Monday, January 31, 2011

Password Card

It seems like every day we see articles about personal information being compromised. Authorities like Bruce Schneier have recommendations on how often to change passwords.

I'm trying something different when it comes to computer security.

I found a site called that has a solution that flies in the face of the "don't write your passwords down" admonition.

The site is based on a simple assumption: We all know how to protect our wallets. The site provides a printable card that can be laminated and kept in a wallet. There are randomly generated strong passwords of varying length showing. The idea is to pick a password starting from any row and column, of sufficient length, and use that for a site. Go left to right, right to left, up or down, diagonally - it doesn't matter. Keep the site associated with a password safe and you're in good shape. Even if the card fell into someone else's hands, they'd have a herculean task to figure out the combination and site it applied to.

I want to be sure that Facebook, e-mail, financial accounts, etc. are safe. I won't be using a common password everywhere anymore, thanks to

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


My character flaws are like grains of sand at the beach - too numerous to count. Like my sweet tooth. Pepperidge Farm's double chocolate Milano is a special weakness. Do they lace those things with crack cocaine? I think they must have hired the chemists from the tobacco companies who specialize in keeping users addicted. They probably got a sweet rate for their trouble, too.

Did I mention my awful sense of humor?

But one of my very worst traits is my procrastination and laziness.

I had a sad reminder of that this morning. The Taking Care Center where I swim is in the basement of a building across the street from where I work, two floors below street level. I had a very nice swim, during which time I played "stroke golf" to measure my efficiency and speed, did a set of 5x100 IM, and finished with a 1x200 kick with board set that left my poor hips tired and sore. I showered, dressed, and put my stuff back in my locker before trudging up four flights of stairs to get back to street level.

For some reason a memory popped into my head while I was walking. I found myself back in the insurance industry after I left Kaman Aerospace for The Hartford in Jan 2005. Soon after I arrived I had a good idea. The engineering education that I received left me with a wealth of mathematical knowledge that was lying fallow since I left engineering back in 1995. But actuaries are the lifeblood of the insurance industry. Why not leverage something that I already had in this new field? At worst, it would improve my industry knowledge and make me a better developer. At best, it could become a new career path in case I needed one.

I contacted the head of the actuarial program at The Hartford and went so far as to order study guides for the first two actuarial exams. I found out right away that my knowledge was long on calculus of continuous functions and physics, but short on discrete math, statistics, and probability. I had a lot of work ahead of me to refresh my memory of the things I used to know and to fill in the gaps in my background by learning the new material.

As I trudged up those stairs this morning, I realized that six years have passed and I've made no progress whatsoever towards achieving this goal.

The thought depressed me terribly.

Six whole years gone by. It seemed daunting at the time, but if I'd been able to summon the energy and dedication to make a little progress every day I would have been able to get through it in spades. A long, steady accumulation of small steps does the trick every time.

How do you make something like this happen? There are lots of technical topics that I want to master (Python, Android, jQuery) and books to get through ("The Algorithm Design Manual", John C. Hull's derivatives and options text, etc.), but my efforts are too scattered, diffuse, and sporadic.

I could take the Nike approach - "Just Do It" - but that hasn't worked so far.

I've had great success in my fitness life with tracking. Just the act of writing it down and seeing progress helps. But what to write? Problems completed? Chapters read? What's the metric that I should track? My new One Hundred Push-ups regimen not only has the counting metric going for it, but it also mandates a Mon-Wed-Fri weekly schedule.

What's standing in my way besides my natural laziness?

The Internet isn't helping me. StackOverflow, Facebook, StumbleUpon - all are time sinks. I need to kill my television. It's like the hearth in my house - it's always on. It's too easy for me to surf over to a Celtics game and become an anti-athlete. I love the game, and know it well from a youth misspent trying to master it, but it's been years since I played myself. When did watching others do things become a worthy use of my precious time?

Seneca's "On The Shortness Of Life" says it best:

It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.

I'm desperate for a plan. How can I fix this?

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Hundred Pushups

I'm already obsessively tracking my swim progress each and every year. While my yardage totals and performance in the water would not be impressive for a trained swimmer, I've been pleased enough with my old guy efforts.

One of the joys of swimming is also a problem: buoyancy. The water holds me up when I'm swimming. It's gentle on joints - knees, ankles, and hips don't take the pounding that something like running or basketball would dish out. But you don't get the benefit of a weight-bearing activity.

We all lose muscle mass as we age. I've been thinking for a while that I need to mix some strength training into my routine. I've never been a machine or weight lifting kind of guy. The place where I swim today offers a lot of interesting alternatives besides swimming, but I'm not sure that they fit into my day as nicely as the early morning, before work swim does.

So what's my solution? I'm trying a regimen that I Stumbled Upon: One Hundred Pushups. The idea is to build strength by working your way up to 100 good push-ups per day over a six week period.

I like it, because it can fit into any day, it doesn't use machines, and I don't have to go to a special place in order to do it. I can also work it in with yoga, so I'd have all three legs of the fitness stool: aerobics, strength, and flexibility.

Today was my first day. I know, the web site says to work on Mon-Wed-Fri with weekends off, but I swam last night and wasn't up to doing pushups when I returned home. I did the test on Wed and found that I was average for a guy my age. So I'm starting at the beginning at Week 1.

I'm hoping that having a routine laid out will help me stay with it. I'll be tracking it in my Excel spreadsheet. I'll report back on my progress in six weeks.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Record Snow Event

We had a record snow event here today.

The forecast was bad enough where people were planning to work from home before leaving the office last night. I was one of them. I made sure that I had my laptop and power cord before I left. As long as the electricity and Internet stayed up I'd be able to work.

It wasn't snowing when I went to bed last night.

I slept in a little bit this morning, since I didn't have to catch the early bus. I got up at 6:30 when the dog started flapping his ears and whimpering to let me know that he needed to go outside. We both had a shock waiting for us when I opened the back door to let him out: 18" of snow had fallen overnight, and it was still snowing hard! Somebody had a cold, wet tummy when he came back inside.

I made some tea, ate a quick breakfast, and headed outside to start clearing off the driveway. I didn't have plans to leave, but I knew that I'd need a couple of passes on the driveway to keep it clear.

A year ago I finally broke down and bought a Honda snow thrower. I had cleared my modest driveway and sidewalks with a shovel all my life, but a December nor'easter convinced me that I should spare my back and get some help. I was happy with my purchase right away, but today it was a life saver. The snow spilled over the top of my 18" tall snow thrower when I started. It was still a chore to push it through all that snow, but it kept up nicely.

A modest snowfall would usually require 45-60 minutes of effort with a shovel to clear off the driveway. Today it took me two hours, even with the help of the thrower. The stuff that was packed into the end of the driveway by the snow plows was truly heart attack snow. I don't know that I could have gotten through it without mechanical assistance.

The snow was falling so fast that there were 2" on the part where I started by the time I was done. I had to do a second pass right away! But the worst was over.

I went inside, fired up the laptop, and drove revenue for my employer all day. I went out again at dusk to take another shot at it. A fresh 6" had fallen since morning, bringing our total for the day into the neighborhood of two feet of snow.

Yes, it's a record for this area.

If winter ended tomorrow, and we didn't get another flake of snow until next winter, we'd already be over the average snowfall for the year.

The last memorable years for snowfall were 1995-1996. They were two record totals in a row. We seemed to get a fresh storm every week, usually in the middle of the work week to maximize the inconvenience. Our kids had to attend makeup days almost until the Fourth of July.

It looks like 2011 is poised to challenge them.

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