Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to get your password right

An ominous message flashes up on the computer screen at Chronicle Towers. From the System. Your password, says the System Message, will expire in 14 days. Do you want to change it now?

Well no, actually. It would be preferable never to have to change it again, and the idea of “wanting” to change it is philosophically akin to the idea of “wanting” to change one’s toes.

But the System is relentless. The next day, the count is down to 13. Today, it’s 12.

The System is clever, almost to the point of sentience. The System can count backwards, among other things.

It can also recognise that the passwords you, in your insignificance, try to set up, are utterly beneath its tentacular, Systemic, dignity.

Still, you give it a try.

1234 you type, more in hope than in expectation. Insufficient characters, says the System.

password you tap in, more in desperation than in hope. Insufficient upper case letters comes the reply.

Password Nope. Must contain a punctuation character.

Password? Nice try, sucker. Must contain at least one numeral.

Password1? You must be joking. You used that one  in August 2011.

Let us get this absolutely straight, continues the System, conversationally. For acceptable security, your password must be at least 10 characters long, and  contain at least one upper case letter, one lower case letter, one punctuation character and one numeral. Would you like to try again?

AsQlll4&X? That will do nicely.

Pausing only to reflect that while the System may be quite clever,  it’s not clever enough to use apostrophes, you proceed to commit your new password to memory. Which is where the trouble really starts.

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged, that for a password to be secure it must be complicated, and for it to be memorable it must be simple. Yours may be secure, but it’s utterly unmemorable. So you write it down, defeating the entire object of the exercise.

And when you get home and try to do a bit of cyber-banking, the fun starts all over again.

The System at Funds “R” Us has even more questions than the System at work. And the two of them  appear to be talking about you behind your back. Perhaps they’re Facebook friends.

Key in the second, fourth and ninth characters of your passphrase, says the System at the Bank.

b 8 % you type, referring  to the dog-eared notebook in which you keep it easily to hand. Along with your mother’s maiden name and where you were when you first had a snog.

Thank you. And your password?

AsQlll4&X? Try again. That is the password for Chronicle Towers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Small sinkhole in Bath: no-one hurt. Yet

As natural disasters go, it wasn’t much to write home about. But as the local paper of record, The Bath Chronicle was duty bound to record it.

“A small sinkhole has appeared in Bath’s Sydney Gardens,” ran the report. And beyond that no one seemed to know very much.

Councillor David Dixon (Lib Dem, Oldfield, no relation) took to Twitter in his official capacity as deputy leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council.

he twote. Which proves that (a) at least some of our civic leaders have a sense of humour; and (b) the old jokes are the best.

The hole, according to Mr Dixon, is “about a metre wide and three or four feet deep”.

Crikey. Let’s hope he sticks to deputy leading the council, and doesn’t take it into his head to launch any interplanetary space missions.

Because in 1999 the Mars Climate Orbiter plunged to the surface of the red planet after NASA and Lockheed mixed up their metric and imperial measurements.
Mixed measurements: Mars Climate Orbiter before its prang

And in 2002 our bathroom was flooded to the depth of three inches when yours truly fitted a 15mm coupling to a half-inch pipe and turned on the mains without due care and attention.

Go carefully, Councillor Dixon, the next time you do any DIY. Disaster is but a step away, so measure twice, and cut once.

Back to the Bath sinkhole, and now that B&NES has put a fence round it, let us reflect for a moment on how truly pathetic it is. (The sinkhole, that is. The jury’s still out on B&NES.)

For comparison, take the monstrous chasm that opened up earlier this year in Yamal, Siberia. A town you may not have heard of before, and which even the locals call the “end of the world”.

Which is better than “fundament of the universe.” But only just.

The Yamal sinkhole is 30 metres wide and at least 50 metres deep. It may have been caused from within, by methane bubbling up through melted permafrost. Or from without, by a meteor. Or by something else, from somewhere else. But definitely not by fracking. Oh no siree.

Take the Great Blue Hole in Belize. It’s 300 metres wide and 124 metres deep. It’s underwater. And it has its own collection of stalactites and stalagmites. Put that in your pipe, Sydney Gardens Sinkhole. And smoke it.

Heck, even the limestone swallets up on the Mendips are wider and deeper than the burst pimple at the far end of Great Pulteney Street.

If it were a football team, it would be lowly Hartlepool United, currently propping up the bottom of League 2.

If it were a car, it would be a lowly Lada Riva, currently propping up the bottom of a scrapheap in Penge.

And if it were a tourist attraction... Wait! Set up a ticket office and plug in the cash registers. This could be Bath’s very own Wookey Hole!

Just don’t stand too close to the edge – because if you fell in, you could easily sprain your toe.