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Things You Don’t Miss Until They Stop Working

Years ago, my on-ramp to the Information Superhighway was closed. That is, I lost my Internet connection. It was a painful two days. Although I was fully cognizant of just how much I do online, it was unaware of how fully my life and especially my work has been integrated into and dependent upon the Internet.

The first day was Sunday, so as my day of rest, being Internet-less affected me little. However, Monday was grueling. I quickly realized that without Internet access there was little that I could do—and nothing that I could complete.

It got me thinking how I take things for granted—until I don't have them. Click To Tweet

My backup computer was equipped with a modem so I reverted to dial-up access—once I signed up for an account and reconfigured things. Then I began downloading my messages. 

Six hours later, the task was finished! I kept the connection up all day, tying up my phone line—but I least able to putt down the shoulder of the Information Superhighway.

It was an arduous day and got me thinking about how I take things for granted—until I don’t have them. As strange as it seems, I think I am more flummoxed when I lose the internet than I am when I lose AC power. 

Since we have a well, when we lose power, we also lose water, save what is already in the storage tank.

Given all this, I’ve made my list of utility reliability, from the most to the least:

  • Natural gas: thankfully, I’ve never had an outage or a problem
  • Landline telephone: problems are rare; it’s therefore interesting that I am in favor of canceling it; see next item
  • Cell Phone: I’ve never had an outage and am almost always in a coverage area
  • Dish television: aside from some initial programming issues, the only outages are brief and weather-related
  • Electricity: there seem to three or four outages a year, usually under a couple of hours in duration
  • Internet Access: there are likely four to six outages a year, generally under 2 hours in duration. Interestingly, this service is provided by the same company that provides my much more dependable landline. I wish the reliability was the same.
  • Cable television: it’s been a while since we had cable TV, but outages of several hours were common.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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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.

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 to that problem.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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How Much is a Million?

How much is a million? Really, how much?

Apparently, not much. Just ask Google. In August of this year, Google ceased development of their much-hyped Google Wave (a real-time collaboration tool).

They gave it a year and reportedly had one million users, but citing a lack of interest, they pulled the plug. Apparently, one million users is not enough.

Although I was encouraged by many people to check out Google Wave, I never did. And given this news, I’m glad I didn’t invest the time.

Incidentally, this also gives me pause about depending too much on Google Voice. I must wonder it they might similarly give up on it and leave their users hanging?

Today, I received notice that Xmarks was pulling the plug on their service as well. Xmarks synchronizes web browser favorites and logins between multiple computers and the top browsers. They claim two million users.

Their problem was that it was a free service and they were unsuccessful in figuring out how to pay the bills. Their initial goal was to monetize the data they collected, aggregating user bookmarks to make the basis for a pure, spam-free search engine.

But when they couldn’t make that work and couldn’t sell the company, they decided to shut the doors. So as of January 10, 2011, Xmarks will bite the dust.

Although synchronization tools exist for each of the major browsers, none of them will sync with their competition. I, for one will greatly miss Xmarks. I am willing pay an annual fee for this service, but that will not be an option.

Apparently, two million users is not enough.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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The Future of Flat-Rate Internet Access

To follow up on Tuesday’s Netflix post, many people concur that at some point in the future we will receive all our television and movie transmissions over the internet. 

This is often called convergence.  Personally, I am ready and anxious for that to happen.

However, there is a stirring afoot that could dampen my enthusiasm—the elimination of flat rate internet access in favor of usage sensitive charges.  In other words, if you use the internet a lot—such as to watch TV and movies—you will pay more.

Time Warner Cable is conducting a test in Beaumont, Texas with new subscribers. They will have a monthly allowance of sending and receiving 5 gigabytes of data each month. After that they will be charged $1 per gigabyte.

A standard movie is about 1.5 gigabytes and a high-def movie is about 6 to 8 gigabytes. Therefore watching a free movie could cost between $1.50 and $8.00. It seems a lot like paying for shipping and handling on a free product.

Interestingly, they claim that 5 percent of their customers use 50 percent of the bandwidth. I suspect that these folks must be watching movies. Given this stat, I suspect their real goal is to effectively eliminate high-usage customers.

Although there are a few other instances of cable companies toying with usage charges and usage caps, they are less likely to do so if there is competition in that market. 

It is noteworthy, that the network topology of most cable systems is not conducive to high volume internet traffic, unlike DSL service.

Although this is a threat to watch, there is considerable historic evidence against such a move succeeding, as evidenced by the demise of usage-sensitive dial-up service—in favor of flat-rate service—in the late 90s.

So, until we need to pay to watch our free movies, let’s continue enjoying our movies online using flat-rate internet access.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.