Saturday, 27 May 2017

The spam is getting worse

and the spammers are getting better or more accurate and much more  annoying.
Our ISP used to be very good about filtering out spam. We saw very little of it. All the "advertisements" telling me that I have "won" something were deleted before I ever saw them...which suited me just fine.
Now I have to block numerous senders of such rubbish every morning. This is despite having set my spam reduction to the highest possible level - meaning that I need to look in the "junk" folder every morning to be sure that something which is genuine mail hasn't been  sent to that.
"It isn't possible to do anything about it," I was told. 
No? Until my original ISP was taken over by a much larger firm they managed it very well indeed. 
Yes, I know that the volume of such "mail" has increased but so much is so obviously rubbish that it seems to me that no attempt is being made at all.  It is as if the ISP is also ignoring the "no advertising material" on the "letter box".  And  yes, I have looked at other ways to be rid of it. The problem is at the ISP's end, not mine. They allow this material to go through. I suspect they may even be paid a handsome sum to allow it to go through. After all, why not? It would reach hundreds of thousands or irritated customers at the push of a button. 
This morning they hit a new low. There was an email that addressed me by name, my actual name and not my initials - which is the way most of it appears. It is junk, vile junk. It is so obviously spam that even the lowest level of spam filter should not have allowed it through.
Is someone at the ISP being paid to let this sort of material through? Or, have they stopped attempting to filter any spam at all? These would seem to be the only possible answers. It is not the service we have paid for or the service  we once received.
Why is it that people believe that they can intrude on me like this?  I am a growling grumpy cat this morning and I am ready to scratch  the perpetrators when I catch them.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bees and car accidents kill

more people than terrorists in Downunder - so goes the claim of the estranged wife of David Hicks. For her thesis saying such things she has just been granted a PhD from the humanities department of Wollongong University.
Yes, she is stating a fact - but it is not one worthy of a doctorate. It is sort of "doctoral thesis" which lead other people to wonder what is going on in the humanities departments of universities. 
I know many people who view subject areas like "Women's Studies" with suspicion. (My own view is that there is a place for studying both female and male roles in society.) There are subject areas like "Media Studies" - and someone wrote a doctoral thesis on day time soap operas like "Days of our lives", of which I have never seen an episode. 
I had a severely disabled friend, now sadly deceased, who was a mathematician. His doctoral thesis in pure mathematics was thought by many people to be "absolutely useless".  It wasn't.  The idea he explored is now being explored further in an attempt to understand how space works. I know someone else whose son works in the area of "algebraic topology". The maths isn't something I pretend to understand but I can see the potential applications. Many people just think he is playing with pretty shapes.
My own doctoral thesis was in the area of visual perception. It wasn't something I intended to do at all. I was, and still am, much more interested in language and languages. But, there was a potential problem which needed to be investigated before people invested a lot of time and effort in developing a  system which would allow others to communicate more easily. It was something we needed to know. I abandoned other ideas and concentrated on what was needed. I'll admit I never felt the same buzz as I do about language but at least what I did was genuinely useful. 
Does a doctoral thesis need to be useful? Should we only study what is likely to be useful? No, that would be ridiculous. We should explore what interests us as well as what "might be useful" and I have gone on to do that. 
It is probably fair to say that most research is not "exciting". In science it is often dull and repetitive and there might never be an answer to the problem. The research roads are littered with abandoned ideas but the passing traveller may still pick one up, examine it, and use it in some way.
But, it would have been possible to simply look at the available statistics and draw the conclusion that bees and car accidents kill more people than terrorists in Downunder. That alone is not worthy of a doctorate. I will assume there is more to the thesis than that but, right now, I am wondering how that doctorate advances our understanding of the world.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

A registered letter

costs more to send of course. The postman has to knock at the door and get a signature. It takes time.
It is worth it only if it is essential to know that the piece of mail has arrived, if you need to make sure that the person to whom it is addressed has received it. You can also be sure when it was received.
I have had to send two letters by registered post recently. One was to the ISP company which provides this service. I have asked that they reply by the end of the month. In the normal way I would not give a company so long to provide but I want an undertaking in writing that they will change their training methods - for their own safety as well as that of the customers. It will be interesting to see if I get a response. Any company conscious of the likelihood of litigation should respond positively.
The other letter was much more difficult to write. I had to get legal advice before I sent it. It concerns an area of the law I know nothing about. Looking back on the subject options in law school I cannot recall a subject which even touched on the topic. It had to be worded very carefully. I hope my response helps the person who now has the letter but I rather doubt it will. At least I have done the best I can to help.
The interesting thing though is that I needed to write letters. In both these cases email would not produce results. Even an ISP company will not respond to an email in the same way that they would respond to a letter.
I know someone who is currently trying to preserve an important part of British heritage. Someone else suggested writing a letter to one of those people who might have influence. Yes, the suggestion was "write a letter". There is no point in making a phone call - in this instance they wouldn't be able to talk to the person in question anyway, only his personal secretary. There is no point in sending an email - even if there was an available email address.
Two of my second cousins and I have been emailing one another. I drafted a letter which needs to go to the executors of the estate of  the  Senior Cat's first cousin. We all needed to decide what would be said in it. Email was useful here. I could send the draft and get their thoughts on it. One cousin added something very useful. The other cousin agreed to the content. We all know exactly what will be said. The first cousin will now sign an actual copy of the letter and send it on to me. I will sign it as well and then post it. Yes, I will post another letter. The executors need this in writing.
Letters are still important. Email is not the same. People still take notice of letters. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

"Islam is not a religion of peace,"

he told me.
I went out to get our paper a couple of hours ago. It was still dark but one of our almost neighbours, a man I only know by sight, spoke to me as he walked to catch a bus to work.
He startled me, not because I didn't see him coming. I did. It wasn't because he hasn't spoken to me before. He has. I speak to his wife when I see her out and about. We have met in the library where I have found books for them and helped occasionally with her English.
This morning he stopped for just a moment and said to me, "How can I go to work this morning knowing what has been done?"
He's Muslim.
I could barely see his face in the darkness but his voice sounded worried and miserable. It has been hard enough for them here. They have barely enough to live on. He is studying and working part time. His constant worry is that he will lose his job - and thus the means to support his wife and three year old son. They are homesick. 
I feel for them. 
He has never spoken about his religion before. I have talked to his wife about it, just a little. It's a topic I suppose I am wary of because it can so easily lead to arguments, bitter and angry arguments. 
But this morning this man, a man I barely know, stopped and told me his religion is not a religion of peace. How to respond to that. I responded as I felt and said, "No, it isn't - but that doesn't mean you are like that. I hope the people you work with will understand that."
He nodded and said, "Thank you for that" and then walked on.
I wonder what will happen to him today. Will his work colleagues support or condemn him? 
I hope they support him but, knowing where he works, it will be a difficult day for him. The man who blew himself up and killed and maimed so many others never knew the young man who had to face his Christian colleagues, the people who have given him a job and housing and the opportunity to eventually go home and rebuild his country. 
No, Islam is not a religion of peace. It is at war with everything, including itself.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A $400m donation

has been given by one of Downunder's richest men, Andrew Forrest. 
Much was made of this in the media yesterday and yes, it is a very generous and welcome donation. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were at the announcement. So were various leaders whose work will benefit from the donation. (I particularly like that part of the donation designed to help coordinate cancer research around the world. If that works as intended it will be of immense value to health.)
But it wasn't that which interested me as much as what Mr Forrest had to say.
    "If you haven't got money, donate your time," he told people. He has donated time as well as money over many years so he knows the value of donating time.
It's easy to donate money if you have it. There's a "feel good" factor about it. It's quick. It's simple. We can forget about the issue or cause as soon as it is done and just bask in the after-glow of having done the right thing.
When I mentioned my concern about not presently being able to help in an organisation I belong to someone said to me, "You've done your share." No I haven't. Nobody has ever done their share as long as they are still able to do something. 
I know that "service" organisations like Rotary and Lions are finding it increasingly hard to operate as they once did. They simply don't have the members any more. People say they "don't have time" to be involved. Our local charity shop is staffed by people with an average age of over 80. I can't volunteer there on a regular basis but they know they can call me in to help when someone needs help with paperwork because they have limited literacy skills. It's not much but it is something. I can do a little shopping or a chemist run for elderly or ill neighbours. And, at some point, I am going to be able participate more fully in an organisation I am passionate about. In the meantime I can knit for that and another organisation - and the results will raise more money than I could give. 
The Senior Cat volunteered for years. One of those places was a women's shelter - where he did odd jobs like mending locks on doors and repairing furniture they had been given. The women were understandably wary at first but news soon passed from one vulnerable and distressed woman to another that here was a man they could trust - and that did as much good as repairing the lock on a door. It was time rather than money which was involved.
There is a greater expectation now that government will take on roles once taken on by volunteers, that our taxes will pay for services once done by volunteers. 
I don't see all this as a good thing. I have found that giving time gives me so much more. I meet people. I learn about people. I learn about myself. 
Someone smiled at me in the library yesterday. She looked vaguely familiar but I had no idea who she was. Then she said, "I saw you at the craft fair. You showed my daughter how to do that cast on." 
I had only a vague memory of that - there are too many people at a craft fair who get shown something. But, if I see this woman again, we will smile at each other and say hello because I happened to be at a craft fair giving up a little bit of time. And that adds a small link to my network of human contacts.
That has to be a good thing.  

Monday, 22 May 2017

Drug mules are

not rare - and yes, some people do it unwittingly. 
There was a case some years ago, in France I think, where someone was caught bringing drugs into the country. His or her reaction on being found apparently made it very obvious they had no idea the drugs were there. 
That individual was fortunate. If the country had been one like Indonesia then it is unlikely they would have had much sympathy.
It is one of the things which worries me about travelling - and having members of my family travel. I am always concerned that someone else will try to use them as unwitting mules.
It's a topic of media interest right now. There are claims that the "innocent" young woman who was caught in Colombia was actually a sex worker and that the safety of her family was threatened if she did not attempt to smuggle the drugs. I don't know whether there is any truth in the claims. The media loves to sensationalise such things and the state newspaper is, at times, rather like the old "News of the World".
Through the school system I know someone who lost a son through drug dealing. He was murdered in a remote location over a drug deal which went wrong. Nobody talked about it much then and nobody talks about it now. Now it is as if the matter never occurred. Nobody mentions M's son to her. I often wonder what she thinks, what she remembers on his birthday and the date of his death. It must be hard. He was, when I knew the family, a happy enough kid who liked kicking a football around but never worked hard enough to be on the team. He wasn't terribly interested in school but he was always happy to help someone. He would wander into the library at lunch time, look in the waste paper basket and, if it had anything in it, he would empty it without being asked. As I didn't have a "bin monitor" in the library I appreciated that - even if he never opened a book if he could avoid it.
And then there is the other mother I know whose daughter works in the "sex industry". She is, quite simply, a high class prostitute. Her life appears to be one long round of lunches, dinners, parties,  holidays and more. It isn't of course. She "pays" for all that. It worries her mother sick. Her daughter "got in with the wrong crowd" and uses drugs as well. 
      "I know what will happen," her mother told me the other day, "She'll take a b..... overdose or end up like that creature in the paper."
Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever happens it won't be a happy outcome. Her daughter never opened a book if she could avoid it. She has no apparent hobbies or interests. 
Perhaps that is all part of the problem. Nobody in my immediate family smokes. The idea of "doing drugs" has never remotely interested them. They have other interests.
The Senior Cat has far too much timber. My mother had far too many sewing materials. I have too much yarn. My brother has too many computer components (he builds them for the fun of it), Middle Cat has too many painting materials and the youngest of us has too many craft materials. The next generation is no better.
I suppose all this is a substitute for the evils of drugs. I feel sorry for people who need drugs. Playing with yarn is much more fun.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Timber is the most

extraordinary, wonderful, amazing material. The Senior Cat loves it with a passion. He has taught his children to love it too.
His big woodworking days are over. He no longer makes conjuring apparatus for magicians. We are trying to work out a way of him using his small lathe safely. (He needs to be sitting down these days.) Still, his passion for timber has not diminished.
His passion for timber is like mine for yarn. Only our passion for words is greater. So, he was very interested when I came home with something very precious yesterday.  
I had been to an Open Day at the local hand knitting guild. One of the reasons for going was that I knew someone who made items from timber was supposed to be there - and he was. I wanted, if possible, to get a present for someone who has been extraordinarily generous to others. We can't possibly hope to pay her back but, if I could find what I was looking for, then we can give her something special.
Yes, yes he was there! I had handed out various things that I had come to give other people and then I prowled into the other room. His little stall was just inside. He  was talking to someone else. It made no difference. My paw went out. Yes again! It was just the sort of thing I was looking for - practical and not too difficult to post but still a work of art.
I know Huon Pine when I see it. The Senior Cat still has some Huon Pine in his workshop. It is recycled. He rescued it when a shop was being refitted. (He happened to be passing at the time - one of those serendipitous moments in life.) 
Huon Pine is a soft creamy golden yellow colour. It is so fine grained that it works to a silk like finish in the hands of a good craftsman. It grows at the rate of less than a millimetre a year. Anything made from Huon Pine is likely to have come from a tree thousands of years old. Huon Pine is one of the rarest and most beautiful timbers there is to be had. It may not not be felled any more. Anything you buy made from Huon Pine must come from recycled timber.  
There was very little made from it on the stall. I had known there would not be and consider it my great good fortune to have found anything at all.  
While I was waiting I talked to someone else who was looking at  his work. Huon Pine, blackwood, silky oak, ebony, blackheart sassafras, red gum and more...I can recognise them and explained to her what she was looking at. Yes, she loved the Huon Pine as much as I did but it wasn't the colour she was looking for so she chose ebony - as dark as Huon Pine is light.
The stall holder finished talking to his other customer and turned to me. He knew that I knew what I was holding. We chatted briefly about it. I handed over the money for it and for two other small items that will go towards making special items to be raffled off for charity. They were made from silky oak and ebony, also lovely timbers.  He doesn't charge much, not nearly enough. He says he just does it because he enjoys the challenge in retirement. 
I am thankful that there are people who want to do such things in retirement.