A bit of jargon demystified

By | February 4, 2019
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Last week, I was a bit of a tease.

I said that the second best ever improvement to PCs was the mouse.  But I didn’t tell you what the best improvement was. (In my opinion, of course.  You might think the best improvement is that they now often come in black or nice colours instead of a sort of greyish beige like they used to be.)

Well, I think the best improvement ever is that they have screens now – monitors, so you can see what they’re doing.

The earliest ones didn’t have that – you flicked a bunch of switches to set them up how you wanted and if you wanted to see what it was doing you either had a few flashing lights to look at or you had to wait for it to print something out.

In fact in early programming languages, even after PCs had monitors, the command to display something on the screen was “Print” – because it used to print on paper.

When I stop and think of things like that, it shows how far these things have come!

2-factor authentication

This probably isn’t exactly news to you but the technology world does love its confusing jargon.

“2-factor authentication” is a good example.  And it’s becoming more common – and more and more services won’t let you use them unless you set up a 2-factor login.

For example if you need to set up a new Apple ID (to use an iPad, iPhone or some of Apple’s online services), you’ll need to set it up with 2 factor authentication.

To be clear: if you already have one of these devices and have an Apple ID set up, you don’t have to switch it to 2-factor… at least for now (though I think it will nag you to do so – but for now you can say no).  It’s just if you’re setting up a new one.

So what is it?

In a nutshell, the idea is that you need two things (two factors) to prove it’s you, when you log in to the device (or website or whatever it is).

So in the past you’d have a password – one thing that only you know to prove it’s you.

You’d use a username or email address as well, but that might be common knowledge, so that doesn’t count as something that proves it’s you.  (Other people know your email address so they can, well, email you.)

So just using a password is 1-factor authentication.

The idea with 2-factor is usually that you use a password and something else.

In theory it could be another password, but generally the way it works is that you have a different type of thing.  So there should be any two of these:

  • Something you know (like your password)
  • Something you have (like sending a code to your mobile phone – you then type the code in, which shows you have your mobile phone).
  • Something you are (like where it scans your face to recognise you or uses your thumbprint to check it’s you).

As long as it uses two of those, it’s much harder for someone else to pretend to be you and log in.  Even if they guessed or found out your password, they still couldn’t get in.

Usually they use password and either sending a code to your mobile phone by text or you having a special app set up on your phone that gives you a code.

It’s a good idea in some cases – I definitely recommend it for things like online banking and so on.  But it does make life a little more complicated so if you’re logging into something that doesn’t matter as much, maybe it’s not really necessary.

But at least you know what it is now!

Edward, lunch and the Next Steps books

I sometimes get asked how I came up with the ideas for our books.  

Well, the idea for these Next Steps books came about when Julie and I were on our way to pick Edward up from school for lunch.  (Alastair has lunch at school.)

I was saying how it was a shame we no longer did the “old” Next Steps books that I wrote back in 2007, but they weren’t so relevant any more because they only covered PCs/laptops.

And Julie (being the clever one) pointed out the obvious: So why not do a version that covers tablets & phones as well as PCs/laptops, then.

So we did!

As I said last week, the books cover the things most people want to do with their devices.  Maybe you? Anyway, read more about them here

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