Password Anxiety

Raise you hand if you suffer from P.A.D. – Password Anxiety Disorder.  Ok, put you’re hand down, you look silly.  Seriously, this could easily be a thing.  A lot of us have it.  And security everywhere is constantly getting strengthened and the rules always changing to adapt to the ever-increasing rate of hacks and security issues.

This puts more demand on the end user (you), forcing you to have to change your password to comply with the new rules, and and often requiring you to change your password much more frequently, making it even MORE difficult.  Having so many logins and passwords on so many different systems then presents another problem:  No one can remember all of their logins and passwords – there are simply too many!

So what to do?  You’re not supposed to write them down, but people do, having no other options.  Keeping them all in a digital document is bad because, if that document ends up in the wrong hands it opens the possibility of attack to every single system you had access to.  If you make all your passwords the same, so you can easily remember, that also puts a risk on every system you have access to, should that one “master password” somehow get into the wrong hands.

Today’s society is very complicated this way, and it’s only getting worse.  To help with this problem, there are several “Password Manager” applications available that can manage all of your logins for you.  This, again, can present another risk, since all of these applications require their own login, and if THAT gets into the wrong hands, it again opens up possible exposure of all of your logins to all of your systems to the attacker.

But, in my opinion, using a secure password manager is a much better option then writing them down or storing them in a simple document.  Preferably you’ll want to use a password manager designed and actively maintained by a reputable company that hasn’t already been attacked, and one that uses very good encryption to protect your private information.

And, of course, this top-notch security doesn’t come without a price.  All good password managers cost money–either by subscription or a flat fee.  They offer a free trial period, so test out a few if you want to, then choose what works or seems to be the best for you.  But there are some that offer a decent feature set in a “free” version, so you’d have to try them out to see if what you need would require a fee, or if you can get by just fine using a free version.  Here’s a good comparison of all of the current password managers available.

Many of them try to make it as easy as possible by offering add-ons for popular browsers, which–when you’re logged into them–can automatically populate username & password fields on any web page for you.  This can make things pretty painless in most cases, but requires the cooperation of whomever designed the website to as well, in order for things to work smoothly.  Some sites, for example, do odd things with logins, including having your username on a separate page that your password, or displaying the login boxes in a non-standard way, which might throw off the “auto-fill” function your browser add-on uses, resulting in the form field being left blank.  Usually, if this happens, there’s still options available to you to manually either force it to fill a field on the screen or for you to view your login information and either type it in yourself or copy and paste it in.  Either way, it is definitely better than having a printed or digital list and doing things manually.  If you’re willing to pay a little to have another service store your information and keep it secure.

There are plenty of good features in many of the services listed in that comparison, so I’ll refrain from recommending a specific one, but I will say that I do use one of those listed in that article, and their review of it appears to be quite accurate.

Just also keep in mind that using pretty much any of these password managers will add a bit more complexity to your logins by adding options for you.  Some will find this easy to adapt to, others will find it just more confusing.  But if nothing else, they’ll reliably store all of your login information for you in a pretty safe place.  Just don’t forget the username and password you use to access THAT service, however, or you’ll lose access to everything all at once!

New Toy

The Moto 360 smartwatch recently dropped another $100, which puts it at $149 now. We paid $300 for Kevin’s at Christmastime, so it’s actually a decent price right now, considering its features. I also had a $20 coupon for Best Buy, which was close to expiring, so for $130, I couldn’t resist.

Let’s get the worst thing out of the way right away: The battery life SUCKS. Just getting in an 8-hour shift at work without the watch dying is rare. It does only take 1 hour to fully charge from dead though, even using any wireless Qi charger, but it’s still a hassle. If it could somehow charge within a 2-foot range while still attached to my wrist, now THAT would be awesome… But I usually have to take it off and set it on top of my Qi pad for an hour to charge it up at work. Hey, at least it’s wireless!

The only other thing wrong with this watch is the “flat tire”. This is a small flat section at the bottom of the otherwise-perfectly-circular display. I have heard that this area is there to hold various sensors that the watch uses, so it’s necessary, but does tend to take away from the “perfect circle” display somewhat, and also hides useful information from watchfaces that take advantage of this area for displaying information. Several round-display smartwatches have since been released without this “flat tire” though, so one wonders whether they found a workaround for whatever sensors Motorola needed to put in that spot. Those watches currently cost a lot more than the Moto 360 right now though, so it’s a trade-off. Save $150, but get a flat tire…? I’ll take it!

But aside from those two things, I love the watch! It uses Android Wear, which is the universal software connection between pretty much every smartwatch and Android. This apparently opens up options for just about everything you could imagine, depending on what a developer wants to use it for. First, and foremost, is telling time. Yes, it tells time like a REAL watch. And if that’s all you want it to do, you might just be able to get decent battery life out of it as well! You can simply turn off all notifications and other features, find a simple watchface with only the most basic of animations (like just moving hands on an analog watchface) and the battery will probably last quite some time. I might have to try that some time, just to test this theory. But right now, I’m still playing…too many knobs and dials to try out…gotta play, gotta tinker.

Every option for telling time is available, even if you don’t see it in whatever watchface developer’s interface or app you’re using. Developers will only provide the features THEY want to, make their interface either easy to use or very difficult, and/or even make you pay for their watchface and/or design interface to make your own watchface. So, obviously, your experience with the watch may vary greatly. For myself, I like to try out everything, then I’ll eventually settle on a few apps or watchfaces I like the most and just use those. But then there’s always new stuff coming out, so I try those as well, hoping to find better things along the way. Being a geek, this is normal for me though.

Basic interfaces allow options for time, date, battery levels for the watch AND your phone, weather, etc., and some developers will also use nice animations, include calendar events, etc., but at the expense of battery life. Apps are another option altogether. Certain apps can be “installed” on the watch, though I’m pretty sure these are just tiny “stubs” or “mini versions” of actual applications that are primarily installed on your Android device, then simply feed data to your watch as needed. If an app installed on your android device is Android Wear-compatible, it is automatically installed on your watch and appears in the Apps list when you swipe right-to-left on the watch. One of these that showed up for me, surprisingly, Ingress! This is the MMO GPS game played worldwide that I play regularly (Resistance – Blue team). On the watch, when active, it alerts me to when portals are in range, and even allows me to hack the portals from my watch! This is neat, but after some use I find that it’s pretty limited and pretty much just a novelty. Your options are pretty limited, and–just as Ingress does on your phone–it’s a real battery juice sucker! Try hacking on your watch for an hour and you’re watch is DEAD, believe me!

Basically, the experience you have with the watch and how much you like it is going to come down to the quality of the developers and the apps and options they provide. For example, there’s an amazing app available called “Tip Calculator” for calculating restaurant tips, which you would think requires a calculator-type interface with all the number keys. This app manages to work flawlessly with only the slightest learning curve, has no “keyboard” at all, but only a few numbers (which are controls as well) in its center and a circular dial around the outside circle. It works great, doing exactly what it’s supposed to very quickly for you. It’s perfect for a round watchface. I hope more developers take a lesson from this one. The design is awesome, both in appearance and functionality!

There’s certainly no shortage of watchfaces for Android Wear. There are literally thousands out there to choose from, or you can just use one of the hundreds of different interfaces and design your own! There are so many good ones that I can’t even settle on just one and keep it that way, like Kevin does with his “Chicago Bears” themed watchface. I have a few different “Google Fit” watchfaces that show me my daily stats, including a constant view of my heart rate, my steps done today, and calories burned etc., and both my watch’s & phone’s battery levels as well as and “ambient” display that shows today’s weather forecast and temperature trend through the day. Another of my favorites is a “Military” watchface with no less than 6 different screens of details to flip between, and instant color-changing of them with a simple button push.

Basically, I’m happy with it. I consider it a geek toy, and it’s perfect for that. It tickles my wrist whenever I get any type of message, e-mail or text, and I can preview a bit of it or even read the entire message most of the time right on the watch. It helps me keep my phone in my pocket more often so I’m less distracted, and the automatic tracking of my steps and heart rate is just a health-monitoring bonus I could use. During my walks it constantly shows me my walking details and displays the music I’m listening to on my headset while I’m walking. And right now it’s analyzing my daily routine and it’s supposed to come up with a plan to help me stay (or in my case, “get”) fit based on my schedule. It should be interesting seeing how it progresses. It says it’ll take a couple weeks of gathering data.

Big Bang Theory

I spent last week (4/14/15-4/19/15) in Louisville, Kentucky with Jay and Will. Will was in the VEX Worlds Robotics Championship this year there! It was pretty exciting to learn how it all works and see all of the robots that people from many different countries and states created.  This story is just a little sidebar to that one, which is “coming soon”, but I thought just to get something posted sooner, I’d put this up right now, as a start.  No, it doesn’t have Sheldon, Rajesh, Howard or Penny in it (unfortunately)…it’s about a different big bang.

On one run that Jay and I took to a Kroger grocery store in Louisville, as we were driving down the road in my car, suddenly there was a very loud BANG. It was so loud for both of us we couldn’t determine exactly where it came from or what had happened at all. We looked at each other, very confused. I cautiously slowed the car down, but there were no parking places nearby and the car seemed to still be running ok, no flat that I could tell, no engine trouble or anything. So I drove slowly on for a couple more blocks to the grocery store we were headed to.

There was a light rain coming down at the time, so we both got out and walked around the car, looking for what might have happened, but could find nothing. We gave up, then Jay went into the grocery store and got what he needed and I waited in the car.

The entire week passed very quickly, as it turned out, and everything went fine and everyone had a pretty good time. This morning (Tuesday, 4/21/15), as Kevin and I were leaving the house to take him to school, as Kevin was getting in the car he said “Hey, you know there’s a big dent and a scratch on this side above the door?” No, I didn’t know.

This appears to be the damage from whatever hit my car in Louisville last week! There is a small dent, after 1/2″ wide, above the door frame on the front passenger side of the car. The paint seems to just now be peeling from it, so it’s noticeable. When the paint was all there, I’m guessing it was easy to overlook, which is why we didn’t see it before. That strip around the door frame seems very strong and thick, so something must have hit it very hard indeed, to dent it that much! I’m afraid to even think of what would have happened if it had hit the car even an inch in any other direction! If it had been a bullet, it could have even struck either one of us, after flying through the window! What it was we have no idea, but it sure made a lot of noise when it hit the car, that’s for sure! I’m just glad it wasn’t much worse. The area of Louisville we were in did seem a bit seedy, but I won’t theorize that it was a bullet because I really have no clue about such things. All I know is that it scared the crap out of us at the time, and I had been wondering what happened ever since then, so at least this is something. My poor car doesn’t need any more dings and scratches though…it’s been through enough lately!

Oh Deer!

On my way home from work tonight I hit a deer on Sheridan Road in Winthrop Harbor.  Huge one ran out onto the highway right in front of me and I never saw him coming.  Car might be totaled.  After the traffic behind me came to a screeching halt, I tried to get out of my car in the middle of the street with the deer laid flat out on the highway, and suddenly he jumps up on hit feet again, shakes it off, and heads back into the woods!  I guess I only stunned him!  I’m fine, no injuries, just a really messed up car.  It isn’t driveable, it lost a lot of fluids and the fender is pushed up to the tire on the passenger’s side.  The passenger-side headlight area is totally destroyed and the electrical system is freaking out with everything flickering on and off.

Tired. Literally.

Last week was very busy. Wednesday, on my way to work I had a blowout. My right front tire blew as I was driving to work. I was in Kenosha county, so at least the tow wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t get the trunk open to get to the spare and the jack (darn it, I was SO looking forward to changing a tire, too!) so I called my insurance company’s roadside assistance hotline. They give you the option to locate you via GPS, so I went that route. As it turned out, they pinpointed me on the wrong road, sending the tow truck somewhere else. But the towing service call me back and I provided them with a mailbox number nearby, then they were able to find me.

My car was fixed by late that evening, and only took that long because they found other issues that also needed tending to, so I opted to have those done as well, as long as it was already in the shop. I ended up with new 4 new tires, new brakes, and some other undercarriage equipment that’s apparently important, but I don’t even know the terms or what they do. All I know is that my car rides much smoother and I no longer have “slicks” that sqeal when I turn corners, even at slow speeds. Nice and quiet.

Then, late Saturday evening, as I was leaving the house, I notice I had a FLAT TIRE! A brand new tire, and it’s almost completely flat. It looked like it still had SOME air in it, so I drove to the gas station a few blocks away and filled it up, then ran my errands and came back home. Sunday morning I checked it again and it was flat, this time completely. Ah, good times. I found a small electric air compressor in the garage–I think it was from my dad’s estate–it worked nicely, plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car. Once I started the car, the pump came on, and the tire was filled in a few minutes. The garage opened in a couple hours, so I figured it would still have enough air in it to get me to the garage by the time they opened. The garage found a two-inch sheetmetal screw embedded in the tire and showed it to me. Man, was it sharp! That car went fine on it’s original tires for 7 years with no problems at all (they were pretty bald though), then when I get new ones, within 3 days I run over a screw and puncture one! That’s my luck I guess. The shop just said “Yeah, that’s about how it goes.” Arrgh. It was covered though, so no big deal. Maybe I should have asked if I could have the four quarters back that I used to fill the tire back up…