How Secure Are Those Security Questions?

In general, I appreciate the lengths financial institutions go to in keeping my account—and the information behind it—safe from hackers. These steps include multi-page sign-in procedures, displaying a personal phrase, and requiring that a random security code be entered. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s a hassle I endure to reasonably protect my information.

What perplexes me, however, are the security questions—they are either too simple or too hard.How Secure Are Those Security Questions?

Some security questions are in the category of too easy, such as what high school I went to. This and other basic facts can be reasonably uncovered online.  Similarly would be my favorite food. Anyone who reasonably knows me, would be aware that the answer is pizza. Plus, I am sure that this fact has been mentioned in public, appeared in an article, and written in a blog on more than one occasion.

My mother’s maiden name is another such question that is not all that secret. If I have the choice I skip those security questions, as I question their security.Security questions are either too simple or too hard. Click To Tweet

The other category is the impossibly hard questions. First, are the ones with multiple answers. For example, what street did you grow up on? What was your favorite pet’s name? Or what color was your first car?

For each of these, I have two equally valid answers. I moved while growing up; among scores of pets, two dogs tie as my favorite; and as far as my first car—I had it painted. Should I note the starting color or the ending color?

Other hard questions are those that change over time. Examples include my favorite color, my best teacher, my preferred type of ice cream, my all time favorite movie, or my favorite TV show. Then to compound the whole issue, I need to spell the answer correctly (challenging for my dogs’ names) and remember if I capitalized any of the letters (“School” or “school”) or used abbreviations (such as “W” or “West;” “Ave” or “Avenue”).

However, I think I have a reasonable solution for all this. I will simply make up an answer, random and completely secret, that I will use for every security question.  For example, I might pick “ArgyleSocks45” as my answer.  Then:

Q: What’s your favorite food?  A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: What color was your first car?  A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: On what street did you grow up?   A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: Is your security question really secure?   A: ArgyleSocks45

By the way, ArgyleSocks45 is not the right answer to my security question.

However, some places won’t let you give the same answer to multiple security questions. I’m still working on a solution for that problem.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

That’s a Lot of Blogging

I’ve been officially blogging now for 10 years. During that time, I have made over 500 posts in this blog.

Although I enjoy blogging, finding the ideal time to write has not been easy. Initially, I wrote in the evening, after my workday was done. This kept blogging from encroaching on vocation, but was also the time at which my writing prowess is at its lowest. In addition to that, I found that if I blogged just before bedtime, I had difficulty shutting my mind off and falling asleep.

Next, I tried ending my workday with a blog, but then didn’t work either as I was pushing to finish my workday with a flourish, which bogged down my blogging focus. Most recently, I tried to write right after a shortened lunch, but again work distractions abounded.I've been officially blogging now for 10 years. Click To Tweet

Actually, my best time to write is first thing in the morning; I’ve known that all along.  However, if I blog then, I’m not doing the writing for which I actually earn a living, but the kind that is merely fun. So my dilemma of when to blog continues.

I also intended to write about three posts a week, but with so many ideas bouncing around my brain, the desire to write has triumphed, producing five or more entries a week. So, to maintain a sustainable and manageable plan, I’m going to (try to) cut back to three times a week, while attempting to set aside mid afternoons for blogging.

On top of this, I have started other blogs.

That’s a lot of blogging!

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Age Is Not a Number but an Attitude

Many of my friends are younger than me, often by quite a bit. In fact, I’d rather spend time with people half my age, than my own demographic. I don’t know what they think about hanging out with me, but I think it’s great to be around them.Age Is Not a Number but an Attitude

Too many people my age have settled; they’ve accepted the status quo and are coasting towards nothingness, but they don’t even know it. How sad.

Many younger people, however, have a zest for living. Life is an adventure. They are learning, dreaming, growing—they are alive. And so am I, especially when I’m around them. Yes, experience may have tempered my zest, but I’m still learning, dreaming, and growing. That’s life; the alternative is death. And I’m too young to think about that.Age isn’t a number; it’s an attitude. Click To Tweet

Once I was on a committee with people mostly my age and older. (For the record, they haven’t settled.) We discuss who to invite to join us. Our leader makes an astute observation: “There are no Millennials on our committee.”

I’m offended. Wait, I am a Millennial! Then I correct my silent words before embarrassing myself aloud. No, you’re not; you just think you are.

Ah, the joy of delusion.

Yes, I identify more with Gen-X and especially Millennials than I do the Baby Boomer I should be. I skew more towards the postmodern worldview of youth than I embrace the modern perspective people my age are supposed to hold.

Maybe I was born too soon. Or maybe I just have a young heart.

Either way, it doesn’t matter, because age isn’t a number; it’s an attitude.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

A Call for Optimism

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing the gloom and doom news about the economy and our future. While I try to minimize my exposure to negativity, sometimes it is hard to keep smiling and remain optimistic.A Call for Optimism

My efforts to do so was emboldened by an article I received years ago by Eileen McDargh. It is titled: Today’s Economy Demands A Critical Skill: Optimism. Don't let the news media color your world or your outlook on life. Click To Tweet

Please check out the entire article, but some of her key recommendations, with which I heartily concur, are:

  • Focus on what you can control
  • Reframe the event so that you are not a victim
  • Cultivate optimistic responses
  • Refuse to watch or read anything that puts a dark pall over your day
  • Refuse to participate in a chorus of negative conversations

Don’t let the news media color your world or your outlook on life. If we buy into their slant on the news, we merely serve to fulfill it.

As for me, I prefer to ignore the pundits and naysayers, envisioning instead a bright and promising future. There will be good days ahead and I’m doing all I can to realize them sooner instead of later.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Responding to Email

My website FindaCallCenter.com features a directory of call centers. All the information listed has all been submitted by the businesses themselves.To ensure the information is current and accurate, I periodically email each call center, asking them to review and confirm their information.Responding to Email

The lack of response—and the slowness of response—to my recent verification effort was appalling. Only 25 percent responded to my first email message, while 11 percent of the addresses generated a failure notice. The majority of those responding did so the first day, but many trickled in over the next week.

For the second email message to the remaining non-responders, 13 percent replied, but only one third did so within one day, with the rest taking up to five days. For the third and final email only 5 percent responded.

Altogether, only 37 percent responded at all; 13 percent had non-working email addresses; 50 percent apparently received but did not bother to reply to any of the three messages. Furthermore, of the minority who responded, only about half did so on the same business day.Few consumers will be patient that long. Stand out and strive to respond within an hour—and the sooner the better. Click To Tweet

We live in a world that expects a response and wants it immediately. The above dismal results—which are likely applicable to all industries—suggests that merely responding to email on the same business day would make your organization stand out.

How sad. Few consumers will be patient that long. Stand out even more, and strive to respond within an hour—and the sooner the better.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Euphemisms for Broken

I subscribe to an online computer file backup service. It is easy to use and does its work automatically with little assistance from me. This is how all backups should function—automatically and without human involvement.Euphemisms for Broken

However, there was a time that it warned me that it hadn’t backed up any files for more that 24 hours.  I did what I could to do a manual backup, but without success. After an hour of futile effort, I decided that the problem was on the provider ends. Unfortunately, by that time their tech support call center had closed for the day. So, I used the email support optionand waited.

The next day, things were no different, so I called. Once I finally was able to talk to someone, he quickly informed me that the server handling my backups was “unavailable because of extended maintenance.” The maintenance was expected to be complete by mid-afternoon. Why couldn't they just be honest and tell me it's down and being worked on? Click To Tweet

Why couldn’t they just be honest and tell me it’s “down and being worked on?”

I also wonder why they didn’t put that useful information on the call center recording that kept repeating every 20 seconds. Why did they instead say that tech support was “busy due to a high number of new subscribers?”

Additionally, the application’s interface allows them to send me messages, so why didn’t they simply use it to notify me it was down? After all, they did use it to communicate the “busy due to a high number of new subscribers” message and suggest I use email.

The backup was again backing up my filesjust as they promised. As for the “extended maintenance,” it took about 44 hours.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

The Power of Panic

Once when I was working in my yard, I noticed a baby bird in the grass. This is not uncommon in the spring. Apparently, the mother deems the hatching young enough to be on its own and gives it a nudge out of the nest. Sometimes they take off and fly; other times they fall to the ground. If the flightless bird doesn’t catch on quickly, it will either die of starvation or be eaten. Flying provides both food and freedom.

The Power of PanicHoping to “motivate” it to take off, I slowly approached it. It began nervously chirping and hopping—a sure sign that it didn’t yet know how to fly. With my continued approaching, it fluttered its wings, but remained earthbound. Becoming more fearful, it hopped and fluttered at the same time, rising a few inches before settling back down.

On a third try, it went a bit higher and made some forward movement. With me drawing still closer, it repeated the effort and faltered forward, sometimes only inches off the ground, and then with a newly acquired confident flap of its wings, gained altitude and glided to a nearby tree. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending. As a result of panic it gained the ability to fly.When panic occurs, we can do extraordinary things. There is power in panic. Click To Tweet

This reminded me when I was a kid. A friend and I were playing in a small pit, and my dog jumped in to join the fun. When we grew tired of this diversion, we climbed out, but my dog was stuck. It was too high for him to jump and too steep to climb. His repeated efforts to free himself ended in failure; no amount of coaxing or encouragement worked. I jumped back in to help, but he was too heavy to lift and each rescue attempt ended in failure.

We decided a stepladder might provide the needed assistance. I told my pet we would be right back (I really believed he could understand me) and hightailed it to find a ladder. Only a few hurried steps on my journey and my faithful dog was by my side. Overjoyed, I bent down and gave him a grateful hug. Apparently, as long as he could see me, he wasn’t too concerned, but once I faded from view, his panic of being left alone gave enough extra incentive to try harder.

In both these cases, panic helped these animals do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done. The same is true with people; when panic occurs, we can do extraordinary things. There is power in panic.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Happy New Year: Making Resolutions

Ringing in the New Year often marks a time for making resolutions. Common New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, saving money, studying more, finding a better job, improving a relationship, being kinder or more generous, drinking less, and so on.Happy New Year

Usually these well-intentioned resolutions are short-lived. Aside from being vague and difficult to determine success, I think the problem is we set ourselves up for failure. Let’s assume I step on the scale in September and realize I need to lose weight. But I’ll wait and make a New Year’s resolution to drop the extra pounds. Since this idea lives in the future, I don’t need to worry about it now; I can continue eating as I always have. In four months I’ll focus on weight loss, but for now, don’t worry.

This gives me four months to further instill my bad habits. Additionally, knowing that in the future I’ll need to be more careful with what I eat, emboldens me to eat poorly now, while I still have the chance. This only makes the problem worse, resulting in more weight to lose later. A much better approach is to begin losing weight right away and not delay.Any day is a great day to start improving your life. Happy New Year!! Click To Tweet

Instead of waiting until January first to change a habit, introduce a new one, or remove a bad one, why not make changes as soon as the opportunity arises? Why accumulate a list of resolutions for the start of a new year? Instead, make incremental improvements throughout the year.

This is why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. As soon as I realize I need to change something, I set about it right away—before things get worse and while I have the best chance for success. I guess this means I make resolutions year round.

If you made a New Year’s resolution, I wish you success. And if you forgot, don’t wait until 2019. Begin making changes right away. Any day is a great day to start improving your life.

Happy New Year!

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

The Christmas Story—by Doctor Luke

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.

The Christmas Story

So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.' Click To Tweet 

So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

(Luke 2:1-14 — NKJV)

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Let’s Back Up

Many years ago, I worked as a tech writer. I knew the importance of making copies of my work, so I’d faithfully backup my files each Friday as I wrapped up the workweek.

One Friday was particularly hectic, and in a rush to begin my weekend, I postponed making my backup, planning to do it first thing Monday morning. That was my first mistake.Let's Back Up

My second error is that I left my computer running. Over the weekend, a power spike corrupted the files. As a result, I lost forty hours of carefully crafted writing. I needed to revert to my backup from the prior week.

Although dismayed at my shortsightedness, I immediately began reconstructing my lost work. Fortunately, the second pass went much quicker, and I was able to recompose everything by midday Wednesday. As a bonus, the second version was better than the first.I knew the importance of making copies of my work, so I’d faithfully backup my files. Click To Tweet

Having experienced firsthand the importance of frequently backing up my work, I became fastidious in doing so. It’s a practice that continues to this day. Not only do I make backups on a network drive, but I also use an automatic off-site backup service. And for people who feel they can’t afford the $40 or so annual fee for such a service, they should at least sign up for a free Gmail account and email themselves a copy of important files each time they finish working.

But some people still don’t follow this advice. Periodically, I hear from aspiring writers who lost their entire book when their hard drive crashed. Ouch!

Please make sure I never hear your name mentioned in such a devastating story.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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