An Excerpt from My Book List

My Excel List of Books I’ve Read Since Early March

I know it’s a little fancy, but I’ve been messing with computers since 1964, when I was a junior at Dartmouth College. There are a lot of abbreviations and symbols which may not make sense, but which I will try to explain here:

  • Col B: A star indicates a new author I have never read.
  • Col D: If an entry is in Italics, I read it on my Kindle. A Commercial-At (@) indicates a re-read.
  • Col H: Either a miniature Guatemalan flag for my vacation reading, or a 2-character country abbreviation. FR=France, AS=Asian, GE=Germany, IS=Iceland, IT=Italy, RU=Russia.
  • Col I: My rating from 0 (worst) to 10 (best).
  • Col K: Genre. FIC=Fiction, MYS=Mystery,BIO=Biography, TRA=Travel, SS=Short Stories, AA=Anthropology & Archeology, SFF=Sci-Fi and Fantasy, DRM=Drama, YAF=Young Adult Fiction, and so on.

The first column is a counter indicating I have read 2,096 works since 1998, when I started. Now that I am retired (for now), I am reading more than ever.


Buried Under Paperwork

I Might Be Retired, But the Paper Still Piles Up

I give up. After I spent several hour looking for a piece of paper this morning, I have decided to order a Fujitsu Scanner so that I can keep my documents on the hard drive, the way I did at work. Bureaucracies love burying us under unnecessary documents and forms, such that the important stuff gets lost in their midst.

It is so much easier to scan the important documents and set up a directory structure by organization (Medicare, Health Insurance), year, with special filenames for the really important stuff. It was so easy at work. At home, it is near impossible.

Next: What am I going to do about shredding unwanted documents that have my Social Security Number and credit card numbers on them?


Computer Security Gone Wild

That Is 4 Sure!

As an IT specialist, I am surrounded by hundreds of passwords for our computer network and its users. Every system seems to have its own requirements, with financial institutions being the most demanding:

  • One or more capital letters
  • Several lower case letters
  • One or more numbers
  • One or more special characters (!@#$%^&* etc.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, some systems require you to change passwords every 90 days or so. Now the IRS has gotten involved: Users of accounting systems that store Social Security Numbers and Federal Tax IDs are required to create passwords that comply with the standards enumerated above, and moreover change them at 90 day intervals.

What is a good password? As the illustration above indicates, length is probably the best attribute. There is a fun website called How Secure Is My Password? that is fun to use. Given any password you type in, it tells you approximately how long a computer can crack it. Let’s enter a password called, simply enough, “password.” Your password would be cracked instantly. Let’s say your password is “Longer Passwords Make Stronger Passwords.” That would take a computer 89 septendecillion years to crack. You get the general idea. (I think it would actually be cracked sooner, because computers are always getting faster.)

Some people think that using letter/number substitutions such as “4“ for “for” or “B100dy Pa55w0rd5!” for “Bloody Passwords!” would do the trick. Not really. Not when a hacker uses brute computing force to check all possible letter/number/special character permutations. And these artificial passwords are always harder to remember. And you know what happens when you lose a vital password? You’re up Excrement Creek without a paddle.

What I do is keep all my passwords up to date in a Microsoft Excel file that is itself passworded. You can even create sequences of passwords, such as:

  • 1-2-Buckle-My-Shoe
  • 3-4-Shut-The-Door
  • 5-6-Pick-Up-Sticks
  • 7-8-Lay-Them-Straight
  • 9-10-A-Big-Fat-Hen

I’ve actually used that sequence for one bank (but no longer).

There are even computer programs that save your passwords for you—even Internet browsers. But if it’s a separate system, how do you know it wasn’t designed by computer hackers? It’s like all those unsolicited anti-virus systems whose sole purpose is to load viruses onto your system. It pays to be a bit suspicious.


Ideo-Bursts and Promisoids

The Whole Medium Is IMHO Suspect

The Whole Medium Is IMHO Suspect

About a year ago, I signed up for Twitter. But then, when I found out I was supposed to “follow” three existing Twitter accounts, I suddenly lost interest, so I never finished my application. About once a week, Twitter e-mails me to finalize my application … but I never will.

Why? A certain Prezidenchul candidate has adopted Twitter as his preferred method of communicating with the world, and I suddenly saw what was wrong with the whole setup. Standing at the microphone (broken or not), Donald Trump thinks in limited bursts of thought that are compatible with the character limit on tweets. He jumps from one tweet-length position to another. This effectively prevents him for discussing such nasty things as details that may substantiate his short ideo-bursts.

On the other hand, these same tweets endear him to his fans, who are not into such mundane things as facts. They are, if anything, practitioners of identity politics: Trump re-connects with his base, and since they identify with him, that connection is all that counts.

When you go into details, you could wind up betraying your base. So, the idea is to just skip around, making short promisoids without pinning himself down on any one of them. Promisoids good, facts bad!

So I think I will never complete my Twitter application process. And here, in considerably more than 140 characters, is why.


The Five Year Curse

It Seems That Computers Last for Only About Five Years

It Seems That Computers Last for Only About Five Years

Poor Martine! Every time my computer craps out, she is at the keyboard. And it’s not her fault—though it’s not easy to convince her of that—it’s just that the system just lost track of its hard drive. I hit the on/off switch and held it until the screen went dark. Then it seemed to come up normally when I punched it again.

But my Dell Optiplex 990 is now five years old, and five is a dangerous age for desktops. I’m going to start the replacement process this week and be even more fanatical about backing up my files. It looks as if I’ll have to start using Windows 10, which shouldn’t be much of a problem, as that is what I use at work.

If you see that I do not post for three or four days in a row, it’ll be because I am in transition. Wish me luck!

You Can, But You Won’t

E-Readers Are OK, but Smart Phones Are Not

E-Readers Are OK, but Smart Phones Are Not

Once I saw a website somewhere about all the devices that smart phones will render obsolete. On the list were e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook. I do not believe, however, that people with smart phones will be reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (in seven volumes) anytime soon. I do not even think that they will be reading many shorter books, such as 10 Haikus for the Next Millennium.

Just because you can read books on a smart phone does not mean that you will ever want to. There are four reasons for this:

  • You can only see so many words on a page. Excessive page-turning will render the reading experience too clumsy.
  • If your device is backlit, it will bother your eyes to read for any length of time. E-book readers like Nook and Kindles use a technology that does not glare at you.
  • People past a certain age (and I am already there) have trouble reading words on small screens.
  • Smart phones are so small that the reading experience is psychologically different from cradling a physical book in your hands.

I remember when Gutenberg and other websites put the complete texts of thousands of books online. In the last ten years, I have succeeded in reading only one book online: Sir Richard F. Burton’s Falconry in the Valley of the Indus. It is a relatively short book, and I can tell you it was a real chore, what with the glareback from my monitor. I believe this may also be a problem on iPads and other pad devices.

Over the years, I have long suspected that those people staring at their cellphone screens while walking are probably not reading Moby Dick.


Keeping Track

QuickBooks Online: A Valentine

QuickBooks Online: A Valentine

I don’t usually have too much good to say about accounting—seeing that I’m kind of trapped in the profession for now. At the same time, I do believe that people should carefully take care of their own accounting. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If one keeps track of financial accounts and transactions on a regular basis, there is less chance of becoming susceptible to identity theft.
  2. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have trust in banks, so I regularly do bank reconciliations every month. I have spotted errors at least twice a year which I have had the banks rectify.
  3. Thanks to those same reconciliations, I know how much money I have at any given time.
  4. When tax time comes around, a nice detailed General Ledger report will make filling out your 1040 relatively fast and easy.

For my personal accounting, I used to use QuickBooks Pro 2008, which was stored on my home computer. About this time last year, I switched to QuickBooks Online, which costs me $19.99 a month. It’s worth it: My data is in the cloud, making it accessible from any computer with Internet access. And I no longer have to worry about the program becoming outdated, as the online program updates itself at frequent intervals.

There are a few wrinkles, such as occasional weekend downtime for upgrades and occasional bugs, which always seem to get ironed out within a couple of days. Still and all, I feel in better control of my own finances than ever before.