The Ultimate Password Solution

Few things are more annoying than passwords. In theory, they’re fantastic. You keep a secret locked away in your super-computer-brain, and nobody else knows what it is, then you use that secret to prove that you’re who you say you are. Brilliant.

Except that, in reality, passwords are beset by several tough problems. First and foremost, you don’t have any control over what the website you plug your password into does with it, so using the same password for everything is foolish. That means that instead of having to remember one password, you have to remember a bunch of them and what services and websites they match up with. Don’t write them down, either, or someone with physical access to your space could steal them!

Those are all problems with passwords before individual sites get into the mix with their own restrictions. Some of these make sense; it’s almost pointless to have a two-character password, after all. Others of them are just silly: why should there be a limit on how long the password can be? Or what characters I can put into it? Then we have the myriad restrictions on how complex the password can be and how often you can repeat them.

The first group of problems are all going to be around for as long as we have passwords, but when it comes to the problem of users having too simple a password, there’s a painfully simple solution: base the expiration date of a password on how strong it is.

Continue reading The Ultimate Password Solution

Giving Up Push Email

When I made the move to smart phones god-knows how many years ago, it was amazing to me that emails would come straight to my phone. It was basically magic; I was fascinated and infatuated. I was living in the future. For years, I had no idea how anyone could live without having access to their email any moment they wanted it.

Moreover, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be notified the second they had a new message.

Not terribly long ago I met someone who, more than not needing to know every time she received an email, actively did not want that. I’m not sure there’s a logical or practical reason1,  it’s just a personal preference. It took me months to really wrap my head around it, which probably says something about how attached I am to technology.

Then, a few weeks ago, I noticed two things. First, I noticed that unless I was actively ignoring my phone (like at dinner or out with friends), getting a new email meant that I immediately wanted to see what it was, regardless of what else was going on. Second, I noticed that this was almost always a disappointment. Rarely are my emails even vaguely interesting. Something on the order of two or three dozen times a day I would hear the new mail beep, I would get excited over the possibilities contained in a new and unknown message, and then I’d be disappointed by the outcome. It would also serve as a distraction.

I decided to tell my phone that when I wanted to know if I had new messages, I’d ask for them. At first, this seemed almost prehistoric. Now, however, I find that I really don’t miss it. The email is all there waiting when I decide to check it. I don’t have trains of thought interrupted or random distractions.

If you’re a push-email addict (except, maybe, for work email), you should try it for a week or two. I think you’ll find you hate it far less than you think you do.

  1. Which is not to say that the desire is illogical or impractical, only that I don’t think those are the motivations 

The Myth of Corporate Personhood

Flickr image by konstantine1982

Today, instead of handing down the Affordable Care Act opinions like we all wanted, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of life without parole for minors, some immigration thing1, and a third case2 which tested some of the boundaries of their 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Even if you’re not familiar with Citizens, you’ve probably heard about it. Most likely, you’ve heard people offering various sarcasm and snark about “corporate personhood”. Those who opposed the ruling and what it represents did an exceptional job of driving the narrative about the case toward what turns out to be an absurdist interpretation of the court’s opinion.

You see, Citizens actually has a remarkably sane holding. So sane, in fact, that were one to read the actual text of it, one would be relatively unlikely to experience outrage, even in disagreement. So, if you’re one of those who mistakenly believes that the Supreme Court of the United States ordained corporations as people, read on.

Continue reading The Myth of Corporate Personhood

  1. I kid; this was a pretty huge deal, but well beyond the scope of my knowledge 

  2. American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, which determined that state laws weren’t free to ignore the Citizens holding. 

What the Abortion Debate Isn’t

To hear the anti-abortion advocates tell it, abortion kills living, breathing human beings. To the other side, abortion is about legislating what a woman does with her uterus. Seldom do two sides of an issue talk quite this far each other without either of them coming within spitting distance of the real issue.

On her blog, Valerie Tarico has an interesting discussion of the imagery by the two sides in the abortion debate.

Abortion opponents may be driven by Iron Age sexual scripts, but they are advancing their cause primarily by appealing to universal, secular and –ironically, progressive– ethical principles. If history has a moral arc, the curve has to do with one simple question: Who counts as a person? Who deserves autonomy and opportunity and freedom from unnecessary suffering? Who merits our compassion or respect? In other words, who is morally relevant?

For much of the article, Tarico seems to get what the abortion debate is really about, but just as she’s about to get there, she throws it all away1:

The irony, of course, is that a fertilized egg is not a person in any traditional or meaningful sense.

Tarico makes the same error that so many others, on both sides, make when talking about abortion: she assumes that there’s one correct and objective definition of “person”, that she knows what it is, and that her politics are informed by it (and not vice versa). That is, of course, begging the question to a great degree.

Continue reading What the Abortion Debate Isn’t

  1. To be fair, large portions of the article are really interesting and worth reading. 

Sandusky’s Lawyers Plead Incompetence

Jerry Sandusky being carried off the field by Penn State players

Last night, Jerry Sandusky, a long-time Defensive Coordinator for Penn State’s football team, was convicted of 45 counts of abuse spanning ten victims and faces a sentence that could eclipse 400 years in prison. Karl Rominger and Joe Amendola, Sandusky’s attorneys, are now claiming that they were “unprepared”.


Jerry Sandusky’s attorney Karl Rominger, on his WHP 580 Saturday radio show, said he and attorney Joe Amendola tried to get out of Sandusky’s case the morning of jury selection, not feeling adequately prepared.

Judge John Cleland denied the request, Rominger said.

Cleland had repeatedly denied requests for continuances and the trial approached. Sandusky’s attorney said they only had a few months to try to get through all the evidence — thousands of pages of documents — prosecutors acquired over the three-year grand jury investigation.

I do not doubt, based on various reports from the trial, that Sandusky’s attorneys were not well-prepared. All indications are that the prosecutors ran an excellent ship while the defense appeared to flounder. The problem with this excuse — and that’s precisely what it is — is that we’re not talking about speeding tickets or simple assault charges. It was clear from the initial filing of the 51 assorted counts of abuse that the state was playing for keeps.

Why, then, if Amendola and Rominger knew they were falling behind, didn’t they call for backup? With Sandusky’s not-insubstantial wealth at their behest (and why on earth wouldn’t he use every penny of it to try to keep himself from rotting in jail?) they could have nearly hired an entire law firm of junior attorneys and paralegals to do trivial things like, say, read police reports.

“Sue Paterno’s name was only on that list because her name came up on one of the police reports, for no important reason whatsoever,” Rominger said. “We would have taken her off the list if we had actually had time to read the report where her name showed up.”

Given the court’s unwillingness to provide continuances, it seems that adding staff would have been a reasonable option, and given the number of out-of-work attorneys who would probably kill to have this case on their resume (to say nothing of having a job at all) it simply could not have been all that difficult to find willing participants.

I have no doubt that Rominger and Amendola were unprepared; what I can’t figure out is why on earth they’d advertise that fact in an interview as though it was anyone’s fault but their own.


The Cause of Low Self-Esteem: Mint

For the amount of student loan debt I currently have, I could have gotten a mortgage on a pretty nice house. One of the problems with having a house-worth of student loan debt is that the lenders seem keenly interested in you paying those loans back. This leads to weird things like “monthly payments” and “ramen”.

Or I guess I should say that those are what it should lead to. Unfortunately, I have a serious problem with the second half of that equation. I’m no Joe Mihalic. Still, I make some efforts. I’d really like to not still be paying off my law degree when I start drawing retirement.

One such effort is simply making myself more aware of my spending patters. Enter, Mint. Mint is an awesome personal finance tracking app. You give it account details and it gives you tons of pretty graphs. That’s what’s great about it. It is also terrible.

You see, Mint routinely tells me things like “quit spending so much money drinking!” and “quit going out to eat!” It tells me those things by showing me how much I spent on those different activities last month and it’s kind of embarrassing.

It never seems like I’m spending hundreds of dollars eating out or going out. It’s $10 here and $20 there. No big deal. Except that it sure does add up and then at the end of the month I look at one of Mint’s pretty graphs and realize that I did it again. I need to start cooking again. I need to spend less money at bars. I need to do lots of things like that if I want to pay off my loans before the end of the century.

…and I’m going to start doing those things really soon. Next month. I swear.

Starting Over

I have something of a packrat mentality. If it doesn’t cost much to keep something, why throw it away if there’s even the most remote chance you could get even the slightest use out of it again? Recently, I realized that I had boxes that have been with me for two or three years that have never been opened or unpacked. The things inside — whatever they were — had been completely forgotten about. I still had those things. I still owned them. But there was no way I’d have ever used them.

So I purged. I threw away what must have been a dozen giant, black trash bags full of things that I had accumulated and carried around for the better part of a decade. I donated several boxes of stuff to Goodwill. I don’t miss any of it; I could probably stand to purge even more.

One of the problems I found with having so much stuff was that it created a certain amount of inertia. It makes moving harder, it changes your behavior, and it changes the way you think about who you are and where you live.

I realized, after doing all that purging, that I had the same problem with my blog. I had more than a decade’s worth of posts — three-quarters of a million words, much of it utter crap — that was attached to any new thing I wrote. The blog had a history, style, and identity that was a weird amalgamation of the all of the people I’ve been since I was 19. There was too much inertia to write anything new.

So I decided to start over. The old posts are probably not coming back — at least not any time soon. As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve purged; this is a fresh start.