About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

October 24, 2017

A Paper That Changed Our World

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:08 am

You know everyone makes mistakes; however, not many make as far reaching a mistake as Bill Burr.  Mr. Burr is the person responsible for the current password guidelines he dispersed and he now says the instruction was wrong.

He authored an eight-page document which was OK’d by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  He also mentioned that, “…the paper wasn’t based on any real-world password data, but rather a paper written in the 1980s.”   Unfortunately, the document he wrote went on to become the Holy Grail of industries around the world.  It made it so that all businesses, governments, etc.  updated their password policies to coincide with this new information.

Password graphicYou know the spiel if you are in the workforce today.   You should have capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, nothing related to your date of birth, children’s names, pets’ names and maybe a few more.  And the one that made me the craziest, you must change your password every 90 days and cannot repeat one within a certain time period.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal Burr was quoted as saying, “Much of what I did I now regret.”   It went on to say that none of these actually make your passwords that secure.  Especially the, “change it every 90 days” rule.  It was determined in a 2010 study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill that updating passwords regularly can actually help hackers identify a pattern.  (You know you do it, changing just the last letter, number or symbol of a password you have used for years.)  I read another article stating that if you have never been hacked or noticed any strange happenings regarding your password you should never change one.

Guess what the new rules state?   A better solution is to create a password with four random words.  If you are allowed to do so you should include spaces.  This combo is supposedly harder to crack than the old revered password stylings.  You can even capitalize or use punctuation if you wish.  However, the length of the password is what discourages the hackers not the combination of letters, numbers and/or symbols.  The old rule of thumb about being at least eight characters long seems to be weak too.

So, my new passwords may be something like, “IscoffeeanElephantoraTomato?” or “Is coffee an Elephant or a Tomato?

I do have a couple of thoughts/concerns regarding the past guidelines…which we have found out could be bogus.  “They” always said not to use any word in the dictionary as this was how hackers started with their hacks. However, now it appears that commonly known words are OK.  Huh?  Who said that they should not be used the first time and where was their research documentation?   Is that one true or false?

All I know is that I hope where I work will quickly change the 90-day period between changes – life would be so much easier.

Change my passwords how often?!!!

January 20, 2014

2014-01-20 WSVA Show Notes

Welcome to the show for January 2014 and Happy New Year to you and yours!  Below are links to the sites we talked about today and here is the podcast if you missed part of the show.

Have fun looking around.

Tech News
Tablet ownership in U.S. surges
Thirty five percent of Americans own a tablet and 24 percent own and e-reader, according to the latest study from Pew Internet Research.Pew documented a big jump in tablet ownership. In November 2012, 25 percent of Americans owned a tablet {September 2013, 35 percent}. The findings illustrate the democratization of tablet computing and the impact on lower-cost models beyond the larger version of the iPad.

This article sums up the tablet and e-reader ownership breakdown for Americans 16 years old and up. It’s also worth noting that previous Pew studies on tablet ownership in the U.S. started at age 18 and up.

Chromebooks Enjoy 21% of Notebook Sales in 2013
According to NPD (a major national market research company), Chromebook sales hit a total of 1.76 million units between January and November of this year, which is quite a bit of a jump from the 400,000 units that made it out in 2012. In total, NPD’s figures indicate that Chromebooks jumped from virtually nothing in 2012 to 21 percent of all notebook sales in 2013.A recent press release from Amazon itself confirms that Chromebooks took two of the top three spots for “holiday best sellers” – specifically, a Samsung Chromebook and an Acer Chromebook.

Spiders force Toyota to recall 800,000 vehicles
Toyota has announced a voluntary recall of some 803,000 cars due to airbags inadvertently deploying — and the blame appears to be spiders inside the air conditioning units. Toyota’s recall notice states that some 2012 and 2013 Camry, Venza, and Avalon vehicles are experiencing problems with their air conditioning condenser unit housing — apparently, condensation and water has been leaking into the airbag control module. In most cases, that’s just causing the airbag warning light to turn on, but a few times the driver side airbag has deployed without warning.However, according to CNN, the cause of the leak is rather unsettling if you suffer from arachnophobia. Spiders and their webs are apparently responsible for clogging the air conditioner drainage tubes, causing the water spillover onto the airbag control module.

To provide better service in alerting the American people to unsafe, hazardous or defective products, six federal agencies with vastly different jurisdictions have joined together to create — a “one stop shop” for U.S. Government recalls.

The Door Lock of the Future is Here
Kwikset Kevo
Kwikset has rolled out the Kevo lock. A door lock that receives a signal from your Smartphone (iPhones only right this minute) or a coded key fob and can open when you touch the lock. If you forget your phone it will open with a regular key that you can find buried somewhere on your key chain.

Check out the video and see what you think, especially with a $219 price tag.

Get the best route, every day, with real–time help from other drivers.

Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute.

Free available to most all types of phone OS’s.

Free Backup Software
Cobian backup,
Allway Sync,
Two good free backup applications for making sure you do not loose your important files.

Browser History
Check Browser History for all Browsers
Sometimes you may want to make a return visit to a website that you saw a day or 20 ago. You may use multiple browsers like many people and do not want to go view the history in each browser. With this app from you can check the histories of all of your browser at the same time and get a report of what has been seen.

If you have cut off your History feature on your browser you will not be able to retrieve this information.

Your Fingerprint may be your new Password
Biometric Scan Comes to Android 2014
The FIDO Alliance (Fast IDentity Online) has claimed in a new technology news statement, that the first Android handsets with biometric scanners will be released in the first half of next year, to help to remove the dependency on traditional app and web passwords.

This technology news was meant to be available for any web-based service or manufacturer so that traditional text-based passwords can be replaced with these biometric alternatives. Michael Barrett, the PayPal chief information security officer, and the president of FIDO, has explained that the increasing support and power of the group has meant that it will become possible for the mobile internet to become considerably safer to use in a very short period of time. That way, swiping a finger across the smartphone will be all that is required for the access of an individual’s own online accounts, but that they will remain safe from being accessed by anyone else.

If I Die
This website provides a way for you to write and store letters to your friends. Each letter, when finished, will be stored securely and encrypted with a special password of your choosing. No one will be able to read any of your letters while you’re still alive.

A couple of “safegaurds” are in place to keep them from firing off by mistake.

New ‘Bond gadget’ set to let us breathe under water Bond-like rebreather
It is the James Bond gadget on everyone’s wishlist.

A South Korean designer has taken inspiration from the movie spy’s “rebreather”, which allows the user to breathe under water.

Clipped on a diving face mask, the Triton device acts like a fish gill to extract oxygen from water so that the user can keep breathing while under the sea.

That is all for today.  See you again next month on Monday, February 17.

Keep those cards and letter emails coming!

December 17, 2013

Android Browsers

Last week I wrote about the browser I favor most.  I received many emails from folks telling me their thoughts on the matter.  Thanks for the emails as I always appreciate hearing from you!  There was a repeated theme from those emails regarding my favorite Android browser.  This demonstrated to me that you readers know me pretty well since no one mentioned iPhones or iPads.

So, today I will look at some Android browsers I prefer. 

The default browser which comes with the Android phones and tablets is pretty good all on its own.  So I do not recommend replacing it unless you have enough geek in you to want to play with it.  Also, it is interesting to note the most popular windows browsers are all available for Android. There is one notable exception which is the Microsoft browser, Internet Explorer. 

If you enjoy Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari on your PC my next suggestion would be you should try the same one on your Android device.  There are some similarities with the same named browser between the two platforms; however, they are different in some respects. 

I think the best feature in matching browser between PC and Android is that you can link them.  For instance, if you are using Firefox on your PC and then install it on your tablet you can "sync" them with each other.  You can automatically get all of your saved passwords, browsing history and other items.  These will be synced between the two so that you have everything available and up-to-date between them.  The other browsers mentioned above all have some sort of the comparable syncing capabilities.  

imageBear in mind that as I stated last week the "best" browser for you matches your comfort level and personal preference.  So, in my opinion the best Android browser is the Dolphin browser.  Before you go to the Android store let me give you two tips.  There are two Dolphin browsers available, one is the HD version and the other is the Mini.  They are made for tablets and phones respectively. It has been my experience that the Mini works well on tablets; however, it lacks some of the "extras" you get on the HD version.      

SonarOne reason I enjoy Dolphin is that it works very well and is pretty easy to use.  It also has two neat features called "sonar" and "gestures."  With sonar you can speak commands to Dolphin and it will carry out most of them very well.  For instance, you can say, "Find the closest pizza shop" and it does a good job, depending on your devices’ settings.  It isn’t perfect since I tried, "Who is Robin Doyle" and it gave me a list of "Robert" Doyles. 


GesturesGestures are interesting too.  If you start them you can draw on your screen and particular actions will occur in the browser.  For instance, if you draw a "G" on the screen it will immediately open  Another is a "Y" for and there are others.  If you have questions about how to use or set up your own Gestures, draw a large question mark.


imageAlso, you may want to install the Dolphin "Jet Pack" after you start using the browser.  It is said to speed it up and give you more features; although I am comfortable using it with or without this add-on.

Using Dolphin is a slightly new browser experience.   I think it is worth trying if you like learning a few new tricks.

Let me know which phone/tablet browsers you prefer.

July 16, 2013

November 13, 2012

Passwords Should Be Difficult & Easy

I receive questions quite often about passwords. I have a quick, wise guy answer; make them really difficult but easy. OK, I left a couple of words out of that statement. It should have said “really difficult for someone else to guess but easy for you to remember.”

We need passwords for networks on our job, email, bank accounts, applications, shipping services, one for this program and another for that. Oh, and they all have different rules. Many of them change every 90 days, they are all on a different 90-day cycle, and you can only repeat a password every 35 years. And don’t forget all your shopping web sites .

Password-based attacks are steadily on the rise…think Identity Theft, so make yours hard to crack. One other tip before we get into the details. I know it is hard but I do not suggest you use the same password for everything. If you do and someone happens to get it, you have lost everything online. I’m just saying…

Avoid the obvious ones. Some of the top passwords in use in the US are “qwerty,” “asdfgh,” “zxcvbnm,” 12345678, password, pets, kids, parents, or significant other’s names, your birth date, month, or year of birth, your street name and/or number, your car’s license plate, an unusual word, like ambrosia, etc. Also, don’t spell any of these backwards. Look at your keyboard for a hint about those first three.

Did any of those examples give you a sinking feeling? Also, the most common “secret” place people store their password list is under their keyboard on a sticky note. Don’t!

passwordUse combinations of letters, upper-case and lower-case, numbers, symbols (if allowed) and make sure the letters don’t spell anything. Something like "P7#tXc59T!" could be good, but remember — you have to commit it to memory.  Consider substituting symbols for letters, say the “@” symbol for “a” or the letter “l” for the numeral “1”.

Always use at least eight-digits since the chances of cracking those are about 1 in 2,821,109,907,456. For example, hackers have tools which are able to hack any six-character password in 15 minutes or less.

I suggest using the first letters of the words to a favorite song, or a slogan, with maybe the year you first heard it, or were born mixed with a symbol. So a mix-up of, “Hamburger, all the way” and “2012” could become “2H0at1w2!” Then when you need to change it, use another song or slogan.

good passwordsIf you go online and Google for “Random password generator” you will find a bazillion of them. One I like is “” My only issue with those is they sometimes make them so hard you have to write them down somewhere close by and that is a no-no!

One last thought. If you want to know how difficult your password is go to Microsoft at “” and it will rate your password. There are other sites for checking them too, but I trust MS not to be recording it in the background somewhere…muhahahaha.

August 14, 2012

September 13, 2011

June 21, 2011

Open to the World, Part 2

Last week we started looking at securing your home network.  Today we will finish our walk-through.  There are other settings for your router I have not mentioned but with instructions in hand you can experiment.  Just be very careful and (maybe) check with a geek friend first.

In review:

  1. Open your browser and go to either or
  2. Enter your router’s username and password.
  3. Change your password to something difficult.
  4. Rename your network/SSID.
  5. Encrypt your network to WPA-PSK or WPA2.

Let’s pick up where we left off.  Do not use the old settings of WEP or WPA since they can be cracked in minutes by hackers.  If your router doesn’t have the WPA-PSK or WPA2 try to upgrade your router’s firmware (there should be a menu item for that) or buy a new one.  I would recommend a purchase because you can get good and more modern ones for less than $50.

Finally, set a difficult password from eight to 63 characters. Make it tough by using upper-case characters, lower-case characters, numbers and/or symbols.  Do not forget it since you will need it sometime in the future, like when you get a new computer.  Check my past columns on creating good passwords for help with this.

All you have left to do is to save the settings and close your browser.  This will most likely kick you off of your network so you will need to reconfigure your computer with the new router info.

Reconfiguring your router is easy to do in Windows 7.  Look for the wireless icon in the lower right area of your taskbar.  This is the notification area.  Right-click the icon and select Connect to a Network.  You will see your network name (SSID) which you previously set up.  It should appear in a list of available networks. You may even see your neighbors’ networks, but come on, be nice.  Select your network from the list.  Choose the connect link, enter your password and in a few seconds you should be online.

With a Vista machine, use START then Connect To. Now choose your network name (SSID) and click Connect.  Proceed as above.

XP is the last one we will look at since it is a little more difficult.  Go to Start again, then to  Control Panel and double-click Network Connections. Right-click the Wireless Network Connection icon and select Properties.  Now go to the Wireless Networks tab.  Look for your SSID in the Preferred networks.  Click it and choose Properties.  Now, find the Network Authentication setting and select WPA-PSK or WPA2.  Under Data Encryption, select AES. The Network Key is the password you set for your network, so enter it here. Make sure the option This Key Is Provided For Me Automatically is not checked. Then click OK.

Your computer should reconnect to the network. This process will have to be repeated for every wireless computer—the good news is that you should only have to do it once.

June 7, 2011

P@55w0rd Keepers

I wrote a column last year about passwords.  Gee, don’t our digital worlds revolve around them?  If you work with computers on a regular basis you may have a million of them.  You may have them for logging onto your computer, websites, email, bank accounts, online stores, etc.  As I stated last year, “I do not have that great a memory and never did.”  So to remember them I use applications designed to keep them for me.

First, here is a quick review of password creating.  Always use at least eight-characters in a password. Be sure to use a combination of letters, numbers, upper-case and lower-case, and make sure the letters don’t spell anything … even backwards.  Something like "rQ7tXc5#T" would be good, but bear in mind you have to remember it.

Some of the top passwords currently in use in the US are 12345, qwerty, asdfgh, 12345678, monkey, your first, middle, or last names, names of pets, kids, parents, or significant other, birth dates, months, year of birth, street name and/or number, your car’s license plate, a difficult word from the dictionary, like ambrosia (a very popular one) and the most obvious, "password".  Are you using any of those?  I hope not!

imageHow are we to remember them? Well, I am a huge fan of KeePass. KeePass is a standalone program which is installed on your computer, where all of your passwords are stored. I have been using that app for at least 5 years and it has never failed.

However, there is another I was testing until earlier this summer, LastPass. LastPass is recommended by some of the big names in Tech.  LastPass is also installed locally; however, your encrypted passwords are stored online. The online storage enables you to access them online from any location on any computer. I always wondered about storing your passwords on someone else’s servers…in the cloud.  In May, 2011, LastPass posted on their sites, “We noticed an issue yesterday and wanted to alert you to it. As a precaution, we’re also forcing you to change your master password.”

Basically, that meant someone “could” have hacked their password site and gotten information from user accounts.

Many have said this didn’t happen and they are showing paranoia in being so cautious. This is a good thing.  It made me decide to bail out of the program. I really can’t recommend it since this happened.  You can debate whether they had been hacked or not. Regardless, your secret “stuff” is out there and not under your control.  That concerns me.

Most password manager programs work the same.  You set up a “Master Password” which protects all of your other passwords.  Make sure it is a good one in order to keep prying eyes out.  Then log into the program using that password and you can look up your individual passwords.

I realize there are other great programs which perform the same/similar actions out there like RoboForm, and 1Password.    However, KeePass is the one that I can fearlessly recommend to my readers.

I would like to hear from you during the week.  Tell me which password program you like and use.  As I compare and contrast them, I believe KeePass has been, and will continue to be (for some time) my choice in password security.

May 16, 2011

2011-05-16 WSVA Show Notes

Listen to the podcast online if you weren’t able to listen live this morning.

Tech News
Online Scammers Jump on bin Laden News
Security experts are warning Internet users to beware of Osama bin Laden malware. Symantec says one spam contains a link to bogus photos and videos purporting to be from CNN Mexico. Instead, it directs people to a scam site designed to look real but created to steal passwords. Facebook users also fell victim to fake bin Laden links.

In what’s become common practice among the Internet’s less savory citizens, these scammers are sending out emails and spreading Facebook posts that purport to be videos or photos of the dead bin Laden. They are not. But by clicking the links, users can download computer viruses that steal personal information or otherwise infect their computers.

Yell at your phone to charge it!
New research from engineers in South Korea promises a new way to top up your phone’s battery: by shouting at it. This comes via a technique that turns energy from sound into electricity, and would allow a phone to be charged while you hold a conversation-just don’t throw you charger away any time soon.

Theoretically, using this technology your phone would also be able to charge while hold a conversation, but the sound levels in this situation are not high enough, unless… you shout at it.

CAN IT BE TRUE???? Skype Vulnerability Allows Hackers To Take Over Macs
A recently discovered hack in the Mac version of Skype allows hackers to gain control of the user’s system by sending a malicious instant message.

According to Australian security consultancy company Pure Hacking, the vulnerability in Skype is dangerous and would allow anyone with the know-how to gain control of a Mac by simply sending a malicious instant message.

  • Skype
    With Skype, you can share a story, celebrate a birthday, learn a language, hold a meeting, work with colleagues – just about anything you need to do together every day. You can use Skype on whatever works best for you – on your phone or computer or a TV with Skype on it. It is free to start using Skype – to speak, see and instant message other people on Skype for example. You can even try out group video, with the latest version of Skype.

    If you pay a little, you can do more things, in more ways, with more people – like call phones, access WiFi or send texts.

    Microsoft purchases Skype

  • Planking
    This is the first recorded "Planking" death; unfortunately there could be many more to follow. What is planking? It is the "art" of laying face-down in extreme locations, having your picture taken and posted online for temporary fame.

    As the debate about planking went viral around the world yesterday, Brisbane psychologist Paul Martin warned of more deaths of "extreme plankers". He claimed part of the reason was that the pre-frontal cortex in men aged 23 or younger – the decision management part of the brain – was not fully developed and they therefore lacked a "handbrake" and took silly risks.

    "Add testosterone, add masculinity, add the Jackass effect and then add the explosion of social networking sites which are a way to gain acceptance . . . (and) death is quite inevitable."

  • Gas Buddy & Virginia Gas Prices
    Check country wide or state wide gas prices. Just enter your Zip Code at and it will take you to the area gas prices (for us,

    They also have a trip cost estimator. Enter the FROM and TO, YEAR, MAKE and MODEL of your car and they will estimate how much it will cost you in gas to go and return.

    And of course, they have apps for iPhones, Androids and Windows phones. If you have another smart phone go to

Join Ron and Jim next time on WSVA 550 AM, Monday, June 20, 2011 for more interesting sites, tech news and conversation.

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