Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I cut myself shaving with Occam's Razor

Yesterday when I tried to check my Yahoo email account, I was unable to login.  I retyped my password.  Nope.  Checked to make sure I used the right username since I have more than one email account.  The username was correct, but each time I typed the password I got an error message.

Morning isn't my sharpest time, so I sat and thought about it for a few minutes.  I recalled two weeks ago I received a message from Yahoo that my account may have been compromised and I should choose a new password.  The message and page appeared legitimate so I put in a new password using an online password generator.

But on second thought this sounded suspicious, and I thought I might have walked into a phishing scam.  A phishing scam is an email that tries to convince you to give out private information.  Often the scam email will contain a link to a fake site designed to collect your login information, which is why you should never click on these links.  In my case, I closed the email, typed the yahoo address in manually, and went to their regular site to change my password.

Just as I was congratulating myself for not biting on the phish trap, I tried to login to another account and was denied.  "What? Mr. Worf, shields up, maximum paranoia."  I wondered if somehow I'd been hacked. 

I started to sweat a bit.  Typed in my username and password for a Google gmail account.  Denied.  Typed the password a second time.  And a third time and still couldn't get in.  I was really starting to freak out when I noticed that the long string of gibberish I use for a password looked shorter than usual.

I counted the little black dots that replace the characters in the password window.  Two less than usual.  Typed the password in slowly and noticed it skipped each time I hit the number '6' key.  The '6' key wasn't working.  I went back to my list of passwords and looked through them.  Several of my passwords contain either a '6' or the carat symbol you get with hitting 'shift 6.'

Using the '6' from keypad, I got into a few of my accounts and changed the passwords.  The passwords containing a carat will be more of a problem. 

Occam's Razor is sometimes stated as, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better."  Maybe I couldn't get into my email because it was hacked, or I was foolish enough to fall for a phishing scam.  Or maybe it was because the number '6' on my keyboard stopped working.

Three theories that all might result in me not getting into my email, but the '6' key not working was the most simple explanation.

This morning another key on the same row stopped working.  I think it's time to buy a new keyboard.  Thanks Occam!

(A good explanation of Occam's Razor is this article by Phil Gibbs, with an update by Sugihara Hiroshi.  The pic is from: mechanicalforex.com)

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