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“Just Because It’s Easy For You Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be Hard On Your Clients” Maxim 38

April 28, 2022

Maxim 38, while written as satire, illustrates an important point. Perceived value. If something seems cheap or easy, people think it is.

I worked for WordPerfect at the start of my career. WordPerfect’s word processor had a feature that allowed a user to set a password on their documents. And as is the generally the case, when people set passwords, they also forget them.

WordPerfect, for whatever reason decided not to make a tool that would recover a forgotten password. But, some of their former employees did. They made a good product. It was, unfortunately, too good. They could break a password in less than 10 seconds. But, it cost hundreds of dollars. And the money was well spent. If a secretary left a law firm and took the passwords with her, it could be thousands or even millions of dollars in losses.

But, after paying hundreds of dollars, getting their files back wasn’t enough. If it was too easy, the users felt they were cheated. So, the makers of the password cracker decided it needed to appear harder. They added a timer. The timer simply waited for two minutes before opening the file.

Suddenly users were happy with the product. The functionality was the same, but it seemed harder.

Richard Feynman was a physicist and part time lock picker. He was part of the Manhattan project who helped create the atomic bomb during WWII. He was with the rest of the physicists at Los Alamos. And he took up the practice of breaking into team members locked filing cabinets. He got quite proficient at it. So much so that the team started to depend on it. If someone was out of town and the team needed papers from that person’s filing cabinet they would call Feynman.

He always insisted that he had to go to his room and get his “equipment.” The equipment was a screwdriver. He didn’t need it. What he was really doing was checking the list of combinations that he’d been collecting over the previous months. He would then lock himself into the office with the locked cabinet. No one else was allowed to see the master at work. He’d retrieve the document in the first 30 seconds. Then, he would spend the next 30 minutes reading a magazine.

People assumed it was very hard to crack a three digit combination lock. And his reputation was cemented.

We should be judged by the results, don’t you think? And yet, if the results are achieved too quickly, the assumption is that it was easy.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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