Don’t fall for this trick!

THE TELEPHONE RANG this morning. I answered it and was addressed by a lady with an accent that sounded like the way Iranians often speak English. She told me that she was calling from the British Telecom (‘BT’) technical department to inform me that there was some kind of malicious interference on our broadband connection, and that a BT technician was working on our line in the street. She said that we should have received an email from BT, and could I kindly spend a few minutes with her on my computer. Quite suspicious, I simply thanked her for calling, and hung up.

Then, I checked to see whether there was an email from BT. There was. It had been sent from “” and looked pretty authentic. It even included advice about protection against scams. The email contained a PIN number, “Your PIN is ****”. I was still suspicious and used the 1471 facility to check the number of the person, who had called on our BT landline. It was a number beginning with 07, a mobile telephone number. I felt sure that BT would never call using an 07 number.

I rang BT on 0800800150 and selected the option for suspected scamming and fraud.  I explained what had happened, and an operator confirmed my suspicion that both the call and the email were dodgy. However, the email address from which the message had been sent is an official BT email address. She was relieved to hear that I had not turned on the computer and been guided by the mystery caller because she told me that what I had experienced was an attempt to gain access to the data stored in my computer.

The approach used by the lady who called and whomever she was working with was quite ingenious, and might easily have misled anyone less suspicious (or paranoid) than me.

When I was a child, before the days of internet and mobile telephones, it paid to be streetwise, to keep an eye out for people or situations that might lead to harmful consequences. It still pays to keep a wary eye, but now it is not only on the street that one needs to do so.

Broadband on the blink


Does it not drive you mad when in the middle of doing something using the Internet, there is an ‘outage’ during which the Internet service signal becomes disconnected and you become unable to access the Internet?

My service provider is BTinternet, which is usually satisfactory for months on end. Then, out of the blue for a few hours or even a few days, there is either no connection with the Internet or irritating short bursts of connectivity punctuated by frustrating breaks in the service.

In the past, I have rung the BTinternet helpline. Their polite operators make all kinds of suggestions about what can be done with my equipment to improve the service. They also test the line carrying the Internet signal. This is always in perfect condition, so they say. However, even after doing what has been suggested (including installing brand-new routers) and sometimes after an engineer has come to look at our connection, the problem persists, only to correct itself after a few hours or days.

It seems to me that BTinternet is trying to shift the blame on breaks in their service onto me and my equipment. They never admit what I suspect to be the case, namely, that there is a failure in their provision of the broadband service. Having looked at postings on Twitter and the interesting website, it seems that when I am having problems, which BTinternet ascribe to my end of the Internet connection, so are many other people! If BTinternet is correct about faulty equipment at the receiving end, it seems a strange coincidence that so many users’ equipment should go faulty at the same moment.

Do not lose it


I write a great deal on my computer. Although computers are generally reliable, they are prone to technical hiccups and even total failure. Therefore, I am in favour of following the generally accepted advice that it is a good idea, nay essential, that you save your work not only on the computer’s hard disc but also remotely from the computer.

I tend to back-up anything I don’t want to lose on USB memory sticks. However, being of a somewhat paranoid/neurotic nature, I do not place my trust in these alone. What if, for example, I lose one or one of them suddenly ceases to stop working as happened with a costly hard drive that contained almost five years of documents and photos and then suddenly ‘conked out’? To avoid this, I record everything on to two or more separate memory sticks. 

But, still I am not completely content. Although large companies like Gmail, Dropbox and Microsoft might possibly go ‘bust’ one day, this is far less likely than me losing my memory sticks or my computer giving up the ghost. So, I upload my work onto the hard-drives or ‘clouds’ of the large corporates using Dropbox, OneDrive, and various email accounts I have created, which are dedicated to storing my work.

Call me over-cautious if you like, but I don’t care. Re-writing an important letter or a several hundred page book that has been lost because it has not been securely saved is not a prospect I relish! And, nor should you!

Back to BASIC


During the last two years (1968-69) at my secondary school, Highgate School in north London, we were taught about computing. The teacher in charge was one of the pioneers of the computer programming language called BASIC (an acronym for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). The first version of BASIC, which was considerably simpler to use than FORTRAN or COBOL, was released in 1964. So, our teacher was advanced in introducing it to us. We learned about creating flow diagrams and then converting them into BASIC.

When I learnt BASIC back in the late sixties, the only computers available were huge main-frame machines that occupied large rooms. PCs and lap-tops were not yet available, or hardly even imagined. The school did not possess a main-frame computer. But, it did possess a keyboard attached to a telephone line. By dialling a number, the keyboard could be connected to a remote computer. It was not possible to type directly into the computer. First the programme that we concocted had to be typed on the keyboard, which converted the programme into a series of holes on a long ribbon of paper. When the programme had been transferred into the punched holes, the remoter computer was dialled, and then the long strip had to be fed into a slot on the keyboard console. Then, the author of the programme had to hold his breath. For, it would be some time before the computer sent back a message that was typed by the console onto its paper-feed. More often than not, the message would convey the sad news that the programme had an error. Then, it was back to the ‘drawing board’ to determine where we had gone wrong.

When the programme was correct, the results were exciting. Some people used the computer to do statistical work, or to generate answers to mathematical problems. I discovered how to make the computer write random poetry. I submitted some of what I produced to the school’s magazine, but it was turned down.

Several of my fellow pupils and I became obsessed with programming. We could not get enough of experimenting with programming. The console was kept locked in a wooden cabinet, which could only be opened by our teacher. Somehow or other one of us managed to get a copy of the key, and, more importantly noticed the number that our teacher dialled to access the computer. From then onwards, we had far greater access to the machine.

The IBM company lent the school a prototype of a table top computer. This could only be programmed using machine language, which is the coding that underlies languages such as BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL. Using machine language is real programming, and quite difficult. It was to difficult for me to master even at a very simple level.

When I went for my interview at the Physiology Department at University College London (‘UCL’), the other candidates and I were shown the room containing a large computer, which the Department possessed. The staff were very proud of these advance machines that were able to process experimental data in “real time”. Information from the measuring instruments employed in the experiments was converted into numerical data that could then be processed statistically by the computer, and then displayed to the experimenters while the experiment was proceeding.

A week or two after my interview at UCL, I went for another interview, this time at the Physiolgy Department of Chelsea College (now long since closed). After I had been several questions by the Prof and some of his colleagues, they allowed me to ask any questions I had. Having been impressed by what I had seen at UCL, I asked:

“Do you use computers in your department here at Chelsea?”

“Of course, we do, all the time” answered the Prof immediately.

After a short pause, one of his colleagues said:

“Well … actually… we don’t have any computers in this college.”

Then the Prof said something, which I found rather pathetic:

“I can understand that your first choice is UCL. However, we would be happy to offer you a place in our department providing you will promise to accept our offer if UCL does not give you one.”

Fortunately, UCL did offer me a place on their course.

I gained admission to UCL, my first choice amongst the six universities to which I applied. During our first year, we had to take a course in physics. Once a week, we spent an afternoon in the laboratory carrying out practical work. One day, we were asked to write computer programmes to solve a chosen problem. I was the only person (in our class of fifty students), who could complete the task. No one else had a clue as to how to do it. They had attended good secondary schools all over the country, but only mine had offered teaching in computer science.

After that class in the physics laboratory in 1970, I did not touch a computer until about 1997. We bought a PC, because my wife needed one for her studies. When she was not using it, I experimented with it. It operated with one of the Windows programmes. I was flummoxed. It seemed quite different to what I experienced in the late sixties. How was I going to programme it? After a short while, I realised that things had moved on a long way since I learnt BASIC.


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