Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remembering my Grandmother

Patsy Ruthelma (Dawson) Klau, 1927 - 2011

(My grandmother passed away in January after a brief battle with cancer. She was one week shy of her 84th birthday. Our family gathered in Milwaukee last month to celebrate her life, and each of her four grandchildren spoke at her memorial service. My remarks follow.)

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when Grandma and I went alone to Betty & Gordon Heup's house for a party. I don't remember why it was just the two of us, or what the event was for. But I do remember that we were sitting at a dinner table, and I'd seen one of the older boys (since he's here, we'll blame this on Tim, though I have no idea who it actually was!) flick his finger through the candle flame. Intrigued, and realizing that my parents were nowhere near, I did what I'd seen the older boy do, and passed my finger quickly through the flame. It was the only time in my life I can remember Patsy actually calling me Richard Parker. (And not in a good way!) I straightened up, apologized, and promised her I'd never do it again. She loved me, that much I'd always known. But she wasn't going to let me get away with misbehaving. In a strange way, that felt even more special than if she'd ignored what I'd done. (Boys, don't even think about trying this, by the way.)

In high school, I had a history teacher named Winslow Smith, who claimed that he taught because the way to become immortal was to live on in the memories of others. Winslow was playing a numbers game - if you teach enough students then one of them's bound to remember that thing you said in AP history in 1986. But the only number Grandma cared about was 2: her 2 sons. her two successful sons: the wine guy and the toilet guy. She was so proud of Chris and Dad - of their obvious success in their careers, to be sure… but her real pride she saved for the families they'd built.

Speaking of family, I remember Patsy's mom, who I knew as Nan-Nan. I didn't get too many chances to spend time with her, but as a young boy I remember that she was the really nice lady who cried whenever she saw us. I understood it wasn't because she was sad - I think now it must have been tremendous pride to see what obviously handsome and well-behaved great-grandsons she had. And though Grandma showed the same pride in her family that her mom did, she wasn’t a crier - what I remember whenever we saw her was her laughter.

Grandma and Grandpa meeting me for the first time
Some of you saw that my brother and Erin got my Dad a slide scanner for Christmas, and he started sharing a number of his scans with us. (Kids - slides are like digital photos, only on pieces of plastic. You needed to put them in a big machine, then… oh nevermind. They're digital now. That's all you need to know.) Looking at the photos Dad sent us, we got to one of Grandma and Grandpa stepping off the plane in LA to meet me for the first time. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out: "Man, she was a hot grandma!" More importantly, you can see in those pictures the absolute love she had - for her son and daughter-in-law, and for her grandson.

Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day, 1947
Grandma and Granpda with Richard #6 :)
In the same year that Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Robin and I got married. I loved getting the chance to honor their life together at our wedding; as some of you will recall Grandpa made sure to corner Robin at the reception to make sure that she knew she had to name her first-born Richard. What fewer know is that while that conversation was happening, Grandma whispered to me that Grandpa wasn't kidding! A few years later, when Robin and I took the boys to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, it was amazing to watch as she took to the role of doting great-grandmother - and the love for her great-grandsons is as obvious in those photos as it was in the photos from 30 years prior when she visited my parents in California.

(Great-)Grandma and her great-grandsons, 2006

With the kids in front of the Eby clock
As some of you know I've spent a bunch of time in the last year studying our family's ancestry. With the Dawsons, I'd run into a wall with Nan-Nan's parents. In one of my calls to Grandma last year I asked if she knew anything about her great-grandparents. Not much, she said - but she recalled some papers she had lying around that could help. She mailed them to me, and I was excited to discover that she had the names of her great-great-grandparents - names I hadn't been able to find. From that, I traced her roots to an original settler in Pennsylvania Dutch country - the house built by her 7th great-grandfather in 1727 still stands in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from my parents' house. Her 3rd great-grandfather, Jacob Eby, was a renowned clock-maker - and over Christmas Robin and I took the kids to a museum in San Francisco that has one of his clocks on permanent display. Grandma was delighted at each of these discoveries - though she warned me that I might not like everything I found (I *think* she was kidding, but if any of you have stories for me, let's grab a beer later!). The best moments from this research were when I got to share my discoveries with her. Her only regret (and mine) was that I didn't do this sooner, when I would have had a chance to share this with Grandpa, who would've loved to know that a great-grandfather of his was a Colonel who led a regiment of Milwaukee soldiers in the Civil war, or that an ancestor of ours was the royal photographer in the Prussian kingdom in the 19th century, or that his fourth great-grandfather was one of the original German settlers in Milwaukee - its first gunsmith, and the owner of the first house in the city.

I miss Grandma. I miss our long phone calls when I'd call her on my drive to work. I miss hearing her take such incredible interest in how the kids were doing, and her absolute delight at what a strong-willed great-granddaughter she had. I miss her scolding me if she thought I wasn't showing Robin enough gratitude for being such a great wife and mother. But mostly I'm grateful for the incredible amount of time we did get together. I've thought a lot about my old history teacher's comments, and I think he had it a bit wrong. It's not the memories themselves that we should be focused on. Sure, the memories are important. It's not so much that Grandma lives on through our memories, it's that we will honor her memory by embracing who she was, and carrying that with us in what we do. We'll remember to laugh louder, smile a little wider, trace the kids' faces at night, respond "I love *you* more" when someone tells us they love us, or recite one of the many poems she left behind to brighten our days. If we do *that*, we'll continue to make her proud of us.

On the plane ride here, Ricky told me quite seriously: "Dad, it's kind of sad that we're going to Milwaukee, but I think it should be a celebration. Not that she's dead, I mean… but that she had such a happy life." I think he's right. She lived a long, happy life - and as she left us, she knew that she had much to be proud of. I'm grateful for that, and am so glad we've had this chance to honor that memory as we celebrate a long life well lived. We know you love us, Grandma, and we love you more.

Grandma with me and my kids, October, 2009

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Google Account security best practices

A family member recently had some questions about how to keep their Google account secure, and I wrote up a bunch of recommendations for how to stay safe... realized after I sent the e-mail that this was probably good stuff to share for people who might not know about all of the options when it comes to protecting their account. Hope some of you find this helpful!

1. Pick a strong password for your Google Account (in many cases, your Gmail address). Strong = not something you use everywhere else, a combination of letters and numbers, and at least one symbol in there is ideal. (Here are some tips on picking a good password if you need some ideas.)

2. Make sure your Google Account recovery options are set - visit the account recovery options page and make sure you have a backup e-mail address, and that your mobile number is listed on your account. Should you ever lose access to your account, these will be instrumental in restoring access.

3. Set up Two Step Authentication on your Google Account. Details are here, you can set it up by starting at this link. What this does is block anyone else from logging into your account - even if they have your username and password. This requires you to have access to a physical device - your iPhone, Android or Blackberry phone - to ensure that you are really you. This may seem like overkill - but it's a key step to ensuring that your account is secure. There are ways committed hackers can discover your password - even if they get it they won't be able to do anything with it unless they also have your phone. Go through the process of installing the app on your phone (this page has the download link and instructions for setting it up); once done, here's how it will work:

  • the first time after you enable this, Google will ask you to log in. You'll provide your username and password, then Google will ask you for your "verification code". Launch the Google Authenticator app on your phone, and then type in the six-digit code from the phone into the verification code box in your browser.
  • if this is your computer, check the box "remember verification for this computer for 30 days" before clicking verify... you won't need to provide the verification for a month. (If it's a shared computer, don't check this!)
  • You'll see this anytime you try logging in from another computer (i.e., your laptop, your work computer, the iPad, etc.) - it's a bit more cumbersome (just a bit), but the advantage is that your account is far more secure than just a username/password. It's worth it.
4. IMPORTANT: once you've set two step verification up, you may need to change the password for your phone and/or other apps that are communicating with Google's servers. (For instance, I had to do this for iMove this morning when uploading a video to YouTube.) Because these apps don't know how to check for the verification code (they just know username/password), Google has a back-up: an "application specific password" -- you set these up here (see the bottom of the page: "application specific passwords"). Type in a name - say, Nexus S - and then click "generate password". You'll get an auto-generated string of characters, which you will then type into your phone or application's password field for your account.

5. Check to see what applications/services you've authorized to have access to your Google Account. Go here and see what websites/applications are listed - these are services who you previously granted access to your Google Account. If there are any there you no longer use, or sites you didn't intend to authorize, click revoke. (I'll come back to this later - as you centralize your e-mail, address book, calendar, etc. on your Google Account, authorizing other services to access this info can be very powerful - but you will want to use discretion in deciding which services get access to this data. It probably goes without saying - only grant access to trustworthy sites who you have absolute faith will not compromise the integrity of your data.)

6. Phone: if you don't already have a passcode on your phone, turn it on so that someone getting possession of your phone can't use it without knowing your passcode. (Otherwise anyone getting the phone can read your mail, receive "forgotten password" e-mails that would help them reset passwords on your account(s), etc.)

If you do those things, you'll have dramatically increased the security of your information online, and prevented any ongoing security problems. Now here are some best practices to keep in mind:

1. Try and use your Google Account when you log in to other services. When prompted to create a new account, look for a "login with Google" option. This will allow you to use your Google identity on those sites - not only is this simpler for you (one less username/password to remember!), it's also more useful (the service can access your contacts/information, helping you avoid having to manually enter more info) and it's more secure (when you're through with the site, you simply revoke its access to your info).

2. NEVER manually type your Google account information (username/password) into a webpage that is not owned/provided by Google. If you do this, you have no guarantee that the middle-man you've just shared your credentials with will protect that info. (This is why, by the way, Google's 2 step authentication is so useful - even if you did this, your info would be useless without the phone verification code. So long as you retain control of that, you're safe!) Whenever you're asked to login w/Google, the right way to do this is for them to send you to Google (look in your browser's address bar: is the URL google.com?), where you are asked to login if you're not already logged in, then you are asked whether you want to grant access to the referring app. Say OK, and you'll be returned to the app, which is now approved by Google.

3. Keep an eye on Gmail's "last account activity" feature if you're concerned that someone else may be accessing your account. Towards the bottom of the page in Gmail you'll see something that says "last account activity". Click "Details" to see a report of where your account is being accessed from; you can sign out all other sessions from that page, as well as review the actual location/IP address of any other computers accessing your account. (Gmail keeps an eye on this as well, and may contact you if suspicious activity is detected.)

4. Don't e-mail sensitive files as attachments. Upload the files you want to share to Google Docs, and use Docs to control access to the files. Ideally you will share the file with a Google Account user. This is the most secure, and is helpful in the event you ever want to stop sharing with that user - you simply remove them from the list of people who can view the file. If that's not an option - the user doesn't have a Google Account, for instance - you can set the document's visibility to 'anyone with the link'. This has some risks - the person you share with can share the link with someone else - but you retain control of the document, which means you can delete it, or update the security settings to require login to view... either of which is much more secure than files you e-mail as attachments, which you lose control of the minute you hit 'send'. And whatever you do, be smart about who you e-mail those files (links or otherwise) to in the first place.

5. Don't send passwords in e-mail. While Gmail uses https to encrypt all traffic between your browser and the Gmail server, there's no guarantee that the recipients of your e-mails containing passwords are similarly secure.

If you've hit this point and you're wondering whether there's even more you could read (!), swing by the 2010 and 2009 tips and tricks that Google compiled for National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and this page has some additional tips for keeping your info secure.

Any other tips for keeping your account secure?