Handling two factor when on an international vacation

I got Australian government tells citizens to turn off two-factor authentication forwarded to me because of my two factor posts on this blog. The theory is that they will not have access to texts while abroad. I was surprised to see such a thing, but lo and behold, their twitter account does in fact say that including:

Going out of mobile range? Turn off myGov Security Codes so you can still sign in! Go to ‘settings’ in your account


If you turn off security codes, you’ll still need to securely sign in with secret questions & answers.

My gut reaction

This sounds like a horrible idea. While traveling, make your access LESS secure? I find it hard to believe their “secret” questions are actually secure. Most places use things that lots of people know. Or that you have no way of remembering yourself.

How Australia could fix this without compromising security

Australia could update their website. They could add support for any or all of the following:

  1. Email a secondary auth code for verification. It you have access to the website, you presumably have access to email.
  2. Google Authenticator support. This app doesn’t even require internet access.
  3. Predefined codes. Gmail has a number of codes you can type in that are generated in advance to be used if other methods fail.
  4. Support a temporary alternate number. This one is less convenient, but the site could provide a way to enter a secondary phone number to use during a pre-defined window. That way SMS could still be used.

All of these are still two factor solutions.

What users could do if a website doesn’t have an option other than SMS

This part isn’t specific to Australia. It applies to any site that uses only SMS for two factor.

  1. First, decide whether you will actually need the site while traveling. If not, problem solved.
  2. Check if the site remembers your device. If so, sign on using the temporary smart phone device while you still have access to your main phone/SIM so you won’t get two factor challenged while traveling.
  3. If there are predefined codes, bring them with you.
  4. If you must turn off two factor, do so. But also do the following:
    1. Complain to the website so they know this is a problem
    2. Leave a post it note on your home computer to turn back on two factor
    3. If the website shows “last login” check it was you.
    4. If the website emails when logging in from a different device, check for those.

programming a finch without being able to read (parent required)

Someone at work was asking me about robots for kids. I offered to lend him my Finch to try out. I noticed there’s an experimental language called Snap! on there now which says it can be used by ages 4-7. The idea of Snap! is that it is a simplified Scratch which is also supported. I really like that the Finch supports such a range of languages from ones like Snap! and Scratch to “full fledged” languages like Java and Python. I also like that it has a variety of sensors so you can incrementally make things harder.

Anyway, I wanted to give Snap! a try to see how easy it was too use. My was it easy. Including downloading the software, it took me less than 15 minutes to get the finch to move forward and back having a different color nose when pressing keys. (and another 15 to make sure installing Java 6 didn’t mess up anything else on my machine.)

Install (parent required)

I downloaded and installed the BrainBirdRobotServer which was clearly described on the Snap! page. Installing was the usual for Mac; just drag to the Applications folder. The only catch was that I had to re-install the long since unsupported Java 6. Not a big deal. The software even gave me the link. And it didn’t muck with my paths for anything else so Eclipse/Ant/Tomcat/Postgres etc still work normally.

Setup and initial run (parent required)

This isn’t hard, but it does require being able to read so a four year old isn’t going to be able to do it alone.

  1. Open BrainBirdRobotServer
  2. Click Open Snap! I choose local since I wasn’t planning to save my program
  3. Plug in the Finch. (One end of the wire goes into the Finch and the other end goes into a USB drive on your computer. I put it in a USB hub
  4. Write program. It opens with a simple one that drives forward with a green nose if you press space. I adapted it to go forward with a green nose when you press the up arrow and backward with a red nose when you press the down arrow.
  5. Press up and down and watch Finch move. That’s it.


What more to say here. These basic blocks already do stuff. And then the parent can show the kid more blocks.

Making it harder

Assuming the kid can read (or you are present), the higher levels of Snap! allow writing more complicated programs. I couldn’t figure out how to change the level other than editing the URL. You can easily sense the pattern here. The only catch is that I had to load the page twice with the new level URL to see it.

  • http://snap.berkeley.edu/snapsource/snap.html#cloud:Username=birdbraintech&ProjectName=FinchLevel1
  • http://snap.berkeley.edu/snapsource/snap.html#cloud:Username=birdbraintech&ProjectName=FinchLevel2
  • http://snap.berkeley.edu/snapsource/snap.html#cloud:Username=birdbraintech&ProjectName=FinchLevel3

The higher levels allow adding timing delays and such.


As far as I can tell, the Snap! language doesn’t allow you to use all the sensors on the Finch. But it looks like a fun way to get started. (Not true. The highest levels can at least use some of them)

OCP Book Shipping NOW!

OCP: Oracle Certified Professional Java SE 8 Programmer II Study Guide: Exam 1Z1-809

Less than one week after the Kindle version of our OCP book became available, the print copy of the OCP book is now shipping from Amazon! Our OCP 8 book, nearly twice the size of our previous OCA 8 book, contains everything you need to know to pass the OCP 8 certification exam. Even if you are not planning to take the exam, the book is a great introduction for seasoned developers to all of the new features in Java 8.

Jeanne and I wanted to take a moment and thank all of readers who’ve sent us positive feedback about our books. We’re glad that you’re excited, as we worked really hard to make this book even better than our last!

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