Misplaced priorities

If I want to sign up to any given mailing list, the first thing I have to do, after giving them my email address, is click the link in the confirmation email they send so they know that
a. I typed my email address correctly
b. I actually want to be subscribed to that mailing list

On the other hand, if I want to create an account on, ooh, let’s say Amazon for example, apparently all I have to do is fill in the @&!#ing form. No validation whatsoever.

In other words: I am now getting emails from Amazon India to my GMail account.

Would you like to guess how much use the first-level Amazon UK customer service representatives are at helping resolve this?



Ratties can be such a source of stress when they’re not well.

I went to give the ratties a snack this morning and when Yori took hers I saw her right eye was covered in blood – it must have literally just started then, because there was none anywhere else. I called the vet, got her into the carrier and dashed off to Streatham Hill.

She cleaned the eye while she was in the carrier and there was no obvious injury at all, but the blood just kept welling up from around the eyeball. The vet kept her in and examined her under anaesthetic and there is no visible source of the blood. Apparently the bleeding has stopped now and if she’s still okay in a couple of hours she can come home.

I now realise that this has happened before, a couple of months ago. One morning I came down and there was a little more pink around than usual, but they all seemed healthy and there was nothing to concern me. Of course, when I did a cage clean a few days later, that was when I found the minor bloodbath in the hidden places in the cage. But everyone was fine and no signs of any problems since.

Presumably she has a weak blood vessel or something like that behind her eye that gives way every now and again. My vets are pretty good with the rats, but this is beyond their expertise. They’re going to speak to some specialist exotics vets on Monday to get an opinion, but, being realistic, I can’t imagine that much could be done, even if an ultrasound did identify the cause of the problem. Little ratty heads are very little and Yori is the smallest ratty I have.

Temporary residents

Guinea pigs

Just pootling around on Sunday morning when the doorbell rang. It was our neighbour.

“My cat regularly brings me mice, but he’s brought something different this time. Can you help me identify them?”

Somewhat cautious, but a lot curious, I followed her next door and upstairs to the bedroom where her daughter lived until she moved out just a week ago. And there, in an open tank in the wardrobe, were two tiny balls of fluff. Very very tiny. But unmistakably… guinea pigs.

A quick look over revealed that one had a scratch on its head, but they were otherwise — physically at least — unharmed.

My neighbour explained that she had heard squeaking at around five that morning and had gone downstairs to find her evil black cat playing with the first of them; she took it away from him, put it safe, and went back to bed. The cat, obviously annoyed, went out and came back two hours later with the second, which she also rescued. At some point there had been a third, though the cat must have tired of playing as the only evidence of that one was a lone leg.

I don’t, or at least didn’t, know much about guinea pigs — they weren’t one of the creatures I considered when I originally researched what pets would be best for us to keep — but I did have a feeling that the milk and bread she’d given them wasn’t right — so I offered to take them, clean up the scratch and do a bit of research as to what they needed. I also put a lost and found notice up on Streetlife and tweeted about them, just in case someone knew someone who was short some baby guinea pigs.

I had grossly overestimated their age, assuming that they were born pink, hairless and helpless like other rodents. Oh so wrong.

Guinea pigs are born fully-furred, mobile, and able to eat solid food from day one

So, rather than being a couple of weeks old, they were no more than a couple of days old.

My neighbour made noises about taking them back, but knowing that she was about to go out for several hours and that she knew less than I did about their care, I said that I was happy to keep an eye on them.

We got some goats milk and I begged a scoop of guinea pig nuggets from the local pet shop and with hand feeding every hour or two I managed to keep them alive.

And they were still alive the following morning. Even better, the one with the scratch, who was unsurprisingly in shock yesterday, had perked up immensely and was eating well. The other one had decided to be distressed whenever I took the first out for feeding and demonstrated the guinea pig alarm call; it’s surprising how loud a sound can come from a tiny bundle of fur. After keeping rats who only ever squeak when they’re annoying each other, it was weird to have these creatures be so vocal.

Guinea pig noises are utterly adorable

Social media had failed to find their owner so the chance of returning them to their mum was vanishingly small; we’d even tried knocking on a few doors in the area, but no joy. Now the important thing was to find someone who could look after them properly. Time was ticking. While I was prepared to look after them, we were going away for a wedding later that week and that was a deadline that could not be moved.

Someone on Streetlife had suggested talking to a nurse at the local Blue Cross who keeps guinea pigs, but, it being a bank holiday, there was no answer.

I had come across Furry Friends Animal Rescue some time ago, so I dropped them an email to see if they would be able to help. They said yes, but also gave me the name and number of a woman who runs a guinea pig rescue and is closer to me than they are.

One quick phone call later and we had a home for them. We hopped on a train and, within an hour of phoning her, handed over the little fluffballs. It hasn’t been the best start in life for them, but at least they have a chance now with someone who knows what they’re doing.

Spoke too soon

I was a bit premature in announcing how well Midge was settling in.

There had been a few squabbles the first week she was here, though all the ones I’d seen were the result of Quorra being over-enthusiastic with grooming the newcomer. And even then it was no worse than a bit of squeaking, pinning and fluffing up.

Then, when I checked on them on Tuesday morning, I noticed a smear of blood on Midge’s side. A quick check revealed

  • Midge had two deep scratches on either side of her ribs, one of which was full thickness through the skin.
  • Yori had a damaged claw (which she lost that evening, cue more blood).
  • Rocket had a couple of nasty looking puncture wounds around her shoulder.
  • Quorra and Rommie were completely untouched.

I have no idea what went on — the injured ratties hadn’t shown any signs of scrapping with each other in the previous week or so. And everyone was quiet and settled by the time I went to do the breakfast snack run, even though the blood was very fresh so it can’t have been long since whatever happened happened.

I took Midge over to the vets to get checked out and came away with some Baytril for her and Rocket and some hibiscrub to keep everyone’s wounds clean while they healed.

Luckily rats heal remarkably quickly. To the extent that, the following morning, I couldn’t even find the spots where Rocket had been spiked — so I just generally wet her shoulder and surrounding area with the hibiscrub; she was not impressed.

Midge’s wounds scabbed up quickly too, but I kept her separate from the others to avoid both excessive grooming and further scraps.

Attempts at getting them back together, even one-on-one on the sofa, weren’t looking promising. I’m sure we’d have been able to integrate them successfully given enough time, but then I chatted to her owner at the weekend and she decided to take Midge back. I think she’d been missing her a lot and this was a really good excuse to keep her. She also seems to have been able to use it as leverage for getting more rats instead of the sugar gliders that her boyfriend was wanting 🙂

Our lot have settled back down into their old ways and seem a lot more relaxed. And I don’t have to worry about trying to figure out ratty psychology.

It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but at least everyone is happy where they are.

Meet the Rats: Midge

The latest addition

And then there were five.

This is Midge. She’s a two-year-old top-eared chocolate-coloured hooded ratty. And we’ve just adopted her from our neighbour — the one who introduced us to rats as pets in the first place. Midge’s last remaining cage mate died recently and our neighbour isn’t planning on getting more rats, so rather than leave her on her own, she is joining our mischief madhouse.

Midge is older than any of the others (Rocket and Rommie are just over eighteen months now), still very perky and friendly, and dashes to the front of the cage any time we go near. She loves to explore and is fearless — the other day she leapt down to the floor, something that no other rat here has done deliberately — so we will definitely have to keep a close eye on her during free range.

I was a bit concerned how introductions would go, especially after the grief we had the last time, but it all went remarkably smoothly, better than I would ever have expected. The only issue we’ve had is, surprisingly, with Quorra, our adorable tilty ratty. And even then, the main problem is that she insistently grooms Midge, who then gets fed up with it and tries to get her to stop. There’s been a fair bit of squeaking and fluffed-up ratties, but only a couple of minor scratches, so I’m calling that a success.

Rocket is not overly impressed and seems to be sulking a bit more than usual, though this may just be a ploy to get more attention (she is a very cunning rat). Rommie doesn’t really care, as long as she still gets her food. And Yori is just Yori.

I think Midge will fit in just nicely.

Meet the Rats: Quorra and Yori

We were going to wait until the end of October last year — when Rocket and Rommie would turn one — before getting more rats, but then some became available at the end of September and little ratties are so cute that, once seen, they just cannot be left behind.

Quorra and Yori: Then
Quorra and Yori shortly after we brought them home

Yori is a tiny grey hooded dumbo. Her fur is very slightly longer than the others, which means that, no matter how much she grooms herself, she always looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. She came down with a respiratory infection soon after we got her home; luckily it was nothing worse than a lot of sneezing, but it did mean she didn’t put on weight as quickly as her sister. At nearly nine months old, she is still small enough to comfortably sit on the palm of my hand.

Even though she is the smallest ratty, she is convinced she should be the boss of the cage: she always has one or two little scratches where one of the others has got truly fed up with her following them around the cage, indulging in power grooming and inappropriate sniffing.

She is the lickiest rat we have ever had, by far, and will happily sit and lick her way over your hand given the chance. She is also a little horror for hiding food. When I feed them she goes around picking up anything the size of a pea or bigger and systematically carrying it off into the hammock or hut to “hide” it. This doesn’t fool anyone. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was storing it to eat later, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Quorra is a roan dumbo. Roans are the con artists of ratty colouring: when we got her she was a lovely dark grey with an unusual black patch across the back of her neck, now she is mostly white with a few darker bits scattered around.

At the end of January, she developed a bit of a head tilt. A course of steroids and antibiotic injections seemed to sort out the underlying ear infection, though she has been left with a permanently skewed outlook (which is utterly endearing). The twisty head has given her superpowers. She can rotate her way out on to the top of the cage, or down into a t-shirt, with remarkable speed and ease. Although she does sometimes forget to check whether there is actually any ground underneath where she’s heading, the tilt has really not slowed her down at all.

Quorra loves the “disappearing down a t-shirt” trick. I let her get away with it because it is just so adorable when she spins round and pops her tilty little head out the top and stares at you (it helps that she is neither the heaviest nor spikiest rat).

She also loves drinking from people’s cups of tea. And then splashing around in them.

Where Yori is licky, Quorra is kissy. Many times when she pops out of the top of my t-shirt, she follows it up with a face or lip lick as I look down at her. This is cute. Not so cute is when she decides that she must investigate further and tries to pull my lip out of the way with her pointy little ratty claws; this behaviour is not encouraged.

Together they are a wonderfully entertaining addition to the madhouse.

Quorra and Yori: Now
Quorra and Yori earlier this year

Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked

[Note: I am too depressed by the general election to even begin to talk about it, so instead I’m having a rant about tech companies’ inability to communicate usefully.]

Every now and again I get an email from Google with the subject “Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked”.

We recently blocked a sign-in attempt to your Google Account.

Okay. Want to tell me why? No?

attempt details
Date & Time: Friday, 8 May, 3:16 p.m. BST
Location: London, UK

Well, I am in London and several devices are powered up here.

If this wasn’t you

Not really enough information here to be able to tell one way or another. Was the sign-in attempt on the Google website? From my email client (on phone, iPad or iMac)? Or maybe my feed reader refreshing in the background as that uses Google as a login? Any hints?

Please review your Account Activity page at https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity to see if anything looks suspicious.

Google wants me to work out whether something was suspicious. When it has presumably already decided that it was suspicious, given that it blocked the attempt…

Whoever tried to sign in to your account knows your password; we recommend that you change it right away.

Oh! So this was a person trying to get into my account. Bugger.

If this was you

Again… Give me something to go on so I can tell if it was or not…

You can switch to an app made by Google such as Gmail to access your account (recommended)

So… It was an app? I’m confused… And how about a link to a page with information about apps made by Google? Just a thought.

or change your settings at https://www.google.com/settings/security/lesssecureapps so that your account is no longer protected by modern security standards.

Well that sounds like a jolly fine idea. NOT. And that linked page? On it there is just a warning that this will make your account vulnerable and an option to turn “Access for less secure apps” on and off. I’m not sure what else I want to see here, but somehow there should be something.

To learn more, see https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/6010255.
Yours sincerely,
The Google Accounts team

That support address at the end? At first glance that looks like it might have some useful information. It even lists some apps that don’t have “modern security standards”. Like the iPhone Mail app on iOS 6 or below (we’re on iOS 8 now)… It also says that I should see a “password incorrect” message when they block an app. Nope. Never seen that. The rest of it is just a repeat of the “get a Google app or turn off security” advice in the email.

After reading the email, I go to the Account Activity page and, yay, there is more detail.

For a start it tells me the IP address the access attempt was made from. Why on earth isn’t this information in the email along with the date and time? Seriously, this one piece of information would immediately avoid any panic, as, so far, it has always been my home IP address. So yes, it was me or one of my devices.

It also tells me that “Google blocked a less secure app from accessing your account.” So, not a person who knows my password then. An app. An app that apparently cannot be identified, even though it is almost certainly Apple mail on either my iPhone or iPad. But of course, the type of device the request came from can’t be identified either.

I’m starting to think the problem is Google’s, not mine.

I’m also not sure which I’m more annoyed about: the useless scaremongering email or the fact that, according to the activity page, Google has blocked a whole bunch of other (unidentified app/unidentified device) accesses in the last week and not bothered to tell me!

I’m all for online services keeping an eye on login activity, watching out for anything that looks a bit dodgy, and letting the user know when they spot something. But if the contact with the user is unclear (app? person?), doesn’t give all the relevant information (IP address and BTW it was an app) and gives confused instructions (change your password now, oh, was it you?), then they might as well not bother. A lot of people will either just panic at the mention of blocked sign-in attempts or will ignore it completely because they don’t understand it or are too frustrated to try and figure it out.

Communicating technical information to people is hard, especially when you don’t know their level of expertise. You don’t want to confuse people who just know how to use the apps they need, and you don’t want to treat people who are technical as though they know nothing. And you can’t assume that either group will be prepared to research past the information in the email you send them. So, yes, it is difficult. But it is vital to get it right, especially when you’re dealing with security issues.


Wow… Far too long since I posted here. Longer than I thought it was. In my (partial) defence, I have been busy creating another blog for my cardmaking endeavours and that took far more time than I might have hoped. Still, it’s done now and, as much for my reference as for anyone else, I now have an archive of all the cards I made in the last eight months.

Add in much bouncing around the health service, followed by the general stress of Christmas and the New Year (not my favourite time of year) and I have completely failed to get focused enough to give you an update on Rocket and Rommie, and I’ve not even mentioned the new littlies: Quorra and Yori. So that’s two blog posts I shall be working on. And I really must take the time to try and get some decent photos of the girls as well. And update the ratties page. And…