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On Technological Addiction: Active Noise Cancellation

July 5th, 2020 No comments

From a certain perspective, humanity has largely already become cyborgs: not only do we augment our flawed biological senses with corrective technological ones — for example, eyeglasses, hearing aids, pacemakers, and so on — but we also constantly carry with us so-called “smart” devices like watches, phones, and tablets, that allow us to easily stay connected to others and instantly access the entire breadth of human knowledge at our fingertips. In a way, these “smart” devices have become somewhat of an external secondary brain of sorts. (Reminiscent of the Ood of Doctor Who lore, though in a less drastic way.)

It’s easy to argue that we can, and have, become addicted to these technologies for our daily lives. For some — like corrective eyeglasses, hearing aids, and pacemakers — the addiction is clear: without constant use of these technologies, day-to-day life would be very difficult or perhaps impossible. But the addiction to phones and tablets and the rest is not always as visible, nor are the withdrawal effects from prolonged non-use of them. Moreover, there are other gadgets we use regularly whose addictive effects are not so obvious at all. For example, consider ANC (active noise cancellation).

I was working on a “1 Year Later”-style review draft of my Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphone 700 when I came upon an interesting conclusion: I find myself extremely more sensitive to background noise now than I ever used to be.

For instance, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the fireworks, sometimes loud music, and general noises of my neighborhood on a celebratory night like tonight. These were just things I lived with, simply as facts of life. Same with the hum of my refrigerator or the repetitive spinning noise of my bedroom’s fan: These were not sounds that were extraordinarily annoying; they simply existed near me as unremarkable background.

But now, after wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones for nearly several hours daily for the better part of three years, I find that I am incredibly sensitive to these noises, to the point where it often gives me a headache to let them remain heard for any extended periods of time.

Being able to quite literally switch off the world around me and choose not to hear all of these disruptions has been an amazing boon to my work, hobby projects, and games, and lets me relax so much more deeply when listening to podcasts while doing chores and whatnot. (Truthfully, I probably would have been a more diligent and productive student in college if I had these. But it would also have meant an entire week’s pay at that time…)

And now, I find that when I’m not wearing my Bose headphones, that same background noise of my neighborhood — when it happens — is extremely irksome and makes it difficult sometimes even to hear my own thoughts. It has come to such an extreme at times that in the pre-pandemic era, I would carry my Bose headphones with me to family gatherings and such because I knew just the intensity of so many conversations ongoing could be too raucous for me, and I would need to step away for a few minutes of silence.

I suppose in retrospect this conclusion should have been an obvious one, especially for a transhumanist like myself: Of course, my brain has probably adapted to that near-silence as a new “default” background noise level. In short, I’ve developed an addiction to the technology of ANC; and in the same vane, I experience a sort of technological withdrawal by not using it.

Does anyone else that regularly uses noise-cancelling/isolating headphones find themselves similarly addicted to their benefit?

An Open Letter to Costco: Please Fix Your Password Handling

June 9th, 2020 No comments

(Editor’s note: This originally happened in early March, just before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began in earnest.)

To whom it may concern at Costco: The process for connecting one’s membership card to their online Costco.com account through your official mobile app is nothing short of an overwhelmingly under-engineered mess: a combination of unintuitive workflow, security practices which serve only to epitomize mediocrity, and business logic decisions that, frankly, are so obviously wrong that they should probably be outlawed.

Okay maybe I’m exaggerating and getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s begin this once more without the vitriol:

Dear Costco,

We need to talk.

I’ve been a long-time member and nearly-weekly customer of your local warehouse for many years; and I recently made the mistake of losing my membership card. It should have been in my wallet, but it was not. The specifics of my idiocy are not relevant here: suffice it to say, I no longer had my physical card. I was unaware of this until last weekend when I arrived at my local Costco warehouse for my weekly grocery run and found that slot in my wallet to be bare.

“That’s no problem,” I thought. “I have all my membership details stored in my 1Password and can easily just get a replacement card at the membership counter. No big deal.”

This is where the an attentive audience might have heard the record scratch, and a narrator say: “It was a very big deal.”

Upon reaching the customer service desk, the representative was very polite and asked me to provide my photo ID so that she could give me a replacement. Unfortunately for me, my license expired last month and even though I successfully renewed it, its slot in my wallet was filled only by a temporary paper license from the DMV until I earlier today received the new permanent one in my mail. Without that photo identification, I could get only a temporary paper card that would allow me access to the warehouse, but then I would only be allowed to pay in cash.

…Cash? …In 2020? Are you actually serious?

To be fair, I do carry a small amount amount of cash on me for emergencies; but as this is my usual weekly bulk grocery run, I can assure you that this small cash cache would have been woefully insufficient for what I was going to buy. And I am not going to the ATM just for groceries. (Again, it’s 2020 after all.)

With a spark of insight, I realized, “That’s no problem. I can just add my card to their official mobile app and use the card that way.” Once again, the record scratch and narrator here are all but audible.

Adding the card to the official app seemed to be fairly easy: Once I had input my membership number and some identifying information — ZIP code and name and such — I was shown a notice that told me something along the lines of: “You need to visit a Costco warehouse to complete the verification in-person.” (I apologise here; I forget the exact text. Had I known at the time what I know now about this process, I would have been more diligent about taking screenshots and whatnot.) This seems reasonable: You want to ensure that the person adding that account is actually a member on that specific account. I understand.

I walked back to the customer service desk and requested the noted verification. The representative there took down my email address and said to follow the instructions in the email to confirm my account. Again, something that seemed, at the time, quite reasonable.

A couple of minutes later, I checked my email and instantly realized that this was to be the last reasonable part of my afternoon: The email I received had a link to complete my account setup and the following information text:

If you have an existing Costco.com account, you will need to create a new password. This will verify your membership number and link it to your Costco.com account.

This is utterly ridiculous. I asked the representative why I need to change my password to confirm my email address, and although she was very polite about it, she simply told me she wasn’t sure, but recommended changing the password by simply changing the last character of my current password to something else, like an @ symbol or some such.

First of all, this necessity to change password is a severe flaw in your design. I should not need to change my account password just to verify my email address. There are many good and obvious correct solutions to this problem; and any software engineer with basic experience in this area would suggest one of them here. For example, one possible user-friendly way to do this would be to have the user log in (if not already) and then input some secret single-use passcode that is sent to their email (like a one-time password or random alphanumeric token that they could copy/paste or some such). This could be made even easier by by having the email contain a login link with that code as a query parameter: it would require only one click from the user!

Please note that this is the way almost every major website that handles accounts does email verification: no password change required. Why? Because forcing users to go through yet another hurdle in your software means you will have fewer users. The math is quite simple: The less difficult you make your software to use, the more that people will use it.

Secondly, the entire purpose of me going in-person to this customer service representative was (presumably) so that she could put in my email address and membership number into their computer so that their automated system could send me the email for password reset. This is yet another piece of your workflow that is incomprehensibly flawed: I should not need to verify my email address in-person. I know this is the case because once she had the email sent, I was able to do everything else through my phone with zero other human interaction.

I’m already logged in to my Costco account, and that is keyed by my email address. Just like in the method I described above, Costco should be able to easily verify my email address by sending me some unique code or token that I can enter in a form or via some special URL.

Costco, you should not need to have me verify my email offline. It’s yet another hurdle in your software that I have to jump over, just to use what should be one of its most basic features.

Thirdly, forcing password changes like this serves only to promote insecurity. Not only does this make users more prone to using weak passwords to begin with, but it also encourages them to change passwords in a way that is very predictable — and hence, insecure. See Lorrie Cranor’s FTC blog post for a lot more details and linked studies. Her particular post deals more so with password expiration policies than single-instance forced password resets, but the crux is the same: Forcing a password reset when there is no good reason to do so inherently promotes insecure passwords.

With a heavy sigh, I figured I had no choice and so created a new password entry in my 1Password and set about to change the password so as to confirm the account. Lo and behold, I could not use 1Password’s auto-fill functionality to put in the generated random password. This is a bit frustrating, to be sure, but not every text input in Android yet supports this. And frustrating as it may be, clipboard is always an option. So that lack of auto-fill was almost never a showstopper… until now.

Not only could I not auto-fill the password, but Costco’s official mobile app and their website both prohibit copy/paste functionality in the “New Password” fields. For someone who tries to be reasonably secure online, this is a usability nightmare. By denying the ability to use both paste and auto-fill functionality, Costco, you are adding yet another hurdle to your software, this time in the form of a terrible dilemma: do your users trade away security for ease of use? Of course they should not have to. Being both easy-to-use and secure is the raison d’être for credential-management tools like 1Password to exist at all. NIST themselves even specifically recommend pasting from password managers:

Verifiers SHOULD permit claimants to use “paste” functionality when entering a memorized secret. This facilitates the use of password managers, which are widely used and in many cases increase the likelihood that users will choose stronger memorized secrets.

“Digital Identity Guidelines: Authentication and Lifecycle Management” (NIST Special Publication 800-63B) by Paul A. Grassi, et al. DOI: 10.6028/NIST.SP.800-63b

Okay, okay, so it’s not all bad, right? Just change my password and continue on? It’s only a one-time thing, after all. If only it were that simple. After creating a new random password and spending a solid three minutes meticulously typing it in twice to double-check it, I clicked “Update” so save the new password…only to see an error page appear and be prompted for a new password once more:

Password must include the following:
• Use between 8 and 20 characters
• Include at least one letter
• Does not contain blank spaces or the following special characters: < > ” \ . ,

This is yet one more hurdle your users have to jump over just to get basic functionality out of your software: in order to get through this quickly, most users will simply choose easily remembered (and therefore, easily guessed) passwords that meet the bare minimum of these guidelines. Moreover, by restricting the length and character possibilities of the password options, you are limiting the complexity of it. Once again, the math is straightforward: the longer and more complex the password, the more secure it is. The math here is once more nearly self-evident: the greater the entropy — that is, overall complexity — of the password, the greater the difficulty in guessing it through brute-force, dictionary attacks, or other means.

Thankfully 1Password has a “memorable password” option, so instead of a random character string which would be difficult to input from memory, I could create a password that’s a sequence of words and numbers (e.g., “Correct1Horse2Battery3Staple4“) which made it slightly less irritating to remember and type in, but my fourth point remains: Password restrictions promote insecure passwords. In fact, Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror summed it up quite nicely in four words: Password Rules Are Bullshit.

So in closing: Costco, please fix your password-handling and account-verification user experience flows. These are at least 4 flaws I found in barely one hour of using your app; and I can only imagine what other usability or security obstacles I could probably find with more time and effort. These flaws are ones not of code, but of architecture.

It’s perfectly fine — we all make our share of mistakes! But mistakes are made to be learned from, not repeated and left unchecked. If left as-is, these are and will be harmful to your customers from both perspectives of usability and security — two considerations that while seemingly disparate, should always go hand-in-hand. Not only does it promote insecure password usage, but in making your workflow actively hostile to the user, you are pushing away potential users and discouraging people from using the app at all.

Please fix these. Your users will thank you, because it will be easier and less counter-intuitive. Your IT staff will thank you, because it will be more secure. Your customer service staff will thank you, because they will not need to deal with as many account reset and usability issues.

And of course, I will thank you, because you will have acted positively on constructive criticism to enhance my experience with your software.

Here We Are. #BlackLivesMatter

June 2nd, 2020 No comments

I speak to you, the chosen ones.
With all our strength, we stand aligned.
[…]
We’re breaking the walls from inside…
…so rise to the sound of Revolution.

Excerpt from “Revolution” by Kamelot, from their album “Haven” (2015).

I’ve been pondering what to say that hasn’t already been said about all the series of unfortunate events that seems to be the trend in the United States. I have neither the courage nor the logistics to be part of the protests in person; but staying quiet about them feels like tacit approval of the very system they are protesting against. And this, at least, I cannot do.

However, it is difficult to know exactly what to write here. I want to help, but I don’t want to mistakenly “help” in the wrong way: I want to incite change, not just more anger. I want to promote equality and education, not violence and vitriol.

These recent events are merely the culmination of many decades of injustice and intolerance; and the ideal solution would be change in the underlying systems which allow these to continue so pervasively. But in addition to these systemic failures of justice, there are lot of other aspects of our leadership structure and personnel that are detrimental also; and I’d like to mention those in this post too. I contend that no one issue here is more important than the other. Rather, all are individually important for their own reasons; and I am remarking on them grouped together here only for the sake of attempting to express my thoughts more completely.

In the year 2020, we have at the forefront of sociopolitical power in our country and many others, people with very little competency and nearly as little accountability. And they are more often than not kept in their high offices by corporations and lobbyists who can effectively win any election just by throwing enough money at it, rather than by any merits of candidacy. Third-party candidates almost never succeed — even if they are exceedingly qualified and capable — solely because they are of a third party.

In the year 2020, during a global viral pandemic, we have a significant number of people who, despite such claims being thoroughly debunked by every reputable medical organization, are advocating against the safety and efficacy of vaccination, even though a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine would be — once properly developed — the only truly safe and effective way to return to some semblance of normalcy.

In the year 2020, when science has graced us with the capabilities of astronauts being able to live and research on the International Space Station long-term, collaborating between many nations to further humanity’s knowledge, and when we can video chat in real-time between these astronauts in orbit and people on both sides of the the planet simultaneously using pocket-sized always-connected devices that can also quite literally show us the breadth of all human knowledge…we have groups of people accepting outlandish conspiracy theories and protesting against the very existence of COVID-19, saying things like the world is flat, manmade climate change is not real, and that COVID-19 is somehow a hoax so that the governments can track their citizens better. (Of course it should not need to be said, but none of these are true. And, fun fact: if they wanted to track their citizens better, it would be far easier to do so using the always-on always-connected mobile phones that almost everyone has on their persons at all times. But hey, who am I to argue logic with those who refuse its clarity.)

In the year 2020, almost a century after the Civil Rights movement first began in earnest, there are still people who think that it is somehow okay to devalue other human beings simply because they are different: whether that is a difference of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, or because they are of a different socioeconomic group, or because they are of a different culture or race, or for any other aspect of them that differs from a prescribed societal norm. (To be clear: this is absolutely not okay.)

And more recently in the year 2020, echoing many prior instances such as the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and many others, we have police officers who, despite having sworn an oath “to never betray […] the public trust” and “to hold [themself] and others accountable for [their] actions” (source: IACP Oath of Honor), abuse their power to epitomize this intolerance through clear excessive force leading to outright murder — in this most recent case, the murder of George Floyd — and are often not held justly accountable for it.

And just a few days ago, after the United States alone reached over 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and still has almost 2 million confirmed infected (source: CDC), we had the chief executive officer of the United States announce that our country would be leaving the World Health Organization, in order to continue his racist trend of blaming China for this disease. (Fun fact: China itself holds about 19% of the world’s entire population. So, yes, it is going to be a significant focus for pandemic efforts, on the simple basis that it holds such a large proportion of the world population. That’s just how epidemiology works.)

Let me be perfectly clear: None of this is acceptable.

Respect should be the default in our interactions with other people, not some reward earned through commonality of class or culture. Respect should never have to be earned. It should always be given.

And yet, here we are.

We should not be so entrenched in a political system that so readily divides issues across bipartisan lines. Parties should be debating what the correct solutions are to our socioeconomic and welfare problems, not debating whether these problems even exist at all. We should not have to vote for the lesser of two evils simply because the qualified third candidate won’t win.

And yet, here we are.

We should not, in the midst of a viral pandemic, be separating ourselves from the primary worldwide organization whose current overarching goal is to end this pandemic with a minimum of life loss.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have groups of people afraid to simply live out their lives, due to the high likelihood of being attacked by those in power who should be protecting them, just because they look or act differently.

And yet, here we are.

#BlackLivesMatter should not need to be a hashtag.

And yet, here we are.

People should not need to be protesting in the midst of a viral pandemic, that their lives are in danger from the very people who should be protecting them, by endangering their own lives even further as part of a (hopefully peaceful) crowd.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have our police officers armed to the teeth and attacking the very people they are sworn to protect, while our medical personnel are struggling to make ends meet with not enough PPE and ventilator equipment to help keep people alive through this global pandemic.

And yet, here we are.

We should not have such intolerance so hardwired into the justice and political systems that even the people who hold arguably some of the highest offices in the world are willfully ignorant and continue to encourage prejudice over progress, and wealth over well-being.

And yet. Here. We. Are.

To you protesters, please stay safe. Stay vigilant. Stay peaceful. You are bold; you are brave; and I stand with you, albeit virtually.

In Memoriam: Developer Shed Forums

June 30th, 2019 No comments

In late-2003, I was a high school junior loving every second of my AP Computer Science AB course. While researching something for homework one day, I found a neat little forum on the internet called Developer Shed where people helped each other to solve programming problems, talk about algorithms and problem-solving strategies, and generally just chew the proverbial fat in a mostly-friendly setting.

I was a fledgling hobbyist LAMP developer at the time — hey, it was a phase — and I enjoyed helping others through simple problems such as fixing logic issues, rudimentary database usage, and the like. In so doing, I found (as any novice programmer probably would) that by working through those problems, I was learning more about programming: both PHP and SQL specifically, but also generalities of debugging techniques, and how to think through problems more methodically. Yes, we had a lot of hands-on projects for the AP Comp Sci AB coursework; but this was yet another outlet for my code creativity. And more practice meant more programming perfection. I soon became an avid member there, averaging an hour or two and multiple posts daily for what would be the next several years.

The following April (2004), after a few months of posting, I was nominated into a moderator position for some of the forum sections that I actively visited — such as PHP Development and the Dev Shed Lounge (the off-topic forum). I eagerly accepted, of course. Being an active community moderator enabled me to directly act against many of the personae non gratae including trolls, spammers, and belligerent users; while also promoting the beneficial posts of more well-reputable users, and working with the rest of the moderation team to write needed FAQs and other such guidelines to keep the forums running smoothly.

In fact, it was this initial foray into community moderation that gave me the confidence I needed to properly fulfill my duties once I became a moderator of the Gentoo Linux forums the following December — a role I held for the nearly two years that I was an active Gentoo user.

My activity on the Dev Shed forums declined rapidly once the combination of full-time college, work, and extracurriculars started consuming most of my available time; but I still checked in on weekends and such for many years. Ownership of the forums changed hands a few times with no apparent significant impact; and my semi-regularity continued until about 5 years ago (?), when the original owner of Dev Shed sold it to Jim Boykin, CEO of Internet Marketing Ninjas.

With their new administrator team running the forums, many of the outstanding problems were resolved — such as creating more responsive templates — and we had very polite and quick feedback to ensure that the forums continued to run smoothly for a long while. They were incredibly supportive of our community, and especially of the moderator team whose efforts kept it running day-to-day. We even got a nice gift box from them that holiday season which included some t-shirts (two of which I still often wear to this day), a signed team photo, and an Amazon gift card. Cool!

Because of their responsiveness and general benevolence, I found myself on the forums a lot more over the past few years: not posting as frequently so much as just helping maintain everything: removing spam posts, banning troll users, etc. However, even this became an extremely-infrequent occurrence in recent months because my time would be so often better spent elsewhere: Dev Shed was pretty much the only decent programming-focused community back when I first signed up those many years ago; but that has long since been superseded by communities like first like OSnews and Slashdot, now Reddit and others.

And so, I found myself perusing Dev Shed maybe once or twice per month — a far cry from the near-daily I had formerly been. Because of my inactivity, I had been pondering retiring my moderator status for the past year or so; but something kept pulling me back. On one hand, it felt a bit unfair that I should stay a moderator for a community that I wasn’t as much directly a part of anymore; but on the other, I couldn’t just suddenly stop being such a significant part of this developer community that had itself been a significant part of my online life for over a decade.

So I persisted, and kept checking in very infrequently to keep up with site news, moderation queues, and some Lounge chat. But I never returned to posting much in any of the programming-specific forums. I just didn’t have the time or patience that I once had to write those would-be responses with the necessary due diligence.

Then, in late 2018, tragedy befell our once-thriving community. For whatever reason, the forums stopped being actively maintained: the administrators became far less responsive in fixing issues; many of our moderation team were online much less frequently, and people were generally not posting as much on the forums anymore. Rumor had it among some of the then-moderators that the administrative team was trying to rewrite a lot of the database and vBulletin backend stuff from scratch because the original owners had implemented a lot of fancy things as layers of kludges — a software house of cards, so to speak. But it seems that was never quite accomplished.

…Which brings us to the present. This past week, the entireties of SEOChat and Dev Shed forums were effectively scrapped after months of effort by Brett Tabke (from Webmaster World, also owned by Internet Marketing Ninjas) to try to modernize them; but unfortunately there were simply too many flaws in the old systems to reasonably fix. I do wish Tabke could have kept the old archive of posts if for no other reason than as historical reference; but I very much appreciate their months of effort to keep that archive, as futile as they seem to have been.

And so it is with a simple goodbye that I leave my Dev Shed past behind. That said, I cannot bid it adieu without mentioning several of the users there whom I befriended during my time as a moderator, and who helped make my stay in that community a pleasant one. I know that I am certainly forgetting many so I apologise that this list must necessarily be incomplete, but the handful that first spring to mind are:

  • SimonGreenill
  • ChiefWiggums1982
  • Sepodati
  • Scorpions4ever
  • B-Con
  • Nilpo

Perhaps our paths online will cross again; but until then, goodbye… Hmm, it seems odd that a short “goodbye” should suffice for something that was a part of my online life for such a long time (15+ years); but so be it.

So long, Dev Shed, and thanks for all the fish.

(Also, yes I will try to post more here; apologies for the long bout of inactivity.)

Open Letter to the VancouFur Convention: Bravo!

March 10th, 2016 No comments

Independent recently ran an article about how Syrian refugees in Canada got housed in [the] same hotel as VancouFur furry convention and the children loved it; and I felt this was particularly noteworthy not because of the perhaps obscure nature of such a convention, but because of the children’s experiences in it.

There are many furries in my groups of friends, both on- and off-line. Suffice to say, I know only a little of the furry community, as it’s not something I am a part of; but it reminds me a lot of the Brony community (of which I certainly am part) in some key ways: Sure, at a glance it may seem weird, crazy, and perhaps even from a misguided perspective, just wrong. But it’s nothing of these sorts at all. When you get down to its core, it’s just a group of people with similar interests being themselves and wanting to spread a message of tolerance and welcomeness, not the ones of hatred and fear that so many other groups try to promote in the name of so-called “righteousness.”

Amidst the culture shock of moving their lives to the other side of the world, these refugees have been welcomed with open arms and friendly attitudes. Many of their first post-move memories will be of these characters, just wanting to be playful and funny and pose for photos and whatnot — even memories of hugs being offered. These memories will not be ones of being prejudiced for their beliefs or hated for where they came from.

And that is a message that I believe the world needs to hear so much more of: Why must we hate each other because we’re different? Let’s instead embrace those differences. Work together. Play together. Laugh together. Grow together. Learn together. In doing so, we can learn more about each other, more about our own world, and more about our place as a humanity within the rest of this endless universe.

So to all the conventioneers and those involved in this VancouFur convention, I say thank you. Thank you for being so warmhearted. I’d imagine it’s an understatement to say that it was probably a difficult line to walk for a while; but thank you for showing by example how wonderful it can be to accept cultural differences, understand them, and welcome them. And perhaps a bit ironically, thank you for showing through your fursonas the goodness that can come of humans simply being kind to one another, not because it produces any sort of gain, but just because it’s the right thing to do. Well done!

Categories: Life, Uncategorized Tags:

The Cost of Introversion

June 25th, 2014 No comments

Ask any good psychologist or neuroscientist to explain the contrast between introversion and extroversion, and you’re likely to be told something akin to this: Introverts expend energy in social interaction and recharge by having solitary downtime, while extroverts recharge by being social and lose energy when left alone or with little to do.

But what is this “energy”? Sure, it’s easy enough to intuit. Clearly, extroverts are always so outgoing, very talkative, and need to be with other people. They excel at group situations and meeting new people, and become antsy and frustrated when left alone for any length of time. Introverts, on the other hand, function much better in one-on-one situations or with small groups of people they know, and tend to dislike smalltalk when it’s just to “network” with new people. In addition, introverts love having solitude for periods of time to recharge their internal batteries.

This analogy of charging/expending energy, while a bit oversimplified, is an accurate one. So then, why are large social situations so “costly” to an introvert? And why can they still “recharge” even when in large groups of close friends/family?

Let’s take a step back from this for a moment and look at how we interact in this society. We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show.

As an introvert myself, I’ve come to theory that this “energy” cost in social situations is merely the necessity to ourselves of maintaining these masks. As we wear the masks and keep our internal filters and censors active, we expend more and more of our mental energy.

At least for me, this is why I “recharge” by spending lots of times with my close friends: Even though I’m being very social and involving myself with other people, it is with friends to whom I’d trust unfalteringly. I don’t have to keep any of my internal filters going or some such. I can just be me. I don’t have to hide who or what I am.

My theory isn’t very good at explaining the other side of this analogy, though. If this is the case, then why do extroverts lose energy by being alone and recharge by being so social and active? This is already beyond my understanding, and something I’d be mildly interested in researching further…But that’s a topic for another day!

Categories: Life, Science, Uncategorized Tags:

Some moments will haunt you; the right ones will inspire…

April 4th, 2014 No comments

[Originally posted as a Facebook note on April 4; retroactively posted to this blog days later. Note to self: I should really use this instead of FB Notes…]

To those who rejoice every time I change my Facebook relationship status for April Fool’s, your wanting to celebrate my intrapersonal success is very much appreciated. So I mark this as a success in its own way.

I’m not normally sentimental about these things; but this is a one-time specialty. Today, April 4, 2014, marks the one-year anniversary of my first date. Ever.

While I don’t want to write a sappy romance novel here or anything, suffice to say that asking her out in the first place was so ridiculously far out of my comfort zone, and was only thanks to the encouragement of amazing friends. Even though the end result of that date may not have been what I ultimately hoped, it forced me to break free from my comfort zone to really try to find my own happiness, rather than waiting for it to find me as I had done for so much of my life. To this day, I am eternally grateful to my friends for their advice and encouragement (and not just in relationship matters); but moreso I am grateful to my date (nameless here, for her sake) for her acceptance.

We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show. But with her, it was as though I was reconnecting with an old friend, and that quick rapport of common interests and passion for technology really made that mask unnecessary.

Maybe it started as a simple infatuation; but for so long I had been lost (and often still am) in my own internal dialogue: constantly interpreting, analyzing and over-thinking everything. Ration, logic, and reason seem to work so beautifully for everything else in life; but not for such as these. My choir director so often advises to “listen louder than you sing”; and this seems so apropos to matters of the heart as well. When I asked her out, it was the first time in forever that I had seriously listened to my feelings louder than that dialogue. I broke free of wondering about how the question would be taken, free of the worry of negative result, and just did.

That initial crush is gone; and I am uncertain of the feelings that remain (some emotions defy analysis) …but I do know this: I am, and want to be, a better person by her having been (being?) in my life.

I’ll end this introspection here; I won’t celebrate this anniversary any more than this simple post, because its significance will fade as I grow to understand and embrace these more intricate emotions, bit by bit.

Categories: Life Tags:

2013: The Year of One Blog Post

January 1st, 2014 No comments

“♫ 525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear…how do you measure a year?”

“Seasons of Love” (Rent)

As I begin writing this, 2013 will end within the hour. I suppose it’s only fitting to post something introspective on my blog, seeing as that’s how I am as a person. It’s hard not to be lost in my own thought sometimes. It’s comfortable in my own mind.

This past year has certainly had its ups and downs. I’ve sadly grown apart from some friends, but have made many new ones. Some of my friends have married or become engaged — and I couldn’t be happier for them! — and from my friends and the friendships we have I’ve learned so much more about others and about myself. I wish I could truly say everything I learned was good; but through good and bad I’ve become a stronger and better person. I’ve had successes which they have celebrated with me, and hardships which they’ve helped me through in more ways than they know. (It is here where I take another swig of this Smirnoff in toast to your awesomeness, friends!)

2013 has certainly had its milestones: first date, first time driving freeways, first metal concert, first time in Europe, first lucid dream, and so on. I could copy/paste so much more from my diary; but suffice to say I’ve made many significant choices about my life and the man I want to be….no, the man I am becoming. In the same vane, I’m sure 2014 will have its own torrent of emotions, insights, and personal growths. I venture into its unknown with an open mind and an eager heart.

So long, 2013 — It’s been a blast!

(Hey, it just ticked midnight! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!)

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

Poem: Insomnia’s Caress

December 4th, 2012 No comments

Having trouble sleeping for whatever reason, so I wrote a short freeform poem to help my mind relax a bit. I call it “Insomnia’s Caress.”

Insomnia’s Caress
©2012 Peter Gordon

Rest betrays my weary soul;
Eyes shut, mind wandering.
Finding neither dream nor rest,
I wonder if it occurs at all.

Hours pass, until the dawn
When light breaks through the veil
I awake to the noise of day,
and rise from the embrace of sleep
to face the world, another time anew.

Creative Commons License
Insomnia’s Caress by Peter Gordon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

Happy Equestrian New Year (And: Thank You, Lauren Faust & MLP:FiM Team)

October 10th, 2012 No comments

Dear Lauren Faust,

Two years ago today aired the series premiere of this show you created: a show that would forever unite millions of fans – both men and women, adults and children alike, myself included – and change their lives for the better. From the inspirational characters to the wonderful artistry, from its excellent musical numbers (thanks Daniel Ingram) to the brilliant voice acting work all around, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has touched the hearts of so many, so quickly. And I your fan, cannot thank you enough.

To be honest, if two years ago you’d have told me I’d today be a fan of My Little Pony, I’d probably have laughed and made some snide, sarcastic retort. But since then, these colorful and playful bunch of magic ponies have stolen this geek’s heart.

I must admit feel a bit like Twilight Sparkle in the “Winter Wrap Up” episode: I can’t draw or do anything artistic at all; I am not imaginative enough to make fanfiction; and I won’t even dare to attempt a Pony Music Video or any such feat, since it would probably just be a waste of bandwidth. So how do I be a productive brony? I hope in lieu of anything fancy or creative, these words will suffice to demonstrate some iota of that gratitude.

In closing: Thank you, Lauren Faust. And thank you to the wonderful team of artists, voice actors, musicians, and other staff behind My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s been an absolutely fantastic first two seasons, and I eagerly await many more. (Oh, lest I forget, and thank you to all the creative fans who make the wait pass by with amazing art, videos, stories, and other media!)

If you would please, a brohoof!

(Pinkie Pie brohoof)

Aleedye’s Brohoof by ~MacchiatoJolt on DeviantArt (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Yours,
Peter Gordon

Passion, Not a Ph.D., Makes the Professor

October 5th, 2012 No comments

It has been said more than once that a good teacher knows the subject matter, while a great teacher is passionate about it. And nowhere is this statement more true than at a university level, where things like high class sizes, tenure, publications in academic journals, and other research opportunities can often cause professors to become rather lackadaisical about their teaching.

For a lot of professors today, a significant majority of their teaching comes down to their lectures. And while a professor may be very knowledgeable about that subject, if he or she does not know how to lecture well, it is ultimately the students who suffer. I’ve had a physics professor, for example, with a Ph.D in his field and decades of experience under his belt. He’s certainly a well-learned expert; but when he gave lectures, he spoke in a very soft, monotonous voice. And with run-on sentences everywhere, it seemed like he never paused to even take a breath. Not to mention that English wasn’t his native tongue, so he spoke with a slight accent. (This one I can’t fault him for; but that doesn’t mean it detracted from his lectures any less.)

Even when I was sitting in the front and center of the class, it was a mental strain to pay attention. Not only that, but his lectures were almost entirely him simply reading from his Powerpoint presentation, which he would post online after each class meeting. So in addition to the effort required simply to pay attention, there was always the mental trap of just reading those presentations on my own, outside class. Combine all of this, and it’s clear to see to how 9 shots of espresso could not keep me awake in that class. In fact, I had to withdraw from it; and I ended up taking Chemistry instead, the following semesters.

On the other extreme, I’ve had professors who are obviously passionate about their classes — for example, asking questions of the students, providing real-world examples, inviting lots of discussion, and really just having fun talking about the coursework. (And for the more awesome engineering professors, this often involves quite a bit of hilarious puns.) This happens even in more extracurricular things, too.

For instance, as part of my university’s Men’s Chorus, I find myself grinning from ear to ear after every rehearsal. Our conductor is fantastic. He’s so emphatic about the music we sing, and so emotive about everything we do in rehearsals and in our performances, from proper vocal technique to really nailing those more obscure rhythms and lyrics, and sometimes even to life in general. He’s also very encouraging and approachable. He clearly enjoys being at each rehearsal. And he clearly wants us to be better singers, and certainly, better people both on- and off-stage. He sincerely wants our choir to be more than just the sum of its voices — and you can see it in his mannerisms, his energy, the determination of how he teaches. (I suppose that in some ways, it’s a bit of an irony that one of my all-time favorite teachers is in a subject far removed from my majors.)

I hope that my fellow students (and former students) have had professors on that better end of this spectrum. For now, I’ll just have to hope that those end-of-semester evaluations are given their due considerations…

Silence is NOT Golden!

October 13th, 2010 No comments

It’s been a long long while (6+ months! Eep.); but to quote the great Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” – and neither is this blog.

So, what has this geek been up to recently? On the one hand, my search for a decent [part-time] job is…well, it’s still ongoing. On the other, I’ve been very busy with classwork, family obligations, and other real life duties.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on updates to several of my packages in addition to new goodies (such as the successor to the GNOME Music Applet, Panflute). I apologize for the rather lengthy delays in these! But, I should be able to get to all of them sometime within the next several days or so. (Git still puzzles me slightly, so please bare with me as I slowly resume my packaging duties.) And lastly, I would like to shout a huge THANK YOU to all those who have helped triage and maintain my packages during my brief hiatus. Now, to finish this Deluge update…

Slight E-Mail Hiccup

March 1st, 2010 No comments

Having grown more than a little bit tired of how slow Evolution is at filtering emails, I decided to try the new Thunderbird. (I say “new” because I have not used it since it was version 1.5-ish.)

Unfortunately, I accidentally decided to have them both open at the same time – my understanding being that IMAP is okay with multiple simultaneous connections. Apparently this is not the case between Thunderbird and Evolution, as I quickly discovered. Something clashed with something else somewhere along the code, and now much to my dismay my Inbox is empty. (Oops.)

Long story short, if you sent me an email since Saturday morning (which was the last time I thuroughly checked my email) that you need me to read and/or respond to, please resend it.  Thanks.

ThinkPad T500: Initial Fedora Report – Marvelous!

September 14th, 2009 3 comments

Well, after receiving my ThinkPad T500, I set about tweaking the pre-installed Windows Vista, and spent most of the weekend attempting to get it dual-booting Vista and Fedora nicely. For better or worse, neither Fedora’s GRUB nor Windows’ BCD bootloader would accept booting the other OS properly. I came to realize that I hadn’t used or needed to use Windows in over 5 years (even the server at work is CentOS), so It’s highly unlikely that I will need it in the foreseeable future. Just in case though, I can always run it in a VM. So, after burning the Product Recovery Discs, I wiped it all and installed Fedora on this wonderful machine. 🙂

I configured it with 4 partitions:

  1. /boot (about 500 MB)
  2. Swap (about 5 GB)
  3. / (FS root, about 35 GB)
  4. /home (the remaining ~210 GB)

As far as the hardware goes, everything appears to work out of the (quite literal) box. The processor’s throttling is automatically handled by cpuspeed and ACPI. The LCD was automatically detected at the appropriate resolution (WSXGA+, 1680×1050) and DPI (129), and graphics (integrated Intel GMA X4500HD) work very well – 3D, Compiz, and everything. Virtualization extensions (so-called “VT”) were disabled in the BIOS by default for whatever reason, but enabling them took only a few seconds and KVM works wonderfully (running an Ubuntu 9.04 virtual machine for a Linux class).

The TrackPoint(tm) and TouchPad both work splendidly, although the TrackPoint does take a lot of practice to get comfortable with. I’m tempted to disable the touchpad in the BIOS, since I don’t actually use it for pointing (and I often erroneously swipe it with my palm while using the so-called “nipple mouse” of the TrackPoint); but I do use it for the scrolling, so I’ve not yet found a happy medium. Suggestions appreciated.

The hard disk (Western Digital WDC WD2500BEVS-0) and DVD burner drive (HL-DT-ST DVDRAM GSA-U20N) are surprisingly speedy. I’ve already burned two copies of the Fedora 11 LiveCD and several data discs (backups) with no problems. The Bluetooth works well, and I can easily send and receive files to and from my phone through the included Bluetooth stack. The wifi  (Intel WiFi Link 5300 [AGN]) works beautifully with the included iwlagn driver, enabled by default. Also, NetworkManager makes connectivity trivial. (Thanks, devs!)

The firewire and PC Card slot also seem to work – they are autodetected and drivers loaded. However, as I have no firewire- or PC Card-based devices, I cannot verify their functionality.

I have come to quickly love the GNOME Power Manager stack. According to it, the battery on a full charge should last me about 5 hours. It keeps track of how much charge the battery has, how quickly I’m consuming or charging it depending on if I am plugged into AC power, etc. It even shows me a graph of my recent power history! Wonderful little tool. With the help of Intel’s fantastic PowerTOP utility, I’ve increased that computed estimate to nearly 6 hours. (!)

With regards to multimedia, things worked beautifully without me even trying. The built-in webcam works perfectly with Cheese, and the built-in sound works for both playback (surprisingly loud at maximum volume!) and recording (not fantastic quality, but it’s very good at eliminating surrounding static and other noises). I can’t wait to try video-calling someone with the recent Empathy enhancements!

All of the hotkeys – brightness-switching, volume control, playback/navigation, etc.) work as expected, and ACPI (with GNOME Power Manager) even automatically suspends when I close the lid – wonderful!

I’ve also noticed that the machine stays colder in Fedora than it ever did while running the preinstalled Windows. Maybe this is only subjective though, as I never checked the actual temperatures in Windows. Or perhaps Linux/Fedora is better at staying in deeper C-states for longer intervals. In either case, I can work with it directly on my lap quite comfortably.

One of the main reasons I decided upon the T-series instead of a similar R-series laptop was weight. Even with the battery installed, it is only about 5.5 pounds. (That’s about 2.5 kilograms for the rest of the world who use a less-insane system of measurements.) This is quite comfortable to carry with me around school and work without tiring my shoulder.

The only thing which I’ve been unable to test, aside from the firewire and PC card slots, is the dual-screen capability. According to the included manual, it should be capable of using the DisplayPort interface to attach a secondary screen (such as a projector) and automatically resize appropriately, with [Fn]+[Spacebar]. I suppose that if this does not yet already Just Work(tm), it will be fixed by the time I need to worry about actually using it though.

Overall, I love this laptop, and am extremely happy with my purchase decision. In fact, the only qualm I have with this wonderful computer is that it’s not yet decorated! Oh great lazyweb, doe anyone know where I can get stickers for GNOME, Fedora, Linux/Tux, et al., to adorn it with? 😀

Also: A huge THANK YOU to all of the developers who helped make my first Linux-on-a-laptop experience an absolutely wonderful one. I love it when things work so simply and effectively!

My First Laptop: A ThinkPad

August 24th, 2009 3 comments

Another summer has passed me by, and I still haven’t learned how to ride a bike nor how to swim properly. Alas, I suppose I’ll get to these eventually. I have kept one of my resolutions though. I finally splurged and bought myself a ThinkPad (specifically, a T500). I decided upon the following specs:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P8400 (2.26GHz 1066MHz 3MBL2) 25W
  • Genuine Windows Vista Home Basic (Will be used only to verify hardware functionality. Fedora will replace it thereafter.)
  • 15.4″ WSXGA+ TFT, w/ CCFL Backlight (137 DPI…sweet.)
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator x4500HD with vPro
  • 4 GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM 1067MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM)
  • UltraNav (TrackPoint and TouchPad)
  • 250 GB Hard Disk Drive, 5400rpm
  • DVD Recordable 8x Max Dual Layer, Ultrabay Slim (Serial ATA)
  • Integrated Bluetooth PAN
  • Intel WiFi Link 5300 (AGN) with My WiFi Technology
  • 9 cell Li-Ion Battery
  • 4 Year On Site Upgrade with 4 Year ThinkPad Protection

Thankfully, I found an excellent discount through the CPP (Contractor Purchase Program) which cut the cost from nearly $2,200 to just $1,400 (including shipping and taxes, state fees, et al.) – a savings of 40%! The 4-year protection plan was about 30% of the final cost. Well worth it, though.

As it is, this will be a life-safer, as I’ve been having a lot of intermittent hardware issues on my desktop: I get seemingly-random WiFi disconnects; DVD-burning often fails for no discernible reason, and my hard drive is on its last legs, so to speak. (In fact, just today I saw another 12 sectors go bad and need to be reallocated…its count is now at 177. The manufacturer maximum is 188!) – I’m all anxious and impatient now!

So, in the span of one month, I’ve spent almost $4,000 (tuition/registration fees, books/supplies, and ThinkPad). I think that’s quite enough for a while. 😮

Categories: Fedora, Life, Technology Tags: , ,

Today’s Spanish Lesson, and Inquiry

August 12th, 2009 7 comments

“Paying attention” is an English idiom which means “to focus one’s attention on” or “to be attentive to.” Like other idioms, it does not translate literally into other languages, especially Spanish. (That is to say, “pagar atención” – from pagar, “to pay,” and (la) atención, “attention,” is incorrect.)

However, there are two ways to say it depending on what it is to which is being paid attention. If paying attention to a person, the phrase is “prestar atención,” which in a literal word-for-word translation means “to lend (one’s) attention.” On the other hand, if paying attention to an idea or a thing, one would use “poner atención.” which if taken in a similar literal translation means “to put (or set) attention.”

  • Correct: Presten atención al maestro cuando les habla.
    (Pay attention to the teacher when he speaks to you.)
  • Incorrect: Pongan atención al maestro cuando les habla.

Note the different connotations in the following two similar requests made from a a speaker (in our example, a teacher):

  • Ésto es muy importante. Pongan atención por favor.
    (“This is very important. Pay attention [to this concept/thing], please.”  The teacher is explaining something to his/her students and does not want distractions.)
  • Ésto es muy importante. Presten atención por favor.
    (“This is very important. Pay attention [to me], please.”  The teacher is demonstrating something, and wants his/her students to watch closely.)

I suppose it’s similar, slightly, to how Japanese translate the verb “to have” (or “to be/to exist”) as 有る(ある, “aru”) for objects and concepts but as 居る(いる, “iru”)for living things. Peculiar…but very interesting. Is this difference in Spanish for similar separation of living and non-living things? I wonder…Thanks for the neat Spanish lesson, mom! 🙂

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

CSUs to Cut Spring 2010 Admissions

July 15th, 2009 2 comments

This is absolutely crazy. Someone just posted it to our Facebook group:

Lowering Enrollment: Budget Cuts Force California State University to Close 2010 Spring Admissions

As part of an overall strategy to address an unprecedented budget reduction of $584 million for 2009-10, California State University campuses will not accept student applications for the 2010 spring term – with very few exceptions.

In addition, quarter campuses that have been accepting admission applications for the 2010 winter term ceased accepting applications as of July 6.

“Only fully-eligible, first-time freshmen, upper-division undergraduate transfers or graduate and post-baccalaureate applicants who have applied for admission prior to July 6 may be offered admission to the 2010 winter term,” said Jeri Echeverria, CSU executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer.

In addition, no admission applications will be accepted for the 2010 spring term at either quarter or semester campuses, for any enrollment category. CSU has typically admitted more than 35,000 freshmen, undergraduate transfer and graduate students during the spring term.

This is just so unbelievably wrong. A strong education is the foundation of a prosperous workforce. I’m all for fixing the economy, but cutting off one of its roots is not the right way to do it! I’m stunned and quite speechless. 😮

Categories: Life Tags: , , ,

Backup Strategies

June 20th, 2009 11 comments

With my primary hard drive (a three-year old WD Raptor WD740) having been on life support, so to speak, for the last 3 months, I’ve been a lot more diligent about keeping backup copies of my data. Every couple of days, I log out entirely and run a simple rsync script to copy my entire /home directory to a specialized partition on my secondary disk, which I keep at /mnt/backup for simplicity sake.

While its parameter handling can be a bit quirky, I find that it is extremely useful for two reasons: The first more or less negates its quirky parameter handling: Clear and thorough documentation, with lots of example program calls  The second is that it saves me a lot of time in copying the files. Similar to the DeltaRPM feature I raved about with Fedora 11, it copies over only the changed content instead of the entire directory tree. With my home directory at nearly 20 GB, incrementally updating my backup like this prevents a good 90+% of the data from needing to be copied again.

In this way, I know that I have at least two copies of my data at any given time. A major plus to copying the directory tree as-is is that, once the drive does die and I replace it, I merely need to copy it over, without changing anything or unpacking huge tarballs and applying diffs, et al.

The disadvantage to this is that I only have one consistent backup copy of my data at a given time, and that backup is on a hard drive in the same computer. So, should there be a massive system failure of some sort (knock on wood!), then I would lose my data for certain. I also intend to purchase CD-RWs for this purpose – that is, as an additional backup medium – in the near future. But for right now, the second on-disk copy suffices. I also want to setup a RAID system in my next computer build…but that’ll have to wait. 🙂

So this simple rsync method, as with any storage decision, has its benefits and downfalls:
Pros:

  • Easy to configure;
  • Can be automatically run (e.g., in a cron job);
  • Updates occur via content deltas, not full copies;
  • Backup data is “as-is”, and can be used immediately after copying.

Cons:

  • Only one backup copy;
  • Physical proximity to original data;
  • Requires space for an entire duplicate of the directory tree.

For me, though, this method works out well. Do others have a similar system? Would you suggest any improvements/simplifications? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter! Thanks.

Recent Lack of Availability

May 27th, 2009 1 comment

Err. If you’ve tried to get in contact with me over the past week or so (email, bug report, IRC ping, et al.), please excuse my complete lack of response. Having just finished final exams, I’d been very unproductively relaxing – playing video games, watching lots of anime, taking a short trip with family, and just generally doing as little “work” as possible – which included Fedora hacking.

I really should have posted some sort of away message or “Offline for a while” email; but completely neglected to do so. Mea culpa. As I’m now officially on summer vacation (at least, until I can find a good job/internship), that will definitely change. 🙂

Categories: Fedora, Life, Technology Tags:

I’m…geekin’ out!

May 8th, 2009 No comments

Right, so I just got back from seeing the premier showing of the recent Star Trek film at the GardenWalk IMAX with a bunch of friends, and I’m completely geeking out. Yes, there were some plot flaws in it (such as the way Kirk defeated the Klingons in the “Kobayashi Maru” exam) but it was meant to be a bit of an alternate history, and I was thoroughly impressed with the movie as a whole. The actors played their roles amazingly well, but I especially liked McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg)  and Spock (Zachary Quinto).

I was also quite pleased in that, as the limelights dimmed for the movie to begin, at least two other people in the theater joined me in shouting Qapla’! (Klingonese: “success”). There were no Klingons in this film, but that made it no less fun!

On the other hand, I do apologize that schoolwork has taken up most of my free time recently, and will continue do so until the end of the semester (two more weeks), and because of this I’ve not been very active on the Fedora front. However, I hope to change that once classes let out for the summer. 🙂