Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

June 26, 2012

Francis Unson:

Would you want to come home after an incredible trip to the Alaskan wilderness?  After a week-long road trip, Sarah and her family certainly did not want to.

Originally posted on Are We Home Yet?:

Part I

My boys and I – Will, Hickory and I, that is – just returned from a week-long road trip through Alaska’s interior.

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I.did.not.want.to.come.home.

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Our travels took us along the Glenn Highway to Lake Louise, into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park along the Nabesna Road and then further into the Park via the McCarthy Road to McCarthy and Kennecott, two quirky towns perched on a glacier full of fascinating history.  We finished our trip in Valdez  where we took an incredible kayaking trip to the Columbia Glacier.

We weren’t sure how it would go traveling with our beloved dog.  I mean, we love him but we can hardly expect the rest of Alaska to love (tolerate) him quite as much as we do.

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As it turns out, Hickory is the consummate traveling companion.  Quiet, contemplative – a true minimalist - he required few rest stops.  He did, though, every once in a while, get a…

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June 4, 2012

Francis Unson:

Collecting stamps and coins is like collecting mini works of art.

Originally posted on ecrit l'amour | contemporary hand-lettering | modern calligraphy | unique pen-to-paper creations:

Loving a handwritten letter inevitably makes me love stamps. Now that the Postal Service seems to be slipping into the past, it makes me want to collect these tiny little pieces of art even more. Stamp collecting may seem like a super dorky pastime, but I can’t help but admit that I like it. Despite a disgurntuled and impatient postal worker helping me, I know I will never buy a boring or ugly stamp ever again. (No offense to postal workers; I’ve had a lot of nice ones too!)  Some of the new 2012 stamps include the strange and wonderful. This year you’ll find Aloha Shirts, Innovative Chorepgarphers, Weather Vanes, Twentieth-Century Poets, Bonsai Trees and the Carmel Mission just to name a few. (Check the 2012 USPS new issued stamps at Stamp News Now. Here are a few pics of some of my own stamps, although I do have to…

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“The Holstee Manifesto” – How to live your life

February 28, 2012
"The Holstee Manifesto" - How to live your life

“The Holstee Manifesto”, written by Holstee founders Michael Radparvar, Dave Radparvar, and Fabian Pfortmüller in 2009.

I came across “the Holstee Manifesto” on Facebook from Xan Pearson, a social media contemporary of mine from Chicago, who shared it on her Facebook Timeline.  As I read and re-read it, I came to realize how much parts of the manifesto alone would benefit my friends and family as well as myself, since we have our own struggles in life and we are working through them at different rates.  The next morning, I also realized that this manifesto should be read from beginning to end, regardless of our current life situation, since other parts of the prose may direct us to take our lives in a very different, more positive direction.  Who knows in what new direction we take our lives after reading the manifesto over and over?

How did the Holstee Manifesto come into being?  According Holstee’s website:

[T]he first thing Holstee’s three founders – Mike, Fabian and Dave – did was sit together on the steps of Union Square and write down exactly what was on their minds and the tips of their tongues.  It wasn’t about shirts and it wasn’t about their old jobs.  It was about what they wanted from life and how to create a company that breathes that passion into the world everyday.  It was a reminder of what we live for.  The result became known as the Holstee Manifesto.

I strongly encourage you to take the Holstee Manifesto at the top of the blog and make it the background of your desktop for your computer.  If you would prefer a non-electronic version for your bedroom, college dorm, or your children’s bedroom, Holstee sells posters on its website.

In case you want to copy-paste the full text of the Holstee Manifesto, here it is:

“This is your life.  Do what you love, and do it often.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.  Stop over analyzing, life is simple.  All emotions are beautiful.  When you eat, appreciate every last bite.  Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people, we are united in our differences.  Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them.  Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.  Some opportunities only come once, seize them.  Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them so go out and start creating.  Life is short.  Live your dream and share your passion.”

Two years after the premier of the Holstee Manifesto in 2009, Holstee released a video called The Holstee Manifesto: Lifecycle Video, which features the manifesto, verbatim, as well as the lively streets of New York City on Holstee’s favorite mode of transportation — bicycle riding.

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Francis Unson

Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

February 22, 2012

The first manned missions to outer space by both the United States and former USSR in 1961 were short trips that last no longer than two hours.  However, the former USSR went on to complete a few missions that lasted more than 24 hours before the US completed its first 24-hour space flight in 1963.  The increasing durations of the space flights by both the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts make one thing very clear: at some point, the crew must eat.

Russian Borscht soup in a tube, consumed by cosmonauts in space | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Russian Borscht soup in a tube. Courtesy: Aliazimi

The first food delivery systems were, of all things, tubes.  They had the look and feel of a tube of toothpaste, but what came out of these tubes was anything but minty.  The former USSR’s Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 became both the first human to travel into space and the first to orbit the earth, dined on three 160 g toothpaste-type tubes: two servings of puréed meat and one chocolate sauce.  The combined crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975) ate tubes of borscht and caviar, along with canned beef tongue and packaged Riga bread.

Space Food during Projects Mercury and Gemini | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Top: Project Mercury – Food cubes and tubes. Bottom: Project Gemini – Cubes and “rehydrater”.

While NASA effectively borrowed the food tube idea from the Russians, they also experimented with their own delivery system: bite-sized cubes with gelatin coatings to prevent crumbs.  During Project Mercury (1959-63) and Project Gemini (1965-66), foods were dehydrated before missions and rehydrated once in space, allowing the menu to expand over time to include the astronauts’ preferences.  Items such as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, toast squares, butterscotch pudding, and apple juice were available on the menu.  Even though rehydration methods improved during the Apollo program (1961-75), food presentation and presentation were still the same as during the previous space programs.

Skylab 2 astronauts eat space food in wardroom of Skylab trainer | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Left to right, Scientist-Astronaut Joseph P. Kerwin, science pilot; Astronaut Paul J. Weitz, pilot; and Astronaut Charles Conrad Jr., commander

By the time the United States’ space station, Skylab, was operational in the mid 1970s, astronauts indulged in “normal” meals.  The astronauts would literally come to the table during mealtimes.  A dining room table and chairs, fastened to the floor and fitted with foot and thigh restraints, allowed for a more normal eating experience.  The trays used could warm the food, and had magnets to hold eating utensils and scissors to open food containers.  Unfortunately, a new problem came to light.  The astronauts trained on the ground with the very food they brought with them to Skylab, so they fully expected the food to taste the same.  However, they soon realized that the microgravity environment dulled their senses of taste and smell due to a head congestion from weightlessness.

Food trays from the space station, Skylab, and the Space Shuttle | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Food trays from (top to bottom) Skylab and Space Shuttle.

The food tray developed for Skylab was apparently well-designed and deemed sufficient for the Space Shuttle program (1981-2011).  As you can see, the food trays between both space programs differ in design slightly, but the functionality, as well as mobility, of both trays allowed astronauts to take their food with them wherever they worked.

In 2009, the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” gave viewers a rare glimpse into the development of space food technology.  Andrew Zimmern, along with astronauts Michael Foreman, Leland Melvin, Michael Massimino, and Garrett Riesman, were presented with a number of food items that were flown on Space Shuttle missions and are currently available on the International Space Station.  They rated each food item and gave their thoughts and opinions of each item to the food scientists.  Andrew noted right away that a fruit punch drink was much sweeter than he anticipated, and other foods were very flavorful or spicy.  As previously discussed, past astronauts complained of dulled senses of taste and smell due to the microgravity environment.  Food scientists countered this phenomenon by preparing foods with extra flavor.

Here is a YouTube video from the Travel Channel where Andrew Zimmern samples space food:

The culmination of years of work by NASA’s food scientists can be seen below.

Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on a tray | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on a tray. Courtesy: NASA

Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food, as served on the ISS | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food, as served on the ISS. Courtesy: NASA

What does the future hold for space food?  Apparently, we do not have to wait long for an answer to that question.  According to Mashable:

“[NASA] is looking for applicants to eat astronaut food for four months during a simulated trip to the Red Planet. Participants will try instant foods, and ones with shelf-stable ingredients, and scientists will record their reactions. The goal of the experiment is to discover what foods people like to consume consistently.”

If you want to shape the future of space food, NASA is giving you a chance to do so.

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Francis Unson

Health Watch: Sit-ups alone don’t work. Your core matters, too

January 4, 2012

Many people set out to make healthy changes for themselves, especially as part of their New Year’s resolution.  As a result, gymnasiums see a spike in memberships around New Year’s Day.  However, it may have been years since someone has exercised to any extent, let along set foot inside a gym.  Not only are these people out of shape, but they maybe rusty in technique, as well.  Attempting their first sit-up in years, for instance, they will find it much harder to do than when they last did it.  In fact, according to recent studies in biomechanics, what they learned about sit-ups and crunches years ago maybe flat out wrong.

If doing a bunch of sit-ups has not taken any inches off your waist, you may be doing it wrong. Before doing any abdominal exercises, you must work on core strength training first.Researchers have found out that the full motion of a sit-up puts an unhealthy strain on your back at its weakest point.  The back of the spine contains the most nerves, which is the very part that bends and strains during a sit-up.  Excessive flexing of the spine over time, doing just one type of sit-up or crunch repeatedly, could lead to disk herniation, resulting in back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling.  Trainers working closely with new clients have observed that the excessive flexing of the client’s spine is due to their focus on just one muscle group, the rectus abdominus, with little regard to other abdominal muscle groups such as the transverse abdominus or obliques (internal and external), or other “core” muscles.  People must understand that core strength training and abdominal exercises complement each other, and that the latter cannot be done instead of the former.  The core muscles that are involved include:

  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Multifidus
  • External Obliques
  • Internal Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA)
  • Hip Flexors, which include the psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius
  • Gluteus medius and minimus
  • Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis
  • Hip adductors

Why must we focus on these core muscles?  The muscles of the core make it possible for us to stand upright and walk around by controlling movement, shift body weight, and move in any direction.  The goal of core stability is to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs, thereby protecting the back.  What are the exercises required to strengthen the core muscles?  The following exercise equipment, as demonstrated in these YouTube videos, work very well towards developing your core strength:

Consider these pieces of equipment tools that can assist you in your core strength development.  However, you can also develop your core strength without them, relying on your body weight alone.  Body weight exercises involve abdominal bracing, or the contraction of the abdominal muscles, and focus primarily on the transverse abdominis.  This, along with ten other equipment-less exercises, can be done to develop your core strength and include the following:

These exercises will ensure that you develop core strength in the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle of the core, so that you can maintain trunk stability and keep your waist tight.  It should not be surprising, then, that you would reap from the benefits of core conditioning when you work on abdominal conditioning concurrently.  Conversely, you maybe disappointed at the results of your abdominal conditioning should you do little core conditioning alongside it.

Abdominal conditioning focuses on two muscle groups: the rectus abdominus, often referred to as the “six-pack” , and the obliques (internal and external), which are located on the front and side of the abdomen.  These two muscle groups are on top of the aforementioned transverse abdominis, which is adjacent to your vital organs.  The abdominal muscles are special because they provide postural support, which contributes to a healthy back.  As long as you work on core conditioning, as well, you will be pleased with the results of your abdominal condition.  The number of abdominal exercises to choose from, however, raises another concern: what are the most effective abdominal exercises? The Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University answered that question by measuring the muscle activity of a number of test subjects as they performed 13 12 different ab exercises.  Using the traditional crunch as the baseline of muscle activity, this is what they discovered for the rectus abdominus:

Activity in Rectus Abdominus
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Bicycle Maneuver 248
2 Captain’s Chair 212
3 Exercise Ball 139
4 Vertical Leg Crunch 129
5 Torso Track 127
6 Long Arm Crunch 119
7 Reverse Crunch 109
8 Crunch with Heel Push 107
9 Ab Roller 105
10 Hover 100
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 92
13 Ab Rocker 21

as well as for the obliques:

Activity in Obliques
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Captain’s Chair 310
2 Bicycle Maneuver 290
3 Reverse Crunch 240
4 Hover 230
5 Vertical Leg Crunch 216
6 Exercise Ball 147
7 Torso Track 145
8 Crunch with Heel Push 126
9 Long Arm Crunch 118
10 Ab Roller 101
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 77
13 Ab Rocker 74

What does this mean for your workout?  Think about your workout in three steps, in order:

  1. Stretching (as always)
  2. Core strength training (to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs)
  3. Abdominal exercises (to strengthen your abdominal muscles)

When you go to the gym or work out in your garage, do not start with abdominal exercises.  Always work on core strength training first so that your abdominal exercises thereafter produce the six-pack abs you have wanted in the first place.

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Francis Unson

Downloads for Your Computer: the Essentials

January 3, 2012

The majority of people, like me, just cannot wait to use their new computer once it is removed from its box, especially if that computer is replacing an older, slower computer.  However, as a person trained in network administration, I would make a list of the applications and plug-ins I have been using on my old computer so that I can download the same items on the new computer, making the switch feel transparent.  From our standpoint, while the switch to faster-performing hardware is welcomed, the case is not the same for software applications, where retraining may be required, an added cost that businesses and organizations are, more likely than not, do not welcome with open arms.  Whether we are upgrading our own computer or the PCs in a computer room at a university, we feel much more comfortable using the same software we had always been using.

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you received a new computer for Christmas or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download the following items.

Web browser

Mozilla Firefox (download from Mozilla | CNET), Google Chrome (Google | CNET), or both

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Even though the latest versions of Internet Explorer (IE9 and IE10) are much more secure, earlier versions (IE7 and earlier) have been plagued by many security vulnerabilities and concerns: much of the spyware, adware, and computer viruses across the Internet were made possible by exploitable bugs and flaws in the web browser’s security architecture.  Firefox and Chrome, meanwhile, deployed different security models seemingly in response to the vulnerabilities found in the older versions of IE, giving the perception of greater security, at least until IE was updated with a much improved security model.  Unfortunately, the number of security vulnerabilities found in all versions of Firefox and Chrome combined pales in comparison to the large number of vulnerabilities found in IE, which is why I strongly recommend Firefox or Chrome as your default web browser.

Add-ons and extensions

Web of Trust (for Firefox, Chrome et al.)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.I cannot begin to stress the importance of using an Internet website reputation rating tool such as Web of Trust (WOT), which shows you which websites you can trust for safe surfing, shopping and searching on the web.  With the WOT add-on, you can see the website’s reputation based on other users’ experiences and carefully chosen trusted sources, such as phishing and spam blacklists.  You can also rate websites yourself based on your own experiences.  Whether you are looking at search engine results, links in your news feed on Facebook, or links in your timeline on Twitter, WOT indicates to you right away if the link posted is safe or not.  WOT is indispensable if you have young web browsers in your house.

Adblock Plus (for Firefox | Chrome)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.If you want to improve your web surfing experience, install Adblock Plus (ABP), a content-filtering extension that allows users to prevent page elements, such as advertisements, from being downloaded and displayed.  Once installed, you will notice right away how much faster websites load without the burden of extra images or flash files for animated ads.  If you are still using a 56K modem, or if you live with a bunch of bandwidth hogs, you will be able to view your content more quickly with this extension installed on your web browser.

Anti-malware and virus protection

Malwarebytes (from Malwarebytes | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Highly effective at finding malware such as rogue security software, adware, and spyware, Malwarebytes is the software that people turn to as soon as their computer begins to show possible signs of malware infection.  I find it unfortunate that people turn to anti-malware software only when an infection is discovered instead of installing it early on as a preventative measure.  I am telling you right now: install Malwarebytes as soon as possible, and run it once a week.  You may catch malware that was downloaded but, thankfully, wasn’t installed onto your computer yet.  Best of all, the free version is fully functional and will delete any and all malware, should any be found.

Microsoft Security Essentials (from Microsoft)

Why do I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)?  Like Malwarebytes, MSE is also highly effective at finding malware.  However, features such as real-time malware prevention and automatic updates are not included with the free version of Malwarebytes, where they and other features are bundled with MSE.  Indeed, MSC is freeware.  From the school of thought that no single anti-malware product can find and remove all malware, MSE is a highly recommended complement to existing anti-malware and anti-virus software you have already installed.

Utilities

CCleaner (from Piriform | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.I recommend CCleaner very highly for its simple task of cleaning potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer.  The applications we use daily generate lots of temporary files, especially web browsers, and CCleaner, when used weekly, will help your computer run smoothly without getting clogged and overburdened with files the computer no longer needs.  When using the program with client computers, I was shocked at the amount of junk files that remained on the hard drive.  It’s one thing when your computer is running slowing because you’re running out of free disk space, but quite another when the daily usage of that computer is the reason for that clutter.  Use CCleaner regularly so that gigabytes (yes, GB) of junk files do not accumulate over time.

Defraggler (from Piriform | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.The best you can do after running CCleaner is to run Piriform’s other product, Defraggler, which defragments individual files on a computer system.  Why?  Removing gigabytes of junk files creates a lot of gaps between legitimate files on your hard drive.  Some files, especially large files, may be fragmented, or spread out all over the drive partition.  Opening that one file may take longer than it should because your hard drive has to go to different parts of your hard drive just to read it.  Running Defraggler effectively reunites all those parts of a file as best it can so that reading the same file after defragmentation will be much faster, since the majority of that large file is physically in the same location on the hard drive.

Readers

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Adobe Reader (from Adobe)

If you work in an office, you probably work with an office suite, compiling documents in, say, MS Word or Excel and later converting them to a format that is generally read-only to most people, such as Portable Document Format, or PDF.  Adobe Reader is part of the Adobe Acrobat family of application software developed to view, create, manipulate, print and manage files in PDF, although Adobe Reader itself only allows you to view and print PDF files.  For most people, that capability is all they need when coming across a PDF file on the Internet.  When you install Adobe Reader, an Adobe Reader plug-in for your web browser is also installed so that the application itself does not need to be opened if, for example, a PDF file link is clicked in Firefox or Chrome.

Players

Adobe Flash Player (from Adobe)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage? Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.If you watch streaming video and audio, play online games with animation, or go to graphics-intensive websites with GUIs embedded into the site, you will need to install Adobe Flash Player, which executes and displays content from a provided SWF file.  Flash Player supports vector and raster graphics, 3D graphics, an embedded scripting language called ActionScript and streaming of video and audio.  Like Reader, the installation of Adobe Flash Player also includes plug-in support for your web browsers.  Despite HTML5 as a possible replacement, Adobe Flash Player, emerging as the de facto standard for online video publishing on the desktop, will be around for years to come.

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Francis Unson

18 Types of Residual Income

September 23, 2011

When deciding how you would like to structure your personal finances with multiple streams of income and you are a full-time worker, you may wish to supplement your income with a second job.  However, just like your first job, your salary will still be subjected to income tax.  Moreover, the salaries from both of these jobs are considered linear income.  What you would like to do for yourself instead is earn residual income.

If the "linear income" you are earning from your day job is not enough, you should look into one of these 18 types of residual income to help you gain greater financial independence.What is linear income? It is the income you are earning from your full-time or part-time job.  With this type of income, the amount you earn is tied to how much you work.  The more you work, the more you earn; the less you work, the less you earn.  Let’s face it.  Sick time, vacation time and PTO can only cover so much of your off time before you start not getting paid for not working.

On the other hand, residual income (also known as “passive income” or “royalty income“) involves doing the work once and being paid for this work many times over, over a period of months or even years.

From the viewpoints of residual income, many types of professionals are not as wealthy as they appear.  Doctors, dentists and chiropractors only see a fixed number of patients per day.  Salesmen can only speak to so many potential customers per day.  Attorneys can only meet with so many clients per day.  Overall, these professionals are earning a linear income.

Because a linear income shows almost immediate results, people tend to get caught in the trap of viewing a linear income as being of little value to them.  For those who would genuinely like to live off a linear income in the future, the hard work must be put in now.  Once you’re working a steady job with a linear income, you can begin working on your plan to create a stream of residual income, setting aside two to four hours after work each day or part of your weekend to make this dream a reality.

If you do not know the types of residual income you can earn, here is a list to get you started:

Believe me, this is not an exhaustive list of the types of residual income you can earn.  Nonetheless, if you ask yourself this question right now, “What percentage of my day did I spend creating residual income?” and your answer is zero, you may wish to spend this evening or the weekend examining how you can turn residual income into a second source of income for you.  But as the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”  With careful, consistent, and persistent planning, the royalties, profits, fees, or revenue earned from your endeavor will earn you residual income for years to come.

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Francis Unson

Common Password Mistakes and How to Create Stronger Passwords

September 20, 2011

A password is a secret word or string of characters that is used for authentication to prove identity or gain access to resources.  We encounter passwords in our daily lives, at the ATM, when logging onto our home or office computers, or logging into our table TV decoder when purchasing a pay-per-view event.  We use passwords several times per day when we are using our computers, such as retrieving e-mail from servers; accessing programs; databases; social networking websites; or even reading the morning newspaper online.  Computer passwords are our first, last, and best line of defense against damaging intrusions.  Companies rely on passwords to protect sensitive information from hackers.  The use of poorly designed passwords could leave us vulnerable to: identity theft, financial loss, invasion of privacy, exposure of proprietary company data, and sharing sensitive or embarrassing information.  Here are some common password mistakes that users make, including examples of bad passwords.

The password is easy to locate

Even though people can create passwords with little security, IT professionals can be equally guilty of failing to enforce the rules. Here are some common password mistakes made by users and network admins alike.

Monitors are the last place anyone should find your password.

Whether the password is long or short, complex or simple, a password that is written down on a Post-it note and stuck on your monitor, beneath your keyboard, or in your desk drawer (that has no lock) offers as much protection as a system that has no password in the first place.  Your best bet is to create a password that you can memorize easily or retrieve from your (password protected) mobile phone.

The password is too short and simple

“susan”

“12345”

“APPLES”

These passwords share two other things in common: they contain fewer than eight characters and they use a single character set, where the first password uses all lowercase letters, the second uses all numbers, and the third uses all uppercase letters.  Most password policies require that a password be at least eight characters long, with even more restrictive policies requiring the use of at least two or more character sets.

The password is too common

Even though people can create passwords with little security, IT professionals can be equally guilty of failing to enforce the rules. Here are some common password mistakes made by users and network admins alike.

If any of these look familiar to you, change your password RIGHT NOW

Many users create passwords out of common phrases, obvious patterns, or combinations of words.  Part of the repertoire that hackers employ includes English and foreign language dictionary attacks.  Ironically, correctly spelled passwords are the easiest to crack by dictionary attacks.  Simply transposing a letter or number to its visual equivalent (swapping an “O” for “0” (zero) in “passw0rd”) is not enough.

Using the same password for all your accounts

If a hacker succeeds in cracking your password for one account, be it your e-mail account or your Facebook account, chances are, they will attempt to use that same password for every other online account that they determine is yours.  It is in your best interest to create a unique password for each online account that you own.

The password contains personal information

Avoid creating passwords that contain your name, home address, phone number, birthday, driver’s license, Social Security number, passport number, or similar information.

The password is based on your kids’ or pets’ names, nicknames, the names of characters in books or movies, or celebrity names.

“Bobby”

“Jenny”

“Scruffy”

“MrFluffy”

“PrincessLeia”

“EdwardCullen”

“MattDamon”

If your Facebook profile can be viewed publicly, hackers can derive passwords based on the captions of your family photos or the books and movies that you “like”.

Reversing or capitalizing the last two types of bad passwords

Even though people can create passwords with little security, IT professionals can be equally guilty of failing to enforce the rules. Here are some common password mistakes made by users and network admins alike.

Some words spelled backwards are other valid words. "Stressed" and "desserts" are two of them.

Reversing your home phone number or your granddaughter’s middle name may be more complex for you to remember, but not for hackers to decipher.  After all, hackers can do a reverse dictionary attack (where they look up all the words in the dictionary spelled backwards) in an attempt to steal your password.

Network system administrators are not off the hook when it comes to creating password policies.  Often times, companies try to use password policies to keep those mistakes from hampering security.  However, these policies must be done correctly in order to have an effect.  Here are some common password policy mistakes IT departments make.

Overdoing a good thing

If a network admin requires users to create new and extremely complex passwords every 30 days, the users may start to ignore the rules and keep the hard-to-remember passwords written down.

Applying password policies unevenly

Companies may require strong passwords for users during initial login, but at other levels of security, password policies may be much weaker.  Hackers who toil at cracking the user’s tough login password would be pleased to discover that security throughout the rest of the system is much more lax.

Allowing password policies to become outdated

While making users update their passwords every 30 days may be difficult for some users, not updating password policies at all would allow a system to become just as susceptible to attacks by hackers, who can rely on old information to gain access.

In order for users to protect themselves from identity theft, financial loss, or loss of privacy, users should actively and regularly create strong passwords.  Here are some guidelines to creating a strong password.

Keys to password length: length and complexity

An ideal password is long and has letters, punctuation, symbols, and numbers (e.g. spanning four character sets: lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters).  If possible, use a password that is at least 14 characters or more and spans all areas of your keyboard, using letters and symbols you use less frequently.

Create a strong password you can remember

Microsoft outlines a method to create a long, complex password:

Start with a sentence or two.

  • Complex passwords are safer and easier to remember.

Remove the spaces between the words in the sentence.

  • Complexpasswordsaresaferandeasiertoremember.

Turn words into symbols, numbers, or shorthand.

  • ComplexpasswordsRsafer&easier2remember.

Add length with numbers.  Put numbers that are meaningful to you after the sentence.

  • ComplexpasswordsRsafer&easier2remember2011.

Another site has additional suggestions for how to create a stronger password that is difficult to crack, yet easy to remember:

  • Choose two short, unrelated words (like your favorite exercise, animal, flower, or weather, for example) and join them with an arbitrary number and/or symbol.  Examples: “jump3$lily” or “dog+rain”.
  • Use first letters of a sequence.  For example: your nephews (named Jeremy, Roger, and Allen) and their ages: “8Je9Rog12Alle”.
  • Make a really long password from a sentence.  Examples: “IwentskydivinginApril87” or “0416istheBostonMarathon”.
  • Select a line or title of a song or poem, and use the first letter of each word.  For example: “Who ya gonna call?  Ghost Busters!” would produce “Wygc?GB!” or “You can’t always get what you want” yields “Ycagwyw.”  Even better, throw in a number or punctuation mark in the middle: “Ycag$wyw”.
  • Alternate between one consonant and one or two vowels, up to eight characters.  This creates nonsense words that are still usually pronounceable, and thus easily remembered.  Examples: “routboo,” “quadpop,” and so on.
  • Consider treating your password as multiple parts: a central core and a prefix and/or suffix when needed that is specific to the service the password protects.  For example: your core might be “gPw4” (that is, “generic Password for…”) and then if it’s a password for a newspaper website like the New York Times, you might choose to add “NYt” to the beginning or end of the password (“NYtgPw4”), while your password for eBay auctions might be “gPw4eBa” and your Yahoo! email password could be “gP4Y!e”.
  • Generate your own scheme very methodically.  Start with a word, and then delete a character or two, or perhaps just the vowels.  Throw in some numbers or punctuation.  Continue making the rules for yourself.  Choose something that would seem totally random to someone else but that makes sense to you.  Use your imagination!

Tester password with the password checker

Always run a password checker to evaluate your password’s strength automatically.  Your online accounts, computer files, and personal information are more secure when you use strong passwords to help protect them.

Protect your passwords from prying eyes

If these strong passwords are still too difficult to remember, go ahead and write it down, but keep the written password in a secure location.  Once you’ve created a strong password, continue with the suggestions below to keep it even safer:

  • Never share your password with anyone.  This includes family, friends, significant others, computer support people, and bosses.  If you need someone to read your email, many email programs (for example, Outlook) allow you use a “delegates” feature to enable certain persons do so without using your password.  Check with your email provider.
  • Never say “yes” when your browser asks you if you’d like to save your password.  Although it’s convenient, it’s not a good idea—especially when the computer you are using is shared.  Some computer viruses can even recover your passwords from your Internet browser and then e-mail them to random people or post them publicly on the Internet.  Stop this from happening in the future and to remove passwords that are already stored.
  • If you absolutely must write down a new password the first time or two you use it and until you can remember it easily, be sure you keep it in a very safe, hidden place—not a sticky note stuck to your computer or your desk!  Then, shred it—don’t just toss it in the trash—once you’re done.
  • Never send your password in email, even if the request looks official.  If you receive e-mail from someone claiming to be your systems administrator, requesting your password because they supposedly need access to your files, ignore it.  This is a popular phishing scam.  Remember, your computer support people will never ask you for your password for any reason.  If someone must ask you to change your password so that they can gain entry to your account, they do not have reason to be there!
  • Change your password often.  This is important, particularly for passwords that protect highly sensitive data.  And if you ever suspect your password has been compromised, change it immediately!

Google summarizes the above information in the following video:

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Francis Unson

How Groupon Works

August 23, 2011

Groupon is a deal-of-the-day website that is localized to major markets in the United States and Canada.  The website was launched in November 2008.  It was first used in Chicago, later expanding to Boston, New York City, and Toronto.  Soon it was used by many parts of the United States.  Groupon serves more than 150 markets in North America.  Now, for those who are not Internet savvy, here are steps on how to use the website:

  1. Groupon offers discounts for things such as food and services, as long as enough people buy into the deal.Sign up at Groupon.com.
  2. The site will send you e-mail updates on the daily deals in your city.
  3. Purchase the deal at the discounted price.  Most of the time, these deals will be at least 30% off the original price.  If you are very lucky, you may find a deal as much as 90% off!
  4. Once enough people purchase the deal, it is activated (tipped) and you will receive your discount.  If the minimum number of deals is not purchased, however, the deal is cancelled and no one gets it.  Fortunately, almost all deals on Groupon are claimed due to a large membership base and a low minimum number of users required to purchase the deal and trigger a tip.
  5. Once you receive your deal you can claim it at the store you got it for, usually within a period of time before it expires.  The website will also give you all the details about the Groupon you have purchased.

Saving money is a great thing to do nowadays, especially with the current state of the economy.  Websites such as Groupon will help you to save time and money.  Instead of shuffling through newspapers to cut out coupons, you can just print them at your convenience.

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Taylor P.

Holidays in August

August 15, 2011

As we come to the end of July 2011, let’s take a look at what we have to look forward to in August 2011.  I’m sure most of you have heard of weekly observances such as “American Indian Heritage Month” but, believe it or not, the list of weekly observances is pretty long.  There is also a list of daily holidays that aren’t recognized on most yearly calendar.

Believe it or not, there are many holidays and observances in August that, for some reason, did not make it to the calendar that is hanging in your office right now.  Here are some of these August holidays and observances.Weekly Observances in August

Holidays in August

So if you enjoy celebrating holidays, I hope this list has enlightened you on some new ones.  Whether you feel they its appropriate or not, people came up with them for a reason.  Let’s hope that this August is the best one yet!  After all, it is “National Happiness Happens Month”.

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Joie Montoya

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