If there is one thing guaranteed to raise my blood pressure it is surely those annoying telephone calls claiming to be from (BT/Microsoft/[insert your 'favourite' here]) and warning you that your computer is at risk or that your internet is about to be switched off unless you click 1 to speak to an adviser.
When it comes to calling out scammers for blatant lies and shaming them for criminal actions, no one did it better than a friend of mine BBC Click reporter Kate Russell. In 2011, Kate was told by her parents about a call from a "nice gentleman from an Indian call centre" claiming that their computer was infected with a virus. Russell took the next call herself and recorded the telephone conversation which you can listen to here soundcloud.com/kate-russell/phone-scammer-busted (Reproduced by courtesy of CreativeCommons.org open licence).
The call lasts about 16 minutes and Kate manages to keep a straight face/voice throughout whilst listening to his spiel. Unless you wish, I wouldn't bother listening to all of his rantings but click on the spikes in the sound trace bars (indicating where Kate is speaking). The outcome is hilarious and should be required listening for anyone tempted to respond to one of these bogus calls.
Remember that reputable companies will not cold call you like this. BT does NOT arbitrarily switch off people's internet connections (unless they have given prior warning for something like non-payment of bills). Remember that scam callers have not singled you out for any particular reason; they are simply ringing their way down a long list of numbers. Remember NEVER to agree to type in a series of numbers or a code to allow them access. If your phone is provided by BT set up their free Call Protect service which enables you to block the last call to your phone. Other providers have similar schemes.
I have always wondered why shops sell goods for (say) £5.99 instead of a nice round whole number of pounds. The reason of course is to make you think that the item is cheaper because it is only £5 something instead of £6. I suppose I can live with that as long as I can get one penny change when paying in cash and am only charged the exact 99p if paying by card. However, two things get me thinking.
First, how much longer is the one penny coin going to be legal tender? I am sure that it costs more to produce and circulate than it is worth and its days must be numbered. But I also guess that, even if the Bank of England decides to dispense with the one penny coin, retailers and the British Chamber of Commerce will try to delay its implementation as long as possible because it will make their products look more expensive. They cannot still price goods as £x.99 as you will not be able to have a 1p change and that would be illegal trading. I seem to recall that, when some continental countries had large denomination currencies where they couldn't give exact change, they would give you a sweet to make up for it.
My second thought, however, concerns that ridiculous point 9 of a penny on all prices at petrol stations (such as 123.9p per litre). If you buy 5 litres the total cost should be £6.195 = six pounds and 19 and a half pence. However, there is no such currency as a halfpenny now so it is highly likely that the machine will round it up to £6.20. If the petrol station dispenses (say) 40 litres per car and there are (say) 200 cars every 24 hours that makes a total of 8000 litres. If every 5 litres makes the garage 1 halfpenny that equals 1600 halfpennies which is £8. Multiply that across the country and that's an awful lot of extra money - quite a bit of which will go to the Government in fuel duty.
I recently set up a Facebook Group for our local village community and in doing so canvassed people's opinion as to their willingness to join the group. Our community is a mixture of all ages so this was quite a useful exercise to gauge opinion. The results are hardly scientific but it is probably fair to say that the younger generation (18-40) is more disposed to social media than its more senior counterpart. However, a regular comment made was one of concern about the dangers of social media in general and Facebook in particular.
I have often remarked that, in an age when you hear more about data privacy and invasion of personal information and rights than ever before, the majority of people are quite willing to expose themselves (metaphorically but sometimes literally) to world scrutiny. Sadly I feel that this majority does not appreciate quite what happens to their information once they click 'send'.
Firstly, anything they write or 'post' has the potential to be shared instantly around the world. You can quickly delete a post but, unless you are double quick, the chances are that it has already been shared either directly or indirectly and every share leads exponentially to more shares. There is NO WAY of deleting it entirely from the internet. But, even if people are wise to this risk and are still prepared to take a chance, very few are likely to be aware of the mass of other information about them that is automatically captured by social media. This data about you (called metadata) can include anything that Facebook knows about you from the day you joined. This includes all your friends and family, places you have visited, your likes and dislikes, your political and life style choices and so on.
Facebook and other forms of social media - typically Twitter, Google and You Tube - run what are called algorithms; bits of code that analyse all this metadata. The resultant huge databases about social media users are then exploited by advertisers to populate your personal Facebook stream with adverts tailored exclusively to you. This is what pays for 'free' social media.
But it is not just adverts that are a worry. Facebook (and others) use these algorithms to tailor everything that you see on your Facebook 'news feed'. Over time, you will only be presented with items in your feed that particularly play to your personal preferences or views. And how do they know your preferences and views? Easy. They determine these from the groups that you join, the people you follow, the other posts and comments that you 'like' and 'dislike' and so on. Again over time, any contrary view or opinion will be hidden or given far less prominence in material presented in your feed.
You might say 'Well, that's no worse than reading rubbish in the newspapers.' But think about it for a moment. You can choose what papers (and pages/articles) to read and what items to ignore. You can't with Facebook because your news is personally selected for you.
In a very recent book by Roger McNamee called 'Zucked. Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe' (Mark Zuckerberg of course being the CEO of Facebook), these algorithms are called 'filter bubbles'. Now consider that Facebook (with its apps) controls the personal data of nearly 3 Billion people around the world. That is 40% of the world's population of 7.5 Billion. (figures corrected 25 Feb). Now you can see what influence social media has. The book goes on to say that the use of Facebook data (by outsiders NOT by Facebook themselves) probably contributed in large measure to the election of Donald Trump and to the result of our own Brexit referendum.
Have you woken up yet?????
We all know the limitations of the UK Post Code system. On average, a post code will cover about 15 premises although - dependent on density - it can be anything from 1 to 100. Delivery drivers for online shopping face problems daily in finding the right property. Is there a better system? Well potentially there is and it is positively mind-blowing. Most of us are familiar with the GPS system used for satellite navigation. Given a set of GPS coordinates it is possible to define an area of about 3 to 8 metres in size. Anyone who has experimented with Geo-Caching (finding objects hidden in a location by tracking their coordinates) will have experienced this. The trouble is that when a GPS system attempts to find a location relative to a particular post code the area covered can be anything up to half a mile.
Scientists and mathematicians have worked round this by working out the surface area of the world and dividing it into small squares of land (or sea) that measure about 3 metres by 3 metres - roughly the size of a small room. The number of such squares is 56 trillion or 56 followed by 12 zeros. But how do you make reference to an individual square other than by a complex set of number coordinates? Well, a UK company has come up with the answer in their system they call What 3 Words.
They have worked out that by using a 40,000 word dictionary (which can be in any language) and using 3 different words selected from this dictionary and using them separated by a dot they can create a unique reference readable by humans. For example: slurs.this.shark is the address of the front door of No 10 Downing Street. I promise I didn't make this up!
OK you say, how can just 40,000 words cover the whole world? Easy; the possible permutations using these words is 40,000 x 40,000 x 40,000 which is approximately 64 trillion. More than enough to cover 56 trillion squares on the surface of the world. Go and have a look at https://what3words.com/.
In my last post I introduced a number of present-day sayings and described their origins. I took items from a book called ‘Red Herrings and White Elephants - The Origins of the phrases we use every day.’
Judging by the number of hits on my blog these seemed to generate interest so here are a few more from that same book. I must acknowledge the author Albert Jack and his book published in 2004 (ISBN 1-84358-129-9) and hope he will forgive my use of extracts.
The White Elephant in the title originates from Siam (now Thailand) where the King was said to own all white elephants since they were rare and highly prized. It was strictly forbidden to ride them, put them to work or misuse them and they had to be kept well-housed, fed and watered. It was thus an expensive possession since you couldn't do anything with it. It is said that if anyone displeased the King he would give them a White Elephant, thus condemning them to a life of expense and trouble. Today a building (for example) is said to be a White Elephant if, despite the cost to build and maintain, it is of no use at all.
Pushed from Pillar to Post. Means to be hassled by others and generally to have one’s life made a misery. It comes from a time when criminals and wrong-doers would be taken to the Pillory (the Stocks) and then to the Whipping Post. This has become Pillar to Post.
To be Under the Weather. An old nautical term; when sailors were unwell and unable to function properly they were sent below decks (sheltered from (under) the weather) to recover.
Bob’s Your Uncle. In the 1886 Arthur Balfour was promoted to Secretary of State for Ireland even though he was considered to be singularly unsuitable for the job. When it became known that he was the nephew of the Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil it was said that if Robert was your uncle a deed was as good as done.
Following my last post about books I am reading, this item concerns a book called 'Red Herrings & White Elephants' which explains the origin of many of our present day sayings. Here are some of interest:
'Having a Dekko'. Means to have a look and was introduced by troops returning from service in India in the 1800s. Dekko is Hindustani for 'look'.
'Given the sack'. From former times when workmen would travel from job to job carrying their tools in a sack. On being taken on they would hand their sack to their employer for safe keeping until their services were no longer needed whereupon they would be given the sack. If they were dishonest, the sack of tools would be burnt - thus 'Fired'.
'Gone Haywire'. In the early 20th Century in US they introduced a strong metal wire to bind hay bales. When snipped the taut haywire would spring dangerously through the air and be piled in the corner of the yard in a tangled mess.
'Red Herring'. In the early 1800s there were even hunt saboteurs then. They would drag a pungent smoked red/brown herring through the hunt area to lead foxes on a false trail.
In my last post I wrote about New Year Resolutions and set myself one. Concerned about the number of books piling up unread I said "I am going to try to pick up a different one of my books from my shelves each week and see what interesting facts I can find. I'll make a record of these facts and aim to produce a list of 52 gems of information by the end of the year."
So, how am I doing? I am pleased to report that in week 4 I am sticking to my resolution. I am indeed keeping a record of the books read and my file '52 Gems' is building up. Two interesting snippets are in a book about Symbols. Did you know, for instance, that there is no name in the English language for the @ symbol? We call the & symbol an ampersand and the * symbol an asterisk but what do we call the @ symbol?
Also, from the same book did you know that the # symbol was originally called an "Octothorpe" named after a 1912 Olympic athlete called James Thorpe?
I am referring of course to New Year Resolutions which, for the purposes of this post, I shall refer to as YPs (Yearly Procrastinations) because that's all they are really - things that we ought to have done this year but which it makes us feel a little better to say that we will start "tomorrow". As with any job that you put off until later you get a short burst of pleasure from not having to start today (think back to school homework).
Like all planning aims and targets, YPs should be achievable, realistic, challenging and have clear deliverables. As with any project, YPs need to be managed; you need to keep an eye on the work and be prepared to make slight adjustments according to the success you are having. Initial targets might quickly prove to be over-optimistic. The most common YP is to lose weight such as 'I aim to lose (x) lbs/kgs a week/month/quarter'. After the end of week 1 the target could well be adjusted in the light of one's inability to reach the desired weight. At some stage you will be tempted to procrastinate and say 'Oh. It's not realistic this month so I'll start next month.' How long before it becomes next New Year's Resolution?
So, sticking my neck out, here is my YP. I wrote recently about the number of books that pile up without being read. In my case I have no problem reading fiction since I can use my iPad Kindle app easily and downloads are not too expensive. My great love, however, is for non-fiction books covering a wide range of my interests such as Computers, IT, History, WW1 & WW2, Humour, Lists, Ancestry, Language and Grammar, and Travel. Unlike a fiction novel or thriller, it is rare for me to read right through a non-fiction book. I prefer to dip into a book at random and see what I can find. The trouble is that it is all too easy to dip into Facebook or Twitter instead and spend far too long on trivial nonsense. Therefore I am going to try to pick up a different one of my books from my shelves each week and see what interesting facts I can find. I'll make a record of these facts and aim to produce a list of 52 gems of information by the end of the year. If I achieve it, I will let you know and might even share my list with you. If I don't achieve it...well, there's always next year!
We've all watched movies and dramas on TV and at the cinema. My favourites are spy thrillers and similar nail-biters - especially where computers and technology feature in the plot.
Picture the scene. Spy breaks into office/home/workplace to steal some secret information. Convenient laptop/computer lies waiting on the desk. A quick lift of the lid and it bursts into life. Spy inserts a memory stick into the usb slot. Scene shifts to picture of memory stick downloading files at breakneck speed. Ten seconds later said spy grabs memory stick, pulls it out and slams down the lid leaving no trace of the intrusion.
Let's replay that scene how it would really happen:
Spy tries to break into office/home/workplace to steal some secret information. Door gets stuck and alarm goes off. Must hurry. Looks around but can't find the laptop anywhere because the owner has kept it locked away. When finally the spy discovers it (alarm still ringing) and lifts the lid it immediately requires a password which defies logic to remember. Assuming success, laptop fires up and says "Windows is updating your system. Please do not switch off your computer." Five minutes later the screen still reads 30% but then finally restarts. The simple act of inserting a memory stick somehow miraculously recognises a new external drive and there is the required file sitting as an icon on the desktop screen just waiting to be copied. No it's not. You've got to hunt through a chaotic file directory in the hopes of finding what you want. Having found the file you attempt to copy it to the memory stick. Computer screen suddenly flashes up with "Target drive does not have sufficient space." Hunt round for a bigger memory stick. Eventually the file starts to download but gets three quarters of the way along the process and halts. Computer flashes up "Copy failed. Try again." Having corrected this you complete the file transfer and whip out the memory stick, whereupon the computer throws a hissy fit and says you didn't eject the drive properly. You slam down the lid without, of course, closing down the machine or removing any trace of your presence and go out the door into the arms of the law who have responded to the alarm because it is now 30 minutes later. Somehow you manage to escape and return to base. You plug in the memory stick and it fails. Computer says "Disk unreadable. Did not close files properly."
Ah! If only computers worked like they do in the movies.......
How many times do we listen to adverts on the radio that nearly always end with all the terms and conditions applying to the offer that has just been advertised. An example might be
"Previously offered at a higher price; terms and conditions apply; item may not be returned; allow three weeks for delivery; postage and packing added to price; no responsibility for misleading details; purchasers must be over 18; only available online; not available outside the UK; your choice of colour may not be available."
That's great and at least you can't claim you weren't told. But it is always spoken at the speed of light. Try it yourself as quickly as you can with someone listening then ask them to repeat it. You could be forgiven for not hearing all the detail. However, the advertiser is NOT going to forgive you because the terms and conditions were stated with the advert and, as I said, you can hardly claim that it wasn't included. I'd like to know what the Advertising Standards Agency would have to say about this if you were to be involved in a dispute.