Passworded Out

Over the weekend I got another of those messages telling me that my password for my handheld device was expiring, and it was time to come up with another one.

I groaned with dismay, then I sat there for a few minutes, thinking hard about how I could possibly come up with yet another “unique combination” of letters, numerals, and characters that I would be capable of remembering.  Because, after years of coming up with passwords, I’ve just about run dry.

passwords-on-sticky-notes-smallAt first, way back at the dawn of the data security era, coming up with passwords for my handheld and the computer system at work was kind of fun — like being a secret agent who knew the right code word to gain access to information.  Then it became a part of the routine.  But over time passwords became viewed as more important in the war against hackers, and longer and more complex “strong passwords” became the norm, and new policies were implemented to require that passwords be changed much more frequently.  After years passed in which passwords needed to be changed every 60 days, and I’ve therefore had to create and remember dozens and dozens of separate passwords only to see them vanish without a trace after only a few months, the act of password creation became drudgery, and finally it became a telltale sign of my clearly dwindling resources in the password creation creativity department.

I’ve used just about every mnemonic technique I can think of to create passwords.  Dog names.  Nicknames.  Streets where I’ve lived.  Places where I’ve worked.  Rock bands I’ve enjoyed listening to.  Old addresses.  The year our family first moved to Columbus.  The name of the unfortunate defendant in a legal case that my law school classmates and I made into a running joke. The phone number from a commercial jingle that I’ve somehow remembered since childhood.  The name of the robot maid on The Jetsons.   Pretty much everything in the memory bin, down to the most trivial bit of debris, has been hauled out and applied to satisfy the insatiable appetite for fresh passwords . . . and still the demands for new passwords keep coming.  It’s exhausting.

Can we please go back to the days of password1234?

Creative What-Ifs

The Atlantic recently carried a fascinating article on the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team.  It’s hard to imagine that anything new could be written about the Beatles, but the writer’s thesis is that it’s silly to try to figure out whether John Lennon or Paul McCartney wrote most or all of a particular song, because that ignores the impact of the partnership itself and the broader relationship between these two gigantic talents.  They wouldn’t have produced so much good music, the theory goes, if they hadn’t been pushing and challenging and trying to outdo one another.

Sometimes partnerships work, sometimes they can become poisonous.  Creativity comes in all forms:  solitary geniuses, brilliant but self-destructive alcoholics, a sudden burst of novelty that causes an entire artistic community to realize that old boundaries should fall and experimentation and new approaches should replace the calcified prior techniques.  I’m not sure that it’s possible to really draw broad conclusions from a songwriting partnership like Lennon and McCartney.

What most intrigued me about the article, however, was the last part of it, when the writer explains that, according to his producer, Lennon was actively planning on collaborating with McCartney after he finished Double Fantasy.  Of course, the murderous actions of Mark David Chapman prevented that from happening — but what if Chapman hadn’t killed John Lennon?  Could Lennon and McCartney have successfully teamed up again, or would the magic had been gone?

There are lots of similar artistic what-ifs that are tantalizing to consider.  What if Mozart hadn’t died at such an early age and had a composing career that was as long as Haydn’s?  What if Charlie Parker hadn’t become addicted to morphine and heroin and had carried the jazz torch rather than Miles Davis?  What if J.D. Salinger had been as prolific as, say, Stephen King?  What if Vincent Van Gogh hadn’t committed suicide?  We’ll never know.

What Are We Doing To Our Kids?

It’s tough to be a kid these days.  At least, that’s what constant studies tell us.

The latest study concludes that young children watch too much television.  That’s nothing new — people have been worrying about the impact of the “boob tube” and parents using TV as an electronic babysitter since I was a kid back in the ’60s — but the cumulative weight of the studies is hard to contest.  The most recent study, of children in Quebec, showed that children who watch too much TV when they are very young have impaired math and verbal skills.  If they don’t go outside and play with other kids, they don’t develop their motor and social capabilities and, as a result, are more susceptible to bullying.

There are other problems with kids who never leave the house for unsupervised play because of parental fears of kidnappers, rapists, child molesters, drug pushers, and other perceived dangers.  Kids who stay inside don’t run around, ride their bikes, and get the exercise that other kids get.  Indoors, they are in close proximity to refrigerators and cupboards full of sugary, starchy, fattening foods that make a considerable portion of them morbidly obese and prone to juvenile diabetes.  They spend hours in air-conditioned surroundings and develop asthma.

When they are watching the TV or playing their video games, they don’t need to use any creativity or personal self-direction.  And often their only outside play is under the careful supervision of adults in structured settings where the rules are established and kids don’t get to make up games, revel in the freedom of an unplanned summer’s day, or engage in the silliness that is part of the fun of being a child.  And often, if a kid shows any signs of rambunctiousness, he gets carted off to the doctor for a diagnosis of ADHD and a brain-numbing dose of some drug that is supposed to make him more docile and controllable.

It’s scary being a parent, with all of the stories of predators lurking and dangers for children seemingly around every corner.  Sometimes it seems that the best course is just to keep your kids inside, where you know they are safe.  But when we do so, we aren’t doing them any favors.

Neil Young In The ’70s

Some questions linger in the mind, constantly bubbling up to occupy your thoughts when you least expect.  For me, they are questions like:  What makes a creative person creative?  What gives an individual the ability to write songs or produce great art?  And, perhaps most important, just what was it that motivated people whose careers reflect enormous outbursts of stunning artistic accomplishment during a finite period of time?

Consider Neil Young, for example.  He’s been a fixture of the rock ‘n’ roll scene since the 1960s and has had successful musical releases in each of the intervening decades.  But, even by the high standards of his career, the 1970s were remarkable.  Consider the astonishing albums he produced during that magical decade:  After The Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), Tonight’s The Night (1975), Zuma (1975), American Stars ‘N Bars (1977), Comes A Time (1978), and Rust Never Sleeps (1979).  Many musicians would gladly claim what he produced during that single, prolific decade and call it an entire career.

And what a range!  He moved effortlessly from acoustic work that included all-time folk classics like Old Man (performed live below), Heart of Gold, and The Needle And The Damage Done, to country songs like The Old Country Waltz and Hey Babe, to crushing power rock, with Like A Hurricane and Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black).  He wrote great political anthems (Ohio), funny, boozy ballads (Saddle Up The Palomino), raggedy, ironic songs about losers (Tired Eyes) and long, dreamy ruminations about ancient civilizations (Cortez The Killer).

We can all be grateful for whatever it was that impelled Neil Young, again and again and again during the 1970s, to pick up his guitar or sit down at his piano and let his awesome creative juices flow.  As a diehard Neil Young fan, I can’t imagine what the music world would be like if he hadn’t done so, and I was left to face life alone, without songs like World on a String.  But I will always wonder — just what was it?