Robert Rodriguez

Personal Blog

Why LastPass is the last password manager I (and you) will ever need

LastPass

A few years ago I learned a very valuable lesson: don’t use the same password for all your accounts. One morning I woke up to find that someone had managed to access my Paypal account and send themselves $250 dollars. To Paypal’s credit, they cancelled the transaction, refunded me the money and showed me how to enable two-factor authentication (something I will discuss in a later post). I spent the rest of the day going through all my accounts and changing the password to something harder to guess, but in the end, it was also harder to remember. Some security analysts recommend using a commonly used phrase and converting it to the password. For example, “I go to the park everyday on 21st street” could be “IgTtPEdoTwenty1ST”. Sure, it’s hard to crack, but it’s also hard to always remember.

Enter LastPass.  The last password manager I (and you) will ever need. LastPass is more than just a password manager, it’s a secure environment where passwords and other notes can be stored. I use it primarily for password storage. It uses “AES-256 bit encryption with PBKDF2 SHA-256 and salted hashes” encryption. Don’t get me wrong, there are many password managers on the market, as reviewed by PC Magazine. Before I get into why LastPass is my favorite password manager, I want to direct you to the PC Magazine link that reviewed multiple password managers. I want to note that LastPass not only received a five-star rating, it’s an editor choice AND received a checkmark on all the criteria (the only one from the list). Boom! *Mic drop*.

But here’s why I like LastPass, in no specific order: 1) it has multiple platform and browser support; 2) it’s available on Windows, Mac, Mobile and yes even Linux!; 3) the plugin works with Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Opera and 4) It employs two-method authentication and supports a number of services (Google, Duomobile, etc).

There is a free version, but for $12 dollars a year, I highly recommend upgrading to the Premium version.

 

 

USAA: My Banking Review

 

According to the FDIC, there’s over 5,900 FDIC Insured Institutions in the United States. My review today is about one of them, my bank, The United Services Automobile Association, or commonly referred to as USAA.

USAA hasn’t always been my bank. My first bank, circa 2001, was Washington Mutual. Nothing fancy about it — then again, most of the banks during that time weren’t either. Their online banking interface, if they offered one, was minimal. We didn’t have smartphones that gave us immediate access to our bank information. After some time, I got tired of Washington Mutual’s limited banking hours, the long queues in the branch, and the new fees they continued to add, and switched to BankAtlantic, which really was South Florida’s More Convenient Bank. I really enjoyed banking with BankAtlantic, and even referred a few friends to them that switched from Washington Mutual.

In 2010, I was granted the ability (through my parents) on opening a checking account with USAA. USAA serves military personnel, and their family. To be able to have an account with them, one must either serve, have served, or had a parent who served. Immediately after opening a checking account, I was hooked. USAA is, and will forever be, my primary banking institute.

Their online customer portal, which to many of us is the most important aspect of banking with any bank, as it places our funds “in our hands” is top notch. In this aspect, USAA is really a forward thinking bank.  Their online portal allows me to add all my external accounts (credit cards, saving accounts, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, etc) to the portal, so when I log into my USAA account, I can see my entire financial situation in one place. Think of it as similar to Mint.com (a great service, by the way). Between their top-notch online portal and their budget tracker, I have essentially replaced Mint.com with USAA’s portal and I’m loving it. Not to mention that when I log into USAA, they have added “tiles” to the right side of the screen, providing snippet of information. My tiles include my FICO credit score, and my projected checking account balance.

Their iPhone app is just as intuitive as their online portal. Looking at the preview images of other banking apps in iTunes, I will go on the limb and say that USAA’s app is far more advanced than any of the other banking apps. From their app, I can also see all my external accounts, use Bill Pay, access the budget tracker, and block and unlock my ATM card. The last feature is big to me. I do not feel safe with my ATM card, and since it serves as a credit card, and although I never use it in that form, I’m always nervous that someone can somehow get my number and then have immediate access to my funds. As such, I keep the ATM card “blocked” at all times, only unlocking it from the iPhone app once I approach the ATM machine.

One of the best features of the iPhone app is the Deposit@Mobile feature, which allows me to deposit checks and money orders from my phone without mailing them in. I know that nearly all banks now offer this feature from their app as well, but what I find that sets USAA apart is that USAA “rewards” their customers for “good” banking practices. Since I am a (what I consider to be) a “good” customer — no NSF, always maintain a sufficient cash balance, – they make my funds available to me immediately plus they recently upped my deposit limit to $100,000 per day.  I will never have to send in a check or money order again! I have never had a check or money order not be accepted through their system, either.

For cash deposits, and access to large sums of money (ATM limit for USAA for me is $3,000 per day), I do maintain a local bank account with TD Bank. I believe it’s always a good idea to have a secondary bank account with another bank, in the event your account is restricted you still have access to some funds from the secondary account.

Their customer service is top notch. They have community forums where you can post a question and a representative will contact you, or you can call their customer service line at any time. I’ve only had to call their customer service line once, and they were able to show me how to do what I was requesting right on the website.

Finally, their top notch security. USAA employs the latest security measures to ensure that my account is safe. From two-factor authentication (SMS code before logging in), to a randomly generated code that I must provide when speaking with their customer service, I know that my account with USAA is safe.

Overall, I’d give USAA 5 Stars out of 5 Stars. Every time I have to deal with another banking institution, I’m more and more thankful for USAA and their premium level of customer service.

If you have the opportunity to bank with USAA, I highly recommend you make the switch; you won’t be sorry!

Disclaimer: This is not a paid advertisement. I did not receive any compensation in exchange for this review. This is an honest review of my experience with USAA.

Stranger Things

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Anyone who knows me knows that my top movie genres include horror, thriller and sci-fi. I’ll watch any movie in those genres, regardless how terrible the plot, acting or CGI is. Nevertheless, the movies that are being produced now-a-days miss one important feature: the nostalgic feeling that the movies from the 80’s brought to the screen that gave them the ability to command such large audiences, large following, and go down in history as classic movies.

Think back to those movies, such as ET, Halloween, and Poltergeist. These movies did more than just bring horror or sci-fi to the screen: they brought a capsule on how people lived & thought in the 80’s. It is this that makes these movies classic.

No doubt that the movies being produced today are big hits too – their plot and CGI brings us into a new world of moving making. But no matter how good that CGI is, no matter how good that acting is, and no matter how good the plot is, these films cannot replace the nostalgic feeling we get when we watch a movie from the 80’s.

Enter Stranger Things, a Netflix Original Series. Set in 1983, this film focuses on a small town where a young boy has gone missing and as his family and friends seek to find him, they uncover a secret experiment conducted by the government, an alternative world, and a creature with super powers. The first season, 8-episode, original film by Netflix had me hooked by the first episode. Not only does this Stranger Things bring an original plot, it brings that 1980’s nostalgic feeling that I have missed. How does this show bring that feeling you ask? Simple. Props. I immediately recognized the clothes, the props, the house furniture, the language, the school setting, all of that is styled in a way that reminds me of the 80’s.

Season 1 ended recently and Netflix has announced that they renewed Stranger Things for a 9-episode season 2, which is expected to air in 2017.

In the meantime, I invite you to watch the trailer below for Season 1, and watch Season 1 in the interim.

Comcast: The Big Scam Company

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In my recent post (ok, not so recent), I highlighted five reasons why Comcast sucks, one of them being that they started rolling out a 300GB monthly data cap in limited “trial” markets (or as Comcast doesn’t want to admit — markets where little to no competition exists). I filed an FCC complaint and spoke with a representative at Comcast regarding my FCC complaint and she was totally lost and ill prepared to counter my complaints. Anyways, Comcast just announced that they are increasing the 300GB monthly data cap to 1TB for these “trial” markets (or as Comcast doesn’t want to admit — markets where now there is increase competition thanks to Google Fiber, or AT&T gigapower, or maybe because the FCC is catching on to their game).

This is good news right? WRONG. This is a huge scam. After they made the announcement, the Internet was flooded with positive comments. Ars Technica called it “A Comastic Miracle”. Sure, it’s great that Comcast is increasing the cap, but we shouldn’t rejoice. Remember, Comcast for many years had NO CAPS, and now they increased it to 1TB and we’re all lovey dovey over this. This is such a scam from Comcast. They condition customers to use the Internet freely and then hit them with a 300GB monthly cap. Then after customers are conditions to using 300GB, they hit them with an increase to 1TB and suddenly they are the good guys? NO!

Comcast is nothing but an anti-consumer and anti-competitive company that needs to be  broken up by the FTC and FCC.

HBO: Veep

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It’s rare for me to go back and watch a show that has already complete a full season. If I don’t start watching the show from the pilot, then I usually don’t go back and watch previous seasons. It’s even more rarer that I would do it for a show that has just finished its 4th Season — like HBO’s original min-series Veep.

I was on YouTube the other day and there was a clip of Veep’s bloopers and I decided to watch it, mostly because the thumbnail of the clip was of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is one of my favorite actresses/comedians (Seinfeld, New Adventures of Old Christine, etc).  I’m glad I did.

After watching the bloopers, I was hooked. I went back and using my Roku, I watched Seasons 1-4 on HBO Go. I was aware that Julia was in this show, but I was never interested in watching it as I thought she had a supporting role. The show is phenomenal.

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Not only is Julia phenomenal in the show, but the entire main cast is. I will admit that part of the show that intrigues me is the amount of cursing. No, not just because it’s profanity, but because it’s always setup in a way that is insulting to the person, but they all brush it off and move on with their job. I think it reminds me of my work, except we can’t curse.

In case you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a brief summary:

Veep is about centered around the office of Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer, and her relationship with both the President of the United States (who is never seen on camera) and the American people. Most of the show has to do with damage control, as either Selina or one of her staff makes an inappropriate or damaging comment and before anyone realizes it, either the media has picked up on it, the POTUS, or a Senator. As a result, damage control ensues and so does the hilarity of it all.

Here’s an hilarious clip from Veep. Just a note: You’ll notice that both of them are laughing in the clip. I’m not sure if they are laughing because it’s part of their role, or because the scene is hysterically funny.

Veep was renewed by HBO for a 5th Season. All prior seasons aired around April, so we can hope that Season 5 will air April, 2016. That gives everyone 5 months to watch Seasons 1 – 4.

Windows 10 Upgrade

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Back in April, AMD’s President and CEO Lisa Su revealed that Windows 10 will launch at the end of July, which reminded me that I need to begin preparing for the Windows 10 upgrade on my home computer.

I’m actually looking forward to Windows 10, as I’ve heard that Microsoft has gone in the right direction with it. Plus, it will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, so why not upgrade if it’s free, brings new features, and makes computing easier and safer?

I’ve decided that with the Windows 10 upgrade, I will make some minor upgrades to my computer as well.

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Microsoft Surface 3

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A few days ago, Microsoft announced their newest Surface tablet, a skimmed down version of the more popular Surface Pro tablet called the Surface 3.

I describe the Surface 3 as a skimmed down version because there are two noticeable changes in the two devices, and that is screen size and processor. The Surface Pro has a 12″ (2160×1440) screen while the Surface 3 has a 10.8″ (1920×1280) screen.

In addition, the Surface Pro comes with either the Intel Core i3 or i7 processor, while the Surface 3 comes with Intel’s new Atom x7 Processor (Atom Cherry Trail chip).

There are some other, less important noticeable changes, such as the Surface 3 weighing only 1.37lbs, versus the 1.76 lbs of the Surface Pro. Both have about 10 hours of battery life, and can support external displays. The Surface 3 is also available with optional built-in 4G LTE.

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Dell XPS 2710 Fan Noise

For those who have an Dell XPS 2710 and are suffering from fan noise, I highly recommend that you clean the fans inside your Dell.

To do this, you need to unplug your computer and lay it flat (with the screen facing down) on a soft surface. I placed a towel down and laid my computer on the towel.

To remove the back cover, refer to page 19 of  the XPS One 2710 Owner’s Manual. There are just two screws on the back that you have to unscrew. The screws do not come all the way out.

remove_coverAfter unscrewing, push the cover forward and it will come right off.

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Heroes Reborn: 2015

Deadline.com is reporting that NBC will bring back “Hereos” for a special 13-episode standalone arc titled “Hereos Reborn: 2015”. Best news of 2014 so far!

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