Is it really a scary world out there?

As some of you may know, I work in information security (also called IT-, cyber- or data-security) and as a result I get to hear about all sorts of interesting goings on. There are a fair few which fall into the “you couldn’t make it up” category, but others are just beyond any “normal” person’s experience – at least, they’re not something you’re generally aware of.

Two of the topics which I don’t get involved in are covered in books by Misha Glenny, and I think they’re a really interesting read, even for those who don’t work in that area.

Dark Market focuses on the world of credit card fraud, cloning and other related topics. It’s all about the people involved and the services offered, and the challenges which law enforcement globally has in tracking down and preventing such activities. Ok, so it gets a bit techie in places, but never to the extent that you can’t follow what’s going on.

McMafia is a fascinating insight into the comoditisation and industrialisation of various forms of criminal activity, from people smuggling to drug trafficking, from financial fraud to the impact of the fall of the USSR. As a journalist and former BBC Eastern Europe correspondent, there’s a lot of really interesting detail which is provided  and the links between these various activities are fascinating.

If you’re mildly curious about either of these areas, these are really good, well written books and well worth your time and attention.

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Thoughts on a regular update

I’m struggling to work out what I should be posting on as a regular thing, so thought I’d ask you what you thought.  Looking at my stats, there seems to be a relatively even spread across the Lifestyle and Travel items I do, but is that just because they’ve been the main topics of Blogging 101, or are they what people are generally interested in? Please take a moment or two to let me know what you think

So, without further ado and no more procrastination, here goes. This will be my first attempt at setting up a poll, so bear with me!

It was meant to be just like this

Over at https://myredpage.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/red-echo-date/ the weekly event set the challenge of writing a post relating to “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” as quoted by Paulo Coelho.  There are two recent events which I think show this to be true.

First, earlier this month I travelled to north-west Scotland with my partner, my partner’s mother and her husband for a week long holiday overlooking the Isle of Skye.  I’m pretty sure that most people will know that Scotland has a very deserved reputation for two things in particular: bad weather, particularly rain and cloud, and midges, those annoying biting insects which gather in their legions around any breathing thing.  This was a pilgrimage to the family home, and my partner hadn’t been there for some 25 years or more.

Imagine our surprise when heading off on holiday on the Friday evening we had glorious sunshine for the drive to the Scottish border, and all day on the Saturday while driving around Annandale and Eskdale – and then being even sunnier for the long drive up to the Kyle area on the Sunday.  A smidgeon of rain as we drove over the hill known as Mam Ratagan brought the midges out in droves as we unpacked the cars – and that was it for the rest of the week!  The next rain we saw was on the Saturday, just as we came over Mam Ratagan to start the journey south, and we were treated to torrential rain and wind for the next 3-4 hours: that was more typically Scottish weather!

My partner’s mother had always wanted to see the sea eagles that nest nearby, but had never seen them in all the years she’d lived in and visited the region.  Guess what?  On her birthday, out of season, a sea eagle made an appearance, stayed in sight for a full five minutes, calling constantly to its mate – and then, on hearing an answering call, flew off into the distance.

I think this is a very fine example of wanting something to be just so, and the universe (or perhaps the spirits of the departed) conspiring to make it happen.

The second example I have is even more recent.  Last weekend saw the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary airshow at Duxford, near Cambridge.  The main attraction was a mass flight of Spitfires and Seafires, as well as a number of Hurricane fighters and the Red Arrows. The whole weekend had been sold out for some time, but we’d managed to get tickets early enough.

Not really knowing what to expect (it had been years since I’d been to an airshow) my partner and I left relatively early in the morning.  With very little queueing, we were directed to our parking space, conveniently near one of the exhibition halls.  As luck would have it, there was a great spot to sit near one of the barriers and close enough to the tannoy to be able to hear what was going on all day.  And then the real treat – most of the air displays seemed to involve planes flying towards us and then banking away, all in glorious sunshine.  The sound was just incredible (I may need to write a sequel to this as the sounds of all those Merlin engines was spine tingling) and made the day just awesome. When the planes had finished their displays, almost all taxied past us at a distance of about 20 feet.  We couldn’t have chosen a better place to sit!

The cloud only started to make an appearance late on in the day, and served to provide an amazing backdrop as the Red Arrows closed out the event.  The final treat (if you can call it that) was that as we were parked only a couple of minutes walk from where we’d been sitting, we also got out pretty quickly.  There were 24000 people there that day and we were out of the car park within about 20 minutes.

I think that was another example of wanting something to be perfect, and the fates conspiring to make it so.

If you can’t explain it to…

…those with no knowledge of a subject, then you probably don’t understand the topic well enough yourself.  (That’s more or less what Einstein said, but he contradicted himself by also saying, on another occasion, that “If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel Prize”.)

The first statement is a truism I think, one that I’ve sought to address with my posts here.  The main aim of that section on my blog is to get away from confusing words and language, and to explain things so the layman can understand them.  I’ve even had positive feedback on one of the articles from my father, who said he understood it all – not bad for a silver surfer! (Him, not me!)

Too often too much jargon is used, in all walks of life.  You just need to hear the experts being interviewed on the news – how many times do they launch into language which just confuses the rest of us? Using jargon, acronyms and other terms which have special meaning in that subject doesn’t help understanding for the uninitiated.

I’ve spent much of my working life in IT and Security, with a bit of engineering thrown in.  I’ve never been able to maintain the technobabble that so many of my peers manage, and have made a point of trying to explain things simply and in plain English.  It even helped me in one role where I actually worked as a sort of translator between the really bright, techie guy who couldn’t explain things simply, and his boss who was a technophobe.  I can effectively translate from very technical into English, but I’m not too good at going the other way.  That’s no bad thing though, in my opinion, as I never like to assume that people understand everything first time round anyway – if I’ve put my thoughts into plain terms in common usage, then there’s less chance of misunderstanding.

I got my inspiration from this piece from http://patriciasplace.me/in-other-words/ – it’s the item for #40.  Pop over to the site and have a look around!

Where does a work ethic come from?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I’ve Become My Parents.”, I thought I’d try to explain how their example and my upbringing has imbued me with a strong work ethic.  They definitely worked hard all their lives, and now they are both retired they seem to be working harder than ever.  OK, so they’re not doing as much physical work as before, but they’re involved in so many activities, volunteer groups, committees etc they tire me out!

I’ve always believed that a good day’s work deserves a good day’s pay, and that if you want something you need to earn it.  So when I was 12 or 13 or so, and I wanted a particular jacket, I decided to find a job before or after school so I could buy it.  (My parents didn’t have the money for it, and in those days, it wasn’t unusual for youngsters of my age to be delivering papers, or milk, or working on a farm, or something like that – one of the benefits of growing up in a rural farming community I guess.)  I got myself a job delivering milk for 2 hours every morning, before school, and at the weekends I’d do an additional couple of hours to boost my pay packet.  When I’d finally earned enough to buy the much coveted jacket – another revelation.  I decided that as it had taken me x number of days or weeks to earn the money,  I didn’t want to spend it on the jacket – in my eyes, it just wasn’t worth it.  I can’t remember what I bought instead, but it was a very good lesson to learn at a relatively young age, one that I’ve remembered over the years.

Around the time I was 13 or 14, my parents bought a “new” house.  It was an old farmhouse with an acre of land, and it was all dreadfully neglected.  The first two months before we moved in Dad would pick me up from school and we’d go to the house.  We’d spend the weekend scraping wallpaper and paint, burning some of it to keep warm (it was mid-winter in Scotland) and making food on a camping gas stove.  We’d go home again on a Sunday evening to get ready for the next school week. Once we’d actually moved in, there was always work to do and as a teenager I did my share – wallpaper stripping, painting, decorating, working in the garden etc.  My regular chores were to keep the fires stocked with wood and coal, and to keep the anthracite boiler for our central heating topped up – otherwise we all got cold.

When I was 14 or 15 I decided I wanted to see a bit more of Norway, so prevailed on Mum to contact her family and friends to see if any had jobs for the following summer: a response came back offering me a couple of months working on a farm in the same part of the country my grandfather came from, so I jumped at it.  Early mornings, late finishes, lots of fresh air and lots of hard work ensued – and I loved it!  The following year, I worked in a petrol station back in Scotland.

I had a number of weekend / holiday jobs for the rest of my teens and into my college years.  I worked in petrol stations in the UK and Norway, more farms, a fish factory and the world’s northernmost nightclub in northern Norway (weekdays in the factory, weekends in the nightclub), and had a combined barman / handyman job for my college years, sometimes doing 80 hour weeks during the holidays.

All of these can be tied back to the example set by my parents, and the fact that if I wanted something I had to earn it.  Those formative years definitely imprinted a real work ethic on me, one I continue to have today.  I don’t really have the energy or  inclination to buy a house in the same condition as my parents bought, but I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to learn so many DIY skills etc while helping them out.

What Would You Do?

This is an awesome post from a fellow blogger, very thought provoking, and very worth your while reading it!

Hundred and Counting

A few years ago when I worked as a psychologist I encountered a case where a little girl had been sent along with a group of other refugees from somewhere in Africa to Finland. She was just a tiny little girl, and traveled without her mother. That is a long and dangerous trip for anyone to take, and much more so for a toddler.

Later, the mother joined her daughter in Finland using the family reunification law. One of the other psychologists in my team said: “To send a toddler such a long way, with practical strangers to look after her! How can anyone do that? I would never do that.”

Well, I would never do that either. I have two small children and I wouldn’t dream of letting anyone with whom I am not thoroughly familiar take my kids anywhere, let alone to an unknown fate to the other side…

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The guy that speaks his mind

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