Assorted notes

  • Public service announcement: earlier this year Google announced optional 2-factor authentication for Google accounts. Please use it: it's one of the least painful ways to make your data safer (most people are toast if their email gets compromised). And the implementation seems fairly well thought out:
    • You download an app to your smartphone (or smartphone-like device) that generates one-time passwords (OTPs), to be used in conjunction with your regular password when needed. A single OTP can authenticate one computer for up to 30 days. Yes, the app is open source. It runs on any Android, Blackberry, or iOS device.
    • The app works offline, without a data connection, because the method for generating OTPs is specified by RFC 4226 (yes, it's standardized and everything) and is either sequence-based or time-based.
    • Failing that, if you don't have a smartphone, or it's busted, you can also receive an OTP via SMS to a designated number (though, obviously, then you need phone reception).
    • Failing that, if you don't have a cell phone, or it's busted, you can also receive an OTP via a voice call to a designated landline.
    • Failing that... if you know you'll be somewhere where you have no phone at all, you can print a list of OTPs to carry with you that will enable you to log in.
    • Apps that authenticate via just a password (e.g. the phone itself, or most desktop apps, like Picasa) get a dedicated automatically generated password. You don't get the benefit of 2-factor auth here, but these passwords are less likely to be phished because you're not typing them in all the time, and you can revoke them individually.
  • Good lord, Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty) is fast. My laptop (Thinkpad X201 with Intel SSD) boots from disk unlock screen (LUKS full-disk encryption) to a working Openbox desktop in about four seconds.
  • I've been playing with Blender (the Free 3D modeling tool) for a personal project to be 3D printed, and it's a lot of fun, and quite rewarding. I'm still a noob at this stuff, but already I get some of these "in the zone" moments that are so rarely attained in software (Emacs being the other exception) where I feel like I'm manipulating a thing directly rather than using a software program. The Blender UI looks like an airplane cockpit, but there is a method to its madness! The other neat thing is that most of the time when you do creative work on the computer you are not rewarded with anything nearly so tangible as a 3D printed piece.
  • A clever thing I noticed on Android the other week: when you use voice dictation in a text entry field, and you move the cursor back to previous words, above the keyboard it shows not the nearest alternatives based on the keyboard layout (as it would if you were typing), but the nearest alternatives based on sound— e.g. "wreck" ... "a nice beach" as suggested replacements for "recognize speech".

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