Something for the Weekend, Sir?Bzzz. The number of the incoming call is “Unknown”. I reject it, obviously. While I am intrigued by the idea of receiving mystery calls from The Unknown, they are disappointing to answer.
Bzzz. This guy’s insistent: it’s the fourth time he’s tried to call in the last minute. He must really want me to install that new kitchen / swimming pool / solar panels / conservatory / sheep farm / fibre broadband / large hadron collider.
Hang on. Fibre broadband… that rings a bell.
My doorbell rings. On the doorstep is an impatient broadband engineer holding a mobile phone with “Call rejected x 4” on its screen. I love it when idioms go literal.
He has come to look at my connection because there is a fault. I don’t have time for this: I have an imminent appointment for something or other coming up in my calendar. As if to prove it, I instinctively wake up my smartphone to show him, trying to act casually as I swipe away the “Reject call x 4” notification. See? I have an appointment right now.
It reads: “Broadband engineer visit.”
Ah yes, it’s all coming back to me. I had settled down to watch the final match of the postponed Euro 2020 football tournament on Sunday night and my cable TV service froze at the moment of kickoff. Well of course it did. I am used to this. My cable TV service delivers 900 channels of unwanted reality shite 24 hours a day in UHD without a glitch, but on the fleetingly rare occasions when I might actually want to watch something that interests me, it goes TITSUP*. It’s all part of the game of life.
Sod’s Law demands a prescribed process before arriving at an out-of-court settlement. First you have to restart your set-top box; when this doesn’t work (it won’t), you restart your router AND your set-top box; when this doesn’t work (it won’t), you switch off both your router and set-top box and disconnect the cables and wait for two minutes before reconnecting and restarting; and so on.
I eventually brought the TV stream back to life by switching off and disconnecting everything, turning out the lights, leaving the cold tap in the kitchen sink running, turning around three times while repeating the words “sempiternal acquiescent” aloud, stepping outside, locking my front door, unlocking my front door again, going back inside, turning around three times in the opposite direction while repeating “ornithological redamancy”, stopping the running tap, turning the lights back on, and reconnecting and restarting everything.
I actually had to do this twice as first time round I accidentally got the “turning out the lights” and “leaving the cold tap running” steps in the wrong order.
Ah, home fibre broadband. The service that’s open to all.
‘Fibre broadband – accessible to everyone!’ Quite literally as you can see here.
Doing all of this at least salvaged enough miserable bandwidth to witness the second half of the match in SD, plus extra time and even the England team’s long-term contractual obligation to lose on penalties. Luckily, my team had already beaten Germany a week earlier, so I was spared from having to watch either of the team managers indulge in Touchline Scratch-and-Sniff. That kind of thing really puts me off my beer and Doritos.
On one of the two occasions while I was momentarily standing outside my own front door that night, some passersby looked suspiciously in my direction, so I pretended to be checking my smartphone for something that would validate my reasons for loitering on a doorstep while wearing pyjamas.
Brainwave. I decided to take the opportunity to report the loss of service to my fibre broadband provider via the wonders of 4G. I accepted the automatically assigned engineer appointment three days’ hence, and promptly forgot all about it somewhere between the latter part of extra time and Marcus Rashford’s dazzlingly improvised Riverdance during the penalty shootout.
Before that, the last time I sat down in front of the TV just to watch a sports final was for the Six Nations rugby competition in March. A mere three seconds into that match, the TV went blank. To be fair to my broadband provider, so did the lights and all other electrical devices throughout the house, and indeed the neighbouring streets.
I ended up watching the remainder of that match on my smartphone. I know da kidz prefer to watch movies and stuff that way, but not me. You lose some of the grandeur of a major sporting occasion when part of the chilli tortilla chip you’re munching falls onto the screen and obscures half the playing field.
While I was thrilling at the sight of 30 tiny men battling over the one-millimetre ball on my smartphone, Mme D phoned the electricity company to ask when the power would be restored. They thanked her for letting them know there had been a power cut.
“Glad to be of service,” she said. “Contact me if you need further assistance, quoting the code YU55L355BGGR5.”
The power came back the moment the referee blew the final whistle.
Right now, though, the broadband engineer has finished resetting the line at the wall and my lovely personal two-way gigabit per second is restored. As he leaves, I ask him if the problem was due to something I had done.
Did you have to replace any connectors or cabling? “No.”
Was there a local dropout at the provider? “No.”
So what caused it? “Dunno.”
That’s the problem with technicians: they try to fob you off with jargon.
I am reminded of the two occasions when I booked an appointment with my water company to fit a water meter. Both times they sent a contractor who asked me whereabouts the supply pipe entered the house. I told them I had no idea. Didn’t they know? Apparently not. So on both occasions they left without doing anything.
It was only later that I wondered what would have happened if I stopped paying my water bill. They’d send someone over to my house to cut me off, I imagine. They would ask me where the supply pipe entered the house. I would tell them, truthfully, that I still have no idea. Neither would they, of course, so they’d just have to leave, their grim task unfulfilled, and leaving me with free water forever.
Another part of the game of life, I suppose.
Still, my cable TV’s all sorted now. So I give you fair warning: if you hear about an earthquake, tsunami or aeroplane crash in my neck of the woods, it’ll be because I’m trying to watch the Olympics. ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He is a floating sports fan who shamelessly flips his support between national teams according to convenience. This is what it is to be a Scottish Englishman living in continental Europe. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.
* Television In Total Suspension – Unavailable Picture
The move comes following a power purchase agreement between Johnson & Johnson and Ørsted, which has windfarm sites in Clare and Kerry.
Johnson & Johnson has revealed plans to move to 100pc renewable electricity across its Irish operations.
The company has entered into an eight-year corporate power purchase agreement in Ireland with Danish company Ørsted. The agreement will help to ensure that the company’s entire Irish operations will be powered by electricity from 100pc renewable sources from now on.
Ørsted will supply the company with more than 1TWh of renewable energy during this period from two windfarms located in Kerry and Clare. The agreement will also help Ørsted as it invests in its strategy to construct more renewable generation in the future.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, praised the move in the context of Ireland’s climate action plans.
“Johnson & Johnson has embraced its environmental responsibilities globally, but also here in Ireland, and this agreement will help the company to achieve its wider climate goals. We are at a crucial point in the global fight against climate change and initiatives like this should become the benchmark for all companies to aspire to,” he said.
Towards net zero
Last year, Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide VP of environmental health, safety and sustainability, Paulette Frank, spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event about the company’s “bold” climate goals. From her base in the US, Frank told attendees of the virtual event that her colleagues viewed the pandemic as “inspiration to propel” its climate action “further faster.”
Sourcing electricity from 100pc renewable sources is a goal the company set to achieve by 2025. By 2030, it wants to achieve carbon neutrality in its global operations.
John Lynch, plant leader at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Ireland, said the company was proud to have met its targets in its Irish operations.
“Across our 10 sites and workforce of more than 5,000 here in Ireland, we are committed to supporting Johnson & Johnson’s climate action goals. In the last decade we have invested more than €60m in over 80 carbon footprint reduction projects.
“Today is a major landmark on our journey in Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and underlines our commitment to ensuring a better, healthier world.”
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Australians are the world’s biggest consumers of health and wellness apps, punching well above our per capita weight in our quest for peak physical and mental condition, according to research from telecommunications company Uswitch. In recent years we have also been making them – with everyone from fitness influencers to mental health advocacy groups launching digital products.
I’m partial to a bit of mobile-based movement and mindfulness myself, but I have a complex relationship with wellness. While I love green juices, pilates and my “ness” being “well”, I can’t abide many contemporary uses of the word. In the diet, fitness, fashion and other industries, “wellness” can feel like a barely repackaged “weight loss”, while “healthy” has replaced “slim” as companies respond superficially to the body positivity movement without really changing their ways.
Despite wholesome beginnings in the 1950s, wellness is often framed as a goal for the financially and genetically privileged – and don’t get me started on the pseudoscience.
So I choose cautious cynicism when engaging with wellness and wellbeing products – but I’ve also been alone in my house for the greater part of two years, so I’ll try pretty much anything.
Cost: $19.99 a month
Sweat is a women’s health app co-founded by Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, who boasts a worldwide social media following of more than 40 million. It offers over 30 programs for training at home or the gym, including high-intensity interval training (Hiit), low-intensity training, yoga and barre.
I did sessions from the PWR Zero Equipment program and it was all easy to follow and very doable. Audio and written instructions and onscreen demonstrations are clear, and self-accountability is super easy. It’s perfect for lockdown and for busy people cramming in exercise wherever and whenever they can. Plus, I can report that burpees are still the merciless work of Satan herself.
Itsines has created an app that exists in the wellness space with little of the self-congratulatory, quasi-spiritual hoopla other influencers lean so heavily into. Sweat isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a workout app, you do workouts on it. Yes, there are recipes and lifestyle tips but they aren’t offered as miracle pathways to a higher plane of being.
Is it my preferred mode of exercise? No. But it’s convenient and flexible and I can see myself using it when I travel. If that’s a thing that ever happens again.
ReachOut’s WorryTime is an anxiety management app from the online youth mental health service that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to disrupt and manage repetitive thinking.
I am by no definition a youth, but I have mild anxiety and WorryTime’s methodology appealed to me. You nominate a daily time to do all your worrying and when you feel anxious, you note why in the app; every day at the designated time, you worry about what’s still plaguing you and delete what’s not. Easy!
I used WorryTime diligently for a while, noting my fears, my troubles and doubts and reassessing them every 24 hours. All was going well until I got busy with work, stressed about work and scared I’d stop getting work. Where the app had been a welcome task, it became a bugbear.
I was trying not to think about things that made me anxious and knowing the app contained a list of them created a classic avoidance paradigm. I skipped a day. And the next day. And the day after that. Soon the WorryTime alarm was causing me the very anxiety it was engaged to minimise. After a few weeks of this mental chicken-egg dance, I deleted the app. I may have been in the foetal position at the time.
I’m not advocating against WorryTime. It could be a great tool for others. There are no one-size-fits-all mental health salves. It would be nice if there were though.
Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria
My favourite discovery from this whole exercise is bibliotherapy or book therapy, an age-old practice that uses literature to support better mental health and wellbeing. Basically, you read or are read aloud a prescribed text, specifically chosen to raise questions, uncover truths and encourage healing. It’s also fun to say.
In response to the pandemic, a new podcast called Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria was launched. Hosted by bibliotherapy practitioner Dr Susan McLaine, it offers to help people “stay calmer in this fragile time”. In each episode, McLaine reads a short story and a poem and poses questions for listeners. Texts range from emerging and obscure writers to Tolstoy, Donne and Kipling.
I love this podcast. There’s something so intimate and soothing about being read to, no doubt embedded in childhood nostalgia. McLaine’s voice takes some getting used to, though to be fair I find this with most podcast hosts, but her choice of texts is excellent and she reads everything slowly and deliberately, “savouring every word and offering space between words”. It’s the closest thing to a hug I’ve had in months.
The only bad thing about it is that there are only two short seasons. After a brief search for similarly soporific, story-based podcasts and apps, I found the excellent Dreamy podcast, a collection of beautiful sleep stories by First Nations storytellers like Jazz Money and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Bringing tens of thousands of years of oral tradition into the digital world, Dreamy is “helping people of all walks of life to quiet their minds, drift into dreams, and disconnect from their devices”.
I also found Sleep Stories on the Calm app ($14.99 a month). It’s full of grown-up tales and mindful nonsense to soothe or bore you into slumber. There are even equally terrible and amazing celebrity cameos: Matthew McConaughey, Cillian Murphy and the hot duke from Bridgerton will read to you like you’re a child. Last night Harry Styles read me the worst poem I’ve ever heard – for 40 minutes. Five stars. Would listen again.
The Resilience Project
Price: $4.49 one time fee
The Resilience Project app is a “daily wellbeing journal” for all ages from a Melbourne-based organisation of the same name, providing evidence-based mental health strategies and “sharing the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness” to schools, sports clubs and businesses.
Users are encouraged to log on every day, note how they feel, record who or what they’re grateful for, perform acts of kindness and do a short guided meditation. This nice daily ritual only takes a few minutes but proves a small antidote to the current news cycle.
I don’t see myself using it long-term, because of repetitiveness and the world’s shortest attention span, but during this lockdown I’ve appreciated the nightly reminder to acknowledge my blessings and privilege and to reach out to friends.
Though it can’t do the heavy lifting where mental health is concerned, I’ll put it in my arsenal of chronic depression coping mechanisms, and try to use it in bad times. It won’t soothe what only drugs and Great British Bake Off can, but it might provide a few minutes respite.
Cost: $40 a month
The Class is an American exercise methodology-slash-mindfulness practice with semi-cult vibes, taught by a host of ridiculously hot and relentlessly cool twentysomethings who can pull off white Lycra and blend in on aGirlsset.
In fortuitous timing, founder Taryn Toomey launched online classes in late 2019, taking the Class into locked down homes around the world from 2020. Australians can access a wide selection of on-demand and live online classes, and there’s even an Australian teacher. Timezone differences narrow live options quite a bit, but most live classes become on-demand classes, so it doesn’t really matter.
Frequented by celebrities including Alicia Keys, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, the Class is a mat-based, music-driven “cathartic workout experience” designed to “strengthen the body and balance the mind”. It’s yoga meets Les Mills meets clubbing. Movements are simple, repetition is key and loud exhales are encouraged. You may do squats for a whole song, free dance for another and star jumps for the next. In between, there’s stillness.
Teachers speak a kind of motivational psychobabble that is at once intolerable and addictive. It verges on the spiritual and flirts with cultural appropriation but remains just secular enough that I don’t turn it off. “Be in your power”; “You are enough”; “Softness is your birthright” and so on. Many teachers end their sessions with “I love you” which I somehow don’t hate.
At first, I struggled to put aside my prejudices against self-indulgent, pseudo-mystical wellness fads and find peace with beautiful women telling me to accept myself while making me do burpees. But the more I did it, the more I was able to just let go and roll with the theatre. Plus, it’s actually a very good workout.
I am now willingly paying for the Class. Let’s never speak of this again. I love you.
In brief Whether or not non-fungible tokens are a flash in the pan or forever, malware operators have been keen to weaponise the technology.
An investigation was triggered after a number of cryptowallets belonging to customers of the largest NFT exchange OpenSea got mysteriously emptied. Researchers at security shop Check Point found a nasty form of NFT was in circulation, one that came with its own malware package.
People were receiving free NFTs from an unknown benefactor, but when they accepted the gift the attackers got access to their wallet information in OpenSea’s storage systems. The code generated a pop-up, that if clicked, allowed wallets to be emptied.
After disclosing the issue Opensea had a fix sorted within an hour – we wish others took such prompt action – and the platform appears to be secured. But beware of “free” gifts, particularly where money is involved.
Crime doesn’t pay? really?
A US Treasury report has said that in the last three years ransomware operators using over 60 different variants have siphoned off $5.3bn in Bitcoin payments.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network report [PDF], first spotted by The Record, said that the ransoms taken in the the first six months of this year amounted to $590m, up from $416m for 2020, and the problem is getting worse, according to ten years of 2,184 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) analysed by the agency.
“If current trends continue, SARs filed in 2021 are projected to have a higher ransomware-related transaction value than SARs filed in the previous 10 years combined, which would represent a continuing trend of substantial increases in reported year-over-year ransomware activity,” the Treasury team warned.
Arming robots with sniper rifles, not worrying at all
US-based Ghost Robotics showed off an unusual new gadget this week at a meeting of the Association of the United States Army – a sniper rifle robot.
The robotics firm already has unarmed robot dogs acting as sentries at Tyndall Air Force Base but mounted a 6.5mm sniper rifle with a range of up to 1,200 meters (3937 feet) with both day and night vision cameras. The manufacturers were at pains to point out that this is not autonomous in any way and a human always controls the trigger, the robot just gets into position to keep its human operator safe.
The robot caused something of a storm, and Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh attributed this to the emotional connection robot dogs evoke and decades of movies about killer robots.
US warns critical water systems under attack
American online watchdogs at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued a security advisory following a spate of attacks against water and waste management facilities.
Since 2019 CISA said it had recorded five attacks against water systems, mostly ransomware but also aa former employee at Kansas-based water company who tried to tamper with drink water quality using credentials that should have been revoked when they left the biz.
For ransomware operators such businesses are tempting targets. Since water is such an essential service, it’s no-doubt thought that they’d be more likely to pay up rather than cause widespread disruption and panic.
Ukrainian cops cuff botnet suspect
The Security Service of Ukraine announced this week that they had arrested a man accused of running a massive botnet and charging for its use.
The man, a resident of Ivano-Frankivsk region in the west of the country, is said to have been running a botnet made up of over 100,000 infected systems. His opsec wasn’t great, he used telegram to tout for customers and, police say, made use of “electronic payment systems banned in Ukraine.”
A search of the suspect’s premises revealed computer equipment used to operate the botnet, and data stolen from botnet participants. Police say the suspect was also a representative of legitimate Russian payment service Webmoney, which is however under sanctions from the Ukrainian government.