Fireproof

For several years people have been telling me how good the movie Fireproof is. I finally watched it on my flight tonight and agree with everything I’ve ever heard about it. It’s a wonderful story. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it whole-heartedly. It’s a simple story about two people who get off track and have no idea how get back, no idea what they themselves even want, and no idea what the journey they embark on is going to be like.

Since I had someone offer to me once before to pay for the movie if money was keeping me from it, I’ll extend the same offer to you – it’s worth it.

http://www.amazon.com/Fireproof-Danielle-Brooks/dp/B0026KS3XI/ref=tmm_aiv_title_1?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

A Fragile Balance

Trying to explain computer or cyber security can be like trying to explain how a nuclear reactor works – it’s complicated. Nonetheless, I want to take a moment with this post and share a letter that my company, Automattic, Inc., published today with respect to security and government requests as it relates to the recent case with Apple.

The greatest difference between the privacy one has in something like a diary and the privacy one has in the cyber world is a matter of speed and reach.

It’s simply not feasible to find the time and craft to sneak into everyone’s home in a city and look for their diaries, read them, then catalogue that information. On the other hand, if someone has a specific target and they spend the time preparing, they have a very high chance of sneaking in and getting what they want.

In the cyber world, however, things that would normally take weeks of planning and execution take place in milliseconds. Things happen so fast that we can’t feasibly spend the time planning to figure out what we want to find. Instead, it’s cheaper to just get in and take everything and then try to sort out the important findings later. In other words, even though the probability is low that we will get something valuable for any given break-in, we can repeat the experiment billions of times and hope for the best.

This is the difference between someone who takes a week to mold a key that fits your front door and then opens it easily and someone who has a ring with millions of keys on them and can try all of them out in seconds. Physically, we couldn’t try out that many keys that quickly, but electronically this happens all day every day around the Internet.

In related news, somebody recently discovered a security bug in a common piece of software that lots of other software in the industry relies on. The security relies on using very large prime numbers, but the one that had been used was discovered to be non-prime. Here is the number for reference.

143319364394905942617148968085785991039146683740268996579566827015580969124702493833109074343879894586653465192222251909074832038151585448034731101690454685781999248641772509287801359980318348021809541131200479989220793925941518568143721972993251823166164933334796625008174851430377966394594186901123322297453

When someone originally chose this number, they determined that there was a very low chance that it would turn out to be non-prime. In fact, that was a one-in-one-with-twenty-four-zeros-after-it chance that it would turn out to be non-prime, so there is very little blame to be given for the person who chose it. The fact that it’s not prime, however, means that the security behind the algorithm that was using it is severely crippled and it becomes trivial to break just by incorporating some simple math tricks.

The point of this is that computer and cyber security is a very fragile system and a small perturbation is more than enough to allow unintended parties to gain access to systems and data that were intended to be safe and private.Within a year of the release of DVDs to the mass markets and before there were even 10,000 DVDs sold globally, a 16-year-old hacker played a big role in cracking the security meant to prevent people from copying the films from the discs.

Today, the FBI and the Department of Justice is asking Apple to not only help them recover information from the iPhone of a terrorist, but they are asking Apple to build documented security flaws into the iPhone operating system. This is a fascinating and monumental case whose discussion is far broader than this post is able to cover. In short, the things the FBI wants would effectively eliminate any security mechanism built into Apple’s products and it would be no more than a short matter of time before other governments or malicious hackers got access to the same methods of access. Cyber security is a fragile thing and one weakness on one device is a major weakness to all related devices.

Apple has been doing all it legally can to refuse the request and protect its customers. We support their work and believe that the consequences of compliance will bring severe and broad risks to the protection of personal privacy, whether it protects those at risk of political retribution, embarrassing personal revelations, damaging financial misconduct, or even of the release of immodest pictures meant for specific audiences.

Following is the amicus brief published today by Automattic, Inc., alongside many other major technology companies who work hard to protect their customers.

Presta Coffee | Tucson

After too long of not recording where I’ve been working, here is the first in (hopefully) a series of exposés on Tucson coffee shops and coworking facilities.

Welcome to my Workplace

Presta Coffee is the place to be in Tucson if you like snobby coffee. I had been waiting for some time to go there but had heard nothing but great recommendations for it. When I arrived they were doing a cupping and people stood around a table tasting and learning about different varieties of coffee.

Presta Coffee-007

Unfortunately this iasn’t a great place to work. The WiFi access was good, but there were only marginal places to sit down with a laptop and very poor power access. Presta only recently opened up as a cafe; before then it was purely a roastery. The owner and staff were both friendly and knowledgeable, but I’m not sure that remote workers are in their target market.

Presta Coffee-003The Basics

  • Internet access was brisk and required a password that they provided on request.
  • There are only a few choices to buy here: iced coffee, Chemex, V60, Aeropress…

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Micah’s Journey to Diagnosis

My best friend has two wonderful little boys. Micah, the older brother, has experienced difficulties with his speech and there are a few areas where he seems to be developmentally behind other children. At the same time, Micah is one of the happiest little guys I know and has an absolutely charming personality.

It has been a challenge for Andrew and Sarah to figure out how they ought to respond and act to help Micah grow, and for some time they have had a looming suspicion that Micah might suffer under the ailment of a rare genetic syndrome. They finally have a confirmation for a very rare condition called Kabuki Syndrome.

The linked blog post is an incredibly worthwhile read. Andrew tells his story from the very beginning to now and shares his emotions, joys, and struggles along the journey. I am very proud of my best friend and his wife and have learned so much from him as he has shared his experiences and challenged me in the ways that I perceive parents and their children.

Stepping Back

The start of the journey

Early in the morning on September 17th, 2012 Sarah’s water broke. She was five days overdue and extremely ready to meet our first little baby. After a few hours of trying to get comfortable at home we headed to the hospital to meet our little guy.

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The labor went quickly, without any real hitches at all, and our first son Micah entered the world at 12:31 in the afternoon. It is a birth story that Sarah’s midwife said needed to be told frequently to encourage other pregnant women. Birth stories aren’t all bad or horrific or traumatizing. We were fortunate to have a good one to tell.

It was a Monday. I’ll never forget the feeling of lying in that roll away hospital bed that first night with Micah watching Peyton Manning throw four interceptions on Monday Night Football.

I had a son. And life as…

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Pause. Breathe.

This post is coming to you from our new WordPress app for Mac computers, which we released today!

I took a moment tonight after a long few days to setup at a coffee shop in downtown Kansas City. It’s a shame I don’t have more time to explore them because there are some real winners here. Right now I’m at the West Port Coffee House (open ’til 11:00pm).

It’s been a real rush here and I’ve kept myself busy 100% with family matters in the land of my ancestors – well, at least my grandparents and their generation.

Moving around to new coffee shops in unfamiliar cities is somewhat relaxing to me and I feel more privacy here than at home, despite being surrounded by people.

Kansas City has a great downtown with a good portion of history. Sadly I have to miss jazz night here at Westport, but it’s buzzing anyway with people studying, chatting, and having a date.

Rest is important to me. It’s probably important to you. I hope that you have a chance soon to sit back, take a pause from the rush of life, and have a breath all to yourself.

On a slant

In Indiana the water goes down. In Tucson the water goes up.

It has rained here the past couple of days. Noticeable all over are the puddles that the rain leaves. If you walk along the sidewalk at the university you can see all sorts of multi-colored stains from where the puddles have lived.

In Indiana the sidewalks, streets, and parking lots are all slanted and the water flows downhill. Here, the water still flows downhill during the heavy rains, but after each rain there’s a large amount of water that sticks around on the relatively flat surfaces until it evaporates – it flows up towards the sky.

Growing up a heavy spring rain meant that the streets would be washed clean. Rainstorms in our part of town scatter and leave palm fronds and sand across the roads.

Another group of fundamental assumptions broken.

React in Five Minutes

Last week I gave a presentation at a local programming meetup. If you are interested in the details (or on React.js) then check out this writeup with the slides and a demonstration app!

Fluffy and Flakey

Three days ago I gave a presentation on React.js at the TucsonJS meetup. The goal was to provide a high-level overview of what React is talk about why someone ought to be interested in applying it. At the end of the talk I gave a live coding demonstration where we iterated a design for a blogging website (it used WordPress.com for the content generation and management).

The actual presentation was built with reveal-md and the source can be found in my GitHub gists.

If you would like to get started and see what a basic React application looks like, you can check out my react-in-five-minutes repository and dive in (consult the README.md for instructions). The app was designed to be just complicated enough to show how to accomplish real-world problems and yet simple enough not to hide the essence of React in a bunch of logic and noise.

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Perlisms

Tonight I was reading a list of Perlisms – provocative quips from the late Dr. Perlis at Yale – when I came across number seventy-three:

It is not a language’s weakness but its strengths that control the gradient of its change: Alas, a language never escapes its embryonic sac.

A couple of my favorite programming languages constantly get picked for their failings and weird idiosyncrasies, but at the same time they have dramatically altered certain programming domains. JavaScript has revolutionized the web, Python certainly has made programming approachable and useful in academic contexts, and MATLAB has trivialized algorithmic computation.

In these languages you might find things like broken identity (in JavaScript NaN !== NaN), inconsistencies (in Python 2 * '3' is '33' but '2' * 3 is 6), or even very un-programming-like patterns (MATLAB .m files – seriously?) but I feel like these wuts are more or less the artifacts of robust systems being incapable of being everything for everyone all the time.

Truth be told – we all have some major failings, but those don’t have to be the things that holds us back or define us either. In some regards I feel emotionally scarred from experiences with lost tempers and personal shortcomings, but as I have grown older I have learned more and more how to cope with strange outbursts and rude outbursts and overlook them.

We’re all pretty amazing beings and yet we all seem to get into these kinds of situations where we explode: some outwardly in fits of rage, some inwardly in deceptive or passive aggressive tactics. While those things are all problematic, it takes some real courage to look past those when interacting with others and be able to asses them for what they are: small scars in robust and incredible systems whose strengths far out-signify their flaws.

So many things…

Last week was our all company meetup in Park City, Utah. We rarely had more than a couple of minutes pause throughout the entire seven-day get-together. We spent the time working, eating, and having fun (not so much sleeping). As a distributed company, we don’t normally have much time to “rag-chew” or “shoot-the-breeze.” It seems kind of crazy that we could be “busy” having fun together, but this is the time in which we build the relationships that make our teams work. It’s pretty valuable to get to know the people you interact with and these meetups foster good communication.

Four hundred of us came from all over; some had traveled over thirty hours jumping through airports and over oceans. I was thankful to hangout with friends I’ve made over the past year and a half and glad to meet new ones. I’m really surrounded by amazing people at Automattic. We’ve got such an incredible mix of people from various background and interests and skills and it’s pretty unbelievable to cram all that together in one place.

A8C Jam Sessions-036.jpg
My attempt at rocking the cowbell with my coworkers – Team Simperium

Now that I’m back in the United States, my team stays in pretty good contact due to timezones overlapping – we hail from Buenos Aires, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson. That’s it for now though as we won’t see each other again until next year.

This year at the meetup was a bit busier than last year for me because I was leading a project group and we had to come up with something and demonstrate it at the end of the week. We made some tools to make making tools easier for developers. Programming for programmers to make programming easier. Anyway, long story short we were helping make it easier to write better code and evaluate the quality of code different developers submit day in and day out.

When I did finally get some free time I took to the skies! Actually, I took my camera out to shoot the skies, but it sounds better that way. I also had the chance to tag along on a photo tour through the Albion Basin with a professional photographer guide.

Throughout the week we fed on nutrition, coffee, and adrenaline. I probably tallied an average of three and a half hours of sleep each night and totally hit it hard when I returned to Tucson. I was out and a little bit under the weather, but a few good nights of sleep restored me (for more adventurous fun at an educational hackathon). It’s pretty amazing the kind of tradeoffs we can make (for a short bit of time). Oh yeah, and watch out for those Automattic parties – we’re a rowdy bunch!

Clicky Steve put together an excellent photo journal of the week on his blog, all my friends are jpegs.