Thursday, February 23, 2012

Passwords: Don't use just one!

A headline this morning caught my attention while scanning the BBC-UK news. It talked about a problem at a very popular website. Because of sloppy security, the server on which they store visitors' emails and passwords was attacked and many thousands of email/password combinations were stolen. The article notes that for those who use the same password for all their sites, this could be a serious problem.

The article offers this good advice: "If you’re still using the same password on multiple sites, this rather embarrassing lesson should act as a warning," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "When users sign up for an online account, they have very little guarantee about the protection of their account information. It’s therefore essential that users use different, hard-to-guess passwords for every online account so that if their details are published online, hackers can’t use them to access other sites where they may be able to cause considerable financial damage."

Please tell me you don't use the same password everywhere! Apparently, based on the article, a good number of people do. Is the password you use for your online banking, Amazon shopping, and Google mail the same? OMG! Are you stupid?

A favorite tactic of scammers is to get an email address and one or more associated passwords. Then, using fairly simple programming, they start using the combination to try logging into places where they can make purchases or withdraw money. It is a numbers game. It costs the scammers almost nothing to check thousands of passwords against thousands of secured web sites, so even if 1/10 of 1% of people are stupid enough to use the same passwords, they can access lots of money.

When creating a password, consider whether the site you are accessing can ever involve transfer of funds. If so, you need a secure, unique password. For other sites, you might be safe using a "throw-away" password that you wouldn't mind losing. Think carefully about which you are dealing with and act accordingly. Never use an important password twice.

Don't be stupid!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Getting Things Done - Henry Miller's Commandments

Henry Miller wrote the following about writing but it applies to other tasks as well, with a little adjusting. [from Henry Miller on Writing (New Directions, 1964) p 161.]


1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring”

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5. When you can’t create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Frugal: Reduce College Costs with CLEP

I'll bet you that most of you reading this have never heard of CLEP, College-Level Examination Program®. Fortunately when I was applying for collages, The College Board had an excellent marketing campaign for it ... and the school I planned on attending accepted it. I was a solid B student, definitely not a brain, and was able to "test out of" a full year of college, the boring stuff. This was good because I was about one year short of funds to make it through.

The idea is that you take a standard test administered much like the SAT's. CLEP offers 33 exams in five subject areas, covering material taught in courses that you may generally take in your first two years of college. Most CLEP exams are designed to correspond to one-semester courses, although some correspond to full-year or two-year courses.

Their TV advertising program expressed the concept rather well. The ad showed Abraham Lincoln being interviewed for a job. The interviewer asked him about his education. Abe responded that he had done a lot of reading on his own and had apprenticed at a law firm. The interviewer shook his head and said that they required a diploma. The test is to recognize knowledge you might have gotten some other way. How about the excellent, and Free, online classes you can take, which poor Abe couldn't use, but you can?

Exams are approximately 90 minutes long, with the exception of College Composition, which is 120 minutes. Exams contain mainly multiple-choice questions. College Composition and a few other exams contain other types of questions and essays. They cost just under $100 per exam, so much lower than a college class.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Get your accounting in order with QuickBooks

I've been using QuickBooks since 2004. I reviewed all of the alternatives, including Quicken and do-it-yourself spreadsheets, but found QuickBooks to be the easiest to use. Their technical support is very good, including when your problem is accounting rather than computer-related.
They offer several different versions, depending on your business and which of the functions you want it to handle. QuickBooks Pro is their most popular, and the one I'm currently using. It does everything I need, and lets me ignore the functions I don't need. (For some reason, the same exact product but for Mac is just called QuickBooks).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Answers to the competency test at

This post is mostly for those who took the test at, but it wouldn't hurt if you read this anyway. Being less stupid is always good.
  1. Do you know shit from Shinola? Shinola is a brand of shoe polish that was popular during World War II. It is recognizable by the word “Shinola” on its container. Shit generally does not come in a can and does not say “Shinola” on it.
  2. How to pour piss out of a boot. Apparently in some parts of the country, it is customary to piss in one's boots. Therefore it is necessary to know how to remove the piss. Because of the assumed low IQ's of those who piss in their boots, instructions are put on the bottom of the boots, on the heel. The simple act of reading the instructions generally results in dumping the piss out of the boots. We give one point for answering yes and two points for not pissing in your boots in the first place.
  3. Which is further west: Reno, NV or Los Angeles, CA? Although California is on the west coast, it's southern part curves toward the east. As a result, Reno, NV, which is located in the western part of Nevada, is actually further west than Los Angeles. Because this is an important test, if you weren't sure, you should have looked it up. To not do so indicates that you are not too bright.