Tag Archives: electricity

Cyber Security

Cats don’t care about your online safety

The first thing to be said is that all of this is incredibly basic to anyone who’s really knowledgeable, but it’s still new and unknown to a lot of people. I’m not an expert, not at all, but I do most, though not all of this stuff – I don’t use a Password Manager, for example, my own (probably quite arbitrary) gut reaction is that I’d just be giving another hostage to fortune. I think I could describe myself as a committed lay person! I hope it helps.

Software and Apps

Install the latest updates and software, of browsers, operating systems and display software – they nearly always contain security upgrades and fixes.

Firewall and anti-virus software

If there’s an out-and-out attack, you need these, badly. Make sure you have them. Check out their comparative benefits at a site you trust already; for me, thats one of the big ones, or a consumer finance website like moneysavingexpert, which has the added bonus of showing you how to get what you want as cheaply as possible.

The National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre (at the Action Fraud link below) offers free cybercrime protection named Quad9 and DMARC. I haven’t independently researched these yet, but that sounds a great offer.

Passwords

Use a strong, secure password, notably for your email accounts. They can be used to gain access to all sorts of other accounts, including financial accounts.

Don’t use the same password for different accounts: that way, if one account does get hacked, the criminal won’t get access to your other accounts. GetSafeOnline recommends using three random words to create a strong password. Numbers and symbols can still be integrated into that, of course, for example SixBeaches18lorries** On another site, you might use SevenBooms47lychees((. Those are the same initials and processes, but almost completely different even so.

Don’t use anything that you would ever mention on social media: a child or partner’s name, a pet, a place of birth, favourite holiday, or a sports team. Keep it random but memorable for you, and you alone.

Where available, always use two-step authentication on your accounts. It adds an extra layer of insurance.

Safeguarding your data

Back up your computer regularly. It’s useful to store data in the cloud, but what would happen to your data if that firm was hacked? I store hobby data in the cloud, items that are important to me, but have no security implications at all. Backups should be safe too. An interesting point from CyberAware: make sure the external hard drive you use isn’t permanently connected to your device, either physically or over a local network connection.

I back up to an external hard drive regularly, kept in a fireproof “briefcase” type safe, which is stored somewhere safe (against burglars, against the house catching fire). If I have a particularly important set of documents and don’t have time to do a full backup, I’ll back up to a flash drive, stored in the same way. A set of flash drives is held in my bag ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Your device

Use a password to open and enter your computer or smartphone. Even if you do lose it, your data is then more safe. Can it also be encrypted? Check it out.

Use a surge protector – they’ve dropped in price tremendously in the last five years, and they’re well worth it. Many preppers think an EMP is inevitable – think how much more likely a too-near bolt of lightning is! It really is as simple as an extra plug at the mains.

Tape over the camera lens on the computer, the one that faces you. You don’t know if your computer might fall victim to a remote control hack, and then potentially anything you do in front of your computer screen is viewable to the hackers. Protection is as simple as a strong piece of tape that can easily be pulled back if you want to skype or facetime.

Catching fire

A very focussed news item from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue tells its own story: basically, don’t leave your laptop while its charging, and don’t leave it by combustible material (such as books!), don’t overload your sockets. Believe it or not, there’s a guide about not overloading sockets.

News to me, but I’m definitely using that in future.

Emails

Books have been written about malignant emails: just don’t open anything that you don’t already know or expect. If you’re not sure, hover over the Sender column – it should show the real email address of the sender, which can be quite an eye-opener.

Drive-by phone thefts

Whether you’re speaking with friends, or consulting Google Maps, it’s likely you’ll have your phone out at some stage when you’re on the street. I do myself. The only thing I can think of to do is to watch the local environment and to stand well away from the road, turned away from it, in fact.  If you have suspicions, don’t get your phone out!  Or go somewhere quieter, and safer.

Authorised Push Payments

Which, the consumer organisation, made a “super complaint” to the Payment Systems Regulator. This is the history of it, and the response.  

The techniques used by criminals have become extremely sophisticated, mostly based on intercepting legitimate communications between the individual and their bank, or conveyance, or savings organisation, and diverting payments, with the agreement of the victim – which is what currently lets the banks say it’s our own fault, when it’s often a criminal either inside the bank or attacking the bank’s communications systems. Official websites aren’t yet covering the steps that individuals can take to guard against this – which says to me that it’s understood that it’s not individuals who are primarily responsible. But there are some things we can do, even so.  I found these paragraphs at a private company’s website, at this link, and well done to Pettyson, a regional estate agent, for such clear, concise wording:

What you can do to protect yourself from APP fraud

Proactively protecting yourself from this kind of fraud can be difficult, as hackers can strike at any time. However, changing passwords frequently and using long and complicated alphanumeric strings – including upper and lower case letters along with special characters – is a good place to start, but these can be a pain to use. To help with this, password managers such as LastPass are highly recommended.

While frequently changing your email account’s password may scupper some scammers, others may still get through, so the best line of defence will always be your common sense. If anything at all seems fishy, be suspicious. In fact, be suspicious even if all seems well! You simply cannot be too careful.

Give the company asking for payment a ring to see if the request is legit. Dig out old paper records or search Google for the company in question to find their contact details – do not under any circumstances use the contact details listed in the email, as these are likely to be those of the hacker, not the genuine company.

If you are requested to make a significant payment (even if it is one you are expecting) via email, making a small payment first and then checking that the recipient is who it is supposed to be before transferring the rest can help protect your money. While it may be more inconvenient to make two payments instead of one, it’s a small price to pay if you want to keep your finances safe and avoid joining the tens of thousands of people who have already been adversely affected by APP fraud.

Finally, if you own a business that could potentially be targeted with APP fraud, make it a matter of course to call the beneficiary of payments over a set amount. Also, agree a ‘safe word’ with your accounts department and insist they call you before making any payment over a certain figure, it could save you thousands. Similarly, alarm bells should ring if you are ever asked to make a payment to alternative bank account to a regular beneficiary or supplier. Be on your guard…it’s a real threat.

Those are the main points I want to cover right now, but I’m absolutely sure there’s dozens and dozens of other points to be made – if anyone wants to share what they know or what they’ve found, please feel free. It will help us all.  In the meantime, some useful websites:

UK Police: Action Fraud

UK government: Cyberaware

UK public/private sector partnership: Get Safe Online

UK charity furthering the work of the Electrical Safety Council: Electrical Safety First

Lightning Strikes!

Lightning strikes image by NASA
Courtesy of NASA

There are a huge number of lightning strikes every year, and a surprising number of them kill people. Exact numbers, however, are hard to come by – so, using data on the USA collected by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), it can be confirmed that over 400 people are struck by lightning every year in the USA, and that between 55 and 60 of them are killed. Of the rest, many of them suffer permanent neurological damage. Let me repeat that – permanent.

It can be a devastating problem. Just last month, in June 2016, almost 100 people were killed in India – in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh. These figures represent catastrophe for the communities and families involved, especially as most of the casualties are labourers with only one income in the family.

Weather is more extreme in the USA and in India than it is in the UK – but we’re catching up quite a bit, thanks to climate change. Just this week, there was a warning for a majority of the UK for “Thunderstorms/Flash Flooding/Large Hail/Tornadoes”. I was surprised to see that list presented in such a matter of fact way, and it’s only because there’s so much going on right now – Nice, Turkey, Brexit after effects including a new Prime Minister – that it didn’t make headlines.

There can be very little notice of lightning strikes, because they can occur so far away from the centre of the storm – thats why it’s important to err on the side of caution, although that can seem completely impractical. What if there’s a storm, with distant thunder, when you’re due to leave the house for the day, dropping the kids off at school before getting to the train station to go to work?

I can tell you what best practice is, around lightning strikes. I can tell you that if I finish seeing a client and there’s a storm on, I suggest that we wait it out before either of us leaves. But I’m self employed – now that I know so much more about lightning, I’m not sure what I’d do if I was still an employee. Please leave feedback below, if you can, or contact me privately if it feels too identifiable.

The installation of lightning conductors and protectors is outside the scope of this article (though I sense another article on it’s way about that) but there are many, very simple things that we can all do to reduce the likelihood of lightning damage.

INDOORS

Switch appliances off AND unplug them. When there’s a surge in electrical supply because of a lightning strike, it has to go somewhere. Surge protecting extension leads will probably protect from comparatively small surges, like the ones that happen when electricity comes back on after a short power cut.

Storms can happen fast: make sure that you can get to your wallplugs quickly, that you don’t have to manoeuvre heavy furniture out of the way. Or that you have one of those protective extension leads – you can unplug your appliances really fast, and then, if you want, you can still grapple with the furniture to try to ensure that the extension lead isn’t fried.

There are UPS as well as extension leads: Uninterruptible Power Supply products ensure that the computer can be shut down safely, rather than an emergency shutdown. At the level of investment that most individuals can afford, that’s the best there is. Power down, in good order and unplug.

Don’t use a landline phone when you can hear thunder and especially not when you can see lightning. If the phone line itself is struck, even a couple of miles from where you are, you might quite easily be thrown across the room. Cordless phones, and mobile phones, are said to be unaffected – but isn’t a cordless phone plugged in to your landline is still liable to get affected by a strike on the phone line? I wouldn’t risk it, it’s a very low probability event, but a very high impact one.

Don’t use water, or touch metal or electrical objects. This is the time for reading a book, doing a few stretches, having a singsong or writing a letter. Dusting the skirting boards, even!

If you hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning – take precautions as above as quickly as possible. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the rainfall or thunderstorm cloud.

OUTDOORS

If you’re outdoors, get indoors as soon and as safely as you can. Remember that all thunderstorms produce some lightning, and if you can hear the thunder, you’re in danger. And there’s no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm.

Move away from tall things (trees, power lines) and metal things too (parasols, bicycles) since they all attract lightning.

If you’re surrounded by trees, take shelter under the shorter trees.

However – don’t be the tallest object in the area, so avoid open areas as well.

Get to a low-lying area if you can, because of lightning striking the tallest objects around, but remember that flash flooding is increasingly common these days, don’t put yourself at risk of that either. All of this really emphasises my first point – there’s no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm.
If you feel your hair stand on end and feel tingly, that means that lightning is about to strike, so crouch down, get on the balls of your feet and bend forward putting hands on your knees. The scientific basis for this is to make yourself as small as possible, to make yourself as small a target as possible, and to ensure that if you are unlucky enough to be struck anyway, the current will pass through your extremities, not your torso (i.e. not your heart and lungs).

Don’t lie flat, that will make you a bigger target, and put more of you in touch with the wet earth. Water is a great conductor.

Speaking of which … if you’re swimming, get out of the water, fast. If you’re in a boat of any sort, the same applies. Get out of the water, and get away from it.

If you’re with a group of people, spread out – statistically, this actually increases the chances of someone getting hit, but it also increases the chances that not all of you will be hit, so that any victims will have help on hand.

Lightning can strike several people at once, especially grouped together, and a mass casualty situation caused by lightning is triaged in a different way from others: if a strike victim is breathing on their own, they’ll probably continue to breathe, so most attention is paid to the people who aren’t breathing.

The best-practice recommendation is to stay inside a safe building or vehicle for 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder clap. That’s a long time, I know – but how often are thunderstorms in your area, even nowadays?

IN A VEHICLE

Keep the windows closed, that will help them conduct the electrical charge through to the ground and away from you. And the window area itself may be struck: if the window is open, that means that you will be struck, directly.

A car only provides protection if you are inside it (and it has a hard top). But just as with the surge protectors above, there’s still a chance. Be careful.

Don’t touch any metal part of the car, or the car radio.

IF SOMEONE IS HIT

Lightning victims don’t carry an electrical charge – they’re safe to touch, but they need medical attention urgently. Phone 999, or the medical emergency number of your own country if you’re not in the UK.

Deaths caused by lightning strikes are usually due to cardiac arrest – learn how to give emergency resuscitation. This page has the well known Vinnie Jones resus video, hands only CPR is a lifesaver.

Watch for two wounds: an entrance and an exit burn. Don’t put anything on them, just cover them with the cleanest, most sterile material you have available at the time.

If possible, move the victim to a safer place – lightning really can strike the same place twice, unfortunately.

Finally, this is a great view of where lightning is striking right now.

“Widespread Electricity Failure” – The National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies.

Loss of electrical power seemed to be the most basic issue on the new National Risk Register, once I stopped to think about it: every single one of us uses electrical power, for dozens and dozens of things, and while a lot of them are pretty unimportant in the long term (an electric carving knife to cut my foam insulation, or the batteries for my doorbell) some of them are crucial – heat, light, fuel to cook and to use the fridge freezer, all sorts of things. In the community at large – electricity powers the pumps at petrol stations, it powers huge amounts of life saving equipment in hospitals, pumps for the sewage and drainage systems,it powers the lighting and the air conditioning in shopping centres and tunnels – imagine being in the Bluewater Shopping Centre, or on Eurostar, if the electricity supply was hacked!

There’s an interesting article on ZeroHedge about a collapse in the electricity supply as it would affect the USA. Interesting yes, but I’m really doubtful about a high-atmosphere terrorist attack using an EMP, though I agree that sooner or later, a CME (a Coronal Mass Ejection) from the sun will hit us square on and be strong enough to so some damage, solar activity being what it is.

And probably some people remember the Channel 4 drama-documentary Blackout which had it’s faults of course, but was a good first try at representing what a ten-day break in supply might be like.

So I thought I’d take stock, bit by bit, of what I have, what I still need, and I hope that other people will find that useful.

These are my efforts at alternate methods of lighting first of all, in this particular post.  This is a fair proportion of my own possibilities:

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I have a lot of candles. A lot. Lots of people have bought me candleholders and New Agey type candles as gifts – I’ve never really lit them very much, so I still have nearly all of them. The only thing I use them for regularly is as a sort of prayer candle, when someone is ill, or someone has died. And the first year I was in this house, there were 3 or 4 power cuts, so my stock of candles became very important to me. I bought lots myself, much more utilitarian and longlasting, including tealights. I also put by some shallow tin cans, once I’d used the contents, so that I had extra candle holders.  I have a candle snuffer too.

Even with a candle holder, candles aren’t safe: so I have lots of fireproof surfaces they can sit on: ceramic plates and tiles, old roof tiles of lovely old slate, a couple of metal containers that I’ve re-purposed (one was meant for flowerpots! I wouldn’t want to grow anything in that, because of possible taint, but it suits candles very well). Underneath the candle, candle holder and it’s fireproof container are blocks of wood, or a few slices of cork tree I picked up in a market in Barcelona – a wooden surface underneath a candle might eventually get scorched, and there’s no reason to let that happen if it doesn’t have to, so there are blocks of wood there. If things ever got really bad, that wood could easily go on the fire to keep warm!

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Candle, candlestick, fireproof slate surface, anti-scorch insulation.  And a statue of an Egyptian cat.

Tips to increase the burn time of your candles

If the candles come with instructions, read them!

Burn each candle for long enough each time to melt the wax all across the top of the candle – when it burns to the edges, it burns all the wax at each level, so it will burn longer in total. The first burn is especially important for reaching the edge. This avoids a “tunnel”, it’s much more efficient. If you do end up creating a tunnel, you can either bend the wax edges around the wick, which almost creates a lantern effect. This will mean that that wax melts as well, and lengthen the burn time accordingly. Or you could just cut away the unburnt wax, carefully, and recycle it into new candles that you make yourself.

Burn each candle for a maximum of 4 hours at a time. If you need longer burns, swap the candles over, to avoid smokiness.

Trim the wick regularly – after it’s maybe half an inch long at most, otherwise it will smoke, shed debris, flicker badly and burn too quickly.

Don’t burn a candle near a draft – or, if you have to do that for some reason, put it in a little lantern, the sort you can get from any pound shop. At minimum, turn the candle regularly, to help it burn evenly.

Circular candles burn more efficiently, and waste less wax. You can still recycle the wax, of course, but why recycle more than you have to?

Keep your candles as cool as possible, as the wax will then burn a little more slowly. I’m not quite sure how true this one is, but it couldn’t harm to keep your candles cool.

Using a purpose made candle snuffer will prevent liquid wax, soot and debris from contaminating the candle.

The longer a candle is, the more important that its laid flat – this will prevent warping, which in turn helps the candle to burn evenly and less wastefully.

The rest – plus my still-to-do list

I have a lot of matches. They’re my primary way to light the candles: I have other ways, but I’ll actually cover “lighting up”, so to speak, in a different post, there’s dozens of ways of doing it.

I have a lot of spare glass jars too – nowadays (and in the future) when I burn a candle, I collect the wax for re-use, I don’t just let it solidify and throw it away.

That’s one use for spare glass jars – another, for as big a jar as possible (or even for one of those big plastic milk containers) is to turn a torch into one that’s full of water. Because of the wonders of refraction, this spreads out the light, and a focussed beam becomes an ambient light thats generally useful over a much wider area.  There are many other uses for them, which I’ll also talk about another time.  I love this whole idea of using refraction or diffusion to aid our prepping efforts, but when I experimented with this as I was finishing off this post, it didn’t work too well.  Check out the photos immediately below:

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Torch shone into a 4 pint milk container.
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Torch shone directly ahead onto the opposite wall.

I have a couple of lanterns for candles, too – one’s a pretty little gift, the other is a gorgeous, rusty old thing with a huge hook for it to hang from. I only acquired this recently, from a neighbour’s skip – they were pretty surprised when I rang their doorbell to ask permission to take it, but very happy to oblige.

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Rusty old lantern, a work in progress

What do I still need?

I still need wicks, if I’m going to make my own candles: pre-cut, pre-waxed wicks are available on ebay, and lengths of uncut wick are available too. I’d like to learn how to improvise wicks from old clothing made of natural materials.

I need improvised candle moulds too – I could use used tealight holders, and I have flat sheets of silicon as bakeware, so I could use those, but I need to practise.

I have torches, of course – all LED. The bulbs are practically immortal, and the batteries are rechargeable. But my big, hefty torch has disappeared, temporarily I hope – I need to buy another one pronto, illustrating the old prepper saying: two is one and one is none. My “one” has turned into “none”, right enough.

One of the nooks in my kitchen has those sticky LED lights, that you can push on/off as necessary, and there’s a couple of other stickies ready to be stuck anywhere that’s needed, As long as I have enough batteries to power them.  The spoon at the bottom of the general picture, at the top of this post, is a thin wooden disposable – I’ve found it to be really useful in getting batteries out of their niches without harming them.

The other LED lights I have are the classic solar garden lights, the ones on little sticks that light up your garden path – they won’t be particularly strong or long lasting, but they’re a great idea to be able to get around in the evening for a little while.

I need to buy some Eneloops batteries – they’re most popular among people who are In The Know, and their wiki entry explains why.  Basically, they discharge so little during storage, and that isn’t just consumerist hype. That’s very handy to have during even a short term grid down incident.

I do have the Camelion Solar Charger.  This has very mixed reviews on Amazon. I can’t review it myself yet, as I stuck it in a drawer and ignored it, basically – my bad. I’ll do better now, with the blog to report to!

I’d like to learn to make oil lamps – it looks pretty simple on various youtube videos, I just haven’t done it yet. They need wicks too, but I doubt they need to be waxed. Something else to research.

One way of maximising the light we get from any one source is reflectivity: putting a mirror, or even some aluminium foil, behind a candle, at a safe distance of course. I have both of those, so I’m good there.  And I think its more realistic (or more easily achievable) than the shining-into-a-big-water-container as experimented above.

There are some big holes in my preps on this, I confess. And I’m about to throw money at it, so I’ll work it through on here, on the blog. It should be a really interesting experiment! I know some readers of this blog are much further ahead with this, and much more knowledgeable – I’ve already had help – so I’ve got to make good. Post below about your own electrical backup, by all means.

For maximum backup, and because I adore all things solar, I need to be able to charge my battery chargers with solar power I’m struggling with this. I have a couple of low wattage solar panels, but I haven’t yet got round to connecting them to anything that would make their output useable to me. I’d also like an intelligent battery charger, one that tells me how much charge is there, though I think it’s more important to set up my solar panels into something useful.

So that’s it!  I wonder if you’ve done things differently, got different emphases?  Care to share?