Saturday, October 24, 2020

Batten down the Hatches, Cap'n

 I am rather nervous at the moment. At any moment my entire world may be disrupted. Precautions must be taken.

The source of my discomfort is an email from my internet service provider, who I shall not name (unless offered suitable financial inducement). This was the heading that literally froze every nerve in my body the instant that I read it. 1

Prepare to be blown away, Anthony

And there I was about to set out for beautiful Ruislip on an errand. Prepare to be blown away! Pretty strong stuff. Would I find myself whirled along the pavement to end up gasping and dishevelled outside the newsagent? Or might the winds snatch me into the skies, Dorothy-style, to leave me abandoned in a strange new world confronted by mysterious creatures and threatened by monsters almost beyond imagination?2

How should I prepare, exactly? The email does not say. Instead it blathers on about some pointless awards. Since Ramblings is not on the short list my interest in this part waned rapidly. I turned my thoughts to the packing of rucksacks, water purification tablets, emergency bars of chocolate and whether my papers are in order. Stout boots, wearing on feet for - check. Walking stick, beating off importuning natives for - check.  Short wave radio, home communications keeping up for, er, with - nope. Haven't got one. Maybe my mobile will still get a signal, better charge it up now.

Nothing on the radio about tornados in the Greater Ruislip Metropolitan district. A conspiracy by the authorities to lull me into a false sense of security? No, maybe the email is a part of a conspiracy to lull me into a false sense of panic? Or is it in code? Does "blown away" mean, in marketing-speak, "We've got another dreary and pointless PR announcement to make, please read it, please, we only get paid if enough of our customers read it and we've all got spouses, children, fashionable SUVs with stupid names and second homes in Marbella to keep up, oh go on, we were up all night polishing this heading to try to get your attention".

I have decided, after considerable reflection3 to ignore the exhortation in this unwanted missive. I shall not do the slightest scrap of preparing for any form of blowing, other than perhaps pursing my cheeks to emit the odd raspberry. My stout boots, etc, may remain in the cupboard until genuinely needed. Sorry, PR guys, try something more truthful next time. "We've got some awards that we've invented to create some spurious interest in our business, do please cast your eye over this email if you've got nothing better to do" would certainly fit the bill. I commend it to you. Might even be in the running for a Ramblings award of some sort.


1.  [A little poetic licence is always allowed in these pieces: Ed]
2. Insert your favourite Hayes reference here
3. See 1.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Eighty Years On

80 years ago fighter aircraft clashed over the skies of south-east England. The nation was gripped by the spectacle and the fears that accompanied each news broadcast with the sombre recitations of missing aircraft and bomb damage. Across the country huge numbers now lived lives very different to those of a year before - children evacuated, blackouts, many non-essential activities cancelled 'for the duration'.

Now, for the first time in my life, I can dimly grasp how it must have been for my parents (my mother a teenager at the time). We too face a deadly foe, the covid-19 infection, and we too listen to news broadcasts dominated by the fight against it. The daily figures of infections, deaths and lockdowns mimic the restrained (and censored) bulletins of the BBC back then. We may not be in a pub after 10pm; we are restricted in visiting family and friends and, until quite recently, the old slogan "Is your journey really necessary?" applied in full force on public transport.

In 1940 sport came to an end. Today it survives in fits and starts but my local football club is unable to admit any fans and without fans has no income. It may not survive 'the duration'.

The second world war dragged on for years, probably far longer than anyone ever imagined that it could but at least my parents could see a way forward, through the application of sufficient military force. With an infectious virus that shows no signs of diminishing naturally, uncertain prospects for a vaccine and an increasingly restive population, we really do seem to be where they must have been during the worst days of the blitz, angry but helpless, waiting and waiting for things to turn round.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Even now you ask questions

 About a year ago I compiled a list of silly names bestowed on cars by their manufacturers for my frankly, rather brilliant, series,  101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die . These monickers were sufficiently off-putting and ludicrous for me to safely avouch that I would never buy the wretched vehicles. That should have been the end of the matter. 

I am at the moment a satisfied driver of the Skoda Octavia. (Now there's a nice, sensible name. Easy to pronounce and no head-scratching about what it means). Sadly the worthy folk at Skoda did not see fit to follow their own, fine, example. Today they emailed me to suggest I take an interest in their latest electric SUV (yes, it had to be an SUV like most of the cars with stupid names that I excoriated back in October 2019). This one is called the ENYAQ IV and it looks like this:

I'm glad they are excited. I'd love to be able to proceed to the excited stage. Even a mild frisson of interest would be nice in these difficult times. But I am, naturally, held frozen by contemplation of the name chosen for this little, boxy thing.

First, what is this mysterious word? I have something of a background in IT and am aware that the first commercial computer, built soon after WWII ended, was called ENIAC (the Electronic Numeral and Integrated Computer). It does seem that Skoda have chosen a name remarkably similar, albeit they have shoe-horned a Y and a Q into places that they really do not belong. The use of the Q, in particular, is of course terribly fashionable amongst designers, especially when they drop the normally-accompanying U (Yes, Nissan Qashqai, hang your head in shame).

But what on earth does ENYAQ stand for? It must be an acronym for it is presented in block capitals. (We shall have to pass over consideration of how on earth I missed the preceding three versions). Here are some suggestions, proposed by the top-level emergency quick-think-of-something team here at Ramblings Central.

  • Effervescent Natural Youth Alliance of Quebec
  • Enthusiastically Neurotic Yet Audaciously Quixotic
  • Extremely Nice Yet Awfully Quick
  • Every Night You Are Quaint

And if you have any suggestions do please send them in to the usual address, where we shall glance cursorily over them and promptly send them back. Meanwhile, shall I take up the offer to keep up-to-date with the latest "straight to my inbox"? Gosh, I don't know, I like it when emails meander around a bit, get classified as spam and are rejected, have all their special characters stripped out, get reformatted, translated into classical Urdu, spend some time in someone else's inbox, return for a rest to the transmitting server and then finally drift in, yawning a bit and ready to settle down. Gives them a bit of style, teaches them the ways of the world and how to smile through every misadventure. But I wager that, even after all those capers in cyberspace, we will still be no wiser as to what the hell ENYAQ means.



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Obscuring the Message

This ad pops up regularly when I browse through a certain well-known media website. It is oddly fascinating but, as you will have to come to expect, for the wrong reasons.

F-Secure is one of many tech firms supplying security related software. I have never used them but have no reason to doubt the usefulness of their products. This is, of course, irrelevant to my interest. For, as is sadly common with this sort of ad, nearly the entire content is taken up with a picture. They could have used this space to explain more about what they did, why their stuff works and perhaps how much it costs. Nope. A full two-thirds of the space (and they are paying the said media website for the privilege of clogging up my timeline, remember) is the image of an attractive young lady smiling warmly at the camera whilst perched, a little coyly, on a flight of steps in some office or maybe a flat.

 The young lady is not named or identified. She is dangling a smartphone but seems much more interested in whatever the cameraman might be saying. "Come on darling, undo a couple of buttons", perhaps. And hence, rather than click on the ad to find out more about the benefits to my online security from investing in F-Secure, I naturally ponder about this female (remember, she is worth twice as much as the contents of the ad). A number of possibilities suggest themselves, viz: 

  • She works for F-Secure and her happy whistling as she brings round the afternoon tea-trolley lightens everyone's day.
  • She is the girl-friend of their marketing director.
  • She would like to be the girl-friend of their marketing director.
  • She has recently found her phone that she thought lost forever and has invited a photographer chum in to record her relief for posterity.
  • She is an experienced hacker and denizen of the "dark web" and is precisely the sort of person who must be warded off by the appropriate security software.
  • She has installed  F-Secure on her phone and is jolly pleased with herself, despite her IT knowledge being not much than knowing how to press the power button to turn it off.
  • She is the copywriter at the ad agency and author of "Stolen data can lead to financial losses", shortly to be published as part of a series. Other titles include "A nicked car might put up your insurance premium", "Don't fall of ladders if you can help it" and "You better have a napkin with that sticky bun or you'll get marks all over your screen".
  • She is actually modelling the beige cardigan in another photo-shoot and has nothing whatsoever to do with any software vendor.  
And now see why I love this ad. Every time I see it, I add another line to this list. In the long winter evenings I intend to take it out whilst I sit beside the fire and look it over approvingly, making the odd emendation here and pencilled note in the margin there. With such a feast of entertainment, my time for exploring the more risky corners of the Internet will be greatly reduced and hence my risk of stolen data will be minimised. Job done! and I didn't even have to buy the software.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Disrupt Media Giants the Bognor Way

I don't know why, but I found something endearing about this story on the BBC website yesterday.

Pic: BBC
The hacking event was serious, involving misuse of the credentials of a number of very well-known people. Somehow, one expects the perpetrators to be a sinister gang of Russian or Ukrainian hackers, perhaps led by a bald gentleman who strokes white cats whilst issuing his softly spoken orders to inflict mayhem on the world in order to bring about the end of civilisation, or something. One does not really expect the trail to lead to a small bungalow with sea-shells embedded into the walls and a plastic model windmill on the front lawn, in a quiet street with a friendly corner newsagent who sells beach umbrellas and flip-flops and where the distant smell of seaweed wafts invitingly up from the beach.

I wonder how the local newspaper will play this one -
"Local man displays world-beating tech skills" perhaps or "Hacking: Littlehampton trounced again".

 "He was a quiet lad and we thought some clerical job might have suited him best" his old form master will say "He clearly had hidden depths and I'm pleased that he might have got his start from St Merridew's."

The neighbours will, of course be quoted as saying "We never would have expected it. He was such a quiet man, always kept himself to himself. We always thought he would turn out to be a serial murderer. Who ever would have believed he was up all night on his computer, I mean what kind of normal person does that?"

And when that case gets to the local magistrates court, how many times will the beak peer over her horn-rimmed glasses and murmur to the prosecuting counsel "Remind me again, Mr Jefferies, what is Twitter?"