“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
As the spring semester’s beginning approaches, so does graduation in May. Ann Margaret and I would like to move away from Texas after graduation (maybe not immediately) and I’d like to throw out the net to see what my friends on The Internet™ have to say. To give you an idea, some of the places we like right now are Denver, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle, but we’ve not visited the last two, so those are based on recommendations from others with no first-hand experience. Here are some of the things we’re looking for.
Seasons - In Texas, we have two seasons: tolerable and hell. We like colder weather and a good amount of precipitation. We like the fall and winter best. Summertime highs should not get much above 90
Decent Size - We live in Fort Worth, TX, right now and when we go back to Abilene, the town of about 200,000 where we went to college, it feels like Podunk, America. Can’t go back.
Public Transit - Public transportation here in Fort Worth is a joke. I know many of our Chicago friends gripe about the CTA, but the couple of times that we have been to Chicago, the CTA has seemed miraculous compared to The T.
Open Minded - It’s been hard living in Texas as liberals these past few years. This will likely rule out much of the south, which would be ruled out by 1 as well now that I think of it.
(optional) Proximity to an IKEA and/or Apple Retail Store.
If you want to score some bonus points and recommend specific areas of a city, here are a couple of other things we’d like to see.
Safe - This might go without saying, but we want to be somewhere that we don’t have to worry about ourselves or our stuff.
Coffee House - I frequent Starbucks because it is convenient, but a place like Eurotazza in Fort Worth or Metropolis in Chicago would be a big bonus.
Proximity to rail or bus stations. We had friends who lived about a block away from a red line station in Chicago and that worked great while we were staying with them when we visited.
We would prefer to live in a house rather than an apartment, but for the right situation, I think we could compromise on this.
So, Christmas was pretty awesome. Here’s a rundown.
What I Got
When I found out TiVo would work with my HD antenna, I had to have one. I put the Airport Express I got for my birthday to work as an Internet connection for the TiVo so I didn’t have to run Ethernet cable through the attic and drop the wall. Looking forward to getting all my season passes set up and telling it what I do and don’t want to watch. Works great with my Logitech Harmony Remote. I’m going to repurpose the eSATA drive in the office to expand the storage. Huge win.
Nikon Coolpix for my mom. It’s extremely easy to use. Does simple video and 8MP stills. Huge improvement over her previous camera.
Roomba 510 for my grandma. She’s getting to where she can’t clean as much (read: insanely) as she used to. I hope this will make it so she only vacuums once every week or two. She was thoroughly impressed by it when we were testing it out. She was on the floor watching it go under the bed. :)
iPod Nano, Nike +, Nike + Shoe Adapter, and armband for Ann Margaret. She is going to be participating in a half marathon in February, so this is meant to go along with that effort. (She doesn’t like the new Nanos.)
The topper, though is that I got what I have always had: a family that loves me. There’s nowhere to link to that. Even Amazon doesn’t sell it. I have an amazing wife, two great dogs, six adorable sugar gliders, loving parents, and a grandma that most folks only dream about. So, fuck everything I linked to above. This is what makes Christmas 2008 the best yet.
The janus team have published a preview of their new privacy adapter. it’s a small two port router. you just plug it in-line between your computer/switch and your internet connection. it will then anonymize all of you traffic via the tor network. you can also use it with openvpn. the hardware appears to be a gumstix computer mounted to a daughtercard with two ethernet ports. it will have a web configuration just like a standard router. this looks like a great plug-n-play privacy device. the only improvement we would suggest is adding auto-detect so a crossover cable isn’t required.
I am a Steelers fan, and I don’t worry about this loss. Here are two reasons why.
Mike Tomlin is a smart coach. He knows that they are likely to face the Titans again in January. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to tip your hand to an opponent you are going to see again when it really counts. A conservative game plan, especially on defense, goes a long way here. What, did you think that was all the tricks Dick L. has up his sleeve? Pffft…
The Titans “home field” is actually a benefit to the Steelers. The weather is much more likely to be favorable in Nashville in January than in Pittsburgh. We’ve seen what happens when precipitation starts falling in Heinz Field and it isn’t pretty. Even with the new layer of grass, I’m not confident that conditions would be anything better than we have seen in the past. They’re going to have to re-turf the whole field at some point, probably with one of those synthetic grasses.
So, no, I’m not worried that the Steelers lost a game at the end of the season. I’m actually rather optimistic about our chances in the playoffs.
“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? So this is what we’ve chosen to do with our life. We could be sitting in a monastery somewhere in Japan. We could be out sailing. Some of the [executive team] could be playing golf. They could be running other companies. And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it. And we think it is.”—Steve Jobs
I just finished reading Getting Real, a book about running a software company, creating a product that people actually use and pay for. 37Signals have been doing it for a while and doing it well, so it makes sense to listen to them.
But that’s not why you called. Or maybe it was. Who knows? What was I saying? Oh, right. Thanks.
There are some central themes to Getting Real that, as the authors point out, can apply to other arenas of life and not just to software development. I’d like to discuss a few of the salient points and how they might apply to how we go about doing all the stuff we need to do.
One way to do things better is to do fewer things. Simply do less. Start with “No.” Make something stand on the porch for three days to show it’s serious. If it’s still there bugging you, then you open the door. But recognize the hidden costs of anything that you allow into your world. Not only is it demanding your time and attention, but it’s doing so at the expense of other things that also want your time and attention.
Instead, spend some time giving some serious consideration to what it is you actually want to do. The list should be short enough that you could recite it on demand even if you were stinking drunk.
Another helpful thing to think about is the things you don’t want to be doing. I don’t want to get sucked into two hours of watching funny videos on Youtube. I don’t want to read the same news story eight times from eight different blogs on the same day. (Haven’t figured out how to solve this one yet.) I don’t want to watch this TV show just because it’s on.
Most importantly, staying lean means you can change without it costing too much. Cost can be measured in time, money, or anything else. If it costs you a lot to make a change you need to make, you’re less likely to do it.
Don’t Do Dead Documents
In Getting Real, this means to forego all the useless documents that “software engineering” tells us we need to produce in order to produce software. (It’s a soul-sucking waste of time, my friends.)
So, what’s unnecessary? Anything that isn’t tied to the actual finished product. What is your product? It’s you. What’s not related to what you want to be doing? Consider its worth and put it on notice if it’s stealing what it’s not been granted.
Forget the lists. You know the things that need your time and attention right now. You can name them. You don’t need anyone or any list telling you what they are. I have a Backpack page for each of my projects as a parking place for stuff I don’t want to waste cycles on remembering, but I don’t need a list of projects. I can name you the projects I have going on right now without batting an eyelash.
I don’t keep lists of next actions even on my project pages. When I set to working on a program, I know where I left off and it takes me less than a minute to think of what needs to happen next. Deciding on your next actions too far in advance will increase the cost of change for you. If you have to re-plan that list of 35 actions each time something changes, you’re incurring a large time overhead.
Forget feature requests. For your life, this means do not keep a Someday list. Throw it out. The things that you really want to do will keep showing up. If every year vacation time comes around and you say, “Gee, I’d really like to go to Italy. Maybe next year,” you don’t need that on a list to remind you.
Seek and Celebrate Small Victories
Break your projects down into tasks that you can do in an hour or two at the most. I have started doing this with my development work and it’s ridiculously rewarding. When I recently saw NSLog() write out the custom URL I had invoked for my app, I was ecstatic. I showed Ann Margaret, who was happy about it but mostly because I was. This was a small victory that made a big difference for me. For now, I’m courageously sucking at being a Mac developer.
This is Raw
I haven’t really proofread this much. I hacked it together in a fit of some emotion I am too tired to name right now. But I think that in this post-GTD, post-Productivity situation, there is room for applying principles like those in Getting Real to the problem of how we effectively do things. I encourage you and the other reader of my blog (See what I did there?!) to read Getting Real or at least skim the TOC and see if you can’t start Getting Real about what you’re doing and what you really want to be doing.
“For example, a tip on your golf swing may be very useful if you’re already playing three times a week and hitting a bucket of balls after work every day. But a subscription to a magazine about taekwondo will only be as useful as your decision to drag your fat ass into a dojo and start actually kicking people. Over and over. Otherwise, you’re just buying shiny paper every month.”—
Thank you, Merlin. I had to come to terms with this myself recently. Buying the entire bookshelf at PragProg and reading CIMGF is great, but if you haven’t opened XCode or TextMate in weeks, stop kidding yourself.
Four hotels I’ve stayed in recently have now been blown up, so count me an expert on where not to stay. But I’ve also thought a bit about how to stay alive in hotels - I’m sort of the TSA of hotel security, except that, unlike the TSA, I recognize that most of my advice is utterly without value.
The other option, apparently, is to find out where this guy stays and stay far, far away.
I find this list so uninspired. Office? VMWare Fusion? Tell the users about something they don’t know about already. I’m surprised he didn’t go for the gusto and recommend Photoshop instead of Pixelmator.
iPhone Apps That Have Been Ringing *My* Bell Lately
After Brett posted his list of apps that are ringing his bell, I thought I’d post my list.
Juxtaposer - Lots of fun with images. Surprisingly easy to use.
Burning Monkey Casino - Great collection of casino type games in classic Freeverse, Burning Monkey style.
FrontPocket - I love Backpack and was waiting for a great iPhone native app. FrontPocket delivers and the few small qualms I have are going to be fixed in the 1.1 release soon.
1Password - Granted, I might be a little biased here, but 1Password is a great application. Can’t wait for the next release.
Easy Wi-Fi - This is an app from Devicescape for automatically logging into Wi-Fi hotspots. I use this at least five times a week to log into the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. The desktop counterpart is even more useful.
Like Brett said, all of the above save 1Password cost real money. If you are still flogging the “apps should be free or dirt cheap” horse, get over it. It takes a lot of time and resources to produce and continue to develop these apps. Support people who are doing great work.
“You have to work every day. You have to sit in the chair and stay seated. And sleep and come back to the chair. You need to wear out that chair and then buy a new one and then wear out that one.”—Brent Simmons
“Churches have every right to involve themselves in political issues, but if they do then they’re going to be treated as political actors. Protests, boycotts, op-eds, blog posts, and marches are exactly the democratic ideals of our nation, and being on the receiving end of them is what happens to anyone who enters the political fray.”—http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2008/11/quote_of_the_day_111708.html
Lipman has seen a lot of presidential transitions. He has been practicing Telecom, Media, and Technology law for Bingham for 25 years, advocating before the FCC, state regulatory bodies, Congress, and the courts. Lipman’s bottom line: With FCC Chair Kevin Martin moving on and his fellow Republican Deborah Taylor Tate termed out when Congress expires, Obama will appoint two, and maybe even three Commissioners relatively soon (Lipman didn’t say who the third ship jumper might be).
This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.
Ten thousand hours is, of course, an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number, by the time you’re a young adult, all by yourself. You have to have parents who are encouraging and supportive. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be enough time left over in the day. In fact, most people can really only reach that number if they get into some kind of special programme - like a hockey all-star squad - or get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in that kind of work.
A few nights back, there was some breaking news in our area, and apparently, the reporters and cameras for the station had not yet arrived on the scene. What they showed on the news was the Google Street View of that location. They made sure to note that it was not live footage, but I thought it was an interesting use of Street View and wanted to mention it before I forgot it again.
If you frequent Starbucks, you have probably seen the new Starbucks Gold program being hawked. My drink of late is a double tall breve latte. (Now that cooler weather is coming, I’ll also be drinking a fair amount of soy chai.) In Fort Worth, this comes to about $3.70 before sales tax. When I was using the Starbucks Card Rewards, I got my breve for free. Let’s compare. I paid $25 to get a card that gets me a lower discount than I was receiving for free. 37¢ vs. 40¢. Brilliant.b Yes, I realize this information is in the FAQ on the Starbucks Gold program website, but it’s not immediately apparent.
The moral of the story is to look at what exactly you buy at Starbucks and decide if $25 is worth any savings (or giving them money back in my case). If you frequently add syrups or custom milk options to your drink, it’s unlikely that you would benefit from the new program and would be better off with a regular Starbucks card. If you buy stock drinks like Frappuccino, lattes, or drip coffee, you’ll probably benefit from the new program.