Faith in the cloud…

Storing data “in the cloud” is not exactly new. It’s the modern version of mainframes with dumb terminals repackaged to sound somehow more futuristic. For data intensive activities – lets say storing a master backup of my hard drive – having it reside in the cloud (i.e. renting space in someone else’s server farm) works well enough for most purposes.  It just hums along in the background making a faithful copy of everything I have stored on my home computer. The chances of that service and my computer both crapping out at the exact same time are remote enough to not cause a moment’s active worry.

With something like a password manager, though, you end up with a bit of a different story. For five hours today Lastpass, one of a handful of large and popular password managers, was offline. It’s probably not a crisis if you use relatively simple passwords, like 1-2-3-4-A-B-C-D. If you use this kind of service to manage a hundred or more passwords and each of those passwords is a unique 16+ character string, however, life is going to get inconvenient in a hurry if there happen to be sites you actively need to log in to on a daily basis. 

For five hours today Lastpass failed me and I was effectively locked out of sites I use regularly, but that require a daily log in. Some passwords I had to reset manually (while taking note of the new password to sync later with the application that’s nominally in charge of managing my passwords). Others I was locked out of completely while waiting for the systems people to bring their website back online.

No online service will ever have a 100% availability. That goes with the territory. As a paying customer, though, I do expect some basic communication from the company about what’s happening and what is being done to restore services, and more specifically an ETA on when we can expect the repair to be completed. Today, unless you went digging on Twitter, it was a resounding silence from Lastpass. Not an impressive bit of performance… and something that’s got me reevaluating the balance between the security of a paid professional management site versus just keeping everything on a damned spreadsheet so I can use it when I need it. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.

2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.

3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. CVS. They’re getting great acclaim for making the decision to stop selling cigarettes. It’s their business, I say God bless if that’s what they want to do. I’m left wondering if they’re also planning to stop selling Coke, Doritos, Snickers bars, and all the other items on their shelves that have been identified as cancer causing, bad for you, or just socially “inappropriate.” Let’s be honest with ourselves at least. CVS is a drug store. Their whole raison d’être is selling medications, many of which themselves can cause untold amounts of harm even when taken as directed. Call me cynical, but I don’t see them taking a principled stand in the name of public health so much as I see them making a public relations and marketing move.

2. Bugs. No, not the kind of creepy crawlies that sneak into the house and needs dispatched with the closest available newspaper, magazine, or shoe. I’m more agitated by the kind that live in apps and cause mysterious and damned near impossible to track down battery drain on my phone. Thanks to these gremlins, I get to spend a few hours backing up everything I have on my phone, tricking the thing into believing it’s once again fresh out of the box, and then reinstalling each app one by one so I don’t accidentally reintroduce whatever power hungry gremlin resided in the old version. For a device that “just works,” I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time poking around under the hood to keep things humming along without the need to recharge it every four hours.

3. Passwords. It took me five attempts to log into my own damned website today. That’s mostly because two days ago the site forced me to create a new one. It couldn’t be any old password, of course, but one that was at least eight characters included upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, special characters, hieroglyphics, quadratic equations, and the square root of pi rounded to the nearest non-repeating decimal. I get it. Internet security is important. It’s so important that apparently the best way we can manage not to lose all our secrets to the Chinese, or the Russians, or the NSA is creating the illusion of a random string of characters. If security is as important as the internet thinks it is, can someone please explain to me why we’re not using retina scanners, fingerprint readers, blood samples, or something, anything that would be more convenient than needing to remember a new 742 character password every third day?

Good and bad…

Sorry about that get rich quick post that showed up around 12:30 this morning. It’s safe to say that my password was compromised and that wasn’t me trying hook you on some kind of scheme. I just changed my password and deleted the post from here and from Facebook, so hopefully that will be the end of it. Just from an abundance of caution, I’ll probably spend the next hour changing every other password I have. Losing control of you online life, even momentarily, is enough to give my inner paranoia room to stretch its legs a bit.

On a positive note, That most brought in an extra twelve hits before I sent it kicking and screaming to hell… so it wasn’t a complete waste. Happy Saturday, gang.

Broken…

I get to the office early most mornings. It’s usually a good chance to catch up before everyone else starts wandering in. One of the challenges is that pretty much no one with any passing relationship to authority is around in the event an employee is feeling lonely and wants to talk. So more often than not, I’m the lucky manager who gets the early morning conversations. This morning was one of those times.

Jeff: Good Morning *seeing “employee” walking over to my desk*

Employee: My computer works now, but none of my files are there. I think it’s broken. *looking at me plaintively*

Jeff: Ummm… Did you call IT?

Employee: Uh. No. I thought you’d know how to fix it. They got it working yesterday but now my files are gone.

Jeff: So you want me to fix something they broke yesterday?

Employee: *looking at me blankly*

Jeff: You’d better call IT since they know what they did to it yesterday.

Employee: They won’t be in for another 20 minutes.

Jeff: Patience is a virtue, I’m told.

I’m not the friggin’ laptop whisperer over here. Put in your help request and wait like everyone else does. My using illicit passwords to go in and tinker around with your settings is pretty much guaranteed to only cause more trouble. If not more trouble for you, then certainly more trouble for me… and that’s a no go at this station.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.