Passwords

Yeah yeah I haven’t posted in a while, but to be honest no one’s mentioned it so I don’t think too many people are paying attention anyway.

But I posted this recently on Reddit.com about how I choose my passwords, and I thought it might make an interesting blog post. The majority of people commenting in the post were saying they used ‘password keeper’ programs or plug-ins for their browser, that store the passwords for all their sites and secure them with one master password. This doesn’t work if you’re on a borrowed computer though.

The way I do it is to use a master password consisting of a memorable song, phrase or poem, combined with a memorable number. Here’s the post, slightly edited for the blog:

For pretty much super-secure passwords just go to https://www.grc.com/passwords.htm

If you can’t be bothered to remember that, though, I use a very hard to guess/crack password system that’s been checked online and determined to be ‘strong’ or ‘best’ on multiple sites:

  1. Find a song or poem lyric you like, for example ‘I Am The Taxman, I Am The Walrus’
  2. Take the first letter of each word, for example Iatt, Iatw
  3. Pick a 2- or 3-digit number, for example 456
  4. For sites that allow a ‘special character’, use the top row of numbers on the keyboard and press Enter when hitting the middle number, for example 4%6
  5. Combine the letters and numbers, for example Iatt4%6Iatw (note the capital letters)
  6. You now have a ‘base password’ which you can modify
  7. When asked for a password on a new forum or site, enter the whole password, THEN press Home and enter the first letter of the site you’re on, for example R for Reddit, then press the right arrow key, then the second letter, etc., until you’ve entered in the first four letters of the site name.

This makes the sample password for Reddit into rIeadtdt4%6Iatw, which no one will ever guess, you’ll never need to remember, and you won’t be at a loss to recall it if you ever log in from a computer that doesn’t have your personal password plug-in. The Microsoft Password Checker rates this as a ‘best’ password.

If the site you’re on doesn’t allow long passwords, skip the second part of the song verse or leave off the numbers.

Now, what happens if someone gets your password somehow and figures out your ‘system’ and tries to change your other passwords:I haven’t put much thought into how to prevent that (until now), although if you were sufficiently paranoid you could do a system where you change the point where you start typing in the name of the site. For example for most sites I enter the main password, hit Home, press right arrow, then start typing the site name alternating with right arrow. You could just as easily type the site name at the end of the main password, but with a LEFT arrow (so ‘Reddit’ becomes ‘tidder’).

Remembering which site uses what what system wouldn’t be too hard, you could have four variations to start with, based on the first letter of the site you’re logging in to: vowels up to ‘M’, vowels after ‘M’, consonants up to ‘M’ and consonants after ‘M’. This would frustrate most people entering the password by hand, and you could get more complex if you wanted.

It’s not perfect, (IMO totally random number/symbol/character is, which changes every couple of weeks) but for me it’s better than having a password keeper program.

Timeline of a PC upgrade

The last upgrade: late 2004, when I was given a development AMD FX-53 CPU. I had to get a new motherboard because at the time I was using an older AMD CPU with a different pin configuration. The new motherboard (an ABIT Third Eye with on-the-fly overclocking ability) featured then-new DDR RAM, so I got new RAM as well: 1GB of OCZ Platinum Edition with a lifetime warranty so I could overclock the CPU safely. I kept my current AGP video card. Several months later, I upgraded the video card to an ATI X1600 Pro and have had this setup ever since.

I ended up never overclocking the hardware.

Fast-forward to several months ago, when I started detecting a dangerous feeling of inadequacy as my computer gaming friends were upgrading their computers. Previously, I’d been the owner of the fastest computer at our LAN parties, but I’d fallen well behind the times. Losing the bragging rights didn’t bother me much, nowhere near as much as knowing I was basically unable to play the latest computer shooter games like Crysis and Fallout 2. So when the mediocre reviews came out for these games I felt a bit justified in waiting so long.

In the meantime, about a year ago, I’d bought a faulty (RRoD) Xbox 360 off eBay, plus all the cables, etc., to make it work. Microsoft told me it’d never been registered, so they fixed it for free (yay! very cool). I’d purchased a grand total of two games for it (Forza 2 and Colin McRae: Dirt) but that was it, I hadn’t played it for several months by the end of the year.

Towards autumn I decided I’d have to start doing a bit of research to find out what was going on in the world of PC upgrading. This is when I found out about DDR2, DDR3, AM2, AM2+, socket 775, i7 and much more. I already knew about PCI-E so hey at least I could skip learning about that.

Basically I found out that I couldn’t upgrade just the CPU because the 939 chip die was basically obsolete now. Upgrading the DDR RAM would cost 2 or 3 times as much as getting new DDR2 RAM, and there was no way I could upgrade the AGP video card to a PCI-E…it became clear that a completely new set-up would be required: RAM, CPU and motherboard, plus video card. Luckily I already had a PCI-E video card from a home theater PC that never got finished, but it’s only as fast as my current AGP card – but it’ll do until I could afford a whiz-bang PCI-E card.

After carefully considering things, I came up with a long checklist of features:

  • best bang-for-the-buck CPU (fastest for the money)
  • dual- or quad-core (didn’t matter which, I do enough multi-tasking to justify a quad-core)
  • 4GB of RAM that’s safe to overclock
  • PCI-E 2.0 spec, for a bit more PCI bus speeds
  • easily overclocked and updated motherboard
  • ATX size to fit in my current case

Not a terribly long list but some of these requirements would push up the cost from what could have been quite cheap.

Finally, the time would come. Just a couple of weeks ago, I decided to trade in my unused, dust-collecting Xbox 360 and get store credit from a nationwide chain of stores that buy and resell video games, consoles, hardware, etc. The £120 I would get (according to their site) would pay for an Intel Core 2 Quad processor (used) – ideal!

So…here, the story truly begins:

Friday, the 19th February: pop down to the local mall to trade in the 360 console, hard drive, power adapter, video cable, wireless joypad, headset and some games. I’m told they can’t take the console without an official Microsoft video cable, so I hand over everything and say fine, just give me the credit. £64 store credit, to use online or in the store. Cool. I go home, get on the store’s website and order a video cable – £1.50 but the minimum purchase is £2 so I order a PC copy of Colin McRae: Dirt for another £6.

The following Tuesday I receive the replacement video cable.

Thursday, the 27th of February: pop down to the mall (again paying £2 for parking) and hand over the console with new (used) video cable. Am told the store can’t take consoles without the controller. To avoid strangling everyone in site I ask to talk to ‘the tall guy’ who is the store manager. He remembered me from the previous week and sorts out something so that I can trade in the console and they use a wired controller from their stock. I forget about reminding him that I traded in a wireless controller to avoid any further pain. I walk across the street while the console is tested. I come back 15 minutes later to the news that they can’t take my console because the video cable doesn’t work. To avoid strangling everyone in site I mention the cable came from the store’s online site and I’ll just have to deal with returning it to them.

The next day, Friday, I send an email to the company telling them about the faulty cable and I get a reasonably quick reply telling me their returns policy. They’ll even pay for the return postage, which is nice of them. I decide that since today is payday I’ll go ahead and order the 4GB of OCZ Reaper RAM (with not just aluminum heatsinks, but heatpipes with additional heatsinks) and a Gigabyte motherboard, plus a PCI-E power adapter for the future video card purchase. Total cost is about £160 from ebuyer. Later that day, I receive an email saying my order is processed and ready for delivery, expected delivery date is Monday.

Monday, the 2nd of March: receive the motherboard and RAM, woohoo! A fire alarm forces out of the building and I regret not taking my fresh new parts with me to the safety area, just in case it was a real fire. I decide that I’m getting a bit impatient so I decide to use my credit voucher to order the Core 2 Quad CPU from the exchange store site, but the buggering thing is out of stock. Besides, in order to claim the voucher online, one must order the part online then MAIL the voucher receipt to the company for a credit to the order. How Web 0.9! I go back to trusty ol’ ebuyer.com to place an order for a new CPU.

Tuesday, the 3rd of March: send off the faulty cable with all the documentation the company require and sit and wait.

Wednesday, the 4th: receive the new CPU and a couple of other small bits, but I have no time to work on the new build after work as I have to go gaming (actual, face-to-face gaming). I start transferring the last MP3 files to spare hard drives and set off. When I return I find that there’s some problem and only about 25% have transferred. Great. Start the transfer again.

Thursday: wake up, only about 20% of the remaining files have transferred. Try transferring again. Do some quick addition and subtraction and realize I don’t have enough hard drive space to do the install. Ack! Let the computer rest for the night while I think and scheme. Borrowed an SATA to USB adapter from work to hopefully speed up things. Meanwhile, I’m told that if I really want to use the 1GB video card I want to get, while still utilizing the 4GB of RAM I have now, I’ll need a 64-bit OS, meaning buying 64-bit Vista. That’s another £80 or so of unexpected spending there.

Friday: Get home from work and the laptop is now full to bursting with MP3s. The 20GB drive won’t fille up more than 10GB for some reason and the 120GB drive that could be my saviour isn’t getting recognized by my laptop or the desktop. Decide that I could try transferring the files at work or try temporarily installing XP to the 120GB (if it is recognized), transfer files to it and that would be fine. I also decide that instead of ordering the 8-pin 12v plug adapter I need to get the motherboard to work I’ll just pop into an electronics store during the weekend.

Sunday: get the power adapter while out of town. Get home, and can’t find it. Dammit! Where the hell is it?! Hook up the new motherboard to the 120GB drive just to have something to do.

Monday (today): look one final time in my room and the car…no idea where that damn cable is!! If I left it out of town I’m considering buying a whole new one (just £2.50) so I can at least have something to work with on my half-day holiday this Wednesday. And I still haven’t heard back from the shop with my faulty video cable.

Fallout 3 and the perils of PC gaming

Well I’ve been really enjoying my playing of Fallout 3, it’s an amazing game and the first ‘current’ game I’ve played in ages. Usually I’m happy to play older games with good content, such as Colin McRae: Dirt, Civilization 4, Colonization and other games, but a chance purchase of Fallout 3 back in December has prompted me to upgrade my computer, which I’ve got fully planned out, but not actually spent the money on yet.

The problem is, with my computer being 4 years old, not even dual-core, still on AGP graphics and DDR RAM – all of which adds up to it being slow compared to most of the ‘recommended’ spec of today’s PC games. Basically I’ll ‘have’ to spend about £450 to bring it up to current spec so that games are playable with good detail and quick speed. (The plan right now is to spend about £300 getting a new motherboard, RAM and CPU, use an AGP graphics card I have already, then upgrade to a £150 graphics card when I can.)

So where do the ‘perils of PC gaming’ come into play?

Easy – I could spend the £450 on a PS3 and a copy of Fallout 3 for that console, or spend £30-45 on a copy for the Xbox 360 (which I have already). When I picked up the game I thought, ‘Cool! £20, that’s way cheaper than the console versions.’ – but now comes the sting in the tail. If you’re not up to date with your PC hardware and are a generation or two behind like I am, you’re buggered because it then becomes cheaper to have a console on hand already, that you don’t have to spend money to upgrade (until a new one comes along).

I suppose if you’re a regular gamer, consistently picking up the newest releases, it makes sense to have one of the latest consoles. If you’re a regular PC gamer, you have to spend more over the long run because every 18-24 months you need to do a moderate-to-major upgrade of your hardware. When you consider how much this costs (for me it’s about £450, as I said above, over  4 years), the cost of a brand new next-gen console platform is roughly the same I suppose…360’s and PS3’s were going for 350-450 when they were released, depending if you had to get them on eBay or not. If you factor in the cost of games, for consoles they cost slightly more, so that extra £10 per game adds up as well.

An additional but not as major consideration are platform-exclusive games, like Gran Turismo 5 and others – granted, these are less common (Fallout 3 and many other new games are out on all 3 major platforms) but they still happen. I suppose that’s the additional cost of sticking with one platform only – how many people actually have the money and time to have 3 or 4 current-generation gaming platforms (yeah, I’m including the Wii there)? and what about playing them all online? People have lost families and jobs just playing constantly on just one platforum (WoW addicts, anyone?)! It’s just impossible.

I haven’t touched my 360 in months, and I’ve been considering selling it. I’ve only had it a year, but who knows. There just hasn’t been anything on it that I really had to have, other than Forza Motorsport 2, and there are PC games that are way more customizable and even more realistic (like Grand Prix Legends, which I recentlygot off Freecycle).

This could easily be called ‘PC vs. console gaming’, I realize…but these are just my individual factors. Add all this up and consider everything else you can do on a PC and to me it’s a no-brainer.

MIDI Christmas songs

Remember ye olde days of the internets? The tubes were filled with MIDI music and beeps, boops and chirps were the order of the day.

Especially around Christmas time!

Now you can enjoy the best MIDI versions of Christmas classics, including:

The 12 Days of Christmas

Beginning to look a Lot Like Christmas

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Silver Bells

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

and even
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Check out more here holiday favorites! http://www.lockergnome.com/midi/

Why Use Linux?

Yeah…I haven’t posted in a while, on either of my blogs or any of the ‘social’ sites I have pages on. It’s a combination of busy/lazy…but I’m going to try to keep up with a sort-of regular posting schedule.

On my recent Google Reader travels I came across something from PCMech.com that was linked on Reddit.com, basically a commentary about why people ought to try Linux. Apparently the guy who wrote the bit had been in an argument with a Windows diehard geek about the merits and supposed failings of using Linux as a personal operation system, and was simply unable to get past the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that surrounds Linux.

Here’s the piece if you care to read it (it’s not very long), but if you want to skip all that, my suggestion is that you download an Ubuntu LiveCD (most people can simply use this link if they are not using a 64-bit cpu), burn it to a blank CD, and restart your machine with the CD in the drive. You’ll go right to a ‘LiveCD’ version of the Ubuntu Linux system that will let you test-drive everything in the system. You don’t need to use the console to install anything (all commonly used programs that might not be installed can be downloaded using the mouse, windows and buttons), you’ll be able to browse the internet right away, plus edit/open files of most types. The LiveCD experience is a bit slower because it’s running off a CD, not your hard drive, but for most people doing most things, Ubuntu really is all you need!

Podcasts

No, this isn’t a post about me wanting to do a podcast, rather this is about the podcasts I listen to.

In case you’re not familiar with podcasts, in simple terms they are radio shows that you download from the internet and listen to on your computer or MP3 player. Like radio shows, there are loads of different types of podcasts, with topics like humor, music, information, news, topical stuff, whatever you like. If you have software like iTunes installed (I prefer Juicer, which is open source) you can look for and subscribe to podcasts and the software will automatically look for the latest updates and download them for you to listen to at your liesure.

To subscribe to these podcasts, just check out this simple instructions page from one of the podcasts I listen to.

Here are some of the podcasts I listen to regularly now, with links to their podcast feeds (i.e., subscription links):
The Kevin & Bean Show on KROQ – a morning radio show from LA/Orange county in southern California. KROQ is an ‘alternative rock’ station that plays a lot of new rock acts. Very student-y demographic. Their podcasts are updated every day with the best bits of each morning’s show.
The Mark & Brian Show on KLOS – another morning show from the same area. An older demographic and sometimes they put up their funnier routines online.
7th Son novel – the author of this series of novels reads a chapter for each podcast. Kind of a thriller/government conspiracy kind of book
Kill the Desktop – a newish podcast, these are a couple of guys who talk about techie stuff pertaining to web-based software packages
Diggnation – the guys who run the ‘social news’ site Digg.com talk about the top stories submitted by members every week
TWiT – This Week in Tech, this is hosted by one of the guys from Tech TV and he has different guests on each week to talk about the latest tech/gadget/geek news
Cnet Buzz Out Loud – a daily tech podcast
Beyond Organic – A US-based podcast that goes into some detail about the latest in organic foods, including government controls, etc.

Podcasts I’m trying out:
TwistCast – got this link from the 7th Son guy I think, these are young British guys who go on about various things. I’ve only listened to a couple of their shows so far.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – this guy goes into a bit of detail about various historical periods
Children of the Gods – nope, not anything to do with van Daniken, this is another podcast novel that basically extends the story of Independence Day, and the events that happen after the movie.
TWiG – This Week in Geek…sci-fi geek, not gadget/computery geek!

And a very strange podcast:
RPGMP3 – basically, a group of gamers playing Dungeons & Dragons. I listened to this one for a few minutes until I realized…well, I already *play* it, I don’t need to *listen* to people playing it!

If you’re new to podcasts or want to search for podcasts you might be interested, check out these sites:
Podcast411.com – gives you the basics on how to listen to podcasts
Podcast.net
digitalpodcast.com
podcastcentral.com

And if you are interested in sci-fi and fantasy podcasts, here are two I just found out about and will be checkingout: sffaudio.com and dragonpage.com

As far as the program to use, I recommend Juicer, which used to be called iPodder. It’s free and open source. You can also use iTunes, but if you’ve got an iPod or a Mac you probably already use this – if so, you can just do a search for any of the titles above.

Is fandom dead?

This post on ExtremeTech suggests that fandom is dead.

Fandom, in this case, applies to extreme cases of collecting mania for a movie, book, game or other franchise, searching through multiple stores and driving across the city (or state) to find that ONE…LAST…ITEM, and more recently, sitting in lines for hours or days on end to celebrate the release of a movie, book or video game console.

I used to be that guy. I nearly bought, sight unseen, a signed, platinum copy of Death: The High Cost of Living when the artist of the comic, Chris Bachalo, came through San Antonio and signed everything people shoved in front of him. I still have a quick sketch of Death that he did (after seeing him do the same for another fan) and I drove across the city to get him to sign stuff at two different store signings. I stood in line and sat through opening-night showings of the X-Files movie, all three Lord of the Rings movies (even lying to a girl and telling her I’d see one of them with her 2 days after it was released – forget that!), and countless others. I took days off to play Civilization 2 when it came out, also to wait in line for Episode One tickets (hey, it was a good blast with a bunch of other Star Wars geeks and their very patient girlfriends). I even have plush versions of the Alien facehugger and chestburster.

I wasn’t as ‘bad’ as some other fanboys – I haven’t gotten any tatoos of comic book characters or slogans, I don’t have a huge collection of Aliens space ships (although I wouldn’t mind…), I have sold off major portions of my comic collection in times of financial desperation (was a really bad idea, I didn’t get anything close to fair value) and to my eternal regret I skipped going to the San Diego ComicCon when I lived in Orange County for 7 years.

However…now it’s just too easy to be a fanboy. ‘Fanboy’ doesn’t even mean what it used to mean, anyway. Nowadays it’s a moniker people attach to Windows power users or Xbox 360 freaks, it just doesn’t apply to me any more.

Plus, with the internet, eBay, ‘retro’ shirt companies and stickers, it’s far too easy to look like an OG (that’s Original Gangsta) of…pick your franchise: Transformers, Nintendo, Pac-Man, the Grateful Dead, whatever. For instance, I want a Transformers shirt, I used to be a big fan of the show when I was a kid and when I heard a movie was being made I actually thought to myself, ‘damn, I should get a shirt soon because soon every skater/emo kid in town is going to have a retro shirt like they actually watched it in the 80’s.’ So I put off getting the shirt and now I’ve seen the movie and I had an opportunity to get a pretty nice-looking shirt last weekend but passed.

I’ll tell you how much of a solid fanboy I am: I won’t even buy a cool NES gamepad belt buckle, even though I’d like one, because I never actually owned an NES. I didn’t really know too much about consoles as a kid and my dad would have never bought one anyway. I’ve seen cool, funky NES shirts I’d like to get, but no – I’m a purist. I won’t wear the shirt or the buckle. Commodore 64/128, hells yeah, though! My folks sprung for a 128 way back when and I’d spend hours playing copied games and stuff. I even did quite a bit of typing and writing on the word processor.

Anyway, I don’t think fandom is dead. If anything, it’s bigger than ever, as companies have cashed in on marketing and licensing rights, cracked down on copyright violations and released loads and loads of ‘authorized’ versions of absolutely everywhere. I was reading the Kevin Smith blog last week and although I know he’s milking the fandom with every non-action figure or t-shirt he releases, he’s living every comic geek’s dream.

I used to be a Kevin Smith fanboy too. 🙂