Apr 29th

Awareness

By AlanP

Because I spend a lot of time at home, even when I'm working at my day job I feel I am something of a weather vane for telephone scam calls. If I'm getting them, then others must be too. The large number of writers on here must include a higher than average proportion of people at home in the daytime and so others here may be getting these calls too. I sometimes keep them on the line for a while as a form of retaliation. The safest thing is to hang up, but be wary if you want to do the same as I do.

This little cautionary note will, I hope, not be wasted. Please read on.

In the last couple of weeks I have noticed an upsurge in calles from "Windows Technical Support". The accent is invariably from the Indian Subcontinent although they may claim to be in the USA if you ask.

The essence of this scam is that they will claim to be from "Windows". This is a lie. What they will do is ask you to start up a little dialogue box on your pc and enter the phrase eventvwr. Remember that, it's your first alarm.

This will lead you to a list of Windows events, which will include a number of error statements, some may even be labelled critical. This is perfectly normal and a consequence of the fact that MS Windows has little microcrashes all the time. It is not, as these people will claim, an indication that your computer is riddled with viruses.

Their intention is to get you to load some software that enables them to take command of your PC. This is something that legitimate companies do for a number of proper reasons. About now they will ask you for something like £200 - £300 to fix your computer.

These chaps will then do a variety of things. They may:

1. Grab personal data such as bank login and password records.

2. Install malware or spyware

3. Just mess about a bit to make you think they are fixing stuff.

4. Something else entirely

These people are simply common criminals. You should have no conscience about wasting their time. Chat along with them. I kept one on for twenty minutes this morning before writing this. They are remakably thick skinned. I even had to tell the "technician" when he had made a mistake and laughed at him. He continued for another five minutes until I said plainly I was bored and that he should go grow a conscience. I may have insulted him personally a bit too, but that's deniable.

Under no circumstances whatsoever must you allow these people to connect with your computer, even if you know it's a scam and have no intention of handing over any money. If they are connected and realise you have been deliberately wasting their time they will delete your data, they will destroy as much of your machine as they can to render it useless. This is simply malicious and they will do it.

I am in favour of wasting their time, it means that they aren't off conning others, perhaps with success. But do not let them connect. Do not load "TeamView" or any other product. TeamView is a legitimate product btw. It's no more involved than Ford Motors are if someone steals a car to commit a crime. Don't go that far. Keep them on saying you don't understand, you didn't realise you had to be on the internet, anything. But don't let them connect.

Some people who know what they are doing have gone the whole way with them. A Google search "Event Viewer Scam" will lead you some amusing and interesting histories on video. But these guys have created a "Virtual PC" to do this retaliation. It isn't a real machine and no harm can be done. It's just software that looks like a computer online. They are smart and were retaliating skillfully.

I know most of you recognise a scam when you hear one. I know you might want to retaliate. But don't go so far as to let them on your machine. You are not safe simply by stopping at the point they ask for money. Chat, laugh, cuss, mock, but never let them connect.

Apr 27th

Unexpected Consequences

By AlanP

My entry in Squidge’s monthly comp brought this out of some dusty corner of my memory. It’s not like I was making fun of the guy, or even trying to play a prank on my girlfriend, but this went somewhat wrong; as things sometimes do. As a student you have a license to a diminished sense of responsibility. In fact you don’t of course, but being young and stupid you develop one anyway.

Someone I didn’t even know, just saw at a distance from time to time had an angular face, wore big framed spectacles and a big smile. In other words he looked a bit like the famous guitarist Hank Marvin. In passing with my mates we began to refer to him as Hank. Not in any derogatory sense you understand, it was just something we said, you know “Hank’s in early today” if he was, or Hank looks a bit hung over this morning. It was equivalent to saying, “It looks like it might rain this afternoon”, just a non sequiter.

Misjudgements happen. In order for this to not backfire it is necessary for everyone to understand the essential mistruth behind it. So when I was walking along with my girlfriend, someone who was both blissfully ignorant of the joke and also, as I later discovered, of The Shads, and saw him walking on the other side, I remarked “There’s Hank”.

She absorbed this as we went on our way. It turned out sometime later that she encountered Hank without me being around and greeted him by name. It seems he took it fairly well and apparently introduced himself properly. In fact he took it so well that he started dating her and she dumped me.

Oh well. You know what they say about men with big guitars.

Anyone else got any stories of unexpected consequences?

Apr 26th

Here's A Story You Wouldn't Dare Make Up!

By Gerry

Just thought I’d look at the dates, starting with March 2015. 

March 21st

Leicester City play Tottenham Hotspur away; result 4:3 defeat; position in Premiership bottom, with 19 points; hope nil.

March 26th

Reinterment of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

March 27th

‘Service of Reveal of the Tomb and Celebration for Richard III’, followed by Leicester Glows events: Fire Garden, Cathedral Illuminations, fireworks display

April 4th

Leicester City’s next football match, at home to West Ham; result 2:1 victory to Leicester.

After April 4th

Leicester lose just four more Premiership matches in a whole year (v. Chelsea 29.4.15; v. Arsenal 26.9.15; v. Liverpool 26.12.15; v. Arsenal 14.2.16)

April 25th 2016

Tottenham’s home draw with West Brom virtually ensures Leicester will become Premiership champions.

 

Conclusions

1. Leicester will most likely win the European Champions League in 2017

2. It’s all thanks to a grateful Richard III

Proof

 

What is the Leicester City stadium called? The King Power Stadium... Q.E.D.

Apr 25th

Going Full Circle for #FoW16

By Flickimp

I’m coming full circle.

I set a plan to write a novel in 1999, but never put sufficient time into doing it until certain ‘other’ things fell into place around my life. All excuses ran their course in 2007, and I began writing.

Or so I thought…

From July 2007 to June 2010 – I went through a period of Stop-Start (and sometimes the Stops lasted for months … and months … and months …) It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas (because I sure damn did), but the execution. I kept deviating into a complicated mess that was tragic. Sheer tragic.

And then – in June 2010 – I slapped myself – and made a promise to sort my act out. Lo behold, I had completed my first full novel after 6 months. And I was proud of it. And I felt creativity in my fingers. And I wanted to share it with the world. And I wanted the major big publishing deal.

Then reality kicked in. Mainly my first Festival of Writing 2011  (York – UK – that I loved by the way).

  • I’d written a novel where the main protagonist was a talking cat.
  • The length was 148k words
  • POV/Headhopping was all over the place – I had 8 POV in Chapter 1 alone!!
  • There was enough backstory to turn a Trailer into a movie itself.

Strider Energy-FormStriderStormStorm Fire-FormRodriPhytalOliviashCaretakerInmasEdominusChance

I shelved it.

Since then, I’ve written 10 more novels – where I’ve learnt from the FoW and from fellow writers to hone my craft. I get it much better now than I did then.

And that brings me to why we’re here. I’m going full circle.

Novel 2 to 9 were all YA. N10 (done) and 11 (to be redrafted) are MG.

I’ve developed a respect for writing to fit the target market … and so Novel 1 – will be redone as a MG Trilogy – with a very different plot/twists/characters than what I did 6 years ago.

I’ll do what I can, and I hope I’ll have it ready for FoW16 – Sept 2016. I hope.

Well… I can try.

Circle.

Apr 24th

Silliness just got sillier.

By Stephen Mark

Mrs SM and I were recently in Blighty. I bought her a small framed print in a chain store in Bournemouth. The weight of the picture I would estimate at eight ounces. There is a label on the back - this is what it says:

WARNING

Ensure your mounting surface and method of fixing is strong enough to support this item. Your safety is dependent on the construction and strength of the wall to which it is fitted.

As mounting surfaces vary ensure adequate fixings are used. An incorrectly fixed item may cause damage to the product or your property.

We strongly recommend a professional experienced in fixing this type of hanging is consulted.

Prior to drilling check there are no hidden pipes or electrical cables! (X-Ray vision useful here). Only hang by means of a suitable permanent fixing.

Caution: this item may be heavy. Seek assistance if necessary.

Do not strike with hard or pointed items. Do not use wire between the two fixing brackets on the frame. 

Please retain this information for future use. (It is glued to the back)

I'm not sure which is dafter: this one, or the infamous, 'Warning: May contain nuts' - on a packet of nuts.

If anyone has any similar instances of this kind of madness, I should be pleased to read them :-)

 

Apr 24th

'Why do I care?' First person narrators.

By John Taylor

Feel free to challenge any statement I make here: I'm musing aloud, and applying thoughts from my own novel to general questions. Others of you probably have quite different experience, and I would love to hear about it.

Why write THIS story?

In a third person narrative, the initial 'why?' question can often be answered very simply. 'Because it makes a good story.'

The author still has to deliver on that promise, and do it swiftly, but initially, might not need to look much deeper. There could be a burning reason behind writing that particular story, or not. A reason might even come along later, as the story progresses.

In the first person, you might still get away with the 'good tale' premise in a short story, but I would suggest that the reader needs a bit more from the outset if the character is going to narrate and carry a whole novel. The character's motivation in telling her/his story is going to affect the reader's motivation in sticking with the tale.

Why do I care about your novel, anyway? It's a cruel question, but it's a question you need to be able to answer clearly and honestly.

'Why do I care?' is a question the reader needs answering pretty swiftly, and it looks rather different in a first person narrative.

The narrator is usually (but not always) the main character. However good your writing and scene setting, your reader needs to REALLY care if they are to stick with your narrator beyond the first few pages. It doesn't mean your narrator has to be likeable, but her/his personality and viewpoint is what carries the reader along. To be at all authentic, the narrator must have a strong personal motivation for sharing this particular stream of experiences. The story loses authenticity if 'I' am just talking into thin air for no particular reason.

Why am I taking up your time with a long, rambling blog anyway?

Because, three chapters from the end of my current second draft, I've realised something that is missing. In my case, it isn't so much missing as hidden away amongst other stuff. And it can be fixed remarkably easily, with a few words changed here and there in each chapter.

My character has always had a very strong internal reason for telling her story. She needs to tell it in order to understand it herself, because she has gaps in her memory. Now, at long last, I have uncovered a much stronger EXTERNAL reason for telling her story. A reason that involves other characters who the reader hopefully will grow to care about. For me, it has completely opened up the story.

You don't even need to know that reason (and I'm not going to tell you) but all I can say is that I've always worried that my character appears introverted and self-indulgent. She remains an introvert, but now, the act of telling her story is a long way from self-indulgence. And the story has gained a whole load more passion and urgency because of it.

'Why do I care?' asks the reader.

Because your narrator and her/his motivation and unfolding situation will matter to me and grow to matter more over the hours I give to your novel.

 

Apr 20th

A tribute to the genius of rhyme, taken so sadly before her time

By Tony

So funny, so sunny;

Making up the jokes just like a bee makes honey –

Victoria, we salute you tonight!

 

Great singer, hum-dinger;

Even took the mickey out of Jerry Springer –

Victoria, we salute you tonight!

 

Don’t leave us, bereave us;

From your adoring public, won’t you please receive us –

Victoria, we salute you tonight!

 

A jewel. So cruel

To have you taken from us as you fought that duel

With cancer. We salute you tonight!

 

For laughter, a BAFTA;

You kept us all in stitches till we raised the rafter –

Victoria, we salute you tonight!

 

 

RIP Victoria Wood

Apr 20th

Beat me on the bottom with my Woman’s Weekly

By AlanP

This may be a bit maudlin. I make no apology for sentimentality. The untimely death of Victoria Wood has affected me personally more than I can possibly express. She was the finest writer and performer of purely British comedy there has been. Bar none. We have a character, we Brits, and she captured it perfectly. Yes, she was a fine performer: Yes she was a fine musician: But above all she was a writer. She could express the character of her country of birth like no-one else. And I very much doubt that she had emptied the tank of her ideas, But fate has stolen that from her, and us. Her because she clearly loved what she did and us, because so many of us loved what she did.

As I implied, this is self indulgence. I am affected by this news in a way that has surprised me. Celebrities are human after all. But such genius is so rare. She wrote such wonderful lines and she generously gave them to her friends on her shows. One I will always remember was spoken by Thora Hird in Victoria’s perfect play "Pat and Margaret", from 1994. Jim (Duncan Preston) a hopeless romantic needs to get going. His aging mother, Thora Hird, is busy with her cottage industry, cuddly toys. Jim says something about can she get a move on, I can’t remember why, something to do with getting married, or his fiancee, I think. His mother replies:

“Not until I have stuffed this penguin to my satisfaction”.

OK, I’m a fan, OK I’m English and even a bit northern. But that just captures so much about us Brits in so few words. People are going to quote Victoria Wood from her songs, her monologues and her stand up over the next week or two. The telly will be awash. And those quotes will all be terrific. In particular they will quote from the ballad of Barry and Freda as I have in the title of this self indulgent blog.  But for my little world of admiration, that was the best bit of writing for British consumption I ever encountered.


Excuse me now. I may get drunk

Apr 18th

Chernobyl - Power and Truth

By Bric

Picture the scene: a marble floor, a long table, and thirty leather seats occupied by stern men in dark suits. Scowling. The air turns colder as the engineers shuffle in, heads bowed. The heavy oak door slams shut.

The Chairman leans forward. ‘When will we have power?’

The project manager unfurls a plan, rolling it out across the polished rosewood table. The paper rustles and leather seats squeak. He begins his presentation on the critical path.

After a few minutes, he is interrupted.

 ‘Unacceptable.’

‘But the special equipment…’

‘I am not interested in excuses.’ The chairman slams a fist on the table. ‘The deadline is not negotiable.’

Motes of dust dance in a ray of winter sun, slanting through a gap in the velvet curtains hung from high windows.  

‘There is a faster alternative.’ The military man speaks with a deep rasping voice. ‘Is there not?’

The team exchange glances and push one of the older engineers forward.

‘Yes, comrade.’ He speaks slowly and clearly. ‘A military design. Built to enrich uranium. To make weapons’ grade plutonium. Adapted for power production. In Siberia. Not suitable for…’ he chooses his words carefully, ‘populated areas. Not as clean or as safe as the design we are proposing.’

The chairman shakes his head. ‘Then you must find ways to make the Siberian design cleaner and safer.’ He throws up his hands and sits back.

‘Yes, comrade.’ The engineer clears his throat. ‘We would need time for tests.’

‘Start first, test later!’  The chairman stands up.  ‘Now, let me ask you again. When will we have power?’

The project manager rolls up his plan. ‘Before the deadline, sir.’

As the team leave, the old engineer is heard to mutter. ‘We lie and teach others to lie. No good will come of this.’

 

Chernobyl Reactor Number Four started up at the end of 1983 in order to meet a deadline for energy targets. Not all the tests were carried out before start-up and a worrying problem emerged. How to keep the reactor cool if power was lost.

Nuclear fission - the splitting of atoms - produces heat. The heat is used to boil water to make steam. The steam is used to drive turbines to create electricity. The electricity is also used to drive the pumps that keep water flowing in the reactor. During a reactor shutdown the electricity to run the pumps is lost. So back-up diesel generators start automatically. Tests on Reactor 4 showed that the back-up system took over 60 seconds to reach the required power. Far too long for the reactor core to remain without cooling.

An electrical engineer had the bright idea that the combination of steam turbines coasting down and diesel turbines winding up might provide enough power to run the cooling pumps, elegantly bridging the power gap.

A test was scheduled for April 25th 1986, in advance of a planned shutdown on Reactor 4. But to allow the test to be carried out, most of the reactor safety systems had to be disabled.

Brilliant.

Like airplane pilots experimenting with the engines in flight. 

Even so, the team might just have completed the test, had it not been for two design flaws. One which they knew about.

And the other one which took them by surprise.

The technology originally recommended by the expert team for the Chernobyl complex was a pressurised water design. The design was rejected because mass production of the reactor required technical expertise which only one factory in Leningrad possessed. One overriding factor trumped all the others. How fast could the nuclear energy program be implemented?

So an inferior design was chosen, one which had been used by the military and could be constructed using local suppliers of concrete and steel.

But there were two critical design flaws.

In a nuclear chain reaction, a neutron collides with a nucleus, splitting it to release heat and more neutrons. Heat must be removed and neutrons slowed down by a moderator to continue a controlled chain reaction. Extra neutrons are removed to prevent a runaway reaction and core meltdown. The power of the reactor is controlled by inserting and withdrawing control rods containing Boron.

In the design chosen for the Chernobyl complex, the moderator was graphite and the coolant was water. Water is a more efficient coolant and a more effective neutron absorber than steam. As steam bubbles form in the core, the reactor power increases, releasing more heat, forming more steam and so power continues to increase in a vicious spiral.

The experts understood the first design flaw. The automatic control system was enhanced with several independent safety systems.

Which were overridden for the safety test. All but one.

There remained an emergency shutdown button, a system to drop control rods into the reactor, absorbing the neutrons and stopping the chain reaction.

Which is where the second design flaw lay hidden.

It was first noticed in December 1983 during the commissioning of a power plant in Lithuania. As the control rods descended into the core, the operators observed a surge in the power. The tip of the control rod was made of graphite. The descending rod displaced water, so instead of reducing the power of the reactor, for a few seconds, the power increased.

In 1983 in Lithuania the reactor was stable; the cooling water was flowing and the automatic control was regulating. The temperature and pressure did not soar, the channels did not warp, the control rods did not get stuck and the graphite tip continued to descend beyond the core allowing the boron section of the control rods to slip into place and stop the nuclear reaction.

But in April 1986, in Chernobyl, the reactor was in the middle of a safety test. When the reactor power became unstable, the operators wanted to abandon the test but the shift engineer insisted that they continue. The operator reluctantly withdrew some control rods. The cooling water overheated. Bubbles of steam formed in the core. The power increased. More bubbles formed.

When the supervisor realised that control was lost he pressed the emergency shutdown button. The control rods started to fall. The entry of the graphite tip into an already unstable reactor was the final straw.

The power surged.

The first explosion happened seconds later lifting the 1000 tonne upper shield. A second, more powerful explosion followed. Lumps of fuel and graphite were ejected from the core catching fire as they hit the air.

Thirty one people died as a direct result of the accident: reactor operators, fire fighters and emergency responders. One man died immediately, killed by the explosion and forever buried in the rubble, one of a heart attack, the others suffered unimaginable pain as they succumbed to acute radiation poisoning over the following days and weeks. Many more people suffered as a result of radioactive exposure.

Next week, the newspapers will detail the hours leading up to the accident: the delay in starting the test, the shift changeover at midnight; Dyatalov, the engineer charged with completing the un-safe safety test on night shift; Toptunov, the young reactor operator who obeyed insane instructions; Akimov, the experienced supervisor who rebelled and pressed the emergency shutdown button.

But the real cause of the Chernobyl accident happened many years earlier, in a boardroom in the Kremlin, when engineers failed to speak truth to power.

 

 

 

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