The Password

In the 1980s I read that the modern generation would have to know five times as much as their grandparents.   

Thinking back on my grandparents’ life, the statement made sense.  Telephone numbers to remember, learn how to use a wringer washing machine or a pop-up toaster.

And then the universe invented The Password.                                                                                        

Thou shalt not pass.

Once upon a time you only had to remember your own name, like Rumpelstiltskin.

Then whether you had put the 123 before the word Password or after it.  

Then it was the name of your pet or an old girlfriend.  And when you needed to change your password, 123 was changed to 124.

Electronic systems require passwords to be at least 10 characters long, include upper and lower case letters, some numbers, and something called a “Special Character”.  After some trial and error I found out that means one of the +, >, <, } or # keys – who knew?

Password creation is Snakes and Ladders.

Square One: think of a word that makes sense to you.  Not your name or your birthday date or your telephone number.

Square Two: try to write the word in hieroglyphics on the keyboard so it will end up looking like the word you chose but has numbers or symbols replacing letters: for example, replace ‘a’ with @ or ‘e’ with 3. 

Square Three: put in a + or a > or a ? to jazz it up a bit.

All good ­- until the computer system says that you can’t use that one.  It looks too similar to the last one you used and “violates password history”

Back to Square One.

Password Background

Security of information has three identification factors:

  • who you are (your name, your photo or, in extreme cases, your fingerprints),
  • what you know (a password or a PIN number), or
  • what you carry (a key or a swipe card).

Back in the day, any one of these three factors on its own was sufficient for most security purposes.  You had a key to open the door or you had your driver’s licence or your (very simple) password.

Then things went wrong. 

Someone who didn’t have the correct door key turned up with a piece of field artillery and blew the door off.  Or they “hacked” your password (note: using “Password” as a password is a bit obvious, even if you add 123 to it). 

And this is how we got to the hieroglyphic stage I mentioned.

Next Generation

Identification has now gone deeper into Never-Never land. 

Some sadist invented 2FA.

2FA is an acronym for Two Factor Identification. 

(A pedantic side-track: shouldn’t the acronym for Two Factor Identification be 2FI?  Obviously smarter brains than mine ……)

Anyway, the essence of 2FA is that you know your password to the system.  And after that you have to know a code.  But you don’t have to remember the code – it constantly changes and the current one has been sent to your smartphone. 

You open your phone (another password needed here). Then open up the password-protected application that has the number you need.  Then you go back to the system you were originally trying to get into and enter the code that was sent to the phone. 

Of course, this last stage presupposes that the computer hasn’t gone to sleep from boredom while you’ve been away mucking about trying to remember the passwords needed to get the code number off your phone.

If you’ve managed to get all these ducks to line up in single file, Hey Presto!  You’ll be allowed in.

Otherwise, the Snakes and Ladders analogy starts again.

And passwords are like raw meat.  They “go off” after a while.  The system advises that you have ten days to create a new password or you will be shut out of its secrets.  More snakes and ladders while you try to invent a new password that makes some kind of sense to you, doesn’t resemble any other password you’ve used in the last decade, and looks like some ancient Egyptian scholar drew it on the wall.

If you’ve managed to navigate this minefield, how do you keep track of all these passwords pin numbers and user names?  Writing them down on paper is frowned upon – someone might steal it and you will be password-less.

Technology has a solution to this most modern of dilemmas.  You can get a password recorder “app” for your smartphone.  Here you can enter all your passwords in little files that separate your password collection.  Great idea! – now you don’t have to remember that password that you created yesterday to protect your valuable account at the on-line haberdashery shop. 

You just look it up on your phone. 

Brilliant!. Love it!

Spot the drawback? 

You have to create a password to protect the password collection.

To quote Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, “AAARGGGHHHH!”

I don’t know about my grandparents’ knowledge, but I’ve calculated that I have to remember 123 more things than I did even five years ago.

And all of them are passwords.

PS. There is a life saver.  Using swear words for a password is OK, so long as they are suitable encrypted and don’t read the same as real swear words.

A Matter of Death and Life

My family have lost two cousins in the last six weeks.

In an ill-judged attempt to lighten up that opening, the innate (and probably regrettable) humourist in me goes back to the old joke about how losing one can be put down to misfortune, but losing two is starting to seem like carelessness.

Both of the cousins were ladies, one in her late 60s and the other just 65.

For various reasons, I was brought up in fairly close contact with both of them: the first because her family were physically the nearest relatives we had when we were growing up, the second because her family had a large semi-rural property and we spent many an hilarious Christmas holiday staying with them.

Both ladies were individuals with a capital I.

The first, the daughter of my parent’s cousin (someone brighter than me can work out what the official relationship is), was an outspoken lady who told it like it was.  Not in any kind of bad way – you were just left in no doubt where she stood.

The second, the daughter of my father’s sister, was also direct but with one totally unusual feature – in all the 65 years I knew her I never ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.  Ever.  At all.  No matter what the provocation, and believe me she sure had some!

And she also seemed to come with the most amazing boundless energy and tremendous enthusiasm for everything she touched.

Both ladies died extremely suddenly, with no warning of their imminent departure.

We had bumped into the first cousin as we were heading into a local mall on a wet Saturday.  We hadn’t seen her for maybe a couple of years so we took the opportunity for a sit down over a cup of morning coffee and a bite of something that I can’t remember now.

But the great pleasure of seeing her and catching up sticks in my mind.

A few weeks later, she collapsed and died.

The second died a week or so ago as the crow flies.  Some of the family had gathered together at a family event over a long weekend.  We had played garden cricket and quoits, chatted and caught up, than consumed a wine or two and some barbeque and gone our separate ways at the end of it.  As usual, she was the life and soul – chatting brightly with everyone, enthusiastically cricketing, helping with food etc.

Three days later she collapsed and died.

And both of these ladies, for their individual reasons, will be sorely missed by the wider family.

Now I don’t intend this to be a sackcloth and ashes piece about loosing relatives.  It happens, and reportedly no-one gets out alive.

But what I have become acutely aware of is the assumptions we make.

There is an accounting assumption that says that the company being accounted is a “going concern”  that will remain and continue to operate and function as it is now.

Which is fine for companies.

But people may not.

And that is especially true as we age.

You cheerily say to loved ones “see you later” or similar as you part, with the assumption that they will still be there the next time, still going strong, albeit a bit older and greyer or whatever.

But the last six weeks have brought home very clearly that the pleasure of seeing them again may not be the case.

So my recommendation to you is that when someone goes away from you, before you part take the opportunity to give them a big hug.  And let them know just what their existence means to you.

First Steps

The idea started when the Big Cheese decided that a “review” of the workplace was needed.

It didn’t seem important that the Big Cheese didn’t know anything whatsoever about how things functioned, what was connected to what, what impacted which.  A review was needed.

The review resulted in my job being declared “disestablished”.

What a wonderful language English is.  There are so many euphemisms available to us now that weren’t there 30 years ago.  “Disestablished”, “restructure”, “realignment”, “redeploying” , “resource” – all means the same thing: “not wanted”.

The upshot was that I faced applying for a job I didn’t really want, working in a place where the atmosphere had taken less than 24 hours to turn from happy, friendly and supportive to toxic.

It’s happened to pretty much all of us since the fashion for re-structures started around 30 years ago –  you find yourself wondering what you’re going to do.  Do you want another version of the same job?  Can you be bothered dusting off and re-polishing a curriculum vitae that hasn’t seen the light of day for 10 years or more?

Or is it time for a massive change of direction?

I have a few savings.  Not a huge amount but enough to provide living with a small government-funded income.  I don’t really have a lot of high-cost needs, if you don’t count international wanderlust or assisting the whisky industry to maintain its lifestyle.

Maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to leave the workforce rat-race.

But what to do?

I told my wife that I could become a house-husband.  She was still laughing three days later, although the laughter had started to have a slightly hysterical edge.

I could practice my old job as an independent contractor, working from the house.  Nah, that doesn’t really appeal.  Too competitive a market, and I’m sick of doing that type of work.

I need contact with people and the outside world: “Hi, Tom.  How’s the kids?  What are you doing on the weekend?”  I need mind exercise.  I enjoy writing: could I become A Writer?

We have a friend whose success I’m rather jealous of.  He had long harboured a desire to write and he couldn’t find a job that he wanted.  So he started to write.  He wrote a book.  A very good book.  And he sold it!  It’s now been printed in several languages (including American) in hard-back and paper-back versions.  And it’s being turned into a movie, with proper Big Time Stars!  Wow!

I won’t fool myself that I’m in that realm.  At all.  But with increasing age come experiences, observations and views of the world – the funny, the bizarre, the horrendous, the interesting, the nostalgic stuff that has long gone and will never return.

I have interest in whisky, people, music (especially from the 60s and 70s), cars and a whole lot of other stuff.

Why couldn’t I do some writing and see where that might go?

Blogging seemed to be a good starting point.  No great capital outlay.  Get a website together to post your deepest (and maybe sometimes shallowest) thoughts on.  Write stuff, post it, sit back and see what happens.

Now, here’s the start of the learning curve.

I know computers.  I’ve been using them since the late 1980s, when all your programmes were held on little blue plastic things called floppy disks.

And I know websites, because I visit heaps of them daily to find stuff out – where to go, how to get there, what to see/buy/eat when you’re there.  It must be simple to have a website, because all the world seems to have one these days.  They must have learned how from somewhere.

Thank heaven for search engines!  You can find absolutely anything these days, if you type in the right words.

In the last few weeks I have found out what a domain name is and how to reserve it, what a server address is and how to get your domain name on it, how to make an attractive website on your new domain so people can search for it on your domain name on your server so they can read what pearls of wisdom you’ve written this week.

There are brilliant videos on the web that give step by step instructions that a fool can follow.  Which is just as well, because one is!

So now I own a domain.  Housed on a server.  With a website which, if you’re reading this, is obviously searchable.  Yay!

So this is the start of my New Life.  Not that everything has been thrown out, but there no longer is a formal “job” with a nice salary.  Now I look at things around me with a whole different eye.  Observing people, looking at trees, sampling whiskies, experiencing Things, sampling more whisky.

And then I sit at the kitchen table in the sun with my laptop and write about the things I’ve seen and the thoughts that I’ve had and the whiskies I have sampled.

And I hope that you read them.  And if you read them, I hope you enjoy them.