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Few years ago one of my mail accounts was hacked. I could no longer access my mails. Fortunately it was not a business mail. I used it for casual contacts. One day I received a mail from the same mail account. I just giggled, helpless. I queried the sender with no avail. How many of us have been in such a posture?

The use of passwords has become part of our daily life. Credit cards, phone banking, internet banking, blogging, mails, web hosting all require the use of secret keys or passwords to access personal information stored on our computer or in our online accounts. Why do we use these secret keys? Are they really secret? Can they be hacked?

Yes, hackers, like sharks, are always on the look out. They will easily identify a password which is simple and in common use, like for example a telephone number or a common name written either in the correct order or in reverse order. Sometimes short passwords with five to six characters are used for easy remembering. But one thing we tend to forget: they are also easily hacked. Easy and obvious passwords are easily stolen. When we come to know about it, it may be too late. What do we do?

Use a password that makes it difficult for the hacker. Make it strong and long. How? Use a random combination of characters; letters, figures and symbols. Each character added to the password increases the protection by many times. It is recommended to have at least eight characters or more; 14 or more is considered ideal.

Well, you’d argue that remembering passwords may be quite hectic, especially if you have a good number of them which you use such as for your blog, registration of blog, web hosting, software registration, forums, chats, discussion groups, and I don’t know what. I have hard times myself. But it’s worth the effort.

For further information on how to create and use strong passwords and things to avoid when creating them click here.

And if you are victim of a fraud while making an online transaction there are a number of actions, legal or otherwise, that you can take. It is a crime to make malicious or fraudulent use of somebody else’s information for any transactions. Check the provisions applicable in your country.

You may also read here for general information on what actions you can take.

To your security!

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Do you smoke? If you are a smoker, do you know that you don’t have the right to endanger the health of non-smokers? Are you current on the latest initiatives or legal provisions in your country?

I was a casual smoker at one time. I used to take a few puffs from my friends during outings and fun times. Like many hard smokers, I didn’t pay heed to the harmful effects tobacco smoke can have on my health. The only thing I realised and I hated the most is the bad breath that came out; stinky mouth. How disgusting when you have to approach your partner or your mate or anyone who doesn’t smoke.

As I had started to experience unstable blood pressure I decided for a check up in 1998. I was shocked when the doctor asked me if I was a heavy smoker. Reason? The echocardiography revealed dark spots; well this is what he told me. He didn’t trust my word when I insisted that I smoked only on rare occasions; not even one cigarette in a week. If I had dark spots what would be the case with regular smokers? I felt so much remorse that I stopped tobacco consumption for good. No first hand smoking at all. I’m not so sure whether it applies for passive smoking as we are all somehow exposed to smoke in the environment.

Tobacco is known to be the second major cause of death in the world. It is responsible for about five million deaths each year. It accounts for numerous diseases, disability, and malnutrition, loss of productivity, increased health care costs and serious economic problems. In a report in 1994 it was estimated that the use of tobacco caused an annual global net loss of USD 200,000 millions. The current pattern in smoking is expected to result in some 10 million deaths each year by the year 2020.

Studies have shown that smoke contains some 4000 toxic chemicals. These affect not only the smoker but also non-smokers who live in the surrounding by a phenomenon known as secondhand smoking or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke is other people’s tobacco smoke. It can cause serious damage to the human body, like blood clotting, increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The risk of such diseases is the same in smokers and secondhand smokers. Secondhand smoking occurs mainly in enclosed environments, in rooms, offices, bars, restaurants, casinos, vehicles and other such places where people smoke.

Secondhand smoke stays in the environment for long and is most of the time invisible and odourless. In a room it may be present after two and half hours even if you open the windows. In a car it’s even worse as all the smoke is concentrated in a small area.

Scared? Well, there’s every reason to be. But we can do something about it, together. Although most smokers would argue it’s not easy to quit smoking. If you can choose to smoke at your own risk and peril, you have no right to put other people’s health at risk. Non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free environment.

That’s why the United Kingdom will be introducing a law “to protect employees and the public from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke”. As from 1 July this year, therefore, smoking in all “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed” public places and workplaces will be prohibited by law. The law aims at a smoke-free environment.

Enclosed premises would include those having a ceiling or roof and fully enclosed except for doors, windows or passageways. Substantially enclosed premises would be those with a ceiling or roof but having an opening in the walls that is less than half the total area of the walls.

So you won’t be allowed to smoke in a public transport and work vehicles carrying more than one person. Smoking signs will have to be displayed in all smoke-free premises and vehicles. Indoor smoking areas including staff smoking rooms will be forbidden; and anyone willing to smoke will have to go outside. There will be a legal responsibility on managers to prevent people from smoking in smoke-free premises and vehicles. It will be a criminal offence if you don’t comply with the requirements of the law and you’ll be liable to fixed penalties or maximum fines upon conviction.

What better initiative than the upcoming UK legislation to crack down on smokers in the context of World No-Tobacco Day to be celebrated on 31 May with the theme: “Smoke-free environments”.

In Mauritius the campaign has started on 23 May and will last until 7 June to sensitize people on the ill-effects of smoking and the need to promote a smoke-free environment. TV spots, forums, radio talks, poster competitions and regional workshops are scheduled during that period.

But it’s all a question of personal choice and conscience. If each of us could contribute in bringing a halt to tobacco smoking, the world would be a healthier place to live.

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It’s become commonplace today to assault journalists in the performance of their duty. Unfortunately many pay their lives in bringing to us news fresh and live from the spot of the happening; right from the battle field. No less than 50 journalists have died since the beginning of this year. A record-breaking toll of 155 deaths was reported last year.

Attacks on journalists are taking a new shape. Hostility knows no limits; it is perpetuating from so-called respected and respectable people. Journalists continue to be the targeted, abused and offended not only by soldiers in the field, by criminals or gangsters, or by extremists; but also and even more by ruthless politicians, by arrogant members of government. These people don’t want their stories to be told or filmed as they are. The treatment is even more condemnable when it relates to a woman journalist; and when the “aggressor” is a head of State.

The latest case on record reveals one journalist Andrea Pana being treated as a “stinky Gypsy” by Romanian President Traian Basescu. The President snatched her mobile phone as she was trying to ask him while filming him about a ballot relating to his impeachment on Saturday last.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged. It has condemned such behaviour which it considers intolerable. It is said that the President is used to attacking reporters and calling them by offensive names, using sexist and racist language as was the case with Andrea Pana. Considering this incident as not an isolated one, IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said: “….His disgusting behaviour endangers the safety of anyone who is unlucky enough to get close to him…”

The hostile attitude of such caliber has raised my concern over “Journalism as a dangerous occupation”. Such threats are not new; not the first; not even the last, I’m tempted to believe. Reporters and journalists have always been and will ever be exposed… to the whims and caprices of those in power. The more so when the media dare to state the truths about their (wrong) doings; those truths that otherwise would have remained concealed to the extent of fooling the mob.

Journalists and reporters in conflict zones are considered as civilians as per a 1977 protocol of the Geneva Conventions that make it a war crime to target civilians. Unless there is a strong political will, even the best international law may be fraught with difficulties in rendering justice to media victims.

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May Day

May 1 is celebrated throughout the world as Labour Day, often called May Day (not to be confused with “Mayday” which is an international distress signal code in radio communication derived from the French “m’aider” meaning “help me”). Its origin is found in the Industrial Revolution that took place in Britain at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. There was a fundamental transformation from manual to mechanized labour, which transgressed the socio-cultural barriers. Workers became exposed to poor conditions and irregular hours of work, putting in between 10 to 16 hours in some cases. The concept of the 8-hour work emerged in the struggle for workers’ emancipation; and it spread gradually throughout the other parts of the world.

In Mauritius Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938 under the initiative of Dr. Maurice Curé, an eminent leader of the labour movement at that time. But over the years this “day”, which is a pubic holiday, has been taken over by politicians. It is an occasion for political parties (government and opposition alike) to demonstrate their popularity and force by organizing mass meetings in the main townships of the island. Unions can hardly mobilize their rank and file to the bare 100, while tens of thousands of people flock to the political gatherings. Most of the public buses have been booked to carry people free to the meeting places. Some roads have even been closed to allow for necessary arrangements.

However, in remembrance to those who struggled for workers’ emancipation, wreaths are laid by union leaders as well as political men at the respective tombs. Dr. Maurice Curé, Emanuel Anquetil, Guy Rozemont, Anjalay are but a few of the martyrs of the labour movement in Mauritius. Unions have been organizing talks around a particular theme each year in order to keep their members alert to the happenings of the day.

But there are others for whom Labour Day will mean nothing; it’ll be a day just like any other day. They’ll prefer a round at the seaside or at the hypermarkets or still at the various commercial exhibitions being held at the moment. Oh! Right at this time as I’m writing I overheard, and it’s confirmed by my wife, the TV news announcing government has just decided to prohibit all commercial sales on the 1st May. Are they anticipating low participation at their meeting? Will they be able to pull the shock-giving crowd? Anyway, one cannot underestimate people’s frustration these days with the ever-drastically-increasing prices of all commodities. As low participation means unpopularity, the government doesn’t want to take risks; so it seems.

As for me there’s no special arrangement. I’ll take a good rest in the morning before I get ready for a service and dinner at my niece’s place on the occasion of her birthday. The whole family will be there. You might call it a family day for me, if you wish; well deserved anyway, after long work commitments. It’s long since I’ve distanced myself form political meetings. When I was a trade union leader from 1984 to 1999, I had to show myself in prominent position; no longer now. I better devote my time for more constructive activities. And what’s better than writing?

Just one thing before I pen off, don’t miss the interview I announced yesterday. It’ll be up tomorrow, May 1. I just hope it won’t be a Mayday for me!

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Stop… for health

The proliferation of diseases from one part of the world to the other is a major concern for all nations. It is one of the consequences of the migratory movement of people. Vulnerability is more than ever increasing. No country is safe. Avian flu, AIDS, dengue and lately chikungunya in certain regions are now a world wide threat. Increased awareness, preventive and protective measures in a well-coordinated and integrated approach to health preparedness planning systems are vital in mitigating the impacts on people’s health and the economy, and damage to infrastructure.

Health is wealth, goes the adage. It is important for every one of us to stop a while on this day when World Health Day is being celebrated the world over, and to ponder on what we can do to address the health issues facing the world. In Mauritius the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life has organized an exhibition from 4 to 7 April at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre at Bell Village, Port Louis, on this year’s theme, International health security. Each exhibitor sensitized visitors, mainly school children, around a particular health issue:

(i) the Ministry of Health & Quality of Life focused on the outbreak and methods of chikungunya proliferation and the prevention strategies in place;
(ii) the Ministry of Ago-Industry’s concern was the avian flu;
(iii) Environment Protection Act and Air quality standards were the issues addressed by the Ministry of Environment;
(iv) the Civil Aviation Department dealt with aircraft noise pollution;
(v) the Meteorological Services addressed the issue of climate change and its impact on human health; and
(vi) the Mauritius Tourism Authority exposed the problem of garbage and pest control.

The exhibition was officially opened by the Minister of Health & Quality of Life on 4 April. He highlighted his ministry’s successful campaign in the control of chikungunya which has not shown any sign of reappearance since August last year despite adverse weather conditions.

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It happens only in Mauritius

What if you went to bed one night to wake up the next morning only to be told that education is absolutely free? This means you won’t have to pay the college and university fees for your children. The primary schooling is already free. You scratch your eyes and touch the blanket and the bed or the bedside table, to make sure you are in your senses.

And what if you woke up another morning and you learnt this time that your children will travel free to school. You won’t have the trouble to count the coins every morning for the bus conductor. And that’s not all. Your grandpa or grandma or your dad or mom past 60 would wander wherever and whenever they feel like without a single cent in their pocket, except for their food and shelter. They’d just have to show their pensioner’s card no questions asked.

Kidding? Dreaming? No, that’s absolutely true. It happens only in Mauritius. Provided you are in the elections periods.

In 1976 the Labour Party managed to entice the population with a free education promise. The bait worked.

In 2005 the rejuvenated Labour Party, came out with a promise of free transport to all school children and old age pensioners. This was estimated to cost around Rs 600 million (20 million USD). Peanuts, they said. We prone equal opportunities and want excellence in our education. No child should fail on account of pecuniary handicap. The hook was well baited again.

The popular impacts of such pertinent pompous proposals are far-reaching. Once in power the Government has to live up to its promise willy-nilly, although the economic pointers are on red. In no time the honeymoon turns into nightmare. The honey becomes bitter day by day as the people start paying the price of such bounties. You can no longer keep track of the price jets.

But when your children have studied for five years for the School Certificate (SC) or seven for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) and the time comes for the final examinations, you have to pay the exam fees as required by Cambridge. You now learn that the fees have gone up and you have to pay a lot more than you expected with your constantly depreciating rupee. On top of that the government has removed the 50% subsidy on such payment.

That’s the hard fact the people are facing today, and the reason for the sustained protest marches. Tens of hundreds of people, students, unions, political parties and socio-cultural groups have joined in to stage protests. They are asking to meet the government. A protest march held on the 9th and another one on 23rd March heralds what it’s going to be like when the movement gains momentum as the pressure groups keep the pot boiling through radio talks and poster campaigns.

The Government has already made it clear that nothing is going to make a difference. The new policy of cutting down the 50% subsidy on the exam fees was announced in the presentation of the last annual budget and everybody is aware of it. It’s only when the deadline for payments is approaching that the outcry has surfaced. In a spirit of compromise and understanding with the lower income groups the government has agreed to maintain its subsidy to those whose total family income does not exceed Rs 7500 per month (approx. 250 USD). Others will have to pay the full amount.

In a gesture of further compromise Government has just announced a 25% subsidy to those families with a monthly income higher that Rs 10000 (USD 300). Perhaps people will have to wait for the next elections to have a waiver. Who knows what the bait will be like this time. But the rallye scheduled for 30th March is being maintained. It would be another May 1975, they say.

Health is free. Education is free. Transport is free to school children and old age pensioners. A student will certainly go up to the SC or HSC free. But he may become a failure for want of exam fees, if their parents can’t afford. Despite Government’s initiatives to facilitate financing of the exam fees through soft loans at preferential rates and some companies even offering advances to their employees whose children would take part in the exams, there is still widespread reticence. This means another claim for a free ride. If only it were the eve of the elections. How long can we afford such bounties? Even the most developed countries haven’t ventured that much, I’m sure.

But that’s welfare state in Mauritius.

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“Water, water, every where…nor any drop to drink,” (The ancient mariner).

Water covers two-thirds of the globe. Yet, for many, it’s a scarce commodity. In some parts of the world, to a great extent in Haiti and the rural sub-saharan African regions, people, mostly women and young girls, have to walk hours and miles before they can have some water for their households. Very often such water is polluted and therefore unsafe for drinking. Children in tender ages are the most vulnerable. Reports suggest that about 1.1 billion people (nearly one-fifth of the world’s population) lack access to safe drinking water. About 90% of deaths arising from contaminated water consumption involve children under the age of five.

Have we ever reflected on the extent of impact of such scarcity on the education and development of people? Let’s stop a while on the theme of this year’s World Water Day: “Coping with water scarcity”. Let’s save that small drop to make the difference.

World Water Day celebrated on 22nd March was designated by the UN General Assembly in 1992 “to draw attention to the critical lack of clean, safe drinking water world wide”.

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