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Writer-s-Bloc

The virus in your computer

COVID-19 dangers go beyond common symptoms

By Orest Protch

The last year has changed the way Canadians spend their time.

  • Online shopping is up 99.3%
  • Social media use has increased 72%
  • Postings have increased 43%.

Raise your thumb if you count yourself in these numbers. Point your thumb down if you have done nothing to take steps to protect your laptop, cell phone or tablets that you use to go online with from malware, viruses and trackers.

Several hundred million app of Zoom, TikTok and Pokémon have been downloaded even as companies around the world ban their use at work due to hacking worries. Now, add in Facebook and Twitter number increases.

Now, raise your thumb if you use public Wi-Fi to go online when you are out and about. Back when the Westbank water treatment was started, I was one of two operators hired in 2007 to help commission and run it.

We could go to any public Wi-Fi, log into the plant system on our laptops and run and potentially fix problems when the site computer would dial out to let us know there was a problem. Scary stuff. But it was sanctioned and allowed by the district, so we did our job.

The following are just five ways hackers can use public Wi-Fi to steal your identity, your passwords and credit card information and yes, even remotely take over a water treatment plant.

  • Shoulder-Surfing. This is data theft where cybercriminals steal personal information or confidential information by peering over your shoulder. This act is much more common than you would ever imagine.
  • Sidejacking (Session Hijacking). The attacker uses packet sniffing to read network traffic between two parties to steal the session cookie.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks. This is an attack where a third party intercepts communications between two participants.
  • Fake Wi-Fi Connections. When you check your device to see if a coffee shop or mall has Wi-Fi and it shows green on the icon, but there are no signs posted on counters or walls showing that there is, this is a good indication to run away.
  • Packet Sniffing. Your internet activities are transmitted through many routers and switches en route to their destination. Those packets are susceptible to collection and analysis at each of those points.

If you do a quick internet search, you will find free hacking apps that allow you do all the above. Maybe if you have kids, ask them to show you theirs.

I know of hospitals, clinics and lawyers offices that have been victims of malware. Demands for money after locking up your device. None of your friends or employers will brag about having their devices and systems locked by malware until they cough up anything from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.

U.S. Homeland Security and Interpol list water-treatments plants second in line for terrorist attack dangers after nuclear power plants, for potential attacks. And yes, water-treatment plants are being hacked and chemical additions manipulated or stopped.

In Calgary, a water treatment plant may have war-zone razor/concertina wire on top of the fence surrounding it to keep the general public and intruders out, but not around its operator computer terminals.

In the years since leaving the Westbank Powers Creek water treatment plant, I have had to use touch keypads to get behind the razor wire fences at various sites.

Have you ever shared a USB with a friend or relative or taken one to work to copy files?

Do you ever run daily security checks on your USB before you do so?

Most companies and government departments have policies against personal memory devices being used at work. But how many follow the rules? Even Canadian government departments such as CRA have been hacked as well as B.C .Health this past year.

Every year, there is an international hackers convention called DefCon. I have a friend who goes every year. A P-Eng. The convention is huge.

But if you think high school had snobbish cliques, it can take years to get included into some of the convention's inner circles of the secret societies that make up international hacking cells, both private and government.

The U.S. military attends these conventions yearly. Yes they have hackers in their own secret departments as well as the defence contractors having their own. But no one in-house can have all the most recent coding information and keep up to all the new hacking techniques, new viruses or malware programs or know all the backdoors into computer system programs.

So the U.S. military has contests. Contests to hack into their most secret systems. They even have, just like the game show Jeopardy on TV, pre-entry tests to qualify to participate.

In 2019, at the Las Vegas convention, the U.S. Air Force brought along an F-15 fighter-jet data system to have hackers find serious vulnerabilities. They did.  The USAF was so pleased with the result that it decided to up the ante.

Last year, they were planning on bringing a satellite. The USAF wanted to let hackers try to hijack an orbiting satellite. But COVID cancelled the convention.

And, yes, kids at these convections show how easy it is to get into voting machines.

Next time, you go to use a public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, mall or airport, be aware that someone is probably watching, seeing and recording what you are doing. It could be an employee or the teenager at the other table.
Never ever bring a USB or other memory device to your place of employment. And the reverse is true.

Your workplace computer system may already be hacked and you will bring home an exploit waiting to get into your system as soon as you push in that little USB stick.

Nothing sucks more than your device getting locked or even crashed.

Every day, my wife and I run anti-malware, data tracking, sniffer finders and antivirus programs on our devices.
COVID-19 protection is not just about you wearing a mask in public.

Your internet devices need a mask too.

Orest Protch is retired, but was in Ottawa in March 2020 putting on a week-long engineering seminar for a special projects team of the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND).





Persons with disabilities day

By Donna Franz

The United Nations marked Dec. 3 as International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

International days create opportunities for us all to share information, provide education, discuss concerning social issues, and mobilize political awareness, about global health and wellness.

On internationally marked days, we are all encouraged to think about our local community and global friends and neighbours, and the challenges we face. In the case of Dec. 3, we are asked to turn our focus to those of us who have visible and non-visible disabilities that can create added challenges in life.

“Persons with disabilities remain one of the most excluded groups in our society,” says the UN, and are hit the hardest when crisis strikes.

An estimated one billion people identify as having a disability and it is anticipated that by 2050, the world population will grow to 9.9 billion from 7.8 billion in 2020, a 25% increase.

Stats Canada (2017) found that 26% age 65 and older report pain related disability.

Indigenous people experience higher rates of disability (36% of women and 26% of men in Canada, excluding those on reserves).

Persons with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty.

The UN encourages us all to become more “aware” so that we can look at building strategies that we can implement to reduce barriers for persons with disabilities; barriers that create poverty, discrimination and exclusion.

On Dec. 3, will you plan to learn more about the discrimination and harassment persons with disabilities face in the workplace and how unemployment is leading them into financial distress?

On Dec. 3, will you seek to learn how COVID-19 has further isolated persons with disabilities? Imposed social isolation due to the pandemic has hit all of us to some degree and we have been frustrated. For many persons with disabilities isolation was every-day occurrence before COVID-19.

COVID-19 has been additionally catastrophic for persons with disabilities, who are typically the hardest hit in any crisis, especially with respect to fatalities. For them COVID-19 has created challenges accessing available healthcare providers, and care attendants are in short supply. Some people with disabilities rely on care attendants for daily living support every day.

On Dec. 3, will you plan to come together with persons with disabilities to talk and share information, stories, and solutions to problems persons with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis?  Solutions to barriers like entering a building that only has stairs, sitting with friends in pubs have inaccessible washrooms, watching videos that don’t have closed captions, and reading websites that don’t have alt text.

 “I wish for a world that views disabilities, mental or physical, not as a hinderance but as unique attributes that can be seen as powerful assets if given the right opportunities,” said Dr. Oliver Sacks, best-selling author (Awakenings) and professor of neurology

What do artists Claude Monet, Agatha Christie, and Frida Kahlo have in common? A disability.

  • Monet, the French impressionist painter, was diagnosed with cataracts and almost blind by the end of his life. His admired water lily series was painted while losing his sight. You might wonder if his vision loss predisposed him to exceptional impressionism.
  • Christie, a British crime novelist, was considered the “slow one,” by her family. She had difficulty writing, called dysgraphia, and found spelling challenging. She dictated all her thrilling material to a typist. You could say her typist was her assistive device.
  • Mexican artist Kahlo is famous for her expressive self-portraits. As a child she developed polio. At age 18, she was seriously injured in a bus accident and subsequently suffered chronic medical challenges and pain for the rest of her life. You might say that suffering creates passionate creativity and creative ways of dealing with disability.

Many would not likely have guessed these famous artists had a disability, but they did. It appears their disabilities created unique artistic expression that created possibilities.

These famous artists with disabilities contributed significantly to the art world. These artists benefitted from help. People with disabilities may need your help and they most definitely need to be recognized for their abilities and innovations and be treated with dignity.  

With awareness communities will be more helpful and welcoming for persons with disabilities. Plan to install ramps, remove tripping hazards, provide helpful way-finding signage, provide closed captions on videos and alt text on websites, and fund universal designs that work for all. With full accessibility to environments, communication, art, employment, music, businesses, social gatherings, care, and park/playgrounds/ trails, we can help support and harvest a wealth of untapped talent and potential.

This International day for Persons with Disabilities is an opportunity for us to learn more about persons with disabilities from persons with disabilities.

On Dec. 3, will you observe your environment, your biases, your fears, and your own limitations, and then look at ways to remove barriers for all, so that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve optimal self-expression with dignity?

By commemorating Dec. 3, we will help bring to awareness a vision, for a new world that welcomes the uniqueness of all individuals, as a source of wealth called diversity. Accessibility will help create inclusion, which achieves diversity.

Will you be part of a global community on Dec. 3 by enhancing your awareness and building your openness to learn new ways to welcome inclusion and diversity in this artistic world?

Donna Franz is an occupational therapist at Design 4 Accessibility.



3 ways to prevent falls

By Donna J. Franz

November is Falls Prevention Awareness month.

Why November? Fall itself is a good time of year to get your attention regarding falls. At this time of year, Canadians encounter slippery leaves and unexpected snowfalls.

November also is a time to climb chairs to reach Christmas decorations, climb ladders to hang festive lights, and climb stairs of family and friend’s homes, some of which are not equipped with handrails, good lighting, and non-slip surfaces.

Slapstick comedy uses wacky situations, stunt men, and often violent action and we laugh, but we often feel mortified when we fall and we don’t feel like laughing, and do feel super conscious of any observers, lest they be snickering.

Falls are serious and nothing to laugh at in real life. We all fall and for many of us a fall changes our ability to function, temporarily or permanently.

Falls change the course of our lives, as a result of chronic aching pain from broken bones, and damaged memories after foreheads hit the ground. Falls can lead us to even more falls, due to pain and balance problems.

Falls happen quickly, when walking dogs, shovelling snow, climbing chairs to change light bulbs, climbing ladders to pick apples, climbing stairs with groceries, and when stepping off uneven or unseen steps or turning quickly on loose throw rugs.

Vancouver Coastal informs that 50% of older adults report their functional abilities are affected post fracture, and 20% of older adults with hip fractures die within a year of injury. Falls are sometimes forever life changing for older adults.

The British Columbia Falls and Injury Prevention Coalition (BCFIPC) states that:

“falls are especially devastating among older adults causing over 90% of hip fractures and 60% of head injuries.”

Head injuries can lead to the loss of memory and cognitive function, e.g. the ability to concentrate, problem solve, and make decisions. People with dementia have an annual fall risk of 60-80%, twice that of those who are not cognitively impaired. BCFIPC states falls account for 40% of all nursing home admissions.

If you have a loved one who shows signs of memory loss or problem solving, fall prevention is absolutely necessary.

Prevention needs to be action oriented and proactive. At times planning for the future is uncomfortable, but thinking about the effects falls on your health, needs to take place to help you continue to live, thrive, and survive.

Great news, many falls can be prevented; you can start now by:

Removing hazards.

Ask for family to help you remove hazards in the home. Start by looking at “paths of travel”, e.g., from the favourite chair to the washroom.

Are there any throw rugs with the edges curling, or extension cords or books? Look at the stairs; do you see toys, mitts, papers, laundry, or groceries?

Clear the path of all objects that obstruct you, no exceptions. Control curling rugs using double-sided carpet tape; remove scatter rugs.

Keeping Active

Being physically coordinated with good balance helps us combat gravity and this holds true for us at any age. UBC (2019) conducted randomized trials on “344 older adults over the age of 70” who received an in-home exercise program after falling over the previous year.

UBC demonstrated a significant reduction (36%) in the number of subsequent falls. Keep active. Proactively plan exercise and/or outings. The internet has helped us cope with COVID- 19. Use online exercise classes.

Before you start any exercise program, speak with your family physician. If funds allow, hire a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, or kinesiologist, to help you on your Proactive Falls Prevention Path. Plan outings to “accessible” shops and restaurants, designed to keep people safer.

Home Safety Assessments and Home Modifications

Downsizing is a myth; 90% of seniors surveyed want to age at home. The highest incidence of falls happens, in our homes, so creating “Aging in Place” home modifications will minimize falls risk. Many homes in the Okanagan are not built to accommodate age related changes, e.g. loss of balance.

The availability of one-storey homes is limited. Many families live in split-level homes and want to meet around their beloved family dining table; however, multiple level homes with stairs can increase risk for falls and generally they do not have a bedroom on the main floor, which is often needed after a serious fall.

Aging in Place Home Modification specialists can help you reduce your falls risk and bring you Peace of Mind. Beautiful grab bars strategically placed into reinforced walls in showers are falls prevention.

Customized no threshold showers are easy to access and can ensure water is not all over the bathroom floor. Levered door handles make opening/closing doors, easier. Lighting, handrails, and non-slip flooring can remove risks.

Injuries from falls can be prevented. We all need to do our part to help ourselves and loved ones. Be proactive verses reactive.  Find a professional to help you.

Donna J. Franz  is an occupational therapist. Contact her at Design 4 Accessibility.



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We are those artists

By Ben Goerner

I have been seeing memes on social media about not needing entertainers, that they are not important.

These memes that imply that all we need are doctors, farmers, mechanics and so on.  

That’s true. But we don't need entertainers, artists, with unique skills and talents that many of us wish we had?

  • No TV or movies then. 
  • No books. 
  • No music.
  • No paintings in your home
  • No You Tube or streaming
  • No live streaming on Facebook
  • No hockey or football…….. 

Sorry, but there are so many talented entertainers out there that help us keep a humorous, emotional, imaginative balance in our lives. 

They help us to understand the world is full of unique and different things. And they do so in so many different sensuous, imaginative visual and auditory ways. 

They help us forget sometimes the pressures and woes we all face from time to time. I couldn't imagine a world without an artist's brush stroke, an overture, the stroke of the pen.

I couldn't imagine a world with deadpan facts only and no story to help bring those facts to life.  

I couldn't imagine not closing my eyes while getting lost in a musical moment or:

  • Sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next
  • Shedding a tear at a song
  • Giggling at some slapstick or raising my fist with inspiration to do what is right
  • Moved to change the world because of a song, poem, book, play or show, or because a sports hero took up a cause and led the way.

Now, the artists are all last to regroup or re gain any semblance of a living.  And even now to be shut down again. 

The world is going to be a different place for a long time for many of us. But the world mustn't lose its art, music, lyric, prose, language and, most importantly, the diversity of all of that.  

The world must not lose its imagination.

While you're reading a good story online on your device or on paper, written by an artist, or looking at pictures and images created by an artist, or listening to music by artists, or a comedy routine created by artists; while you're waiting for your car to be fixed, or the doctor to see you or whatever, remember that we all have a role in society.  

That role is to fully create, with imagination and aptitude, a diverse and interesting world full of colour, sound, touch, and taste. It is the artist that brings imagination to all of that. 

We are those artists.

Ben Goerner, a retired substance use counsellor with 31 years in the field, lives in Lake Country with his wife and is proud of his daughter attending UBCO. He is also a singer songwriter and blogger often writing and creating music about his experiences with addiction. You can read and listen to more at bensharmonics.com



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Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

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Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.



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