Don’t rob banks

I adore this. The economic reasons why you shouldn’t rob a bank. This is only the introduction, the full piece has the figures:

The UK’s banking trade organization decided it wanted an analysis of the economic effectiveness of adding security measures to bank branches. The professors did that, but in the process, they also did an analysis that looked at the economics of bank robbery from the thieves’ perspective.

The results were not pretty. For guidance on the appropriateness of knocking over a bank, the authors first suggest that a would-be robber might check with a vicar or police officer, but “[f]or the statistics, look no further. We can help. We can tell you exactly why robbing banks is a bad idea.”

Economists demonstrate exactly why bank robbery is a bad idea – John Timmer, Ars Technica (14 June 2012)

Read the full piece.

We are fooled by spam – we really are

I had a legitimate request to re-enter some credit card details the other day and still I hesitated. We are so used to these so-called phishing spam scams. So many of the details were legit – it was for an online backup service that I do use, that was the name of the machine that backs up to it, that was the right renewal date and the expired credit card number was correct – that I didn’t just chuck the email away. But I also didn’t click on it: I separately went to the online backup company’s website, logged in there and checked the details.

But apparently that’s unusual. And so unusual that I can’t brag about it: the odds are that I’ve been fooled by scams before and will again. Seriously. You get these stupid spam messages and you wonder how anyone can be taken in by them. Intellectually you realise they must be because the spam keeps coming, it must be worth the spammers’ time, but you will be head-jerk-backed shocked at how effective those emails are at getting people’s details out of them:

Even on the worst-performing phishing websites, 3 percent of users still submitted their data. On the most effective phishing sites, as many as 45 percent did.

Google notes in its write-up that this is big business for scammers, as one attacker can be responsible for millions of phishing emails.

Once a hacker is able to access someone’s account, they spend an average of three minutes figuring out how much it’s worth, and will apparently move on if the account doesn’t seem valuable enough. According to the study, hackers use Gmail’s own search function to figure out if an account is worth their time, looking for terms like “wire transfer” and “bank.”

What happens next probably won’t surprise you: The hacker tries try to get money from an account’s contact list. They send emails to the person’s friends, family and colleagues with fake stories like “we were mugged last night in an alley” in the hopes of getting them to send cash.

Google Study Finds Email Scams Are More Effective Than You’d Expect – Damon Beres, Huffington Post (7 November 2014)

Read the full piece for more details and some advice about stopping being scammed. Mind you, if you’re reading this and you also click through to read that, you’re probably more aware of the issue than most people. And being aware is a key protection.

Did I say this already? Buy 1Password right now

I definitely urged this in the latest edition of The Blank Screen email newsletter – do sign up for your free copy – and if I’ve met you on the street in the last few days I’ve undoubtedly pressed you on the issue. But I don’t think I’ve said it here and I must.

Buy 1Password for iOS now.

As in now. Please rush.

Well, you can take a little bit of time because it’s on sale and will be for at least a short while: it’s not one of those instant on, instant off sales. And as ever with things I recommend on sale, it is more than worth its full price so if you miss the discount, shrug it off.

So you know, the sale price goes thisaway: 1Password for iPhone is briefly £6.99 UK or $9.99 US (instead of £9.99 UK or $17.99 US). Check the maker’s website, though, because there are many options if you’re using more than one device: 1Password official site.

It’s a password manager – creates great passwords for you and then, this is the key part, both remembers them all and pops them into websites for you – and it’s also especially good at holding all your credit card details and, again, popping them into websites when you say Go. It’s also very cross-platform: I use it daily on Mac, iPhone and iPad but there is also a PC, Windows and Android version. They all play nicely, too, so if you’re a PC user with an iPhone or a Mac user with an Android phone, you’re fine. Possibly schizophrenic, but fine.

If you are on a PC or Android, my reason to urge you to buy 1Password is solely that it is so very good. Indispensable. I went from wondering why anyone would want such a thing to having it on my iPhone’s front screen and using it literally every day. Literally literally: there’s a thing I have to do every single day and I do it through 1Password because it’s so much quicker.


If you’re on an iOS device, there is an extra delightful urgency to all this. Buy 1Password for iPhone or iPad on sale today and you will get the next version for free. The next version will be a significant upgrade but it won’t cost existing users anything and you will be an existing user.

I am an existing user, I am a now very long-standing existing user, and I’m excited by this – I don’t use the word lightly, I actually am excited – because of what’s coming in the next version.

The next 1Password will be the first or at most among the very first apps to use Apple’s new Extensions feature that lets one app use another. I told you that I do this thing every day: it’s using a website that I have to log in to and on my iPhone, I have to remember to go to it via 1Password in order to have the password app pop my details in. If I’ve just gone there via Safari, I either nip back and forth to 1Password, copying out my secure details and pasting them in to Safari – or I quit it all and start the job again in 1Password.

From the next version and Apple’s iOS 8, I will be able to just call up 1Password right from within Safari and have it do my doings for me. If I have the new 1Password, iOS 8 and a newer iPhone than I currently have, I’ll be able to tap my thumb in order to get it to enter secure details for me.

I’d say that if I were you, I’d buy 1Password now. But if I really were you, you’d already have it.

Do a test run on online banking transfers

Cheques are a pain but online banking can go wrong with a typo. Perhaps this is another reason to use services like TextExpander or 1Password, to have the correct sort code and account numbers to hand. But when you’ve been given a new account to pay into, check it first.

Transfer a single penny.

If the recipient gets that, you’re good to go: you know for certain that it works.

There is the chance that someone else is sending a penny – why does that sound rude? – on the same day but yours will arrive with your reference.

It’s an idea nicked from PayPal which checks out your bank details by doing something similar: it deposits some random, if very small, amount and you have to confirm what that amount is. But that’s done as much to confirm that you are you as it is to check that the bank details have been entered correctly so I’d keep it simple.

This does depend on who you’re paying. If it’s a firm you don’t know, you may find it hard to learn whether they got the payment or not. But then if then phone up demanding to know where your big cash transfer is coming you get to say well, duh, if you’d check your accounts more often you’d be paid now.

On balance

Here’s a secret. I just checked all my various bank accounts – business, personal, tax, savings, all that stuff – and I needn’t have bothered because it’s Saturday.

My bank’s computer system doesn’t bother to register most changes over the weekend. It does some, but not most. Couldn’t tell you why. Not a clue. I think it’s feeble and I think it’s amateur, most especially when it does register a payment made on Saturday but then afterwards changes its date to the Monday.

But I know it does this and I know it’s pointless checking anything on Saturdays or Sundays and yet I continue to check because that’s what I do. I check all my accounts every day.

You may call this excessive. But it is a direct response to a problem of mine. I write for a living but it is the writing that I want: writing for a living is being able to live while writing. Money isn’t the focus, money isn’t the objective. It’s working out nicely, thank you for asking, but my head is always over here in the writing instead of on the bank accounts and the invoices. And there have been times that has caused me problems.

Now that I talk about writers being productive, I have learnt a recurring truth: all this felgercarb about accounts and pitches and calls and the sheer volume of things writers have to do that is not writing may be a burden but it is also easier than writing. And if you get it done, it is done. Done and gone. It isn’t weighing on your mind and affecting your work.

So I tell people to get this stuff done now and what I’m telling you is how I do that. I check the balances every day. It means I know the moment a client has paid, it means I know the moment I’d paid off my iMac. (When I bought a 27in iMac, Apple was offering interest-free repayments and I knew – I knew – exactly what difference that would make to my balances and my cash flow. It was the right way to buy at that moment and I did it without hesitation, yet I was also glad when the last payment was done.)

All of which means there is a specific and positive reason to stay on top of these things. But because I know it is an issue with me, I also check the balances every day in order to check the balances every day. In order to make sure that I don’t slip back into any problems.

And I’d like to tell you this is a nice round number but actually, today was the 918th day in a row.

Doing anything 918 times is going to take you a while. So over that time, I have learnt various ways of checking extremely quickly and I keep looking for faster ones too. So I can tell you, for instance, that if you’re the UK you shouldn’t with systems that display all your accounts in one dashboard-like screen: every time I’ve tried every one, they’ve proved impossibly slower than doing it all one at a time through my bank’s own website. If you’re the States, it’s completely different: take a long, hard look at I wish that were available here. And I can also tell you that 1Password is a godsend for this: one click on my Mac or one tap on my iOS devices and it has gone to the bank sites, entered a lot of the security details (but not all, I’m not that stupid) and I can be entering those last details, seeing the accounts and getting out again in seconds.

Today was the 918th time in a row that I checked my balances and yesterday was the 211th day working day I’d got up to write at 5am. I am a writer, I do not like constraints and I do not function at my best in 9-5 office hours, yet I apply these daily responsibilities to myself and they work for me.

They work one day at a time. We can all do one day of something. I just advocate doing one day tomorrow too.

Actually, this has just popped into my head. I’m very much a Suzanne Vega fan, I think she is an astonishing writer, but her first album and its first side and its first song begins with a first line that goes: “It’s a one-time thing. It just happens a lot.”

I can’t believe that got into my DNA. But I just check the balances once. I just get up at 5am once. And then it just happens a lot.