I was at a friend’s house in Martha’s Vineyard, lying in a gorgeous double bed under three light blankets. The heat wave hadn’t started and I wasn’t having a hot flash, but I woke at 2:00 AM with a feeling of dread. “How could I have been so stupid?” I thought, encouraging an angst that was just beginning to take form. The fact is, I have done some pretty stupid things in my life, and on the stupid scale, leaving a $24 sports bra at a restaurant rated just a 1 or a 2 (don’t get excited, it was in a bag, recently purchased). I knew I would probably get it back; I knew it was a $24 item. But it was the middle of the night, and it seemed momentous.
By 2:30 AM my disquiet had morphed into full-blown anxiety. I read my book, played out my hands on Drawsome and Words with Friends, researched flights to Panama City, reviewed the stats for 100sleeplessnights and read the New York Times. I tweeted about how I wasn’t sleeping, which reminded me that I should be tweeting more. I decided to check out HootSuite.com, a website my son told me about that allows you to set up multiple tweets at once and schedule them to be sent out during the week. I opened the site, and up came the dreaded words: “Create your Account.”
As we all know, encountering the “Create your Account” link inevitably means plugging in a user name and password. I was in a quandary. I wanted to set up my account, but I was in bed, under the covers, away from home, no pen or paper within arm’s length. (I realize now I had my iPad and cell phone with me, but that’s the benefit of logical, daytime thought.) I knew in my heart that if I created my account, I wasn’t going to remember my user name and password, but I wanted instant gratification. I wanted a guarantee that I would be distracted until 6:00 AM when the harps would go off on my cell phone beckoning me to the shower. I convinced myself that I could remember the user name and password until I put pen to paper. The next couple of hours flew by. I really would like to use HootSuite again someday, but I have no idea what my user name and password is.
Passwords are killing me slowly, and I get slightly more ill each time I get the message: “Sign in failed. Try Again.” Like Tim McGraw sings, “I Miss Back When.” “Back when a screw was just a screw, the wind was all that blew, and when you said I’m down with that, it meant you had the flu.” I miss back when, when “Password” was a TV game show hosted by Allen Ludden, where the contestants got hints that made sense, and just in case you couldn’t read, the announcer would whisper to the TV audience, “the password is… maddening.”
If I can’t remember why I went down to the basement, how in hell am I supposed to remember different passwords for Spynergy, eBay, PayPal, Groupon, and Rue La La…to name just a few (out of scores). With four email addresses, I can’t even remember my user name. Am I the only one who has a problem answering the clue question? “Where were you born?” may seem pretty easy to answer, but I have plugged in “Massachusetts,” “Boston,” “Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” “Greater Boston area,” “USA,” and in desperation, “earth,” with no success. (It turns out the correct answer was “Brigham and Women’s”–the fifth time’s a charm.)
Most hackers would probably have an easier time figuring out the password of the typical 50-something that created it. One former hacker wrote that about 20% of the people use one of the following in their passwords: your partner, child or pet’s name; the last 4 digits of your social security number; the numbers 123 or 1234 or 123456; the word “password”; your city, college or football team name; a date of birth-yours, your partner’s or your child’s; the words “god,” “letmein,” “money” or “love.” Are you guilty? Go change your passwords.
When you change your password, however, don’t make it simple. Use upper case and lower case letters, numbers, and signs to be safe. Adding a capital letter and one asterisk might change a hacker’s processing time of an eight character password from 2.4 days to 2.1 centuries. Come to think of it, you better start scribbling these passwords down.
But if you do, will someone find the list and steal your life? You can’t exactly hide the list in the jewelry cleaner with the good stuff, and you can’t exactly be going into the safe every time you want to buy something on Amazon. (Besides, who among us remembers the combination to the safe?) Passwords are trouble.
Yet I think I finally found a winner. It meets the safety standards, and brings back fond memories of my father. The password starts with the seat and row my dad had at Temple Emeth (and how he loved to tell us where we could find him after the kids’service was over). It also may be the only one I have a chance of remembering:
He would like that password, but I guess now I can’t use it. Feel free.