Anatomy of the Most Significant Data Theft in History (to date)

In my last technical article on the Cloud, I mentioned the break in and theft of 70-100 million player IDs from the Sony PlayStation Network. The above infographic talks about the nature of the damage done, the costs to the company and the ramifications to our society as a whole. I cited this as a potential sample of the dangers of distributed computing in its current formats, before even addressing the capabilities of the cloud, we need to get issues such as this on in order. The cloud will simply make this more possible and affect a greater number of people over a wider array of potential clients. The real cost of this breach to Sony including its 70-100 million lost IDs and passwords is $318 per single user, the cost is up 48% from last year. This means valuation based on the amount of money each breach is worth has gone up due to the number of successful breaches worldwide and the effective means of utilizing the information gathered on the black market.

Advertisements

Thaddeus Howze featured on Black Enterprise

Featured on Black Enterprise

IT experts Thaddeus Howze (@ebonstorm) and Kevin Michael (@kevinvmichael) to faced off on BlackEnterprise.com with their two differing perspectives on cloud computing.

I am not opposed to cloud computing. Computers connected together tend to be more useful and more capable than computers isolated. But with every technology paradigm there are things you do not expect. Networked computers gave rise to spam, malware and botnets, three of the greatest scourges of the networked world today. They are such problems they absorb billions of dollars in performance lost, damaged or destroyed technology and time wasted by employees worldwide. But we do not abolish networks despite these things because the network is simply too useful and too profitable to be without.

The cloud, one day, may offer similar benefits to businesses and people everywhere. But we are not there yet. There are hurdles that need to be addressed and issues people need to understand to make informed decisions.

Reliability

The ‘cloud’ is being sold as a mature technology that is robust, trouble-free, easy to use, easy to configure, and far less expensive than owning your own platform for the service. While this may be true for certain applications like, Salesforce, it does not mean it is all of those things for every application of the cloud technology.  The underlying Internet infrastructure is, in my mind, far less reliable, stable, or capable of supporting this glut of technology which includes:
•    phones and internet capable devices,
•    the increasing burden of millions of new sites,
•    billions of new users and exobytes of constantly moving data
•    video streams, dedicated connections, torrents, botnets, spam and malware generation and propagation.

As China and India (and to a lesser extent Africa and South America) adopt new technology and enter the Internet, how will this affect this over-stretched behemoth of technological wonder?

Security
Security is one of many issues underlying the configuration of the Internet. The Internet was designed as an open environment. Now we are trying to secure an environment designed to be open, and as such there will be unintended consequences to layering security measures. For example, the ever-increasing complexities of these new security measures add to the already unstable configuration of the Internet protocols. Do these security technologies complement each other or do they compete with each other?

Business Autonomy
There was a time when IT was a utility and providers like WANG and Intel provided you with your technology choices and you liked it. You paid and that was it. Once companies have you where they want you, they don’t ever try and take advantage of you and jack up their rates to unreasonable levels, or do they? They certainly do; think Comcast, AT&T, and Pacific Bell for examples.

With Cloud computing that ‘utility-style’ of business is trying to be make a comeback and I don’t think I like it. If you use cloud computing, you may be required to use tools recommended by your service provider which may make it impossible for you to move your data at a later time. I dislike the idea of losing control of my applications, data, software and information regarding my business.

Thaddeus Howze is an IT consultant with thirty years of experience working with all forms of technology including the military, advertising, banking, financial and educational sectors.  He is A+, CCNA, and MSCE Certified, and currently working toward a Project Management Certification (PMP). He is the owner and founder of Ebonstorm Media and Have Flash Drive, Will Travel and provides technical development and consulting services in the San Francisco, Bay Area.

You can read Kevin Micheal’s point of view on Black Enterprise’s site.

The Cloud Conversation No One Is Happy Having

Don’t kid yourself, it’s the money

We live in a wondrous age of technological sophistication. Even in this age of wonders the idea that you can do a thing does not necessiate that you should. No where would this thinking be more appropriate than with cloud computing. Cloud computing  is an excellent idea, caused by a convergence of outstanding technologies, but it does not mean everyone should rush out and put themselves in the cloud, no matter how many vendors are telling you it is a good idea, and I am astounded by the number of vendors who talk about the inevitability of our approach to cloud computing. It is unstoppable and inescapable, so you had better embrace it.

The operative word here is vendors. They are selling something. They want you to buy it. So they are certainly going to tell you about every amazing asset and attribute with as little information as necessary for you to make an informed decision. Now let’s be real about one thing. No one but IT people like to talk about IT. In most cases, only IT people have any true understanding of how their technology works and depending on their experiences, the thoroughness of their training, the size of the mistakes they have made during their career and their ability to focus on the issues at hand, will truly prepare them for the complexity inherent in their job; both the human issues and the technological ones.

So let’s couple a vendor’s need to sell you IT and the overall complexity of IT and you have the perfect storm that is “Cloud Computing.” A technology that promises you will not have to keep IT people in house confusing you with their jargon and expensive toys you do not understand and they are unable to do without. Cloud computing will move your IT needs to a remote location that is backed up, redundant, staffed by the best IT people on Earth, in a location that has power, back-up power, and surrounded by fifty feet of solid bedrock, cooled by being three thousand feet underground to an ideal temperature of 58 degrees. Nothing short of a nuclear device will even affect this site because a Service Level Agreement (SLA) says so. So give us your money, and your data, and we will take care of the rest.[1] [13]

Technology simplifies life, Doesn’t it?

It is amazing to me how often I have heard about the technology that is available for the cloud today. And how many different flavors of cloud computing you can have. Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service, I am waiting for Ice-cream-as-a-Service and I will know the cloud is truly ready. What strikes me strange is how often people want to claim this is a technology we should be putting in place to support our businesses, our lifestyles and our way of doing work in the future. All of the people supporting this technology are always fond of talking about how robust the technology is and how nothing can possible go wrong so it would be okay to place our most important data into the cloud, now.

Contrary to what is believed, it IS possible for a technology to have existed for a long time and still not be a mature technology. Longevity should not be mistake for maturity. The Internet has existed for quite a long time now and is still evolving, looking almost nothing like it did as little as fifteen years ago. I would call the Internet a perfect example of a long-lived but still maturing infrastructure technology. The fact there are highly available clustered servers, clustered storage subsystems, redundant networking infrastructure did not stop what I call the Great Amazon Cloudburst from occurring. Surely no one can say there was insufficient access to great technology and highly skilled technical staff at Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service centers. But the functionality of their clients websites were lost for tens of thousands of people for at least 4 days. All of the support and technology was available and yet did nothing to mitigate the loss of service. Read their explanation about the event for yourself and see if you can understand what the problem was. I am betting if you are not an IT person, you will not have a clue. Reading it will not make you any happier. [2][7]

In the common fashion of this nation, the event is brushed under the rug and everyone returns to business as usual. The promotion of a service that is still too complex and growing more complex every day. The ever-increasing level of complexity of the systems in question has begun to plague all of our networks no matter where they are. Our phones systems have already begun to show signs of being overwhelmed by the complexity of the systems required to control them. Upgrade servers, remote access servers, game servers are all plagued by the increasing complexity of legitimate networks. This does not take into account illegal, illegitimate or poorly-configured network such as botnets which affect users all over the globe.[3][4]

Security isn’t a problem anymore for the Cloud

Pundits and supporters of the cloud say its secure even though we see news every day about the latest internet security breach from one company or another. Can you say the PlayStation Network and its estimated 70 million lost IDs? And these breaches grow larger and more data is gathered with each assault. I read a dozen IT trade magazines and see new security breaches happen that rarely make the evening news. I suspect that more companies do not voice their security issues but have them nonetheless, giving people a false sense of security. There is recent news indicating the PlayStation Network attack may have originated from Amazon Cloud Server environment. [12]

The truth of the matter is companies ARE loathe to let you know how often their systems are penetrated by any number of methods, including inside attackers, social engineering, system failures and security intrusion by outside attackers. If you knew, you might be less willing to put your personal information out there so easily, you might not be willing to bank online, or shop online or do all of these things our society has convinced you that you can no longer live without, because it creates profit for vendors, banks and finance agencies. This is about money, make no mistake. If you want to see information regarding security breaches you can look in The Register, a UK tech trade publication. Symantec mentions in their own literature, the increasing need for security software, potentially worth billions in the coming decade. [5][6]

The technology vendors want to tell you they are increasing reliability by adding virtual servers, virtual workstations and hypervisors which allow them to restore services easier after they are lost or have to be scaled to deal with companies that are growing and need ever-increasing performance. But the real reason this technology is being created and promoted is to send work and the systems required to do it overseas, reducing the need for internal IT infrastructure. No. I cannot substantiate this. It is my impression of the industry and how outsourcing has continued to dominate the landscape. How I arrive at that is another debate, but work with that premise and consider the following.

Outsourcing Considerations

We’re back to money again. Outsourcing for the win!

Corporations are outsourcing their services in record numbers. Human Resources departments, finance services, manufacturing inventory, company records, databases and now IT services are all being moved into outsource models reducing their cost to companies everywhere. But the question begs to be asked if after outsourcing these services, we also store the company’s data in the cloud, what we have said is, in the event of a catastropic emergency, even with a well-provisioned, well-equipped, highly trained service provider, a company will have limited to no access to its records, its databases, its human resource information, its healthcare records, its finance information, or any of it’s IT infrastructure including its virtual workstations, or virtual domain services or virtual telecom systems.

And I know, you are all thinking, this could never happen. But if you remember the Northeast Blackout of 2003 which left a large portion of the Eastern seaboard without electrical power and affected 45 million people in at least 8 US states. During this time, cellular, cable and telephone services were disrupted and the internet services of Advance Publications went offline, affecting three online news services for days. The nation was reduced to using amateur radios to pass emergency communications. [8][9]

The issue I worry the most about is how will the nation perform when hundreds or thousands of corporations are sharing the same series of servers and lose their infrastructure in a foreign land that is affected by a quake or tsunami or monsoon or any other of a number of catastrophic events outside of human control, what will your corporation do while it has placed more than fifty percent of its manpower and resources in virtual form, unable to be accessed for a day or week or a month. Can your business survive when all of its vital support services are unable to be accessed? You will lose even the ability to make even a simple phone call if your virtual network includes your digital telecom and voice mail services. Virtual domain services? Good luck being able to connect to your email, voicemail, VPN, SharePoint, file servers, clustered data services that you may have kept locally.

And yes, for all of you who are saying, there are failover technologies in place to allow redundant services to pick up the slack in case of an emergency. Amazon said that too, especially in hindsight, they were unhappy their failover technology did not operate as expected.

Did you test that? Prove it.

This is the kicker. Once you start aggregating clients into your environment, you come across a curious dynamic. How do you test your environment for failover to be sure it actually works. Anyone who has worked in an IT environment remembers how difficult it is to test your failover for your domain servers, or your remote email servers when it just YOUR company that you have to deal with across two or three timezones and you want to test to see if your email services will fail over to that redundant server cluster you are paying a princes wages to in Singapore. You are only affecting a few thousand people’s ability to work whenever they want. What happens when you are a Cloud Provider and you have five million different people scattered across the world and you want to test your failover services. Someone, somewhere WILL be inconvenienced. But it will need to be done, because if Amazon had done this test, they would have known something was incomplete in their process and would have pre-empted this problem which took them four days to correct.

This is not about painting a picture of worst case scenarios. But someone should ask the question, what DO we do in the event of a major failure when tens of thousands of companies have moved to this sort of infrastructure service and are unable to simply walk away because too much of their company is invested in that provider. Companies promise they will always maintain a certain level of performance, but history has shown as companies grow, their ability to maintain their level of agreed upon performance has suffered while they grew. Dare I mention, AT&T, Comcast, AOL, Time Warner and Enron just to pick a bunch out of a hat?

What we are really saying is ultimately, we are prepared to risk our entire livelihood on the development of cloud technology which we are doing our damnednest to get everyone possible to participate in every cloud provider we can find, whether they be public or private clouds. This means in fact, we are aggregating our businesses and their infrastructure into collective pots of provided services and depending on those services to be completely bulletproof, resistant to external hacking attacks and penetrations by unlawful persons. We are expecting it to be perfectly configured with thousands of companies sharing IP4 and now the new IP6 services, sharing switches, firewalls, shared servers, clustered resources, virtual environments and of course done by the company who offers the lowest bid and claims to have the best trained people in the industry. [10][11]

Single Point of Failure. You.

It seems a tall order to put the entire infrastructure of a nation into consolidated single points of failure without addressing what Plan B is supposed to look like, just in case Plan A, the world of the perfectly actualized, completely failure-proof, infrastructure that we already have, which never fails when we need it most, and isn’t staffed by over-worked, under-rested, hypercaffinated gearheads should happen to go offline for a month or two.

I am not a Luddite. I have worked with IT for thirty years at all levels of it. I have a healthy respect for technology and its seemingly supernatural ability to wait until it has the most people it can possibly have dependent on it and then unerringly to fail when you need it most. With that kind of perverse nature, do we really want our places of industry to be complete dependent on something that could simultaneously have us all conducting business on Post-its in our paperless offices? Can we find that happy medium that will not have the nation clutching our collective tuchas while we simultaneously wait for the same five or six cloud providers to figure out what went wrong today and how long America will be sitting in neutral until it can be fixed.

To quote Spongebob Squarepants: Good Luck with that.

Look through the references, read the articles and if you still disagree, please feel free to comment right here. Don’t bring me some vendor talking about how wonderful the cloud is. Bring me a real reason we cannot live without the cloud and what we need to be doing to mitigate some of the things I have mentioned in the article and that are in the articles listed in the references. We need to address this sooner rather than later. I am sure vendors will read this and dismiss everything I say and tell you to do the same. When the next cloud outage affects one million people rather than the twenty thousand this outage did at Amazon’s EC2 center, you remember who told you it was an inevitability. Remember, I am not trying to sell you anything, that vendor can’t look you in the eye and say that. He has a vested interest in making sure you bite.

References:

[1] FAQ: Cloud Computing Demystified; Network World; http://mediasphere.tumblr.com/post/5475321981/faq-cloud-computing-demystified [May 18, 2009]

[2] Summary of the Amazon EC2 and the Amazon RDS Service Disruption in the US East Region; Amazon Web Services Site; http://aws.amazon.com/message/65648/ [May 9, 2011]

[3] When the Cloud Fails: T-Mobile, Microsoft Lose Sidekick Customer Data; GigaOm; http://gigaom.com/2009/10/10/when-cloud-fails-t-mobile-microsoft-lose-sidekick-customer-data/ [October 10, 2009]

[4] Sidekick lightning-struck but complexity is the real issue; Examiner.com; http://www.examiner.com/information-technology-in-san-francisco/sidekick-lightning-struck-but-complexity-is-the-real-issue#ixzz1MJWZj94l [October 12, 2009]

[5] Update on PlayStation Network and Qriocity; Playstation Blog; http://blog.us.playstation.com/2011/04/26/update-on-playstation-network-and-qriocity/ [April 26, 2011]

[6] Playstation Network Breach: It’s Really, Really Bad; Technologizer.com; http://technologizer.com/2011/04/26/playstation-network-breach-data-stolen/ [April 26, 2011]

[7] Cloud failover a challenge for Amazon competitors, too; Network World; http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/042711-cloud-failover.html [April 27, 201]

[8] List of Power Outages; Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_power_outages [Last Updated: May 1, 2011]

[9] Northeast Blackout of 2003; Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_2003

[10] Cloud computing providers: Clueless about security?; Network World; http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/042811-cloud-computing-security.html [April 28, 2011]

[11] Survey: Cloud security still a struggle for many companies; Network World; http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/093010-survey-cloud-security-still-a.html [September 30, 2010]

[12] Amazon Server Said to Be Used in Sony Attack; Bloomberg News; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-13/sony-network-said-to-have-been-invaded-by-hackers-using-amazon-com-server.html [May 13, 2011]

[13] Dolcera Public Wiki on Cloud Computing; Dolcera.com; http://www.dolcera.com/wiki/index.php?title=Cloud_Computing

Real Female Protagonists Wanted, Inquire Within

This was spurred by a thread on Aimee Salter’s, Seeking The Write Life, I read a day ago at this link. Go ahead, read it and then come back. Okay. Now my two bits. Oh and if you read the comments, you have seen this already, just skip ahead to the Postscript (the P.S.) at the bottom. For those of you who were less dutiful, please continue.

“Laura Croft/Buffy Summers” Syndrome is a condition I have noticed in almost all female protagonists in the last twenty years in all forms of media not just in YA literature. LC/BS Syndrome has infiltrated movies and television as well, likely as a response to the previous hundreds of years of literature where women have been needing to be rescued to be viable in any kind of tale.

I do not have a problem with LC/BS Syndrome in and of itself. Women can be physically nearly as strong like men, fight as well as men and be as viable as main protagonists as any man. Yes, I said nearly as strong physically because pound for pound they are not. Not withstanding, women have lots of other capabilities that men are often less capable of developing and as such I consider them to be abilities that compensate for the minor difference in raw physical strength.

The problem lies in the way they have become these super-beings. They have done it by “becoming” men; solving problems the way men have done in literature. Women have different skills, different ways of thinking and solve problems in ways that men rarely do. I am saddened to see how things have turned out for women and finding this transition into “male archetypes” to be a lessening of the innate (and in my opinion, superior) capabilities of women’s considerable intuitive intellect.

I have seen this show up in the real world where women wear men’s suits trying to compete with men in the workplace only to find out men resent women trying to become men because, well, they aren’t men. Writers need to let female protagonist utilize ALL of the skills available to them, particularly those skills that are more suited to the female mindset. Women do not need to be men to be excellent protagonists. Women need to solve problems to be protagonists. Let them be the best women they can be, not second-class men.

And don’t get it twisted. I enjoyed Buffy, Serenity, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, all with amazing women doing awesome stuff only men used to get to do. But almost all of these characters fell out of their true potential as female characters.

To point at a character who has maintained some level of “female-ness” I show the character of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) from the TV show Fringe. She is a strong FBI Agent who takes no prisoners, fights well, shoots well, and is not to be taken lightly with any physical confrontation. But she does not win them all. And I respect writers who recognize she shouldn’t. Especially against much bigger physical opponents. But where Olivia shines is her very human, very female intuition which she uses to solve problems and arrive at solutions that the male characters may also arrive at using very linear-male problem-solving techniques. They do not underestimate her, they do not relegate her to a secondary position and often it is her intuitive, nurturing nature that brings a very different point of view to the Fringe Universe.

What we need are writers who are able to appreciate men and women as distinct and interesting beings who can develop skills from both sides of the physical and mental spectrum. This takes some skill to develop and often my personal belief is that protagonists who are strongly one way or the other reflect their author’s personal idiosyncracises more than any other single element of the character’s development.

Just my two bits. Your mileage may vary.

Thaddeus
@ebonstorm

P. S. There are plenty of female characters who also reflect my idea of the ideal female characters, who do not become caricatures. Strangely enough, three of the four I am thinking of are FBI Agents. Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster) of Silence of the Lambs, Dana Sculley (Gillian Anderson) of the X-files, and the last is from a much lamented (from my point of view) Farscape, in which two of the female characters, Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) and Zhaan (Virginia Hey) were physically awesome, mentally superior and yet still manged to be wonderful women with all that entails. Emotionally sensitive, sensual and aware of their power over men, and occasionally needed to be rescued with they got in over their heads, just the same way the male leads who showed comraderie, nurturing, love and supporting roles during the course of the show without being characterized as weak or feminine. Perhaps it is just the double standard rearing its ugly head again.

If you want to see a list of Sci-Fi’s list of awesome female protagonists (which also happens to agree with my picks) check out Sci-Fi’s TV’s Most Memorable Female Characters.

One day we will allow women to do the things that men do the same way men are allowed to do the things women do without any consequence or for that matter with anyone noticing anything at all.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

The Making of Hayward’s Reach (National Short Story Month)

I have been working on the National Short Story Month Contest. The goal of the contest is to explode open one’s creative juices and write a short story every day. The criterion were, you had to write 30 short stories in the 30 days of April, they had to be at least 200 words and they needed to be real stories, with a beginning, a middle and an ending.

Make no mistake, this was a brutal challenge because if your story was short, it was hard to make a complete tale in 200 words. I guess its possible, but my shortest was 347 words and had only, in my opinion the barest rudiments of a story. Catafalque was the title, about two cats investigating the new baby brought home by their owners. I wrote really short stories after I burned out on really long ones. In this case, this was written after Hikaro Dorodango, a follow-up to an earlier piece I enjoyed so much, I had to go back; Aethermancer, a tale of a warrior-sorceress on a mission of vengeance.

The real challenge which made this different from National Novel Writing Month which I took part in, last November of and completed successfully was and this is key, you had to create an entire new reason for telling each story, each day. With NaNoWriMo, you had to produce more of the same single story, so you did not have to create an entirely new reason for being today. You did not have to find new protagonists, new story ideas, new character motivations, new threats, sometimes new tones of voice, occasionally even different genres, altogether. This made the challenge take on a completely different tenor of difficulty.

For the most part, my stories were split evenly into three lengths 5000 words or greater, 2500 words to 5000 words and 350 to 2400 words. I have ten stories in each category. But I can say the longer pieces were done earlier for the most part, and they grew shorter as I either ran out of ideas or out of strength when the challenge grew harder near the end. Strangely enough, I thought I would like the later stories less, because I thought they would be less good. But that did not end up being the case. Some of the ones I wrote later, were in my mind more solid pieces because I had to think differently about what I was writing.

Now, to be fair, I did intentionally limit myself before starting. I said I would write no vampire stories, no werewolf or shapechanger stories, no Eurocentric ancient tales of military derring-do (and I kind of fall off with one story that talks about a pseudo-Romanesque empire that is destroyed in a magical conflict) but I liked that story so I wasn’t going to throw it out. But these limitations were considered because I wanted to get away from the genres that seem so easily done by just about everyone today and there is so little fresh juice in that fruit, I did not want to create yet another stereotype and be considered a lazy writer for picking low hanging fruit.

Once I was done though, I noticed another trend in my work. I was partial to destroying the world, or working with dystopian futures. There are at least two tales where the possibility of the destruction of the world has happened (Brotherhood) or potentially could happen (Bludgeon), or there has been a disaster large enough that the world as we know it is no more (The Great White Spot, Paper). Two of them don’t end the world but leaves it so transformed, we would not recognize it (Genetically Modified Organism and Suicide Seed). I noticed I had a sense of humor, though I did not know it until I started writing: A Private, Little War, A Cappuccino with Charon, Catafalque, Take Us to Your Leader and Cats Versus Evil, all the pieces revolve around a strange perspective on a not quite normal life. I even wrote a couple of less magical or more human-oriented tales, Autism’s Arrow, The Lions of Mexico and Hornblower.

Into this mix, I also wrote two superhero pieces, Übermensch and Dark Star Rising, and a good deal of space opera, The Outpost, Bug On!, Hunger and The Planet Traders. I managed a good mix of science fiction and fantasy with equal parts of both. The major fantasy pieces included: Blind Man’s Bluff, Leading the Spirit Army and Dark Gods Gambit.

I planned none of this. I wrote every day as if it were the first time I was going to write. The only time there was any real extra thought was if one piece might have referenced another piece. Only one piece managed to do that, though I had planned to  and will likely write a couple of others. Forsaken, my weird-western tale was supposed to have a second part. And I don’t think I will be right until I create it. It is a world begging for a longer visit. I had a couple of others that made me hanker to write more, Suicide Seed, a tale of a future where the human race verges on extinction through the machinations of a global agriculture company, Aethermancer, a world where magic and technology co-exist violently, Paper, a world where technology-oriented powers have oppressed the uneducated underclasses, and outlaws selling the information hidden in the written word. I also think I enjoyed the superhero tales just a bit too much, so I suspect I may have to do more with them as well.

So, was this a good experiment? Absolutely. A brutal, taxing, savage, unrelenting, and merciless pace to write stories to. I wrote 84,133 words once the documents were bound together in a single file. I did not realize the terrible pace I was working at until I was done. I was sleep-deprived, manically-driven, and now that it is finished, I plan to fall into a death-like coma for at least a day. But I have a book, granted a small one, and I may have to write a few more stories to supplement it, and I will unlikely be able to find a publisher for the book, so making it into an e-book will likely be the best way to sell it, if I go that route, but I have a book, created by me, written by me and with stories I am proud to say I have written. I don’t have a single one I do not like and for me that is a good thing, my standards being way too damn high; I am my own worst critic.

I will definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to test their mettle, their creativity, their desire to write, their writing instinct.  My favorite writer Ray Bradbury, wrote over 400 pieces of short fiction in his career. He is a master story-teller and I know where it comes from, writing short fiction sharpens the saw like nothing else. This will test you the same way a marathon or a triathlon would test your body. But the same satisfaction is derived from the effort. You will feel that accomplishment from doing something few people can do, if you really put your mind, heart and dare I say it, soul into it. Could you fail? Yes, I believe failure to complete this difficult test is definitely a possibility. But if you are really working at it, you will be a better writer for the experience.  I feel different after completing it. You will too.

The wonderful background art belongs to and is the copyright of the talented, young, Saudi Arabian artist I found on deviantArt named Mohammed and who goes by the handle QAZ2008. You can see some of his other amazing space scenery art at: http://qaz2008.deviantart.com/. The full painting I reference for my cover is: The Spirit of Gold. An awesome artist. Be sure to go to deviantArt and tell him so.

P.S. I have tried to get in touch with Vic regarding badges. Since I have been unsuccessful, I will go ahead a post some badge ideas here. These are jpeg images for National Short Story Month. If you were a participant please feel free to put them up on your blog or where-ever you talk about your writing. They are large, so remember to scale them down for your use. Enjoy.