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Computers Are Marvels of Technology, Information

We have a colleague who gets completely flummoxed — frozen — in front of his computer. Not because of confusing technical options or an overload of information. In fact, his problem is partly his own doing.

In the Ice Age before computers, our friend had a simple lock on his shed. It required a four-number combination. So he chose one on a whim. We'll say it was 2236. Then he got an alarm system for his house that demanded a secret entry code. Simple. He made that 2236 as well.

Then computers arrived in his life, first at work and then at home. They required passwords of five or more characters, including letters as well as numbers. No problem! He simply invented a nonsense word: "grib," and created the computer password G-R-I-B plus the 2236 number he knew so well.

Then VOA installed a digital editing system that required its own password. But this one had to have a punctuation mark as well as letters and numbers. Fine. He made it GRIB-2236.

But before long, an avalanche of password requirements descended: One to get into a newspaper's web site. Another to access his favorite bookseller. Still another to check pay records. And so forth. GRIB2236 became GRI2236 one place, GRIB22 somewhere else, GR36 on another site, until the codes became a blizzard of G's and R's and 2's and 3's. Some sites even insisted that he change his password every month.

This had all started with such a simple idea of one, easy-to-remember secret password.

Now our pal has had to create a "cheat sheet" to remind him what password goes where. Problem is, that note is on his computer! And what's its password again?