Sunday, August 6, 2017

Want to Know The Secret to Remembering Passwords? Ask a Magician

By Teller

IMAGINE WE’RE at a cafe. I hand you a pencil and a pad of paper. I ask you to write your laptop’s password on the pad, rip off the sheet, fold it up and keep it safe in your pocket while I go place our orders for caffeine-laced milkshakes.

Later, I ask you to hand me your laptop. I turn it on, look dreamily into the distance, slowly type in your password and comment admiringly on your late-night browsing choices.

“That,” I say with a smile, “is why security experts tell you never to write down your password.”

I don’t need to be a computer geek or have the budget of the NSA to accomplish this prank. The method is more than a century old and was devised by crooks—specifically, spirit mediums trying to get the dope on their clients. The medium would prepare a notepad by rubbing the back of the top sheet lightly with spermaceti wax (it was a tough time for whales). Then the medium would hand a pencil to the client and ask her/him to write down a secret question for a departed loved one and keep the question secure. Later, the rat-bastard would “channel” a message from the dead, such as, “Your dear wife says, ‘Don’t worry about our children. They will thrive without your help. Sell the house and invest in Dr. Slade’s diamond mines.’ ”

When the client wrote on the first sheet, the pressure left an invisible copy in wax (today, we use soap) on the second sheet. The medium took back the pad, left the room to “get a glass of water” (or, in my case, to fetch the frosty frapp├ęs) and secretly dusted the wax impression with powdered lead (I use something less lethal). The dusty particles stuck to the residue and revealed the writing.

Such information piracy was possible a hundred years ago, so how can I possibly defend myself from genius archfiends who are bent on stealing my passwords today? As a magician, can I use my tool kit to keep my information safe?

The overarching principle of magic is that magicians are willing to go to more trouble to pull off a trick than any spectator would think the trick is worth. We cripple our hands with years of practice just to make a dime disappear.

I could apply this too-much-trouble principle to my passwords by simply memorizing them all. That’s not as impossible as it sounds. Memory training is one of magic’s strongest methods. If I can glance at a hand of cards or the serial number of a dollar bill and commit that info to memory in the blink of an eye, I have quite a potent tool.

Memory is sometimes even presented as a trick on its own. The legendary New York magician Harry Lorayne greets his audience members—often numbering in the hundreds—as they arrive, then finishes his show by calling every single person in the theater by name. He’s written half a dozen books on mnemonics (e.g., “The Memory Book,” “Ageless Memory”), and I recommend them.

Read the rest here.

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