The world of passwords

To say that technology has changed our lives would be an understatement. But today I was thinking about just one aspect of it, i.e. the need to memorize a large number of passwords and pin codes.

When I was in school, even in university, the concept of passwords was fairly novel to me. At max, I had to memorize 2 or maybe 3 passwords, mainly to operate my email or to log on to university computer system. Today, the number of passwords, codes, and pins that I have to remember to open, operate or even look at things is mind-boggling. Here’s a short list of such things:

Office email password
Office user ID password
Personal email password – Yahoo Mail (yep I am old school)
Personal laptop password
ATM pin
Credit Card pin (thankfully I have only 1 credit card)
My wife’s credit card pin (don’t know why I remember it 
Facebook password
Twitter password
Wordpress password
Skype password (I hardly use it, and tend to forget it often)
Mobile phone password
Internet banking password
DEWA password (electricity and water online billing)
Home wifi password
Road tax billing (Salik) Pin
Phone banking pin

There are more, but let’s not go into everything here 

And here’s the interesting part. All of these passwords / PINs are different. I do not use one password for two things. And all of these are (except for pins) around 12 characters long, using alpha-numeric combinations. And as any cyber security person would advise you, I do not write these passwords down anywhere.

This got me thinking. What if for some reason (God forbid), I suddenly lose memory of all these passwords. Just the passwords, nothing else. It may deeply impact my ability to function as a human being . This is true for a lot of people like me. Our world today is connected with a string of virtual, somewhat secure, but strangely effervescent bits, all in an invisible web.

This is not to say that technology has made our lives complex. Quite the opposite really. With all these passwords and pins, I am able to save a lot of time and hardship that people in 90s could hardly imagine. All that I have to do is to remember all these alphanumeric figures that open the portals I need to get things done. Like mysterious words such as “khul ja sim sim”; and the job gets done.

Thankfully, some things in life have not changed. And may never change. The ability to enjoy the “real” things in life, still does not require us to memorize a bunch of codes. I don’t need a password to be able to kiss my daughter. To have a nice cup of tea with my wife in a chilled winter evening, does not require a pin code. A stroll in the park, a dash in the jogging track, an intriguing movie at night, looking at a masterpiece of art, reading a good book, and various other such demeanors of life, do not require any secret code, or log-in credentials.

So maybe life hasn’t changed that much. It has only transformed in those aspects where the human race continues to be in a transition mode. Fading of one technology making room for the other, which would surely fade away soon to make room for yet another. But the most natural, the real avenues of life, our core tasks, remain unchanged.

The nature itself, remains as natural as it was thousands of year ago. Uninterrupted by any new way of life, unmoved by any new need to secure, save, open or operate the virtual domains. And thank God for that.

The social gold mine!

A week ago, I decided to read one of those numerous emails that I keep receiving from the infamous banker in Nigeria. Almost everyone is aware of these emails, and I guess the first one I received was around 15 years ago.

The context is quite simple. There is a sum of $26m lying in an account in Nigeria, which our banker friend (angel that he is) desperately wants to transfer to “your” account. No, it’s not even illegal. The money belongs to a friend of that friend, who died (conveniently) in mysterious circumstances, and if that’s any worth, didn’t leave any trace of his dependents contact details. The banker, in his ultimate wisdom, waited for a few months for any heir to show up, before deciding to take things in his own hands. How he found “you” is no one’s business. What’s important is that in a very legal transaction, he will transfer the entire money to your account, then will come over to your country, kill you if he can, or as he puts it, just take a 14.5% cut. Why 14.5%, and not 15%, he never explains. Of course the banker will never come to your country to begin with. All he needs is your name, profile, account details and assessment of how stupid you are.

In 1997 when I probably saw such email for the first time, I knew instantly what a devious scam this is. Of course at that time some people who had just started using internet may have fallen for such things. 15 years later, what I wonder is that maybe some people are still falling for such things in today’s world. If it wasn’t so, such emails would have faded away a long time ago. The supply only exists if there’s a demand.

Social media, like anything else, can be dangerous in the hands of immature. Due to its inherent nature however, we cannot make laws on who gets to use internet or be on social media.

The nature of spams has evolved with the evolution of social media. We all know that facebook is a gold mine for someone interested in collecting profiles (name, address, email, even some personal data) of thousands of people. Just create a banner with a highly unimaginative quote, such as “Life is not xyz, it is a combination of abc and d, e, f, so drop g, h & I, focus on j, k & l, while forgiving m, n and o, and forgetting p, q, r, to do s, t, u & v, not to forget w”. Of course, the banner ends with the instruction, “SHARE it with everyone you know, and you know, we will try to get to them as well, if they share it with every one they know”.

My favourite one is that Chinese feng shui, which happens only once in 857 years (although it did happen 12 times in last 4 years). If you don’t forward that to people you know, then only they know what people you know will think about it.

Now I am not saying that all such quotes or shares are of spam nature. Some are, some aren’t. However I do take anything with a bland quote followed by the instructions “SHARE it with everyone you know”, with a pinch of salt. Why people need databases? well, for any number of reasons. Marketing. Profiling. Research. Most of the reasons are not meant to harm you. However, some are. The aftermath of recent elections in Pakistan is one of such victims.

While I empathise with all those whose voting right was robbed, and I do agree that some rigging happened (quite blatantly) in the elections (by multiple parities in multiple regions), I am surprised at how social media is used for personal or political benefits here. Here are a few examples:

A websites has been asking you to enter your name, NIC number and some other details if you voted for a certain party. So that “they can count how many people actually voted for the party”. Any sane internet user would know how stupid this idea is. The said party immediately clarified that it has nothing to do with this website. However within a short span of time, thousands of people “registered” their data on that site, only to hand over their profile to God knows who and for what use.

Fake accounts of celebrities (including journalists such as Javed Chowdhary or Salim Safi) are being created, where they “appear to be highlighting” election rigging. Yesterday, some of these celebrities had to come live on TV to tell everyone that these accounts don’t belong to them. It’s very easy to distinguish between a real & a fake account. Just some research and Googling is needed. However a naïve internet user wouldn’t go that far.

Fake statistics and references e.g. “according to EC, 37% of people with higher education voted for party xyx”. Again it’s very easy to know fake here. EC has no way to find out who voted for whom. However such stats get shared far too often, God knows why.

Fake stories (a lot of them) e.g. “my aunt voted in xyz polling station and she saw this and that……..” It seems that everyone’s aunt witnessed some serious rigging wherever she went to vote. Maybe aunts have a very keen observation. I don’t know.

Strong “anti violence” statements calling for some serious violence. Internet is full of these, these days. FB pages such as “I hate xyx, the master of abc” and “@$%^&*” (cant name the pages names here, as nothing decent will come out of it). Enough said.

There are many other examples. And thousands of people are falling for such things. Probably some of them may also be corresponding with that Nigerian banker, who may have promised to ensure their vote is casted in the next elections. After all, what cannot be done when you have $26m lying in your personal account.

Note: The above was just a rambling that came to my mind while flicking through facebook. Do not shy away from using social media. I myself am a heavy user of facebook. Just telling you to be a bit more cautious the next time you read a story, or statistics, and more importantly when someone asks for any information, or asks you to share their material for no obvious reason.

Note 2: Please share this message with everyone you know, otherwise Chinese good luck will go to someone else. Probably to someone in China.

On Pakistan’s Independence Day

Let’s celebrate the oft repeated claims; of being world’s 6th largest country, 7th nuclear power, resilient, transient, innovative, and producers of best food on earth.

Or lets tell a story, also oft repeated, also true, and different.
The story of recent olympics. Where world’s 6th largest country doesn’t field world’s 6th largest team, doesn’t win 6th most medals. In fact doesn’t win any. Or of world’s 7th nuclear power, which doesn’t defend itself from the terror within it. Or the story of a resilient nation stuck in a never-ending energy crisis. Which doesn’t come out of it. Only people come out. And that too, insidiously.
Or lets do neither of the above. Neither a story of oft repeated sentimental claims. Nor silly questions and judgments. Because anyone can tell them and quote examples. Anyone can offer insights. It’s equally easy to claim unseen success, as it is to predict doom and gloom. And almost anyone can cry wolf.

Hence on Pakistan’s independence day, I will do neither of the above. I will just tell a third story, almost untold. At least not repeated much. A story devoid of any excuse, or plea, or a bargain. Because Pakistan, just like any other country in the world, doesn’t need an excuse, a plea or a bargain… This is the story of a village far away from Lahore, and of a town across the mountains in the north, and of a busy prosperous urban center, and of numerous places just like these, and of places very different from these. In all these places, all within Pakistan, as we read it, there are thousands of people sitting quietly in a corner of their homes, praying. And in these, very ordinary places, where nothing counts, a student with $5 a day wage in a small time tandoor, tops the country’s bsc examination, and a sportsman with no coaching whatsoever, becomes world best fast bowler, and a programmer with no extraordinary skills, develops a software that runs corporations.

These simple everyday stories, often ignored, happen everywhere in the world. And so they do in our country too. The prayers are said everywhere in the world. And so are they in Pakistan too. And as long as these simple ordinary stories exist in Pakistan, I will continue to have a simple, extra-ordinary hope for Pakistan.

Because in the end it’s precisely the brilliance of such stories, beyond anything else, that counts.

10 unforgettable Karachi memories (and there are many more!)

1. Night cricket with tape ball (and email exchanges beforehand, announcing teams, rules, strategies, trash talks, who’s who and your world view in general)

2. Student biryani (or just any biryani) & Nihari Inn…

3. Laraib music store (with it’s incredible DVD collection – think of a movie or a show, from Monty Python to Mission Impossible, and they will hand you it’s DVD in less than a minute)

4. Sudden outburst of donkey carts racing on the roads (quite literally!)

5. Sunday Bazaar

6. Live football/cricket matches on a big screen in office during lunch breaks

7 Makka ki chicken karahi (a top contender for the most delicious chicken ever cooked)

8. Liberty Books (specially the branch next to / inside bar b q tonight, and its fascinating collection of Current / Asia / Pakistan affairs books)

9. Driving at 1:30 am with friends on immensely busy roads, to eat hot & spicy rolls, followed by coffee


10. The extraordinary group of friends – comprising 7 languages, 4 religions, indefinite ethnicities, yet all born & bred Pakistanis, sharing uniquely similar slang, wit, cleverness & culture!

A clay pot was smashed on a wall, its particles flying in all directions, some big, some small and some very small. We live in one of those very small particles, our world flying away among billions others, except that there was no wall, and the clay pot itself was really tiny, and what seems endless is our reality of the very diminutive time till we hit the ground, except that there’s no ground either. We are just expanding in all directions, yet relative to others we remain similar to what we were, probably at the same place, till everything goes.