16 March 2010

Why I'm switching to Gmail for all my work needs...

It’s no understatement to say that the military’s public information technology systems are atrocious, sacrificing utility in the name of security. Take, for example, the “Virtual Family Readiness Group” (vFRG)—an Army-sponsored network designed to connect families of deployed service members with their Soldiers. The sign-up process for vFRGs requires so many forms of authentication—to include the last four digits of a service member’s social security number and a follow-up phone call—that many families don’t even bother to sign up. Those who actually do sign up for these sites are limited to a small number of close family members, normally in close contact with a Soldier to begin with. As a result, many units have forgone the official vFRGs and create sites on Facebook, which offers easy access to pictures, video, and upcoming events. Facebook also reaches a larger audience, including extended family members, friends, local media, and community leaders.

The same is true for the Army’s e-mail service, Army Knowledge Online. In order for a service member to access their paltry 100MB inbox, he or she must either stick their military ID card into the computer and enter a personal identification number, or they must enter a password followed by multiple personal security questions. Smartphone access is still in its infancy.

I’m no luddite, but I’m more inclined to use Gmail than AKO—the login process is simple, I have gigabytes of storage space, and I can send and receive real-time e-mail on my Blackberry. Not to mention I don't have to put up with personal security questions like these. Just witness some of the honest-to-God preprogrammed personal security questions from Army Knowledge Online, along with the twenty "canned" choices.

1.) What is your favorite movie? Choices include:

  • An Officer and a Gentleman
  • McClintock (WTF?)
  • Terms of Endearment
  • The Matrix
  • Batman (Wait, which Batman? Oh right, that Batman.)
  • Gone With the Wind
  • Pretty Woman
  • The Birds
  • The Notebook (This reminds me of one of my favorite obnoxious t-shirts, which says "Attention ladies, I enjoyed The Notebook")
  • Pride and Prejudice (sans Zombies)
  • The Bridges of Madison County (Any more chick flicks on this list and I'm seriously going to have to take a Midol PMS...)
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Bucket List (WTF?)
  • Terminator

Can anyone name a notable movie franchise that is missing from this list? Certainly, I can't think of any other movie franchises which have spawned millions of loyal fans, and occupy a prominent role in our cultural memory than the ones listed in the security questionnaire.

Next question: Who is your favorite entertainer? I'll run down the highlights from the top 20 choices here...

...and so on. Notably absent is her royal hotness, Megan Fox. You know, because there are no sex-starved troops in Iraq and Afghanistan watching Transformers just to see the veritable Megan Fox jiggle-fest.

But this last question really perplexes me. What is your favorite food?
  • Chicken (Leeroy Jenkins, anyone?)
  • Grapes and berries
  • Ice cream
  • Meat (Wait, just "meat"? Seriously? What if I like chicken? Do I pick "meat" or "chicken"?)
  • Desserts (Because ice cream is not a dessert?)
  • Jelly or Jam
  • Peanut Butter (But peanut butter and jelly always go together. No one eats jam all by its lonesome. And what if I like grape jelly on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Do I pick "grapes", "jelly" or "peanut butter" as my favorite food?)
  • Sushi
  • Chinese
  • Fish (Not related to sushi. By the way, why isn't fish "meat"?)

What if my favorite food changes, based on what I'm in the mood for?

The sad thing is, this doesn't even hit half of the bizarre questions. While the Army claims that these questions will not slow down the log-in process, I remain skeptical. Anyone tried to check their pay stub recently? How's that "virtual keyboard" working out for you?


Anonymous said...

These questions are totally random. There are 5 films that have been made within this past decade. Who wants to watch Gone with the Wind? I saw that and it was boring as hell. Terms of Endearment? Do they know about DADT? Westerns? The recent western I watched was over ten years ago and that was Unforgiven. Someone really needs to stay up to date with the culture-or someone who was born within the last 30 years.

Ron Orr said...

Before gmail we had to use Yahoo to bypass brain dead military and corporate email systems in Europe and the Balkans. I still have the "jenki_putnik" yahoo address (= "yankee traveler" in Serbo-Croat)

Anonymous said...


Dont TELL them you are using GMail for .mil work!

Its a violation of the InfoSec and a bunch of other AR's, ALARACTs and what not.

(I know because I made that mistake last year!)


Anonymous said...

"So Long, And No Thanks for the Externalities: The Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users"


A decent read if you have time.