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Current.

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Current is the latest addition to our family. She is a wirehaired vizsla, aged 14 weeks in this picture.

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I’ll be posting more pictures and videos over at Current Times, a Tumblog devoted to her.

A simple thought on declining relevancy of social categorization, relating to gender and sexuality

I found myself engaged in a Facebook discussion on a local politician’s personal profile wall. He’d expressed his sentiment that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman, a common view for conservatives from western Pennsylvania. A fairly even number of people posted that they agreed or disagreed, expressing their support for the state representative or vowing never to vote for him again.

A battle ensued and eventually most people left the discussion. I tend to 386 pretty hard sometimes. I did this time, so I kept it going for a few days between myself and one or two other posters.

The original discussion on Facebook was friends-only, and I’ll respect that choice by not posting names or what people said, other than myself. One thing I said that felt profound was this statement, something I’ve kept open on a text file in the nearly a month since this occurred as a way of thinking about its sentiment daily:

It turns out that, when you open your *mind*, your *doors*, and your *heart* as wide as possible, you meet a lot of people who can change your views. Gender isn’t binary: masculine or feminine. Sex isn’t binary: male or female. Nature complicates things from time to time, and whatever created them made them this way. We shouldn’t judge them by placing them into our bins, but rather endeavor to make our bins irrelevant.

Quoted in the Post-Gazette’s first article on Bitcoin

I’m quoted extensively in an article about Bitcoin today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Colin Dean, 28, a software engineer who lives in Wilkinsburg, has invested about $500 in bitcoins. Mostly, though, he accumulates bitcoin through mining. In bitcoin lingo, this means he is rewarded with bitcoins for offering his computer hardware to aid in the confirmation of bitcoin transactions.

“I’m very bullish on it,” Mr. Dean said of bitcoin. “I think it has a distinct future as, at a minimum, a simple means of international and long-distance value exchange.”

Read more: Pittsburgh’s bitcoin faithful few, but fervent

On paying for something once free: update distribution

This article Facebook: The Great Party Ends at 12 hits the trend on the button:

If you don’t want to be the product, you have to be the consumer. Hence, Pay up! … And if you don’t want to pay, then it is probably time to lower your expectations.

This is something of which I became acutely aware during Pittsburgh LAN Coalition event planning last year. In 2011 we more than doubled the number of Facebook likes we had on our page by using ads. Our investment paid off. We held the second largest land party we’d ever had. However, during the latter parts of 2011 and into 2012, Facebook changed the way that Pages were able to reach subscribers. Gone were the days of an update reaching all subscribers. At least for free. Now, it would cost us 5 to 10 dollars per day in order to reach all of our subscribers. This is peanuts for a for-profit organization. Do I expect anything different? No. Facebook can control its platform and make money however it pleases. But if it crosses the line into charging individual users… I can choose another platform for my social media needs.

Reinvestment in your private employer: exercising options for fun and profit

Investments are interesting beasts. An investment requires some amount of risk. That is, a percentage change that one will lose whatever was invested. In general the risk is money, but it can be time, too. The loss of money, being a physical or logical possession, is easy to conceptualize. The loss of time is not so much a loss, because time is not a tangible object that can be acquired or surrendered. Rather, time lost is simply time spent doing something that was not productive. The general expected product is, of course, money, but may also be sanity or saved time. Thus, if money is not the return of time invested, time is itself the return, in the form of not having to spend time doing something undesirable later on!

Employment is an investment of time. One invests their time, perhaps eight hours per day for five days per week, in order to earn an expected return: money. Some employers respect employees’ investment of time enough to pay the employee even when they are not working, because the employer recognizes the investment it has made in building the knowledge and reputation of its employee. Sometimes, there’s an unexpected return in addition to the agreed-upon money. An unexpected return can be knowledge, or perhaps a higher than expected compensation in the form of a bonus. Employees like employers who give bonuses.

I believe that the ultimate recognition of an employee’s time, and therefore knowledge and reputation, or really, trust, is the gift of ownership of the company. This comes in many forms, but most often simply stock or stock options. A gift of stock, or stock in place of money for compensation, is very generous and rare for a normal employee of a company. Such is generally reserved for investors and co-founders, or employees who have done something very important for the success of the company.

Stock options are more common. Instead of giving direct ownership of the company, the employer gives the employee the option of becoming a part owner of the company by reinvesting the return of their time investment: their money. In exchange for some money, the employee gains an sense of ownership of the company and some control of its future. This ownership is important because we humans enjoy a sense of possession, of ownership of the fruits of our labor.

It may be a sacrifice for an employee to reinvest in their employer. That’s understandable. However, there is another way.

If an unexpected return – a bonus – is possible, the employee should consider reinvesting that unexpected return in the employer when the employee has been granted stock options. To reinvest via stock options, one exercises stock options by purchasing stock and thus becoming a stockholder. In order to see a return on investment on stock, the company must pay dividends or exit, which means that its stockholders agree to sell the company to another, or the stockholders agree to make the stock available for anyone to purchase, and not just trusted investors or employees.

There are many things to consider before embarking on ownership.

  • Is the company profitable? The answer does not have to be yes, but a profitable company is more likely to survive to see an exit than an unprofitable one!
  • Is the product sound? If the product is in demand and its customers value it, and it’s an honest product, meaning that it’s not snake oil, then it’s more likely that the company will be profitable because it has a product to sell. Products are not necessarily goods. Products can be services, too.
  • Does the company respect its employees enough to retain the most valuable employees? A company is but a group of people. Do the people in charge of that group show the others kindness and appreciation, generally in the form of a permissive work environment or unexpected generosity?
  • Does the company spend its money wisely? It is one problem to be hemorrhaging cash or taking on debts without the employees, product, or profitability to repay said debts. It is another problem for the company to be so stingy and pennywise that expenditures necessary or desirable to keep employees happy and production positive are overlooked or ignored. Finding a balance is important, and so is understanding this question from a wider time scale.
  • How much of its market(s) does it control? A company that controls 1% of a $100 million market is a $1 million company. A company that controls 1% of a $1 billion market is a $10 million company. There’s a significant difference in the change of order of magnitude: a significant difference in the needs of the company and its employees in order to ensure a solid product and thus profitability. Does the company have a presence in the market? Is that market share growing or contracting? Is the need for the product short term or long term? Is the market going to disappear in a few years because of overall falling demand even though the company’s market share is growing?
  • Does the company pay dividends to stockholders? Dividends in small companies are rare, as it is often more valuable for the company to spend its money on its employees who are not stockholders or on building its business via marketing or additional product lines. However, a dividend is money returned than can be again reinvested in the company. It can also be invested in something such as a cold beverage or relaxing vacation, or saved for when one does not need to work! That’s called retirement.
  • What are your financial goals? Is the value of saving unexpected income for retirement or another major life event – or even just paying the bills – more valuable than the potential return if the company exits?
  • How will the company exit? Is it more likely to be acquired by a larger company, or will it go public? If there is no exit and there is no dividend, there’s no return on the investment. Of course, either of those can change at any time, but of course, it’s important to balance that chance with the chance that the income can be better spent elsewhere.

My previous employer exited by selling to a larger company. I foresaw such an event and opted to reinvest a portion of any unexpected income in exercising my vested stock options. Vested means earned and available.

The return was worth it. Why? Taxes.

The sale of stock held for a certain period of time is taxed at one rate, while the conversion of options to sold stock at sale time is taxed at a higher rate. If I’d exercised options that were vested but not yet exercised, my return would have been even higher. If I had not exercised vested options, I would have some money – which would likely have been spent on other things – and my option would have yielded far less return because of the difference in tax rates.

I urge any person offered stock options to consider heavily exercising them if the health of their company is good.

Why I am no longer a Republican

This post has been a long time coming, and a long time in writing. I started it August 24, 2012 after reading a Daily Kos blog post entitled “I abandoned the Republican Party!“. While I most certainly am not switching back to the Democratic Party, as the author of that post clearly is, I feel that he or she and I have similar reasons for no longer wanting to associate ourselves with a political organization so corrupt that it would change its own rules at the last minute in order to keep a person from being nominated for its candidate for president.

I used to be a Democrat. I really liked Barack Obama and was among the first wave of people to sign up for this web site before the primaries. His policies were better than those of the Republican party’s candidates. I was largely apathetic about politics, but Obama was something new and different. I saw that “change” as sufficient to receive my support.

Until I read about a certain, relatively unknown Republican candidate who’d run for president in the ’80s as a Libertarian.

I became a Republican in order to vote in the 2008 primaries for Ron Paul, a politician unlike any other I’d ever encountered. Dr. Paul, an OB/GYN from Texas (originally from Pittsburgh!), opened my eyes and changed my entire political philosophy. His adherence to the non-aggression principle and rejection of classification of people made sense and continue to be principles that guide not only my political philosophy, but my every day activities. I’ve read most of his books and find the key points of self-reliance, freedom of economy, volunteerism, and limited government to be sensible policies that can improve our country and the world. I don’t agree with Dr. Paul on all points — he and I disagree fundamentally on education, women’s reproductive rights, and a few other points. Maybe one day I’ll go through his political philosophies one-by-one and write down my dissenting opinions.

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time increasing my knowledge of his political points while trying to understand the other opinions on the issues. This research, along with actions by the Republican National Committee and its franchisees, leads me to believe that I can no longer represent myself as a member of its ranks. I can no longer proudly say, “I am a Republican.” I can no longer sheepishly say, “I am a Republican.” I refuse to suffer it any longer, and chose to sever ties so that I can grow as an educated political thinker.

Herein are my “95 theses”, per-say. I offer these without linked proof because I feel they are evident to the up-on-things reader. I’ll do my best to offer evidence where challenged in the comments, but much of this is subjective observation and may not be documented beyond my own memories and experiences. If I’m wrong, call me out and let’s have a discussion — that’s something that Republicans seem to avoid these days.

  1. The leadership of the party changes the rules on the fly in order to silence a vocal and growing minority within the party, and the affected members are powerless to stop the rule changes in a timely manner. The former is the corruption, the latter is a problem inherent in the party system.
  2. The RNC essentially chose its champion before the votes had been tallied, despite the existence of a credible challenger to that champion with significant support.
  3. The local parties, in many areas, are full of squabbling and disagreement that follows along the candidate lines: those who supported Romney and McCain represent the incumbent forces who are the problem in the party, while those who support Paul squabble over who is more libertarian-than-thou and cannot focus enough to grow and overcome the threat of the incumbency.
  4. The legislators of the party have continually supported with their vote legislation that prolongs military presence and action in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other sovereign nations where our presence is similar to an occupation. We cannot continue to police the world, or use our military as a police force in countries without a functional government.
  5. Building on the prior point, the party consistently supports an increase in military spending, despite it already consuming more than 30% of the US budget each year. We cannot afford to increase our defense spending when we have no traditional threat against which to defend.
  6. The members and leaders of the party choose religious doctrine as their guiding principles, regardless of if that doctrine tramples the rights of others.
  7. The members and leaders of the party ask “What are you?” before they welcome members and ask  ”How can you help?” If they don’t like the labels you’ve given to yourself through the groups you entertain, activities you conduct, or philosophies you espouse, you are unwelcome: this party breeds and breathes homogeneity.
  8. The leaders of the party who find themselves in the news are most often cast as bumbling idiots, even in the traditionally Republican media outlets.
  9. The party has become so deeply involved in traditional media that its bias is unavoidable, even to the point of outright lies being presented as facts.
  10. The leaders of the party have tricked the membership into supporting initiatives that serve to make the former richer and the latter poorer by playing on the fears of the latter or fabricating altogether new things for the latter to fear.
  11. The leadership treats the Constitution as guidelines at best, if not ignoring it altogether, except when convenient. This convenience manifests when the Democrats try to affect rights in a way that is actually in line with their political beliefs, and neither party is willing to submit an amendment.
  12. The party stands to see an amendment passed that would institutionalize a religious practice that already has government-recognized equivalents that work just as well, but lack the traditional components – that one be physically male and the other be physically female – that are irrelevant to the interpersonal agreement.
  13. The party desires to reduce the level of charity taxpayers are forced to provide, yet it does not espouse no-strings-attached voluntary charity. If a person does not supply the right answer to “What are you?”, that person does not matter to the party. We must enjoin a culture of voluntary altruism before the safety nets supported by government force can be reduced; another way to make a government program go away is make it irrelevant and unused.
  14. The party legislators would rather enact miles of red tape and conditions, or establish rules that will be changed or broken when convenient, rather than engage others in a discussion about a topic. Avoidance only lasts as long as the patience of those who are avoided. They even stoop to the level of detaining or incarcerating dissenters in order to keep the dissent from being heard.
  15. The party legislators fail to ask themselves, “Will this law make us freer?” when considering legislation. They act only to serve themselves and the people they care about: the people who give them the most money.
  16. Campaigns result to attacking candidates and misleading voters, and even taking out of context one opposing candidate’s comments in video games.
  17. GOP state legislators, empowered with enacting laws describing how elections will be held, result to dirty tricks and poor implementations in order to purposefully disenfranchise voters. As a Pennsylvanian, I’m absolutely ashamed of PA Rep. Mike Turzai’s bragging that VoterID will help Romney win PA. Fortunately, a state judge issued an injunction in time for the 2012 presidential election, but not without being lambasted by the party for being an “activist judge”.
  18. The state parties actively sabotaged the campaigns of other parties’ candidates through illegal Watergate-style tactics. The party should have condemned this, but instead stays silent. Silence in this in acceptance, and acceptance of criminal acts is insufferable. It also actively unreasonably prevented a third party candidate from being on the ballot because his paperwork was submitted three minutes late. Rules are rules, but when tens of thousands of people have signed that paperwork saying that they would vote for the candidate and their wish to have their choice is denied by the incumbents, whose candidate needed only to collect a small percentage of signatures comparatively because of an artificially implied sentiment that, because the party’s candidate garnered some arbitrary percentage of the vote in a previous election, their candidacy is desired and immediately validated, a miscarriage of justice has occurred and those with the power to right the wrong have no incentive to do so.
  19. The party tolerates local officials who throw valid, unprocessed voter registration paperwork into the trash in another state.
  20. The party leaders, politicians, and others engage in a remarkable amount of voter misdirection, suppression, intimidation, and more. It threatens the very way our country decides its direction. It’s so widespread and difficult to record that it’s nearly impossible to prosecute effectively. When someone does get called out on it, they get away with a simple “I’m sorry; I stand corrected” or “A staffer was wrong and has been fired”. These excuses just don’t cut it.
  21. The party fails to abstract its points of contention among members into a central platform upon which a larger number of people agree. 66% is not a consensus: it’s one-third of a party ready to split off into its own party. That one-third just needs the sudden gumption to do so.

The reported treatment of Ron Paul and his supporters at the August 28 RNC convention was what sealed the fate of the RNC in my mind and heart. If an organization dismisses and actively fetters such a sizable contingent of its membership, that organization is no longer lead by its membership. It is lead by a powerful incumbency that acts autonomously with reckless disregard of the membership’s will. The organization is not deserving of these sabotaged members and deserves to lose their minds, their time, and, most important of all to its leadership, their money.

After all, Ron Paul won. Whether or not Romney himself was involved in the unethical behavior that installed him as the nominee is irrelevant. Proving such would only harm him; providing that he was not involved would not affect his reputation in the eyes of those who oppose him. At issue is the simple fact that the RNC leadership actively permitted the rules changes at the convention that prevented Ron Paul from even being nominated for the presidential nomination. Unfortunately, there is no feasible appeal process for an RNC nomination, as those would hear the appeal are among the dishonest and unethical leadership of the party.

I believe it is worth describing the state of this schism within the Republican party as a blood cell nearing division. The party was one unit, one strong cohesive unit. As it has gained mass, it’s feeling constrained. To the external observer, it appears as though there are nearly two individual cells. That cell still believes itself to be one, singular cell and tries to act that way. However, its operation is untenable. In short time, in order to preserve itself, it must divide. The division is inevitable once it started. It’s only a matter of time until the molecules destined for the new cell are ready to depart. I’m ready to depart.

I did not shred that card with a heavy heart. I do not regret shredding a piece of plastic that stands for everything I see wrong with the party. I shredded that card with the intention of finishing the revolution of my heart.

Thus, I have departed. My change of party registration is in the mail. I’m supporting the Libertarian Party, and voting for Gary Johnson. Won’t you join me?

A system is only secure when nobody has total control.

A system is only secure when nobody has total control.

It is vital to understand this. People can bang on all day about the security of something, but their arguments are worthless if this basic principle of distribution is not the central point. Decentralization helps; a federated network of systems is more resilient than a centralized system. However, the resiliency of a fully distributed system is unmatched.

Dir biyabir anbessa yasir.

The original link. If you see the original post, comment with the URL.

Quick video of Cecilia

I took this video on my Galaxy Nexus as a test of what the WordPress for Android app can do. Neat!

2012: Some new chapters

I never got around to posting a 2011 retrospective. 2011 was pretty boring at first: ~2 weeks per month on the road for work, spending a good bit of time working on PLAS. I was on-site during the high tension 11th hour license renewal at the heart of the second largest deal in Vivísimo history. Then 2011 picked up. Pittco had its second largest LAN party ever, Iron Storm XII. Brigette graduated from college in May and I bought an early 2000s Nissan Xterra as a second vehicle, largely for her use (we’ve ended up splitting it 50/50).

Our dining room

Our dining room

Then 2011 got crazy. I bought a house in a suburb of Pittsburgh between the city and nearby Monroeville. It’s a ’50s colonial with two garages — a rarity for my new neighborhood! Brigette and I moved in together and spent most of the rest of the year being frugal when the Xterra’s engine blew a head gasket and had to be replaced. Ouch, my wallet. We’ve since settled in pretty nicely. We’re not really ready yet to show off many pictures of our place, but with each passing month, we’re able to make it look more like a home than a house.

Then came 2012. Why am I doing the first half of 2012 already? It’s just that crazy.

CES this year was great. I met a ton of new folks and connected with some old friends, one of whom may be the last time I see her at CES for a while (she changed jobs shortly after). I really made some solid contacts for Pittco and even talked to a few who’d heard of it outside of my bantering! Sweet! Brand recognition!

Which brings me to Pittco, specifically Iron Storm XIII. IS13 was our largest event ever, as I stated in my STATE OF THE LAN address: 186 people attended! Someone in the media said last year, “LAN parties are dead.” To that, I say, “Well, you mustn’t have been at Iron Storm XIII. I’ve never seen so much life at a LAN party.” Granted, I’m a little biased, but seriously. We’ve grown to the point that we’ve exceeded what our current, longtime venue can hold, so we’re looking for a new place in Pittsburgh to house our event.

I got involved in the planning of the Steel City Ruby Conference, a developer conference aimed at Rubyists. Its target audience is any Rubyist, but primarily Rubyists who’d never attended a Ruby conference. I’m lending my event planning skills (thanks, Pittco! thanks, WPAYL!) while also building expectations as someone who has never attended a Ruby conference but has attended other conferences. Registration went live in early May and we were 50% sold out within a couple of days. The event is in August 2012, so check it out!

The craziest part of this year started April 23 when IBM announced its intentions to acquire Vivísimo. The small startup I joined when there were ~85 people had grown to >120 and “fired its warp drive long enough to be detected“ by a megacorp. Lots of confusion ensued, but ultimately most people were on board. The deal officially closed Thursday, May 24. Terms were not disclosed publicly, so I can’t discuss them here. Sorry!

Vivisimo logoIBM logo

Thusly, tomorrow, June 1, 2012, is my first day as an IBMer. I never imagined that I’d ever work for such a massive company (#1-2-3 most recognized brand in the world, as we’ve been constantly told) or that I would get into it in this way, via acquisition. I’ll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future, as Vivísimo’s main product, Velocity, a search engine platform, becomes the center of IBM’s push into the Big Data market.

In-flight WiFi on Southwest Airlines: worth it for business

Southwest Airlines WiFi logo

If you see this when boarding, you're in luck!

I had the pleasure of flying this past weekend on a Southwest Airlines plane equipped with the airline’s in-flight WiFi system. Despite my business travel in the last two years, I’ve never encountered a flight which had it. I jumped at the opportunity to get a little bit of work done during a long flight!

Southwest In-flight WiFi landing page

Southwest In-flight WiFi landing page

Once the plane is at 10,000 feet, the height at which “portable electronic devices” can be used, you’ll be able to connect to the “SouthwestWiFi” wireless network. There’s a limited selection of games available without paying, as is some kind of shopping I didn’t bother to investigate (probably just Skymall). There’s also a neat flight tracker that shows estimated flight time remaining and a map showing where the plane is.

The thing everyone wants is real Internet. Southwest is charging $5 per flight for it. I had some work to do over the weekend, and I much preferred to get it done before I started said weekend. In-flight WiFi was the answer.

Southwest Airline In-Flight WiFi GPS tracker

Ah, the great circle route.

I whipped out the credit card and went for it. This was where I hit my first frustration. I didn’t want to have to dig out my credit card and input my credit card information. There’s already not much room on planes these days, and putzing around in my backpack on the floor to get my wallet while balancing an open laptop on my lap is precarious enough without a large sleeping elderly lady and a Tetris-enthralled girlfriend on either side of me. I would hope that Southwest would somehow tie in the Rapid Rewards login from its web site to the in-flight WiFi payment system.

Of course, one of my first non-work related sites to visit was Pittco.

Southwest Airlines in-flight WiFi Pittco.org screenshot

Pittco.org on a plane?

I found the speeds to be sufficient to get some moderate browsing and tweeting done.

Speedtest.net wouldn’t load for me. I presume it was blocked to prevent curious geeks from overloading the connection with useless bytes. However, I did my own speed testing using my web server and found a pretty solid 512 Kbps connection behind it. Ping times of approximately four seconds proved that the system uses satellite instead of ground-based directed cellular systems like many other airlines use (e.g. gogo). Using ye old ping to my own web server, the times for a round-trip min/avg/max/stddev were 707.559/4123.338/14299.332/4251.890 ms.

My laptop was assigned an IP in the 184.169.23.0/24 range with a default gateway of the standard 192.168.1.1. All of the traceroutes I did, including but not limited to google.com and cad.cx, put traffic onto Level3 in Las Vegas and onto Los Angeles before heading out to the destination after approximately eight hops, five of which were internal and the other three lacked FQDNs.

It’s not without some criticism, though. I dislike the toolbar that is inject into every non-HTTPS page. This toolbar is certainly useful, but not when it’s on every bloody page I’m visiting. I’d rather have a separate tiny popup window showing that information. It’d be neat if that window used the browser’s built-in notification system to tell me how much time remains in the flight every 10 minutes or so. Moreover, it needs a better way for notifying the user when it’s getting turned off (rather than just stopping working even though the network is still up), as well as better statistics (how many people are using it, how much bandwidth is being used in at least percentage). If I’d have paid $5 for it and it barely worked because so many people were using it, would I get a refund? Those kind of quality control questions are something that I think Southwest needs to address.

Also, there always is the issue of security. A malicious passenger very well could set up a similarly named access point using a secondary wireless card, collect financial details, and route an unsuspecting passenger over the legitimate connection and there’s be no way to catch them before the plane hits the ground. It would behoove Southwest to consider how better they can secure this payment workflow. Come talk to me, LUV, I’ve got some ideas!

Lastly, the service is vulnerable to good old fashioned DNS proxying. If you know what that means, you know the significance of it. If you don’t, don’t worry, it’s not a security thing and you have nothing to worry about. Well, except bandwidth contention!

Overall, it was a useful experience. I doubt $5 would be worth it for personal use, other than as an extravagance to enable chatting or simple 2005-era speed-wise browsing. For businesses, though, a $5 expense which can turn into $100+/hour billable time on a plane is completely worth it.

P.S. I discovered that Android, at least Cyanogenmod 7.1, can enable its WiFi antenna while the phone is in airplane mode.