Real stats about online harassment

We all know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about anything, so the first thing I do when I stumble across any research is to check its provenance [as much as possible]. In this case, the stats relating to online harassment come from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They claim that they take “…no positions on policy issues related to the internet”. I’m not sure I’d accept that statement at face value from any organisation, but in this instance, I can’t see the point of any bias.

In terms of accuracy, I’d be more inclined to question the survey technique itself as it relies on ‘self assessment’ rather than some kind of objective observation. Nonetheless, with a large enough sample size, statistical trends about what we think we feel/know/experience tend to be more accurate.

Gah, enough caveats; on to the data itself. You can find the full report on the Pew Research Centre website :

For me, the points that made little bells go off in my head were these :

“Fully 92% of internet users agreed that the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences. But a substantial majority, 68%, also agreed that online environments allow them to be more supportive of one another. Some 63% thought online environments allow for more anonymity than in their offline lives.”

The researchers do not connect the dots, but I find it hard not to do so. Anonymity is the digital equivalent of wearing a mask, or a balaclava; it allows us to indulge the parts of ourselves we usually hide.

In the real world, we have to be diplomatic in order to get on with others in our families, friendship groups, work groups etc. Online, however, anonymity allows us to vent the thoughts and feelings we usually censor. Why? Because we can get away with it.

By the same token, people who do not hide behind anonymous identities online may feel the need to be ‘nicer’ than they might be in real life. Why? Because their online reputation filters back to real life, and no one wants to be seen as ‘nasty’ or ‘selfish’.

[Does that mean I'm nastier in real life than online? Gawd, I hope not, but I probably wouldn't admit to it even if it were true...]

Whether your views on human nature are as cynical as mine, one thing does stand out from the data – there is an awful lot of nastiness going on. Have a look at this graph:

anonymity stats 2


Now I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but the scale of the problems caused by anonymity really is huge. And we have to do something about it.

Given how inventive we humans can be, I hope that we can bring civilisation to the internet whilst still protecting those who genuinely do need to remain anonymous, but long term, our behaviour must have consequences or we’ll destroy the very thing that makes the internet so wonderful.

My thanks to the Passive Guy for spreading the word about this research.








The real world of Anne of Green Gables

I have loved this book since I was knee high to a grasshopper, yet I only just discovered that the location is more real than imaginary!

Visit the Passive Guy and have a look at the pictures he took while travelling through Green Gable Land. :)

Off to work – bye!


Taming the Wild Wild West, and the end of anonymity

thumbs up picI’ve ranted written about the dark side of anonymity before [here and here for those interested] but today I’m going to be all sweetness and light because the biggest social media machine of them all – Facebook – is finally doing something about the problem!

If you live on Facebook then you already know about the crack down on anonymous identities. Accounts have been suspended and some special interest groups have been hurt. I say that without any sarcasm – victims of domestic violence are just some of the innocents hurt by this policy. The sad reality is that some people have a very good reason for needing to remain anonymous.

Nonetheless, I believe that doing away with anonymity will make the WWW a better place to live for everyone, in the long run. Bullies will have to face the consequences of their actions in the real world… and so will scammers of all sorts.

As for the rest of us, a little common sense goes a long way. As an author, my name is my brand so I have to splash it around. However I work hard not to post anything that would identify my physical location – i.e. pictures of my house, my street etc. My real world friends and neighbours already know where I live, no one else needs to know.

The same caution extends to my family. I’ve posted a picture of myself but I will never post a picture of anyone else in my family. Nor will I use their real names.

There used to be a saying – ‘the walls have ears’ – meaning that the most innocent looking structures could contain listening devices monitored by spies [shades of the Cold War perhaps?]. Anyway, I believe we have to start treating the WWW with a similar degree of caution; it may just be digital but it is a world, and it can bite.

Hmm… this seems to have turned into a mini rant after all. :(

Have a great weekend people!



Not shaped no more!

Apologies for being  unusually quiet this last week. A certain family member [who shall remain nameless] used  up our 60 GB monthly broadband allowance in three weeks, so we spent the last week being ‘shaped’.

Shaping is when your ISP [Internet Service Provider] cuts your broadband speed down to dial-up levels. Actually I tell a lie, dial-up is a little faster. With shaping you open your browser, and then go put the washing out while you wait for it to load. Then you google something, and make a cup of coffee while you wait for the search results to load. Clicking on one of the search results gives you enough time to start dinner and go to the loo… :(

Okay, I may have exaggerated just a teensy weensy bit, but my internet speeds truly were unusable. In fact, at one point I became so desperate I forced myself to look up my own blog on my phone!* This allowed me to at least read the comments you guys had left. Tapping out replies to your comments, however, was beyond me; I don’t have very big fingers but the ‘keyboard’ seems to be made for Lilliputians!

Anyway, I just wanted to say I haven’t been ignoring you, and normal programming will resume this afternoon. :D



*I hate my smart phone, and still don’t know how to use it properly. I only learn something new when I’m desperate.

What I always wanted – a Russian bride?

I’ve been getting an awful lot of phishing emails lately, but this one really tickled my funny bone

phishing russian brides

I used to imagine that some sweatshop hacker sat hunched over a keyboard somewhere, grinning maniacally as he/she sent out another virus laden email. But I suspect the reality is more like :

1. Unsuspecting Netizen enters his/her email address somewhere,

2. Said email address is tacked onto some database of addresses,

3. Said database is sold to malware distributors who then activate a program that sends out a hook email to every address in the database,

4. Neither the program nor the malware distributor care whether the hook is going to be ‘plausible’ to most addressees – e.g. why would I have signed up to digitally date women? [No offence to gay ladies!]

5. The rationale of these mass mailings is that out of all those millions, one or two will bite. They are the real targets. They will click on the link, their pc’s will become infected and the cycle of digital infection continues.

Anyway, that was not the post I meant to write, but who can resist a Russian bride?



Chain story : The Prodigal Cat

Apologies, for not getting this done yesterday; was busy planting out my new rockery and ran out of oomf.

So, let’s start with the rules :

1. Each story snippet is to be entered into Comments.

2. Each story snippet must be between 10 and 100 words long.

3. Each story snippet must follow on in some way from the snippet that came before, but DO NOT reply to individual comments or they’ll become impossible to read! Just reply to the post instead.

4. New story elements – i.e. new characters etc – can be added whenever you wish, but they must still somehow follow on or reference what came before.

5. No erotica or obviously ‘adult’ themes please. Just in case we get some old people following the story…. :D

And that’s it for the rules. I assume no one needs to be told to have fun? Good. Now I’m pinching an idea from Indies Unlimited and providing a sort of introductory prompt, complete with this gorgeous photo of Harry. Let’s begin!

prodigal harry sml

The Prodigal Cat

Harry had always been pretty laidback, and  the sedative made him even more so, but when the crate hit the floor, snapping the lock on his cage, he knew he had to go.

Peering out through the broken door, he saw a number of other crates scattered about on the concrete, with two longlegs in their midst. The humans were too busy yowling at each other to notice that some of the crates had broken open.

Perfect, thought Harry as he sidled outside on rubbery legs.

A very large, very juicy bunny in one of the other crates must have had the same idea because it, too, crept out of its cage, nose twitching.

Harry and Dinner eyed each other for a long moment before calling a silent truce; where longlegs were concerned it was US against THEM.

“Oy! They’re loose!”

Neither Harry nor Dinner understood the words, but both knew what they meant – the chase was on! Running in opposite directions, they instinctively headed towards the mountain of crates lining the walls. There were small, dark gaps between those crates, perfect for hiding in. If they could get to the wall they’d be safe.

Unfortunately for Harry, the effects of the sedative still had not worn off, and his mad sprint for freedom turned out to be more of a wobbly zigzag. He was still many body lengths from the first line of crates when big hands scooped him up and held him by the scruff of the neck.

Bugger, thought Harry as he dangled in mid air.

“Got… one!” the longlegs said, blowing gusts of garlic in Harry’s face with each breath.

“Well throw it in the bloody crate and come help over here,!” the other longlegs yelled. He was standing in front of the wall of crates, hands on hips and face red with exertion. Or perhaps it was anger – Dinner had made it.

Harry yowled in indignation as he was thrown into the back of a crate. Not only had he been caught, but now he’d been thrown in Dinner’s crate by mistake. The wooden burrow stank of bunny doo, and the only food he could see was a half-chewed orange thing, and some bits of limp green stuff.

Wrinkling up his nose in distaste, Harry curled up in the cleanest patch of straw he could find, and closed his eyes; the sooner he got to Perth the better.

Melanie, his longlegs, had been gushing about Perth for moons, and at this point, Harry figured anything would be better than this.

He was just drifting off to sleep when one of the longlegs approached, and peered at something on the outside of the crate.

“Better hurry with this one,” the longlegs said. “The 4:30 to New York leaves in half an hour.”


Would anyone like to contribute to a chain story?

voting picMany years ago, I was part of a threesome -wink- of friends who set out to see if we could write a progressive story, and no, there was no sex in it. Sorry.

Every night we’d take it in turns to write, and email, an installment of the story to each other, with the only rule being that each installment had to ‘follow on’ somehow from the previous one.

The experiment was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work and eventually fizzled out. :(

A few years later I tried a similar thing with just one email buddy. Again, it was fun but we never quite finished the story. Then today, I discovered a chain story thread on Goodreads! If you belong to Goodreads you can find the thread here :

Anyway…. the Goodreads thread reminded me of the lack of creative fiction in my life at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly enjoying the physicality of landscaping, and I really don’t have the energy for full on creative writing, but I do miss the whole storytelling side of things…

Gah! Enough beating about the bush – would anyone like to join me in writing a chain story?

At this point, I envisage comments as being the medium, and I’m tossing up the idea of imposing a :

1.  10 word installment minimum, and

2.   A maximum of 100 words.

The rationale for the maximum is that I don’t want the storytelling to become a big, angsty chore. By the same token, however, I do harbour a secret hope that between us we may come up with something worth reading. :D

So, what do you think? Does the idea need more work? Is it too much work? Is it too much commitment? Or is the whole thing just a huge yawn?



I have my U back!

I meant to write like crazy these school holidays, but instead I’ve done a lot of physical work – building new rockeries in the garden, spring cleaning the house, messing around with my computers, and cooking. You have no idea how much cooking I’ve done, and not for pleasure either.

But that rant is for another post. This post is about me, cleaning the keyboard of my computer… on the inside. Yes,you heard me. This is what came out of my keyboard :

keyboard 3

If you feel weak at the sight of what was hiding under my keys, take a stiff brandy before you continue.

Moving right along. I really would like to blame the cats for all that mess, but mixed in with the fluff were crumbs, lots and lots of crumbs. My work, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, the trigger that sent me into techie mode was that I spilt some coffee on the keyboard.

<<picture of woman madly shaking white coffee with one sugar out of her keyboard>>

It didn’t work. By the next day, the letter U had seized up. I either got ‘bt’ or ‘buuuuuuuuuuuuut’, ‘yo’ or ‘youuuuuuuuuuuuuu’. Not a happy state of affairs. Something had to be done. After doing some online research, I gathered my trusty tools and set to work :

keyboard 4

I’ve had those teensy weensy screwdrivers for about 20 years, but you should still be able to get them at a computer shop. The tweezers I stole from the Daughter. Sorry dear. :)

DISCLAIMER : I have not tried doing this with the keys of a laptop. I highly recommend taking your laptop to a professional for repairs! 

Now, the first key is always the hardest to get off because space is at a premium. If you don’t have the teensy weensy screwdrivers, try using an ordinary dinner knife. Place the tip of the knife in the gap between the right hand CTRL key and the base, and wiggle until the key pops off. Once you have that first key off, you can attack the rest of the keys fairly easily.

Whatever you do, though, don’t pull everything off in one hit unless you have a photographic memory. I took the keys off row by row, lining them up in the order in which they would have to go back :

keyboard 5

You can now use the tweezers to pull out the gunge, or you can use a small paint brush to sweep out the dirt, but whatever you do, do NOT use the vacuum cleaner. Inside those exposed keys are the doohikkies that make them go up and down. If you use the vacuum, the suction could possibly hoover up the most important parts of the keyboard. So be warned!

Once the loose dirt is cleared away, spray a little ordinary window cleaner ON A COTTON BUD [not directly into the keyboard please!]. Give the inside of each row a good clean with the cotton bud and allow to dry before replacing the keys.

As you were pulling off the keys, you may have noticed that some keys, including the SPACEBAR,come with an extra little locking doohikkie. The following are two photos I took of the locking mechanism under the spacebar :

keyboard 6 red outline

I outlined the locking mechanism in red as it’s very hard to see. The two ‘horns’ at either end are currently in the down position, but they swivel up and down as shown in the next picture :

keyboard 7 in the up position

And just in case you still can’t make head nor tail of the photos, the following is a diagram I created showing the two halves of the mechanism – i.e. the bit that stays in the keyboard, and the bit that goes inside the spacebar :

keyboard 2

Please do not say ‘oh but my keyboard doesn’t look anything like that’. Of course it doesn’t, this is a schematic thingie, okay? The point my picture is trying to convey is that the tongue and groove arrangement has to be in place before the locking bits in the middle can snap into place. Do not be daunted! This is how you do it :

keyboard 1

As you can see, the little rods do not snap into place, they slip into the hole shapes from below.

Once the tips of the rods are in place, tilt the key forward slightly in order to get the two box shaped locking bits to fit together. Once they do, you will hear a click, and the key will be back, and popping up and down quite happily.

All the ordinary keys just snap into place without any drama.

I didn’t clean under the numeric key pad, or the arrow keys as I don’t use them much [and couldn't be bothered]. I also did not take out the function keys [F1, F2, F3 etc] as I have no idea how the key mechanism works with them [and the coffee seems to have missed them]. You mess with the rest of the keyboard at your peril – i.e. don’t blame me if something goes horribly wrong. :(

With the cleaning all finished, I plugged my keyboard back into the pc and crossed my fingers. It worked! And the proof is this post. Look…

‘but’ ‘you’ ‘up’ ‘under’

I have my ‘U’ back. :)

Conclusion : Honestly? This job was nowhere near as hard as I thought it might be, and by tackling it myself, I avoided having to buy another, expensive keyboard. That said, I probably would not have been motivated to try this if I had lots of money to throw around. So if you’re in the same boat, give it a try and give your wallet a break. Your self confidence will receive a huge boost too. :D




Agapanthus – a much maligned plant

Photo from Plants Online  Sydney

Photo from Plants Online

I was burning off a huge pile of garden waste this morning when I discovered something interesting about the lowly agapanthus plant. That’s it there, on the left.

Originally from South Africa, the agapanthus grows wild here in Warrandyte, and is considered a noxious weed by Nillumbik Council.

I have always had a less purist attitude to non-natives than the local Council, but even so, I have never found the agapanthus to be a particularly attractive plant. I have it in my garden, but I have never felt kindly towards it, until now.

“Why this sudden change of heart,” you ask.

“It’s because the bloody plant doesn’t want to burn,” say I. [And we all know how paranoid I am about bushfires, don't we?]

Rather than bore you to tears with words, let me bore you to tears with some pictures. :D

First up we have a picture of a pile of hot ash. It was taken at 9.26 am, and is the result of almost 3 hours of burning off, so it is still very, very hot.

agapantus 1 at 9.26am

Next we have a picture of some gum leaves and small branches bursting into flames on top of the pile of hot ash. Time – 9.29 am.

agapantus 2 at 9.29am

I did not strike a match, or a lighter or anything else to get the gum leaves to burn again. The residual heat of the ash was all it took. I’d also like to point out that we had a lot of rain 2 days ago.

Picture no.3 is of a small agapanthus I pulled up by the roots and threw on the barely smoldering fire. Time – 9.30 am.

agapantus 3 at 9.30am

Basically I was trying to see how long the agapanthus would take to burn. I literally used the stop watch function on my mobile phone for the job. After 3 minutes and 25 secs, something flared and a small section of the agapanthus burned for approximately 3 seconds. Then the flames went out. Time – 9.35 am.

agapantus 4 at 9.35am

There was another flareup approximately 4 minutes later, but by the time I’d stopped the stopwatch function, changed to camera function and returned to the fire, this second flareup had gone out as well. The timestamp on the camera says 9.39 am.

agapantus 5 at 9.39am

As you can see, the poor agapanthus is getting scorched, but a) it’s taking a long time and b) only the dried out extremities of the plant burn. As soon as the dried out sections burn off, the flames reach a wet, green section and immediately go out.

The next photo shows a small scrap of paper getting nicely scorched next to the remains of the agapanthus. The purpose of the paper was to test the heat of the ash pile – i.e. to test if the agapanthus was not burning because the ash pile had cooled down too much. As the photo shows, the pile was still quite hot. Time – 9.44 am.

agapantus 6 at 9.44am

40 minutes after beginning the experiment, I pulled the agapanthus from the ash pile and let it cool down so I could get a better look at it – and take a better photo. You have no idea how hot I got while taking photos close to the ash pile!

The final photo shows that despite being reduced to a blackened stump, the agapanthus still retains some green at the base of its stems [?]. Time – 10.10 am.

agapantus 7 at 10.10am

Now I’m not saying the agapanthus won’t burn at all – clearly it will – but I do want to make the point that this plant is remarkably resistant to fire. In massed plantings it may even slow the rate at which a bushfire advances on your house, or mine. As such, I think it’s time we stopped thinking of this plant as the ‘enemy’, and embrace it as an appropriate plant for bushfire prone areas.

Have a great weekend,



oops – speed goeth before a boo boo

I dashed off a quick post this morning, virtually as I ran through the door, and I got it half wrong. Apologies, Scotland! The ‘No’ vote won and I got it very wrong. :(

But I did get the golfing component right. What on earth was I thinking? lol



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