Passwords are my life . . . or so it would seem.

 “USER NAME OR PASSWORD IS INCORRECT.”  How many of you have read those same words, emblazened across your computer’s screen?  If you’re like me, it’s happening with greater and greater frequency—and it’s enough to send a shiver up and down your spine.  How can you pay your electric bill, or transfer money from your savings account into your checking account if you can’t remember one, or  the other, or—worse yet— either?  To  quote character Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinnie: “Oh, my God, what a f**kin’ nightmare!”

Granted, we live in an age where security is a constant concern, as we navigate from one website to another across cyber space.  So, it’s important to guard against those who would do us harm.  I get that.  I myself regularly visit in excess of six dozen websites that require a user name and a password.  In the beginning, over twenty years ago, it was enough to merely type in your email address as your user name, and your wife’s maiden name, along with your cat’s birth date as the password.  Simple, right?  Who could forget those choice tidbits of information?

However, now, with virtually every website we visit requesting that we “join,” we are compelled to come up with newer and more complicated passwords, lest our personal information join the collection of ill gotten goodies possessed by cyber thieves.  No one is safe.  Every major company employs whole staffs of individuals, entrusted with the sole responsibility of keeping us safe—or not.  It seems that it is a war with a guaranteed losing outcome.

After the number of sites I visited requiring a user name and password passed the two dozen mark, I endeavored to find a way to keep track of them all.  I began storing them in an Excel spreadsheet, which I could call up in a few seconds, when my mind’s RAM* began running out of RAM* (look it up).  For use at home, I simply kept a printed copy of those juicy tidbits stashed safely in a drawer of my desk.  When I needed to access a site, I opened up the drawer, copied the information, and that was that.  As I added new sites to my cyber collection, I would scribble the latest password information on the piece of paper—until I ran out of space.  Then, I would input the newest data into the Excel spreadsheet, save it—and protect it with (you guessed it) a password, print it out, and the whole process would repeat itself.

“What if someone breaks into your house and accesses your computer?” I was asked one day by a friend.  “You need to keep your passwords on a flash drive.”  So I did.  But, in order to access the information on the flash drive, I had to protect it with (drum roll) a password!  So I wrote the password to the flash drive on the piece of paper containing my other passwords.  Do you see my dilemma?  So, it only made sense that when the list of user names and passwords exceeded four pages, something needed to be done.

Because, as a writer, I find it necessary to “belong” to many different sites (in order to feel “fully immersed” in the writing community), I determined to do the following:  I would use the same user name and password for ALL the many sites I visited that had anything remotely to do with writing and which did not require me to divulge any meaningful personal information, such as social security number, or my birthdate, and so forth.  I chose some arbitrary animal name and a four-digit number that I could recall instantaneously when needed, added an underscore and a capital letter or two, and assigned that same information to ALL those benign sites.

For all the other non-threatening sites that DIDN’T have anything to do with writing, I changed one letter or special character, and used THAT combination for all of those sites.  That way, I only needed to concoct some bizarre combination of numbers, letters, and special keyboard characters for the passwords to those sites that could present cyber security threats, such as banking, credit cards, and such.

Now, my Excel spreadsheet is much smaller (less than two full pages, at this writing), and it would seem that my problem is solved.  But is it?  Not hardly.  As we age, our typing skills continue to improve—until they don’t.  Then, they steadily disintegrate to a point where we occasionally hit a wrong key, and we have to start over when typing in the dreaded user name/password combinations.  If we type the password incorrectly more than three times in a row, we are required to (guess) create a NEW password.  And so it goes.

Now, however, I have another problem, a somewhat unique one: my ergonomic keyboard does NOT have a little light that indicates when the CAPS LOCK is engaged.  (I’d replace it, but it seems no one is making them anymore.)  So, in order to be sure that the CAPS LOCK key is not locked (or is), I must open up a new Word document and type something into it to see.  Half of the time, the CAPS LOCK key is engaged, and the other half it isn’t.

Finally, there is the problem I have with Google™, which is the ubiquitous organization that has invaded virtually every aspect of our cyber life.  When my iPhone™ was stolen, I switched over to a cell phone whose operating system is Android™ (created by Google to confound cell phone users across the universe).  I use Yahoo for my email, but had to create a Gmail™ account (again, Google), in order to fully utilize all the features of my Android phone.  The problem arose when Google, in its infinite wisdom, chose to allow (read:“force”) us to use a single password (with multiple user names) for every Google application (of which there are too many to name).  However, after typing in my password for one Google app three times incorrectly (it happens), I am forced to create new password, which is then applied to all my other Google accounts—which I manage to forget, two seconds after I created it.

In an ideal world, I would use a single password and user name combination for all my websites—but I’d still have to remember it and  I’d still have to type it in correctly.  And that’s just not possible.  Oh, and did I mention that most “authorities” recommend that we change our user name and password periodically as a safety precaution?  Well they do.  So there is an even greater possibility that I will read those dreaded words emblazened across my computer screen: “User name or password is incorrect.”

“Oh, my God, what a f**kin’ nightmare!”

*RAM – Random Access Memory

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