Cyber mugging

A few years ago, people intent on separating you from your cash used rather crude methods.
They would stick a gun against your ribs and mutter something like “your money or your life”.
Not a very sophisticated method, and reeking of desperation.

Today, impervious to frontiers or weather conditions, cosmopolitan thieves operate from the comfort of their homes.
And home could be Houston, Kiev or Shanghai.
Crime, like commerce, has gone global.

Sitting in front of their computer, sipping coffee and munching on caviar-covered toasts, crooks leisurely drain your bank accounts. And they don’t have to hurry.

But if people rob you, it could be partially your fault.
Computers are now ubiquitous, but new users often lack the necessary sophistication to use them.
They are blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking in cyberspace and they are careless.

A computer, due to its extraordinary power, can be as dangerous as a loaded gun. And in many ways, it is a loaded weapon waiting to be fired.

Like a weapon, it should be handled carefully and kept out of the hands of babes. Let them get their own toys.
I am heartless I know, but feeling much safer than “laissez-faire” parents.

Your first defense against “cybermugging” is a good protection system.
Ideally speaking, barbed wires and landmines should surround your computer. And passwords and fingerprints should be required to enter your security zone.

You should absolutely use an anti-virus program (don’t let it expire) and employ a bunch of passwords to protect your goodies.
I said “passwords” because you should use more than one password to protect your belongings.

I know, it is a pain, but just like vaccines it is necessary.

When you think passwords, think Resistance. Little individual cells fighting the System.
Resistance is a large movement but to remain less vulnerable, it must be compartmented. The cells should be small and the members of any given cell should not know the identity of another cell.
Same with passwords.

If a crook gets hold of one of your password, it should not give him full access to all your accounts.
Your hard disk should be like a ship with good water compartments. If one gets flooded, the entire ship won’t necessarily be lost.

Passwords should be difficult to break. It should have at least 8 digits and have a combination of lower and uppercase characters, little used symbols and numerical characters.
It should never be your birthday or your grandchild’s name!

Computer thieves’ use sophisticated software programs to bust a weak password in a matter of seconds.
Once inside your machine they will behave badly, like teenagers whose parents are away. When you’ll regain control of your computer you will have to call an exterminator.

Keeping track of all the passwords can be difficult, but not impossible.

The easiest way is to use a Password Manager.
Something like LastPass or Dashlane.
These programs will encrypt and remember your passwords, and tell you if they are childishly weak or strong enough to withstand an attack.

One more time be watchful and don’t let anybody play with your computer.
Keep an eye on passwords and don’t hesitate to change any of them if you suspect any foul play.


What’s in a name?

More than you can think.
Bestowing a first name upon a child is an important decision.
It is an important decision because the chosen label will often mold the man he will become.
A Jeeves couldn’t obviously be anything but a butler, but a Jefferson would clearly have brighter prospects for posterity.
And could Lady Gaga ever be president?

My first name is Alain. It’s a common name in France and I always enjoyed it. But unforeseen problems started shortly after my arrival in the United States.
Well-intentioned but misguided people took it upon themselves to call me “Al”.
I am sorry to say that this initiative didn’t sit well with me. I don’t mind being called Alan but I won’t tolerate any abbreviations or nicknames. Alain I was born, and Alain I shall remain.

I have never understood the self-mutilation ritual that Americans inflict upon themselves. Is it a new form of circumcision?
A noble sounding name like Charles becomes Chuck, Abraham becomes Abe, William becomes Bill… What’s the matter with you Yanks?
Are you so self-conscious about ancient and honorable names that you need to drag them into the gutter to make it more palatable to some of your trashy friends?

Even more annoying than this “cutting” practice, is adding a suffix to a name.
The addition of “the Second”, “Third” or “Junior” to any name, reeks of vulgarity and should be avoided at all costs.
Using initials is also a great American habit. PJ’s, CJ’s, JR’s are now swarming through the land and should be shunned, or even deported.

The apparition of odd names is also very disturbing. Naming somebody “Chastity”, “Beyoncé”, “Casserole” or “LaToya” strikes me as very puzzling indeed… Is there such a shortage of old and glorious names? Do we need to be so crass to be noticed? I don’t think so.

I know a man who was called Chucky when he was a chubby toddler.
He grew up to be an imposing six-footer and realized that Chucky was not adequate anymore.
He asked his friends and acquaintances to start calling him Chuck.
After years of hard work, Chuck became an accomplished opera singer and decided to change his name to Charles, his baptismal name.

Charles did well in the operatic world and developed a particular fondness for Italian arias. Being in the constant company of Italian composers and artists provided the right environment for another metamorphosis.
Remembering his fading Italian ancestry, he changed his name again to Carlo.
A much better sounding moniker than Charles in the rarefied world of Opera.

I don’t mind this reverse progression; as a matter of fact I applaud it. Familiarity might work well for demagogues but it can also be condescending and insulting.
“My name is William Robespierre Beauregard, but since we obviously don’t come from the same background, you can call me Bill and I’ll continue to call you Chico”. How does that strike you?

My advice to you: if you are lucky enough to have been christened William (a noble and ancient name), don’t cheapen it to be popular. Wear it proudly as it was intended.

Popularity is fleeting, good names are not.



Weaning is hard to do

In 2004, shortly after I agreed to become secretary of La Pétanque Marinière, I created a website called Au Cochonnet Marin.
The name “Cochonnet Marin” by the way is a play with words.
In French, the word “cochonnet” means piglet and “marin” means sailor.
Cochonnet Marin therefore means “Sailing Piglet”.

“Cochonnet” is also what the little wooden jack used in pétanque is called, and “marin” also stands for Marin County.
So Cochonnet Marin can also signify “Marin Jack”.
Clever, aren’t I?

IMG_7087 - Version 2

When I created this website, my intent was to provide a focal point for all the club members and for all who were interested by the game of pétanque.
In the beginning, I wrote mainly about “boules” and the club activities.
I wanted to be informative, fun, and at the same time independent.
But I also wanted to have full control of the of the website’s contents and give free rein to my imagination.
I think that I did this.

I resigned from the Board of Directors of La Pétanque Marinière at the end of December 2011.

Due to software problems and limitations, I also decided to change the format and the content of the website.
One of the primary reasons for doing this was that I wanted my site to have archival content. I wanted my readers to be able to retrieve, read, print and forward previously published articles, something that they could not achieve with my original format.
And since there is more to life than pétanque (what am I saying?), I also wanted to deal with subjects other than pétanque. And I have done so.

This blog has been on line since August 2012.
It has gone through a few changes since its launch and it will continue to evolve.
The architecture might look different but the goal is still to inform and to entertain.
I will therefore continue to write and regularly publish my opinionated little pieces.

The main change (and this is what this article is all about) is the fact that from now on I will not send you a reminder (link) each time I publish a new story.

Starting today, I am passing the baton to you. It is going to be up to you to proactively seek my site and discover what’s new.

I hope that you will remain a faithful reader and let your friends know about my blog.

Thank you.


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