Beats.

Image from vrfitness.com.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m really not a fan of fitness, especially a focused "working out" regimen. I find the practice mind numbing and exceedingly boring. Riding a bicycle, going for a walk, or getting exercise through natural means like hoisting lumber around the family lumber yard or slinging hay bales on an early summer day is fine, but when one is expected to do push ups or stare at four walls while yanking expensive slinkies, that is just not my jam.

My career entails sitting in front of a computer for many hours a day. I walk from time to time and I try to get "standing time" to make my Apple Watch happy. I’ve been doing push ups on a regular basis, and I will continue to do so, but again, mind numbing.

My husband and I bought ourselves an early Christmas present in a pair of Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets. I mentioned his headset on a blog entry a few weeks ago, we bought another headset which arrived this week.

I’ve been playing a lot of Beat Saber and my arms are killing me. My body feels more worked out than it has in the months since my last substantial bike ride. It’s a good burn and I’m enjoying the challenges of Beat Saber.

If you’re not familiar with the game, the player is in a neon 3D VR landscape with blocks and walls and the like flying directly at you in time with a music track. The idea is to hit all the blocks with light saber like devices, which are color-coded to the colors of blocks coming at you. Don’t hit the bombs, and don’t get run over by the walls.

To me it’s like the 21st century of "Super Breakout" on the Atari 2600. "Super Breakout" was one of my favorite games back in the day, followed closely by "Astroblast" and "Centipede".

I’m not a fan of shooter games or aiming guns at people in a VR scenescape, but the cardio workout around Beat Saber is a lot of fun and more importantly, mind engaging instead of mind numbing.

With multiple Oculus Quest 2 units in the household, my husband and I are able to play the game together. If the neighbors are watching across the alley, they see two middle aged guys swinging their arms in synchronized movement.

It’s a great way to get some exercise!

Technology.

My husband took me out to dinner. We haven’t had a “date night” out since the beginning of the pandemic and with the abnormally beautiful weather in Chicago, it was a gorgeous night to sit at a sidewalk table in front of a restaurant and have a nice dinner together.

The approach to social distancing at restaurants here in Chicago involves quite a bit of technology and a couple of assumptions. Some restaurants are checking temperatures at the door. At the moment, no restaurants are allowed to have indoor dining; only open air dining is allowed as of last weekend. To avoid spreading COVID-19, restaurants have opted to skip hard copy menus and instead have posted QR codes at tables. Patrons scan the QR code with their smartphone and are then presented with the menu. Wait staff are now carrying handheld electronic devices to manage the order tableside. Everyone is wearing a mask. Sanitation is happening everywhere.

The handheld devices I’ve seen are branded “Toast”. An Android device, the mini tablets allows servers to have their own device and not rely on a shared touchscreen at a central station. No paperwork is shared between the servers and the kitchen. We did get a printed receipt, which had another QR code, which we could then use to pay directly on our smartphone.

Our current state of technology has allowed us to manage the pandemic fairly well from an economic point of view. Can you imagine if this pandemic had come along in the late 1990s and we were trying to do this with Windows 98 and dial modems? The country would have come to a grinding halt.

Like the Y2K scare and the advancement of technology at that time, I think one good thing the pandemic has brought has been a shove in a positive direction in regards to technology. The work place will never be the same. School kids will never have a snow day again, they can just switch to remote learning.

And we’ll be able to read our menus right on our smart devices.

Apple One.

Apple officially released their new subscription service today. It’s called Apple One. It’s basically a package deal for their individual services like Apple TV+, Apple Music, Apple News, Apple Arcade, and iCloud. Their new service, Fitness+, will come before the end of the year, and it’s included in their “Premier” level of Apple One.

I subscribed us to Apple One Premier. It will save us a little over $5 a month vs the current subscriptions we have. Plus, we’ll be able to drop a couple of other subscription services, including Dropbox. Since we use Apple products, iCloud works just fine for us.

I’m excited about Fitness+. It’s a fitness program that works in concert with videos on various Apple devices and the fitness capabilities of the Apple Watch. I’m hoping it will inspire me to be a little more fitness minded during the dark, cold months of winter.

One can always hope.

VR.

Jamie and Chris have a new Oculus Quest 2. It’s a fully contained, quite affordable Virtual Reality headset from Facebook. The experience is amazing.

I gave it a whirl and was impressed at how quickly I was able to adapt to the controls and how immersive the experience is. I could easily see this tech doing amazing things, and not just for gaming. I wonder how long it will be before we all just put VR headsets on for our Zoom calls.

Oddities.

Like much of the United States, at one time telephone lines went along the railroad tracks that ran through the property of the house I grew up in. There were power lines as well, but they were active and tended by the local power company, Niagara Mohawk. The telephone lines had come down years before the house was built; I was in my early teens when I discovered the old poles lying in the woods adjacent to the tracks.

Many of the fallen poles still had their glass insulators on the crossbeams. Curiously, they were easy to screw off the pole; I collected several and brought them back to the house. When my dad saw them in the garage after one of my scavenger runs, he went out in the woods with me and helped me bring back more. I cleaned them up after school. Some were blue, some were green, some were clear glass.

Now here’s more proof that I was a very odd child, well on my way to my eccentric middle aged persona I carry today. I decided to use those glass insulators to string my own wires through the woods between the house and the railroad tracks. I was always fascinated with electricity, but probably more fascinated with anything that was connected to something else. So I grabbed numerous lengths of baling twine from the family farm across the street and ran baling twine on century old glass insulators installed on trees and my own crossbars made of scrap woods left over from the construction of the house. The baling twine ran for nearly three and a half acres. It would be several years before it would come down; there’s probably still glass insulators spread out in the woods behind the house. It wasn’t like I was building a workable tin can telephone system or stringing lights, I was just putting rope up in the trees. Tarzan would have a field day back there.

Once in a while I wonder if the new owners of the property come across any evidence of my idiosyncrasies. Detailed doorbell wiring instructions written on the floor joists in the basement. Make shift clocks made out of paper plates tacked to a closet wall. Baling twine tied to glass insulators and strung from tree to tree, limb to limb.

Oh well, it’s all part of my storybook.

High School U.S.A.

In 1983 NBC featured a movie of the week called “High School, U.S.A.”. Apparently it was a pilot for a TV series that never came to fruition. The movie featured every “teen star” of the era, with every former “teen star” from the 50s or 60s as a teacher or other adult role. Here’s a cut and paste from IMDB:

Michael J. FoxJay-Jay Manners (as Michael Fox)
Nancy McKeonBeth Franklin
Todd BridgesOtto Lipton
Angela CartwrightMiss D’Angelo
Bob DenverMilton Feld 
Dwayne HickmanMr. Plaza 
Lauri HendlerNadine
Dana PlatoCara Ames
Crystal BernardAnne-Marie Conklin
Anthony EdwardsBeau Middleton
Frank BankMr. Gerardi 
Elinor DonahueMrs. Franklin 
Tony DowPrincipal Pete Kinney 
Steve FrankenDr. Fritz Hauptmann 
David NelsonMr. Krinsky, Janitor

I have absolutely no idea why this movie crossed my mind the other day but with the wonders of the Internet, I was able to watch this thing via YouTube. It’s as uneven in the 21st century as I remember it being back when I was a sophomore in high school.

Honestly, one of the things I remember from the movie is one of the high school seniors looked way too old for his role and he shaved with a straight razor. In 1983. That was very cool to me, though I had no idea why at the time. I could barely master my Dad’s Gillette Atra. It would be a couple of decades before I mastered the straight razor.

If you want to watch the full movie on YouTube, the best I can do is a Spanish dub.

Passwords.

There’s a video on Youtube of a married couple demonstrating email to the BBC viewing public. The video was shot in 1984 and the couple was using one of the many 8-bit computers available on the market at the time. They connected to a local online service to retrieve their email, and as plain as day, when prompted for their password, they typed “1234”. At the 80s wore on, folks realized there was a certain amount of importance to their online account passwords, so they upgraded from “1234” to “password”. In the mid 1990s they may have been using “Password”, and geeks were probably using things like “P@ssw0rd”.

Our online presence, and more importantly, our dependence on online services has come a long way in the ensuing 25 years and our entire lives are now online. Our passwords need to evolve accordingly. 

A trick I’ve used for years is having a complicated “password base” and then appending different characters to that base depending on the application. For example, for Yahoo I may have the password “P@ssw0rd!Yaho” while for Google I’d use “P@ssw0rd!Goog”. It’s not the most secure approach, because if someone figures out your methods they can probably start getting into your other accounts. However, it’s a solid step in the right direction, the goal being have a different password for every online account.

I now know only one password. It’s a complicated password composed of random alphanumeric characters and symbols, and it’s quite long at 24 characters. What does this password do?  It unlocks my Password Manager account.

With many users now using primarily mobile devices for their computing needs, both iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) users have a mostly secure of maintaining their passwords and that’s the built in password manager. There are also plenty of third party options available: 1Password, Bitwarden, LastPass, etc. All of these passwords work on the same prinicple: you unlock the “password vault” with the one password you need to know, and then the password manager creates passwords for each of your accounts and automatically fills in the incredibly complex password it has stored when it needs to be called upon.

My experience with this is mainly around the functionality built into iOS. With Apple’s integrated ecosystem, my passwords are in sync across my iPhone, iPads, and my Mac. Depending on the device, I unlock the vault with my Apple ID password, FaceID or TouchID. Then, when I’m prompted for a password, the device says “Hey! I have the credentials for this account!” and offers to populate the data for you. You don’t need to know the password, Apple is handling that for you.

1Password, Bitwarden, and the other third party offerings basically do the same thing, and even include the biometric protection of FaceID and TouchID. You just need to take the extra step of selecting your third party password manager as the default handler on your iPhone and/or iPad. The advantage to the third party management software is that you can get plugins for anything: Firefox, Google Chrome, Windows, Linux, it doesn’t matter. Now your passwords are synchronized across multiple devices and multiple operating systems. For those not all in on one platform (like Apple devices only or something), this approach makes sense.

Google and Apple also go one step further in that they let you know when you’ve used the same password across multiple accounts and they also monitor when that password may have been compromised. In these instances, they give you rather easy to understand options to change the affected accounts so that your information stay safe. 

If you’re still using passwords like “baseball0517” to protect your online data, you really need to get to current times and start using a password manager, even if it’s the one that’s built into your operating system. One password for all accounts is pretty much the same as going on vacation with the front door unlocked and a sign on the front lawn that says “Come in and browse!”.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m probably going to write up some tutorials on managing passwords safely and share these on Medium. I’m a big advocate of online safety, so if you have any questions about this sort of thing, feel free to reach out in the comments on this blog post.

In the meanwhile, here’s some starter information from Apple and Google. Some of the third party password managers I’ve used in the past are 1Password, Bitwarden, and Dashlane, with Bitwarden being my favorite right now.

Happy security!

For the dorks in the crowd, here’s the “E-mail” video from 1984: