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At times, simple is best

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I’ve met a new first, a system that orders me to use a virgin password, unused for any other purpose

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From an airline magazine you expect bland copy at best and hype at worst, with enviable quantities of advertising, right? Air travel should come with a health warning to publishers of non-bland periodicals, ones with teeth.

Airline magazines drive such people to insane envy on beholding journalism make real livings, with gravy too, on only two ingredients. You just need a) a captive audience and b) no axe to grind or boat to rock.

But a few times I’ve had the feeling that Kulula’s in-flight journal, Kuluma, might be testing the edges, particularly its frontispiece, the chief executive’s column. I don’t mean calls to arms or heavy drama, but the last chap, Erik Venter, seemed on several occasions to leave me closing the journal thinking “geez, I never thought of that”.

On Tuesday I picked up July’s Kuluma and thought, as always, that Nguni linguists must grind their teeth. “Kuluma” should really be “Khuluma”, “talk”. Spelling it the other way is smart branding, partnering Kulula, but tantamount to spelling Talk as Tawk or Speak as Speek. It changes the pronunciation too, * -less “Kuluma” should properly come out as Guluma.

Opening it revealed a new chief executive, Wrenelle Stander, following Venter’s tradition and in a short essay on effectiveness giving me three new images.

One is FedEx battling to arrange a midnight switcheroo. It has numerous planes converge on a central airport to distribute thousands of parcels to the correct flight. This was chaos writ large, until someone said: let’s pay people by shift rather than by the hour. When their shift is done, home they go. What a case of the harder the problem, the easier the solution.

Thence to Wrenelle’s second image, or her writer’s – a campaign in colonial India to reduce the menace of venomous snakes. No worries, thought the Raj’s administrators, we’ll pay people to bring in dead cobras.

Which created an undercover cobra-breeding industry and many worries.

Best, Wrenelle’s coup de grace is here and now: she notes that long complicated internet passwords wreck their own objectives. People write their password out to remind themselves, and other people get to read it.

That’s me she’s talking about. I had one simple, cosy little password. I couldn’t get at all paranoid about it – no one on this planet wanted to abuse my access to Briggs & Stratton’s lawnmower advice, or dozens of applications for which my simple mind could see no need for a password in the first place.

I used my short cosy word – a childhood pet’s name – for everything. Never did a barrier spring up declaring Password Invalid. The world was admirably straightforward, until the password mense demanded minimum eight letters, then eight letters plus a numeral, then the eight letters had to include capitals.

Then punctuation marks too. Now if you try to shape your eight-letter dual-font punctuated numeric monstrosity in such a way that you have some hope of remembering it (or even, ambitiously, pronouncing it) an inanimate system will shriek at you: Weak Password!

I’ve met a new first, a system that orders me to use a virgin password, unused for any other purpose. Does this begin to get scary? A tad authoritarian? Would it know if you disobeyed it? How might it punish you?

Thanks, Wrenelle, for getting onto that case. How about you and your enterprising ghostwriter brightening our world and our in-flight reading even more, proceeding to an answer?