The Blog of Zakspade

March 2020 Archive
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Pink Pig
  Mobiles and Privacy
Tuesday 31 March, 2020

On my way to the post office in the glorious sunshine, I passed a house with a middle-aged woman sitting and basking in the radiated warmth. She was puffing away on a ciggie, but doing so out the front of her house as opposed to her rear garden in the cold shade. And why not?

On my walk home from having sent off my parcels, I passed the same house. The same woman was sitting on her doorstep, but this time she was not holding a slow burning stick in her hand. No, now it was a mobile phone.

Normally, when within earshot of someone speaking nearby on a mobile, only one half of the conversation is heard. Not this time. Despite having free hands, she had it switched to ‘speakerphone’ mode, and it was loud. MUCH louder than my own can manage.

So loud was it that I had become aware of the conversation well before she had once again come into my sight. And her friend’s voice remained with me long after I had left the Doorstep Lady behind me.

Not a huge issue. The walk had been, perhaps, eerily too quiet. However, what I did consider an issue was that the remote voice being blasted from her mobile was in possession of some quite fruity turns of phrase. I've a pal I regularly speak to via mobile and he has a similar vocabulary, but as a good chap he is very capable of moderating his language in company. I am always quick to let him know if I need to put him on speakerphone so as to let him adjust accordingly.

But I guess some don't get the opportunity...


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  Sound of the New World
Sunday 29 March, 2020

It's a New World. Well, certainly a different one.

When I wake in the morning, I lie in bed with my eyes and ears open and can't help but listen to the world outside as it gathers pace in its seemingly manic rush towards full bustle-mode.

At least, that's how it was.

These days my eyes still note the light entering the bedroom and my mind tries to deduce the current weather from its intensity and colour. However, my ears are being starved.

There is no general hubbub of activity as neighbours prepare their vehicles and head out and up the road to work. No distant hum from the bypass about a mile away. And most noticeably, no airliners passing overhead – usually as many as half-a-dozen before I finally throw off the duvet and welcome the day.

You see, I live a few miles from an international airport, and directly under the flight path. Admittedly, by the time they pass above my house, they have gained quite a bit of height, so they are easy to tune out and ignore. However, it is their absence that now disturbs me.

Even on a Sunday there are huge passenger jets passing overhead. Normally. But not these days.

Wait! There's one! I hear it coming from afar, such is the quietness outside.

No, my mistake. It was the central heating firing up…

  Battery Blues
Friday 27 March, 2020

My wife's powered wheelchair hadn't been well of late. The battery life had plummeted and the range had become measurable in yards rather than miles. Something had to be done. New batteries were purchased and when they arrived I set about taking the old ones out and installing the fresh life that promised miles and miles of fun.

The chair utilises two 12 volt batteries. Each is heavy. They need to be replaced as a pair. Fortunately, once the seat was hinged back and the top cover over the battery compartment was removed, I could see that each battery had a synthetic fabric strap affair providing handles so as to heave them out of the base. That was good news because the replacements had taught me that they were extremely heavy.

I decided to change them one at a time so as to not confuse myself regarding which connector plugged where. That meant disconnecting the old battery from the main harness before hoisting it out. Next was the removal of the battery terminal connectors. Then the strap assembly had to be transferred to the new battery before the terminal connectors were attached and the whole thing then lowered back into the base of the chair.

The first battery was a right pain, but finally it was replaced. Then out came the second and I set about removing the bits and pieces as it sat on my garage floor. By the time I had the strap and connectors stripped from it, my back was crying, “Foul!”

I stood and did nothing for a while in order to allow my back to rest. Sitting down wasn't an option. Not only was the garage floor cold, I seriously doubted that I would be able to get up as needed to finish the job. Then I had a brainwave that made me feel two things: first, “Clever me!” as I realised that my workbench would be idea to strip the ancillaries and switch them over to the new item, and second, “Stupid me!” as it dawned on me that I needn’t have suffered the pain of the first battery had I done what should have been obvious at the start – use the workbench!

Still, at least once the second battery had been installed, everything worked and nothing went, “Bang!”

Wednesday 25 March, 2020

An email came in from an online directory. I received it at an address I use for my photography hobby. The sender told me that I had been added to a directory, along with my name and address, so that prospective clients could find me and use my services.

Anyone with an even vaguely business presence online will have received such rubbish at some time, but as I first read it on my phone, I acted before thinking.

One of the things NOT to do when receiving unsolicited emails is to click on a link. It's a pretty simple rule. Hard to ignore when one’s background is IT and IT security, but I had just woken up. Besides, I was using an Android phone and I'd see any payload with the way I have it locked down. And so I clicked the link to their directory to see just how much of my personal and private data they had posted up there.

Once at their site I tried looking for the ‘company’ name I own, but the site was not working. I put it down to them not authoring it in a manner that allowed it to be viewed on a smartphone. I gave up and decided to check on a computer so as to be able to properly determine what was going on.

It was then that I realised how big a mistake I had made as I examined the link in detail. I had validated the address used by the spammer! Damn!

This is how it works:
You send out spam emails to a huge group of addresses, the quality or which is unknown. Are they real, dead, or unused? A link is contained in EACH email and contains a seemingly random sequence individual to that ONE email address.

By following the link it reports back that a particular email address returned a response and said email address goes up in value and now has a worth as part of a spammer’s list. This means it can be sold on as part of a list of KNOWN GOOD email addresses.

But I realised what had happened, too late.


Monday 23 March, 2020

The sign on the estate agent board read:

Hoarder lives here.
Garage and garden shed well stocked!

The house was what a storyteller would say was nondescript. It was just an ordinary house with three bedrooms, three windows facing the street, a front door hiding in its recessed porch way, and it sat behind a well-kept front garden on a rather generic housing development full of similar-looking buildings.

The occupant took exception to the notice, but not as much as the same having been painted on their garden gate, nor the similar sign that had been pasted to their car parked on their drive:

This car is owned by a provisions hoarding household.
All booty is kept in the garage and garden shed.

And it included the address should anyone seeing the car away from home be inclined to investigate.

The police had been contacted. The householder didn't invite the local paper to come and have a look, but the interest locally meant that there were plenty who did on their behalf. It was then that it became apparent that it wasn't a one-off and that someone was targeting people who seemed hell bent on denying the basics for life from the rest of society.

When the local paper went to press, they carried a story that described how thirteen individual dwellings had been labelled thusly. As always happens, the journalist sought to augment their salary by passing the story to a national newspaper.

And so the tale came to the attention of the country as it was picked up by all the other media outlets.

Then a strange thing happened. Instead of tapping into Public fear by promoting the dangers of the virus without context, the media then realised that a much more powerful way of getting into the minds of their readership was to hammer those who look set to become social pariahs.

Instead of supporting those who warbled on about being victims of vigilantism, they vilified them. The Public came on board in a way that no newspaper had experienced in recent times. They found they had a topic that couldn't fail to endear them to their followers.

And so we ended up just having to deal with the pain of the deaths through Coronavirus rather than the old starving alone in their homes, or children becoming malnourished and being left with health issues that would take years to get over.

For once the newspapers got it right.

  Mistaken ID
Saturday 21 March, 2020

I like my walks to the post office. The air is generally good, and I head there with parcels and return home devoid of things to carry, physically and mentally.

During my walk, I have time to think and explore ideas.

The parcels carry a small mark telling me which level of postage is to be used for each item. Therefore I only need to keep part of my mind on events once I am there – just enough to maintain a civility and politeness that, sadly, is missing from so many these days.

I am in danger of digressing...

I inserted my card into the reader and keyed in my PIN. Instead of it telling me, PIN OK it said, PIN incorrect. Thinking I had mistyped the thing, I tried again, slowly. This time I was very deliberate, knowing it was the correct PIN.

However, it again told me the PIN was wrong. So I took the card out and wiped the chip, thinking it would somehow change the reader’s opinion when I made my third attempt. Once re-inserted, I again very carefully entered the PIN I had used successfully the day before. Once again, the reader said, PIN incorrect but this time a message on the screen said I was to hand the card to the retailer.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen, so it went into my wallet and I steeled myself for a phone call back home to the issuer during which I was going to have to try very hard not to ‘vent.’

Of course, I still had to pay for the packages that had been processed, so I tried to dig out a different card, only to discover that somehow I had my wife’s card as well as my own! Our cards are identical except for the first name. Naturally, the PINs are different, and so having inserted her card, the reader quite correctly told me the PIN entered for that card was wrong.

A bit of egg on face, but eventually I paid with the correct card. However, the walk home wasn’t quite as relaxed as normal as I still had to face my wife and tell her that I had effectively managed to cancel her card...


Phil Wilkinson

Thursday 19 March, 2020

Something for my local paper next week...

- o - O - o -

Leighton Buzzard is not alone! Many have joined in with the mindless panic that has set in and been witnessed about the rest of the world.

Level-headed statements are coming out of supermarkets about there being no need to panic-buy, but there are those who feel they know better. That leaves the rest of us, with a much more sensible outlook on life, to cope with not being able to obtain fairly basic goods. Unfortunately, panic begets panic-like reactions. If a person can’t obtain ‘Item A’ but spots it afar, they buy one, and a second, because they know that back home, those with more money and fear than commonsense will have bought up all the stock available. Hang on, while at it, they will probably buy a third as who knows how long the foolishness will go on back home.

And so we have panic-buyers causing the more sensible in the population to add to the messed up retail market that has come into existence.

It’s all quite annoying, but as we don’t live in a Stalin-like state, the Free Market will continue to allow those with panic in their hearts to dictate availability of some quite otherwise mundane goods.

I note with great interest that many of the big supermarkets are all saying the same thing: We have good supply lines and receive daily deliveries, so there is no fear that items will become unobtainable.

However, wouldn’t the mad rush to part with money through over purchasing stuff from the big players cause them to enjoy a fiscal glut and bigger profits? So why would they seek to try and dissuade customers from throwing money at them? Answer: cash flow.

Imagine the effect of the drop in sales when those who bought up masses of stock just live off their hoards. Such people will have no need to add to the incomes of the supermarkets as they have their own version in their garages or sheds. Consequently, takings for the Big Boys will dip, and anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with an accountant will know that profit isn’t the be-all and end-all of business, but cash flow most certainly is a big thing.

Panic-buying denies the rest of us a chance to try and lead normal lives. At the same time it leads to tiresome future news stories of retailers struggling to manage the reduction in turnover. When their shares collapse, the result will be those same panic-buyers complaining that the Stock Market has a lot to answer for...

  A Twenty for 2020
Sunday 15 March, 2020

Yesterday, 14 days into the new vehicle registration period, I saw my first ‘20’ on the road.

Well, I say, on the road, it was actually on the back of a recovery lorry. The front was a mess as if someone had tried to drive it through a pile of bricks.

The rest of the car looked nice and shiny though, so that’s good.

Friday 13 March, 2020

Scientists have announced a new, deadly threat to the world: crestavirus!

Apparently it has lain dormant since around 2007 and has been reintroduced to the population upon the digging up of the remains of a polar bear wearing shades.

Pathogens escaped from the laboratory when inadequate precautions were being taken during the procedure to determine the polar bear’s cause of death.

We are told there is no cure. Instead, everyone must panic and buy toothpaste by the carton load. Canned asparagus, if kept in batches  of 48, will offer extra protection as the tins can be thrown at marauding crestavirus survivors looking for toothpaste.

Everyone has been asked to take care. The symptoms are easy to spot and citizens are asked to call 999 to report observed instances, or neighbours talking too loudly after 7:30 p.m. If you witness, or experience, frothing at the mouth, and begin to talk like a hippy, then it is probably too late!

Pass this on. Be alert. Britain needs lerts.

Remember that symptom: It’s frothy, man.

  Anything but Easy 2
Wednesday 11 March, 2020

You have to laugh. After the breakdown in relations between Easily UK and myself, I secured a new registrar and moved all my domains, hosting and email provision out.

All seems to be working fine and I’m happy.

Imagine my reaction to an email from the Easily UK ‘Management Team’ apologising and supplying me an address to which I can write (although they still omitted a name, but hey!) after I have done the deed.

Talk about bolting the stable door after the horse has run off!

I fear that with customer retention services like that, it won’t be long before I find myself reading about the demise of my previous registrar.

Monday 9 March, 2020

It was another normal day at my local post office. Various small packages to send – all requiring signatures and thereby needing barcode labels attaching that identify it along its journey. However, what I send has no identity within the postal system until that barcode is scanned and the appropriate details are entered at source.

Today, for the first time in the years I have been attending this branch, the handheld laser generating barcode scanning device was placed down after use, laser-emitting face down!

Given that it has one of those yellow notices on the base warning that it a Class 1 laser device, you might expect it to be one of those things that ought to be used as designed (it features a ‘foot’ that enabled it to be place on the counter, laser-emitting side down).

However, Class 1 is the weaker of the two classes available in a public-facing environment and even for the more powerful Class 2, ‘Momentary exposure to a Class 2 laser is not known to be harmful’ – so, nothing to see here, folks!

Yes, that was intended to be a ‘funny’...

  Anything but Easy
Friday 6 March, 2020

It started simply but it escalated. Or rather I tried but the company won’t allow it.

I shall explain.

My domain registrar auto-renewed a domain that I had intended to let lapse. With no further need for it I saw no point in paying to keep it. To that end I set it accordingly when I accessed the online configuration portal. Thankfully I made that point in emails prior to the expiry date.

After an ‘upgrade’ rolled out across all customer accounts, the level of service and technical competence went down quite markedly. Every once and awhile I would find email aliases had vanished or permissions to my webspace had been altered without any input from me. Many times things had to be ‘reset’ (their words).

It seems that one of these ‘resets’ was responsible for all my domains reverting to ‘Auto-renew’ despite my customising theme. Consequently they renewed the domain I no longer wanted without my instruction and I only discovered this when they later wrote asking me to confirm my contact/ownership details.

After multiple periods of no response from them, requiring me to chase the matter, I requested a name and address in order to send a WRITTEN formal complaint. Over a period of weeks I made that request, very clearly, five times. Each time resulted in an apology, no fix (clarification that I am not liable for renewal fees), and no name/address. In fact the penultimate reply asked me to phone their support line and the last one asked me to supply a number for them to call me!

Obviously no one there understands the concept of WRITING.

Given the catalogue of mistakes, configuration errors, failure to respond appropriately, you might see why verbal communication isn’t sought as I don’t want to be arguing over stuff ‘intoned’ by either side.

Forgive the quick tangent...

Many years ago I bought a new build house. For months after moving in I had to chase and harry the site manager to have a simple gutter problem rectified. Whenever it rained, water would cascade down the back of the house on to a paved surface below my bedroom window. It woke me regularly and I would be unable to sleep because of the noise.

Then, through being sneaky, I managed to get hold of the home number of the site manager who had promised me for weeks that he’d have someone fix it (I’ll have someone sort it this afternoon, Mr XXXX). In the early hours of a Sunday morning a heavy rainstorm woke me. I rang the site manager on his home number. Once he had recovered from being woken by a phone call in the wee hours, I introduced myself and told him I would ring him every time I was woken by the leaky gutter.

It was raining when I returned home from work on Monday and the gutter had been fixed.

Within a few weeks the building firm responsible for the development on which my house resided had gone bust. It transpired that the reason the site manager hadn’t made good on his promises was because he was unable to engage workers as the firm was close to going under and those in the business knew that, so it wasn’t that simple to secure someone to go up a ladder and fix the gutter.

And back to my current beef.

I intended to cc my next email to as many directors of the company as I could find, and so I jumped on the Internet and searched. What I found shocked me, but I’m grateful to have uncovered what I did.

The rating of the company in question has plummeted since before their ‘upgrade’ and many customers have left them. In fact, my issue over the auto-renewal seems to have cost a great many others who had elected to store their bank card details online with them. Oops.

More worryingly, Easily UK seems to have lost a huge amount of their customer base and the figures suggest they are headed the same way as that building firm.

Rather than making that complaint, I think I will just take my domains, hosted site, and email elsewhere before I find myself mired in a nightmare involving the Receivers.

  The Blob
Sunday 1 March, 2020

I asked my daughter for a title for a piece I had to write for a local magazine. She said it and I went with it.

Any complaints – it’s not my fault!

- o - O - o -

In 1958, US audiences were terrified by the film, The Blob.

Well, they were taken aback.

The film was notable for a few things. First it was the last time Steve McQueen was billed as Steven McQueen, and it was his first ever film in a leading role.

Another point was the film’s production budget. The producer claimed that the film cost $240,000 to make. Some years later the director said the actual cost was only $120,000. McQueen was offered $2,500 or 10% of the film’s profit. Those figures on the payment to the leading actor suggest the lower figure to be more accurate.

Poor McQueen took the $2,500 fee as he figured the film wasn’t going to be a big earner (he was more interested in paying his rent at the time), but it went on to make around $4million which in the 1960s would have been a tidy sum. Worse, to date the film has made around $40million, but McQueen died in late 1980, almost 40 years ago.

Eight years after McQueen’s passing, a remake of The Blob hit cinema screens. This time it cost in the region of $19m but only grossed a little over $8m. Had he been part of the 1988 version with a 10% interest in it, then he would have lost more than a million Dollars!

But that’s what life is all about; making decisions with which one has to live, no matter what. If we all took the view of committing to nothing until we get to see how things turn out, then we’d either be dead, poor, or rich but too old to enjoy our wealth. The world would stagnate, with societies across the planet falling into moribund states in which no one would need a timepiece.

But that is just my personal view. Maybe a little procrastination might help, after all. Instead of quick choices leading to a faster pace of life; a more sedate tempo might result in better decisions and outcomes for individuals and others. In such a world, the peoples of the planet would all grow together and both experience and generate a single society in which no wealth or possessions are sought nor wanted, and we all have common goals.

Hang on, that’s the premise behind Star Trek! I’ve veered off on a science-fiction movie track; to boldly go where no writer has gone before (although I’m willing to bet, at least not without correcting the occasional split infinitive).

Readers of Pulse could be witnessing the genesis of the next sci-fi blockbuster movie as a plot is born within these pages! The Blob meets Star Trek, with just a little something thrown in from Star Wars, for good measure.

I see it now – the principle character could be a seven-foot, hairy blob that grunts as it beams about a small American town. Throw in a princess, some small cute furry critters, some pointy ears (perhaps on a puppy) and we may be looking at a winner!