Monday, November 26, 2007

Memory load and internet security

Following the loss of citizens' banking and personal details by HMRC, we're getting a lot of advice about internet security. My bank, Smile, tells me that 'each password should be unique and unrelated to any of your other passwords.'

They go on to advise: 'You shouldn't write them down, and you shouldn't share them with anyone, even your best mates... Strong passwords use combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation, they aren't usually found in any dictionary. For example using 'river' would be a weak password, whereas 'r!V3r_78' would be much stronger.'

So strong it wouldn't even let me in, because I wouldn't remember it. Many of us have accumulated dozens of relationships with banks, retailers, social networks, and other sites that want passwords. There is absolutely no chance of dreaming up unique, strong passwords for each one and not writing them down.

Smile's advice doesn't work. Poor information is no information.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Labour kills off 'husbands' and 'wives'"

This was a story in the Mail on Sunday yesterday. Apparently the term 'partner' is now used in place of 'husband', 'wife' or 'spouse' on some HMRC forms. This is attributed by the paper to a socialist conspiracy to destroy marriage.

Well, actually it's used in the question 'Do you have a partner?' instead of something like 'Do you have a spouse, partner (defined as a person you are living with as if you are married) or civil partner?'. So this very probably points to a civil servant trying to save space and write in plain English. Do they really think the Prime Minister and his cabinet discuss the wording on a form?

The article also notes that on the Child Benefit form you are asked to select your title from 'Mrs, Miss, Ms, Mr', and attributes this sequence to a 'nod to feminism'. Well, no, actually. The legislation requires Child Benefit to be paid to the mother, unless the child is living with the father or other person. And most mothers are married women ('Mrs'), followed statistically by unmarried women ('Miss'). 'Mr' comes last because it is the least likely response to the question.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Web more visual? I don't think so

I occasionally hear people assert, as if a truism, that the web is a much more visual medium than text. I don't think it is. In fact the opposite is often true if you compare two versions of the same document. For example, here's a story from a recent issue of The Guardian newspaper.

The story (about the growth in music downloads) is illustrated by a graph comparing the years 2005 and 2006 in different countries, and also comparing mobile and online downloads. It is also decorated by images of a band, some people dancing in test tubes, and someone singing.

But compare with the online version. No images (except a portrait of the journalist we didn't see in the paper version), no graph (surely that contains a key message, even if the pictures don't. And the story is surrounded by navigation - links enticing you to stop reading this story and go somewhere else.

On another matter, the pictures in the paper are a veritable semiotic feast: what are the fascist-looking symbols in front of the band? have the test-tube ladies escaped from a story about cloning? and I love the singer's Remembrance Day poppy. Nothing is captioned so we'll never know the explanation.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More silly questions

Further to my recent post, I've been helping my elderly father-in-law manage his online bank account with the Nationwide. It asked us to choose four security questions and give answers that we then have to remember at any point in the future. What age do they assume their customers are? Does anyone over 7 years old actually have a favourite colour? How about some questions suitable for people over 50? Such as 'how much did Mars Bars used to cost?', 'what do you hate most about online banking?', or the reliable 'where were you when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot?'. But best to stay away from 'what did you come upstairs for?' or 'where are your car keys?'.