Category Archives: modern life

Solved: e-File requires issue date of MN driver’s license

I ran into a problem with e-Filing my Minnesota Taxes.  Using H&R Block software, the pre-check for e-Filing requires a valid driver’s license number, issued date, and date of expiration.  Most states are doing this to prevent e-Filing fraud.  That seems simple to do, but not with a Minnesota license.

The problem is the Minnesota licenses provide only the month of issuance.  The H&R Block software would have none of that.  It required an exact date.  Chat support and H&R Block didn’t know what to do.  They suggested maybe I could remember.   I did my last renewal by mail three years ago.  I have no idea what that day might be.  Guessing could cause the e-File to be rejected.  They suggested I call the DMV and ask for the date.

It turns out there is a DMV / DVS website you can do a query on any Minnesota license to check whether is it valid, and that site shows both the issuance and expiration dates!  Here is a link to the Minnesota driver’s license lookup. Problem solved!

Hopefully this can help some other Minnesotan with their e-File!




The future is now

Knee replacement
A commercial on TV tonight featured tennis legend Billie Jean King advertising knee replacements for the Smith & Nephew’s LEGION brand.

How amazing! Who would have thought 30 years ago that we’d be hearing ads for knee brands similar to ads for automobiles or windows and siding? Not just technology, but biotechnology essentially over the counter. Amazing times we live in, when you can have cochlear implants, hip replacements, and retinal implants.

What ads we will experience on our media delivery 30 years from now? Better-than-life bionic enhancements? Direct network connections to the brain? Wireless to your head?

In truth, it may be all of those which seem to have roots in research. But the reality is it may be something totally beyond our experience today.

Managing Secure Passwords

One gaping exposure that many people create for themselves when using the internet is flimsy passwords. People make the excuse that is it’s hard to remember passwords. So they often pick easy passwords, or reuse the same password. This is risky. I’m going to tell you of a tool I use to manage secure passwords, and suggest some ways to create stronger passwords.

Secure passwords should be at least 8 characters long, and have a mix of numbers and characters. Don’t use any real word or personal date. These expose you, because they can be more easily guessed. Here are Microsoft’s recommendations.

Keep your secure passwords securely. A piece of paper is not secure, unless you have it locked up. A simple file on your computer or mobile device is equally insecure. You must find a way to secure the passwords. A good way to do this is encrypt them — put a password on your passwords! A good word processor allows you to encrypt files. I prefer a tool made to keep a set of passwords, such as PasswordSafe, which is free.

PasswordSafe keeps all your passwords in one place. You open the “safe” with a main password. Then you can search for the password you need and cut and paste it into the application you’re using. Because you cut and paste, the password can be secure and hard to guess, but still easy to use. PasswordSafe will even make up a secure password for you, if you want. There is a place to keep other information, such as the web address of the site and the answers to your security questions. The passwords are encrypted in a way that is virtually impossible to crack. You must know the password.

I use a very secure password to open PasswordSafe. It is not written anywhere. Should my laptop ever be stolen, and the thief gets past the standard security I use, it would take a million years of guessing to come up with the right password. In this way I only have to remember one password to get any password.

Making up a secure password can seem daunting. There are several things you can do to make your passwords more secure. Random numbers, letters, and punctuation are best. Ordinary words are insecure, unless you use a lot of them. (One password I am required to use is 34 characters of ordinary words. Pretty hard to guess! They call that a passphrase.) It greatly helps to add extra punctuation or numbers, or mix up letters to any recognizable words contained. I also sometimes use parts of song lyrics, such as the first character or two of the words in a line of a song. Throw in some random numbers or capital letters, and you have very secure password, but one that is relatively easy to remember. (If you ever see me tipping my head back an forth at the computer, I might be singing to myself to remember my password.)

Lastly, don’t forget to strengthen your security questions. Easy to guess security questions make even secure passwords insecure, because security questions let you bypass the password! One way identity thieves weasel into a person’s private data is by attacking the email account. If they can guess a security question, they can get into the account, change the password to lock you out, then go to all your websites and use the “I forgot my password” process to get those passwords. Once there, they can transfer money or get your social security number. At that point, the game is over.

Avoid questions such as name of favorite pet if you put pictures of your pet on your blog, or your mother’s maiden name if your family does genealogy, and so on. Those questions have answers that can be discovered or guessed. If you have the choice, pick obscure questions that have answers only a few people know. Increase the security by purposely spelling the answer incorrectly, or backwards. Or, and I give you permission to do this, make up an answer. A question of favorite pet becomes easy if you use the name of an imaginary pet that nobody else knows.

Along these lines, never use personal identification numbers such as your social security number or birth date as a security answer. Should someone gain access to the account or another account, it makes these vulnerable, too. I think your date of birth should be protected. It is an identifying piece of information sometimes used on the phone to verify an account. The less places you use it the better.

Using secure passwords will greatly increase your safety on the internet and reduce the risks of identify theft in your life.

Facebook applications steal your privacy

Facebook Application permissions

Sample Facebook Application permission page. Look at the rights you are giving to your private data!

Facebook applications are evil! Don’t trust them! They allow your private data to be “stolen” (harvested) and used by the application developers any way they want. Facebook privacy policies have changed during the last year, and defaults have been set to less privacy.

Facebook applications allow users to involve other users in games. What most users do not realize is when you agree to use an application it gives the owners of that application permission to view your personal data. This has led to several news stories of abuse of private information. As a user, you have little recourse because you gave them permission when you pressed the button!

Look at the image above. By agreeing to participate in the application, I give permission to 1) Access my information at any time including my friends! 2) obtain my email address and send me mail (or SPAM) 3) Post whatever it likes on my wall! Way too much permission for me to trust.

Use Facebook if you choose. But stay away from those applications. They are more than time wasters, they are privacy destroyers. Don’t put anything in Facebook you don’t mind being public, because it one day will be. Your private information is being captured, stored, and in some cases, sold.

Modern Shopping Excursion

Leanne and friend Leslie shopping

Leanne and friend Leslie shopping the modern way!

It used to be that the ladies’ shopping trip meant a day in the car shuttling between stores. Technology has caught up with even my good wife and her shopping friend? Why drive to all the stores when you can see so much more on line. They have just purchased a large set of small boxes for crafts, and are now looking at vintage papers — a project inspired by crafts they saw in home decor shops this afternoon.

Of course when we guys get preoccupied with the computers, we hassled about it.