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26 December 2010

The TSA Guide to Password Security

Inspiration: Walsh, Ivan. The Mel Brooks Guide to Super Strong Passwords. Business Plans for Smart People. Posted 25 December 2010, downloaded 26 December 2010.

This year, we learned about the TSA patting down five-year-old Christian boys, strip-searching sixteen-year-old girls, x-raying congressmen and celebrities, and sending 56-year-old rape victims into flashbacks and panic attacks, while waving-through young Muslim men and protesting imams.

In the spirit of shutting the barn door after the cows have already escaped, we can learn fine lessons from the current administration about how to set up strong passwords.
  • Always make passwords no more than six characters in length so you can type them quickly.
  • If you absolutely must use an acronym, use an obvious one like rotflmao or wysiwyg.
  • Use just lower case letters in your passwords. No need to use mixed case, numbers, or annoying symbols that require using the Shift key.
  • Using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols will just confuse you.
  • Don't make embarrassing spelling mistakes.
  • Substituting look-alike numbers or symbols in your passwords (for example, pa$$word or V1agra) will make you feel clever.
  • If you use multiple words, make them easy to remember by using common terms or phrases like threeamigos, myhump, or JoeSchmoe (or whatever your name is).
  • Use familiar, publicly available terms such as your name, address, high school, or Twitter ID.
  • Another clever password consists of a sequence of letters or numbers, such as 123456, abcdefg, or qwertyu.
  • Even more clever, you could combine the name of the website with an easy-to-remember sequence, such as facebook123.
  • Birthdays, family members' names, and celebrities' names are perennial favorites sure to stir sentimental memories.
  • Nobody would ever guess a word spelled sdrawkcab!
  • Just in case you need to remember a password when you're not at home, always store a list of all your passwords online.
  • Once you establish a great password, why ever change it? Hackers would never collect information about you or use one account to exploit other accounts before doing something obvious.
Finally, relax! Forget about Wikileaks, hundreds of millions of stolen credit card files, hacked Facebook accounts, and spyware-infected computers. Enjoy life. Hackers who figure out your password for one account would never figure out that it works for all your other accounts, too.

23 December 2010

E-book Reader You Already Have

You don't need a Kindle or Nook to read e-books. You can use the screen and computer you're using right now.

By downloading appropriate software, you can use your desktop or laptop computer to download, manage, and read e-books without shelling out even more money for a Nook or Kindle. I like that I could copy-and-paste from a book to an article that I'm writing in Word -- a great advantage over having books on e-readers.

Of course, you won't want to carry your laptop to the beach, the batteries won't last as long as in an e-reader, and it won't be easy to read outdoors as on one of those paper-like screens. On the other hand, you can't read those paper-like e-reader screens in dim light, and you might need that extra money for keeping the lights on.

If you already have an e-reader, don't worry about transferring books. Once you purchase an e-book, you can read it on either your e-reader or on your computer.
  • The Barns and Noble website offers free Nook software so your iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mac, or Windows computer (including desktops, laptops, and netbooks) can access the Barns and Noble on-line bookstore. The software permits highlighting, taking notes, and creating bookmarks as you read, and you can sync bookmarks between different devices. B&N claims to have more than twice the library that Amazon has.

    Nook books use files in the .epub and in Palm's eReader PDB formats. Nook e-readers can download newspaper and magazine subscriptions, but B&N's website does not clearly state that the Nook for PC software has that ability.

  • The Amazon website offers free Kindle software so your iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Mac, Windows Phone 7, or Windows (including desktops, laptops, and netbooks) can do what a Kindle does: access Amazon's on-line bookstore and read your purchased e-books. The software permits highlighting, taking notes, and creating bookmarks, as well as synchronizing your highlights, notes, and bookmarks with your other devices.

    I really like that the Kindle software has a built-in dictionary. You select a word in the text and get the definition. Great idea, but I doubt the dictionary has that great a quality. Besides, you could always open your favorite browser and search on "definition [big word]".

    Kindle books use files in Amazon's .azw format, plain text .txt files, and Mobipocket's .mobi and .prc formats. That means you can find more e-books on sites such as Fictionwise, Mobipocket, Webscriptions, and Project Gutenberg. Beware, though: Books from other sites such as Mobipocket won't work if they have DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection, even though, ironically, Amazon owns Mobipocket.

  • Nook and Kindle e-readers and software can display files in Adobe's .pdf format, but not reliably. They can't display some graphics, formulas, and tables.

    No problem! Your computer should already have Adobe's free Adobe Reader. If not, use the link I just gave you to download and install it.

  • Recommendation: A lot of e-book file formats exist. Calibre (they spell it with a lower-case 'c') provides one solution for Macs, Linux, and Windows computers. Their free e-book viewer software (donation requested) can manage libraries of e-books having a number of formats. Calibre can also convert files between a number of common formats. Since you can download e-books from Amazon and B&N with your browser, you might not even need to bother with their software.

    The B&N software can sync e-books on your computer with your Nook, and Amazon software can sync them with your Kindle. If you have them. Calibre works with the Nook and Kindle, too... but it also supports Android phones, Apple iPhone and iPad, Airis dBook, BeBook/BeBook Mini, Binatone Readme, Cybook Gen 3/Opus, eClicto, Ectaco Jetbook, Entourage Edge, Foxit eSlick, Hanvon N515, Irex Illiad/DR1000, Iriver Story, Italica, Kobo Reader, Longshine ShineBook, PocketBook 360, SONY PRS, SpringDesign Alex, and the Teclast K3.

    Remember that the free Adobe Reader still is the best software for reading .pdf files.
I have resisted getting an e-reader. I have too many books waiting on my bookshelf to be read and too many informative articles available through my browser to consider an e-reader to be a worthwhile purchase.

However, I have downloaded many free books that are formatted for e-readers, so I need appropriate software. If you're like me, you will find the recommendation above to be your best solution.

20 December 2010

Keeping Up with the Geeks

I love technology, but I hate the pace at which application software evolves. Just about the time I develop enough expertise to be the office go-to guy, the game changes.

You can keep up with some technology all of the time,
and all of the technology some of the time,
but you can not keep up with all technology all of the time.
 -- with apologies to Mr. Lincoln

Mitigation plan: Choose a niche or two and focus, focus, focus. 

11 December 2010

Which Browser to Use?

Reference:  Purdy, Kevin.  Browser Speed Tests: IE 9 Beta, Firefox 4 Beta, Chrome's Crankshaft, and Opera 11 Beta., 10 December 2010.

Kevin Purdy ran benchmark tests on Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. He scored them university-style against the total number of points they could have received and ranked them.

Purdy should have included Apple's Safari. It is popular enough to deserve inclusion.

He also should have rated the browsers on security or borrowed ratings from elsewhere. However, I speculate that he might not have done so because he was concerned only with performance. Security also depends on the use of anti-virus and anti-spyware applications such as my favorites, Microsoft Security Essentials, Spybot Search & Destroy, and Lavasoft Ad-Aware. In fact, security depends so much on security tools and on security awareness that the security of browsers may be a wash.

Not satisfied with Purdy's scoring method, I created a table and assigned my own scores (1 to 10, with 10 being best) to the performance of each browser.

Click on the table to see a larger view.

Purdy did not list results for Internet Explorer in the Memory Use with Extensions test. I assume this is because you can't use extensions with IE, or at least not the same ones available with other browsers. That reflects very poorly on IE's flexibility, so I don't feel bad giving it a score of zero.

Purdy did not list results for Opera 10.63, either. I assume Opera 10.63 had issues similar to IE's limitations. However, since Opera 11 has a score, some functionality must be there for 10.63, so I gave it a 1. Give me a reason to change it and I will.

Next, I ranked the tests in order of importance and assigned weights to them.

I made a decision matrix spreadsheet, normalized the weighted scores, and found the following results.

Or, if you prefer a bar chart....

Click on the figure for a larger view.

Surprisingly, my scores did not greatly differ from Purdy's.

Chrome and Opera have the best performance, with Google Chrome 10 winning by both Purdy's scoring and by my weighted scoring. If you use Firefox, you can do better (although you may prefer the add-ons that are available for it). If you use MS Internet Explorer, you can do a lot better.