My voice is my passport.

Right before all these recent password issues were hitting the Net Newsstands, I had a bit of an issue myself.

I remember when I first signed up for hotmail, it was really only because I wanted an address that didn’t contain my high school’s or college’s name in it. You know, for nerd cred. Then I got a website, so I could have an address and get super awesome nerd cred, but that actually only ended up being annoying to fill out on paperwork and say out loud to people, “No, not ‘manner,’ like ‘Bees have nice manners.’ ‘Manor,’ like ‘all the sexy bees live in a manor.'” Which subsequently got me a lot of weird looks. Finally, I settled on a gmail address, and I haven’t looked back since. But I continued to maintain my hotmail account, not for “spam,” necessarily, because I did want to go there for reasons other than mass deletion, but weekly offers from the Japanese BBQ don’t need to go to my main address that’s connected to my phone, no matter how often I used them.

But I remember reading a clause in the EULA (holy crap, I used to READ those?) saying that if my hotmail address weren’t used in 30 days, it would be “recycled” back into the system, all my messages gone, all my contacts (not really that many) emailing some stranger who has a penchant for the esoteric Penny Arcade joke that made up my handle. This was ridiculous, but I checked it, sometimes just once every 30 days, sometimes dashing to the computer with more urgency than a late bill (editor’s note: I don’t actually have late bills.) to enter my crappy email account back into my ownership.

I remember being in Japan from 2007-2008, viewing it as a chore, not really ever having a reason to keep it open except for history’s sake, but I kept going. Sometime this year, I lost my way, and I went without checking it. Maybe in the back of my mind, I was pushing the limits, just to see if it would truly be erased, just to see if I really needed those contacts. One day a few months ago, on a whim, I finally logged in. My cookies settings had long since forgotten the password, but I knew it. I was sure I knew it. Only, I typed it in, and I didn’t know it. Three tries, and I was locked out, with a 24-hour waiting period. The next day, I tried again, and nothing. Something told me that it hadn’t rolled over, though, that in this day and age, hotmail realized that 30 days was a ridiculous limit, and that the account was still sort of in my control. (A recent article sent to me by my friend Danie just informed me that it is now a year before they recycle, but I COULD STILL GO INTO A COMA. Jerks.)

This blog isn’t really about what it should be about, which is the shock that hotmail is even remotely still relevant despite having the worst user interface of any website out there, as if it were designed by someone’s grandfather who had never actually been on the internet. Then, sometimes, if you click the wrong place, and end up in “account,” which is totally different from “account settings,” it asks you to “add friends” or “put up a status,” which would almost be cute if it weren’t so pathetic. My point is that I consider myself — let’s be humble and say “an average computer user,” and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to a) password recover, b) submit a help desk ticket to ask how to password recover, or c) answer my secret question.

This last one is amusing because, due to the user interface on whatever help page I eventually landed on (I never seemed to land on the same one twice for the same issue), I kept being prompted for “What is the answer to your secret question?” AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE #%(&$ SECRET QUESTION WAS. It was like I was being Punk’d. Who designs a site that asks you to answer a question without ACTUALLY ASKING IT? Was I supposed to remember BOTH? Was THAT the problem?

I finally figured out how to send help desk tickets in, where I supplied them with information such as: those stored in my contacts list, subjects of emails that I KNEW were in my inbox, and other personal information, and they all replied the same: “Nope, you’re clearly a hacker, and this is not your account. Later.”

I was really frustrated. This went on for approximately two weeks with the same results. I would poke around different parts of the help desk, and I’d eventually get to a page I’d never seen before, only to have it spit me back at asking me to answer my secret question. I also did have a password recovery email…only it was to an address I didn’t recognize. a**** didn’t give me much help, and I concluded that I was REQUIRED to set one up, and I had simply MADE a new hotmail just for password recover and promptly never logged in again.

I was starting to really get worried as I remembered this email account held my logins for…let’s just say some sites that I still use every day (*cough* the one where I work.)

Finally, one day, by divine providence, I located the secret question. Rays from heaven shone down on my laptop. The question was: “Where does Scruff live?” I wanted to jump off the balcony. Who the hell is Scruff? Why would *I* know where he lived? I’ve never known anyone named Scruff!

But the more I thought about it…that did seem like a cute name that I would like. I thought back to the time I created the account, when I was in college and dating Sean. His mom always had foster dogs. Maybe we named one of them Scruff? So, does he live in Nashville? No. Nothing.

Finally, I logged into my AIM account, which was also unused for some time, to ask Sean if he could shed any light on the subject.

Me: Does the name “scruff” mean anything to you?
Sean: hmmmm
Me: So, I’m locked out of my hotmail account and my secret question, that I made in 2000, was “Where does Scruff live?”
Me: I have no idea what that means
Sean: hahahaha
Sean: Isn’t that the crime dog?
Sean: Where DOES he live?
Me: It’s not nashville
Me: It’s not McGill or Vandy
Sean: it probably some stupid character that someone made up
Me: Sigh. Mental note not to make my secret questions dumb jokes
Sean: like scruff is a cheeto that lives in a mushroom or something
Sean: try mushroom
Me: That doesn’t make sense! I hate mushrooms
Me: I would never make up a character that lives in something I hate
Sean: I can’t think of anything
Me: Ah well
Me: Thanks anyway

(Several hours later.)
Sean: scruff mcgruff is the crime dog
Me (AUTO-REPLY): I’m not here right now
Sean: wasn’t there a WRVU PSA [the radio station where I worked] with scruff mcgruff?
Sean: could that be related?
Me: Whoa…hmm
Me: Well, where does he live?
Sean: no idea
Sean: crimeville?
Me: Whoa
Me: I do remember that jingle
Me: I’m scared to try it! What if it locks me out again!
Sean: hah
Me: HOLY %()#&
Sean: :-)

Ladies and gentlemen, I used to work at a radio station, and twice every hour (at the :20 and :40, I believe), we were required to play some pre-recorded PSAs. You got to choose which ones it was, and I ALWAYS chose this Crime Dog one because I thought it was funny and would get caught in my head for HOURS. You can hear it here:

So, there you have it! Scruff McGruff lives in Chicago, Illinois, 60652. I got into my account, promptly changed all my settings, got a more straight-forward secret question, changed my logins to an account that I actually USE, and everything turned out juuuuust fine.

Let this be a lesson to check on your old accounts, since it’s now not uncommon for people my age to have email accounts they’ve held for 15 years. Update your passwords and password recovery emails. And most importantly, never make your secret question some dumb inside joke you had with yourself 11 years ago.


It’s weird. When I started this website on January 3rd, 2002, it was mainly because I spent way too much time on …