Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lock It Down

We live in a digital age and with that comes having to remember not just one, but usually several passwords for various websites, from social networking to online stores to your financial institution and online bill paying sites. With all of these logins and the personal information these sites contain, being hacked is always a fear; just think about all the nekkid pictures of celebrities that have been leaked because their phone or their Twitter account got hacked.

A recent article on ArsTechnica says that not only have passwords become weaker, but the tools by which hackers crack passwords have become more sophisticated. Trying to be clever by changing something like rockyou to R0cky0u! to satisfy many services’ and sites’ requirements for at least one capital letter, one number, and one special character just don’t cut it anymore as the hackers have gotten wise to these ‘clever’ tricks. (note, putting ‘clever’ in quotes is my way of trying to denote a sarcastic tone, in case you didn’t pick up on that).

That being said, the ideal password is one that you, yourself, can’t even remember due to it being highly randomized. If something like R0cky0u! is still considered weak since it follows a popular phrase, and dictionary words are right out because that’s always been the first thing hackers try, then ideally, a password should be randomized. Something like oLj2Y6rp would be secure as it is very random, includes upper and lower case letters and numbers. But, who the hell could ever remember something like that other than, say, Lt. Commander Data? Enter, password management services and software.

There are many password managers available, LastPass, KeyPass, 1Password, etc. Some use the cloud, others don’t. The point to these services is that you only have to remember one password to get into your password manager, which remembers all of your other passwords for you. “But, I just use the same password for everything anyway,” you say? Hmmm... that’s not very secure either I’m afraid. Just think about it. If you have only one password that you use for everything, then all a hacker has to do is crack that one password, and you’re screwed! Services like LastPass not only can store your passwords for you (securely and encrypted, I might add), but also can generate random passwords for you so that all of your passwords are different. The example I gave above, oLj2Y6rp, in fact was generated using LastPass.

Now, I know some folks are wondering, “What’s the difference? If my LastPass account were to get hacked, then I’d be just as screwed.” And, to be honest, that’s true. But I have a lot more faith in something like LastPass keeping their users’ information secure than say, Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or any of a number of sites and services that have been hacked or whose users have been hacked.

The point is, we live in a world where identity theft does happen and where hackers like to hijack people’s social networking accounts so being a pr1nce$$ or a Sup3rThinker isn’t good enough anymore.

Be safe,
~ JC

Articles and Links:

“Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger
Thanks to real-world data, the keys to your digital kingdom are under assault.”

LastPass -

LastPass Alternatives that Keep Your Passwords Safe from Online Hacking -

Four things you should know about LastPass -

How to Make LastPass Even More Secure with Google Authenticator -

11 Ways to Make Your LastPass Account Even More Secure -

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Round IS a Shape, Right?

When I first moved from North Carolina to Georgia in October 2010, my pant size was a 48-inch waist. In a little less than a year I was down to a 40-inch waist.  Now I’m back up to around 42-inch waist. While not a terribly dramatic increase, it does prove to show me that I need to get my fat ass off the couch and start being more active like I was when I first moved down here.

For the last year or more I’ve been paying $15 per month for a gym membership that I’ve not been using. So, there’s the first thing - start going to the gym again, even if, at first, all I do is walk on a treadmill for awhile (I could even get some reading done at the same time; two birds, one stone). The other thing is, since I work on the third floor of my office building, is start using the stairs more often instead of the elevator.

As far as eating habits, I’ve still managed to do ok in that department, but I do need to lay off the snacks after 8:00pm.

Round may very well be a shape, but it’s not the shape I want to be in.

~ JC

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vacation 2012

I love the Metro-Atlanta area. It’s been very good to me over the last couple of years in terms of friends and career. There’s plenty to do as well with places like The High Museum of Art and The Fox Theatre, just to name a couple. But sometimes it’s good to get away.

My fianceĆ©’s parents buy into a timeshare program every year. Usually they use the points to go to Myrtle Beach, but this time they decided to get a place Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The drive up on Thursday was just horrible. It rained so hard I could hardly see more than a car length in front of me. Add to that the fact that we were on winding mountain back roads. It made what should have been a four hour drive take closer to five. At any rate, we got to the hotel, got our stuff out of the car, then we all went to Five Guys for a quick dinner and to Kroger to pick up a few groceries.

Friday it continued to rain all morning. The parents had a meeting for the timeshare (aka, sales session), which was supposed to be an hour, but ended up being five as they decided (were talked into) buying more stuff. Finally, Roxanne, her brother, and I got bored enough sitting around the hotel, that we found an indoor, blacklight, mini golf course nearby and headed out just to have something to do. That evening, we had meatloaf for dinner (remember, I said we had gone to the grocery store Thursday night). Roxanne's cousins arrived later that night, and we made our plans for Saturday.

Because her cousins were only going to be able to spend Saturday and Sunday morning with us, we basically crammed several days worth of stuff into a single day.  First, we went to The Tomb Adventure (mainly for the kids, but still a lot of fun). We were archaeologists that get trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb while trying to find a lost professor. Basically, we had to solve various puzzles in order to get from room to room so we could escape. Like I said, it was mostly for the kids, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The next stop was Five Guys (again) for lunch, mainly because it was walking distance from The Tomb. After lunch we headed to The Titanic Museum. The outside of the museum looks like half of the ship, which is really interesting. Also, upon entering, each guest is given a “boarding pass” with the name of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member. At the end, there is a big wall with all of the names listed so you can look to see if the person on your boarding pass survived or not - I was saloon steward named William House who did not survive. Throughout the museum were historical facts, artifacts that were recovered from the wreckage and models showing what the different parts of the ship looked like. The most impressive thing, in my opinion, was the Grand Staircase, which was an exact scale recreation, and which we got to go up to get to part of the exhibit. There was also the pool of 28 degree water (the very temperature of the ocean that fateful night in 1912) so we could feel just how cold it was.

From there we headed to Gatlinburg to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Roxanne and I have always enjoyed aquariums. We’ve been to the Ripley’s aquarium in Myrtle Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium in Fort Fisher Beach, NC, and the world’s largest aquarium, The Georgia Aquarium, in downtown Atlanta. I’m not going to try to compare them. They are all pretty awesome.

After the aquarium, we headed back to the hotel to rest (i.e., take a nap) before our final event for the day, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. Some people may think places like this, and Medieval Times, are a bit pricey, and perhaps they are. But, when you weigh the fact that you get a very good dinner and a good show, it’s worth it. To be honest, Medieval Times is more to my liking, but Dixie Stampede was still a great show.

The original plan for Sunday was pretty much to head back to Atlanta and have Monday off to relax before having to go back to work. But, after a late morning breakfast at Shoney’s followed by a trip back to the place where we played mini golf to ride go-carts. That lasted long enough (we ended up doing the go-carts twice) that we decided it would be better to wait until Monday morning to drive home. To that end, after an afternoon nap, we headed to Fire House Subs for a late supper, and even ended up getting in another round of blacklight mini-golf thanks to a coupon that allowed us free round.

So, there it is. Our 2012 vacation in a nutshell. Tomorrow will be driving back to Atlanta, getting laundry done, and possibly a trip to the grocery store. Tuesday it’s back to the grind so I can rebuild all the PTO I’ve used lately due to either this trip, or having the flu.

~ JC

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Rethinking My Tablet Choice

Back in February I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook and took the plunge into using ebooks instead of hard copy (aka, “dead tree edition”) books; naturally, I wrote a blog about my first impressions of the Nook. After five and a half months, I still really enjoy it, but something new has recently hit the market that, frankly, would have most likely been my first choice had it been available back in February. I speak, of course, of the new Google Nexus 7 Tablet.

As an ebook reader, the Nook is great. I started evaluating the concept of using ebooks instead of print books on my Android phones using the various free apps available. I bought the Nook because I grew tired of trying to read on a small smartphone screen and didn’t really want a full 10-inch tablet. The 7-inch tablets that were available at the time I bought my Nook were certainly less expensive, but they were also less impressive. I also didn’t necessarily feel the need to have a fully functional tablet at the time either. I went with the Nook Tablet so that I could have at least some tablet functions, but being able to read ebooks was the primary functionality I was looking for.

Now, though, I’m starting to find that I’d prefer to have a bit more leeway in my choices of apps (especially free apps) than B&N offers in their very proprietary Nook setup and app store as well as better tablet functionality than the Nook really offers. Enter, the Nexus 7, which is the same price as the Nook while having a faster processor, Android OS version 4.1 (aka “Jelly Bean”) and access to Google Play instead of only the B&N Nook Store. To help out, here’s a side-by-side comparison chart, which also includes Amazon’s Kindle Fire, courtesy of Digital Trends.1

The only thing the Nexus 7 doesn’t have, that I would prefer it did, is microSD storage. But let’s be honest, 8GB/16GB of internal storage is more than enough, so not being able to use microSD storage is not a deal breaker. The only reason it was a big deal for the Nook is because B&N limits how much non-B&N material can be stored in its 16GB of onboard storage.

Anyway, at $250 for the 16GB version ($200 for the 8GB version), I’m not likely to pick up a Nexus 7 anytime soon (you know, because I have to be a responsible adult and make sure my bills are paid first). But, I will be seriously considering it between now and the 2012 income tax refund season.

~ JC