My manifesto

So Hugh MacLeod, over at gaping void, has challenged his readers to write their manifestos. in 500 words or less. Using less than 500 words is a particular challenge to me. But here’s mine.

In one hundred and fifty.


We technologists are a funny lot, we build hierarchies, workflows, containers, complex rulesets of code and instructions to carry the customers of our tools from point A to point C, but only through point B. We ask them to trust our black box, to plug their questions in, crank the widgets in the direction we thought they should, and trust the magic sums they get as the answers.

Somewhere lost in this byzantine maze of computational instructions and complexity of the systems we build both the technologists and the customers forget the fundamental. That no matter how good our codes and our cascaded logic gates are…

The human brain is the greatest computer of all.

Designing our systems, and expecting the ones we use to be based on that fundamental premise would change and open our carefully constructed self-contained virtual worlds as we know it. For the better. Much better.

The collective

2:41:25 PM so I did go to Google Reader 2:41:30 PM I’m happier now 2:41:40 PM welcome to the collective 2:41:44 PM you have been assimilated

I had to remove some work feeds, but Google Reader is working out quite nicely, better than forgetting to unison my NetNewsWire data all over the place.

NNW is one of the best applications I’ve ever purchased, but it was just time.

I am a spammer

I just had to send 3,351 emails to our registered users list.

Ruby and Rails made this remarkably easy, and that’s really scary.

It took 3 hours for my email server to breathe again. I had to process about 3% of the emails as bounces, which generated another 2 mails per bounce from our support tool.

I feel so dirty.

Goodbye conventional wisdom

For years, it’s been the conventional wisdom in userid/password based authentication systems that the system provide the same error message for an invalid userid and/or invalid password. The idea being that you don’t want to let on to the “bad guys” that they guessed a valid userid and then proceed to repeatedly try passwords with the valid userid.

Well poppycock.

I watch the logs. And it turns out that while I’d really, really love for people to learn how to remember not one, but a combination of two, not-random strings, they often don’t. Or do, just the wrong combination for that particular tool.

userid/password authentication schemes are already bad from a security perspective – it’s not like obfuscating the result of mistyping a not-random string improves upon that much at all, and by golly, it should would save the users some time “did I mistype my password? did I forgot my password? WHAT DO YOU MEAN INVALID ID?”

So from now on, goodbye conventional wisdom, I’m actually going to start telling people in every uid/pass dialog I write which string they got wrong.

Learn and Unlearn

Kathy Sierra Why does engineering/math/science education in the US suck?

Our educational institutions–at every level–need drastic changes or we’re all screwed. The generation of students we’re turning out today need skills nobody really cared about 50, 40, even 20 years ago. […] We must prepare them to think fast, learn faster, and unlearn even faster (“yes, that drug was the appropriate way to treat the XYZ disease, but that was so last week. THIS week we now realize it’ll kill you.”)

The Waterfall Model of education is failing like never before. We need Agile Learning.

I don’t agree with all of the article – but I do agree with the above.

( although honestly, I’m sick of the word “Agile” being thrown around in all kinds of circles like it’s some prayer or holy incantation of great promise of all that is good with software development. The ideas behind agile development are certainly an evolutionary leap, representing years of both university research and actual practice beyond the requirements gathering, design, “coding”, waterfall model of software engineering and development – but there’s as much crap that’s labeled agile as there is crap labeled waterfall. I think Sierra personally gets the reality of that though. )

I’m not so sure about “metacognition storytelling” or “anthropomophorizing” – but she’s right, we dang sure need to teach people how to learn and unlearn.

Whether it’s the cutting edge physical sciences, engineering, the life sciences or computing – yes computing – even if computing is just a means to your own area of specialty, and not a specialty in and of itself, we absolutely have to get it across that the assumptions you made last week have to be questioned with new information this week and to be prepared with a solid base of fundamental concepts, and a healthy dose of logic to be able to rapidly adapt to new tools and techniques, whether that’s some kind of new statistical model, an rna sequencing technique, upending the financial conventional wisdom, or something as base as editing another’s web page using some tool that will go away in six months, replaced with something faster, stronger, etc.

Why we need the creative commons

Because often, people can take your work and make it far better than you ever could (yes that is a good thing) – or do new things in surprisingly interesting ways, like make a Office Space trailer that makes it look like a comedic thriller

(Yes I know that wasn’t creative commons based work. It might be fair use or parody or it might be illegal, but I seriously doubt Mike Judge is going to sue. The RIAA might, not because they have anything to do with the IP, but they like to do that anyway. That might sue me for saying that)

Fun with search

My web hosting provider provides web stat summaries using awstats, which is something I’ve been pretty happy with from a “trending” perspective for some time and use at work for system administration purposes. It’s still kind of geeky.

It was looking at the search terms for this site – combined with a pretty big increase for my piddly little site that led to me posting for the google detectives that I wasn’t the same named guy that’s been in in the Raleigh news recently. I mean – here’s the top 25 search terms leading here:

[my name] raleigh [my name] raleigh nc [my name] nc [my name] ncsu the parable of the two programmers raleigh [my name] ants pixar waiting for leopard [my name] nc state rambleon cyradm os x the shawshank redemption institutionalism squirrelmail pam single sign on [my name] and raleigh nc managers pep talk bar icbm/geo.position tags date comparison bash parable of the two programmers kernel arplookup failed [my name] and north carolina syncservices path long symlink [my name] and raleigh parable two programmers use treo as pager

I mean, good grief. But I spent a few minutes looking through the other ones, skipping all that other stuff. And the great thing about looking at those is that it reminds you that search really matters – the stuff you want people to find, they’ll find (they might find the stuff you don’t want them to find too, but that’s another post).

But distilling down the search results to those other non-newsworthy terms – I went looking myself at some of them to see what they’d find.

It’s good stuff (well to me). Searching Google for “the shawshank redemption institutionalism” leads to an essay I wrote last April (2005). It’s still as true today as it was then.

I’m not sure we are ever going to change the culture until enough people have some idea of what kind of place we want to see us be at. Where we want the equivalent of Andy’s Zihuatanejo to be for us? And how do we make a place along the way? What are our arias, our chess pieces, our prison libraries? Even more fundamental – both Zihuatenejo, the arias, the bohemian-style beer, the chess pieces, the library – they were all outward manifestations of an inward passionate belief in something. Enough belief for Andy – and the seemingly-institutionalized Red also.

What do we believe in?

Searching Google for “managers pep talk” leads one to the best pep talk for 2005. That’s good stuff too. And so are the links. It’s those kinds of things that I believe in.

Search matters. Today it just reminded me a little of where I’ve been, and hopefully where I’m going.

(p.s. The funny thing is that the searches for [my name] all seem to land on my April fool’s post from last year. Now that’s the really good stuff 🙂 )