him gone. And she’s been aching since they last touched. Two whole years of silent wondering; of desperate sleepless longing. Fate, however, may have other plans. Just as Harlow’s ready to open herself to new love, her whole world is pulled into a twisting and painful spiral.
In this new adult novel, readers are consumed by the collision of past and present. Raw and dark, this emotional minefield is the perfect second book in the continuing story of Harlow Jones.

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As the scars on Harlow’s body slowly fade, the ones etched into her soul take longer to heal. Harlow faces her biggest challenges yet, as she navigates the trauma of being attacked in her home, the struggle of trying to move on with her love life, and a dark secret that could destroy her most enduring friendship.
This new adult novel is the darkly satisfying third installment of the Collide series. Here, Harlow Jones is at her most raw, as she finally faces her demons, and Iain Bentley, head on.

Check out J.C.’s website

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Writing Tip – Computers Made Easy Part I

I’m starting up a short series on computers and how to write about them. Today’s entry is on hacking.

Strange characters and phrases danced across Max’s dark sunglasses. The Nomad was finally talking to him. “All I have to do now is crack the NVRAM and I’ll have access to the CPU,” he said.

“I’ll write up GUI interface in Visual Basic to track the IP Address.” Jolene was ecstatic. All their work had finally paid off. Soon, the Brotherhood of the Sane would finally be held accountable for their crimes.

“Good idea. If we can get the IP Address we can find out who it’s registered to then it’s just a matter of sending the package and we’ll have them.”

The package was a Trojan Horse, a virus designed to first prevent the computer from being shut down then it would strike. The payload would embed itself in the DRAM and the Brotherhood would never be able to get it out.

Jolene’s fingers tapped a staccato beat while Max slowly wormed his way into the bridge. The CPU was a hair’s breadth from him. All their secrets, all the murders, all the bribery, every last dirty deed the Brotherhood had done would soon be spread all over the world. Once he hit the CPU, Max would find the spreadsheet and crack the database. He grinned for the first time in years. Crack that CPU, find the spreadsheet on it, and then the world would know Max Power was an innocent man.

“The program’s running,” Jolene said. “It’s tracking. Southwestern United States. New Mexico. Farmington.”

“I should have figured they’d be hiding out in Farmington,” Max muttered.

“Up on Harper Hill. It’s a trailer park!” Jolene cried.

“Get me a name and an address.”

“Hold… Got it! Harry Harrison,” Jolene said.

“Harry the Sheep Smuggler. I should have guessed.” Max’s finger poised over the Enter button, ready to unleash Hell on Harry.

“4077 Troy King Road, number 446.”

Max’s finger jabbed down on the Enter key. The screen erupted in burst of colors and the harrowing sounds of a server dying screeched from his speakers. “We got him.” Max was breathless. “We finally got him.”

whatamilookingat

I was introducing my son to an important piece of Americana earlier this week, a little show called The X-Files. You might have heard of it. It details the adventures of spooky man and redhead and their ongoing attempts to find the truth.

One of the episodes we watched was Ghost in the Machine. It’s one of the less popular episodes because it doesn’t feature aliens or monsters. I think my son was somewhat disappointed that it doesn’t feature ghosts, either. Rather, it was Mulder and Scully versus a sentient computer. It featured an unholy mishmash of techno-babble and barely understandable references to the Internet.

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Unfortunately, mainstream entertainment is rife with this kind of thing. Take a bunch of cool-sounding acronyms, add a hip character who can crack the IRS dBase, and make hacking computers look like child’s play. Some readers or viewers will appreciate the amount of effort that went into looking up the cool-sounding acronyms, others will roll around on the floor laughing at the endless technical mistakes.

Take the scene at the beginning of this post. There’s not a single thing in there that makes a lick of sense, but it certainly sounds nifty. Max sounds like the kind of guy that could hack your computer from a payphone using only an old electric typewriter and a modified See ‘N’ Say.

“The farmer hacks your mainframe while the pig knocks up your RAM.” The kind of stuff they make movies about.

Fun movie, great soundtrack, total bs technology
Fun movie, great soundtrack, total bs technology

In 1993, the year Ghost in the Machine aired, the average person on the street probably didn’t realize that “cracking the CPU” isn’t something that really happens and even great programmers would have a bear of a time writing a virus to delete an artificial intelligence in a couple hours. From a prison cell.

But, heck. it’s entertainment, right? So what if The X-Files cut a few corners or didn’t research every little bit? In 1993 it wasn’t quite the problem it is now; computers were just starting to make their way into the average home and most people didn’t know what a URL is. Besides, The X-Files totally nailed that alien thing.

It’s 2016 now and there is less of an excuse for not doing a bit of research. That line about “Writing a GUI interface in Visual Basic to track the IP Address” is near verbatim from a CSI episode that aired sometime around 2008. It’s complete nonsense to anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with computer and network technologies.

A GUI is a graphical user interface – a fancy term for the cool pictures you see on your screen. So, a GUI interface is a graphical user interface interface. GUI’s are usually defined by the Operating System (think Windows, OSX, or Linux), so you don’t actually write the GUI, you use the existing GUI to display information. And you definitely don’t write one in Visual Basic. Visual Basic (VB) is a programming language, but you can’t use it to define the GUI.

An IP Address is a series of numbers that tell your computer how to get to another computer. 10.0.0.1 is a pretty common one. Computers love IP addresses because they tell the computers where each other are. They’re not physical addresses, though, and there’s usually no way to tie a physical address to an IP Address. They’re also not assigned to people. In fact, chances are high that you’re not using the same IP Address today that you were using yesterday. A background service assigns your computer an IP Address in most cases and you may or may not even know it.

If you want to track an IP Address, use something like tracert, or a visual trace route tool. There’s no need to write a graphical user interface interface to do it. Even then, you won’t get much of an address. On a good day, you’ll get the city the IP address is currently being used in. On a bad day, you’ll get the country. You certainly won’t get a street address.

The really disappointing thing about hacking in the real world is the complete lack of exciting things and flashing lights. Most hacking consists of sitting in a hotel room and running automated penetration tools to look for open ports or unpatched operating systems. When those don’t work, hackers will spend some time on the phone simply asking questions. You’d be amazed at how much information people will give you if you important and sincere. Successfully loading a virus on someone’s computer won’t give you a splash of color and explosions on your screen. At the most, you’ll likely get a message that says “Done.”

So, what does this mean to writers? Well, if you’re going to write about technology and hacking, it behooves you to do a bit of research. The Internet is full of information about computers and hacking. There are technology groups that are usually happy to help. Even the IT staff at your job would probably be willing to give you a few pointers.

Take a little bit of time and you’ll save a lot of face later on. If you don’t know the difference between NVRAM and DRAM, it’s easy enough to look it up (BTW, see if you can guess what’s wrong with my usages in the scene above). Go a step beyond what CSI and The X-Files did to get a bit more of an insider look at hacking computers and it will make your story much better. If you want, drop me a line. I might be able to help out.

Next week, we’ll look at how to avoid letting technology totally take over the story, because the flip side to not knowing enough is knowing too much.

Do you have any favorite completely messed up technology stories?