Password Management Today

With the growth of internet web services and mobile apps, password management has become a real issue that a user should be concerned about. This has especially become so since now we are consumers of a lot of web services where the very first step is to create an user account which hopefully no one else can log into.

The basic problem of password management can be broken down into the following questions:

  • What password should I pick for which website ?
  • How should I store/retrieve my passwords ?

There are some solutions to tackle this problem.

Solution 1:

Use the same password for every website.

Pros:

  1. Easy to remember even with growing number of websites.
  2. Use your brain only and do it efficiently (there’s just one).

Cons:

  1. Big security risk.

Solution 2:

Choose a methodology that can be easily remembered for generating password for different websites. For e.g., add 007 after the website url.

Pros:

  1. Easy to remember even with growing number of websites.
  2. No single point of security risk, the methodology needs to be discovered by someone trying to attack you.
  3. Use your brain only. Remember depending on how complicated the steps of the methodology are, efficiency of the password computation can vary.

Cons:

  1. The security risk depends on the sophistication of the methodology.
  2. The manual process of computing the password limits the methodology or else trades off with the computation time. You don’t want to sit down with a pain and paper to compute your password :-).

Solution 3 (Takeaway for this post):

Use a password manager. There are lots of them out there.

Pros:

  1. Managing passwords is not your problem.
  2. Can pick very strong passwords.
  3. No correlated passwords.

Cons:

  1. Have to trust the password manager program

A browser comes with the simplest password manager since it saves your password if you want it to. A word of caution here, always use a master password for your browser to manage your password so that no one else can view your saved passwords without entering the master password. You also want the passwords to be saved on your computer in an encrypted file so that others cannot read it which any decent password manager would do. There are lots of password management tools out there. Use them. Generate a strong password if your password manager does not support password generation. Here are some ways to do it on Linux/MacOS or Windows. A password manager can also backup your saved passwords in the cloud to save you from machine failures. Preferably choose one which does that. Never compromise on encryption. The cloud is less trusted than your computer. If you still think you do not need a password manager, read this. Now that I am done sermonizing, looking back I used to do password management by hand by saving my passwords in a file and then encrypting them using a GPG key and storing them on git server. And then I stumbled up Pass. It does the same things but better. Try it if you a power user or just want to know how the infrastructure works without doing all of it :-).

This is not smart. Get smarter !!

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Free haircut on a Wednesday morning

It was a cold January morning in 2011. There was snow all around and I was trudging along with the trepidation of soldier treading a minefield. My destination was a hair salon to get a haircut. I looked at the board outside which said “studierabat” meaning student discount. I almost jumped for joy. The normal price for a men’s haircut boldly proclaimed 250 DKK. I went inside, was greeted by a beautiful girl in her mid 20s who went on to give me a great haircut. After the haircut, I paid 200 DKK (20% off as student discount) and that’s when the high prices of Copenhagen haircuts hit home. I had just experienced a hairy culture shock literally speaking. I had been living in Copenhagen for the past 5 months and I thought that I was immune to the price shock that outsiders felt when entering the Danish shops. I had never really factored in the haircut prices. I had chosen one of the cheapest places to get a haircut (after a great deal of internet searches) but I ended up parting with a week’s worth of grocery money.

That’s when someone told me about the Copenhagen hair cutting school where it costs 49 DKK for a haircut. The news thrilled me more than any of the groundbreaking discoveries my science books have drilled into me. It was almost like finding a hidden treasure. Sure, the people who cut your hair are students who are supervised by teachers but except on one occasion I have always got a great haircut there. On that one occasion, the hairdresser misunderstood what I wanted and ended up giving me a haircut which I had to bear for the next 2 months. Today I got another fantastic haircut and that too for free because it was my tenth haircut there which is free :-). Wednesday mornings could not be any better. I tried to ask out the beautiful brunette who cut my hair but she said she was married. I guess that was probably asking too much of a Wednesday.

It holds for Danish haircuts if you know where to look

Merger proposal of Math and Computer Science (Datalogi) departments in KU

Last Tuesday, the Dean of the Faculty of Science proposed a merger plan to merge the departments of computer science and math into one. The meeting invitation went out to the faculty and the students only a day ago in the midst of a busy teaching bloc. The merger was reported in the University Post. This has sparked a spate of opinions which all seem to point to the utter absurdity of the move especially since it was tried 2.5 years ago and failed, and nothing has changed since then other than the reasons against it. A lot of conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Whatever the real reasons behind the merger may be, what is clearly apparent is the fact that the move has not been thought out well by the Dean’s office and has not encapsulated the people it concerns and hence it just remains a tactless, non-visionary (contrary to the claim), damaging exercise just for the sake of it.

This probably sums it up

A little bit of winter dumbness

The other week I had gone to the Fotex store in Lyngby storcenter for my grocery trip. I came across a superb offer on Pancake mix. If you buy one you pay 22 kr. but if you buy 2 you only pay 26 kr. Given my love for pancakes buying 2 pancake mixes was just a no-brainer. I bought my stuff and came back home happier than ever. The next day I noticed I had only brought one pancake mix and the other must have got left behind in the shopping bag. I checked my bill to confirm and I saw that I had paid for 1 pancake mix for 22 kr.

That was not a happy feeling, but knowing how awesome the people in Fotex are I figured I could go the next day and pick another mix and pay just 4 kr. and be done with it. So I went. I went to the counter and explained the situation the girl at the counter and asked if its ok to pick up another and pay 4 kr. She rolled her eyes as she looked at another girl she was happily chatting with and asked me to explain it again. I did so dutifully taking all the pauses in the world and making sure I left no cryptic PhD talk in it. The girl at the counter again looked at the girl she was chatting with, rolled eyes, and said “No, that’s not possible. Its a new day”. Now that did not seem to make any sense.

I did not want to argue with her so I went over to another guy and asked whats the return policy. He told me if you have the bill and return the stuff within 30 days, we would accept it. So, I went to the counter again and politely asked the girl if I could return the pancake mix I bought. She said, “Yes”. I said, “Great, then please take it back”. I also told her that if this is so, isnt it exactly the same thing I suggested earlier ? That I return the stuff get 22 kr. back and then go buy 2 pancake mixes for 26 kr which is the same as paying 4 kr. for the other mix. The girl just made a weird face and said, “Please give the  mix and the bill”.

That I did, she went to her computer and did some stuff and came back and told me that the mix I was returning was not on the bill. The bar code on the mix did not seem to match with what the computer showed for the mix purchased in the bill. I just stared incredulously. I told her that was the bill and I have not bought any other mixes and the mix must be on the bill as otherwise the machines which detect if you have paid for stuff you are taking out of the store would have beeped when I took it the other day. How am I supposed to know what bar codes get put on the bill or not ? Am I not supposed to trust people on the counter ? Am I supposed to go check bar codes on bill after every purchase ? Her reaction was, “I am sorry” and she walked off. It really felt insulting the way the entire episode panned out. I am not being stingy about the money, I had just gone to correct an honest mistake. Given my past brushes with people in the stores here I was more than certain that the solution would just be eked out in a matter of seconds. It did not matter if I would have got the other mix for 4 kr. if the whole situation was handled with more care and understanding than plain rude, insulting behavior. What actually panned out was an episode of rude nonsensical behavior which has made me a bit wary of what to expect in stores. Maybe I was just lucky so far and this was just a jolt to restore the normalcy of day to day life.

Looks like this is what they did to me as well

Danish postage, VAT and sanity

Just the other day, I got a package from my parents containing some stuff that I could not bring when I took the flight from India. Most of it was used personal stuff and a lot of cookies. I was actually surprised to see a letter asking me to pickup my 14 kg package instead of the customary yellow around the fringes slip from the post-office. I was shocked to see that I had to pay VAT on the goods of around 335 DKK of which around 150 DKK was the assessment charge (you have to pay for the work they did to put the VAT). It seemed a bit strange to me since the entire value of the goods in the package was less than 200 DKK. And I wanted to know how they had fixed up the charges. I searched frantically online but could not get anything about the rules for sending international non-commercial postage. I could dig up some rules and regulations on what one can send and how it can be assessed but it seemed fairly academic missing a lot of practical questions.

I did find a lot of posts saying how people found the postage system here ridiculous because of the international posting guidelines and how everyone in the post-office is apathetic about it. I had a 14 day window in which I had to pick up the package else it will be sent back. I talked to the customs department in the post-office and they told me that a student does not have to pay any taxes on his stuff if it does not have high commercial value. The problem with my package was they could not infer that it belonged to a student and my parents had not filled the customs declaration very clearly about the used stuff and its value. So, he raised a case for me and told me I have to wait until they free my package off taxes. 5 days went by and I had only 5 days remaining before the package was sent back. No news of my case. I called up and my case was assigned topmost priority. After furnishing a scan of my student card my package was freed of taxes and I could pickup the package next day.

Overall, my experiences with the Danish Postal system has always been topnotch. In this case, although I was perplexed over the taxation initially (I am not going into a debate of its fairness), but eventually everybody at the postal office was very helpful in resolving the case amicably. The next time I eat one of cookies which my mother sent I won’t crib about how costly it was. Yay to the sane and friendly Danish Postal system !! Don’t be afraid to poke the right people. More often than not you will have a satisfactory and sane resolution. We live in reasonable times, don’t we ? That’s a topic for another day.

And I received a happy mail

Hospitality in Lauterbrunnen Valley

I went in a group last week on a Swiss hiking holidays. I had a great time hiking around the Alps in the valley and would definitely advise and force anyone planning to stay in Interlaken to stay in Lauterbrunnen. However, even with the Alps all around us, what caught my eye was the hospitality I received at the Valley Hostel. Though this might sound as a sales pitch, it is not so. What struck me was :

  • When we arrived at around 7-30 in the evening, Susie (hostel staff or owner, not quite sure) was more than friendly. She helped us check in, asking us about our trip and plans just like a friend.
  • She took us to our room and insisted on carrying all the towels and linen herself. Now that made us feel very homely since at least I am used to such behavior when I go to a friends’ or relatives’ place.
  • Every time we had a question and we asked Susie about it, she made it a point to answer it with more than we asked for, till the point we had to interrupt and run away.

The entire behavior made me ponder how much a little thoughtfulness and friendliness can go to preserve memories. So much so that someone completely unknown ends up making a sales pitch for you

Awesome Valley Hostel staff (Susie on the left and the unknown guy on the right)

Awesome Valley Hostel staff (Susie on the left and the unknown guy on the right)

 

And I survived a mayhem

I went for a ritual haircut to Copenhagen Frisorskole where I have been going for the past 2 years. But this time it was different, the hairdresser who was cutting my hair had different ideas for my hair than what I wanted. And his supervisor also went for what he said instead of listening to what I was saying. And that is how I got a haircut disaster. Although in the end I managed to salvage the situation a bit by instructing them how to abandon what they were doing and do what I wanted. Will I go back again ? I think I will since its really really cheap and well worth the money as it has always been for me except this time.

Oh dear !! What did I do wrong ?

Free S train rides, where are you ?

Dear DSB,

               I so miss the free S train rides on the first Sunday of every month. They were the ideal opportunities for poor students like me to make those long forays into the Danish countryside. If you can, it would be nice even to have subsidized tickets on the first Sunday of every month if not completely free. After all, the best things in life are usually  free.

Yours really really sincerely,

Just another student who loves to travel and explore

Hope it doesn’t come to this