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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 27 - Passwords and PayPal

If you work for a large company, chances are you now have to use multiple passwords, changed fairly often, and possibly including symbols, all making it difficult to memorize them.

The Wall Street Journal reports many companies cite the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate-reform act, even thought it doesn't require increased password security. At present, no federal rules or regulations do.

At home, or for those who work for smaller companies, the password changing frenzy may be more relaxed, but it's still a good idea to change them every so often.

One trick I've used is to employ automobile license plates. Most of the ones I know, however, are six letters or numbers, so if I need more, I put the state in there, too. (Before you go checking out my driveway, not all the cars are parked there - or anywhere.)

A study done for the computer security company Symantec, which makes the Norton programs, says that about three-quarters of us memorize our passwords. But with all the password changes some companies are requiring, many workers are resorting to strategies that thwart the intent: They write down the passwords.

One former computer temp said he used to check under keyboards, and almost always found passwords written on the desk or taped underneath the keyboards. Other employees record their passwords in notebooks (the paper kind) or handheld computers. Some create password files in their computers, but of course, that's kind of useless if you can't log onto the computer because you forgot your password. And a few post "stickies" with their passwords right on their monitors, in plain view of all.

I'm blessed (or cursed) with a very good memory, so I'm one of the three-fourths who memorize passwords, but sometimes I forget them. It doesn't help that each site I access may have different requirements: six letters, eight letters, mixed cases, alphanumeric characters only, use at least one non-alphanumeric, whistle "Dixie" while patting your head...

When I had some company software installed on my personal laptop, I had to get two of those passwords with the symbols in them. They're also case-sensitive: "LLOYD" is not the same as "Lloyd" (and neither is at all similar to the actual passwords, thank you). I told the tech what passwords I wanted, but he didn't do the case the way I'd requested on one of the log-ins. It took me awhile to figure out what was required.

If you work for a large company, and forget your password, you can call one of the techies (the "IT" or "information technology" department) to retrieve it for you, or change it. If you're the IT department, at home or in a small business, then what?

One solution may be to compile a list of passwords and give them to a trusted relative or friend, preferably "off-site" - that is, somewhere other than your home. After all, if there's a fire or other catastrophe at home, a paper or disk file kept there may not survive.

It's a good idea to change your passwords every so often anyway. I have three basic classes of passwords: A "community" password that I use for services that I share with others; a medium level for non-critical sites, such as travel and entertainment message boards; and a higher level for financial sites or others where the password's loss of confidentiality could be disastrous.

Technical glitches and outages notwithstanding, the day is coming when stamp collectors will be able to pay for their purchases at a stamp show using PayPal, and not necessarily by using a debit card. It's already happening in a way.

Some dealers will let regular customers take the merchandise with them and pay them via PayPal on the Internet. At some cachetmakers' bourses (FDC-only bourses, the only kind of shows I do any more), I've had my laptop up and running, but the wireless Internet signals were to weak to allow me to connect anywhere, much less a secure site like PayPal. Had it been possible, I would have taken PayPal payments.

It can cost $400-$500 to obtain an Internet hook-up in a convention center, just a little more than the telephone connections some dealers use to verify credit card transactions now. Hotel ballrooms can be almost as expensive. It's too much money for most dealers to spend; better to take credit card transactions manually, without verification, and chance that they will be accepted. (Most are.)

But Wi-Fi is becoming more and more widespread; you may already have it for other reasons. Whether you can pick up a signal inside a stamp show venue or not, or whether the signal you pick up is free or not, are other issues.

The day is rapidly approaching where you will select your stamps or covers at a show, the dealer will tote up the damage, and then turn her laptop computer around and say, "You can use PayPal for that sale, if you want to."

It was just about 12 years ago that I first went online. In those days, the services were expensive, limited and only monochrome text. Now, I can communicate with people all over the world, in full color and graphics, although I'm probably spending more on Internet access than I did "in the olden days."

Still, despite the great advances in capabilities, I find myself still doing things the old-fashioned way.

For instance, how you sign e-mail and message board messages is called a "signature." Today, you can use all sorts of colors, type styles and illustrations. Back then, you were limited to the characters on a keyboard, and each time you used your signature, you had to recreate it, line by line.

Some of the other regulars had elaborate graphics constructed out of characters, but I didn't have the patience, so I adopted the simple signature "<<<Lloyd>>>" - easy to type and remember.

I'm still using it today, when I could be using "" or "" or something equally flamboyant.

Maybe I'm a traditionalist - I am a stamp collector, after all -but I still like my simple signature. Some of those big, bright graphic signatures seem to steal attention away from the messages above them. And often other readers find them annoying and unfriendly to their computers.

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