The Problem with Passwords

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In short, the problem with passwords is that there are too many of them!  And the risk of not having a good one leaves our valuable information exposed and vulnerable.  We’re always cautioned to create passwords that are:

  • unique
  • ~12 – 16 characters
  • a combination of upper/lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers
  • difficult to crack, but yet memorable for us

I have close to 100 passwords and I take it seriously.  Imagine locking a vault of money with a luggage lock, which is akin to using a password like “123456” to secure an online bank account.   Years ago I developed a system to create unique and difficult passwords that I could still remember.  Here’s how I did it.

Every year I create a new pattern accompanied by ~4 rules.  With this system I only have to remember the annual pattern (and rules) to recall passwords.  This has helped me to remember most of my passwords, even ones a few years old.

Rule #1: I select a 4-digit number with meaning, like a birth year or the current year.  Then I replace some numbers with special characters or letters.  For example, if I pick “2017”, I might replace the “0” with “o”, and the “1” with an “!”.

Rule #2: I decide how to select a different word for each password.  Usually I pick something descriptive of the account (e.g. for my smartphone provider, the word might be “phone” or “internet”).

Rule #3: pattern construction.  I like to break up the word and intersperse numbers or special characters between the letters.  Using the two examples above, “2o!7” and “phone”, one possible pattern could be ph2o!7ONE.  In essence every password will start with the first 2 letters of the selected word in lowercase (see Rule 2), then the modified 2017, and any remaining letters are capitalized.

I run into challenges when a website/application won’t let me create passwords according to my pattern, such as a restriction on using special characters, or a length requirement.  One website required me to start my password with letters, even though that year’s pattern started with a number.  This is when I use Rule #4, to deal with exceptions.

Recently I started reading a lot more articles about using biometrics for passwords (e.g. fingerprints, selfies, even heart beats, etc.), and other best practices like using 2-factor authentication.

In the end, I decided I’m going to invest in a password manager that works across all my devices.  Stay tuned for updates.

The Dark Age of Remote Controls

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In this day and age I’m always amazed at the array of remote controls people seem to need to operate their TVs/entertainment systems.  I haven’t owned a television since 2006 and I know that adds to my confusion, and fascination, with the amount of remote controls required to get anything working.  I also find some of the buttons and commands are rather cryptic to figure out what controls which function.

For example, watching TV at my mother’s house requires 3 remote controls.  In order to watch regular cable TV the input option has to be changed to “component” and not the option labeled “TV”, as I might have thought.  If somebody hadn’t shown me that I needed to select “component” as the input option, it would have taken me a long time to figure out and maybe a Google search.

Even with the lesson and instructions on how to watch regular TV, I still failed in getting it to work one night.  Despite trying all the remotes, selecting the proper input, and some general button pushing, I still couldn’t get anything to appear on the TV.  The following morning my brother figured out that the remote hadn’t connected properly with one of the devices which now needed to be turned on manually.

Over the last decade, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only person challenged by the complexity of trying to operate a television.  Many of my friends and relatives have systems with multiple remote controls, each one doing its own specific thing.  Some of them have a master remote, but as I mentioned earlier, it can still be difficult to figure out which button, or remote, is controlling which function.  It seems that most people end up memorizing a routine series of buttons to press to access the few things they need.

In my opinion, remote controls all seem horribly outdated in comparison with the sleeker, more advanced technological devices I’m used to using.  And for the kinds of things they are commanding, i.e. an entertainment system and watching TV, they seem overly complicated.  I know there are some options available for setting up the system through one’s phone or tablet, which to me seems like a much better and more sophisticated option.  Although likely even then, there will still be challenges with compatibility between the different components and ensuring they can be operated through one master control panel.

Review and Reliability

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In last week’s posting I briefly mentioned the review, but didn’t go into a lot of detail about the importance of it.  Some years ago when I was still working a 9-5 job, I developed the habit of doing the weekly review.  Every Friday afternoon I would dedicate time to review my work week and plan out what I wanted to accomplish for the following week.

The weekly review consisted of going through my emails to see if anything was outstanding, finishing anything that took 5-10 minutes, and going through my task list, a post-it note adhered to the lower left hand corner of my monitor.  I would transfer any tasks remaining from the current week to the next week’s task list.  Then I would identify (i.e. prioritize) 3-5 tasks that absolutely had to get done the following week.

I committed myself to the review and started to notice a few benefits.  When I left the office on Friday, my brain also left the work behind.  I stopped thinking about work on weekends and what I had to do on Monday.  I knew all my thoughts and worries had been safely captured on that post-it note.  I relied on it.  Monday mornings were also a lot easier because I already knew what to work on.  Even more importantly, I was productive and accomplished a lot, even amidst too many meetings, email, and general office interruptions.

At the time I didn’t realize what a valuable habit this was, but the importance of it was reinforced when I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.  He also emphasizes the criticality of doing a weekly review as part of his methodology.

Reviews are essential for a number reasons.  At a basic level, they keep us current with our to-do lists.  The offer us a moment to check in and evaluate our progress to make sure we’re doing the right things.  It’s an opportunity to reprioritize tasks and ensure the important things are being done.

One often overlooked benefit of the review is that it builds our trust and reliability in the system we are using.  I use Trello for most of my task management, including trip packing and grocery shopping.  What makes it work for me is that I use it and review it constantly to make sure it stays relevant (i.e. updated)  and accurately reflects my reality.

Springboard to Success

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In 2015, the winner of my first spring cleaning challenge deleted over 30,000 emails.  Wow!  Two years later she still keeps her inbox tidy by regularly deleting unwanted emails and unsubscribing to promotionals. Read about it here.

Since many of my posts focus on cleaning “stuff”, this challenge focuses on decluttering one’s brain. Throughout history, humans have always been interested in expanding their collective memories by utilizing external “storage devices”.  Before paper and computers were invented, humans used stones and other types of hard materials to record things that were important.  I like to think of recordkeeping as the world’s 2nd oldest profession.

Today’s modern environment is busy and the extra storage options don’t necessarily relieve our burdens.  I employ a few strategies to keep up with life’s everyday demands.  One effective, yet simple strategy, is to make a list.  I use a task management app, but I’m still fond of post-it notes.  The second part of the process is to review the lists on a routine basis (i.e. weekly or daily).

Your challenge: Practice a Weekly Review and Commitment 

Write a list of all the things you need to accomplish that keep falling to the bottom of the to-do list.  Select 3 to focus on for the week, in addition to your everyday tasks.  Commit to getting these 3 things accomplished.  At the end of the week, review your list and evaluate the results.  Pick 3 new things to focus on for the following week.  Repeat the weekly review at the end of the second week.

  1. April 4 – 9: make task list, commit to 3 of them
  2. April 10 – 16: accomplish the 3 tasks, review task list, pick 3 new tasks
  3. April 17 – 23: accomplish the 3 tasks, review task list, pick 3 new tasks
  4. April 24 – 30: complete the questions below and send to

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Writing down tasks externally relieves the brain from having to remember these things so it can focus on getting them done.  Committing to a small number of manageable tasks at one time is a great way to be productive. The review is critical.

Keep in mind some tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps.  For example, I want to upload old CDs (yes, I still have some).  Step 1 is figuring out how to accomplish this since my new computer doesn’t have a CD drive.  Step 2 is defining keep/toss criteria.  Step 3 is figuring out how to organize uploaded content.  Step 4 is uploading.

Due April 30


  1. How useful did you find the strategy of writing down your tasks, selecting, and committing to 3 of them?  Scale of 1 – 10 (1= not at all, 10 = life changing)
  2. Did you do the weekly review?  Yes/No
  3. Was this your first time doing a weekly review?  Yes/No
  4. Did you find it useful?  Yes/No
  5. Do you think you will continue to use this strategy?  Why/ Why not? 

The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to a vendor of his/her choice.  Good luck!

Arrival of Spring

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Something about the arrival of spring always puts a new bounce in my step.  I admire the force and determination at this time of the year.  The new buds emerge at the ends of tree branches and new flowers continually appear on the sides of the roads, even with temperature drops below freezing and the occasional spring snowfall.  Despite all that, the plants forge ahead with their plans and continue to grow and bloom.  Soon the birds start to come back again.  Their chirping is always a welcome sound to me after the winter.

The other day I took some time to walk again through Allan Gardens.  Once again I felt my breathing deepen to inhale the warm, moist, loamy air.  My pace slowed down to take in all the changes since my last visit.  This time the gardens were totally transformed from white, red, and peppermint poinsettias to a more varied spring palette featuring yellows, pinks, and purples.  And of course lots of green.

The arrival of spring.

Even the turtles looked happier than usual sunning themselves on their favorite rock.  Usually they’re just hanging out on the rocks, but this time a couple of them were swimming.

And there were orchids everywhere.  Having spent the majority of my life in North America, I don’t normally equate orchids with spring, but they’re so beautiful I love seeing them any time of the year.

One special tree was loaded with orchids.

Ever since I was a child, spring has always felt like a magical time of the year.  I always feel so encouraged by the plants growing, the increased energy both in me and around me, and the explosion of color.  Even the wind changes to something that caresses my face instead of trying to rip it into tiny shreds.

This year, the arrival of spring coincides with my 200th posting!  Something about this season always makes me feel like cleaning.  Perhaps this is because my energy levels go up from all the additional sunshine and warmth.  Or maybe it’s because all the extra sunlight streaming in makes it really easy to see how long it’s really been since that last dusting.  Whatever the reason, stay tuned for next week’s posting “Spring into Action” where I will outline the contest rules for the 2nd Spring Cleaning Challenge as my 201st posting.

When Technology Works Perfectly

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

A couple weeks ago I finally went out and bought a new laptop.  Sometime in September 2016, when I called Apple due to a problem I was having with their photo application (iPhotos), I heard two stressful pieces of news.

  1. My 2010 laptop was considered “vintage”.  Admittedly old by technology standards, but vintage?
  2. iPhotos was no longer supported.  If I wanted assistance I would have to upgrade my operating system and start using Photos (the new version).

I was ready to purchase the laptop in December but I kept procrastinating.  I was comfortable in my vintage, unsupported laptop and dreading the migration process.  The time, the inconvenience, the annoyance of having to set everything up.   And then my vintage laptop started acting its age.  Slow performance, scary and unpredictable things happening while I was working.  I was ready.

One day I backed up my laptop onto an external hard drive.  As I packed up the external hard drive into my bag, I wondered if it was actually going to work to set up my new laptop.  For years I had been backing up my laptop in blind faith using Time Machine, Apple’s backup system.  Fortunately, I’d never had a reason to test it.  I felt somewhat confident that all of my content would make it over, but I wasn’t sure what shape it would be in.

About 3 hours later I was back home with my new laptop configured almost identically to my old laptop.  Amazing!  The transition was seamless.  The only difference I notice is how much better and faster everything is with the new computer, including the improved sound quality from the speakers.

This was not the case when I replaced my smartphone last summer after falling in a lake.  It made me realize I can do better with my smartphone backups.  I didn’t lose any data, but I lost all my configurations and my beloved ring tone of ocean surf and seagull cries.

My general feeling about technology is that it should make my life better somehow.  Too often I find myself frustrated by technology because it doesn’t work the way I want it to.  Or it doesn’t work as well, or even offer the same great features I can find in paper.  But this time, I was really impressed with how easy, painless, and fast the move was to my new laptop.  The technology worked perfectly!