Security Questions

Many sites still use “security” questions to help you retrieve your account. When you first create an account, they ask you things like “What was the name of your first pet?” and “What color was your first car?” Even if you’re doing well and using a long, random, unique password for that site, you probably just destroyed your security by answering those questions. I’m pretty sure I could answer most of those questions for some of my friends. This is a common route for hackers too, especially with all the information available on social media sites.

Pro-tip: you can lie. It’s ok. I already use Last Pass to create and store random, unique, strong passwords for every single account so I just generate more random characters for these security questions. In Last Pass, there’s a notes field for every account that you store so I drop the questions and answers right in that note field so I have them for later if I need to retrieve my account via the security questions.

Yes, I changed these after taking the screenshot.

Truck Stats

Last year, Tyla got me an OBDII data logger (Automatic) for my birthday and, of course, I ended up writing an app to download my trip data so I could analyze it. I still get those analysis reports twice per day and they continue to be interesting. For example, I don’t know why, but the last two weeks have had some of the worst traffic on my way home from work in the last year. Now that I have over a year of data, there’s enough to calculate some semi-interesting stats on my drives in our 2016 F150 3.5L Ecoboost:

    • The average trip to work takes me 26.3 minutes.
    • The average trip home takes me 33.9 minutes.
    • It feels like if I leave work a couple minutes early, I’ll avoid the worst of the traffic. Here’s my average commute time based on when I leave. (The x-axis is in 24 hour time so 17 is 5pm.) The y-axis is my average commute home in minutes. It does look like if I leave about 10 minutes before 5 my commute is generally 5-10 minutes faster.
    • My most fuel efficient trip was a 43.7mpg drive along the 3.5 mile route from my house to Home Depot. Not bad for a 5000 pound truck! (A lot of it is downhill and I like to see how little gas I can use on that route…)
      • Best fuel mileage for a trip over 10 miles: Church to Totem Lake AutoZone 28.0mpg
      • Best fuel mileage for a trip over 50 miles: Crystal Mountain to our house 24.7mpg
    • My worst gas mileage is going from Work to the butcher. It’s a short trip and when it’s really cold, my truck spends the whole time idling at stop lights and trying to warm up. I’ve gotten 3.5mpg on that route a couple times!
    • Of the days that I drive the truck, I spend an average of 69.3 minute driving.
    • The most driving in one day was 366 minutes. That was May 25, 2018 when we drove down to Ocean Park for Memorial Day.

I love having all this data! I could do this all night but I should probably cut it off here and go to bed. By the way, all of these charts and stats were created with public preview of Azure Data Explorer. We’ve been using that product internally for a couple years and it makes stuff like the stats above ridiculously fast and easy. If you’re at all involved in data engineering or data analysis, you need to get familiar with Azure Data Explorer!

8-Bit Ben

The site (pronouned “five-er”) has been around for quite a while, but I just recently used it for the first time. The idea is that you can pay someone $5 (or something very cheap) to do a small digital task for you. You can peruse it yourself to see all the various offerings, but I wanted a pixel art picture of myself.

I’m quite happy with the 8-bit avatar that was drawn for me by user arveyyudi. He even allowed for a minor change to my hair color after he sent me the first copy. I’ve set this as my avatar on a few sites and even in our Outlook directory at work.

Standing Desk Monitor

We have nice standing desks at work. They have electric motors with memory settings so it’s quick and easy to switch between standing up or sitting down. I believe that it’s significantly healthier to stand up at least part of the day, but I find myself being lazy and sitting for most of the day. I also know that it’s relatively easy to motivate myself by measuring whatever I’m trying to improve. Time for a project!

To measure whether I’m standing or sitting, I decided to use a distance sensor that either sits on top of the desk and looks at the floor, or sits on the floor and looks up. I’m sure there are cheaper ways to do this, but I ordered a SparkFun BlackBoard, Distance Sensor Breakout, and a Qwiic cable to connect them. There was no soldering required. I plugged it all in and I was good to go. I laser cut a wood box to hold all the components.

I wrote a simple program for the Arduino-compatible BlackBoard that would send a measurement when it received a keystroke and then I wrote a program that runs on the computer to periodically request measurements (via USB) and upload them to a database in the cloud. I put a website on top of the page and voila!

A friend at work heard about the idea and wanted to compete with me so now we are both running these devices. You can track our progress at

Cloud Backup

As I mentioned about a year ago, CrashPlan is closing shop for home users and focusing on the small business market. My contract with them is up in a few months so I did some research to pick a new cloud backup provider. I had about 4TB stored on CrashPlan so a key feature for me was unlimited backup size. I settled on Backblaze. They’ve been around for quite a while and have a feature set that meets my needs and a price that doesn’t break the bank.

So now begins the arduous journey of uploading 4TB of data over my Comcast connection. Comcast limits me to 1TB per month with pretty heavy penalties for going over. I normally use 300-400GB/month so it’s going to take quite a while to upload my data again.

Comcast provides a web page to view your usage, but I wanted something a little easier to monitor. My router keeps track of my usage and it’s roughly the same as what Comcast says so I wrote an app that grabs the usage numbers from my router every hour and stores them in a database. Now I can quickly check my usage, predict where I’m going to end up, etc. That gives me the info I need to turn my backup on and off to use up as much of that 1TB as possible without going over.

I’ve got about 1TB uploaded and I’m happy so far. Their software is ridiculously easy to use and they have a phone app for accessing random files on the go. It’s a good final step in the 3-2-1 backup strategy which means that you should keep 3 copies of your data. 2 are stored locally and 1 is stored remotely.