Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Holiday amnesia

I got back to work this week after three weeks away.

This was the longest single break from work that I've had in about 18 months (possibly longer), but I knew in advance that day after day of not needing to wear shoes, or shave, or even shower before lunch, would probably result in a familiar effect when I returned to work. I would probably not remember my password to log in.

Passwords are a pain in the arse. I think my experience is similar to most people, in that there are at least five separate systems I have to access, all requiring passwords, and all on slightly different reset schedules. (If you don't have this experience at work, I bet you do at home ...) So, while it is possible to set the same password for all systems, I still have to change passwords reasonably frequently.

Then there are the password strength requirements, which also vary between systems, so if you're going to use the same password across all systems, you need to adhere to the requirements of the most stringent one.

I'm reminded of xkcd's illustration of this subject, in which (I think) it was demonstrated that a long, plain text pass phrase is actually much harder to crack than one of those jumbled up letter-number combinations. (I say "I think" because sometimes I don't really understand the maths.) However, most corporate systems won't allow a password without numbers, and some don't allow plain text words.

My solution is to use acrostics. I select a phrase which is meaningful to me at the time (e.g. something in my life that I've just done or am about to do), use the first letter of each word of the phrase, decide which ones should be most sensibly capitalised, and work out some numbers which are also logical. That way I can reconstruct the password if I actually forget it.

For example, a password based on this sentence might be "Feapbots07" - the first letter of each word, the first capitalised only because it came first, and the number "07" because it's in the seventh paragraph of this post. Happily, this password would be pretty easy to remember, because it's pronouncible, but it is also reproducible because I know how it was derived, and it's unlikely someone else could casually deduce it.

To get back to the point - even with this password creation technique, I still tend to forget them, and their derivation, after a couple of weeks of not using them. Knowing this, I deliberately created a very memorable one about a week before going on leave. I even logged in to work remotely during my break (which was a coincidence, but I wanted to find out where all the smoke in the air was coming from one day), and that had the effect or reinforcing the password.

As a result, I had no trouble logging in on my first day back. I was immediately prompted by one of the systems to reset my password, so I created a new one and set about changing the password across all systems.

So, this year my holiday amnesia was not password-related. No, instead it was transport-related.

I had to walk to work this morning. My motorbike battery was flat.

When I got off the bike on Monday afternoon (first day back at work), I forgot to switch off the ignition and remove the key. The headlight is hardwired to the ignition so, unless it's turned all the way off, the headlight stays on and drains the battery.

I got out to the carport this morning, went looking for the key in my bag, couldn't find it, looked at the ignition and there was the key, in the "on" position, and the headlight was ominously off. I had a flat battery, and there's no kick-starter on these new-fangled machines.

One of the things about riding a motorbike is remembering the sequence of events required to get you geared up and moving. Put your gloves on before the helmet and you make it very difficult to fasten the chinstrap. Hit the starter with the kickstand down and (in my case) the engine won't turn over. Forget to engage neutral and/or pull in the clutch before hitting the starter and you're in for a case of whiplash. That kind of thing. The most efficient and correct sequence becomes habit. Arriving somewhere doesn't require as much coordination as leaving, as long as you just remember to shut things down.

It turns out that, after a few weeks without riding, I'd simply forgotten to take the key with me when I walk away from the bike.

Now I've remembered how to use my battery-charger.

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