“Some people might see that as a lot, but I saw it as a must, an opportunity to see my spiritual father," Polamalu said. "I go there five to six times a year because that is where he is. This life that I struggle to live, I try to do so in the eyes of my spiritual father.”—In faith and football, Polamalu is without equal
"Being in IT is kind of like being a doctor with a patient who complains that "It hurts when I stick a fork in my eye."
We, of course, being the logical sort, reply back, in all sincerity and earnestness, “Well, you should stop sticking a fork in your eye then.”
The user, or patient will then look at us like we really are the idiots they believe us to be and say: “No, you don’t understand…I want you to make it stop hurting.”
So, all you can do is minimize their pain, and most days, you’ll fail at that too. My advice—start drinking. It won’t make the stupid go away, but it blunts the pain until you can build your +5 Armor of Cynicism, and your Vorpal Sword of Withering Sarcasm.
Possible Worlds, Orthodoxy, and Creative Endeavors
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and it’s been driving me so crazy that I finally need to put it into text and throw it out there and see what other folks might have to say. I sent this to someone I trust who asked me the most obvious question, “Why wouldn’t you post it?” Well, if any of this sounds pretentious or douchey, please know I thought so too. And I thought it first. :)
If you’re not familiar with the concept of possible worlds, it is a concept in philosophy regarding the logical possibility of a proposition. For instance, “There is no possible world in which there exists a square circle.” I also recently watched The Elegant Universe. This is sort of an armchair guide to physics history and string theory, but one of the things that stood out for me was the Quantum Cafe. The host of the show finds himself in a cafe where probability reigns and nothing is certain. This is meant to illustrate the fact that in quantum mechanics, it is not possible to know for certain where an electron will be. There are only probabilities that it will be in a specific place. Theoretical physics, as a result, also has this concept of multiple universes. In the reality we experience, the probabilities worked out a certain way. In the other possible universes, the electrons landed in a different configuration. I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of this stuff, so if I have any of the high level details wrong, I would love further instruction.
I’m Orthodox, and when I was learning about Orthodoxy several years ago, one of the things that impacted me about Orthodox thought is the huge emphasis that is placed on creativity, particularly the special creative place of human beings in creation. In the liturgy, Orthodox believe that we join in a worship that is ongoing in heaven. For a brief time we are transported from this realm to another with all five senses: taste (the Eucharist), touch (handshakes and kisses of peace, kneeling, and other devotional movements), smell (incense), hearing (singing, hearing bells), and speech (saying prayers).
Icons, sacred images of spiritual role models, are believed to be a window to the heavenly realm. These are not, then, just some nice pictures of someone who lived a good life and is gone. These sacred images are windows to the realm where the saints now live.
Lastly, Orthodoxy teaches that human beings have a unique, creative function in creation. In so many ways, it is the role and responsibility of human beings to shape the creation and offer it back to God in thanksgiving. In the Eucharist, this means shaping grain and grapes into the bread and wine. In worship, this means arranging sound to produce beautiful music. In art, this means shaping the material into something profound and beautiful. The iconographer starts with paint, wood, and possibly some gold foil and the result is a window into the heavenly realm.
I have used Orthodox thought as a way of talking about this way of connecting with a world that we do not see every day. To be sure, there are other ways of talking about this. My point is not to talk about Orthodox Christianity but to talk about a worldview that views humanity in a sacred creative role and believes in (and ideally lives as though) there is more to reality than what we experience in our workaday lives.
I have often heard fiction writers (particularly very good fiction writers) say things like, “I was surprised that the character turned out to be gay. I didn’t know that going in,” or when they describe the events of the narrative in very factual, real terms. I think that really creative people (I don’t mean that in some mystical way.) interact with the subject matter in a very different way. They don’t talk about characters they are making up. They are describing characters and events that for them, truly exist somewhere, sometime, somehow. In visual arts (not just iconography), I think the great artists are able to provide us with a window into a reality that is somehow different from our own. This doesn’t have to be Dali’s melting clocks or anything like that. Even a still life or seascape can transport us across time and space to experience something that we otherwise would not have been able to experience.
By contrast, I think there are true impossibilities in creativity as there are in philosophy and physics. I think that when we experience something, the Kantian reaction to it is indicative of this. When you or I read a novel or short story that just isn’t very good, I think it is highly probable that the events described are simply not possible. We don’t believe it because it doesn’t exist anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Where a particular creative endeavor falls on this continuum of possibility has a lot to say about the degree to which the possible world being described is indeed possible.
I do believe that human beings are uniquely creative. (Others may disagree with the “uniquely” part that to one degree or another.) I also believe that reality is not simply composed of what we experience around us. And I believe that human beings have a sacred responsibility to live life creatively (in Orthodox terms, Eucharistically), making sense of the world and connecting this plane with the others.
I love Pandora. Services like this are the future of music discovery. What I’d like to share, though, is an unexpected aspect of my music discovery with Pandora.
I rarely listen to the radio except for ESPN. I have historically eschewed Top 40 and “popular” music. This isn’t a conscious decision to be pretentious or douchey. I just find the content and craftsmanship of so much of the charts to be, for lack of a better word, crap. What I have found, though, is that my observations about music have clouded and prejudiced my judgement. Now, when I hear a song and I know it’s on a popular radio station, I tend to be more critical and dismiss it, even if my Kantian reaction to it is favorable.
Enter Pandora. Since I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t know what’s popular. With Pandora, a song comes on and I’m alone with that song and my opinion of it in that moment is mine alone. This is rather powerful. The first song I ever heard by Hawk Nelson was irritating sugar pop crap that I couldn’t stomach. Hated it. I formed an instant distaste for the band itself. Slowly, Pandora began to introduce them into my mixes and I would find myself headed to PandoraJam to thumbs up the song that was playing. Then, I would discover that it was Hawk Nelson. OK, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. But it happened several times and now, while I still don’t like that one song, I like most of the tunes I have heard. The same thing applies to Matt Nathanson’s Come on Get Higher. The first time I heard it, I liked it a lot. The other night at Wing Stop, I heard it on the radio sandwiched between Nickelback and Kelly Clarkson. Pandora helped me find a gem that I might have dismissed because of the company it was keeping.
These are just a couple examples, but evaluating music on its own, divorced from its context or any labels of “genre” or Top N lists is a good way to discover music that you might not otherwise have found or would have dismissed prematurely based on your own prejudice. Give it a try and have a truly open mind.
There’s a lot of hubbub every year these few days leading up to MacWorld about what Apple will or won’t announce. This year, said hubbub is mostly concerning cloudified™ versions of iWork and/or iLife and a rumored home media server similar to the one that HP is hawking.
I’m not convinced Apple is going to do either, and even if the Philnote proves me wrong, I certainly don’t think either will be an immediate success. Let’s look at two key points.
First, while Apple’s hardware is embracing the 802.11n draft standard, the majority of folks are not using n networking hardware. Even fewer Wi-Fi hotspots are using it. Hell, one of the places I go to regularly can’t keep the internet connection active for a solid 20 minutes. I don’t expect to be able to use their connection to do any serious cloud computing. In order for a home media server or cloud versions of processor and graphics intensive apps like those in the iLife and iWork suites to take off, this isn’t just a hurdle. It’s one of those damn water obstacles in the steeplechase.
Second, in order for a home media server to really take the place of having my iTunes library on my local drive, I need to be assured of two things: that I will have a sufficient internet connection to handle it and that I will be allowed to do it. I have been fighting with the technology resources department at TCU for more than a year to allow me outbound AFP connections. Let that sink in a minute. All I wanted to do was access my Airport Disk over the WAN and couldn’t do it. I can’t use Bonjour to sync 1Password or Things when I am using my laptop at Starbucks. There are only three ports that you can assume will be open: 80, 143, and 22. In order for a home media server to be viable, it would certainly have to work over WebDAV.
I would love to have my media server at home available wherever I have a connection. Unfortunately, if Apple introduces anything like that this week, it might simply be ahead of its time.
This has been bothering me for quite some time, and I am finally getting some time to write about it.
If you’re not familiar with web site APIs, there are basically three ways of handling the authentication between an application that uses the API and the site. In order from least desirable to most desirable they are username/password, API key, and OAuth..
OAuth is the preferred way of handling authentication because it separates the user’s authentication for a particular application to access private data from the username and password that the user uses to log into the account.
API keys are only slightly better than username and password for authentication. If you change your API key on the site, you have to change it for every application that uses your information, but at least you haven’t given away the keys to the kingdom.
The username/password authentication scheme employed by an unacceptably large number of website API is dangerous and provides a terrible experience for the user.
I’m going to pick on Twitter for my examples not because they do anything more wrong than other sites that fall into this trap and not because they are an easy target, but because they have created a platform that applications developers are leveraging at a furious pace for many different things.
Here are a few examples of where my Twitter login information is used and/or stored.
I’m certain there are a few that I have forgotten. First, from a user standpoint, if I change my Twitter password, I have now created a lot of work for myself to go and change my password on all of these other accounts. What a pain!
Second, raise your hand if you use the same password for Twitter that you use for your bank or Paypal login? eBay? Chances are you’re using the same username as well. You get the idea where I’m going. So, think about where you’ve put your Twitter information online. Do you know the developers? Do you trust them? Do you trust them that much?
Recently, Twply showed up. It offered a nice service in that it would email you your @ replies from Twitter. That sounds harmless enough. They promise, “Your password is safe with us. No worries.” Scoble called Twply out for spamming and on the same day, twply.com was sold for $1200. Not bad for one day’s work. I wonder if the folks that gave up their username and password trust the new owner with that information…
I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness. Chris Messina is of course very active in evangelizing OAuth (I don’t mean that with any of the pejorative connotations frequently associated with the verb.) and Jeremy Keith wrote about Twply on his blog as well. There are developers clamoring for OAuth for Twitter for just these reasons: better experience and more peace of mind for their users.
To Alex's credit, he is active on various mailing lists and discussion groups and he is very forthright about Twitter's OAuth implementation not being up to spec; however, there hasn't been any official statement that I could find about OAuth and when it might be the lingua franca for Twitter API developers' authentication as far as I could tell.
Twitter has built an exciting platform that has a ton of possibilities. The simplicity of it all reminds me a lot of so many unix tools. By themselves, they’re pretty awesome. But the way you can pipe them together with each other to do Cool Shit™ is where the magic is. Twitter is like that. From Foamee to TwitPic, Twitterfeed to Remember the Milk, Twitter is changing the way we interact with our information on the internet and share it with others.
But, it’s like a subway. In Dallas, a lot of people refuse to ride the light rail because it’s not safe at certain times. So, there is a huge number of people that avoid using a system that could really and truly help them because they don’t trust that they can get from one place to another safely. As more of these incidents get publicity, services like Twitter will be avoided because people don’t feel they can get their information from one place to another safely. And that is a losing situation for Twitter and the users.
“Much of the tech world is obsessed with engaging in macho pissing contests, but no part more so than computer security. In the case of yesterday’s announcement, the researchers in question were more concerned with their ability to present their findings at a popular hacker conference than with guaranteeing the safety of the Internet. Why else would they put the organizations they disclosed their findings to under NDA and not consult the authorities on the most widely-deployed SSL implementations? Building reputations and managing PR is the order of the day. This culture of one-upsmanship doesn’t mean that computer security is a stagnant discipline. It does, however, mean that the people who choose a path of humility about their work don’t get the rewards – financial and otherwise – that they deserve. This is a shame, and it’s to the detriment of digital security as a whole. My coworker suggested that an academic, peer-reviewed approach to security research would ultimately be more beneficial to the Internet community as a whole. I don’t have the authority to comment, but I do feel that most anything else would be an improvement on the traveling hacker conference circus we have today.”—Alex Payne | Why I Don’t Work In Information Security