Thursday, June 07, 2012


Friday Fragments

Money magazine did an uncharacteristically good piece on how to choose a community college.  It assumes a little more geographic mobility than is typically the case -- most people pick one within commuting distance of home -- but for people who have multiple practical options within driving distance, it may be useful.

Its “success rate” is more useful for intrastate comparisons than interstate ones, only because states with robust four-year college sectors tend to have a different student profile in the community colleges than states that don’t.  (If you click on the “state” column and read down, it takes quite a while for anything in the Northeast to make an appearance.)  But with the right grains of salt, it’s not a bad start.


Well done, Ray Bradbury.  Your work made my teen years just a little bit less awful.


Our Comcast DVR died this week, taking with it a bunch of stored programs and our ability to watch tv at all for several days.  With the efficiency characteristic of a monopoly, a “no service” call on Tuesday resulted in a promise of an appearance on Friday.  Nice.  

Matt Yglesias had a nice piece on why cable companies need to be regulated until there’s meaningful competition.  In my town, as in most, the choices for home internet are the local cable monopoly or dialup.  Which is to say, they have a real monopoly.  And I don’t even want to talk about what they charge, or how unspeakably awful their customer service is.

If we had a real second option for broadband, I’d happily cut the cord on tv.  But as long as the tv company also controls the internet pipe, we’re hosed.  Fans of deregulation are invited to explain why Comcast should be left to its own rapacious devices.


A big “thank you!” to Converge magazine for actually listening.  Recently it posted an article listing 50 higher ed administrators worth following on Twitter.  Notably, not a single one worked at a community college.  In the comments, I let fly a bit of snark, and suggested that overlooking a sector with over 1100 campuses in the US was just a little absurd.

They listened, and followed up with an article listing community college folk worth following on Twitter.  A few of them were entirely new to me, and I’ve enjoyed discovering some good new reads.  Thanks!


The news about the LinkedIn password breach was doubly annoying.  At one level, it means that hackers probably now know the password that I’ve long forgotten.  But more basically, it underscored the complete helplessness of people who use passwords.

As I see it, there are basically three options.  One is to try to remember (or, worse, write down) a different password for every web function out there.  With the proliferation of sites/apps requiring passwords, this is simply not tenable anymore.  The second is to recycle passwords across sites.  This has the virtue of relative simplicity, but it also brings vulnerability, since a breach of one site is effectively a breach of several more.  The third is some sort of password locker service, in which you have just one password to rule them all.  But that just seems to me to double down on the flaw of recycling passwords; if someone hacks your password locker, they have access to everything.

There must, must, must be a better way.  Maybe Comcast can work on it during the several days it takes them to find a DVR.


Actual quote from The Girl’s softball game, spoken by the opposing coach and directed at her left fielder: “Hey!  No puppy-watching!”

I’ll be glad when the season’s over.

On the password thing-
One thing I've heard suggested, is to develop a password system.
for example:
favorite word (with a substitution to make it non-dictionary)/website name/favorite number

If a hacker actually finds one password, there's a chance they know the others, if they guess the system... but that assumes they are actually manually reviewing them. A computer program set to guessing passwords is gonna be outta luck.
I've heard similar comments at fall soccer games to the K5 teams. Usually it's "stop watching the butterfly" or "don't pick the grass, get up and run". And of course the flying shoe. Happens every game.
More on passwords:
First, make sure your email account has 2-factor authentication enabled. (Gmail, for example, allows this.) This means that if you try to log in from a computer they don't recognize, they'll text a code to your phone. (Several banks, etc., do something similar.) Your email account is crucial, or they will be able to use it to reset other passwords.

For other websites, reuse a few passwords of different strengths on sites of similar importance to you.
Basically, create a few strong passwords for your bank(s), credit card(s), and main email accounts. Don't reuse, but for most people, this is only 4-5 passwords.
Then use a common password for your cable company / internet, phone, electricity, water, etc.
Define 2-3 similar categories, and re-use a common password for each category. For example, I use one for all 'transport' websites: car insurance, rental cars, amtrak, airlines, etc.
Together, these will cover almost all the websites you need to log into. And for almost everyone, this is 7-8 passwords, which is not too hard to remember.

This has the advantage that if the credit card website is hacked, they get nothing else. If hackers get your airline password, they will be able to rent a car, but that's pretty much it. (assuming they even try to reuse the password on such a low-value target.) And if you find out about password loss at your cable company, you only need to change a couple other passwords to be completely safe.
I also have Comcast internet access here in Big City, along with their television access, all bundled into something they call Xfinity.

Comcast has some rather obnoxious practices here as well. Once, they arbitrarily cut off all cable service in my neighborhood, trying to ferret out people who were stealing the service. Everyone had to make an appointment to have a cable guy come in and reconnect them. There are frequent outages and service interruptions. Their customer service generally sucks pond water--rude customer representatives, missed service appointments, incompetent service technicians, etc.

Comcast promotions are full of "teaser" offers, in which they offer you an attractive rate which lasts for only a short time, and then goes sky high.

In my neighborhood, DSL is offered as an alternative to cable. DSL is provided by such services as AT&T Uverse. But DSL has its own series of hassles. The speeds you get can depend on the quality of your telephone wires and how far your house is away from the central office. If you are unlucky, your speeds might not be much better than dialup. In addition, there can be problems with interference from other electronic devices in your house, and there can be problems in interfacing your DSL modem with a wireless router. With DSL, there are often the same sorts of service problems as encountered in cable--missed appointments, rude personnel, incompetent technicians. My sister-in-law has had many of these problems with her DSL access.

I still retain dial-up access, just in case my cable internet acess stops working.
The community colleges in Texas with high success rates are either (a) in wealthy suburbs or (b) in towns at least an hour's drive from the nearest alternative. I think this type of self-selection is probably not at work in many parts of the northeast.
I really, really hate Comcast.

When AT&T DSL finally arrived in my neighborhood, I switched. It's slower, but it is cheaper and easy enough to set up that I did it by myself. They don't deliver Uverse here yet, but when it arrives I'll upgrade.

Comcast is already a regulated utility. The notion that more regulation might lead to more competition is misguided. Regulatory compliance cost is a high barrier to entry that protects Comcast's monopoly.
Use a different password for every site that matters. This includes anything with account information and your email (which can be used to reset other accounts). It's fine to use the same password for less important sites (discussion forums, news sites, etc) as long as you change them all if any of the sites gets hacked.

Write your passwords down. Seriously. Don't stick them on your monitor anything stupid like that, but keep a list and store it in a safe place. I keep my passwords written on a list in a drawer in my home office. My wife knows where it is, but if I can't trust her I'm screwed anyway. If a list at home isn't convenient enough, you can write down a few key passwords and keep them in your wallet.

Don't use a password system. Assuming that a hacker isn't clever enough to figure it out is a recipe for disaster. If I saw "LinkedIn" in your LinkedIn password, I'd try swapping it out for Facebook, Paypal, etc.
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DD, you need to check out Adam Gopnik's essay about Parents embarrassing their teenagers.

You can also store you mass collection of less important passwords in a password-protected or encrypted file, or simply write them down by using your Orphan Annie Decoder Ring.

Have you considered bringing a puppy to a softball game as a tactic?
Before taking any kind of investment decision you must know how your investment will work and all of your transaction. Make a simple strategy to clarify your goals.
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