Here Wiggo!

We almost called it right! In the end it was Wiggins, Ennis and Murray to place 1st, 2nd and 3rd in last night’s final. Here at id CRISIS we had called the top three but had imagined Murray, Ennis and Wiggins.

But we’ll say well done Wiggins on adding SPOTY 2012 to your trophy cabinet. Will it sit next to the yellow jersey and Olympic gold?

Hitting the Jackpot

Creative professionals walk a fine line between the common life demands of servicing bills, mortgages, social commitments, etc. and maintaining an artistic drive that often isn’t met with instant financial reward. It is not just an issue for painters on a bohemian lifestyle, the majority of creative individuals have to weigh up priorities and competing pressures and forge a way forward in life. In this series, id CRISIS interviews artists for their experiences. Before we continue to the first artist in our list, here’s an inspirational video doing the rounds on social media:

Profound? Thought-provoking? Mystical? Or a little unrealistic? How do our panel of artists attempt to do what they like doing in the real world.

Interview with singer/songwriter annaJo

annaJo Jackpot cover photo

How do you answer when people ask you what you do for a living?
I usually say I work as a music therapist part time and spend the rest of the time working on my own music

How long have you been writing songs?
I wrote my first full song when I was 13… but I think I was making up bits of songs for a few years before that.

What makes you want to release albums?
Wanting to hear my songs in their best possible form, and wanting other people to hear them and be touched by them and wanting to make a living doing what I love! [laughs]

You don’t think that’s possible?
I think it’s possible, but its not easy.

Do you feel able to be creative in your salaried job?
Yeah definitely, but it’s a different kind of creativity because I’m responding to my clients, I can’t just play anything I want.

Where and when are you most creative?
I don’t know, I think creativity often just happens when I’m going about my normal business. I get inspired by things and then it’s a case of forming the ideas into something that sounds good.

Who are your inspirations?
Everyone I listen to… but particularly singer songwriters like Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, John Mayer, etc
I listen for lyrics and music, anything creative that catches my attention.

What work are your most proud of?
The Jackpot EP, because those songs show a lot of different sides of me and they sound just how I imagined them sounding!

What risks have you taken to advance your art?
Again, recording Jackpot was quite a risk. The problem is taking just one risk isn’t enough, you have to keep taking risks the whole time - which is a bit scary!

What are you working on at the moment and where do you want to take your art over the next few years?
At the moment I’m planning to record some more acoustic tracks, and also looking for a manager to take things to the next level. Over the next few years I’d love to get more exposure and get my music heard by as many people as I can.

What would you say to others who are tempted to develop their art form?
I would say do it! Absorb as much as possible from others, copy people, try new things, use everything you can and find your own voice.
I suppose I ought to say “keep trying til you make it”, but that depends on the person – there’s nothing wrong with it being something you just do because you love it, even if you never earn money from it!

annaJo’s latest studio album, Jackpot, is available for purchase at online at or iTunes.

shard pano small

Personality Contests

2012 has been host to two of the biggest personality contests in the world: the American Presidential race and the Chinese government reshuffle. In the UK media, marginally less world-shaking contests are also being fought in the jungle and on the stage. But the biggest and best is yet to come – the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY). And this year there are, for obvious reasons, a total of 12 nominees are on the shortlist.

Since 1954, the BBC have been immortalising sports men (and occasionally women) in the hall of fame that is SPOTY. This year’s contest features an unsurprising Olympics-dominated cast list – in fact only golfer Rory McIlroy has no connection with the Olympics or Paralympics. So what does it take to win the prestigious award?

Being an athlete is a major bonus. Athletes have won 29% of previous awards, way ahead of Formula 1 at 10% and football at 8%. As hinted earlier, your chances are also greater if you are a man, with 81% of winners being male, though this may count against them this year after the backlash from 2011′s 100% male line-up. You are also virtually guaranteed a win if you captain a triumphant England team á la Wilkinson (2003 Rugby World Cup) and Flintoff (2005 Ashes). Multiple Golds were enough for Hoy and Holmes in previous Olympic years – but this year’s voters are spoiled for choice in that area. A US Open finals place got Rusedski the top award in 1997 so Murray may be fancying his chances this year but McIlroy can trump this with not one, but two majors’ wins.

Mo and Bolt each perform the other’s trademark celebration.

On the track, Ennis has won the hearts of the British public but Farah would surely win a straight personality contest for his enigmatic celebrations and the now infamous Mobot. Simmonds, Storey and Weir will hope to further raise the profile of the Paralympics by winning on December 16th and so becoming the first Paralympic  sports person to do so. Wiggins, Grainger and Adams already have firsts to their names whereas Ainslie is celebrating repeats in his sailing class. Hoy will also want to repeat his 2008 SPOTY win.

This year was always going to produce a tough decision for the judges. An Olympic games on home soil is a once-in-a lifetime event for most. It really is to close to call the outcome. The smart money, though, would perhaps be on Ennis, Murray and Wiggins given the prominence of their respective sports, and I will call first, second and third in that order. Ultimately though, they all deserve a look-in for this competition and if the judges were allowed I’m sure they’d copy the 1984 example of Torvil and Dean in awarding multiple winners.

When passwords fall down

In the previous article I touched on some of the problems with password security but there is more to this subject. A few years back I was working with children as a primary school teacher in a city school. The classrooms had no computers except one laptop for the teacher to use with a projector. This isn’t much of a step forward from my old schooling in the 1980′s, when  at least my classroom had a BBC micro for the children to use! But outside in the corridor, however, there was a bank of computers set-up for classes to share access to throughout the week. But computer access, or lack thereof, isn’t the topic I want to highlight today. I have entitled this article, “When passwords fall down” – and so on to how this relates to experiences in schools.

Retina scanners: a viable way forward?

In schools, access to computers is, in many cases, enabled by user profiles. These profiles can store user preferences, settings and assign shared storage. The advantage: a user is not tied to a particular machine but can access their documents at multiple locations. Users have access to a range of machines, each linked to a central server or servers. In corporate and higher education environments this is a common arrangement as it allows a pooling of resources and flexible working practices. When schools look to install IT facilities for their pupils they naturally look to this model for ideas.

At first glance this approach appears sensible, especially as in the case of my old school where children are sharing access to a bank of computers. The alternative of one-laptop-per-child seems a very remote possibility (although this Indian tablet initiative is encouraging) and a pupil/PC ratio of 10:1 is not uncommon. Sharing IT resources makes a lot of sense, be they desktop or laptops or tablets. So the popular setup is to have computers dotted around the site, congregated in IT suites or stored in a movable trolley. These in turn connect to wired or wifi-based networks to gain access to the internet and internal server systems. Setting up such a network is relatively straightforward for a knowledgable engineer and maintenance is low so many schools employ contractors to work on a part-time basis to periodically update systems.

So how are these systems used in practice? When logging on to a computer at the start of the teaching session each pupil will enter their user details on the login screen and subsequently be able to access a personalised subset of applications and data storage from the main server (some systems run applications on the server itself – others run the apps from the local client computer and  just store user settings and files centrally). And this is where the problems start. Children are required to enter a username and a password. This could be simply the child’s name and a favourite colour – that shouldn’t cause any problems should it? Well, even adults forget their passwords on occasion – hence the need for a password-reset link on the majority of internet sites. This reset feature normally uses an email-based recovery process. On internal sites it is more common to have a password reminder or a refer-to-system-admin option. In the school environment the common problem is exasperated by the likelihood of children forgetting – or being unable to spell – their own username!

The result is that teachers often have to enter usernames and/or passwords for children, so they will commonly print out lists of children’s login details for such a purpose. This is not an ideal situation as then valuable lesson time is wasted. If, in a typical class of 30 pupils, a teacher spends 1 minute per pupil helping them log in then 30 mins of the lesson have been wasted. Of course, some teachers will provide children with login details printed on cards (which will be lost over the course of a term) or commission more able children to help those struggling to enter their details. Another option is to disable personal profiles and enable general access to the computers. This has a few disadvantages, access to certain applications can no longer be controlled on a user-by-user basis and children have to either store files locally (limiting them to one machine) or   be trained to use certain server directories (as if learning a password wasn’t bad enough!) But even this cannot rule out the need for passwords as more and more applications go online and in the cloud we will be requiring pupils to enter login details to more and more websites.

No, there is a clear problem with the current reliance for password-based access to IT services in education. Other methods for securing access have centred around hardware-based solutions: in one school I visited, the children accessed a library computer with a finger-print scanner. Some manufacturers are experimenting with facial recognition for this task. Facial recognition will struggle with identical twins, however, and all hardware methods currently require additional equipment and software - something schools are unlikely to fork out for. The recent acquisition by Apple of security tech company AuthenTec raises the possibility of such hardware becoming integrated into future iPhones and iPads (or even TV remotes for parent control?). Where Apple goes, others always follow, so the future might see biometrics replacing the password for a variety of applications.

Other more left-field solutions include a number of password alternatives based on users tapping out a rhythm on a single button. I know from experience that memorable phrases can be used to teach children simple rhythms. Perhaps this would work as an alternative to conventional text-based passwords. Or will the voice-prompt be a way forward? The worry with old voice recognition systems was they could be fooled by recordings – not so anymore as this video claims:

So is this a way forward for children? Security doesn’t need to be as tight in a school network environment and it requires very little hardware – certainly nothing expensive. The software could be an issue as the current systems available are mainly used in banks although this stand alone voice-protected USB device has all the tech built-in. So who is making it right now? Well, a brief online search doesn’t immediately reveal any products specifically aimed at the education market. Anyone want to address that?

A computer hacker

Getting hacked: how I really should have known better.

One of my email accounts was recently hacked and used to send spam messages to thousands of accounts. I really should have known better, I was temporarily using a simple 6 character password that had been previously compromised through some kind of phishing attack years earlier, so no sympathy should be extended my way. If that wasn’t enough, I had also read Mat Honan’s extensive Wired article on hacking that gave his own experiences of catastrophic hacking. But I hadn’t taken any of his suggestions on board, figuring that ‘security through obscurity’ was the best defence. Now count me among the converted when it comes to protecting my ass online assets.

After my first breach I took steps to tighten up my own security by lengthening passwords and using tools to help manage the resulting memory nightmare. Laziness crept in though and I only upgraded a few key accounts I valued the most. Yesterday I had another wake up call when a twitter account of mine was hacked and used to spam my few followers. Luckily one of my friends reported the behaviour to me and I was able to lock everything down. I then enabled twitter’s answer to Google’s two step verification – mobile phone linking for that account. I then tried to do the same to another twitter account I manage and found that twitter only permits one account per phone. This is a sad limitation as I will have to choose which of my five accounts to give this added protection to.

Mat Honan has returned today to tell us why the password has to be killed, or more accurately – why it can’t be relied on to provide ultimate security. In summary he states that due to the relative ease by which the current systems can be bypassed we can’t rely on a password-only solution to keeping our data private. “The password,” he writes, is the “weak link.” And he’s partly right. The weak link is actually the human or humans that make up the system. If we could guarantee our memories for life we could use long passwords that couldn’t easily be cracked. If we could tell a fraud on the phone then support techs wouldn’t give account access to conmen. And ultimately, if greed or boredom didn’t motivate people to try and steal our data – we wouldn’t need to protect it.

UPDATE: If you prefer someone talking you through ideas, check out the video below:

So, given the weakness in humans and computer systems, what can we do to protect ourselves? Some or all of these might apply.

  1. Turn your passwords into passphrases. It is easier to remember a line from a song than a multi character string of nonsense. For example, the password therellbebluebirdsoverthewhitecliffsofdover would take an age to brute force. Fairly easy to remember too but this might be trickier with suggestion…
  2. Make unique passwords for each service you use. For less important services that don’t store personal details you might be ok with using lower length passwords, but don’t use the same password for Gmail, Paypal and your bank unless you’re happy for people to take your money and your life!
  3. Use unique email addresses and logins where possible. If your account logins are as unique as your passwords it gives you an added level of protection from ‘casual’ hackers.
  4. Keep important data off the cloud. Then at worst if you are hacked the damage will be limited. Failing this you could chose to encrypt your data before it’s stored anywhere.
  5. Backup your data. I cannot emphasise this enough. I have experienced drive failure recently and was thankful that I had the data duplicated on site. I now keep an offsite backup of mission-critical data because hard drives are cheap and bankruptcy isn’t.

But there is another reason why the password must die, and it’s not related to security per se. And this reason will be the subject of my next article in the series.