What the writer’s life used to look like. Photo: -/AFP/Getty Images
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My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had

There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum.

“So, we’ve been talking, and we think you’re creating a hostile work environment.”

My mum looks up from her laptop and over her glasses.

“What?” she says, “Who’s we?”

She doesn’t sound particularly interested.

“Hank and me,” I say.

“You and the cat have been discussing me?” she says, still typing.

“Yeah. We’ve kind of decided that you’re the office bitch.”

She stopped listening somewhere around “kind of”.

“Shh!” she says, thrusting an open palm in my direction, from the sofa across the room.

“See, this is what I mean, Mum. In most offices people don’t just work solidly throughout the day. They stop to talk about, I don’t know… Theresa May, the diminishing quality of supermarket fruit. Something. Anything. Come on, let’s have a conversation. I think I might have a urinary tract infection. You love all that. So le - ”

“SHH, later,” she says, now frantically waving one hand while she continues to type with the other.

“I can’t live like this,” I say, “I need to have a conversation. I have all these opinions that are just going to waste. Plus, since when do you pass up an opportunity to discuss my health? I’m handing it to you, Mum. I’m serving you my feminine issues on a plate. Tell me to drink cranberry juice or something. I need an exchange of ideas. I’m talking to the fucking cat – objectively the least articulate, interesting and medically savvy person in this house. I’m dying here. This environment is killing me.”

“Eleanor – will you please…”

Uh-oh, she can’t even.

“I’m trying to write a book,” she says, “if you need a break from whatever you’re pretending to be doing, why don’t you go and make me a cup of tea?”

My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had. And I think she feels the same about me. Working from home is one thing; working from your parents’ home is quite another. Sure, I could just barricade myself in my room – sparing both me and my mum the hassle of, well, each other – but lately I’ve decided that I prefer to be around other people when I’m working. There’s just something motivating about the sound of someone else typing. My mum lounges on the sofa, tapping books into existence. I sit on the other sofa, feeding off that sound to write about whatever it is I write about.

It’s only just occurred to me that, outside the context of family run businesses, parent as co-worker is an entirely new phenomenon. There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum. It would be tragic if it weren’t quite nice from time to time (sometimes she lets me speak to her).

Now she’s having lunch. A salad. She’s always had these salads, my mum. These passive aggressive, “well, I don’t know about you, but I’m being healthy” salads. They’re full of raw vegetables, which makes them especially loud. There’s this crunching sound that’s so specific to her and her salads that I couldn’t even begin to imitate it. It’s sort of, “Brrrrunch, brrrrrunch, brrrrunch.” It’s steady and percussive. My lunch rarely consists of anything so rich in timbre. I think I’m supposed to feel bad about this.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she says, interrupting a lengthy period soundtracked by nothing but typing, munching and tea sipping, “Knaidel…”

She looks at me. I’m “Knaidel” (matzo ball) now, not Eleanor. She wants something. She’s doing her pathetic, whiny, “little me” voice. There are only two things she ever needs when she does the voice: tea or tech support.  

“Knaidel,” she says in the voice, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

“Talk like a woman,” I say. This is a joke we have, when she does the voice.

She coughs and deepens her voice.

“Can you help me with something?”

“Oh how the tables have turned,” I say.

“Please, please, pleeeease,” she says, back to doing the voice, “I’ve accidentally deleted a paragraph. We can talk about your urethra if you help me get it back.”

“The moment has passed,” I say.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Can Trident be hacked?

A former defence secretary has warned that Trident is vulnerable to cyber attacks. Is it?

What if, in the event of a destructive nuclear war, the prime minister goes to press the red button and it just doesn't work? 

This was the question raised by Des Browne, a former defence secretary, in an interview witht the Guardian this week. His argument, based on a report from the defence science board of the US Department of Defense, is that the UK's Trident nuclear weapons could be vulnerable to cyberattacks, and therefore rendered useless if hacked. 

Browne called for an "end-to-end" assessment of the system's cybersecurity: 

 The government ... have an obligation to assure parliament that all of the systems of the nuclear deterrent have been assessed end-to-end against cyber attacks to understand possible weak spots and that those weak spots are protected against a high-tier cyber threat. If they are unable to do that then there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it.

Is he right? Should we really be worried about Trident's potential cyber weaknesses?

Tangled webs 

The first, crucial thing to note is that Trident is not connected to the "internet" we use every day. Sure, it's connected to the main Ministry of Defence network, but this operates totally independently of the network that you visit Facebook through. In cyber-security terms, this means the network is "air-gapped" - it's isolated from other systems that could be less secure. 

In our minds, Trident is old and needs replacing (the submarines began patrolling in the 1990s), but any strike would be ordered and co-ordinated from Northwood, a military bunker 100m underground which would use the same modern networks as the rest of the MoD. Trident is basically as secure as the rest of the MoD. 

What the MoD said

I asked the Ministry of Defence for a statement on Trident's security, and while it obviously can't offer much information about how it all actually works, a spokesperson confirmed that the system is air-gapped and added: 

We wouldn't comment on the detail of our security arrangements for the nuclear deterrent but we can and do safeguard it from all threats including cyber.

What security experts said

Security experts agree that an air-gapped system tends to be more secure than one connected to the internet. Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-secure, told Infosecurity magazine that while some hackers have been able to "jump" air-gaps using code, this would cause "interference" at most and a major attack of this kind is still "a long way off". 

Franklin Miller, a former White House defence policy offer, told the Guardian that the original report cited by Browne was actually formulated in response to suggestions that some US defence networks should be connected to the internet. In that case, it actually represents an argument in favour of the type of air-gapped system used by the MoD. 

So... can it be hacked?

The answer is really that any system could be hacked, but a specialised, independent defence network is very, very unlikely to be. If a successful hack did happen, it would likely affect all aspects of defence, not just Trident. That doesn't mean that every effort shouldn't be made to make sure the MoD is using the most secure system possible, but it also means that scaremongering in the context of other, unrelated cybersecurity scares is a little unjustified. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.