Open Sesame. Pretty please?

Like millions of people living today who are semi-computer capable and who have a love/hate, “but mostly hate” relationship with technology simply because it moves at precisely the same speed as the tip of a bullwhip, I have one overwhelming pain-in-the-backside problem that grows monumentally larger every single day:


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In early history, Roman soldiers used watchwords. These secret keywords were inscribed on wooden tablets and given out when the troops made camp at night. Passed from one guard to the next, and returned to the equivalent of their commander in chief in the morning, it was pretty easy to determine who was going to get a lickin based on the handwriting of all the tic tac toe games on the reverse side. But who could blame them, right? Angry Birds, Flappy Bird and Candy Crush were a few years off.

Skip and jump forward a few wars and the military decides to up the ante in their “anti-theft” division. Now you not only have to remember the day’s password, but you have to come up with the day’s counterpassword as well. So he says, “Potato,” and you say, “Potahto.” Capish? It’s the old call and response routine, and it worked well enough until everyone repeatedly forgot where they were and took to belting out Broadway tunes for the rest of the night. It made them an easy target for any folks on the enemy side who hadn’t already developed a taste for Liza Minnelli.

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Let’s time travel all the way up to the mid 1960s and walk through the hallowed halls of MIT, into the overly warm, clamorous, wall to wall stuffed room where researchers housed their newly built contraption—a time-sharing computer called CTSS. Supposedly it was an acronym for Compatible Time-Sharing System, but it could easily have been dubbed Create Trouble & Steal Security. The folks who worked on this computer are in many circles given credit for being the first to see the necessity and employ the use of passwords. They were also the first group of young adults to coin the term hacker and make a profitable practice developing the art.

Yep. It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

The rules for keeping your data safe on the internet today have grown from Think up a word and you can sleep at night knowing your emails are private, to Yeah, buddy, even if you come up with a brand new language using only tab keys, your door bell and the scroll lock switch, we’ll find out how many pennies you’ve got stored in your piggy bank in the time it takes for you to brush only half your teeth. So there. Nighty night.

It seems impossible to conform to all the dished out sage advice that counsels you to use different passwords for every site where you need to leave behind some of your personal identity.

There’s got to be a better way.

Let me blow in a tube that can code my breath, lick a saliva indentifying patch on my monitor, or bite down on a dental impression fitted to my keyboard. Surely the millions of kids with stupefying techy talent out there can whip up some solution to this world-wide conundrum we repeatedly face multiple times an hour, yes?

I’m told not to create a password that would be easily guessed, not to make it personal, not to repeat characters, not to use too few, but not to use too many. Have some letters, throw in a number, squeeze in a character, and do the hokey pokey.

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Now … do not, even under threat of torture, write it down.

But don’t forget it.

Now rinse and repeat for the next fifty web sites you do business with.

My brain is exploding.

Can’t I get a chip implanted in my wrist? How about a fingertip recognition keyboard? I would even go so far as to willingly give a small blood sample in place of recalling absurd, brain-blunting codes that a computer could crack in the blink of an eye.

Apparently organizing and overseeing passwords has a hefty price tag attached to it—somewhere in the region of billions of dollars in productivity losses every year. The extra time snatched away from me has surely affected my day negatively. I write less, bathe less, and have had to forgo putting parsley on my family’s dinner plates. Every second counts in my day, and instead of carving tomato flowers, I am desperately trying to protect my social security number from computer criminals who would one day like to have my checks sent to their mailboxes and not mine. No matter that by the time I qualify, social security numbers will be as financially valuable as an avocado-colored bar blender, but I’m sure some of their efforts are paying off now.

I know there’s no quick fix on the horizon, but I think I’ve come up with a few pretty good ideas.

If none of the above are worthy of consideration, I might even be willing to go back to showing my computer my daily wooden tablet to gain access.

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It’ll probably only bring me to a site where I can play tic tac toe.



Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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47 thoughts on “Open Sesame. Pretty please?

  1. Oh, I know, pure agony, this whole password business. You change one and the chain effect is felt for weeks. Now I’m depressed. Tumblr tells me to change my password and I’m scared to. I’ve only just got everything working on all my media accounts, after trying to install two step authentication which had to be safe, because even I couldn’t get into my blog for days! Am really not sure what to do. Will administer chocolate.

  2. And the ones I really like are those that make you change your password regularly, but won’t let you use the previous one, or the one before that….
    Oh, and the ones where you have a numeric/symbolic personal identifier assigned to you that you can’t change so you just have to remember it….
    And then there’s the……
    Help. Think my brain just melted. 😉

    • It is a world-wide conundrum and one that is severely attacking our valuable and much needed brain function. Something must be done! I do not want to become a Luddite and start throwing all my supposed ‘labor saving machinery’ out the window simply because in order to use it I must labor more so than before employing it. UGH.

    • boxs’ that spit out unbreakable, uncrackable passcodes… Maybe we all have to learn Navajo, as that was an unbreakable code during the WWII. I think it’s ridiculous to need such security when my bank account rarely tops $300. Please, someone hack me, I need to write of some debt! 😉

    • That’s a hair pulling out worthy experience I think many of us have encountered, and one that has made me bolt upright in bed at night with the fear of it.
      Maybe WordPress could spring for the cost of some group therapy? 😛

  3. Mary avait un petit agneau… this one works for me and it’s never been broken. That, or any name of a current top 10 song from Kenny G. works too. How would anyone ever think to break a code with these in mind.

    S!##%!@! I just gave away my hackers code! Cleo, help! Now the “Leeks” are out and this will only encourage more of Rob’s veggie conspiracy cartoons! The Swedish government will know who I am now. MIT, take me away…

    Stoshu 🙂

    P.s. BTW, just curious Shelley, you have so many wonderfully entertaining followers, responders or call them what is politically correct… I have a deep curiosity of where in the world they all respond from. I love the international connection you offer with your fantastic and always entertaining blog, I’d be curious to learn where (in general) everyone comes from. Probably too late to explain that I live in the provincial (sounds better than “hick”), yet beautiful hills of northern Wisconsin.

    • Bummer about the giveaway, bud.
      And yes, the folks who comment here are not only internationally well-known in their fields of expertise and celebrated for their lofty accomplishments, but sage masters of philosophy and metaphysics. Some of them can even do card tricks.
      The point is, they’ve all got interesting voices. So check them out. Click on their gravatars, and you’ll likely open a portal where you’ll travel through a wormhole to their world. 😀

        • Maybe 😉 Sometimes people tell me I come from a really interesting background, but I think the main difference is that we know about so much of it. I bet there’s more to other families than usually meets the eye.

  4. My strategy is to pick a descriptive word, like INSANE. Then replace one of the letters with a number: INSAN3. Then add whatever letter is the first word of the application in question: INSAN3a = Apple pw. INSAN3w = WordPress pw. Probably the gurus of security would not improve, but it’s the only way I can manage. Otherwise: constant chaos and gnashing of teeth.

    • Linnetmoss,

      For some reason, this site would not let me respond directly under your recent post; thus the side post. Most likely it’s part of the “Veggie Conspiracy Theory”. (I bet Rob has an inside to that).

      Regardless, I found it humorous; however in my simple brain I lost you somewhere between your very creative thoughts of cross-utilizing calculus and algebra for coding. Call it a brain overload for me if you will.

      I am a simpleton… thus making my passwords such as “tree” or “flower”. Yes, I’m sure someone has or soon will hack information I have yet I am pretty sure they’ll be woop’dly bored with what they find.

      Much respect,

      Stoshu 🙂

      • Stoshu, I would love to use “tree” for my password, but scarcely a site will allow it. Many will haughtily reject any proposal that is not at least ten characters long, and does not contain at least one capital letter, two numbers, one symbol that otherwise denotes profanity, and one character from the Russian alphabet.
        Only Amazon still permits me to use my original pw from long ago. It is shockingly brief and non-secure. I hope I’ll never have to give it up…

    • Yes, the gnashing of teeth is a dental exercise I have mastered which, according to my dentist, is fine with him as he’s got loads more composite material in the back cupboards to build up that which became powder during the previous six months.
      Yuck. Not tasty. Definitely INSANE.

  5. I’m at the point of wondering why we bother with passwords at all any more. Then there are those oh, so helpful password hint things, like what was your first car or name of your favorite pet…ughh.

  6. I use a similar methodology to Linnet’s. I pick a number (instead of her word) and then insert an acronym for the app (Crazy Birds = CB) somewhere in that number (a number that holds meaning for me; not a random #). If it needs a character, I’ll add an “!” or “?” at the end.

    And then I drink heavily to drown out the voices.

  7. Oh, I commiserate with you, Shelley. (And apparently all your other friends here do as well.) Coming up with a password that isn’t too common or too obscure, and that I’ll have a snowball’s chance in Hades of remembering later on, is something of a fine art. And isn’t it good old WordPress that asks us something like, “Can’t think of a password? Use the password generator below.” And it spits out something like: grw&^564187/@#adjfklafjl. Yeah, that’ll work.

    • And now of course with the heartbleed bug we get the opportunity to try this malarkey all over again. I’ve just spent the last 90 minutes reinventing absurd passwords which will, if I’m lucky, maybe last until morning when I can do the whole dance all over again.
      It will be a day of celebration when we know longer get a headache from this technological torture. And someday, if I should be so lucky as to have grand kids, they’re going to get a regular earful about all we had to go thru. “You think you’ve got it hard? Back in MY day …”

      • Haha! Instead of griping about having to walk to and from school uphill–both ways!–every day, we’ll be telling them, “We had passwords! For every account under the sun. And we had to change them every other week!”

    • When I think of all the good the clever clods who break through security could be doing with their talents it makes my teeth itch. One of them surely could have figured out how to manufacture successful artificial photosynthesis in a laboratory by now. We could be globally green in mere minutes! Some people have too much time on their hands. *sigh*

      • Amen to that! Although I suppose a few of them could claim to be helping out as poacher turned gamekeeper types. My husband and brother both work in IT, although in widely differing areas and it’s just as outlandish behind the scenes.

        My brother is definitely the one to call when your son has locked himself out of his laptop by a) deleting the admin account we set up so we’d have a backdoor and b) forgetting his password completely during a 5 week trip to Tanzania, just in time to come back and need a whole bunch of coursework for an imminent exam deadline.

        It involved a whole new OS and mirroring something or other. I took my frustration out on the weeds in the garden and left them to it. 😦

        • Last night, my daughter’s computer wizard boyfriend kindly spent fifteen minutes attempting to explain to me the general concepts of password security and the options available today. Password mangers, generators, encryption software and other words that I swear were new to our English dictionary were flung around with abandon. I would have given my left lung to understand him. I really tried.

          In the end I just applauded and reminded him to eat something from the fridge. I know my blood sugar was dipping simply from trying to process what language he was using. Wow. To be 17 and THAT smart. Lucky him. Sadly, I’m no better off.

          • It’s half open book at most, to me. I grew up with computers around me, so I understand a part. But that’s it, after that important cognitive functions start shutting down in sheer self-defence. The lights might look like they’re on but nobody is home listening any more.
            Baby bro is definitely techy hardware geek, security supremo etc. He works in the IT department of a university, so gets hands on with all the mysterious inner workings. My husband works in banking IT and runs mega systems. If you want to know how to move massive amounts of money around securely while keeping the labyrinthine regulatory bodies happy, he’s your guy.

  8. Never mind passwords, get this: long long ago in the mid 1970s I had a mate who went to India with travellers’ cheques. When he ran low on money he went to the bank and countersigned a cheque, only to be told,’that doesn’t look like the first signature.’ But because it was India, he was allowed to sit at a desk and write his signature over and over again until they decided it looked the same.

  9. This was of course undeniably the funniest post I’ve read in a long time! I guess anyone who reads this and doesn’t live in North Korea knows what you’re talking about. There was a time, probably before 9/11, when I had one single simple password for each one of my two online ‘thingies’ (whatever they were, probably email and msn)…I guess if I’d do that nowadays some Nigerian prince will rob my bank account before I even have time to write down my password…
    Perhaps Windows 9 will feature the technology to actually use a blood sample each time you log in…Or would that mean people would start trying to steal each other’s blood…or that people should only use public computers using condoms?…Never mind, I’m thinking this through too much…Funny posts have that effect on me;)

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