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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 1 Issue 4 October 2007
In This Issue
Passwords, passwords, passwords! How can I keep track of them all?
I Recommend...
If you're like most people I talk to, you probably have quite a lot of passwords to keep track of, and you probably find it frustrating or even aggravating. Here is my simple advice on how to organize and keep track of them all, whether computer-related or not.
Passwords, passwords, passwords! How can I keep track of them all?

So there I was, driving home, my auto mechanic having just replaced my car's worn-out battery. I turned on the radio, but instead of hearing tunes from my favorite oldies station it silently displayed "CODE." This is an antitheft feature designed to prevent someone who might steal the radio from using it, easily cleared with the right password. If I only knew what it was....

How should I organize my passwords?
Do you have your passwords written on scraps of paper all over your desk, on post-it notes stuck to your computer monitor, or in the back of your car's owner's manual? It's time to gather them all together!

In my experience, these are the key pieces of information to collect:
  • the context: the name of the organization, web site, or company, e.g., "eBay.com"
  • the username (also called the id, login name, account name, or number), e.g. "Martin" - uppercase vs. lowercase usually doesn't matter; some companies will use your email address as your username, some let you make up a username
  • the password itself - be very precise about uppercase and lowercase letters because passwords are case-sensitive, e.g., don't write "Skippy" if the password you have to type is actually "skippy"
  • the date you opened the account (optional, but helpful later to weed out old accounts)
  • any other notes, comments, or related information, e.g., why you opened the account, what purpose it serves
A simple way to get started is to take a pad of lined paper and write "Context | Username | Password | Date | Notes" across the top, making a 5-column chart like this:

Sample Password Chart

Context Username Password Date Notes
Earthlink martin skippy87 2/4/06 email and internet service
eBay.com martin skippy 10/23/05 great place to buy & sell stuff
Ford Fairlane (radio code) 1234   needed after get new battery


Then, start filling in this list, one account per row. Start with the accounts you use most frequently - email, voicemail, shopping, and banking. Don't worry about keeping this list in alphabetical order for now, you can always copy it over later and put it into some sort of order.

When I help clients start such a list, sometimes they tell me that their email account doesn't have a password. If you don't have to type in your email password, that just means that your email program is remembering it for you. Everyone's email account has a password.

How can I remember which accounts and passwords I already have?
You probably won't be able to remember all of your accounts and passwords all at once, so I recommend you begin with the ones you can think of now. To help you get started, here is a list of the most common types I've seen, along with a few examples:

Essential computer-related accounts:
  • email account - many people have more than one
  • internet connection (dial-up, DSL, cable) - often the same password as your primary email account
  • login or "administrative" account for your computer
  • router or network administration - for managing a computer network in your home or office
  • wireless network access - for connecting your computer to your wireless network
Online accounts:
  • shopping web sites - products (books, CDs, food, clothing), services (airfare, hotels), etc.
  • financial web sites - bank accounts, credit cards, investments, Paypal
  • organizations you belong to - Chamber of Commerce, business group, dance club
  • services you subscribe to - automobile club, the company managing your web site, online discussion group or community, dating web site, online archive of newspaper articles
  • companies whose product you've registered - free software you're using, software you've paid for, appliance you've purchased
  • government web sites you've registered with - IRS, US Treasury, Mass Dept. of Revenue
You probably also have a number of important non-computer passwords:
  • home voicemail or answering machine remote access code
  • work voicemail
  • cell voicemail
  • ATM pin number
  • "verbal" password when you call your bank or investment company
  • car radio antitheft password
Why should I organize my passwords?
  • It will save you time, inconvenience, and frustration having all your passwords in one place.
  • If you become sick, disabled, or die, you'll save your family or business partners a lot of time and trouble.
Where should I keep my passwords?
Some experts will tell you that you should never write down your passwords, that you should only have them in your head, but I think this leads to people always using the same password. To me it makes sense to make a password chart as long as you keep it in a safe place.

For some people, the best choice is a lined piece of paper kept in a locked drawer in their desk. If you discard it, remember to shred it first.

For others, the best choice is a spreadsheet or word processing file on their computer, ideally locked with a password itself. Just don't name it "Password List"!

Other ideas for organizing your passwords:
  • Use a 3-ring notebook.
  • Use your existing paper Rolodex, or start a special one just for passwords.
  • If you do decide to keep different passwords in different places, pick places that are easy to remember or related to the given passwords. I found my car's radio code written in my car's owner's manual, so I can enjoy my oldies once again!
Where to go from here
  • Start a password list, add to it as you remember each account you already have.
  • Keep it up to date by adding new accounts and passwords whenever you create or change them, and keep it in a safe place.
  • Let the important people in your life know where to find it.
If you know someone else who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it to them.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
I Recommend...

In this section of my newsletter I will sometimes recommend trusted colleagues and other times I'll suggest useful products and software. Today's recommendation is:

John Spino, Esq.
Estate Attorney
Guida, Spino & Associates, LLP

John is an attorney whose practice is all about protecting you, your family, and your assets in case you or your spouse become incapacitated or die. These may sound like difficult things to think about, but John can walk you through them. After discussing what's important to you, John designs an estate plan to fit your situation, which might involve a will, a trust, and other important legal documents. If you pass away without an estate plan, your family will probably find themselves in a complicated and expensive situation that just a few hours of straightforward and inexpensive advance preparation could easily have avoided.

And, since many laws have changed in recent years, if you have an existing estate plan John can review it and suggest changes you should make. John concentrates on Estate Planning; his focus for the past eight years has been entirely in this area. That's all he does, and he excels at it.

John is really good at creating and improving estate plans for:
  • young couples
  • seniors
  • divorced individuals
and anyone else who would rather take the lead in deciding for themselves how things should be handled when they pass away than let the state laws decide things for them.

For an initial free, no-obligation consultation, call John and get started on protecting your family today.

Here's how to contact John:
(781) 213-3060
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2007 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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