The Code’s vengeance strikes swiftly
The oft-paraphrased Benjamin Franklin once more-or-less said, "Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither." If Ol' Ben were alive today, he might have to take off his bifocals for a retinal scan before he would be let into Independence Hall.
In the Digital Age, we've devised cutting-edge security systems to protect ourselves from the world. But as often as not these systems are doing just as much to needlessly protect the world from us.
Across the nation right now, countless mothers-in-law are trapped alone inside their children's fortress homes while their adult offspring are at work, afraid to even crack a window for fear they will set off a CIA-grade alarm system that would make a World War II air raid siren sound like a RAZR phone on vibrate.
If only they could remember The Code.
Oh yes, "The Code."
The Code could be anything. In the above example, what separates most visiting mothers-in-law from fresh air and direct sunlight is some six-digit combination of their grandchild's birthday and their son-in-law's most recent cholesterol number. But it can get even more complicated than that.
Whether you want access to a Lindsay Lohan forum or your 401(k), without The Code, your personal Web security force will uphold the strict orders you gave it to not let you in. Credit cards, frequent flier programs, Netflix, eBay, the Tyra Banks newsletter -- all require some form of The Code. Even "password manager" programs require passwords.
But don't think The Code loses its grip on you when you turn off the computer. It is waiting, biding its time, for the best moment to strike with a cure of protection that might be just as bad as the disease of risk. For me, that was last Thursday night -- out of nowhere, The Code literally brought me to my knees.
It was late evening. My wife and I were leaving a friend's apartment, and as I walked down the dimly lit outdoor steps, I searched my pocket for my car's keyless remote. It hides a metal key that violently flips out with a switchbladelike spring action, yet somehow it raises fewer eyebrows at airport security than my 3-year-old pair of Reeboks Size 10.
After pulling the key from my pocket, I heard the faint sound of plastic and metal hitting concrete. My keyless remote broke, and half of it seemed lost to a sea of untamed grass. I won't identify the name of a company that makes a key that disintegrates on contact, but its initials are VW.
After several hands searched dewy weeds for many minutes, we found the metal tooth part of the key glistening in the reflected moonlight. But Nature would not yield the seemingly less useful black plastic half of the remote.
Still, I had the working end of the key, and the plastic half that opens the car remotely still on my key chain. This was quite a relief, because Digital Slobs do not bother with maintaining contingency plans. My spare, my valet key? Lost them both when Bill Clinton was president (yes, he's still a suspect).
So, with the key part of the key in hand, I was sure all I needed was a borrowed pair of pliers to grip its nub as it sat in the ignition, and we could make our way home limping but in one piece.
But, the car wouldn't start. As the tow-truck driver carted us to the dealership, he said he was sure it was a key issue.
Now, not to get too personal, but when my wife sits in my lap, nine times out of 10, it's a pleasant experience. But this time, as we rode shotgun in a tow-truck cab at 3 a.m., she looked more like an angry girl who knew she was staring into the eyes of a fake Santa.
The tow-truck driver was right. Turns out, inside the half of my keyless remote we left behind was a transponder chip that gives the car The Code. Without it, my car is more like a stubborn mule with a sunroof.
The cost of securing my automotive lines of communication with a new key? About $200, plus two bus tickets and two transfers.
Oh, and a $4.99 "forgive me" card for my wife. The all-night grocery store had a few of those pricier ones with computer chips that play tunes when you open them, but I passed.
Just wasn't in the mood.