P&J Column 18.5.17

If you can’t beat ’em, join the folk who can’t beat ‘em either.

Ron Cluny, Official Council Spokesman

The transition from one regime to another is always a difficult time for a public official – go to the dole office in Washington DC and there is a fair chance that you will rub shoulders with an Obama appointee who has just been given the bum’s rush by Donald Trump.  So it was with some trepidation that I awaited the results of the local Council elections.  With the SNP returning the largest single bloc of Councillors I feared that – for me, just as for Willie Young – the writing was on the wall.

You see, spending the last 5 years as spin doctor for the incumbent Labour group, has basically involved decrying the SNP’s “narrow nationalist agenda”, so I was not confident that my services would be required by the new administration.  Still, I had worked out the argument I was going to use to persuade them to retain my well-remunerated services.  It was brilliant in its simplicity: “Please!  Please! For God’s sake have pity, I’ve got twa kids at Albyn!” But then, as it turned out, the SNP did not have quite enough Councillors to form a majority and no-one else was willing to work them: not even the Lib Dems, who I had always thought were about as fussy about their coalition partners as Snuffy Ivy.  So it is to be a Lab-Con-Independent administration.  God, and the electoral system, works in mysterious ways.

You might think this is a bit of rum do.   However, as it has been confirmed to me that my contract and emoluments are going to continue as before, I am here to tell you that you are wrong.  Democracy is about diversity and supporting the minority position: so what could be more democratic than a diverse coalition of the unpopular?  Let not the expression “unelected rabble” be upon your lips.

So another day, another dawn; the world goes on much as before, except I find the words “strong” and “stable” higher up in my lexicon, and the man in the mirror looks slightly older, slightly sadder, and a good deal more weary.

Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow, Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist I am most interested in the astonishing achievement in communications technology that is the Eurovision Song Contest. So I have recently been asking questions like “Can someone really yodel like that live?”, and “Couldn’t wardrobe have found that Portuguese man a suit in his size?”. To which the answer given was “The store is closed sir, please step out of our window display and go and watch it at home.”

But Saturday’s festivities were merely a brief respite from a very worrying week – I speak of course of the massive worldwide Cyberattack. When I heard about this I was absolutely terrified; only calming down when I realised it didn’t involve actual Cybermen. In fact, multiple countries had been hit by a computer virus which infected 200,000 Windows PCs across the world, caused huge chaos in the NHS, brought Russia’s Interior Ministry to a standstill and made a lot of Apple Mac users even more smug than usual.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about the attack is how incomprehensible it is; a baffling story of Bitcoins, virtual worms and ransomware apps. So allow me to clarify. What is Ransomware?  Well, it’s not to be confused with the 1970s dresses seen on TVs ‘That’s Life’, as that’s Rantzen-ware. Ramsomware is, simply, a means of encrypting someone else’s computer files and refusing to give the owner access unless they pay an extortionate amount of money. It’s a terrifying experience where mysterious shadowy figures refuse to hand anything over before you’ve gone through a convoluted process and paid through the nose  – think of it like trying to ‘click and collect’ from Argos. Ransomeware is a vexatious menace and the bane of the modern computerised world.  It is also easy to avoid, if, like me, you poo-poo the hegemony of the Windows Operating System, and indeed, that of the Apple Mac. Instead, I carry out all my computing activities on my trusty Spectrum 128K plus 2. This is of course the Rolls-Royce of the line, with plastic keys and a built-in tape deck, and remarkably user-friendly, apart from when the cassette of ‘Daley Thomson’s Decathlon’ gets stuck and you have to use a pencil to unspool it.  I strongly recommend that the NHS upgrade their IT system to this one as, unlike the exsisting system In particular,  it is totally impregnable viral attack by cybercriminals, as it can’t actually connect to the internet.