Say The Secret Word(s)

I’ve made reservations, after having some, and so next month I head for Arizona and a college reunion, two months after my trip to Austin.  I’m now Travelin’ Man.

I could argue that leaving town for a homebody like me is therapeutic, but I’m not sure who would take the opposite side.  John doesn’t seem to mind.  Julie gets a gleam in her eye, probably out of anticipation for me but hey, responsibility is complicated creature.  Sometimes knowing your spouse is somebody else’s problem for a few days can relax a person.  Pretty much everyone I know says go, have fun, be sure to write, etc.  It’s a good thing.

But the trip to Texas started off looking dicey, since a late-morning flight opened up options in terms of getting to the airport.  I’m maybe not so good with options.

I decided to ride in with JK to Queen Anne, hop a bus downtown, ride the light rail to the airport and fly, fly away.  I mean, we had time.  She could have dropped me off in the city; she could have actually driven me to the airport that morning and made it back in time for her first class, no sweat.  But I am Travelin’ Man.

For those of you not local, I will note that from Queen Anne/Fremont it might be a 30-minute drive to the airport with traffic, quicker in off hours.  I can make it from my house in 40 minutes or so sometimes.  It’s not far.

It took two hours for me to get there that morning, as it turned out, rush hour and a late bus making my morning more interesting than it should have been, the kind of hours that should have been spent anticipating a nice weekend ahead and instead were passed riding on an almost-empty train, counting the stops, looking at my phone, and imagining I could hear Steve Martin and John Candy arguing in the next car.  Tense.

And how much more miserable I would have been had I been carrying luggage, instead of a backpack?  The mind reels.


For the first time in decades, I traveled out of town without my laptop, which explains my backpack.  I tend to be a light packer anyway, haven’t checked luggage in years, but I’ve always carried my computer.  It seems natural now, but I’ve been jacked in for over 20 years to these things, relying on them to make a living and eventually to do almost everything else.  My computer is the hub around which my life spins, and it would never occur to me to be sheepish or apologetic, or even to explain.  I’m self-employed, I work from home, I don’t mind sitting.  This is what I do.

But I have a phone, and a tablet, and it was a short trip.  I wrote a column on my daughter’s Mac but otherwise I didn’t need the extra carry-on at all.  Maybe this is the future, maybe I’ve just learned how to divest when I travel, but it saved one of my arms and what was left of my peace of mind that morning, and I’m grateful.

Leaving it, though, was like leaving a teenager alone for the weekend; the mind wonders.  I’m never worried about my data, my documents, my photos, my music: I back up religiously (not spiritually) and most of that is automated, anyway.  When my motherboard fried last Labor Day, it was annoying but easy to get back to basics.

It’s the other stuff.  The financial stuff, mostly, but also the part of my personality that lives online, email and social media.  Even with me gone, there’s usually always someone here, often a 6’3, 250-pound young man who should be threatening to no one but might slow up an intruder just by size intimidation (or talking to them nonstop about Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Been there).

But it could happen, and it was important that I imagined someone stealing my laptop.  I mean, someone stole my lawnmower once.  Not all scenarios are farfetched (see Martin and Candy above).

I’m not talking about privacy, about what Google knows or Facebook knows; that’s another discussion, one I’m not particularly interested in.  I’m a professional sharer; my privacy is an open book (several).

I’m talking about passwords, something I’ve written about before, but then I’m all about the public service thing.  Even in the 21st century, when our lives are electronic and our stuff is encrypted from the get-go, people who know about such things routinely point out the among the most common passwords is “Password.”  Or “123456.”  The human capacity for cleverness is overrated.

The conventional wisdom (“conventional” referring to tech people, not the guy who uses “123456”) is evolving on passwords, helped along by the folks at xkcd.  It used to be this: The best password is the one you don’t know or remember.  That still applies and is a good idea, but it gets even better (and safer) when you start thinking in terms of passphrase.

Read at least the story at the last link.  I use passphrases for most of my important sites these days (note: If the site, as more and more now do, allows you to use spaces, remember that spaces are special characters, like ! and @.  One more layer added).  And two more things and then I’ll shut up: Use a password manager (I’m a fan of LastPass, but there are others), and remember that unlike in the movies, we’re not looking at some guy hunched over a keyboard, trying to figure out what you were thinking; it’s an algorithm, trying out combinations faster than you can get to the airport on a smooth travel day.  Much faster.  And even if you think you’re smarter than the average computer-literate bear, if your password is the name of your childhood dog, say, and that dog was not named &D4%xdR9!, we might have a problem.

Think of it as “The Matrix,” maybe.  We are fighting the machines.  The machines will never stop trying.  The machines will, given enough time, win.  We just want it to be a long time before they do, time measured in millennia, and that’s pretty easy to do.

And somebody is driving me to the airport next month, you betcha.


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