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Word: Format all cross-references as bold

June 17, 2022

One of my clients does work for a [big company], and I do the occasional bit of work for them. The [big company] wants the all cross-references (x-refs) in bold type (e.g. Table 1-4, Figure 2-10, Appendix F, Section 10.8 etc.). But there’s no way that I’ve found in Word to set this as an automatic attribute when creating x-refs (if anyone knows how, let me know in the comments). So bold has to be applied manually, and for a 400p document with hundreds of x-refs, that’s tedious for the authors and for me as the editor when some have been missed.

However, there is a way to bold ALL the x-refs at any time (ideally as one of the finalisation stages when working on a document). And it’s a simple find and replace solution (no wildcards involved!), but you do have to expose the field codes for it to work.

How to do this:

  1. Make a new copy of your document using Save As (this is just in case anything goes drastically wrong—it shouldn’t, but you never know).
  2. Select the entire document using Ctrl+a.
  3. Press Alt+F9 to toggle (and display) the field codes.
  4. Press Ctrl+h to open the Find and Replace window.
  5. In the Find field type: ^19 REF (^19 represents a field and the REF tells Word to look for a field that also has REF as part of its code—this gets all the x-refs but ignores things like the table of contents and other field codes).
  6. Click More.
  7. Put your cursor in the Replace field but DO NOT TYPE anything here.
  8. Click Format.
  9. Select Font.
  10. Select Bold in the middle panel at the top of the Font dialog box.
  11. If your cursor was in the Replace field, then immediately below that field Font: Bold displays. (If your cursor was still in the Find field, then Font: Bold will display under that, and that’s not what you want—go back and repeat from step 7.)
  12. Click Replace All.
  13. When the replace has finished, close the Find and Replace window
  14. Press Alt+F9 to toggle the field codes back to readable x-ref numbers etc.
  15. You may need to update the fields after doing this, just to make sure the bold is applied to them all. To do this, go to File > Print (which puts you in Print Preview mode), DO NOT PRINT, then go back to your document—this updates all your fields. Check your table of contents etc. If all the page numbers are the same, update the table of contents etc. separately as you normally would.
  16. If you’re happy with the changes made, continue using the ‘saved as’ document as your current version, or repeat these steps in the earlier current version you saved from (your versioning processes may differ).

I got my inspiration for this post from this very long webpage, written by Susan Barnhill, one of the Word gurus: http://wordfaqs.ssbarnhill.com/FormatCrossReferences.htm

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Dealing with references and author-date citations: Advice for authors

June 15, 2022

Sue Littleford, from Apt Words in the UK, has some great advice for authors when preparing citations and references, prior to sending the document to your copyeditor. By following her steps in this PDF (https://aptwords.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Avoiding-copyeditor-queries-part-1-references.pdf) you’ll save time and money, and save a lot of frustration and queries from your copyeditor!

As an example, I recently edited a 400p document, which had about 10p of references (about 2.5% of the total pages). Just formatting the reference list alone to conform to the corporate style took me well over 4 hours, plus a similar amount of time to verify that the reference information was correct (checking authors, dates, journal titles, volume/issue and page numbers, URLs etc.). Those 10p took more than 10% of my time—time I charge for by the hour. Checking and formatting references is tedious work, and I’d rather forgo the extra dollars than have to deal with a messy one. If authors, who are familiar with what they’re writing and the sources they’ve used, got those citations/refs in good shape before handing the document to the copyeditor, I for one would be very happy!

Hint: Sue suggests printing out the reference list for checking against the citations. I don’t do that when I’m copyediting—instead, I copy the refs list into a new document, highlight the lot, and put it on my other monitor. As I find each citation, I check there’s an entry for it and if so, remove the highlight for that one. Those with highlights remaining have not been cited, but I do a quick search of the document just to make sure. (Details of my method: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/editing-terms-and-citations-in-long-documents/)

[Links last checked June 2022]

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Word to PDF: Table of Contents not clickable

May 6, 2022

One of my clients had a situation where the table of contents (TOC) in their Word document did not become a clickable (linked) TOC in the PDF they created from it. By default, it should. because the standard settings for clickable links in a PDF are to include the usual Heading styles from Word. They had used standard Heading styles, so there was no reason why they shouldn’t be linked. Other elements such as cross-references to sections, appendices, tables, and figures all worked fine in the PDF, but not the TOC entries.

I checked their TOC settings and there I found the reason and the solution. NOTE: You can’t open these TOC settings if you’ve inserted a default (Microsoft-supplied) TOC from the References tab—you must have inserted a custom TOC.

  1. Open the Table of Contents window (References tab > Table of Contents > Custom Table of Contents).
  2. Make sure the Use hyperlinks… checkbox is selected. This checkbox is selected by default, so if it’s been turned off at some point, turn it on.
  3. Click OK.

Now, create your PDF—the TOC in the PDF should now be clickable.

Update June 2022: For a full discussion of the different PDF outputs when you Save as or Print to PDF from Word, see this excellent article: https://office-watch.com/2022/choices-make-a-pdf-file-save-or-print/

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Looking for a new password manager: Part 4: mSecure

May 4, 2022

I left testing mSecure until last, as I explained in Part 1. Because I have quite specific requirements, most of the main password managers I tested just didn’t fit the bill. LastPass was the main contender, followed by 1Password (now uninstalled), and Dashlane was out. Others that I’d seen reviews for in online articles, comparisons, and YouTube videos that showed how they worked, had eliminated themselves from contention because they didn’t offer the flexibility I’m familiar with (thank you to those who commented offering their suggestions). mSecure had been recommended by Dataviz, the makers of Passwords Plus (PP), and they had assured us that all our data would be imported seamlessly. Well, there were import problems for the early adopters, but the mSecure people sorted those out within a few days. I waited a week or so to let the teething troubles settle down, but today was the day.

It didn’t start well. You can only get the mSecure Windows app via the Microsoft Store, which I’ve never used before. I tried to download it via the Microsoft Store using my browser (Chrome), but my ‘device’ (PC) was not recognised, so I went in via that device (Start button, Store) to get it. This is a VERY convoluted way to get a product!!! especially if you have more than one Microsoft ID as I do, which is why I reverted to the Microsoft Store via my PC. Once it downloaded and installed itself, I tried to find it as I keep all my EXE files on my server—it seems it’s in a hidden folder on the C drive: C:\Program Files\WindowsApps. But once you get there, you’re locked out of seeing what’s in that folder even if you have hidden files turned on and have Admin privileges for your PC. As I said, not a good start. I like to have control of where an app is installed and where the executable is in case I have to reinstall etc. That’s likely a hangover from nearly 40 years of using computers, but it’s something I’ve always done (which is rather silly because I don’t worry about this stuff on my tablet or phone!).

So, to my mSecure review based on testing my exported PP CSV file and the things I want my new password manager to do. There’s no point in purchasing an app if I’m going to LOSE functionality, or an app where I have to have things in different places because there’s no flexibility in how the data is entered or stored.

Here are the results of my testing (no particular priority order):

  • mSecure has a Windows app, which is where I did my testing. I haven’t tested it on my Android tablet or phone as yet.
  • ALL my records from PP were imported in about 2 secs! Everything came through—all my notes, my custom fields, everything. All my existing categories from PP came in as tags. This is a HUGE win.
  • You can add fields and attachments to records, and there are numerous field types to choose from too. You can add/delete/edit fields from records based on templates too—once you’ve created the record, the fields are divorced from the template’s fields and any changes you make to the record are not reflected back in the template. You can change any field labels.
  • You can auto backup to a local file location after every 5 changes you make to your password manager file (under Settings).
  • You aren’t forced into using the company’s cloud storage for synching—you can keep your database just on your own machine (likely no synch with phone app, but not tested), in Dropbox, iCloud, or in their cloud. I chose their cloud, but you can change this setting at any time.
  • You can add your own templates (via Settings), and you can modify existing templates, including adding/deleting/editing fields and their labels, rearranging fields. There are many existing templates to choose from too.
  • Some of the icons are a bit confusing and some don’t have tooltips to tell you what they do, which is a bit disconcerting for those icons where the image doesn’t give any clue as to the function. I tested the circular icon with an arrow in it at the top of a record to see what it did—it opened a new email with all the contents of that record included in it.
  • On a record, you click the eye icon for the password field to show the password, but there’s also an eye icon at the top of the record to show any field that’s normally hidden on the record. And if you’re still in the same session, the show/hide eye icon persists across records so you don’t have to click it on every record.
  • You can set the time before the program logs you out and you have to enter your master password again. The default is 2 mins, but you can make it shorter or longer. You can also tell the system to lock you out totally if more than x failed attempts are made for the master password—and you can set it to never locking you out too.
  • You can add multiple tags to any record.
  • You can apply an existing template to an existing record—the existing fields are kept and the fields in the template that aren’t already used are added. However, check things like expiry date for things like the credit card template as that may take the date the records were imported. See further info on dates below.
  • You can change field labels, even after applying a different template to an existing record.
  • Check everything! (this would apply to any import of critical information such as that kept in a password manager). I noticed that one credit card record got the fields mixed up (e.g. I had 4 Mastercard records—some had the same PINs across each that weren’t applicable, along with the correct PIN). NOTE: If I went with one of the other programs I tested, I would’ve had to do all the data entry via copy/paste, so checking is a much simpler process in mSecure, though it will take time for nearly 500 records. In the first batch of 30 or so records I’ve checked so far, I’ve found no errors. (Update 10 May 2022: I’ve now checked all ~500 records and less than 2% had errors, and these were minor.)
  • More on dates:
    • Because it’s a Windows app, it correctly uses the same date format as your Windows settings (i.e. dd/mm/yyyy for me).
    • When you’re editing a record, especially an imported one, check any date fields as the date you entered in PP may not hold in Edit mode—to solve this, I opened PP next to mSecure and manually re-entered the dates.
    • Also, be aware that you cannot type a date—you have to use the date picker. This is no problem for recent additions, but at first I thought you couldn’t easily go back via years (e.g. to select a date in 2000, I thought you’d have to go back 22 (years) x 12 (months) clicks to get to it). But then I found that if you click the year in the top of the date picker, you get a list of years to choose from, and if you click the month, you get a list of months to choose from.
  • You can give each record an icon to help you identify similar things in the long lists (e.g. a house icon for things to do with your house), where an icon hasn’t been found on the internet for the thing (e.g. an Airbnb record will show the Airbnb icon without you having to do anything, but you could change it to a generic travel icon if you wished).

My overall assessment after a couple of hours of testing—mSecure is the one for me! I’m on day 1 of a 30-day trial, so I’ll continue checking my records and cleaning them up as I go (something I should have done in PP a while back), then once I’m happy with my database, I’ll try linking to the Android app on my phone and tablet and report back.

Update (5 May 2022): The CSV export from mSecure exports EVERYTHING, including all notes. I’m up to Day 2 of my trial and up to ‘F’ in checking the entries against PP, and so far NOTHING has been lost or mixed up.

Update (10 May 2022): I’ve now checked EVERY entry against those in PP, and of the ~500 passwords I imported, only 2 were missing (no idea why), another 2 had mixed up info (possibly because one record was duplicated from another in PP?) and a further 4 didn’t have their notes. So, some 8 (let’s be generous and say 10) records were either missing, had missing info, or had mixed up info, which is 2%, so 98% of records came through without error. Not bad. My next checks will be installing mSecure on my laptop and accessing the database from there, and also on my Android tablet and phone. Assuming that all works well, I’ll be purchasing this software before the trial is over.

Update (21 May 2022): Today I bit the bullet and installed mSecure on my laptop and signed in (you will need your username, password, AND the QR code or [incredibly long] authentication key you got and printed out when you set up your account to sign into another device). Everything synched beautifully. Then I installed the mSecure app on my Android tablet and Android phone—again, everything synched beautifully once I’d signed in and authenticated myself with the camera on these devices reading the printed QR code. You only have to do this authentication thing once on each device—after that, you can just sign in with your username and password. And because my testing was so successful and I’m now using the mSecure app instead of PP, I also purchased an annual subscription (with the bonus of a 25% discount for previous Dataviz PP clients).

You can find out more about mSecure here: https://www.msecure.com/ (if you want to use the Windows app, it may be easier to get it via the Microsoft Store in Windows—just search for mSecure; use Google Play to get it for Android devices)

NOTE: This is MY assessment based on MY needs. Your needs may be very different to mine, so your choice of a password manager will likely be different too.

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Looking for a new password manager: Part 3: Dashlane

May 3, 2022

In Part 1 of this series of posts, I told you what I was looking for in a password manager, and documented some of the failings of the first one I tested—1Password. I haven’t ruled out 1Password yet as it does have a Windows app, and that’s what I’m used to. I’m a bit wary of web-based apps only. In Part 2 I tested LastPass, and despite it being web-based only, I haven’t ruled it out entirely yet either as it has some compelling customisation features.

My next test was Dashlane (limit of 50 passwords for the free version). As for the others, I didn’t download the Android app for it (I’m only doing initial testing so far), but I did install the browser extension as it was required. My first tests were to see how easy the interface was to use (very), whether I could import my Passwords Plus (PP) data (no), what sort of template/categories it used (limited and not customisable), whether I could customise fields/field labels to suit my data (not at all) etc.

Here are the results of my testing (no particular priority order):

  • No separate Windows app. As for LastPass, this might be a showstopper* for me. The browser app (I use Chrome) was easy to use and navigate.
  • I tried to import my exported Password plus (PP) CSV file that contains ~500 records, but wouldn’t import as it said it was incompatible and ‘contained formatting errors’. It also wouldn’t import the converted 1Password 1PIF file I had successfully imported into LastPass but couldn’t import into 1Password. All records would have to be entered manually, not a task I relish. There didn’t seem to be any paths for importing data from other password managers, but I only investigated these two.
  • As part of my testing, I exported the few records I added for testing purposes. There are two export options—one to a DASH file for reimport into Dashlane, and one for CSV. I chose CSV export, and a ZIP file was created that contained about 5 or so CSV files, one for each type of record. NONE of the CSV files contained any of the notes I’d added. Notes are critical for me.
  • Record types: As for most password managers, Dashlane has several broad types of records you can create, some with subtypes. I could see no options to create new types or subtypes, new categories (for those where categories was an option), or to add new fields to an existing record. This is a major requirement of mine, and the lack of this functionality eliminates Dashlane from contention. For anyone still considering Dashlane, I’ve added the notes I took when checking out the record types and ease of data entry:
    • Passwords: Has categories (Business, Email, Entertainment, Finance, Games, News, Other, Shopping, Social Media, Sports, Tech, Travel, Utilities), but no option to add new categories. Has a Notes field, but no option to add other fields, such as the date you set up the password. The Notes field is minuscule in the display, only about 25 characters width (see screenshot below), so if you have extensive notes (as I do), it resizes the length to adapt, but you can’t resize the width for easier reading and navigation.
    • IDs:
      • ID card: Year fields for the issue and expiry dates are in ascending chronological order starting from 1922 and going to 2122, so you’ve got a LONG way to scroll to get to anything recent. You can’t type in the field either, only scroll. And there’s no calendar date picker either. When I did enter a year (I didn’t have day and month information), it added the CURRENT day and month automatically, and I can’t change that to just a year with no day or month. Also, the day and month were in Month/Day order, which is not the date format I’m familiar with. There is no option or setting that I could find to change that.
      • Social Security Number is not called that in Australia, yet Australia was the default country when I tried to add one of these. We call it something else, but you can’t change the label from Social Security Number to Centrelink Number, for example. Again, no Notes field or other fields for adding further details about this info such as when you applied, when it was approved, URL/email/phone number for contacting them etc.
      • Tax number, drivers license, and passport: No Notes field, and for passport, no field for country of citizenship or place of birth or gender identity, which is part of a standard passport.
    • Payments:
      • Debit and credit cards: There is a Notes field available when adding debit/credit card details, and a seemingly useless option to pick a colour of the credit card from a drop-down list. I have no idea why that would be needed, nor what you would do if your credit card’s colour isn’t one of the 9 colours listed?
      • Bank account: There is NO Notes field for bank account details, which means you can’t store all info about your bank details in one place (e.g. I might want to keep a record of previous passwords used, or the phone number of the bank if calling from overseas). This means you have to have ANOTHER record for the bank under Secure Notes—you can’t keep all that information together. Interestingly, the empty bank form defaulted to ‘Australia’ as my country, but the field labels (which CANNOT be changed) do not reflect those used by the Australian banking system, so there was a BIC/SWIFT code field and an IBAN field, but no field for BSB or Account Number. Even if these are equivalents, the average Australian would have no clue about BIC/SWIFT and IBAN numbers. Again, there is no option to add notes or add fields.
    • Personal information:
      • Email: You can only add very basic information—the email address, the type of email (Personal or Business only), and you can name the email (by default, Email 1). You have to add separate entries for each email address and cannot add notes such as when you set up the email or where you use it (e.g. you may have some email addresses that you use as ‘throwaways’ on websites you’re not sure of).
      • Same for phone number information etc. Separate records for each phone number.
      • One nice thing for the address subtype is that if you change the country, the relevant states for that country get populated in the State field (by default it opens with US/Alabama, but change it to Australia and you get the Australian states and territories listed. Address also has a ‘Phone’ field with a drop-down where the ONLY option is ‘Other’—there’s no facility to add a phone number of any type to an address.
      • The display of all these is with large icons for each record and I couldn’t see any way to list them with smaller (or no) icons to fit far more on the visible page.
    • Secure Notes has some categories: Databases, Finance, Legal documents, Membership, Other, Application passwords, Personal, Server, Software licenses, WiFi passwords, Work related, but I couldn’t find any way to add a new category. Categories appear to be just like a tag—they don’t do anything, such as offer a template of relevant fields for entering the type of data. But they do display as a (sortable?) column on the page that shows a list of all Secure Notes. A Secure Note seems to just be a notepad for everything else. There are NO fields and no opportunity for adding fields (e.g. date field, password field, email field etc.). You can change categories for any entered record at any time, and colour code the secure note according to how you work. Colour codes are NOT associated with type of category, so you could have one colour for Person A’s info and another for Person B’s info in the same category of ‘Personal’. Again, the display has largish icons for each note, so for my potentially 500 records, there’s a LOT of scrolling to go through the list (yes, there’s a search facility but I didn’t check if words within the notes were searchable—I have assumed they are).

After I finished testing, I deleted my Dashlane account as it is not at all suitable for my purposes. In addition to adding ~500 records manually, I’d have to add many twice, with a separate Secure Note record required to capture all the information that isn’t able to be stored with the main details—that just doesn’t seem efficient to me and would mean I’d have to look in two places to get all the details. But not being able to create templates, customise categories, add fields etc. is also a deal breaker for me.

My final test will be of mSecure, the one PP recommends as a good substitute.

Note: One of the early commenters on this series of posts recommended Roboform Everywhere. I looked at their website and some reviews and comparison articles, as well as YouTube videos on how to use it, but I could see it wouldn’t suit me so I haven’t tested it.

* Note: ‘Showstopper’ is a common term in the software industry and refers to a bug that prevents the system from working, or a piece of functionality that doesn’t work as it should and prevents the user from going further, either because the function is broken or because it is deemed essential *for that user*.

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Lost Facebook feed

May 3, 2022

A few days ago I lost my Facebook (FB) feed on my Chrome browser on my PC. I could see all the framework of the Facebook page, could see that notifications had come in, but when I opened those pages, they were blank too. This is what I saw for hours on end:

Neither rebooting the browser or my PC worked. I figured I’d wait for 24 hours to see if FB sorted itself out, as has happened before when FB goes awry. I knew that members of the various groups I’m in had complained the day or so before that their feeds had reverted to show quite old posts first, so I figured this may be related.

But then I opened FB on Chrome in my tablet (I do NOT use the FB app at all as I hate it), and it worked fine. Hmmm… something was different in Windows/Chrome compared to Android/Chrome. I have FB Purity and AdBlock Plus on my PC but there aren’t versions for Chrome on Android. I tried the easiest one first—I turned off AdBlock Plus for the FB page in Chrome on my PC and suddenly my feed came back!

I figured I’d wait a couple of days before trying AdBlock Plus on FB again to see if it still killed the feed, or if they’d fixed the incompatibility—it’s now fixed for the moment.

According to this blog post from AdBlock Plus, this back-and-forth between them and FB has been going on a while: https://blog.adblockplus.org/blog/ping-pong-with-facebook

 

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Looking for a new password manager: Part 2: LastPass

April 29, 2022

In Part 1 of this series of posts, I told you what I was looking for in a password manager, and documented some of the failings of the first one I tested—1Password. I haven’t ruled out 1Password yet as it does have a Windows app, and that’s what I’m used to. I’m a bit wary of web-based apps only. That said, my next test, and the topic of this post was LastPass, which is a web-based app.

As for 1Password, I only downloaded/installed the free trial of LastPass and tested some of the functionality that I wanted. I didn’t download the Android app for it, but I did install the browser extension (it was required, so I couldn’t avoid that). My first tests were to see how easy the interface was to use, whether I could import my Passwords Plus (PP) data, what sort of template/categories it used, whether I could customise fields/field labels to suit my data etc. (As an aside, when I went to create an account, LastPass told me there was already one for my email address… it took several tries, but I finally jagged my ‘master’ password and was able to open the trial I had set up in 2011 with 70+ records and never touched since!! Because I already had this account, I wasn’t asked to enter payment credentials, though I’m not sure that’s the case for totally new users.)

Here are the results of my testing (no particular priority order):

  • No separate Windows app. This might be a showstopper* for me, but we’ll see. The browser app (I use Chrome) was easy to use and navigate.
  • The date field is MMM dd, YYYY, but you choose the months from a drop-down lists, so it’s easy enough for a dd/mmm/yyyy user to use.
  • I could add a custom category, with the fields I wanted, and in setting up those fields, I could arrange them in the order I wanted on the form. NOTE: Once saved, you cannot edit this form, only delete it, so make sure you add everything you need when you set it up, PLUS a Notes field for all other info. I successfully set up one for Product Information. Records added using custom forms are listed under ‘Custom items’ in the left navigation pane. This was a big plus for me.
  • Some records have the ability to add extra fields, but I couldn’t figure out which ones they were—all were listed under Notes, but not all Notes records had editable fields. I *think* only those records I’d imported that had URLs, usernames, passwords etc. might have this ability, but I need to test further. For those that I could add fields to, when you add them, you can’t rearrange them in the order you want, so you have to get them right first.
  • Speaking of importing:
    • PP was NOT an import option type for LastPass, and the CSV file I’d exported from PP had NO records that LastPass recognised when I tried to import it.
    • However, in my testing for 1Password, I’d converted a PP CSV file to 1Password’s *.1PIF file and that imported fine into LastPass. That’s a massive timesaver!
    • NOTE: Almost all the imported records went in as Notes records (called Secure Notes in 1Password), with limited splitting out into fields. Each record was tagged with the category it had in PP, but I can’t see any way to add tags to LastPass, except manually in the Notes field. Such ‘tags’ are searchable as part of the full-text search capability in LastPass, but as they are entered manually, there’s no master list of tags to choose from as you start to enter one (1Password has tagging capability).
    • Some records just didn’t import at all. They likely got lost in the conversion from PP to 1Password, and so don’t appear in LastPass either. This means I have to manually double check every one of my ~500 records to make sure everything has been captured. (Update: The PP export had all my passwords, but only ~380 were imported into LastPass. I don’t know whether they got lost in the conversion to the 1Password format, or because they got lost when importing from that format into LastPass. There’s no direct PP to LastPass import option.)
  • You cannot take an existing record (e.g. an imported Notes record) and apply a different category to it—as with 1Password, you have to copy/paste the record details from one record into the correct template. And being a browser-based application, this is difficult as when you click away from a popup window it closes!! Much copy/pasting is involved (likely with Notepad as an interim point), so it might be easier to start from scratch and do each PP record one at a time direct from the application, especially as some 100 records didn’t import at all and all have to be checked anyway. NOTE: I think this is going to be the same with ALL password managers I test—it certainly is the case with 1Password and LastPass. I might not be able to get away from the manual entry of everything into another password manager, so I’d better select the best one for my needs and way of working.
  • Exporting data:
    • You can export to a CSV file, but you ONLY get minimal information exported—URLs, usernames, passwords, but NO notes or other information. Notes are where I store a LOT of information so this is a showstopper for me—I’d want an easy way to export ALL my data to change to another password manager, if I decided I didn’t like LastPass.
    • You can also export to an encrypted LastPass file, and they say this keep all your notes, but I didn’t test it. I couldn’t find anything much on the internet (I didn’t look for long) about converting an encrypted LastPass file to another password manager’s format. This is a potential showstopper for me as I don’t want to be locked forever into one system, or have to manually enter my ~500 records—again—into another system at a later date.
  • Different vaults: You can set up separate vaults, but can only search within the active vault (user). I think I’d prefer to use folders and the full-text search across them all. Folders seem handy for organising your passwords and are fully customisable. 1Password’s equivalent seems to be Collections.
  • Supposedly you can use the browser and mobile versions of LastPass if you are offline and don’t have a connection (e.g. on an international flight, in an area such as a hospital where you may not have access but still need to give personal details to someone). I didn’t test this.
  • With the LastPass extension turned on in my browser, some websites seemed to take longer to load. This may or may not have been related to the extension and more testing would be needed to see if that was a causal correlation or not. It was a minor annoyance.

Overall, LastPass is showing promise as a replacement, but if it can’t export ALL data to a format that can be converted and imported into another system that’s a concern for me. And the lack of a Windows app is still a concern too.

My next test will be of Dashlane and then mSecure, the one PP recommends as a good substitute.

* Note: ‘Showstopper’ is a common term in the software industry and refers to a bug that prevents the system from working, or a piece of functionality that doesn’t work as it should and prevents the user from going further, either because the function is broken or because it is deemed essential *for that user*.

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Looking for a new password manager: Part 1: The search and initial testing

April 27, 2022

After some 15 years, the password manager I’ve been using every day (Passwords Plus [PP] from DataViz) is finally closing up shop (https://dataviz.com/passwords-plus-discontinued). They sent out an email last last week to say that support (which I’ve never used) will cease at the end of June, and the cloud storage will cease/be deleted at the end of December 2022. They decided NOT to go for a subscription model. It’s such a shame as this is software I use every day, it auto syncs with my Android tablet and phone, and I’d be happy to pay a subscription for it. DataViz has recommended another password manager (mSecure) and offered a special discount for it for the first year, but before I jump into signing up for that, I needed to do some research.

This will be a long series of posts as I’ll document what I did, what I’m looking for, etc. and what the showstoppers are for me (i.e. the things that I can’t accept and that will eliminate that software for me; Note: ‘Showstopper’ is a common term in the software industry and refers to a bug that prevents the system from working, or a piece of functionality that doesn’t work as it should and prevents the user from going further, either because the function is broken or because it is deemed essential *for that user*).

My first step was to find out a little more about the offer to switch to mSecure recommend by DataViz. DataViz says that mSecure can import all my PP data, which I’ve found out is a BIG deal for me—I have some 500 records in PP, though many aren’t passwords. Some of the non-password info I store in PP includes product information (manufacture, model and serial #, date and place purchased, warranty info, other notes about the purchase or sign-up details for registering the product, manufacturer’s URL, support email/phone etc.), software info (similar to the above, but with fields related to software such as version number, registration key etc.), identity info (e.g. passports, drivers licences, Medicare cards for me, my spouse, my parents), banking info for various accounts, computer and network info (IP addresses, MAC addresses, etc.), extensive notes for various things like Microsoft Partner Network (which changes URLs and passwords all the time), and so on. I use PP for much more than just managing logins on the web, so whatever password manager I choose HAS to have the facility to store (and preferably import) my existing data.

One of the things PP does really well is provide a big range of templates for filling in basic info related to that template, AND the ability to create your own templates. And once you’re in a record, you can add, delete or modify fields and field names too, and set field types (e.g. password, date field etc.). I didn’t realise how much this was important to me until I started looking at other password managers—many do not have this ability and I’ve realised that’s become a showstopper for me.

PP can also export your data into an unencrypted CSV file. This will become important later, but for now, know that I’m not at all keen to copy/paste all 500 or so records from one password manager to another (each record can have up to about 10 fields and extensive notes, so that could well be some 5000+ bits of information to copy/paste). So a password manager that can import my PP data, with minimal cleanup (yes, I expect some cleanup, but it must take less time than copy/pasting!), will gain extra points.

I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a new password manager and my techy friends came good with some suggestions of programs they use, which narrowed down my options. The main ones they mentioned were (in no particular order): Dashlane, 1Password, LastPass, and BitWarden. I’ve spent the last two days reading review articles on each, watching YouTube videos, checking product pages, lists of features, forums, comparisons etc. All seem to do the basics of managing website logins and personal data, but the lack of detail about creating custom categories/templates, custom fields, importing data from other systems (particularly PP) was telling. And none seemed to offer templates/categories for things like product information. The sample CSV import templates were minimal at best, just including URLs, usernames, email addresses and passwords. I have MUCH more data than that I’d want to import. Interestingly, the password managers recommended by my friends all appeared in the top 5 or 10 lists of password managers.

A note on prices: Price was NOT one of my main criteria. Most password managers cost less than US$60 per year, with many costing less than US$40 per year. I also didn’t need a ‘family’ plan, so my cost would be for a single user with multiple devices. It’s a product I use every day, so a price point below $100 is fine by me.

mSecure

I’m going to test mSecure last. Why? Because it barely cracks a mention on the internet, and is not listed in the top 5, top 10 or even top 20 lists of password managers compiled by various reputable computer and other geeky websites. I’ll also leave it until last as it’s the one that offers the closest match to PP and I want to test others that are in the ‘top’ lists first to see if one of those will suit me. And the most recent videos about mSecure on YouTube are 8-10 years old—this doesn’t augur well…

1Password

I started with this one as it had a couple of features that looked promising, specifically its travel vaults for use when travelling overseas and it has a Windows app that’s separate from (but synchs with) the website interface and your devices (a Windows app is my preference). To date, I’ve only tested the Windows app and the website interface via the 1Password website (https://my.1password.com). I have not installed the Chrome extension, nor have I tested it on my Android devices as yet. My first tests were to see how easy the interface was to use, whether I could import my PP data, what sort of template/categories it used, whether I could customise fields/field labels to suit my data etc. While it seems easy to use and the synching works seamlessly, I encountered some issues with it that may be showstoppers for me. Specifically:

  • The free 14-day trial isn’t exactly ‘free’. You have to enter your details, including a credit card, before you can download the software/start your trail. They say you won’t be billed in the 14 days and that you can cancel (not yet tested).
  • The Windows app uses the mm/dd/yyyy format for any date field and there’s no option to change it. It displays as MMM dd, YYYY in the 1Password website, so this isn’t a complete showstopper for me, but it is an annoyance as I have to remember to convert my dd/mm/yyyy dates to mm/dd/yyyy.
  • I can’t add custom categories at all, nor change a category for a record once it’s been filled in. The templates/categories they have is all you get. You can work around this by setting up a Secure Notes record with as many fields as you like and you can change the names of the fields from say ‘text’ to ‘Model #’ to suit how you want to display your data. But it’s cumbersome and incredibly time consuming. I did find a forum hint that suggested you set up a Secure Note record as a template (e.g. Product Information Template) with the fields and field labels required and with dummy data (such as xxxx for each field), then save that. When you need to add a new product, duplicate that record and populate it with the new information. That’s a reasonable workaround, but could be avoided if you could set up your own categories/templates with your own fields, as has been able to be done in in PP for the past 15 years. Below is the list of available categories in 1Password—for many people, things like API, crypto wallet, outdoor license, server are just not relevant, but you can’t add more or delete those you’ll never use. And the wording? You can’t change that either—so things like Social Security Number just don’t match for other countries, though you can add/modify/delete the fields. I foolishly added a record for a piece of hardware (a network hub’s details) under ‘Wireless Router’ as it seemed the closest, but it’s now stored forever under the Wireless Router category and I can’t change that without deleting the entire record and creating it anew under secure Notes, which seems to be the only really customisable area, but which has an unintuitive name. Not a showstopper for me, but a major inconvenience.

  • Once you add fields to a record, you can’t rearrange the order of them to display more like you’d want. For example, if you add a new text field for Serial #, then another for Model #, you can’t later go back and move Model # to display before Serial # in the record—you have to delete both entries and start again. Actually, if you’ve added say 6 fields and you want to change the order of the top 2, you have to start again from scratch because any additions you make get added to the bottom of the list. This certainly isn’t very usable. not a showstopper, but a major inconvenience.
  • Changing master password: I was able to change my master password in the app. But when I went to see if that had synched with the website interface, the system was down for maintenance. I tested later once it was up and had to enter my old password in the website interface even though the new password was in the app. At some point, the website interface changed to match the app, then I couldn’t get into the app with the new password and had to use the old one. I’m still not sure if they are synched. NOTE: I eventually had to change my master password via the website interface under my profile, not my login settings. The app logged me out straight away and got me to use my new master password. So it worked but it certainly wasn’t intuitive.
  • Exporting data: One thing I found out is that you can ONLY export basic website login details to a CSV file. NONE of your notes or other fields will get exported. I believe the export to their own proprietary format does keep everything, but that’s not of much use if you need to change to another password manager, though it may be useful if you want to keep a local backup of you data. This is a showstopper for me.
  • Importing is limited to a very basic CSV containing logins and that’s about it. I did find a forum where someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make a converter for PP data (and data from other password managers) for importing into 1Password (https://1password.community/discussion/30286/mrcs-convert-to-1password-utility-mrc-converter-suite). The instructions in the Readme file are pretty geeky as you have to download some particular Perl software, install it, then do some command line stuff as an admin to do the conversion. But after about 20 mins I had a 1Password-formatted file of some 500 records to import. And then I found there was NO import function in the Windows app, and the only import type on the website interface was for a basic CSV file. A bit more searching and I found that the current Windows app (v8) DOES NOT allow the import of *.1pif files! Only v7 of the app allows that (see https://1password.community/discussion/125389/how-do-i-import-a-1pif-backup-into-1password-8). This is a showstopper for me.

I’ve now given up on testing 1Password any further and will test LastPass and Dashlane next, followed by mSecure. The results of that testing will be in other parts of this series of posts. I won’t cancel 1Password just yet—I’ll see how the others suit my needs first.

Update 4 May 2022: I’ve now deleted my 1Password account. Why? Well, it came second after LastPass for me (still to test mSecure) AND because it has a key combination that opens the app on Windows every time I use that set of keys. And what key combination is that? Ctrl+Shift+space, which is a STANDARD key combination to add a non-breaking space in Word for Windows that I use EVERY day and often many times in a day in my editing work. To have the app open instead of adding a non-breaking space was just horrible.

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18 million hits

April 24, 2022

Another million views milestone was passed yesterday morningBlog Stats: 18,001,613 as at 23 April 2022

 

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External HDD disables mouse when plugged into USB hub

April 13, 2022

I upgraded a powered external desktop hard disk drive (HDD) from a 1 TB, USB 2.0 connection to a 2 TB one with a USB 3.0 connection (these weren’t new external desktop HDDs—I was just changing how I used my various HDDs).

But each time I plugged in the 2 TB drive, I’d lose my mouse (and likely the other devices plugged into a 7-port USB 3.0 [unpowered] hub). It would just disappear from the screen. I could press Ctrl to identify where it was supposed to be, but the icon was gone and moving the mouse and clicking buttons didn’t get it back. Removing the USB cable and reseating it didn’t work, nor did a restart, only a full shutdown and reboot. I had to do this a couple of times over a couple of days, so I decided to find out what could be the possible cause, because I didn’t want to have to do this every time I wanted to use that 2 TB HDD.

Basically, it relates to power. From what I read online, an unpowered USB hub (i.e. gets its power from the computer, not a wall outlet) has limited power capacity for the devices attached to it, so small devices that draw very little power, such as a wireless mouse, keyboard, USB webcam, and the like are no problem. But if you plug in an external HDD, the power draw is too much and something has to give. One solution I found was to purchase a powered USB hub (i.e. plugs into a wall outlet and draws its power from there, not the computer), and I started to investigate getting one of those.

And then I remembered what my sequence was when plugging in the old 1 TB HDD with the USB 2.0 connection—I always plugged the USB cable into the hub first, then plugged the HDD’s power cord into the wall. That’s what I did from habit with the 2 TB, USB 3.0 HDD too. Once I figured it was related to power, I wondered what would happen if I plugged the 2 TB HDD into the wall socket FIRST and then into the USB hub. That way the HDD was already on power and didn’t need to draw any power from the hub. And it worked! I think the old 1 TB drive with its USB 2.0 connection just didn’t draw as much power and so the hub was OK with it. But the bigger drive (also a different brand) with its USB 3.0 connection likely drew too much from the hub. And that would explain why a reboot allowed both to co-exist too—the HDD was already plugged into the wall socket when I rebooted, so plugging in the USB cable after bootup worked fine and didn’t disable the mouse.

I seemed to have solved it without having to purchase anymore crud to go onto my desk—that’s always a win!

I just have to remember to plug the power in first and then the USB cable each time.