Managing Your Multitudes of Passwords

I found a funny comic about password complexity this weekend:

It makes a good point. And I was actually taken to that comic by an article that breaks down the futility of how we all generally manage our passwords: 

“I’m sorry, but were you actually trying to remember your comical passwords?”
by Troy Hunt

It’s some good food for thought. I’m certainly looking in to programs like


And the prominent cross-platform (Mac, Windows and Linux/*NIX) but not nearly as easy to look at …


The Basics of Using ZIP Archives

It’s recently come to my attention that the general public has never heard of .zip or any other type of compressed archive. The idea of a compressed archive has been around for many many years. It certainly was a very early part of computer science. This article is intended to help regular people understand why these types of files are useful and how to use them on a very basic level in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

This post is not a detailed review of the various types of archive file formats or how they compare to each other. I am talking about .zip because, like the MP3 file format for compressed music, regardless of it being superseded by newer and better technologies it is the most common type of file archive in use today.

What the hell is a ZIP archive?

Archive files, at their most basic, are something like the boxes we put things into for shipping them to other locations. You would never simply write a mailing address on the cover of a book or box of chocolates and drop them in the mail. At the very least you’d wrap them in some tough, opaque brown paper. For something that is soft or fragile you would probably put them in a big brown cardboard box with bubble wrap to protect them on their journey. Of course, you might not be shipping the item at all. You might simply want to put it in a box for safe, organized storage.

For basic purposes all of these uses of a cardboard box are a perfect analogy to an archive file.

Sounds simple. How do I create a ZIP archive?

When it comes to desktop/laptop computers or any computer with a screen, mouse and keyboard there are several different operating systems. In terms of dealing with ZIP archives, however, there’s pretty much only two categories:

  1. Some version of the Windows operating system
  2. Some version or type of UNIX-like operating system
    • Apple Mac OSX
    • UNIX (BSD, Solaris, etc.)
    • Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse, etc.)

I am making this grand over-simplification because basically every UNIX-like operating system for desktop/laptop use includes software for creating and manipulating .ZIP archives as well as other archive types. Winblows, I mean “Windows,” in my experience never comes with this type of software pre-installed. Okay, maybe sometimes it comes with a free trial version of WinZip, but I find that beginners don’t really understand how to use WinZip. It’s definitely more geared towards advanced users.


Don’t like my snarky comments about Windows, eh? Fine . . .

In order to bring Windows up to par with other computers you can install the free-and-open-source 7zip application. Go to and click on the top-most “Download” link to download the 7zip installer for Windows. Run the installer. Once installed continue reading.

Creating a ZIP Archive

  1. On your desktop create a new folder called “brownbox” (or whatever you want, there’s nothing magical about the title “brownbox”).
  2. Copy some photos or word processor files to this folder.
  3. Right-click on the folder and, from the resulting menu select one of the following:
    • Windows + 7zip: “Add to archive . . .”
    • Mac OSX: “Create Archive of . . . ”
      Note: If right-click is not enabled on your system you can click-and-hold or press the Control/Ctrl key + mouseclick to access the contextual menu.
    • UNIX/Linux: “Compress”
  4. An archive should be created on the desktop with the same name as your folder. Windows + 7zip and UNIX/Linux will probably ask you where you would like to save the archive while OSX automatically saves it to the same location as the original folder.

Opening a ZIP Archive

I’m using the term “open” pretty loosely here. I think that the general public, wanting to access the contents of an archive file, will most likely want to “Extract” or “Decompress” the contents of the archive into a standard “folder” on their desktop. To do that:

  1. Ask your archive software to extract/decompress the contents of the archive like this:
    • Windows + 7zip: Right-click and click “Extract here”
    • Mac OSX: Double-click on the archive
    • UNIX/Linux: Right-click and click “Extract here”

Again, OSX will automatically save the extracted files to the same location as the original file while Windows + 7zip and UNIX/Linux will generally present a Save As dialog.

So archive files aren’t just for nerds!

Exactly. Let me know if you have any questions.

Fresh OpenOffice Templates

I was recently installing Ubuntu on an old Dell for a friend. I don’t try to push Linux on people, but if they want something cheap on an old machine I just tell them what a new version of Windows costs. At that point they either go buy a new machine instead or ask me more about Linux.

Once we get to that point I ask a them a few questions about how they use their personal computer. This recent situation called for compact disc booklet templates and a greeting card making application. In order to avoid complexity I rarely tell non-designers/tech geeks to give Inkscape, Scribus or the GIMP a try. What this means is finding some specialized application that makes the desired task super simple. If that isn’t available I turn to OpenOffice.

OpenOffice is surprisingly versatile and effective at the same time. There are also hidden benefits to using it, like dynamically generating letters for a small company with the power of OO’s mail merge tools or using embedded spreadsheets to create tables of data within a layout. Cool stuff that the professional-focused graphics tools leave to more specialized programs.

The end result, anyway, is that I decided to create some templates for OpenOffice. The related templates that the usual search engines pointed me to were not very good, so I thought providing these as free downloads might be helpful to some folks out there. What I have is a CD Booklet and Tray template and a Greeting Card template for OpenOffice Draw. Enjoy.

  1. Compact Disc Booklet + Tray template
  2. Greeting Card template

Migrate Thunderbird from WindowsXP to Linux or OSX

Using Mozilla Thunderbird over other email applications is mostly a matter of preference. However, the fact that it is an application that runs on Windows, OSX and GNU/Linux is a very big reason for using it rather than other similar applications. Not only is it running on these operating systems, but it is extremely easy to move your mail and all of your settings to another computer and/or operating system.

I discovered this after temporarily moving one of my sisters onto my G5 after her Windows machine stopped booting. I was able to use the Ubuntu 6.06 live cd to access her hard drive and copy all of her important documents to my iPod Mini.

The files you need to retrieve from the Windows PC are in the following directory:

Documents and Settings/
<username>/Application Data/Thunderbird/Profiles/xxxxxx.default/

These are the files you need from there:

Address Book: abook.mab
Preferences: prefs.js
Mail: Mail (folder/directory)

It is probably also a good idea to go to Address Book while in Thunderbird and export your addresses to one of the more universal formats like ldif or csv. I won’t make any promises if you try to import them to another email application, but you can at least open those with a spreadsheet application if all else fails.

Keep those files in a safe place or back them up along with anything else that’s important to you. Now go to the new machine or go ahead and install another operating system, whatever. On the new system install Thunderbird and then load it and walk through the account set up with some dummy info. I do this so that when I go into the directory to find the place for my old files to go there’s something there for me to replace. It also reaffirms that I am putting them in the right place.

Close Thunderbird after you finish the account set up. In your file browser find your Thunderbird files. Following are locations for those files in different OSs to the best of my knowledge:

HD/Users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Thunderbird

C:/Documents and Settings/<username>/Application Data/Thunderbird

(Most Linux OSs will be similar. Note that .mozilla-thunderbird is a hidden file. In most Linux file browsers there is an option under ‘View/Show Hidden Files’.)

Okay, now all you have to do is copy your old files to this directory and in doing that you will replace or overwrite the existing files:

Address Book: abook.mab
Preferences: prefs.js
Mail: Mail (folder/directory)

Once that is done, load Thunderbird and it should look like you never left home!

I am offering these instructions to be helpful. By attempting to do this you are accepting all responsibility for the outcome. I cannot guarantee success. Make sure that you take notes on any information regarding access to your mail servers and accounts before deleting your existing Thunderbird set up.