I’m designing a travel & landscape photography website as my personal Instagram replacement. Coming soon…
It’s not Spring yet, but it’s sunny outside. With recent hacking attempts going on I’ve decided to tighten up my digital security. How am I doing this?
- Instead of using the same password for multiple websites, randomly generate passwords then store them in a password manager. This way, if one site gets hacked, attackers will not be able to use that login and password to access other sites.
- Delete accounts on websites I’m no longer using, or scramble the email, password, and all personal data so that all the information is fake. This is not recommended if you used that site for shopping, as saved invoices will still contain your real info.
- Activate two-factor authentication for important websites.
Step 1. Use a password manager. Is there a risk of putting all your passwords in one basket? Absolutely! There could be a keylogger on your computer (in which case it doesn’t matter anyway). Your password file might be lost to a hard drive crash — so you should probably backup the list to a cloud service of some sort.
Here are a few password managers I’ve personally used:
- KeePass is 100% free and open source, though its usability and browser integration is not as good as the others. KeePass stores its data in a single file which can be backed up in any major cloud provider. It’s free so there is really no excuse.
- If you use OS X, 1Password is an excellent tool. I previously used 1Password when I was in an Apple environment, however their Windows version doesn’t compare. Also, they only support DropBox as a cloud backup.
- Safeincloud has excellent cross-platform support at a reasonable price. I previously used their Android app and it was well designed. However their browser integration on Windows wasn’t as good as 1Password and LastPass — both of which automatically detected changed passwords.
- LastPass, which I currently use, syncs passwords onto their own server. You can also make local encrypted backups using their Pocket application. Their cross-platform compatibility is excellent, and they have a “Security Challenge” which advises you to change your duplicate and weak passwords. The downside? Many features require a Premium account at $12/year.
If you end up using an online service like LastPass or store your encrypted passwords on cloud services like Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive, hackers could possibly go after those files. But they probably won’t succeed — because there are easier targets. Large companies who have a reputation to maintain spend more money on security and intrusion detection then that online forum you signed up for. Or that ebook you bought from somebody’s WordPress site that hasn’t been updated in over a year and is spitting out security errors (that actually happened.)
It’s much easier for hackers to go after a small site, and use the email logins and passwords to go after more important sites. So using your password manager, view your websites with duplicate passwords and generate new random passwords for them. These random passwords will generally be over 12 characters and have upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to minimize the success of brute-force attacks.
Step 2. Delete useless accounts. Remember that account you signed up for in 2005 for some crappy contest? No you don’t. You probably don’t even use it anymore. So delete it. Log in to that account, go to their account settings, and delete it.
What if you can’t? If there’s no way to delete the account, you can make the information useless. This is only recommended for sites that you haven’t put in personal information like address or credit cards — as generally those would have invoices and previous order data which can’t be deleted. To render an account useless:
- Change your name on that account to something completely random. Change your gender, birthdate, and any other information too.
- Change your password to something completely random (but put it in a temporary text file because you might need it for step 3).
- Change your email address to a temporary, disposable email such as:
- Once you’ve successfully completed these steps, delete your temporary text file. You’re never logging into those sites again, because they have nothing useful there anyway.
Step 3. Safeguard important accounts using two-factor authentication. What’s the use of creating new passwords for all your websites, if someone gets into your email and resets your passwords? Therefore, you must protect your email accounts using two-factor authentication, which requires you to enter a generated code everytime you log on. This generated code is from an application you install on your mobile phone.
For more information on this, check the help section on your Google Gmail or Microsoft Outlook account (some other email providers which offer this as well.) Also check out what happens if you lose your phone — ensure you have a backup method for regaining access to your email. There are other services besides email which use two-factor authentication — generally financial sites — consider enabling those as well.
Depending on how many logins you have, it make take quite some time to update them all. You don’t have to do it all at once — a few websites a day will help your security over time.
Someone (not of the internet generation) asked me about Twitter recently, and whether it’s a good company to “invest” in. I could have brought up Friendster but it would fly completely over their heads. Years ago, my initial objection to Twitter years ago was that there’s no way anyone could have a conversation in 140 characters. However, it held great promise for interacting with celebrities where an average person can tweet at someone like Donald Trump and have him respond.
It seems that recently, Twitter has gone down the censorship route in the name of “Trust and Safety” which frankly sounds like some sort of department from the book 1984. Their stated goal is to “ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter.”
None of the organizations in their “council” (as of this writing) are dedicated to free speech and free expression. I strongly believe that ideas need to be expressed, critiqued, and if necessary condemned, but never censored. It’s a tough road to follow, especially for a publicly traded company focused on profit.
Further research has shown that Twitter has abused their verification policies by “unverifying” gay conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. As a company, the powers that be at Twitter are free to do what they wish, but discouraging bloggers to post on Twitter because they go against the political beliefs of their executives is a surefire way to join the graveyards of Myspace and Friendster. It’s clear that they don’t care about impartiality and have decided to view thoughts they don’t like as unsafe.
I personally don’t agree with a lot of things, but I believe you have a right to say them. And I have a right to ignore them 🙂 Besides, if your ridiculous ideas get banned, how can I make fun of them? If you’re a legitimately bad person, I want to know so I can stay far, far away. Sunlight, disinfectant, you know?
It’s even worse when you’re a publicly traded company whose core technology can be easily duplicated by more financially stable companies who can stay focused on their primary product.
The advice I gave regarding Twitter stock had nothing to do with censorship. I said to stick with concepts that they know and interact with regularly, since they had no idea what a tweet is. I have a feeling that 20 years from now, nobody will have a clue what a tweet is either.
I’ve started to take my own advice and am reducing my activity on the social network Facebook. Recently, I’ve noticed that Facebook intrinsically promotes a homogenization of opinion — posts about the same kittens, sunsets, food, and other inoffensive, bland material. The problem is two-fold: context and validation. Let me explain.
Context: When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, it was called “TheFacebook” and limited to 30 college campuses. Your peers generally had the same cultural interests, usually: studying, parties, and “random play”. When a friend posted about an event on campus, it was relevant, it was interesting, and you’d scroll among the comments to see if someone you liked was attending. The context and cultural background were similar. It was fun.
These days, Facebook circles encompass a wide variety of people. Your old college friends, coworkers, people from conferences, drunks from a night out, and your grandparents. The cultural similarity between these groups is nil. These people don’t know each other. But Facebook forces them all to interact within the same structure which assumes everyone knows each other with the same familiarity.
This interaction is forced when people who don’t know each other, but know you, interact on your Wall or in Groups. This interaction is forced when Facebook shows what you post to your friends on other people’s newsfeeds.
Here’s an example, inspired by actual events but modified for privacy:
Conservative Friend 1 posts on newsfeed: Obamacare is terrible. rabble! rabble! rabble!
Me: I feel you. I’ve spent hours on hold with Covered California only to be disconnected. This blows!
Liberal Friend 2, on his newsfeed, sees me post on Conservative Friend 1’s wall even though he is not friends with Conservative Friend 1
Liberal Friend 2 (based on previously expressed views) thinks: Eww. Republicans are selfish and evil. The ACA is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Liberal Friend 2 blocks me.
Me thinks: ??? I’m just commiserating with a friend!
It need not be about politics. I have an Australian friend who uses the word “cunt” as equivalent to an “LOL”. Generally this would be considered offensive, but because I know him and know he means no disrespect, I don’t feel the need to blow up when he calls me that. Of course, if he were to post on my Wall and a third party–especially a feminist who didn’t understand the context–saw that, she would likely erupt in a frothy rage. The subcommunication between the two of us is invisible to the third party. And to water down your communication by making it accessible to the lowest common denominator essentially leads to talking like a politician — saying everything but meaning nothing.
So, what is the solution? Post bland, inoffensive content like pictures of your Westie, Siamese, or special edition Pliny the Younger. Or maybe some reshares from George Takei or some inspirational platitudes. The real solution is to get off Facebook and use a platform more suited to interaction…such as a blog (where previous posts provide context), or better yet, a coffee table (where context can be spoken).
Validation: It’s rare that people consciously realize this. If the average person doesn’t consciously notice how their behavior is being subconsciously shaped to promote bland, boring content online, then how does it happen?
The infamous “like” button!
Let us assume you have 100 friends:
- 40% of your friends like kittens (meow)
- 30% of your friends like food (yum)
- 20% of your friends like Ron Paul (screw quantitative easing!)
- 10% of your friends like veganism (have you seen those factory farms?)
Let us also assume the following (these won’t add up to 100%):
- 1% of your friends HATE** kittens (puppies are the one true pet)
- 2% of your friends HATE** food (possibly on a diet)
- 15% of your friends HATE** Ron Paul (those friends are government employees)
- 10% of your friends HATE** veganism (medium-rare steak, cast iron pan, a little Montreal seasoning, butter…mmm I’m losing my impartiality)
**to the point where they block or unfollow you
Given these hypothetical statistics, what you get the most positive feedback for posting over time? Politically correct, boring, inoffensive, G-rated, bland content. Such content will generate the most “likes” and the least amount of blocks/unfollows. Most people don’t consciously pay attention to this, posting whatever strikes their fancy. However subconsciously, the behavior of an average person is shaped to seek validation. This can be demonstrated by the increase of those resharing pre-packaged viral content from Buzzfeed/Upworthy/etc.
But being attracted to a blog such as this one, you might be considering yourself above-average. There is an exception to this validation cycle, I found in those whose entire identity is polarizing to the point they draw in numerous supporters and an equal amount of haters. Examples I have seen include vegan or paleo advocates, religious conservative figures, radical capitalists or communists, men’s rights advocates, spiritual energy workers and other “against the grain” types. They have a singular focus — their “cause” — and anyone who detracts from it has no place in their lives whatsoever. If this applies to you, consider forging onward and viewing your haters, blockers, and unfollowers as small victories (people who were exposed to your truth and couldn’t handle it) rather than annoyances.
The greatest thing that I learned from World Domination Summit 2013 was entirely by accident.
During WDS 2013, the afternoon sessions were first-come, first serve. I wanted to go to “How to Build Confidence and Destroy Fear” on Saturday, because those two aspects of me definitely have room for improvement. However, in a combination of tiredness and food coma (damn those food carts!) I ended up in Danielle Laporte’s “Desire and Fire” session–same building, different room. I sat inside a large church in a mostly female audience, and as she repeated someone’s question–“When is it time to dump that chump?” I realized that yes, I was in the wrong session. Many of Danielle’s comments were from the right-brained emotional side of the spectrum, concepts like initiative, enthusiasm, and trust. Do what feels right and makes you feel free. Feel feel feel feel feel feel. Get the picture?
The engineering-oriented, Computer Science graduate part of me thought, “Maybe it isn’t too late to catch the right session? I could bounce out the door and change rooms in 4 minutes 30 seconds.” But I realized that lots of people wanted to watch her speak, but couldn’t get in because the room was full, so I decided to stay thinking I’d be mobbed by a crowd outside. Towards the end, Danielle mentioned a comment:
“The shadow side of self-improvement is the premise that something is wrong with you”
At that exact moment, the wheels inside my head started spinning, and I started questioning my reason for being at WDS 2013 in the first place. What is broken inside me? Why am I here? How did I get involved with this self-improvement and personal development stuff in the first place? Am I a conference junkie?
Circa 2006 I first hopped about the self-improvement train by reading a blogger named Steve Pavlina. I felt I was surrounded by uninspiring, hopeless, people whose primary purpose was to sleep, work, and watch TV with no further goals or inspirations. Work, sleep, die. Lather, rinse, repeat. There HAD to be something more in my life than falling into this trap that the world appeared to be pushing me towards. After pacing the room back and forth for nearly 2 hours I decided to take a huge leap (at the time) and travel to Las Vegas by myself to attend his “Conscious Growth Workshop” which was phenomenal, and I attended 2 similar workshops in the following years. When Steve stopped hosting workshops, I decided to attend WDS 2012–which had the added benefit in being in a fun, interesting city like Portland (as opposed to Las Vegas whose artificiality has never resonated with me.)
Over the years I’ve connected with some very cool people, learned various tips and techniques to measure my personal growth, and even exercised the right-side of my brain by exploring concepts such as subjective reality and claircognizance (when you intuitively “know” something without rational proof.) My notes are full of the “what to do” stuff, it’s a question of me applying it more consistently and pushing through my fears–instead of hiding behind my knowledge and not actually applying it.
I’ve also realized that it’s not me who has the problem (nor others seeking self-improvement), it’s the rest of society that settles for the boring, uninspired life–when they know they’re capable of doing so much more. It’s easy to fall into the trap: your parents, your teachers, your employers, and your political leaders all shuffle you towards a path which is meant to please themselves instead of pleasing yourself. And somewhere along the line you lose yourself in the process. It’s time to find yourself again.
Conferences like the World Domination Summit are wonderful places to connect with like-minded people seeking a life beyond the ordinary. With a theme like “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”, these events tend to self-select for inspiring, successful people (or aspiring inspiring people :)) And when awesome people with a similar purpose get together, more awesomeness happens. But personally, having been exposed to this kind of atmosphere many times before, I’m looking for something different now. I don’t want to merely absorb and learn, I want to contribute and lead.
If I choose to go to WDS 2014, or any other seminar, it won’t be as someone who is “looking for inspiration to feel complete.” It’ll be as someone who has “made it” (by my standards), and wants to inspire others to push towards their own dreams. Until then, I can’t come back–I have all the tools I need within myself, I just need to utilize them. And I would be selling myself short if I went for another round of Kool-Aid without bringing extra sugar for everybody.
Whenever I visit a city, I have a tendency of wanting to go where everyone else isn’t. It’s easy to stay in the downtown areas, complete with visitors’ center signs with the bright yellow “You are here” star on the map. But it’s another thing to wander off entirely, take a random bus line, and see how far it will take me.
I’m currently in Portland, recovering after the 2013 World Domination Summit, a conference full of rather unconventional people (there’ll be a separate post on this later). Having a few extra days, I decided I wasn’t interested in going to the typical tourist spots, depicted in those “official visitors guides” filled with attractions that somebody paid a lot of money to include.
So, what do I need to do this morning? Eat, and get some allergy medicine–because as much as I love these trees, they’re killing my nose! How do I make this interesting? Pick a shop that is as far away and as inconvenient as possible. Why? Because you’re going to see something unusual on the way.
As I took the bus line eastward, I noticed a few (rather obvious) things. The number of Portland food carts lessened, and the number of chain restaurants like Popeye’s and Panda Express grew. (I’m willing to bet Panda doesn’t taste any better in Oregon than in California, where I usually see them.) The buildings in general seemed less well-maintained, and there were more open fields.
Oh look, it’s time to transfer buses. But the bus stop is temporarily closed. What should I do when that happens? Pull out Google maps on your phone! Wait a few seconds for the GPS lock to fixate, but the GPS is not sure what direction you’re facing, so…
Walk randomly! After a block I reorient yourself and head towards the temporary bus stop. I enter, and…
A car slams into a motorcycle right in front of the bus I’m on. It’s a good thing I had no time constraints (that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?), because my bus driver is a witness and is waiting for the police to arrive. At least Portland emergency services are fairly fast, with a police truck and a fire engine arriving within a few minutes. The motorcyclist appears to be shaking it off like nothing happened.
So I finally reach the destination, a small herb shop in the middle of a rather deserted shopping complex. After looking around, I find the thing I’m looking for. After buying it, and praising the Oregon people for their lack of sales tax, I head outside, and continue forward. I originally started on 13th street and am somewhere near 120th.
I find a sandwich shop where I eat a bland, uninspiring sandwich, since there wasn’t anything better around. It’s Arby’s, so I’m not wasting any more sentences on this.
A block away, is a Goodwill mega-store. While there wasn’t anything I was specifically looking for, I wander around inside and think of silly imaginary stories regarding the items they have on sale: “This telescope, it belonged to an amateur astronomer who got so bored waiting for the stars that he started drinking different types of beers. He learned so much about beer that he moved to Eugene to become a brewer, and donated his telescope before moving away.”
I head back. The return trip is always faster since I’m just backtracking along previously visited routes.
Say whatever you like, but I had more fun than sitting in one of those hop-on, hop-off, tourist mega-buses that go along the same routes every day with the overly happy tour guide afflicted with verbal diarrhea.
I did a similar concept in Montreal a few years ago, take the bus line east until to the edge of the river. My friend, who was FROM Montreal, hadn’t even seen that! Whatever the city, the rules never change: Pick a faraway place (or direction) to do your errands, and go. If you normally drive, take the bus or bicycle. Busy downtown areas slowly simmer down into quieter suburbs, and you get to see parts of the city that your average tourist doesn’t.
I’m currently running an experiment where I’m reducing the amount of carbohydrates I normally eat, and eliminating gluten from my diet. The big problem: pizza. One of my favorite foods, it has all the major food groups: cheese, meats, vegetables, and well…wheat bread. While I could start going for thin-crust instead, I felt that I could do better. Although Domino’s does have gluten-free crust available, it only comes in 10-inch sizes, and there is a $3 surcharge, so it’s not something I choose very often.
My original plan was to follow a recipe for gluten-free pizza crust found on a pancake mix box. You would think it would turn out soggy and “pancake-like” but as long as you spread the batter very thin, it’s acceptable.”Acceptable” isn’t good enough!
Randomly digging through stuff in the refrigerator, I found a solution which tastes surprisingly good.
Corn tortilla pizza!
- Corn tortillas
- Tomato sauce (about 2 tablespoons or more per tortilla)
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- Pepperoni (or other meats / vegetables)
- Italian seasoning
1. Put the corn tortillas in the oven* under high heat. Leave them there until they are slightly crispy. If a uncooked tortilla was 0% and a crispy tostada was 100%, cook it to 75%. In my experience this took about 5 minutes, but it varies depending on your oven. *A convection or toaster oven is recommended as the top part of the tortilla will need to cook as well as the lower part.
2. Spread tomato sauce, sprinkle cheese, and add meat or vegetables.
3. Place again into oven until cheese has melted. In my experience this took 4 minutes, but it can vary.
4. Remove from oven, sprinkle seasoning.
First of all, I love the concept of Redbox. After a busy day, you can visit a kiosk outside a grocery store or other retail establishment–which you would already visit anyway for other things–and pick up a movie or game rental for prices cheaper than your movie theater or buying a used game online. However, there is a huge problem with this, which has unfortunately hit me twice in a row while trying to rent Xbox 360 games, the most recent being this afternoon.
The first time I rented a game, I received a photocopy of a bar code on a piece of paper. The second time, I received a Blu-ray instead of a Xbox 360 game. (Redbox customer service confirmed that somebody transferred the bar code to a different disc). As I said, this has happened to me twice, and appears to be a problem while renting video games. A newly released video game is around $60, and new DVD’s are $20 or less. Obviously, there’s more of an incentive for fraud.
In order to get any sort of satisfaction, you have to call the Redbox customer service line, get put on hold, then return the game. They’ll offer you some free rental codes for your trouble (or claim they will, I’ve only received them the first time), but if you’re going to rent another game there’s no guarantee you’ll end up with the same problem again.
In case anybody from Redbox stumbles upon this post, here are some free suggestions. I won’t even charge you a consulting fee 🙂
- RFID tags embedded into the DVD itself during its manufacture – cannot be photocopied or removed without destroying the disk
- Built-in DVD reader inside the Kiosk – read a file (or sector) from the disc every time a disc is returned, if the data doesn’t match the previously read values it’s either scratched or fake
Time is valuable, and I could have been playing exciting new games instead of dealing with customer service and ranting online. I guess I’ll have to read a book instead :O
Have you noticed the degradation in quality and service lately? That Big Mac of yours increased in price by 75 cents from six months ago, and they replaced the English-speaking workers at Taco Bell with Hispanic workers who can’t understand your order. The post office is trying to ‘upsell’ you into more expensive shipping at the counter, and carefully measuring the size of letters to tack on extra fees they didn’t enforce before. Banks are all of a sudden nosy about depositing your own money, and even more nosy about withdrawing it (after all, they can’t make money without your money). Automated checkout counters are getting more and more common, but they won’t let you cancel items that were scanned twice by the overzealous barcode reader — basically they want to save money on labor, but don’t trust you enough to do it yourself.
Ads are being blasted in your face, from Skyfall (a VW Beetle, really?) to Facebook (you’re the product), everything is being monetized, tracked, and automated to extract as much money from you for the least possible effort. The Federal Reserve is in on it with inflation, and the European Union doesn’t even try to pretend anymore, with the proposed confiscation of Cyprus bank accounts.
The ‘cloud’ was supposedly supposed to save everybody, so the pie-in-the-sky marketers were telling us. Oops, they shut down Google Reader and now all the apps I have that sync with it are now dead. Cloud backup sounds great until you hit your monthly bandwidth cap (thanks monopolistic internet providers!) Possession is nine-tenths of the law, people. Your fancy Ruby on Rails website for tracking to-do lists might run out of venture capital funding and die, but I still have apps that were probably written with Borland Delphi for Windows 95. Executable files, baby! Or even better yet, open source code!
With all this technology and supposed human progress, society was supposed to be ‘easier’, but we as humans are making it more difficult, and why? So the people at the top can squeeze a few extra cents from you, instead of delivering value for those few extra cents? Paying more for getting less is the trend these days.
Is there concrete, measurable, benefit from all the shiny new features that we are being sold? Has there ever been?
Society is due for a change. I am pleased that there are those waking up, those who are revitalizing the ideas of minimalism and self-sufficiency. You’ll always remember your first trip overseas, or your first kiss, but who remembers what Android/iOS app they bought on May 17, 2010? Who knows if that app is even compatible with your current phone, or if you’ll need to buy an upgrade?
I am a man. I make no apology for my needs and desires. I refuse to settle because it is politically expedient to do so, because society tells me I must act or be a certain way. I refuse to redefine my standards in order to fit what others think of me. I refuse to lower myself and give up on my dreams and move the goalposts for an easy victory. I refuse to let temporary situations in temporary places cloud my judgement and distract me from the freedoms and opportunities that have been made abundant to us.
I did not incarnate onto planet Earth to suffer, to be a cog of this machine which grinds us out and spits us out for meaningless slips of paper which lose value with each and every passing day. I am not here to qualify myself, nor am I here to prove myself worthy in somebody else’s eyes. I will not simply look at something or someone beautiful like a passive, whipped, dog. I interact, succeed or fail on my own merits and should I fall I remember that nothing is truly permanent in this universe. The chances that are given to us and the chances we take should always exceed the chances we take for granted, because coincidences aren’t. I am not a coincidence, and neither are you.
I was born for a purpose. So were you. Do you remember it? And when you do will you step forward to claim it, or drown your sorrows and pretend it will go away?
Last night, I was stream-of-consciousness ranting at a group of people who were making shitty excuses for the state of their lives. This was what I remembered. I posted this on social media, but since nobody ever reads anything longer than 2 sentences there, it’s better here.