Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Paranoid Freedom

As today's vote to repeal SOGI was taking place, I was trying to wrap my head around why the religious right so adamantly opposes equal protection under the law for all people. It's a topic that's been on my mind since the repeal effort was announced and underscored by all of the religious freedom movements taking place around the nation.

Having escaped the false god of evangelicalism - and yes, I mean that, evangelicals are NOT worshipping the Jesus of the New Testament, no matter what they've been duped into believing - I'm familiar with the dogma and mindset. In fact, I used to be one of them. I marched in anti-abortion rallies, saw homosexuality as sinful, and all the other bullshit that comes from that dying but vocal portion of our society. I was young, though. As I grew up and began to study the Bible for myself I came to the conclusion that absolutely nothing I was taught in an Assemblies of God Church or Bible college was in line with the message of Jesus. But that's not really my point here. I'm off on a tangent.

Even back then, I never really could wrap my head around why there was so much hatred within the church for those that are different. Today, however, I connected a few dots.

Allow me to tell you about one of my friends. She's a good friend of mine and a very good person for the most part. She does, however, frequently "cheat" on her boyfriend. She's been doing this for years. I've seen her go through four or five boyfriends in the time I've known her and she always winds up sneaking around. It's really none of my business so I've never said anything to her about it. She's finally found one she wants to marry though. That hasn't changed her behavior in the least. What it has done is brought about some paranoia. For the past year, she has been convinced that her boyfriend is cheating on her. The topic comes up quite often. She thinks he's cheating on her with her friends. She thinks he's still getting together with his ex. On and on it goes, she thinks he's cheating. Earlier this year, trying very hard to make sure I didn't sound judgemental, I floated this idea to her. "Maybe you're just paranoid that he's cheating because you've not been faithful yourself."

It hit her like a ton of bricks. Granted, she still he's cheating, but she often repeats what I said to her. Maybe it's just paranoia born out of her own behavior. He's probably not really cheating, she says.

That is what I think is happening today with evangelicals. No, they're not all cheating on their significant others. But they do know, some part, deep within them, realizes they are trying to deny freedom and equal protection under the law to anyone they disagree with. That part of them then makes them paranoid. They see every advance in gay rights as a direct attack on their religious freedom. It's nonsense, of course. Aside from a few morons, I do not know anyone on the side of equal rights who want to restrict anyone's religious beliefs. Yet you can watch them on the news, read their blogs, and listen to their sermons, and they sound like people who are under a full on assault. Their own drive to deny others equal protection under the law has driven them to the point of paranoia and now they incorrectly see every advance in gay rights through the filter of their own behavior.

I do not really know what the solution to this problem is. They surround themselves with those of a like mind and even when someone rationally explains that those who favor gay rights do not want to strip the religious right of their freedom to worship a false god, they just don't see the light.

So to the religious right I say: Quit being paranoid. It's making you act like a bunch of assholes. And the Jesus of the New Testament would be absolutely mortified that you are doing this in his name.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Use Two-Step Authentication (or How to Prevent Social Media/E-mail "Hacks")

So first things first, when someone gains control of your Facebook account because you clicked the wrong link, that is not a hack. It is social engineering. Or if you want to get technical, it's phishing. I promise. Google it if you don't believe me. But seriously, if someone got hold of your password and is posting weird stuff to your Twitter account, there's a slim chance an actual hacker has been at work. Anyway...

With that out of the way, this is something I've been seeing more and more of lately. Two weeks ago it was a friend via Twitter, spamming out dubious links to every single last one of his followers. A few days later, I talked to someone who had their bank account emptied out via an EFT that was done with their login info on their bank's website. Earlier this week, it was a friend's e-mail account telling me to click a link to collect the money they owed me via PayPal (pffft, like I'd lend anyone money). And today, it was another friend who was sending out Facebook messages that seemed good natured enough, but included a link that didn't look quite right.

A lot of these links direct you to sites that do a decent job of passing themselves off as a Google, Twitter, Facebook or a banking login page. You think, "Oh, I need to log in again," and enter your username and password. But what you really did was give that information to someone creeping along in the shadows of the Internet. So what do you do?

You have a few options. You can suffer the consequences and work with the site to regain control of your account. Better, you can quickly realize what's happened and scurry off, full of anxiety, as you race to change your password. But better still, you can take a few minutes and protect yourself from all of this happening in the first place.

How can you protect yourself? Well, the first is the most obvious: Don't click weird links, ever. But everyone makes a mistake now and then. So the second way you can protect yourself is using two-step authentication. It's fairly quick and easy to setup and not really all that intrusive to use.

Before I get into how to use it, let's define what two-step authentication is. The name really spells it out; it's a login process that requires two steps. The first step is entering your username and password as you normally would. The second step is entering a random code that is sent to you via text message, e-mail or through an app. My personal recommendation is to use text messages or an app on your phone because waaaaay too many people use the same password on every site (and if you do, STOP IT!). So if you give away your password because you entered it on a site that kinda looked like the one you thought you were on, the jerk who set all of that up most likely will try to use that same password for any other account of yours they can find. Which means they will try to login to your e-mail if they can find it. So use your phone. You don't even need a "smart phone." You just need a phone that can accept text messages.

So now that I've given you an idea of what two-step authentication is, let's start where the most actual damage can occur: banking. Most banks have this option somewhere on their website. For my bank, when I login from a browser or device I haven't used to access my account before, I get redirected to a page saying as much. On that page I can choose to have a text message sent the phone number on file with the bank or an e-mail to the e-mail address I provided in my banking profile. Before I can finish logging in, I have to select which option I want and then the bank sends me a code. Once I get that code (it only takes a few seconds), I enter it, re-enter my password, and I'm in. Setting this up will vary from bank to bank, so you may need to reach out to your bank's customer service if you can't find it for yourself. And if your bank doesn't offer two-step authentication, you might want to consider changing to a bank that takes security a little more seriously.

On Facebook, you can enable two-step by clicking the little padlock at the top right corner of the page and selecting "See More Settings." Once you're on the the Privacy Settings and Tools page, look to the top left and click Security. You can setup Login Approvals to send you a text message with a login code, or you can use the Facebook app or Google Authenticator app (available for Android and iOS). You'll see "Login Approvals" and "Code Generator" for the respective option you wish to use. I won't go into the detailed instructions, because Facebook has written it out, step-by-step, and it is actually very simple to setup.

While you're on your Facebook Security Settings page, go ahead and setup your Trusted Contacts as well. "Trusted contacts are friends that can securely help you if you ever have trouble accessing your account." That's right off the Facebook website. I've never had to use it, but the simple version of how it works is your trusted contact will have something they can click when they login to Facebook that will help you regain control of your account if you're locked out.

Moving on, Twitter has something very similar. Click the gear icon at the top right, and select Settings. Once you see the Settings page, look to the menu at the far left, just under your account picture, and click on Security and Privacy. You can choose whether you want to have a code sent via text message or, if you have the Twitter app installed on a phone or tablet, you can select the option to send a login verification request to the app. If you choose the latter, you won't even need to bother with a code; you'll get a notification via the twitter app asking you if you want to authorize a login attempt. You click the check mark if you're the one trying to login, or the x if you didn't try to login recently. I know this Twitter app approval works on Android, but since I don't use an iPhone or Windows phone, I'm not sure if the Twitter apps on those platforms provides the same functionality. If they don't, you can still use text messages to get a code to enter after your login attempt.

Google has two-step authentication as well, and it will cover you no matter which Google service you're trying to use. By now you're getting an idea of how it works, so I'll just give you the link to read more about how it: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/180744  You can set it up to send you a text message or you can choose to use the Google Authenticator app (more about that in a bit), both are fairly simple.

Your Microsoft account, right along with Outlook.com (AKA Hotmail) has two-step authentication as well. Click the gear in the top right corner, select Options and then choose the Account Details options on the Options page. That should redirect you to a Microsoft account login page. Once you've logged in, look to the menu at the left and select Security & password. About halfway down the page you will see Two-step verification. Click to turn it on and follow the on-screen instructions. Microsoft has an app available as well, and you learn more about that one by clicking on "Learn more" under the Identity verification apps on the same Security and password page. I give Microsoft kudos on their implementation of two-step authentication: if you're using the e-mail or text message options, you have to enter the e-mail address or phone number you stored before they will send the code. This adds yet another layer of security.

I'm sure you get the point by now. I'm not going to detail every single site that offers two-step authentication because that would take way, way too long. If you're wondering if a site or service you use offers two-step authentication, look for your account settings, paying special attention to sections that are labelled security or something similar. If you still can't find it, try a simple Google search of the site name and two-step authentication. For example, you'd Google "Yahoo two step authentication" I have no idea if Yahoo even offers it (I bet they do), because I don't use Yahoo. But again, you get the point. If you still can't find anything, contact the support or admin of the site or service and ask them about it. And if all else fails, I'll see if I can help you. But I'm in the tech field and I don't work for free (you wouldn't want me to ask you to do your job for me for free now would you?) Payment terms can be negotiated. If I really like you, I might accept chocolate chip cookies as payment.

"Yeah, but that's a hassle to go through every time I want to login." You're right, it would be a hassle if you had to do it every time. But you don't. Most banks, along with most social networking and e-mail that offers two-step authentication will usually give you an option to remember that you've said it's OK to trust a particular computer, phone or browser. It may say, "Save browser" or "I use this computer regularly" or "Don't ask me on this browser again." Whatever their exact wording, it'll be an option for you to indicate that you have pretty decent confidence that no one else will be able to access your computer (or phone or whatever). I only see these two-step requests on new or public computers. Once I've told a site that I trust the browser I'm using, they don't bother me again (as long as I don't clear the cookies, at least). For example, yesterday I did a fresh install of Windows 8.1 Professional on my desktop. After I installed Chrome, I needed to login to my banking website. Since I chose to wipe the data off my hard drive when I installed Windows, the cookies from Chrome when I was running Windows 7 were gone. When I tried to login, I was prompted to go through the two-step authentication process. When I did, I selected the option that this is a computer I use regularly and they don't need to ask me again on this particular computer with this particular browser. When I logged in again this evening to pay some bills online, all I needed was the username and password and I was in.

By the way, you should never indicate that a browser on a public computer (libraries, schools, work, etc.) is a "trusted" computers. The same goes if you're borrowing someone's phone or tablet. Those aren't your devices, you don't have control over them, so you don't want them being stored as trusted. Don't select the option to remember or trust such instances.

Before I wrap up, I want to briefly revisit the Google Authenticator app. As I mentioned earlier, it's a free app in both the App Store and on Google Play. You install it on your phone and it generates random codes that expire every 60 seconds. When you need a two-step authentication code, you simply open the app and enter the appropriate code. Don't worry, they're short codes so the 60 second expiration won't catch you unless you type really really really slowly. Google Authenticator works with Google sites, obviously, Facebook and a few others. I find it more convenient than getting a text message or e-mail. While I almost always get such texts or e-mails nearly instantaneously, there have been a handful of times that they were delayed or never arrived. By using the Google Authenticator app, I don't have to wait to receive a message; my phone was already generating codes for me to use. I will say this about setting up the Google Authenticator app; follow the on-screen instructions to the letter. There are very specific steps you have to go through to get the app and add it to your account(s).

And that's how you can help protect yourself from falling prey to phishing. No system is going to protect to give you complete, 100% protection. But by using two-step authentication, you are significantly reducing the risk of falling victim to such schemes. So what are you waiting for? Go set it up!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Dog Broke My Nexus 7

I've been having a charging problem with my Nexus 7 for some time now. The power adapter can charge all other devices without a problem, but not the tablet. The adapter has to be inserted at a very specific angle and then could not be moved at all. To me, that's clearly a problem with the tablet charging port, not the power adapter. So I sent it to ASUS for repair. They sent it back "No trouble found."

While trying to convince them that it really was the tablet and not the power adapter, they insisted that I had to buy a new adapter. This is despite the tablet still being in warranty for two more weeks. I finally gave in and spent the money to buy a new adapter. It's going to be delivered tomorrow.

And then tonight, this happens:

I haven't even had it a full year. Close, by about nine days, but still not a full year.

Oh well, what are you going to do? I've been wanting a good reason to get the new Nexus 7 or a 10" tablet of some sort. I am stuck with a power adapter that I don't need, though. The cost of shipping it back to Amazon would cost nearly as much as I paid for the adapter itself, so I'm not going to bother returning it. If you have an original Nexus 7 and need a new power adapter for it, let me know! I paid $15.

Still, FML. Stupid dog. And he keeps pooping in the house. Dumb, stupid, annoying dog.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Poor Neglected Blog

I rarely update my blog anymore. There's a lot of reasons why, none really worth discussing. I keep my blog around as a central place to 1) archive my past ramblings, most of which were nonsense and 2) to serve as a way to link to the various ways to reach me on the Interwebz (which you can see over to the right).

For some reason, blogger isn't playing nice with Chrome (odd, since they're both Google products) and so Chrome doesn't reliably display the "widgets" of my contact info. So here's a quick and dirty way list of links.

Facebook: Brandon.Stauffer

Twitter: @brandon72mo


Instagram: brandonstauffer

Amazon: Brandon P. Stauffer (it's really just a wish list)

I also have Snapchat (brandon72mo), Skype (brandon.p.stauffer) and Kik (brandon72mo).

So there you go, now you can listen to my pointless ramblings without me ever updating my blog! You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Ex Files

No Mulder and Scully here. Though I do miss that show.

I'm talking about ex-boyfriends. I had an interesting conversation with one several weeks ago and it left me wondering if perhaps I'm approaching things the wrong way. I'd love some input.

It was just a few hours of texting back and forth. It ultimately lead to a "Can we be friends again?" question from him. He said I was always important to him, and even though he knows how much he hurt me, he still thinks fondly of me, and, could we maybe keep in touch and be in each other's lives? I replied very honestly: What do we have in common besides a short time spent dating?

Now that's not true for all of my ex's - I had some things in common with many of them. But in the end, things DID end. And with just one exception they ended because the other guy cheated on me (for the record: I have never been unfaithful). This has lead to some difficult trust issues, to be sure, but it also squashed my affection for them. And it definitely destroyed my trust in them.

By the way, for the one that didn't cheat, he's still a great friend to this day. We recognized early on that we were more compatible as friends instead of boyfriends and just took it back down to that level. Easy enough.

For all of the others, they violated my trust. Many of them lied to try to cover their indiscretions. Three of them continued to lie even after I uncovered indisputable evidence. For the one that inspired this entry on my much neglected blog, he even had the audacity to lose his temper with me when I confronted him, accusing me of having never trusted him and "spying" on him. Side note: I came across the evidence of his cheating entirely by accident; I had no idea it was going on until the very moment it was staring me in the face on my computer screen. It was also the second time he was unfaithful, he was honest about the first time.

Don't get me wrong, with the exception of just one of these cheaters, I was not in love (and that one exception still rattles around in my head and my heart despite how terribly things ended). My relationships with them were already strained in one way or another before they cheated. And in every case, that strain was caused by a very different world view or set of values. These were people that, besides mutual attraction, there just wasn't much to draw us together.

Of course, there were things I picked up from them and they picked up from me. From the one who inspired all of this, I gained a love for HBO's The Soprano's. Actually it was a friend of his that encouraged us both to watch it. I got hooked, he eventually lost interest. But still. From another I gained a love for the Civilization franchise of games. For yet another still, I was a catalyst that helped him rediscover his faith. And another still is a huge Alanis Morissette fan to this day because of my borderline obsession with her music (hey, find me another artist who so perfectly puts to song the words of my heart and soul as much as she does. Death Cab for Cutie comes close, but Alanis nails it perfectly). Yeah, these are almost all rather trivial, and the list would really is much longer. My point is that I am an open minded person and I seek to learn from each person who wanders into my life.

And that brings me back to the question that has been nagging me ever since those few hours of texting one evening. Am I missing something here? With each of my friends, there is something, however small, that we have in common. Some common thread that runs through both of our lives that binds our friendship in the first place. If I don't have this with my ex's, am I foolish to not make an effort to remain friends with them? It's not as though I go out of my way to avoid any of them. It's just that I do not see anything that creates within me the desire to keep in touch with them (well, except for the one that I still love to this day, but love is never rational, so I get a pass).

Ignore the cheating, ignore the lies, ignore the drama. Bring it all down to that one simple question: What do we have in common that would cause us to be friends?

Is that a fucked up way to look at things or am I on target with this? Thoughts?

Saturday, May 04, 2013

CBC Is Gone

So, Central Bible College is gone. Most of me says good riddance; it was an institution that sought to indoctrinate instead of educate and, in my experience, discouraged any thought contradictory to the "16 Fundamentals of Faith." But that's not the purpose of what I'm about to write. No, I want to write about some of the few rays of light in what was, to me, a very dark place and time.

There were three professors who had a lasting impact on my life. Peggy Catron, Steve Badger and Vernon Purdy. I'll start with the latter.

Dr. Purdy was, without a doubt, the person most responsible (some might argue to blame) for my curiosity into differing theological thought. That may seem like it's not such a big deal to some, but for me it was huge. For reasons I will not go into, but some are quite obvious, I never truly felt at home within the Assemblies of God or Central Bible College. This was a time before the Internet was as easy as opening Chrome and clicking on a link, and I had come from a small south Arkansas town, so my resources to explore other theological studies were limited. Dr. Purdy offered so much material to work with in that area. From quick discussions after class to meetings in his office, he helped me to find the resources I longed for. He was also really the first truly "great mind" that I encountered that didn't see doubt or questions as heretical. Of all the people I have met through the A/G and CBC, I am probably most thankful for Dr. Purdy's willingness to challenge the status quo and offer varying points of view.

Years after I finished at CBC, I ran into Dr. Purdy one evening while I was working at Barnes & Noble. It was just a few months before he passed away. We talked a bit about theology and he shared with me the circumstances of his departure from CBC. During our conversation, I took the opportunity to thank him for all of the things he shared with me and let him know he stood out as one of the biggest impacts on my life during my time at CBC. In typical Dr. Purdy style, he joked and said, "yeah, now pull my other leg." So I repeated it; I wanedt him to know he had left a permanent mark. He changed the subject and asked where I landed theologically after I left CBC. That lead to a long, wonderful chat and, also in typical Dr. Purdy style, ended with him rattling off about 30 books or articles I should read. I still haven't found everything on that list!

Dr. Badger... what an amazing mind! My first experience with him was in a science survey course. All I recall from that course is him joking in front of the class regarding how quickly I made my daily commute from Kimberling City to Springfield for classes. My next encounter would be in his philosophy course, Christian Faith and Natural Science. I've always been a geek. I've always been fascinated by science and nature. Yet in both the pew and in the classroom, there seemed to be so much animosity for science in general that it seemed the greatest known enemy to Christianity were people in lab coats. Dr. Badger changed that for me. Yeah, he was at CBC so he had to be cautious, but the course materials he presented spanned an amazingly broad range of thought. It was in this class that I really found my voice as a geek who loves science and Jesus at the same time. It was also in this class that I earned a bit of a reputation as a heretic. One pastor's son even told me later that I actually made him cry once because of some things I had said that challenged his world view (he was thanking me for that, by the way). Heretic was a title I wore with a fair bit of pride because, by that point, I had already had enough of the A/G and the generally small minded people I encountered.

Dr. Badger was also a bit of a geek. He'd let me use his office computer and that super-fast T1 connection to download pretty much anything I wanted. He encouraged me in my then budding HTML hobby (long since abandoned, but that's another story) and even helped me get a short gig putting some things online at the brand new (by late 90's measure) site for the A/G Archives. There wasn't much of an outlet for geeks at CBC, so I was and remain thankful for him providing that. I can still remember a long afternoon discussion about computer storage, Zip disks specifically, and us both remarking how that whopping 100 MB disk seemed to store an infinite amount of data.

And then there's Peggy Catron. We knew her as Peggy Catron-Ping back then. Peggy's impact on me wasn't academic or theological, it was personal. To put it simply: she had the singular ability to call me on my bullshit when no one else would or could. I don't want to gloss over that because it seems that the fair majority of people in my life were/are content to let me live up to my initials. Peggy could shoot me down, in a way that wasn't judgmental or mean-spirited, and she could often do it with just a look. It was something I needed (and something she probably realized I needed). Whether she intended to or not, Peggy taught me to truly think before I opened my big mouth and she challenged me to be able to back up what was I was saying. That's pretty huge because, like many people I knew at CBC, I was great at regurgitating what I had heard but I was lacking in any true substance.

It's kind of funny now, but back then, Peggy was referred to as a "liberal" on campus and other professors and students would warn me about her and her "liberal ways." I say it's funny now because I have her as a friend on Facebook and over the past few years I've seen her post things that I roll my eyes at and think, "Ug, conservatives." But back then she seemed so left-wing that she was about to fall off the bird all together.

Oh, and Peggy also encouraged the hair-brained idea that I could act. I auditioned for a school play, mainly because my friends were doing it too, and was shocked to get a part. Peggy was in charge of the school plays, she conducted the auditions, and she gave me the part. Totally her fault. I gave it my all but looking at an old video of it shows the truth: I was terrible. That's OK, Peggy made it fun and never once rolled her eyes at how terrible of an actor I was.

So CBC is gone, merged in with two other schools, and no longer indoctrinating future minister's with a narrow (and in my opinion, dangerous) world-view. And I say again: good riddance. Yet I am thankful for these three professors who, in an environment that I saw as increasingly hostile to open discussion and thought, were able to help me expand my own world view and grow not only in my faith, but as a person.

I wanted to post this on an alumi page for CBC, but for reasons I don't understand, I can't join. Maybe they're afraid of what the scary gay man might say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Fresh Look for My Words

I've update my blog to use Bloggers new-ish "Dynamic Views." Though I did do some minor customization so I could keep a version of that synapses/neurons header. What do you think?

I know I haven't written anything in what would be a lifetime according to the Interwebs. I have been locked up in my own head for quite some time and not felt like any of it was worth sharing. I have recently updated Tapes, an entry originally posted almost three years ago.