Saturday, 17 March 2018

Talks on cyber security and the origin of the internet

THE society held two contrasting meetings during February, both of which were highly informative.

THE society held two contrasting meetings during February, both of which were highly informative.

The first talk, by Francis Brown, was on "Computer security", a topic very much on the minds of many of our members given the frequency with which the media raises the issue.

Francis basically looked at "what do the bad guys want" and "what can we do to stay safe?"

Under the first heading, he stressed that fraudsters wanted to steal your credit card information and your email passwords. If they did break into your system they would disable your computer and then use different means to extract money from you.

The cost of cyber fraud in the UK alone amounts to more than £30 billion a year. Globally, it is more than 1,000 times that.

Measures you can take to protect yourselves are: avoid scareware; use common sense; keep the software up to date; keep Adobe up to date; do not allow anyone else access to your password; your password should be a mixture of at least eight symbols, a mixture of numbers and letters; if anything suspicious suddenly pops up either delete it or, if in doubt, switch off your computer.

Whatever you do, do not download anything suspicious. If you fear that you have been attacked, then call 0330 123 2040, a specialist police number or report it online at

While many of us were shaken by what Francis had to say, we nevertheless felt we knew what we had to do to protect ourselves.

Our second speaker took us way back before computers and the internet were invented. With speed, enthusiasm and humour, John Rogers talked about "The history of the Post Office: kings, boxes and dots".

Our journey went backwards from the current largely automated systems used for sorting the mail to the beginnings when messages, usually from those connected with the royal court, were sent by horseback.

By the late 17th century and during the 18th, missives/ letters were sent by stagecoach along certain routes.

The recipient was expected to pay but if the missive could easily be read such payment was invariably not forthcoming. By the early Victorian period Rowland Hill and Anthony Trollope suggested that this was inefficient and the sender should pay. Thus began the system of postage stamps, beginning with the penny black in 1840.

With improvements in transport, most notably the railway, the postal system expanded across the country. Trains also enabled the development of parcel post.

By the early 20th century there were several deliveries a day, usually between two and eight, though in parts of London there were as many as 24!

Apart from delivering mail, the Post Office was responsible for telephones (and boxes), telegrams, stamps and post offices, often in very remote villages.

Most post boxes were placed along strategic routes. Each new monarch, even Edward VIII, had a new set of boxes with their emblem on the front. Sadly, some of the designs leaked and had to be replaced.

During the post-war period the Post Office had a crucial role to play but because it was labour intensive, costs were rising and new automation was being introduced which used dots and barcodes to simplify the process, its importance has diminished.

Now it is being kept afloat largely because of junk mail and charity mail but because of increasing competition from electronic mail as well as private companies it is contracting, especially in rural areas.

The survival of the Post Office will depend on merging with village stores, local pubs or even combining with banks to provide a much-needed service. All in all, an enthralling evening.

Meetings are held in Caversham Heights Methodist church hall on alternate Wednesdays at 7.30pm. New members are welcome. Those interested should call Jill Hodges on 0118 959 5307 or send an email to

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