How to read road signs in Chernarus (Cyrillic for Day-Z)

I finally found something productive to do with my Russian GCSE.

That time I got thrown out of the Holocaust Memorial

About ten years ago now, the good lady wife and I were staying in Paris for a couple of weeks, seeing as much of the city as we could, whilst simultaneously trying not to spend any money; the latter being of more concern to me than her. It is possible to have a cheap holiday in Paris but, generally speaking, only if you leave the wife at home.

My cheapskate itinerary included all the inexpensive museums, general perambulations about town, looking at bridges (always free), plus a trip to the Paris Plages. A similar urban beach runs in my home town of Bristol but - even when it's a sunny day - an afternoon in the west country sitting on the side of the Floating Harbour in a glorified cat-box watching the swans and the rats fighting for supremacy doesn't have the same "Je ne sais quois"

As an aside, some useful points to note for any tourist in Paris, taken from my long experience in Confidence Artistry:

  • If someone kind of funny looking approaches you with a shiny ring that he says he found on the pavement, asking if it's yours, say "Oui. Merci Beaucoup", take it and walk off fast.
  • If you're using a cashpoint and someone taps you on the shoulder and asks if you've dropped something, step IN toward the cashpoint and turn around, or otherwise guard both your card and money.
  • If you're walking through a pedestrian area, and some friendly young girl grabs your wrist and starts weaving a friendship bracelet - they tend to pick on young women - then "Non, merci" usually doesn't persuade them to stop. So either use a room key to cut the weave, a lighter to burn it off, walk slowly away whilst letting them keep weaving, or just look in to the middle distance and yawn when they ask for money.

Anyhow, personally I reckon that whatever else you do in Paris, you have to take a walk around the Cathedral of Our Lady. The Eiffel Tower is more popular with key-chain vendors, but the sheer improbability of Notre-Dame - built on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine  from stone, faith and stubbornness with iron tools, pulleys, levers and an endless supply of peasants - cannot help but impress.

A further aside - an essential element of any British tourist's Notre Dame experience should be to walk up behind a tour party studying the statues and gargoyles - this is very effective if wearing a long coat, scarf, bow tie or even a fez - and saying "Don't Blink!". This works even better if you're near the beheaded statue of St Denis at the side doors.

Something that visitors to the Île may miss is the Memorial of the Deportation, the entrance to which is at the bottom tip of the island. The underground structure was originally a morgue, but was set aside and dedicated in 1962 to be a memorial to 200,000 Jews deported to concentration camps by the wartime Vichy regime. The architect, Pingusson, created a sombre, discomfiting experience as a visitor walks down steps along a narrow, darkened corridor into a central underground chamber. But once inside, the visitor finds hundreds of thousands of crystal lights, leading off to a single flame in the darkness.

I was very moved on my second visit to the memorial, for which I had a four day growth of beard and sunglasses, and was most careful not to make eye contact with any of the security personnel.

However, on my first visit, as I was walking through the entrance gate down to the memorial garden reading my tourist brochure, I stumbled slightly as I stepped on some unseen obstruction. A slight awkwardness in my gait led me to the preliminary conclusion that I had some kind of rock or other detritus stuck in the tread of my left sandal. Did I mention I was wearing sandals? And socks, obviously, because what sort of barbarian would wear sandals in Paris, in the middle of July, without a pair of nice, thick army-issue cold weather socks?

As I got down to the steps of the entrance to the memorial itself, the walls of the entryway enclosed me, and I came to the horrible conclusion that whilst the preliminary rock hypothesis was a good starting point for further investigation, the unmistakable odor filling the air around me lead toward the inescapable conclusion that the item affixed to the bottom of my left sandal was an extremely large dog turd.

We're not talking about the product of some little lap dog stashed in a handbag here; a visitor to the Cathedral of Our Lady had obviously felt that it was really important that his St Bernard take part in the experience, and further that when that blessedly-named canine squatted to pinch one out, the resultant steaming chods were a votive offering to the other saints that could be left in situ, and certainly didn't need to be picked up and disposed of hygienically. The Parisiens have form for this. Subsequent to my visit, the city instituted a scooter-mounted vacuum-wielding cleanup service. So kind of like The Ghostbusters, which is how I'd describe it if I was a poop-cop chatting up a girl and we got to the awkward "So what do you do?" question.

Where was I? Right, so we're in the Holocaust memorial and I've got a huge lump of dog feces stuck to my left shoe. What do I do? First thing - I turn to leave as quickly as possible, but there's a sign on the wall that says "Sens de la visite" with a big arrow pointing inward, and a "No Exit" sign. So obviously I can't go that way. If people start walking through "No Exit" signs then what next? It'd be Anarchy. That's probably how the French Revolution started.

Right, so I can't go back, and I feel that it would be grossly inappropriate to leave a trail of footprints made with dog muck through the middle of a memorial to the victims of the Nazis. So... I decide that my best plan of action is to discretely remove my left sandal, and bang it against the wall a few times to dislodge the offending canine artifact, which I can then pick up in a plastic bag, and dispose of at the next available bin. A quick inventory of my bag of tourist tat also identifies a souvenir pen from Les Invalides with a small sculpture of Bonaparte on the end. With all due deference to the Emperor, it strikes me that his Bicorne is ideally suited to the job of cleaning out the treads of my sandal.

So I  casually take a look around to make sure the coast is clear, nod and smile at a pair of Danish backpackers who walk past me, and discretely remove my sandal. I then start tapping it against that wall, occasionally prodding at the mass of dog poop with Napoleon's hat. I don't know what that dog had been eating, but it was powerful, binding stuff. Possibly it included some kind of egg-based dog treat. Referring to the Bristol Stool Scale, I would have put this somewhere between a Type 2 and a Type 3.

The initial tapping wasn't really doing the job, and I was getting worried about the possibility of sandal-to-thumbnail transfer of the offending dog excrement, which may have required emergency amputation to prevent my hand being rendered forever unclean. So I took it up a notch, and started really putting some effort behind slapping my sandal against the wall. The textured wall was picking up a few stains, so I made a mental note to throw a bit of water on it, and sacrifice a handkerchief to the task of wiping off the stain. Finally after around 30 seconds enthusiastically slapping my shoe against the wall of the Holocaust memorial - with the Corsican's able assistance - I dislodged all of the offending material. My work here was done.

And that was when I noticed the two armed security personnel standing in the center of the memorial, looking at me with horror (the one on the left) and quiet anger (the one on the right).

Now, in retrospect, I'm really not sure if there's a good option at this point. To recap, I'm in a memorial to those killed in the Holocaust, specifically the citizens of France deported to concentration camps. I'm hopping on one foot, holding a sandal in one hand and a poo-encrusted Napoleon pen in the other, there's a noticeable stain on the wall and the whole memorial smells of dog crap. I'm normally a pretty suave chap, but I knew I was going to have to work hard to cross the language barrier on this one. I also wondered if perhaps there was some subtle inter-cultural insult related to slapping the wall of a Jewish memorial with the sole of my shoe. It was probably even worse than making the thumbs-up sign to an Iranian, or the OK sign to a Turk. Mind you, I can't really think of any culture in which slapping sandals against something is deemed a mark of respect.

But I felt that it was important to explain myself. So I tried not to look directly at the officers' sidearms - which were holstered but clearly they had both removed the safety straps - and broke out my best Schoolboy French:

Excusez-moi, Monsieur le Gendarme, mais il y a une grand crotte de chien sur ma sandale. J'aime beaucoup les Juifs. Hitler était terrible,

In retrospect, even if "terrible" wasn't one of those slightly dodgy faux-amis that can mean the exact opposite of what you intended, I don't really think I could have said anything that would get me out of the situation. Fortunately, at this point, my wife who had entered the memorial before me - and had been blithely unaware of my predicament - came back to find me. "Oh my God!" she said, smacked me around the side of the head, snatched away my plastic bag and retrieved both the dog crap and the soiled Emperor, and flounced out through the "No Exit" sign. It was some time before she spoke to me again.

The less-angry security guard at this point bodily encouraged me to hop after her. He didn't shoot me, so I can't really complain, and on the plus side this was the only memorial I defiled. On that holiday.

And that was the time I got thrown out of the Holocaust Memorial.

Advance Fee Scams on Skype

Someone must still be making money off Advance Fee scams, as I've had a couple pop up on Skype in the last week. Colloquially known as "Nigerian Scams", these unsolicited communications promising access to huge amounts of money at no risk will end up with polite requests for a series of small, increasing and ultimately unending wire payments to facilitate unlocking and transfer of the money. There are millions of dollars waiting for you, if only you'll just assist with paying these legal fees. And for this intestacy notarisation. And for this officially authorised letter of intent. And the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance needs a small cash payment. etc.

This particular example arrived from Ghana, and like all developing-world originated Advance fee scams, the guy at the other end of the scam is relying on your desire for the jackpot of millions of dollars to keep you distracted from the entirely reasonable requests to wire a paltry few hundreds or thousands his way. (Average monthly income in Ghana: USD $600).

Dear <random word>

I have been in search of someone with this name " <random word> ", so when I saw your name I was pushed to contact you to see how best we can assist each other. I am Mr. Yeboah Watter, I am an IT manager IN International Commercial Bank Takoradi branch Ghana.

I believe it is the wish of God for me to come across you on Skype now. I am having an important business discussion I wish to share with you which I believe it will interest you because, it is in connection with your NAME and you will surely benefit from it.

One Late Mr. Roland a citizen of your country had a fixed deposit with my bank in 2005, valued at US $7,300,000.00 (Seven Million, Three Hundred Thousand US Dollars) the due date for this deposit contract was 16 of August 2012. Sadly Mr. was among the death victims in the May 26 2006 Earthquake disaster in Jawa, Indonesia that killed over 5,000 people. Mr. was in Indonesia on a business trip and that was how he met his end.

My bank management is yet to know about his death, I knew about it because he was my friend and I am his account officer. During the opening of his bank account he did not mention any Next of Kin/ Heir when the account was opened, and Mr. was not married and no children. I decided to search for you now because last week my Bank Management requested that I should give instructions on what to do about Mr. funds, whether to renew the contract.

I knew this will happen and that is why I have been looking for a means to handle the situation, because if my Bank Directors realize or happens to know that Mr. is dead and that he does not have any Heir, they will take the funds for their personal use, so I don’t want such to happen. That was why when I saw your last name I was happy and I am now seeking your co-operation to present you as Next of Kin/ Heir to the account, since you have the same last name with him and my bank head quarters will release the money into your bank account as a relation to Mr. Roland .

There is no risk involved; the transaction will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of law.

It is better that we claim the money, than allowing the Bank Directors to take it, they are rich already. I am not a greedy person, so I am suggesting we share the funds by percentage of 60/40% to both parties, my share will assist me to start my own company which has been my dream in your country. Let me know your mind on this and please do treat this information as TOP SECRET. We shall go over the details once I receive your urgent response strictly through my personal email (waltteryeboah@yahoo.com)

We can also discuss this on phone: +233-208-555-001. Have a nice day and God bless you.

Anticipating your communication.

Regards,
Mr. Yeboah Waltter.

Referenda on Council Tax

UK legislation (Localism Act 2011) provides for a local referendum if a local authority proposes an "excessive" Council Tax increase. For the 2013-14 financial year, the principles state that billing authorities may not raise their council tax by more than 2% without holding a referendum. So - and you've got to laugh - near enough every council in the country has proposed a 1.99% increase this year.

It looks like public servants are getting comfortable with the Time Value of money and the effect of economic incentives. Central Government - for reasons that are unclear - intends to continue the questionable Council Tax Freeze Grant system, which in previous years offered a 2.5% payout for a zero increase in Council Tax. This year, the offer is 2% of last year's budget over 2 years. But 1.99% over 1 year and therefore 4.04% over 2 years if the trend continues seems more palatable to Mayors and councillors than a potential 2%.

In Bristol, the last £4.5 million from the 2011/12 freeze grant is included in this year's [2013/14] budget. This is 2.5% of required annual funding, so you should anticipate some entertainment - possibly tap dancing - from the Mayor and company when it comes time to do the 2014/15 budget.

An interesting situation will arise if the party or coalition in power after 2015 does in fact schedule a national referendum on EU membership. If I were a local councillor or Mayor who wanted to get a stonking great Council Tax increase past the Localism Act, I'd be planning to present a referendum-triggering budget. I would then wait for the government of that day - and it doesn't really matter which party is in control - to ponder the effect on turnout when two simultaneous questions are being asked:

  1. Would you like to pay an extra 100 quid of council tax? and by the way
  2. Do you want to stay in the European Union?

No doubt a more generous scheme for Freeze Grants or similar neatly wrapped bundles of other people's money would magically appear.

Useful link for broke Mayors:


  • The Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (Council Tax Increases) (England) Regulations 2012 - Regulation 18 - Combination and timing of referendum and election polls: conduct of referendum

     

Two simple ways to spot a Fake Job Scam

As the "Designated Googler" in my rapidly-contracting social circle, I am occasionally the recipient of emails, web links and other documentary detritus with the attached question "Is this a scam?"

A particular category of scams is that of Fake Jobs and/or Homeworking opportunities. Purporting to be legitimate attempts to recruit staff, these scams are common methods to conduct cheque fraud in the US, and more generally to launder, hide and move money obtained through other illegal schemes. Now if you received one of these as unsolicited email, you might quickly disregard it. But what if you're looking for work, and are listed on Job Search websites. Say you receive an email referencing your CV uploaded to those job sites? Perhaps your normal scepticism might not be triggered.

So, this is the job advertisement even now being received by people registered at a popular Job listings sites:

DSP Finance Company is looking for a candidate:
* Vacancy - Finance Assistant (No Experience Required).

Requirements:
 *  All ages 18+.
*  Sufficient English language skills.
*  Candidates must be eligible to live and work in the UK.
*  Meticulous attention to detail.
*  We are looking for an individual who is capable of working. independently and on their own initiative.

What we offer in return:
 *  Absolutely Free: computer Tests, practice, exams, study in UK with a trainer, providing Software DS-3A.
*  Opportunities to progress and develop.

Salary:
  * Full-time: 24300+
* Part-Time: 17600+

Email  back and  We will send you an email with information on how to continue.

HR Manager

Via the 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the UK figure for median gross annual earnings for full-time employees is £26,200. So £24K for a job which requires no prior experience sounds pretty compelling. If you respond to the email, you'll receive the following:

Return-Path: <mary_pittman@dspfinance.com>
Received: from [98.139.244.32] by tm9.access.bullet.mail.mud.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 15 Dec 2011 17:00:58 -0000
X-Yahoo-Newman-Property: ymail-3

Received: from [98.139.221.126] (mary_pittman@https://apps.db.ripe.net/search/query.html#resultsAnchorwith plain) by smtp108.biz.mail.bf1.yahoo.com with SMTP; 15 Dec 2011 09:00:19 -0800 PST
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 16:09:16 +0000
From: "Mary W. Pittman" <mary_pittman@dspfinance.com>
Organization: DSP Finance Company
Subject: Vacancy Information - Application - 15.12.2011
MIME-Version: 1.0

More detailed information about available position

Please fill out the "Application form" carefully and send
the form by email.

P.S The application must be completed in full detail
Our manager will call you within 1-2 working days.

Sincerely , Mary W. Pittman
HR Department , DSP Finance Company

Originally sent from a browser session somewhere in the University of Manchester, referencing a domain hosted on Yahoo's US cloud and registered by a private individual using Yahoo's Australian registrar partner, the email contains two Word Documents.

The first document describes the duties and benefits of a role with the MFI Consulting Corporation as a Finance Assistant.

View DSP info - dspfinance.com - a document received as part of a job scam, likely a cheque fraud network on Scribd"

I particularly like the pseudo-official Notary stamp on this one. A nice touch.

The second document is described as a Job Application Form, but also contains language suggesting it is a contract.

DSP App - dspfinance.com - a document received as part of a job scam, likely a cheque fraud network

So, you've got your application form, details of the job and its generous salary and benefits. But, you're still wondering... Is it too good to be true? Is it a scam?

The Short Answer: Yes

The Long Answer: Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssss.  [rhetorical hat tip to ZP]

First thing, let's look at some warning signs in the documents and website:

  • The proposed salary and benefits seem high given the absence of previous experience or skills.
  • The document contains frequent grammatical errors, judged by American English or British English writing convention.
  • Depending on which document or website you look at, you are dealing with MFI Consulting Corporation or DSP Finance Company, all described as "Registed in the USA". There is not such thing as a Company "Registered in the USA". Unlike the UK and many European nations, the USA does not maintain a national corporate register for limited, privately-held companies. The most common jurisdiction for registration is Delaware.
  • Anyone doing business in the UK relating to shifting money around is required to have a Financial Services Authority registration, even if they have no national presence. The company purports to sells a Financial Product (Merchant Cash Advances - a seriously dodgy way for retailers to obtain cash in exchange for a percentage of receipts from future credit card payments), but despite claiming an FSA registration they have no listing in the FSA's database of registered companies for financial or payment services.
  • The listed corporate address appears to be an empty piece of scrubland. 3795 NW 84 Avenue, Suite 116 Doral, Florida 33166, whereas the picture on the website appears to be a stock photo of New York.
  • The website appears to have been built using Yahoo Site Builder; a worthy and user-friendly tool but not typically the starting point for the web presence of a global financial services company.
  • The Document Info on the Word Documents references a non-existent UK company "SLK Financial Planning Ltd", and one of the documents is "stamped", which is to say a picture of a pseudo-official notary-style stamp has been pasted into the document, which would be funny if the goal here wasn't to get people to participate in something dodgy.
  • When was the last time you saw a Job Application form with an attached Force Majeure clause and a request for your Bank Name?

Any one of these is a good reason to disregard the offer (or if you're feeling keen, report it to the authorities).

If you receive a job advertisement, particuarly via one of the larger job sites, then just look for these two warning signs:

1. An Improbable Proposition

If it looks too good to be true, it is.

2. A Vague Identity

If you don't know who you are dealing with, then don't deal with them.