MY COMPUTER – “The password you gave is incorrect.” So my bank is telling me on my computer screen. I am trying to get into my bank account to check my overdrafts, but can’t. My password is “wombat.” At least it was until someone stole my wallet that contained a slip of paper on which I wrote at the top, “secret passwords,” and somehow broke my code. So I changed this particular password to “tabmow” – “wombat” spelled backwards. Sneaky, eh? Eat your heart out, National Security Agency.
Wait. Is tabmow the secret word for my bank or my home burglar alarm system? Are you saddled with, and supposed to remember, a long string of various passwords for every one of your black boxes? Do you also have a different word to punch in at the bank ATM? Want to see your stock portfolio on-line or read your e-mail? In each case you need a password – a different password. Indeed, I need both a user ID and a password to check several accounts, plus a whole series of other secret words to use on my laptop not to mention my iPad2. (Apple didn’t like my initial offering in which I expressed my frustration over so many different passwords, labeling it, “Too obscene – get used to it.”)
Everywhere I look there are people fondling and punching their BlackBerries, iPads, iPhones, Kindles or their Android cell phones that take photographs while flossing their teeth. Each one of those instruments needs a password, maybe two or three, before activating. How much human energy and time do Americans spend each day simply trying to use what we can’t use until we remember our first spouse’s birth date?
If I forget the password to my parole records, the computer gets testy, so I have to jump through hoops to explain it’s really me: “What elementary school did you attend?” That’s easy, Benedict Arnold Elementary. Go Fightin’ Red Coat Turncoats! “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” Benedict Arnold. “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck is a union member?” “If a train leaves Chicago at midnight going 65 mph and another train leaves New York ….” You get the idea.
One of my brothers lives in a gated community, he’s a convicted war criminal, so each time we drive up to the guard tower, I have to punch little buttons to open the gate. Actually, the security box is carefully designed so I have to un-do my seat belt, get out of the car, usually in the rain, to push the buttons, then I discover they changed the code. A friend lives on a ranch outside of Austin and invites us out for dinner. The ranch has a huge gate and tall fences – something about Comanche moons — so I need to punch in the code (Double Bar Laughing Cow). Where’s the cow button?
“Read The New York Times on-line!” To keep non-subscribers and Republicans away, the Times wants a secret code, password, eyeball check and DNA sample. Same for my local on-line newspaper. Have you tried to read your credit card statement on your PC or whatever you use? It’s easier to find a Rush Limbaugh sponsor. My own credit company, House O’ Cards, was reluctant to open my file, explaining, “You still owe us for the Y2K virus screen.”
Speaking of credit cards, they used to have just a long number and an expiration date. A few years ago they added another secret code: a four or five digit number. It is neatly written on the very same card. So what’s the point? That’s rather like hanging the key next to the door. Do you work in a place that has a keypad by the locked door? Before being allowed in, you have to punch in the correct code. Couldn’t you just wait till someone comes out and then you walk in?
One way to simplify my memorization was to use one word for everything, so I chose “password.” But I was told over the phone by Billy Bob, who spoke with a Nepalese accent, those were not enough letters; I must have at least one numeral and, besides, that word had already been taken. So now I have Passswurd8, puusswired32 and drowssap (backwards, hehehe).
There are so many different secret words that I had to make this list. Besides the aforementioned sites and firms I have been issued codes for a MUD (either Municipal Utility District or Mothers Ugainst Dating), my computer router, my PC anti-virus screen, the cable account, my Quickens checkbook, automatic electric bill payment and the Philosophical Society of Texas (don’t ask). Oh, I forgot: what’s your secret number to fetch the recorded phone messages from your home phone, office phone and cell? Can I borrow them?
Jack Paar, the late-night TV host, once said he got a secret Swiss bank account. The bank official told Paar, “On this slip of paper is your secret account code. Memorize it, then burn this paper and scatter the ashes in the wind off a bridge.” Paar stuck the paper in his pocket, ran to the nearest bridge, got out a match and read his secret code: “9”.
It seems odd that we need all these various codes, keys and passwords to protect our accounts and records from hacking when a 23-year-old Army private can give 300,000 secret government records to WikiLeaks. We taxpayers spent Lord knows how much to safeguard all those secrets to prevent exactly what happened. I want a refund. We must wonder how many security risks have access to the CIA’s ode-Cay oom-Ray. How is it that some 16-year-old in Frankfurt can hack into the Fort Knox when I can’t even open my own recorded cell phone messages? How many times have you been asked, over the phone, for the last four digits of your Social Security number? By the time you’re eligible for Social Security, you can’t remember them.
Ashby is hacked at email@example.com