Writer and Author

Tag: Google

A Phoenix from the Ashes

Bad things lurk in corners of the Internet pic by Michael Stamp all rights reserved

Bad things lurk in corners of the Internet. Pic by Michael Stamp all rights reserved

I’ve always known that the Internet was a bit like the Wild West, that if you turned the wrong corner there’s be the aggressive stall holder tugging at your sleeve to sell you some over-priced piece of knock-off junk while simultaneously picking your pockets while his dodgy looking mates beckon you towards a manky shed where you can hear the faked pants of the live sex show taking place on a filthy mattress inside. I’m not naive about the lawless side of things – I did some fairly comprehensive research that side of things when I was researching Devil, my first book, and I’m well aware of how out of date that research is now. But even so I didn’t see it coming. I thought this blog was a pretty safe place to hang out, a little bastion where I could whether the storm quite happily for as long as I wanted to.

Now that was naive.

It happened on my wedding anniversary. I only noticed that once I had saw the damage a few days later. They hadn’t known of course – but that coincidence made it feel like an utterly personal attack, a violation. My blog, this site, which I’ve been building since 2008 despite the fact I haven’t been posting as often as I should for quite a while now, had been hacked. It was a particularly nasty kind of hack known as the Pharma hack – or at least a variation of that hack. It works by highjacking your site as it appears in Google search results so that your site advertises whatever they happen to be selling – as the name suggests it’s often pharmaceuticals, in my case it was games. It’s a particularly annoying hack because it’s hard to detect. It only shows up in Google searches, everything looks fine on Yahoo or Bing and if you go directly to the site it’s absolutely fine. It usually effects the most popular links to your site – so in a way it’s the most backhanded of backhanded compliments. You only get affected if you’re doing something right.

So I was stuck with a website that, as far as anyone looking on Google was concerned, did a very good line in Fifa games in Polish. I changed every password I could think of and got onto my hosting company to ask for assistance but was told it was down to me to clean up. One of the staff might be willing to do it as a nixer – for a price. So I started doing my own research. It seemed the hack was quite common. It also seemed that getting rid of the hackers was not the easiest thing in the world. But there was good advice out there – in particular this WordPress forum and this excellent post. I started looking for the code the hackers had added to my site – but while I managed to find the files modified on the day I knew they got in, I couldn’t find the (hidden) code.

So I decided to take drastic action. If the hackers were going to squat on seven years of hard work because I’d managed to get some kind of Google Rank then I’d make sure it wasn’t worth their while. I’d whip the rug from under them. I’d burn the place down.

Ok there were probably better ways of doing it. Ways that wouldn’t have trashed my own ranking, especially since Google seemed blissfully unaware that I hadn’t just switched my line of work. But I’d had enough. Like I said, it felt personal. I suppose that’s what I get for having a self-named website – it’s all going to be ego in the end.

So I blew the whole thing up. I deleted the database and uninstalled the WordPress installation. Then I started deleting everything else I could find – except a load of folders that I didn’t have access to – where the backdoor actually was. It was actually rather liberating – in a decidedly destructive way. I’d backed up all my posts from WordPress (and thought I had all the images and sound files I’d uploaded over the years). What could possibly go wrong? At this stage my faith in the Internet was somewhat restored when Good Samaritan came forward on Twitter and offered to give me a temporary place to call home – without which I seriously doubt I’d have got things restored to the stage they are at the moment.

It took a while to sort out but I changed hosts and transferred my domain to the new guys. I wasn’t happy with the way my old hosts had dealt with things. OK I had been naive about the level of security needed but there should have been a bit more by way of support there. I had always felt with them that there was an attitude that if I didn’t know how to do something I shouldn’t really be managing my own website. I might not be madly techy but I’m independent. If you bother to explain how something works, or at least point me in the direction where I can learn more, I will read up. I’m learning as I go – and the past six weeks has been a very steep learning curve.

So for the past week I’ve been putting everything back in it’s place, here in it’s new home. I’m far happier with the new hosts  – they’ve been absolutely brilliant as I’ve been getting set up, no matter how trivial the question. The damage has been done with Google but I’ve been working on the SEO.  It doesn’t help that I’ve sort of changed address – there’s now a /wordpress/ missing in every link – so I’ve been setting up redirects left right and centre and doing a bit of firefighting. Hopefully everything will settle down eventually. What all this has done is meant that I’ve had to go back over all my old posts. It’s made me remember why I started this blog and why I kept it going. Over the past few years I’ve let things slide. Well from now on I can’t promise that I’ll post as much as I did when I had a book to sell but I’ll make more of an effort. I’ve already been tweaking the look of the thing – this will be an ongoing process – I have a very clear idea of what I want – but I’ll need to learn a bit of CSS first.

And if I do things right and make another tempting proposition for the hackers I’ll be ready for them next time. I’m not going to get caught out like that twice – next time I’ll go all Charles Bronson on them!

New Year, Same Old Codswallop

So today I’m tentatively sticking my nose into the real world – after making absolutely sure that the dispiriting mess that was 2012 has definitely left the building. I’ve been taking a break from all things internet related for most of the festive period…well apart from standing on the shore with a megaphone trumpeting Christmas wishes to anyone who’d listen and occasionally checking IMDB while on our annual compendium horror movie marathon…but for the most part it’s been drawbridge up, hatches well and truly battened down and it’s been lovely.

Much as I love the sprawling badlands that are the Interwebs they do hold an awful lot of silliness within their ragged borders. While the Net holds the kind of boundless possibilities Captain James T. Kirk was chasing (and still does apparently) it also gets snagged with all the pettiness of mankind. It opens up the world and you get the good with the bad. I’ve spent much of the past two years researching my new book. Thanks to a truly connected global Internet I was able to access the collections of libraries across the planet without ever leaving my desk. Thanks to the Google Books Project I was able to access printed sources that haven’t even survived in the collection of the National Library of Ireland.  I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t even have been able to find this story if it wasn’t for that interconnectedness. It’s a small story, an intimate and subtle one that was scattered far and wide in the intervening years. Without digital copies and the ability to conduct keyword searches I wouldn’t have been able to pull the strands of the story together. I’d be left with a thin sliver of purely linear narrative running through a haystack bristling with needles I would have had no hope of finding.

Technology has utterly revolutionised the way I research – my smartphone has become as essential a bit of kit as the ubiquitous tricorder, to return to that StarTrek analogy for a second. As a journalist and writer my work suddenly reaches a global audience. When I’m between freelance gigs I can still reach out to that audience through this blog. If I want to find something out I have access to a vast source of information, bigger than the greatest libraries in the world, connected to any reference work, any expert with a few strokes of the keyboard. It really is extraordinary. In less than 10 years we’ve wandered into science fiction.

I think that’s part of the problem.

The Internet, just by being it’s enormous sprawling self, tends to magnify both good and bad. Moving from our analogue pre digital existence to one connected to the Net all day every day is like moving from a small village to a city. There might be better shops, theatres and sporting stadiums but you can bet there’ll also be higher crime and higher prices. The bright lights just cast darker shadows and those shadows tend to be very busy places indeed. What else would you expect when moving to a community that isn’t bound by city limits or country borders? This is totally global. That’s big.

Now city living doesn’t suit everyone. With the bricks and mortar variety we can choose to leave, to turn our backs on the bright lights and frenetic life of the city for something a little less intense. So it is with the Internet. At the moment there seems to be a settlement sprouting up at the edge of our Internet City, a forest of lean-to shelters for the most part, although there are signs that some of the residents have actually started laying down foundations to stake a more permanent claim. They refuse to accept that the land they have built on is still part of the city and gather outside their dwellings several times a day to shout and throw stones. Sometimes they even travel into the city centre to better tell the city inhabitants what a sinful life they’re leading. They say that the city is destroying the countryside they would have chosen to live in and they have no choice but to sit outside their shanty town at night and throw stones and the occasional bucket of excrement at the outer fringes of the city. It’s the city’s fault for being too close.

Over the past weeks and months in Ireland a lot of shit has been slung. The Internet is blamed for for all the ills of mankind it seems. It’s denizens are cast as an unruly mob waiting in the bushes to jump out at unsuspecting innocents. Whether it’s the amount of confusing facts and non facts floating around online that can lure unsuspecting journalists into making career-ending mistakes (the first of which would surely have been the old one of checking ones sources), or anonymous bullying from so called trolls (a genuine problem but not one that should be hidden behind by politicians and public figures who put themselves up for scrutiny and then decide they don’t like criticism) these are problems that revolve around responsibility. Yes perhaps their should be more civic mindedness online and yes perhaps there need to be consequences for some of the irresponsible acts but surely there’s also a responsibility to those on the other end to be aware of what they are dealing with. I’m often reminded these days of the advice I got from friends before moving from Sligo to Dublin in my late teens.  They would have had me afraid to leave my flat if I’d listened to all the stories of rapes and murders in broad daylight on Grafton Street. When I’d moved to Sligo from London I was more freaked out by the way everyone said hello to everyone else and houses and cars were left unlocked. But if you weren’t looking out for it, sure Dublin was a wee bit dodgy but then, it is a city.

The latest missile is that old chestnut copyright. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of copyright – I’m a writer. My words are my trade. But the body representing the bulk of Irish newspapers has taken a stance on linking that is, to my mind, plain daft. Here’s the initial post from the solicitors representing charity Woman’s Aid, who received a bill for linking to coverage of their own fundraising efforts and here’s the National Newspaper of Ireland response.  As any regular reader of this blog will know I use links a lot. I use them to explain the background of stories I’m writing about and choose sources I respect. I’ve always linked rather than quoted because I wouldn’t want to steal the work of another journalist (although I’ve often linked to my own coverage of stories in old media sources). As far as I’m concerned it’s the most ethical way of doing things, it drives traffic to the source (though not much from here) and I’m not taking credit for something I’ve not done. I’ve been dealing with copyright a lot over the past few years as I’ve gathered together copies of all my research. I’ve lost count of the number of copyright release forms I’ve signed before taking my camera out and before using the composite image in this post I had to get permission from the National Library who hold the images I wanted to use. I was using the images on my blog though. I wasn’t linking to the library website to show the images (though actually I don’t think those three are up there yet). If I had linked through I wouldn’t have asked for permission. All I was doing was pointing the way after all.

In fairness the NNI aren’t the only ones to come up with this kind of lunacy. President Hollande of France is having a scrap with Google over much the same thing (and yes I know I could be incurring the wrath of the NNI by linking to a piece from one of their members to illustrate that point). I can understand the NNI point and even more the French point but I think they’re both going about it the wrong way. Anyone who makes their living producing unique content should have an issue with copyright. It’s one of the biggest issues of our time and if it’s not watched carefully then people like me will and any other writer, journalist, artist or photographer will find themselves unable to make a living. Once again we’re back to finding a balance between that “civic” responsibility and a sense of reality on the other side. Surely it’s about time people stopped acting like rubes up in the big smoke for the first time and took responsibility for their new home.

Like any community it’s up to the inhabitants what shape it takes. You can watch it from down the road, occasionally shouting warning at it’s wayward ways and throwing buckets of shit; you can live in it passively, allowing a monarchy, a church or big business to run it for you; or you can take responsibility and mould something really worthwhile. Lets hope the Internet lives up to its own possibilities and doesn’t get swamped by the mass of humanity that inhabits it.

The Baser Appetites

I watch the search terms people use to arrive at this blog with interest.  Every blogger gets some weird ones but I get more than most. It kind of goes with the territory when you spend most of your time writing about murder, rape, abuse, death and the media.

I write on a fairly niche subject so I end up high in the results for searches for Irish legal or criminal matters.  There’s a couple of weird ones – I get a LOT of hits from Japan for naked caricatures since I posted on the paintings of our esteemed Taoiseach in the nip that appeared in a couple of galleries in Dublin a while back using a full frontal image from Galway cartoonist Allan Cavanagh. And recently I seem to have become a go to place for those looking for the recipe for ricin (though since I’ve written extensively on that very subject I brought that one on myself).

Today I got an unusual one, a sentence that took me aback when I read it in the list of Google searches.  Someone had found my blog looking for the phrase “Abigail Rieley is scum”.  I know that people sometimes have very strong views about what I write here and that’s why I have comments enabled on every post.  Blogging is a social form of writing and I believe people should have the freedom to express their views.  I won’t allow comments that will cause unnecessary offence or break the law but if someone has a rational case to make they can make it freely.

But it got me thinking.  I write, for the most part, about death.  I earn my living following the stories of some of the most violent deaths we have in this country and I comment on them.  I’m aware that I can’t please everyone if I come down on one side or another in a trial but I will always try to be as fair as I possibly can.  But however fair I am there is always the risk of upsetting someone.

That’s the problem with this line of work.  As a court reporter specialising in criminal trials I am feeding one of the oldest appetites for news.  It’s the same public hunger that demands public executions and fights to the death for sport.  It’s the side of humanity that watches the pain of others with a bright glint in the eye.  Before you recoil in disgust stop a minute – it’s a lot more common than you think. 

It’s the same side of us that laps up crime fiction and violent movies.  Just because it’s make believe doesn’t mean it’s a different urge.  It’s the same sneering little voice that laughs at the audition stages of Britain’s Got Talent, willing dreams to be dashed and hopes crushed and will continue to watch even though psychologist have warned of the dangers to the more vulnerable auditionees.  But what I write about doesn’t have the sanitised gloss of entertainment.  It’s real life, real death.  The raw explosion of emotion that leads one ordinary person to take another’s life. You realise very quickly when you work down in the courts that the average person on trial for murder is not a psychopath or evil or depraved.  They’re just like you and me.

With every trial there are people who have lost, families who must listen to their loved ones reduced to an echo, a cipher who was at the centre of a storm and is now in front of the court as a a series of figments; forensic samples, perhaps a few photographs taken after death and the inevitable post mortem.  It’s shocking in it’s mundanity.

I’ve seen the looks the family of both the accused and the deceased give us journalists as we file in to the front of the court.  We’re usually seen as vultures, vermin scrabbling for the juicy titbits left over from a tragedy.  I know how it looks, we all do.  But the reality of the situation is that we are there to do a job and to feed an appetite for this kind of news.  It’s easier to cover a trial when you aren’t emotionally involved and that distance tends to show itself as an increased cynicism and an outward callousness.  We’re there to tell a story and allow the audience that same remove.  We’re feeding an interest, crime and politics have been filling newspapers since they were just a bill pasted on a wall…at least we don’t write ballads about the more infamous trials these days.

I would argue though that court reporting’s not all base emotions.  We’re witness to the carrying out of justice, one of the basic pillars of society.  Without the courts we’d have anarchy, or something similar.  When we write about murders we’re giving a voice to the dead and seeing their killers brought to justice – most of the time.  Maybe the reason why there’s such an interest in crime stories is just that, because it puts the bad guys in their place and makes the world less scary.  There will always be those that just see the sleaze and think what I do is sordid and perhaps even exploitative but all I can do is try to show them otherwise.

Back to Work…

On Monday I’ll be back in court for the first time this year.  The trial of Brian McBarron is listed to start, the man accused of the murder of Sara Neligan, the daughter of prominent former heart surgeon, Maurice Neligan.

I’ve posted here before about the kind of trials that make news editors prick up their ears and this is one that ticks all the boxes.  The fact that Sara’s father is well known in media circles and has commanded more than the odd headline himself over the years with his outspoken criticism of the failings in the Health Service, will guarantee that the press benches will be full on Monday morning.

I’m not going to go into any further detail about the trial today.  I’ve written a short piece for this week’s Sunday Independent which gives a brief outline of the facts and I don’t want to talk more about it until the trial is up and running.

It’s all too easy to write something that could be deemed prejudicial even when all you’re doing is going over facts that have previously been widely reported.  There’s a big difference between speculation in the days after a violent death and the careful words which go to form the coverage of a trial.

Writing a court report is a fine art and writing a preview can be even more delicate.  Even though anything said in open court is privileged information which may be written about by anyone who wishes to do so, the reality of writing about a live trial or one that is soon to be live, is that there are twelve reasons to watch your words very carefully.

The twelve men and women of the average jury are seen by the law as a fragile bunch, vulnerable to nefareous influences from the slanted accounts supposedly bombarding them at every turn. Consequently they will be warned repeatedly during a high profile trial not to concern themselves with media reports of the case or to spend their evenings Googling background that might not appear in court.

It’s not unusual to arrive into court in the morning to find the barristers poring over the days newspapers weighing up the danger posed by this headline, that photograph or the other article.

You see, it’s not simply the jury’s possible tendency to be influenced, there is a far more fundamental issue at stake.  Any person who stands accused before an Irish court is presumed innocent until the jury decides otherwise.

From a journalistic point of view this usually translates as us reporting matters that might have come to light during the garda investigation which cast the accused in a bad light.  This can be as blatant as in the case of Joe O’Reilly whose guilt was a barely veiled accusation in almost any article printed about him from the time of his wife’s death.

Obviously, that particular trial ended in conviction and he is now serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife Rachel and awaiting to hear if his appeal is successful.  But copy doesn’t have to be as blatant as screaming GUILTY to be prejudicial.

Certain facts, comments that may have been made at earlier stages in the legal proceedings, even the juxtaposition of the name of someone accused beside that of someone convicted can all land a reporter in very hot water, and it’s not nice being told off by a judge!

When a trial is connected to someone as well known and well connected as Mr Neligan then even greater care needs to be taken because the more people who write about it the more places there are for the defence team to look for prejudice.

So I will be back in court bright and early on Monday morning, prepared for the scrum and in the meantime I will say no more about it!

A Whole New Way of Doing Things?

I was talking to a friend on Skype earlier today and the conversation turned to social networking…as it does.  I was trying to explain the concept of Twitter to her and persuade her to give it a try and the conversation turned to the whole social networking phenomenon and how much the business of writing and researching has changed since we both studied journalism in college.

Now granted, since I learnt the ropes things have moved on from quarter in reel to reel recorder (one of these…, through minidiscs on to hardrive recorders.  Elsewhere the revolution of being able to file copy from anywhere without having to use a copy taker or an ISDN line as long as you have access to an internet connection has made minute by minute breaking news achievable.

But apart from the tools we carry about with us to perform our daily business it’s the actual job that has changed almost beyond recognition over the year.  I graduated from college in 2000.  Back then learning how to use search engines was a fairly new part of the curriculum.  These days, if the Internet went bang in the morning I wonder how many of us would remember how to do things the old fashioned way.  There are so many routine inquiries that would have required several hours of judicial phone calls or knocks on doors that can now be answered by a few minutes Googling.

It’s something that we all take for granted yet still on occassion becomes something to marvel at.  I’ve lost count of the number of times the press room in the Four Courts has been agog over a piece of video or audio that would have previously meant a search of the archives back at base that you might only have seen when it went to air.  During the Joe O’Reilly trial, for example the footage of his appearance on the Late, Late Show in the company of his obviously uncomfortable mother-in-law three weeks after he had murdered his wife got an almost daily showing.

Similarly the video that Siobhan Kearney shot to publicise the guest house she and her husband Brian Kearney had run in Spain was played again and again in the media room during his trial for her murder.

These are the kinds of archive material that have always been obtainable but never quite as readily as they are now.  These days colour writers wanting to describe an earlier event in vivid technicolour can call up their subject in a Google search rather than rely on rusty memories.

Even basic newsgathering is changing according to the advances in technology.  Journalists can now look at someone’s Myspace or Facebook page.  Incereasingly this is the first place to look in the case of murder victims.  A Bebo memorial page set up in their honour is a source of photographs not just of them but of the friends and family who attend the court each day, a way of putting names to faces without intruding.  In the recent trial of Finn Colclough, which I’ve written about at some length, journalists quickly found the Bebo page set up for victim Sean Nolan with the outpouring of grief from his devoted friends which still continues to this day.

We live in a technological world and it is at their peril that a journalist doesn’t move with the times.  YouTube is the source for the kind of eye witness footage captured by increasingly high resolution mobile phones that news editors could have only dreamed of in the past.  Twitter has become the new buzz word for a second by second stream of information from any major news event.  You only have to look at the number of articles and courses springing up on electronic news gathering to see the impact it’s having.

As I discovered researching the book it’s now possible to gather information from the other side of the road simply sitting at your desk.  I’m a great fan of the idea of VOIP (quite apart from the fact it allows me to chat with people who have decided to move back to Sweden and are no longer eligable to be my Call a Friend for Free!)  I get very excited about the fact that I can Google someone or somewhere, go to their website then simply click on a phone number somewhere in that page of text and within seconds talk to them through Skype (using the Firefox Skype plugin).

As a writer too the advent of Web 2.0 has totally changed the reality of life.  The fact that you have become some grungy creature who hasn’t change dout of your pajamas and who lives in a small pool of light over  you cluttered desk and overheating laptop is no longer a barrier to you networking with editors or agents in any of the major cities.

Living in Ireland and not having access to a lot of writing festivals or author appearances where publishers and agents would be in attendance it’s fantastic.  I can be as cheeky as I like in approaching people through Twitter or blogs (although it remains to be seen how successful my networking is – to date I’ve probably got most of my most concrete contacts the old fashioned way but I’m optimistic for the future).

I’m constantly in awe of all these changes.  I love technology but I’m not young enough to be born to it.  I remember what life was like in the dark Luddite days and I like the way things have changed.  Personnally I think the reality is that this is simply a new way of doing something we’ve always done.  I’m fascinated with the opportunities to self publicise that the Internet provides (obviously I’m aware of the blogging one) and the idea of virtual book tours and being able to reach a global audience is too exciting to pass up.

The Internet has allowed us to go back to the kind of old fashioned communities and intensive networking that were bog standard a century or more ago.  These days we may hang out on Twitter, in the 18th Century coffee shops were all the rage.  Thanks to Google I’m now in touch with a community gardening initiative that happens not five minutes from my front door.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if everything went bang (it’s a thought that feels natural with the ongoing economic doom and gloom) but I can’t help thinking we’d probably carry on much as we are now.  We’d just have to get out more.  As long as Armageddon isn’t coming any time soon, I’m happy enough with the way things are.  We’ve come a long way, even if the communities we’re building hark back to earlier times and I for one am more than happy to embrace tweeting and blogging and exploring the big wide world from the comfort of my desk!

 

 

Technology and the Irish Courts

I’ve just read a very interesting article thanks to Journalismnews on Twitter.  Even though I’ve worked in the courts on a pretty much daily basis for the past couple of years, the issue of whether or not blogging or Twitter updates should be allowed of court proceedings had never really occured to me.  Here in Ireland electronic news disemination is somewhat slow to catch on – probably a lot due to pitiful state of broadband in this country.

Twitter is still very much a niche site here and while several media organisations such as RTE, the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner have news feeds, these tend to be pretty much a clone of the kind of copy they’ve been providing for years for mobile phones, rather than using any of Twitter’s unique functionality.  I’m not saying no one’s aware of it, just that it’s not really that much in the public consciousness here…and if it hasn’t reached the public counsciousness in any meaningful way then it definately hasn’t ruffled any feathers in the Irish Courts.

For the subject of real time blogging and tweeting of court proceedings to raise consternation in the courts here there would have to be more understanding of the realities of social networking by the barristers who raise these kinds of issues.  Even though more and more trials include evidence of emails and text messages as part of the prosecution case it’s still not unusual to hear email accounts described as web pages and other hints at a deeper incomprehension of the technology being described.

I’m sure there are many techologically literate barristers out there but there are still those that seem to view the advent of Web 2.0 as something in the realm of alchemy or plain straight forward magic.  Granted it’s now common practice for the judge to warn the jury not to check the internet when he’s warning them about the dangers of slanted media reports during the trial but thankfully no one has yet raised the issue of live reports on blogs and on Twitter being an even greater threat to the jury’s umblemished objectivity.

To be honest though, even if such concerns were raised I think an Irish judge would rule in the same way as their Colorado counterpart in the article I mentioned and allow the trial to be reported in this way.  There may be no photography allowed in the confines of an Irish court and television cameras and recording equipment may be banned but the journalists who take their places in the hard wooden benches all have their laptops available.

The broadcast reporters frequently file text to their newsrooms using mobile broadband from the courtroom itself – I’ve done so myself in high profile cases when deadlines were looming.  There are some judges who don’t like seeing the laptops out but then there are some judges who don’t like seeing journalists reading a newspaper when proceedings are dragging a bit.

While there may not be any dedicated online journalists sitting in court, the story will be published on various breaking news websites within minutes of it being received.  I suppose technically since broadcasting or recording isn’t allowed from the courtroom during proceedings then the issue of whether or not material should be published online could well be one that may arise at some time in the future.  Certainly there have been occassions when reporters have clashed with security within the courts over bringing in microphones, even though they weren’t live.

It’s an interesting area and one that will have to be addressed one day.  But for the moment the men and women who have the power to make such decisions tend to come from a generation that never had to worry about these issues and are slow to embrace the relentless march of technology.  For that matter, there are still a lot of Irish journalists who don’t really stray beyond Google and Facebook.

It’s probably going to be a while before there’ll be real-time blogging or tweeting coming out of the Irish courts. Most journalists have their hands full keeping up with proceedings and filing for hourly bulletins or tight print deadlines without posting rolling updates.  There would probably need to be a dedicated blogger sent down if that was to be acheived and in the current climate of cut backs and economies it’s unlikely they’d spare an extra body (already having someone to do news and someone else to write colour in the case of a high profile trial).

Mind you, if we keep having the kind of blockbuster trials that have become a regular occurance since wife killer, Joe O’Reilly turned out to be such a draw, who knows.  Maybe an Irish judge will have to rule on whether Twitter should be allowed into the courtroom, far sooner than I for one expect.

After a Flurry of Activity…

The last couple of weeks have been absolutely nuts.  It’s only three weeks ago today that Sharon Collins and Essam Eid were sentenced.  A week after that I was working on the final edit of Devil in the Red Dress and a week and a half later we were celebrating the launch.

It’s only now that I can take time to take stock and suddenly I realise that apart from anything else I haven’t written a single Christmas card!  Tomorrow the first interviews start, first of all it’s out to East Coast Radio in Bray, Co Wicklow for a half hour chat, then on Wednesday it’s over to Phanton FM.  It’s still a bit weird being the interviewee rather than interviewer but I’m beginning to get used to it.

It seems that this is a subject it’s going to take people a long time to get tired of talking about – Sharon Collins managed to get herself into the papers again over the weekend by lodging her appeal through her solicitor.  That’ll be another circus when the time eventually comes around.

As I start looking forward to the interviews I’m suddenly having to think about what’s in the book.  You get to the stage in the last days of writing and editing where you couldn’t see the wood for the trees if you tried…it just becomes all trees and details.  Now I’m thinking about how to sell the story and it’s a whole different ball game.

I’m also thinking again about making a trailer but more of that in a few days.

I’ve written often here about the fact that I think that this is very much a defining trial of our time.  With the elements of sex, celebrity and excess, not to mention the Internet it has everything that seems to make our generation tick.

It fascinates me that I could find out so much about the lives of people I had never met, who live thousands of miles away.  Their past addresses, criminal records, school friends.  Trying to find out about people here in Ireland is a different matter entirely.

For Sharon Collins and Essam Eid the attitude was that whatever you wanted, be it a false marriage, a hitman or a deadly toxin, you could find it in a few clicks of the mouse online.  But there were many points during the trial where the short comings of Ireland’s access to the World Wide Web became all too clear.

When we heard about Sharon’s attempts to contact “Tony Luciano” from her home in Ballybeg House outside Ennis, for example there was always the mention of the appallingly slow dial-up speeds in the house.  Now this wasn’t a case from some time in antiquity, this was 2006 and her partner, PJ Howard was the head of a €60 million property business.  The problem was that broadband was simply not available.

So the most technologically advanced murder conspiracy plot this country has almost certainly ever seen was conducted at dial up speeds or in stolen moments during the working day.  The situation with broadband is a little better here in 2008 and broadband might have reached much further into the heart of Ireland but still there’s a lot further to go with the amount of information available online.

Whether you’re talking about government departments or the judiciary, the information available is general at best.  There are one or two exceptions but even they are firmly rooted in paperwork.  I recently filed my taxes using the Irish Revenues online service ROS.

It was a great service but in order to register I had to go through three different registration procedures, two of which required a secure password to be sent to me by traditional post.  Just to contrast this, I could access court documents in America with a password sent to me in a matter of hours through their secure server.

Collins and Eid might be pretty bad examples of how to use this incredible resource we have access to nowadays (see The Story Behind the Book for more details) but surely it’s time Ireland started making full use of the facilities available to them.  There are Irish companies who use the Internet well but they are still in the minority.

I’ve learnt a lot about what’s possible and what’s fantasy while researching Devil in the Red Dress.  I was surprised by how much possibility the Internet opens up, as a journalist I take Google for granted but there’s a lot more out there.

I’m very excited about the possibilities with the global village you get glimpses of with the Net but the antics of Collins and Eid only go to show that there are still plenty of dark corners out there were dodgy people lurk…and some are more successfully dodgy than others!

What’s in a Name?

I’m not with Shakespeare on this one, a name is everything when it’s the first thing people see on the skinny spine of your book.  The one thing in bold enough letters to stand out amongst it’s neighbours.  A title can be the first hook that makes someone pull the book out of the shelf and open it to read on.

According to the Internet I seem to have two titles for my book.  When it’s published my story of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will go by the name The Devil in the Red Dress but that hasn’t always been the way.  For most of it’s gestation it went by the working title Lying Eyes, a reference to the email address Sharon used to correspond with her online “hitman”.  The Devil title came later once the book was more fully formed.  It also comes from the screeds of emails sent between Sharon and the ridiculously chatty “Tony Luciano”.

That’s the title that will be on the cover of the book and is listed on my publishers website and on Amazon (I still get a kick out of being able to look myself up on Amazon but that’s just totally by the by).  But the other title’s still out there.  It’s still in the page title of the Amazon listing and there’s a load of Norwegian sites that are listing the old title (never thought there’d be a market for Irish true crime in Norway, you learn something new every day).

It’s a minor thing but it just brings home how much stuff lingers around in cyber space after you’ve finished with it.  We live in a world now where all the detritus of our lives can find it’s way into the public arena via the web.  Throw away comments and affiliations made in college now have a half life that lingers for anyone with access to a search engine to find.

In the course of writing the book I’ve been so aware of what can linger on line and what can be lost.  The Internet has changed the practices of journalism to such an extent.  We can do so much from the comfort of our desks without even having to pick up a phone these days.  Sharon Collins would have done well to remember how much things linger in cyber space.  The bulk of the case against her was the scraps left behind from a life online, emails recovered from the hard drives of computers she’d had access to, an email account that wasn’t nearly as anonymous as she had thought.

Following in her footsteps this summer I was able to look at web pages she had visited, that had been mentioned in her trial, as they had looked when she had visited them.  Some of the websites are now long since defunct.  Hitmanforhire.net itself was taken down once people started coming out of the woodwork with tales of Tony Luciano’s approaches.  But thanks to the wonders of the Internet you can travel back in time and look as web pages as they used to look.  OK so it’s not magic, but it’s still reasonably cool, except when the thing hanging around is a discarded title.  Ah well, as long as Devil in the Red Dress makes it’s own impression…

Back Home and Back to Work

After a much needed break (even with all the hassle with this blog) I’m back at my desk and back at work.  I have just over a week before Sharon Collins and Essam Eid are back in front of the courts for sentencing and the courts aren’t back until next week either so there are a few days to get back into the swing of things.

It’s time for one final push but for today with the suitcases still only partially unpacked I can’t take things too seriously.  I still have French music on Media Player and I’m not quite ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of normal life and normal posting just yet.  Once I settle down I’ll blog more seriously but since I’m still essentially talking to myself (Google indexing being the arcane beast that it is) I thought I’d share a little music.

I always get cds when we go to France and my latest find is a Parisian singer called Camille.  I’d heard about her before we went through my friend Rowan’s blog (always a good source of inspiration music wise!) and already got her latest mainly English album, Music Hole which includes tracks like Cats and Dogs – you’ve got to love a song which has the whole band making random animal noises at the end…

While over there I found a copy of her first album, Les Sac des Filles.  Sung mainly in French it includes songs like Paris.

The lyrics (for those of you that don’t speak French) are talking about leaving Paris because it’s dirty and miserable and smelly but in the end coming back because it’s home.  Which seemed rather appropriate coming back to grey and miserable Dublin.  It really is just peachy coming home to the news that the economy is teetering on the brink of collapse…

Yes I’ve just decided, the holiday can last one more day, I’m going to listen to more Camille!

Yet More Technical Problems!

I’m seriously beginning to wonder why on earth I decided to start this blog on my own domain.  After days of grappling with the vagaries of WordPress, Google and FTP clients I feel like banging my head against the wall and going back to the nursery with a hosted blog.  I know that I had reasons for registering a domain and getting started on all of this but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so relentlessly dumb as I have trying to set up a website.

Up until I registered the site a couple of weeks ago I had thought I was computer literate but now I realise that I’m just like any other journo, an expert in the surface matters but just as in need of tech support as any Joe Soap.  As I write this I know, with all the general sinking, annoying frustration of it all, that no one is going to read this post because the Google bots haven’t found me yet.

I feel like someone far down the cast list in a 1950s science fiction film waiting for rescue.  I’m new to the idea of bots and in my mind they’re still large, shiny and man shaped.  In reality they’re anonymous and unfathomable (for the moment anyway).  What I do know for certain though is that they don’t like me.  My site does not have sufficient crumbs of shiny robot food for them to come and take a look.  I can look on Google’s Webmaster applications page (another new discovery) and see that they did in fact visit my site today but left without so much as a hello or a goodbye.

It’s ironic that I’ve spent much of my summer up to my elbows in web searches and Internet sites, while I was writing Devil in the Red Dress.  I can confidently say that I can find most things I look for on line.  The last couple of months have taught me a few more tricks of the trade and I’m just as quick to google as any of my colleagues rather than hit the books these days.  But now that I’m supposed to be adding to the whole World Wide Web phenomenon I’m stumped.  I’ve spent the whole summer searching for sites that weren’t there and finding them and now I’ve got a site that’s not there (at least not as far as Google is concerned).

This is a bit of a pointless rant really.  It’s not really on topic as far as the blog is concerned and by the time anyone can find it my troubles will be over and it will be redundant.  I suppose I’m just writing it down for posterity, so that one day , when I’ve worked out how the hell everything works I can look back on this and laugh.  Also it helps to vent a bit.

With any luck Google’s robots will have come back to made friends in a day or so and this post will actually see the light of day.  Then I can begin the blog in earnest. I hope anyway…

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