Monday, May 23, 2011

SOFTWARE: Passwords

The internet runs on passwords. And you need a password SYSTEM these days, thanks to the less than stellar minds at the Sony Playstation Network. Well, Sony and the other security-challenged sites that have fallen before them.

The trick with a SYSTEM is that it has to be something you can easily remember, yet complex enough to create passwords that are hard to break. PLUS, you have to revise your kneejerk reaction to answer so-called security questions with the truth.

So, let's dive in. The first thing you need is a nub. A small set of characters you use to start your passwords. And that nub should have a bit of flair to it. And some length. I've long advocated that you take the name of a teacher who made an impact upon you as a kid and spell the name backwards. For example, htims for Smith and sullesram for Marsellus. Now, break the name with a punctuation character. h/tims for example one, sulles.ram for the second. Now, capitalize one letter, either the first one or the last. H/tims and sulles.raM for the second. Lastly, add your LEAST favourite number to the end. I'm impartial to 2. So, now I have H/tims2 and sulles.raM2 for my nub. (Names have been changed in the making of this password ... although Frank Marsellus probably DID have the most impact upon me while I was in school).

The nubs I've just created seem a little bizarre. But trust me, spell them often enough and they become second nature. And just for the record, my fingers seem happiest making the capital the first letter in the group. Just saying.

NOW, when we are creating passwords for various sites, we just can't use the nub everywhere. In fact, that's a REALLY BAD IDEA. Especially for bank accounts. You have to add characters. And just adding a couple of letters indicating the site to the end of the nub isn't good. In fact, it might be worse. If you were code-breaking the password, wouldn't you look for the initials first, then for the first X characters? Nope, no using the initials. Directly that is.

Pick two letters to represent the site, three if you're feeling frisky. Should be the first three characters you think of. Now DRAW those letters on the keyboard. Whatever feels natural to you. You can use the numbers 1-9 on the keypad (make sure the numlock is turned on!) or on the keyboard itself. For example, a G could be 987412365 or uytgbnmjh or iuygvbnjh or 8765tgbnm,kj or whatever your heart desires. Again, the secret is to have a sub-system. For example you could do everything on the numpad. Every letter and number can be drawn on the 3x3 square of numbers 1-9. Or you could do everything on the keyboard's alpha character area. When you draw the letter on the keyboard, remember to include the letter on the left of the right edge of your 'drawing'. Remember, you are going to have a 'slant' to your letter. G in a nine-character grid with G on the left side is uytgbnmjh when slanted to the left, iuygvbnjh when slanted right. Whatever makes it easy for you to remember. And enter in quickly.

Oh, and did I mention that you can do consonants on the keyboard and vowels on the numpad? Or vice-versa.

Ultimately, you want to get to 16 character-long passwords. H/tims28765tgbnm,kj1475963 is a pretty decent GMail password. Running it through a checker at gives me a 100 per cent score. It's 26 characters long (I can type in, in less than two seconds). It doesn't have enough capital letters, but one's enough most of the time. At the estimate to crack this password using a desktop PC? 715 Nonillion years. Note that H/tims2gm would take about a year. That's for a regular PC Desktop. If you happened to fall into the interest spectrum of nasty people, the long password would take something in excess of a billion years while the shorter password would survive about two  weeks.

Why 16 characters? Typical Windows encoding breaks passwords into two 'phrases' and breaking those phrases for up to 15 characters is a known science. Once you get past the 'known science' part and into longer passwords, well things get really, really difficult.

A word about your security question(s). First, try hard to lie, consistently, about things like birthdate. The reason? If that birthdate isn't absolutely necessary for use of the site, why give it to them? Things like birthdate really help when people do an identity theft. I like February 29th, 1952 as a fake date, but pick one and use it religiously. And to answer the security question? Well, give the answer, but preface it by adding the nub to the beginning or the end, or some invective. For example, what's my favourite colour? Blue, but I answer H/tims2blue or noneofyourbusinessblue or bluedarnit. What's the odds of somebody who knows me and knows I prefer blue getting any of THOSE answers correct when phishing at Facebook or somesuch sites that rely on these easy to figure out security questions before revealing all. This was how various celebs have been hacked. Knowing them or reading their social media made it easy to guess answers to the security question. And when  you have THAT, you have the whole password system by the short hairs. You can then change the password to something of your own choosing. Mischief ensues.

A last word about passwords. You have to have a SYSTEM. You HAVE to have a different password per site, although admittedly, my particular system doesn't enforce that. For example, my facebook password and my facts in five password are... well ... identical. Get one, get both. But generally, all my key passwords are unique. Plus, I cheat a little. I use LastPass available, oddly enough, at, as the cloud-based (and available) repository of my passwords. Theoretically, I only need one password for that site. And trust me, it's a LOOOOOONNNNGGG password. And that site will dole out the passwords as I need them. But, in tried and true paranoid fashion, I also save the passwords on my local computer using PasswordSafe, free to download at Afterall, not all of my passwords are web passwords. And I use different passwords to access each. Having the two products gives me backup.

REALLY the last word: LastPass had it's own security crisis last month. A 'possible' breach was treated like a full breach. Full disclosure and a requirement that everybody change their passwords, hopefully to something even more secure. I did that immediately. My password is now 27 characters long and I can type it in, in about two seconds. I am very satisfied with LastPass's response to the situation and to its service. Since I only use it with Windows, I can get along, and do, with the free service. IF you REALLY, REALLY hate passwords and want to reduce your memory requirement to JUST your LastPass password, then I think this is probably as good as you can get. Give it a try.

Friday, May 20, 2011

SPORTS: Once More Into The Bit....

May I suggest, AGAIN, an alternative to the current morass that is the inter-league play arrangement in Major League baseball. The last remaining person who likes it is Bud Selig, and I'm not so sure he actually IS holding out. Certainly, any arrangement that foists two-game series (like the Tiger, Ray and Red Sox series of the past fortnight) on fans is NOT a good idea. Anymore.

So, I offer a new arrangement that keeps traditional rivalries intact, gets a day of attention during the winter and reduces the impact of AL pitchers flailing away with unfamiliar lumber in NL parks.

First, make the inter-league a one-week affair run the week before the All-Star Game. The idea is a home-and-away series with one set of teams. The four traditional one-market match-ups (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, SF-Oakland) get set as permanent arrangements. Because each team has roughly the same economic clout, each of the series should feature teams with like talent (and yes, even in a down year, the Yankees will be happy to accept the Mets as perma-partners). Each other AL team goes into the lottery machine with all NL teams and there's a MatchUp Lottery sometime during the winter meetings (and before the schedule is set). Make it a half-hour special. And each AL team gets to draw which NL team will be their cross-league partner for this year. There is a limit in that you can't play the same team from the NL in a 10-year window. That makes it possible to never have some matchups, but running it out to 12 years means there's no mystery in the lottery each dozen years.

The draw would have two ball machines running. In the first would be 20 balls, half white with the AL team logos and the other half grey with the logos. The second machine would simply have the 12 balls with the various NL team logos. You pick from the AL machine and if a white ball drops, the series starts in the AL park. If it's grey, the week starts in the NL park. After selecting the AL ball, you then select one from the NL machine. There's your matchup. Subsequently, when the second (white or grey) ball of a previously selected AL team comes up, you simply discard the ball and go again. My guess is, on average, you'd get 5 re-picks during the course of the half-hour. As for the four perma-matchups, coin flips for the first year to determine who gets home first. After that, it alternates year by year.

Inter-League Week starts on Monday night at one park or the other as dictated by the draw . Thursday is a travel day and the Week ends up with a Fri-Sun series at the other park. Obviously the off Thursday and the Monday that's off because of the All-Star break, hopefully take care of rain-outs. But, by holding the week in mid to late summer, we reduce the probability of inclement weather a fair bit.

One other thing I would do is to make the second tie-breaker (after head-to-head records) in the leagues be the intra-league record, discarding the six inter-league games (which will be none for two NL teams).

What this scheme does is restore a little mystery to the process. With the three-divisional cross-over system as currently implemented, you are pretty well assured of seeing any particular NL team every three years. Maybe not at your ball park, but certainly every six years. The Lottery would certainly draw interest each winter. And the whole impact of inter-league play would be lessened immensely. Which, for some AL teams (and yes, I'm talking to you Toronto), would be a very, very good thing.

Plus, there would now be a 156-game schedule of intra-league games in the AL and something close to it in the NL. This would also be the time to look at getting rid of the unbalanced schedule. If you are going to five playoff teams per league, it's because of the inequities of the unbalanced schedule and the financial might of the AL East. It's been silly bordering on stupid, to have a wildcard where the teams don't compete equally. In the AL, you would have each team play each other team 12 games a year. The NL situation is a bit different. Each team would get 10 games against each other, likely in a 3-3-4 format with one team getting two three-game series at home and the other four in the road. There would be six more games to schedule and those would likely have to be two three-game series, one on the road, and ideally it should be something in-division at the end of the year. 

I've been over this terrain before here in the blog. Nobody pays any attention to me, so I'm under no illusion that this scheme will ever come to pass. But really, isn't it a WHOLE lot better than what's being done now?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SOFTWARE: Take A Letter Eudora ... For The Last Time


We all depend waaaaay too much on email for communications these days (well except for Angela and the rest of the tweet/SMS/IM-obsessed teens). I don't tweet (too limiting, since I'm the Verbiage King ... never send a 140 characters when a full page of ruminations will do) and I don't have a cell phone, so none of the thumbing type of messages for me. Nope, it's email as my way of escaping making a phone call.

And, for most of the last 20 years, I used Eudora to handle my email. I'm trying to remember when I didn't use Eudora and what I used before that, but I've come up empty. In my Eudora data folder, I do have emails dating back to mid-summer 1990. My main problem is that Qualcomm gave up on Eudora the better part of ten years ago and stopped developing the product with version 7. Hammered by the free Outlook in Windows and built-in email clients in just about every browser suite at the time, Qualcomm did a cost versus profits analysis and shut down the application named after famed letter hack Eudora Welty. (Actually, hack is probably inappropriate when refering to the Victoria era letter writer. But boy, she sure wrote lots of them)

Despite Eudora becoming obsolete, I stuck with the program. I KNEW the ins and outs of the program. Loved it's transportability as I moved from machine to machine. I promoted its use at businesses, especially ones with personnel turnover. Just run the program installer from the new account created for the new person, tell it the data was in the same C:\data\Eudora folder and the new person had instant access to the settings AND the emails of his or her predecessor. Try doing THAT today with Outlook variants or Thunderbird.

Getting Eudora up and running, even in its ad-supported free version, was a bit of a chore if I tried to do it remotely. The ISP's were always ZERO help. Getting the settings for the various incoming and outgoing servers was necessary and frequently, the person on the ISP help desk was a lot less than helpful because Eudora was never on their list of canned help scripts. I just needed the server addresses and they couldn't separate out those little pieces of information. Eventually, I did figure out that if the ISP twit could get Outlook installed, I could have my friend re-install Eudora afterwards and have the install program import the Outlook settings. But Eudora was getting more and more outdated and most people couldn't be convinced of its charms.

Not me. I had everything down pat. And, while I didn't change users on my computer, I did change computers. By my count, I'm up to 17 computers over those two decades plus that I've been using Eudora. Not serially, of course. There have been five laptops during that time frame. And having two machines and one message code-base was always fun. I had to remember to set the laptops to LEAVE the messages on the email server and to send myself a CC'd copy of any email I sent OUT from the laptop, so that I would have a record on the main desktop of the emailing. But like I said, this all became second nature.

The end of Eudora came slowly for me over the last couple of months. The new machine, Quincy, has been slowly taking over more and more of the main tasks here at The Castle of Confusion. Quincy is a Windows 7 machine. It's faster than fast, with copious memory and solid-state hard drives. I want to use it exclusively, but getting it running has been a slow affair because I need to be productive, and that means still using Popeye, a Windows XP machine. I hate Windows 7 a lot, because, amongst other things, it seems to hate Eudora.

Starting Eudora always resulted in a security warning that Eudora was prevented from becoming my default email program. It was easier to just click through the message than find out how to get rid of the message. But otherwise, Eudora worked. Until just before Easter. On a night I had to send out messages to two clients, Eudora wouldn't send the emails through. And the less than helpful error messages were less helpful than usual. And Eudora insisted on trying to send the darn messages when I exited, a process I went through two or three times before clicking the Just Quit button. I eventually sent the messages out through GMail.

And that was the rub. POP email, located on my computer, was yesterday's news. There was ALWAYS some issue with POP email and IMAP (the other local computer based email protocol) wasn't a whole lote better. The world, even Microsoft, was moving to web-based email. I tried to overcome my momentary Eudora issues by installing Thunderbird on Quincy, but it too had some issues that were obviously ISP mail-server based. So, I decided to throw in my lot with GMail and be done with this weird email setup I've had for ever so long.

Actually, I'd been moving towards GMail in slow steps ever since I got an invite to use the service, back when GMail invites were something special. You had to know someone who knew someone to get access to a GMail account. I got mine from a training seminar teacher who looked askance when I told him I DIDN'T have an account. How could I call myself a programmer and computer consultant and NOT have an account. It was almost like a badge of being a professional. So I got MY account, and a hundred invites to hand out of my own. At last count, I'd handed out 14 invites in all. I guess I'm not that inclusionary, now am I.

Moving from Aztec-Net run by my friend Rick up in Georgetown, I eventually settled in with Rogers as my ISP. With my Rogers account came up to nine email accounts. I set up eight in all. My main account, two almost main accounts and five very specific accounts devoted to a single aspect of my on-line life. I had ones for just March Madness emails, one for books, one for programming communications, etc. Eudora handled the main account and Thunderbird handled the rest. I could have used one or the other program to handle them all, but doing all of it in Eudora was a pain and doing the main one in Thunderbird was wrong, because Thunderbird was, after all, not Eudora. Now, I added a third email program, GMail. They say variety is the spice of life.

And, just to prove I was a little crazy, I had a system tray applet called PopTray, that checked all eight of the Rogers accounts so that I didn't have to be running Eudora and/or Thunderbird all of the time. After all, it wasn't like I wanted the email programs running and taking up memory and resources unless there was a reason to have them up. I didn't get THAT much email.

About two years ago, I discovered a neat trick. I could actually route my email THROUGH Gmail and then back to my regular email program. This, I found to be beneficial. GMail benefited from the best programmers in the world writing top-line filters to get most of the spam out, before sending it back to me to let Rogers (and Yahoo) do their worst with my email. Bluntly, Rogers/Yahoo stinks in that regard. Most spam comes through and virtually ALL email comes with a bulk stamp in the header. It's almost comical. I had to write after-the-fact filters in Eudora to handle the spam. And bluntly, even Eudora failed too much. I stopped writing filters in Thunderbird for the other accounts, because GMail was doing the job for me. If I had a spam a week in ALL the other accounts I looped through GMail, I was surprised. My main account, supposedly handled by Rogers/Yahoo, was letting spam get through at the rate of a half-dozen a day. And I couldn't increase the level of filtering, because then I found I'd miss emails that Rogers/Yahoo either never passed along to me or sent it directly to a spam folder I was supposed to check on line once in a while (like daily). Ahhh, no.

My main problem was I couldn't loop my main account through GMail. I wanted to. I tried to. But it kept saying it couldn't import my email right now and to try later. And I did. For months. And it kept failing. And GMail help is ... well not a feature in Google's favour. Google writes software any idiot can run and problems are almost always local (i.e. in the brain of the user), NOT in IT'S software. As a result, for all the resources Google has, the help desk isn't where they spend much more than a couple of pennies. It's worse than useless. It's time consuming useless and ultimately futile. So, I continued with my setup as is.

Until that night. I then spent too much of the following day figuring out just what the heck was going on with GMail and why it wouldn't import my main account. I went through ALL the settings and removed all traces of my previous attempts to import it. I worried that my GMail account was based on registering with my main account. So, I set up a second gmail account, with the first account as its registering account. And THAT way, I found I could import my main account. And frankly, I could have stopped there. But I went another step off the route to success. I went back to my regular GMail account and set up it's confirming email to be that second GMail account. Then I tried un-importing my main account from the secondary GMail account (Have I lost you yet?) and then importing it back into my main GMail account. And that failed. ARRRRGGHHHH!

Welll, it turns out there's a limit of how many POP accounts you can loop through any GMail account. Any guess on how high that limit is? One less than I needed, of course. I decided to cut down my overall looped accounts to just five, my main account at Rogers, the two seconday accounts and two tertiary accounts. I got so little email through the other three, that I sent out New Address emails to the few correspondents (some of which would be astonished to hear from me after all these years) and closed the accounts on Rogers. I then added one new account that no one has the address to serve as a fall-back catchall. Be interesting when, and if, I get spam at that account.

I could have stopped at this point. I now had the advantage of GMail's filtering with my main account. I COULD send emails from GMail AS IF I was answering from my main account. I wouldn't see those replies in my Eudora outbox, but it was there for an emergency situation. But I weighed the Pros and Cons of a wholescale move to the cloud and GMail came out the winner.

The Pros? The biggest advantage cloud-based email AKA web-mail has is that you can use it from any computer. All it takes is a username and a password. And frankly, using LastPass to handle all of my web passwords automatically means not having to enter even those two pieces of information all the time, which would be a little irritating, if true. Gmail has advanced spam filtering that goes wrong in either direction about once a month, if that. It stores all of the email, attachments included, which can add up to a lot of space over time. I currently don't have much of my 7.2G allotment used, but I will slowly fill that up. And Google keeps upping the limit, which means I probably won't ever reach the actual limit. Google's superior search tools means searching for emails is as easy as using Google Search. And as fast. It automatically threads email conversations where I reply to your reply to the original email I sent you. Spell-checking and formatting is easy. I can, but don't, use emoticons, those little graphic replacements for [G] or even ;)

The Cons? Well, it isn't Eudora. The Contacts Manager is a pain in the posterior to use. Especially for making lists or even accommodating people who have two addresses I send out to simultaneously. Like my brother Rick or my boss at my main client. I hate that I can't middle click on a message and have that email open up in a new tab in Firefox. I have to click on an email, do my business with it and then click the Return to InBox link. And not having a traditional expandable folder approach takes a LOT of getting used to. A lot. The label system is interesting and even productive. But a string of labels preceding headers can make for a very small portion of the header showing. Google also happens to run a Lab that has all kinds of helpful features that can be added to GMail. And some that are not. Unfortunately, some of these Lab features graduate to GMail itself and some of those are anything but helpful. The current Contacts Manager is one, replacing a more helpful version as of last September. And Priority Box and the newer Bulk/Announcements/Etc. auto filtering is another that I've tried and hate the thought that that feature might become standard. Plus, in-line graphics are a pain in the posterior to get in-line.

Then, there's access, security and privacy issues and those aren't going away any time soon. The Amazon Services outage during the same Pre-Easter time period and last week's Blog-out for Google's Blogger re-inforced the fact that sometimes the net's down or your web-mail provider of choice MIGHT be inaccessible. It could be that Google suffers some sort of issue and goes off-line. Or, Rogers gets the right from it's nabobs in Ottawa and decides filtering software from competing vendors is a good idea. Yeah, I know it would be stupid to filter Google, but this is Rogers we are talking about, just one step out of the pit of putridness that envelopes Bell Canada.

Answer? Automatic forwarding to a new Hotmail account I set up. AND downloading the text of Gmail emails through a little program called GMail Backup. Not a perfect solution, but one I can live with. As for security, it's not like the Chinese HAVEN'T hacked GMail before. But I DO use a decent password, one that's more than 15 characters long and is not used anywhere else I am on the internet. It's got numbers, spaces, upper and lower case letters and punctuation. It's a sentence after all, albeit with no words found in any dictionary. Backwards spelling is SOOOO much fun. And since I'm unlikely to be the target of the Chinese or law and enforcement officials, I tend to think I'm virtually invisible for being part of the herd. A random drive-by cracking of my GMail account is highly unlikely. And yes, I put in a nonsense answer to that security question, which is the point of attack of most GMail security breaches.

e.g. If you choose What is your favourite colour? Fer gawdsakes don't say blue, pink, purple or whatever it actually is. Type in some regularly-used word you think of when asked security questions, like noneofyourbusinessblue. Or noneofyourbusinesspurple if you're like half the teenage girls out there.

Which now brings up privacy. Frankly, I don't trust Google, but I HAVE to trust somebody a little bit. And Google's earned top spot on the "I Don't Trust Anybody, But Here's A List of The LEAST untrustworthy Companies" List. I know I'm being data mined. And I do mind, to the point where I run AdBlock to get rid of a lot of the targetted ads sent my way. In fact, I fear the day when GMail requires I turn off such services to use their 'Free' email. I've discarded bookmarks to sites that make that demand because they are free to make the demand and I'm not willing to put up with the kind of eye-gouging ads that demand attention that they would then foist upon me. But it's possible Google might one day make me make a choice. Not right now and I might be dead by the time they get around to closing the loophole. I take all kinds of measures to protect my privacy, including turning off google analytics and using NoScript to limit a lot of what I see on my GMail page to just stuff being doled out by Google. Occasionally, Google screws up and does a Buzz on users. But being watchful and making sure you disable these added 'features' when they come along, is important.
So, GMailing I would go.

Having actually used GMail for a long time, I knew most of the ins and outs of normal useage. I had set up a LOT of filters that would handle labeling, archiving and plain old ignoring of incoming emails. I wish Google could compound the filters. For example, I get nightly updates on backups from my main client. I want THOSE updates to be marked as read and labeled Backups, but I don't want the Biz label applied to them. On the other hand, every OTHER communications from the same client has to have Biz AND their client label attached. I can't seem to get a labeling system that accomplishes both goals. The backups get three labels, BACKUP, BIZ and CLIENTNAME. Oh well. I use the Little Ninja skin, the only place in all of my programs where I used something other than the standard basic look on any program. But the little ninjas are so darn cute.

Which brings me to the mess known as the Contact Manager. Grumble, grumble, grumble. My first issue was the fact that I couldn't directly import the address book from Eudora. And my first attempts to import the addresses failed. This time, Google help was just enough help for me to figure out how to make things work. Eudora exports the address book in CSV format. Without a header saying which fields are which, in order. I had to edit the CSV file to include the header line. Then the import worked. Sort of. It imported about 200 of the 300 addresses. It got the ones I needed and lost some duplicates, slight variations and some no-longer used addresses. The actual emails it brought in were almost unuseable by GMail, but the bulk of the work of getting entries was done. Now, it was time to get to work editing the whole mess of some 217 My Contacts that were the result of the import process, when added to the few that were already there.

I set up some groups to assign the contacts too. This is necessary, because working with the full My Contacts is unwieldy. Since the delete buttons are located at the top and bottom, if you happened to be in the middle, the only way to delete an account is to check it, scroll to either end and choose Delete from the Other Actions list. In fact, doing a pass to JUST delete contacts is a good pass, doing ALL the checks that are necessary. Then create a group and doing a run, checking those, for each group. I had FnF (Friends and Family), Biz, XBiz, Pgm (Programming), HW (Hardware), Roto (Friends from various Roto sports operations), Mad (March Madness contacts) and Misc. When in doubt, I threw the contact into Misc. There are some people I no longer socialize with (yes, I have, on occasion, been what you might call sociable. Being a packrat means keeping the email address, even after the breakup), and those went into Misc too.

Now, I could use the groups on the left to minimize the set of contacts I was working with at any given point of time.

Cleaning up emails was next. Eudora kept a lot of emails in this format: "GaryMugford" . Getting rid of anything but the actual address was simply a click to open the editor, highlight and delete the before and after extraneous stuff. Save and then click Back to Contact Manager link. Did I mention how I hate how anal GMail is. Just clicking on save SHOULD send me back automatically.

My first blip was addresses with multiple emails. My roto lists and occasionally individuals with two addresses. This proved impossible without googling the net for solutions to the issue (and yeah, it IS ironic that I use Google to search the internet with the in-app GMail help being absolutely useless). And I eventually found the solution. I had to separate email addresses with, of all things '>,<' and even THAT didn't work the very first time I tried it. I dutifully created the double addresses I send to when emailing my brother Rick and tried to send him an email. It FAILED! Eventually I figured out I had somehow screwed up his second email address, which happened to be a GMAIL ADDRESS! Turns out, GMail knows when a putative GMail address is, in fact, NOT a GMail address. And thus, the sending fails. You can send to two bogus addresses all you want, but not to a bogus GMail address. Whewww!

Now, GMail accommodates multiple addresses without the >,< shenanigans and the programmers there will tell you that GMail does it right. When you start typing in a name, such as Gary, it will sift out addresses with Gary in them and offer you each address you've entered in for that name, as separate emails. So, you would see Gary:  at the address and Gary: or more lines if there are more email addresses listed. PLUS, the GMail programmers allow you to click on the TO:, CC: or BCC: links and you will get a drop down version of the My Contacts list. Click on a group you want to send to and click CHECK ALL and Bob's your uncle. Or you can scroll and selectively check the list. Certainly that's better than my two decades old way of handling things.

Ahhh, not so much. I wanted lists MY way. That includes listing them as _Roto, or _Family in My Contacts. It's a lot easier to type _R or _F and hit enter, then it is to go through GMail's scroll and check routine. However, when I went to the editor in Contacts Manager, I could only see two of the list addresses at most. My solution? Ctrl-A to highlight the whole line of addresses, Ctrl-C for copy, switch to a notepad session, Ctrl-V for paste. I'd then edit in the >,< separators and reverse the process. Ctrl-A for select All, Ctrl-C, Back to Firefox and the GMail Contact Manager edit session, Ctrl-V to paste in the new line and Save. Later, I discovered using the Note section within Contact Manager, rather than using an external Notepad, was a better idea. I could do all the editing I needed. AND I was left with an easy to see list of what was actually in the email address line.

With all that, I was ready to announce to my 217 contacts that I was switching over to GMail as my main email address. Using the groups (leaving out the Misc and the XBiz groups), I sent out an email saying it was time to change their address books to use the account. There was still the (ongoing) task of changing my address of record at various places I have registered at over the years that I don't normally exchange email with. The fact that the main Rogers account is still up and running and is operational (and looped into GMail) means I can take my time. And if I miss somebody, it's not like the potential emails (usually about upgrades and the such) will get lost in the ether.

But, as of today, despite my obstinance, I now have a new main email account. Hopefully it will be a couple more decades before I have to go through anything like this process again.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

LIFE: A Bigot Is ...

A little late, but what the heck, it's not like anybody expects Blogger and Blogspot to be up ALL the time. Or do you? At any rate, this blog was written during the Blog-out. I've changed the references, but I can't guarantee Sun Media still has Steve Buffery's post still available.

Steve Buffery's post Thursday should be read by everybody. And by some people twice. Although, I suspect a year of repeated readings wouldn't beat the truth into their heads.

What Buffery wrote about today was bigotry and the race to be morally superior to those, that people perceive to be bigots. In this case, he went off on the mob mentality that took over when Damian Goddard of Sportsnet got fired for his support of the anti-gay marriage tweets sent out by sports agent Todd Reynolds. Buffery opens his posting by saying he is in favour of gay marriage, in order NOT to end it with a obsequious "Not that there's anything wrong with that." Too bad. We can't just comment on other's polarizing views without pre-emptorily defending ourselves first.

So, here's my view. You can check back through the blog. I've said it all before. Marriage needs to get out of the courts, replaced with some non-religious term like Union, and let the churches and the synagogues and such have their ceremonial get-togethers. Marriage hasn't been around forever. In fact, it's a fairly new institution. And it's all designed to tie the participants to their religious community. And, if in their ignorance, that community wants to exclude certain people from their not all-encompassing embrace, so be it. I didn't want to join their club anyway.

All people deserve equal rights. Let the legal part of Marriage (errr Unions), be as agnostic as possible. If two people of adult age want to partner up, let no man pass a law to rent that union asunder. If they want to divorce, off to the lawyers they go. No religious involvement whatsoever, unless they want to throw a marriage after they legally get unioned (or even at the same time).

Okay, I guess I should get around to my point of view on the Goddard-Reynolds pronouncements. Are their comments bigoted? Slightly Yes and probably No. What, you expected life to be completely black and white? Yes, because they are choosing other's opinions to inform/replace their opinions. And by others, I mean ethereal beings and the humans who have appointed themselves in charge of interpreting the words and will of those ethereal beings. But no, because I feel bigotry requires two components. There's the belief, then there's the action. Which is why I separate bigotry and prejudice.

Bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.

Prejudice: [1] an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. [2] any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable. [3] unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

Goddard and Reynolds are guilty of prejudice. By whatever rationale, they have decided against a concept that they have no interactions with, other than as sideline commentators. Do I think their rationale stinks? Of course. I am a reasonable man. But I don't think they are bigots because I don't believe they have, or ever will, act on those beliefs (the complete intolerance bit). Barring possibly a vote, if their vote is ever solicited, I think both of these otherwise bright guys can be deemed harmless in this area.

Now, there ARE contemptible twits who don't believe in just having an opinion. These are the zealots who insist on acting out on their prejudices and finding ways to interfere in the lawful pursuits of other people. Yes, most of these mentally inferior excrement-disturbers come from some religious wacko group. Others just see it as one more way of bashing people who "are not like us." Those are bigots and are open game for all the derision in the world. Too much is not enough when it comes to the battle against bigotry.

But firing Goddard and harassing Reynolds into submission doesn't qualify as fine examples of allowing free speech (and thought) in this country. Sure, they should have adhered to the hominem, better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth (or load up Twitter) and prove it.

Good men and women can agree to disagree. As long as they allow for dissenting opinion, the world can be a really civilized place. It's when zealots of any stripe insist on only one voice, one thought, that the world gets to be scary.

Read Buffery's piece. Even if you disagree with it.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

MISC: This And That

Not having a Twitter account, on account of my having a severe case of pleonasm, here are some thoughts that might have been tweets ... if I could have edited myself even more. So, here's some sports, magazine and food observations, ending Mother's Day with an ode to the greatest woman who ever lived.

Was it THREE decades ago that I stood in a cold Varsity Arena in Toronto talking to the wiser-than-his-years coach of the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association, Phil Jackson? The answer, regrettably is Yes (and more). I was first the announcer for the hometown Toronto Tornadoes and later I covered them for the Toronto Star. Jackson was the former New York Knick, taking his time to coach non-NBA talent and learn the ins and outs of the game before matriculating with the Chicago Bulls and later the Los Angeles Lakers. Even then, he had that bemused look. Enjoy your retirement Phil.

In the only pool I entered this year, beyond the Ed Jovanovski Memorial Stanley Cup Pool that I run each spring, I loaded up with Canucks like everybody else, and Flyers and Capitals. As Keen Eddie was fond of asking, "How's that working out for you?" Ahhh, not so good.

Businesses that are cutting back on the reasons I go visit them, part one: Chapters. Had to get my car fixed last month and the Mississauga Chapters was in the area. So I went to get a pre-NFL draft USA Today Sports Weekly and the latest Time, Newsweek and Maclean's news magazines. Found out the outlet no longer puts newspapers out at all (the riff-raff come in and read them, imagine that!)_and besides, they no longer carry the sports weekly from USA Today. In fact, as an afterthought, I decided to get the current Sports Illustrated. No dice there. And of the three news weeklies, no Newsweek (Jon Meachum has become a favourite of mine over the last couple of years). Since I don't buy printed books any more and I can't get the magazines that have been my only reason for going there in ages, it might be a LOOOOOONNNNG time before I step foot in a Chapters again. (and they're giving away their loyalty cards these days for free. Which still wasn't cheap enough for me to take one.)

Businesses that are cutting back on the reasons I go visit them, part two: Harvey's.The quintessential Canadian fast food joint. Have it YOUR way, they say. But, the chain is starting to pinch pennies. First, I don't eat hamburgers. What I do eat, that sets Harvey's apart from the other chains is hot dogs. On the same trip where I tried to off-set the car repair cost with a treat by going to Chapters for intellectual nourishment, I opted for Harvey's for lunch. Now, it might just be the particular outlet, but I came away with a distinct feeling that I won't be going back to Harvey's anytime soon. Some cost-effective consultant has pointed out to management that you can save 10 percent of the cost of buns by making them 10 percent shorter. Or more. All I know, is that the regular dog I got was hanging out both ends of the bun. That might appeal to some ballpark hots fans, but it doesn't cut it with me. I'm a bun aficionado. Every bite needs both bun and dog. And what's worse, I suspect the bun was made of reconstituted saw dust, or worse, bleached whole wheat. Inedible. If a different location produces the same results in my next visit, I will have to add Harvey's to the boycott list.

Businesses that are cutting back on the reasons I go visit them, part three: Wendy's. That sea salt idea for fries. Question: If sea salt's great, then why hand out extra packets of regular salt to over-salt your fries? Given my increased sensitivity to salt (Thanks to my urologist and the most recent kidney stone attack), I'm watching my sodium intake. I don't really like sea salt on anything I've tried it on. Now, fine salt, the stuff you get at the bottom of an almost empty salt container? An unearthly delight. Forbidden, but ohhhhh so tasty.

Finishing off the gastronomic complaints section: Why must EVERYTHING combine two (or more) flavours these days. Until recently, it was virtually impossible to find Jello Cups that contained all flavours I liked. Orange and Lime. Is that so hard a combination to believe in? Noooooo, it was Lime and Cherry in a pack, Orange and Strawberry. Really, really hate anything red when it comes to Jello. Or blue. Soft Drink Crystals are not immune to the same issue. I like Tangerine. I like Orange. Lemon and/or Lime too. Don't need them combined with berries, mangoes, grapefruit or pineapple. And there's more combos than those misbegotten groupings. Try to find orange crystals other than Tang. Try to find grape (and there's no grape tang to be had anywhere). And puh-leaze do NOT mention Kool-Aid. Orange Kool-Aid, a wonder of my youth, has transmuted into something that tastes of burning sandalwood. Is it just possible, I mean JUST possible, that if I want more than one flavour, I'll buy the two different flavours and then do my own combining? Wouldn't that lead to MORE sales for the company as I buy two units rather than the one unit with the already combined flavours (or, as in my case, no units, cuz I can't find the unadulterated components)?

On the other hand, I continue to say hosannas to the inventors of lactose-free milk, Weight Watcher's Thin Slice White Bread and the Kirkland brand of thick-sliced plain potato chips at Costco. I have to make do with one bag rather than two of the chips, but they are a treat. And to be honest, I scarfed down a bag of moderately warm, buttered popcorn the other day. Too salty to be a regular treat, but I'm still dreaming of the bag from Kernels a week later. Have to say, I'm getting use to the sodium-free, sugar-less soda from Compliments, found locally here at No Frills. The Tangerine's tasty and the Lime's decent. The carbonation is adequate, which is a step up from the overly-carbonated Pure Life sparkling waters, flavoured or not. Gentler is much better.

Lastly, just a shout out to my Mom on Mom's Day. You're the best. And keep the best peanut butter cookies in the world coming. I can see the bottom of the container in the most recent month's supply.

Friday, May 06, 2011

SPORTS: Just Another Guy With Just Another Thought

Any reader here will know how low my opinion of Chris Bosh has dropped. I was ALWAYS in favour of trading the guy cuz I thought he was over-rated. But I thought he was a good guy and a fringy all-star. Third team all-star. But, of course, his actions last summer more or less revealed just how shallow he was behind the clever wit. And his play this year evidenced itself pretty well. The Miami butler is Just Another Guy.

Trade rumours started swirling around Bosh right around the first Miami losing streak of the season, which was, if I recall, right off the bat. It's intensified as more and more, it looks like the Super Pals, James and Wade, have finally figured out how to play with each other. For much of the season, the secret to whatever Heat success was enjoyed, was to play one or the other other with Bosh. Now, the Heat happened not to win too often when ANY of the three was actually out for the whole game. But in-game, the James-Wade mix was ... less successful than it should have been.

That's changed for the play-offs, to the complete and utter dismay of the Celtics, Bulls and who from the West? The Mavs? The Thunder? Whoever. And Bosh has played pretty well. But that hasn't seemed to be the result of a kumbaya of togetherness with the previous Super Friends. Bosh's statements today that he likes to stand alone and isn't bothered by the Super Pals running off their mouths when near mikes, as a duo, is a little window dressing. The departing of Bosh this off-season is almost guaranteed.

But I'm not hear to shout "Schadenfreude!" at the man who claimed he wanted to be The Man before hiring on as the butler. Nope. I've got a question.

An NBA GM picks up the phone and calls another GM and suggests a Bosh for Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson swap. Which GM (Riley or Colangelo) makes that call? And what does the other guy say? And why?

Just another thought to while away the innumerable, insufferable off-days in the NBA play-offs.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

LIFE: Still Depressed

It's been a couple of days and I still find myself thinking ahead to a bleak future. I share some ancestry with CBC pundit Rex Murphy, but I don't share his calm, as he dismissed anti-Stephen Harper zealots on Strombo the other night. He thinks people who think the worst of Harper and what he calls the Secret Agenda are working as fervently on their fiction as is Margaret Atwood. While I respect the heck out of Murphy, I still think he's wrong.

Abortion rights, net neutrality, a two-level medical system and the further attempt to turn Canada into a single-party political state are just some of the things I expect to be yapping about over the next four years. And like everybody else outside the Inner Circle, my yapping will mean diddly squat.

On the latter point, now in majority, expect the Conservatives to make gerrymandering an art. The next election will feature more seats, and not a single extra seat will be created that won't be set up to be a generational seat for the conservatives. The political map will see side-by-side leftist seats joined together to form a single seat and that extra seat will then be replaced (and then some) by the splitting into two of a single conservative seat. Some fancy border-making will be required. But the Conservatives will now have a few years and ALL taxpayers dollars to do exactly that. With no opposition. Despite NOT getting the majority of votes in the election Monday night. Again.

Fact: The majority of Canadians voted for the small L liberal side of the voting slate. That's because Canada is a liberal nation. Not a Liberal nation, but a liberal one. But we have a problem, two alternatives on the liberal side, versus the one united, coalesced conservative alternative. And, here in Ontario especially, the surging NDP candidates took votes away from incumbent Liberals (the reverse happened at least once, too) and Conservatives won a seat, despite getting, in some cases, less votes this time around than in losing two years ago.

Early in the election, news was made when one, maybe two, NDP candidates announced they wanted all their supporters to vote Liberal. The election was too important to allow Conservatives to enjoy their split-vote opportunity and win a seat without anything close to a majority of the votes. Had that act become province-wide, let alone nation-wide, today we would have a minority government led, in all likelyhood by either Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff. The Harper Menace would be behind us.

There's little doubt that the NDP's success was also its own failure. A little less NDP surging in Ontario would almost assuredly have led to Jack Layton as Prime Minister before the summer was out. Instead, the NDP will be an opposition to a party that brooks no opposition. The impact that the NDP will have as the main opposition for the next four years is ZERO. The Conservatives will yawn through question period, obfuscate most of the time and say "none of your business" more than they should. They demonstrated that when all they held was power. Absolute power? Well, Rex, you are about to find the depths that can be plumbed. Sorry. You are wrong.

When last the conservative side of the aisle was similarly split, one of Canada's grand old political insitutions, the Progressive Conservatives, died to allow the Conservative party to emerge phoenix-like and represent the view of a sizable minority of Canadians. The lessons will now have to be applied to the liberal side. There is NO WAY, the Liberal Party, the so-called natural governing party of this country, will survive. Hat in hat, they MUST now go to the NDP and start the process of uniting the left. Free of the baggage of the old guard, the remaining Liberals must not allow the next election to be one of the right versus a fractured left. If they do, the conservatives might establish a control of the country that could last a generation. Or more.

Justin Trudeau will have to make the long walk with his colleagues to the offices of Layton. Behind the scenes, the melding of the two parties into, let's call them the Liberal Democrats, which sounds better on the tongue than Democratic Liberals, has to be in place this year. And for gawd sakes, no one should suggest Really New Democrat Party. I mean, when does New actually become OLD? Provincial allegiances will have to be re-examined to see if the national parties amalgamation seeps down to the provincial level or whether the current bifurcation continues. I have no idea how that goes. But it's gotta get done.

Otherwise, I REALLY will have to step up my lottery purchases to escape what I fear will be the very epitomy of the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

I'd rather be bored.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

POLITICS: Day Of Change

Come Monday night, Peter Mansbridge will be telling me how I will feel for ohhhh, about the next two years. The most dreadful words he could say, of course, are Conservative Majority. That's when I do what I can to hit the lottery and move out of this country, one that has lost its way in casting its lot with the worst possible man to lead the nation.

Or ... we might have another Conservative-led minority with the same clown in place. But not for too long. While long on hubris, even HE couldn't stick around after failing to win a majority for three elections in a row. Politics, the Game, doesn't permit losers like that to hang around unless they are lovable losers. And nobody, upon nobody, who isn't a dyed-in-the-wool conservative beyond all intelligent analysis finds him lovable. Good at what he does, which isn't good for the country. But competently nasty.

Or ... we could have a surprise orange surge to the actual prime minister's office by Jack Layton. Amongst the three, he's obviously the man most of Canada would want in the chair. He's CANADIAN, not parochially connected to one region above all others (I'm talking to you Prairies and your support for the local lad from hell). He's also a politician and promises the moon and he won't be able to deliver. Do I have to repeat, ad nauseum, the fact that politicians lie? But you definitely get the feeling he will give it a good try, as adverse the current chief politician of Canada. Frankly, the NDP turn here in Ontario was horrible and I'd no more like an NDP majority than a Conservative one. Welllll, that's not completely true. But it would only be slightly better. Still, if you can't like Jack, you're not Canadian. See, I can demonize non-believers just as well as Harper's Junta.

Or ... we could could be in the crosshairs of a short-lived Conservative minority that might almost immediately have to give way to the oft-threatened left-oriented coalition. 'Course, I'm REALLY interested in seeing if Gilles Duceppe can get in bed with Jack Layton, given the thumping the NDP is handing the Bloc Quebecois in La Belle Province. Wouldn't surprise me at all if Duceppe props up Harper for awhile. But only for awhile. Reprehensible is, after all, reprehensible. And Harper will fall. To what kind of coalition?

And before I cogitate on that, let me point out two flaws in the Conservative bleat about coalitions. Are not the Conservatives a coalition of the old Progressive Conservatives (an almost fondly remembered group that espoused conservative views without viewing themselves above the law) and the regionally-oriented wackos, the Canadian Action Party? Plus, it was the Conservatives and the NDP that pulled the "Plurality doesn't mean Majority" non-confidence vote in the minority Liberal government of the time. Harper is so #*($#*$U two-faced I have a tough time figuring out why people think he ever doesn't lie. Plus, the Conservatives have NOT gotten support from the majority of Canadians in any election this century. And for Harper to proclaim that letting the MAJORITY of %$W)(*%WAY)$ Canadians get the government of THEIR (representative's) choice is somehow anti-democratic only serves to show how completely and utterly mentally bankrupt he and his backers are. Now back to the new coalition.

The problem with the boogie-man coalition threat that Harper has been selling for months is that he's right. Most Canadians haven't taken a liking to Michael Ignatieff. And that's despite a pretty good turn on The Rick Mercer Report. He's smarter than most people in the room, and Canadians (and Americans it seems) have a tough time with that. He's pleasant, but not neighbourly. His dunkirking of Stephane Dion and exiling (until this past week) of the little guy from Shawinigan, Jean Chretien, doesn't help. He took the shots from Harper's swiftboaters for too long and let those rabid right-wingers define him to the Canadian public. He's never strongly enough defended himself or attacked the integrity (it is supposed to exist) of the man who's been okaying these attack ads even before elections were called (law, what law?). It's time to trot out a Trudeau and get started on The Liberals: The Next Generation. The reds need a new team with modern sensibilities, fewer flaws and a willingness to get in and get dirty with the folks who have imported dirty American political tactics wholesale.

Which brings us back to why the left coalition CAN and WILL work this time around. Jack Layton will be in the hot seat. And with a little tempering from their Liberal partners and, a bit too much, in all probability, kowtowing towards Quebec, the left minority will lead until the Conservatives and whoever is leading them in the years ahead, can con Duceppe into pulling the plug. Two years? At a guess. I can dream about longer. But I don't trust Duceppe, the flow of history or Layton's health for much longer than that.

Please Mr. Mansbridge, make the Day of Change a good one for Canada.