Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Southern Oregon

Galena, Caedmon and I spent this last weekend in Southern Oregon, visiting family and friends down there, and introducing Caedmon around to those not yet blessed with having made his acquaintance. In other words, we made a nuisance of ourselves, impinged on other people's hospitality, and generally paraded Caedmon about, preening, like he was the most important thing to happen to this planet since the invention of indoor toilets. (An invention with which, regrettably, Caedmon remains thoroughly unacquainted.)

Some pictures:

The most entertaining photos came from our attempt to give Caedmon a haircut. It takes quite a few people to do that, apparently, and while Caedmon appeared to be happy with the results, he was none too pleased with the process.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Common Ground?

For those of you who haven't been paying the sort of attention that clinical psychiatrists write papers about, i.e., presumably the majority of you, there's been some interesting discussion taking place on my post, from some weeks back, on the limitations of socially generated knowledge. Some of the comments, well, don't require much comment. But I've been pleased with the tenor of the back-and-forth between me and PaperGhost. (It was this post, in response to mine, that got much of the discussion going.) So I thought I'd elevate my latest response to the level of full-fledged post, in the search for some common ground between us. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there seems to be more of it than either of us might have thought at the beginning of the exchange.

PaperGhost wrote:

Do you think most people out there download scanner / removal tools purely to get rid of Zango, or to get rid of the nameless wonder that's hooked into the browser, dumped fifteen EXEs in the System32 folder and started firing spam about penis extensions to old women in Canada? To me, these people are mostly doing it for the latter, and of course in the grand scheme of things, they might have picked up Zango somewhere and decided they might not want it anymore and hose that too.

This is a good point. Unless they're encouraged to do so (perhaps even by some well-meaning but inaccurate forum posting), it seems unlikely to me that most people would purchase a scanning app to get rid of Zango. Hopefully, our unavoidable "plain language disclosure" during the download process, the icon in their system tray and logo in the toolbar, the notification message that we show upon completion of the install and every 90 days thereafter, and our entry in Add/Remove Programs, and the links in our always-labeled ads, all give people enough information about how to uninstall Zango quickly and easily on their own, if they no longer want our software.

I do continue to have a beef with the failure of some anti-spyware applications to be accurate. I've seen a number of instances where an application will claim that Zango is installed when we're not, or will incorrectly identify Zango as some egregious piece of malware. Those are sometimes understandable bugs, fixed as soon as we point them out, but I'm not sure I can understand why some companies insist on calling us "spyware" or "malware". If Zango, with all the practices, procedures and technology that we've implemented, can in any sense be considered spyware, the term has lost all meaning. My sense is that the term is simply being paraded around for its pejorative impact: draw your own conclusions.

I should emphasize this, though: I'm fully in agreement that security applications in general provide a valuable service. I'm embarrassed to admit that over the last 10 years, I've twice been tricked into executing malware of some flavor or other, and I was quite grateful for the various utilities that helped me clean up afterwards. I'm a reasonably technical and suspicious fellow, so if I can get taken in, there's not a lot of hope for my 90-year-old Grandma, out on her own. She's a sharp lady, but not nearly suspicious enough.

PaperGhost wrote:

I've said often that I'm not overly concerned about the security implications of having Zango on a PC - really, there are bigger fish to fry and nastier things out there to worry about nowadays. The thing that's always made me stand guard on Zango, and quite likely other researchers too, is that the danger hasn't really come from your own application, but the super dubious affiliates you've ended up partnering with in the past.

I agree (more common ground!) that we made some real mistakes there, back in the day. We've legitimately taken some grief for those mistakes – the $3MM fine we're paying to the FTC being just the most obvious example. We signed the FTC consent agreement, and are paying that fine, because we really did fail to police our distribution network properly. We screwed up, no two ways about it.

As financially painful and humbling as the $3 million FTC fine was (as is), it is frankly small potatoes compared to the additional costs associated with our distribution policing issues. For example, we’ve spent millions of dollars more in enhancements to our technology and business practices. The instinct of self preservation, if nothing else, has given Zango quite an incentive to keep its practices and partnerships as whistle-clean as possible.

I do appreciate that PaperGhost added the qualifier “in the past.” We’ve worked hard to clean up our distribution channel and I think that hard work has shown results.

PaperGhost wrote:

[I]n terms of the screwball affiliate installs of old, if they're not happening, I (and probably many others) don't need to be writing about you and can devote our time to worrying about the rising trade in extremely dubious Adware vendors in China, the Korean hackers teaming up with crackers from the States and the never ending stream of kiddy pr0n groups coming out of Russia.

I would honestly be happy if I never had to write about Zango ever again, and I'm guessing you would be too J.

Amen! I think we've got some fairly substantial common ground here. J

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Partial Answers

A friend at church is leading an Alpha class, and one of the attendees was asking some difficult questions. My friend wrote:

So I have a partial skeptic in this Alpha class. The person believes in the new testament just fine, but has a number of issues with the old testament for which I am at a loss to provide satisfactory answers.

If the Bible is the book of life or the way to live your life, how do we reconcile things such as these?

1. God testing Abraham by having him attempt to kill his son. If we tried this today and said God told us to do it, we would be put away for a long time. What was the point of this? If God knows all why did he have to test Abraham, he already knew what the answer would be. Granted I remember this one from last year's bible study, but a satisfactory answer did not stick with me.

2. God commits genocide for the Israelites. Some reference to an episode in Exodus where God says he will destroy all their enemies, also some issue about Joshua and Jericho. I don't know these books good enough to answer intelligently. The basic complaint is that how is this instructive in the way to live one's life? Sounds more like a vindictive God than one of patience and love.

Those are hard questions, and I don't have great answers to them, if only because they bug me too. (Especially the genocide bit in Joshua.)

In general, I try to keep the following things in mind when thinking about these and other parts of the Bible that are disturbing:

  1. Parts of the Bible are supposed to be mysterious. If it all made perfect sense, it would be a little fishy. The Bible is supposed to be dealing with realities that are beyond description. If everything in the Bible just "worked", and didn't have any mystery, or anything that rubbed us the wrong way, it would be prima facie evidence that it wasn't doing its job.
  2. I believe that the entire Bible is inspired by God, but perhaps not all in the same way. Psalm 137 ("Blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks") is Scripture, and is in some sense authoritative for us, but it doesn't have the same sort of authority for us as Christians that the Sermon on the Mount does. We can learn good lessons from both, but not the same lesson, and not in the same way.
  3. God deals with us where we're at. I could explain to Caedmon all day long why he should be less selfish and should think more about other people instead of just about himself – but he's not far enough along yet even to understand that I'm speaking, let alone what I'm saying, let alone be able to do anything about it. I have to speak to him in a language that he can understand, which involves feeding him when he's hungry, holding him when he cries, changing him when he smells, and generally letting him get away with the illusion that he really is the center of the world :-). In the same way, in Joshua, God was dealing with a bronze-age culture that was nearly three millennia away from understanding that different religions actually might be able to live together in peace. The entire history of the Old Testament suggests that if God had focused at all on "why can't we all just get along", the Israelites would have concluded that the easiest way to do that would be to treat Yahweh as just another God amongst the Canaanite pantheon, and an even more important lesson would have been lost. But when the Israelites had finally gotten it through their head that there was, in fact, only one God, then and only then were they ready to hear the second part of the lesson: that this One God wanted them to turn the other cheek, to love even their enemies, and to live humbly in peace with their neighbors.
  4. There are hints even in the Old Testament that the conquest wasn't as bloody as it's described in Joshua. If you compare Judges to Joshua, it looks like Joshua is maybe a tad bit optimistic about how much territory the Israelites conquered, and how thoroughly they managed to subdue the original inhabitants. And the most recent excavations around Jericho haven't turned up much that would corroborate the Joshua account of its destruction. It's been destroyed and rebuilt a whole bunch of times, but it appears to have largely been at peace during the generally accepted dates for the conquest. (In other words, perhaps Joshua is to be understood more like 300, and less like George Grote's History of Greece: it's a genre of literature that's trying to tell an interesting story, and isn't too interested in its correspondence with actual historical reality. The story is still a bloody story, but you don't have to assume that it corresponds to actual, prolonged, divinely commanded ethnic cleansing.)
  5. Finally, and most importantly, I find Jesus compelling enough, both as an historical figure, and as a present reality in my own life, that it's worthwhile to continue puzzling over these and other questions, even when I'm not entirely satisfied with the answers. I could, in theory, just dismiss the Bible altogether whenever I find a difficulty with it, but then I'd have to dismiss Jesus too, and I can't bring myself to do that. Quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of relativity are notoriously incompatible: but they both describe (more-or-less different) elements of reality in such compelling ways that physicists can't bring themselves to abandon one or the other. In the same way, believing in Jesus has allowed me to view the world in such interesting and compelling ways that I'm willing to continue working through these issues, even without perfectly satisfactory solutions.

These aren't pat, Sunday-school answers by any stretch. They're more a way of looking at the world, or things to keep in mind. But they're as good as I can come up with so far.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ingalls Lake (almost)

Yesterday I went with a couple friends from work on a late-season hike up near Cle Elum. We were intending to get to Ingalls Lake, but got turned back by a surprisingly substantial snowpack. We got some good pictures, though. But my favorite pictures came from after we headed back down to the Teanaway River valley, with all its fall colors out. More here and here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Seattle Storm

We had a fun little storm in Seattle this afternoon/evening. The wind was blowing up to about 30 miles per hour through the woods behind my house, resulting in this interesting shot. 10 seconds at F5.6. Of course, the only reason I was home early enough to catch the picture was because the power went off at work...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It’s a start: third-party iPhone apps

It's been the obvious move for a while now, but Apple finally realized that they'd screwed up pretty badly, and today Mr. Jobs agreed to open up the iPhone platform.

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers' hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

This hasn't quite absolved Apple in my eyes. It doesn't really bother me that Apple has locked their phone to AT&T's network: I'm used to using phones that are locked to one network or the other. But it remains annoying to me that Apple ever thought they could get away with more-or-less permanently (OK, not so permanently) bricking phones which some enterprising hacker figured out how to unlock. So Apple's not entirely back in my good graces: but I might actually consider getting one for my wife. Maybe.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Inexcusably cute pictures of Caedmon

Sorry, no excuse. These are entirely unjustified and gratuitous.

Images of Autumn

I've been taking pictures of autumn lately: the colors are amazing, and it's a great way to ease into the opening months of Seattle's nine-month rainy season. More. I should note that I like the Pentax K10D a lot more for outside work than inside: the automatic white balance settings are a lot more suited for sunlight or overcast than incandescent.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ops Retreat

I spent the last two days up at Keith's cabin, with most of the folks from our North American Operations team. It was fun: close enough to Fall to have some great colors, just enough rain to make it muddy, just enough injuries to make it interesting.


Monday, October 8, 2007

On Being a Presbyterian

A good friend (a companion from of old, from my previous life as a Pentecostal) recently asked me why I count myself a Presbyterian these days:

In one of your past blogs I noticed a reference to your switch to the Presbyterian Church and it made me wonder about that switch. Did you switch for theology or for social issues (i.e. the people here are so friendly and the hot super model pastor preaches in the nude)? Yes I know that's a little silly, but you get my point. I'd like to hear, if it was for theology, what that theology was; and if your comparison was made against the A/G or against all other denominations.

I can assure anyone listening of one thing: it wasn't because our pastor is super-hot and preaches in the nude. Charlie's a great guy, but I have no more desire to see him in the nude than I have to see Newt Gingrich dancing the tango with a g-string and a flower in his teeth.

I ended up going the Presbyterian direction for a variety of reasons, none of them fully persuasive in and of themselves. Of all the different aspects of Presbyterianism, I like the following things in descending order: (1) their roots in the Reformed tradition; (2) their liturgical style; (3) their polity; and (4) their contemporary theological direction. Or to put it another way: I like the first two, and am not terribly keen on the others.

  1. I'm broadly sympathetic with Reformed theology, in that I think Calvinism systematizes Biblical revelation about as well as any system can be expected to, and Presbyterians are the most accessible modern incarnation of that tradition.
  2. I also like how Presbyterians worship: they're flexible enough to sing choruses when it's appropriate (which isn't terribly often, in my opinion), and hymns the rest of the time; they can raise their hands in worship and speak in tongues (our pastor does), or stick with the ancient liturgical traditions. I like a church that's flexible enough to mix all of those things together.
  3. I don't really care for Presbyterian church governance. It's exactly what you'd expect from a denomination that has accumulated 500 years of making mistakes, and is determined to prevent any of them from ever happening again. The result is a church that's less interesting in getting something done than in making sure nobody screws up along the way. If this were a SAT question, it would be: Presbyterians are to Pentecostals as government is to private enterprise.
  4. I'm not real excited about the directions that Presbyterian theology has taken the last 20 years or so. When you have Presbyterian position papers coming out that advocate "Mother/Womb/Child" as reasonable Trinitarian language, something has gone badly wrong. Even the Presbyterian emphasis on social justice, which I admire, may have as much to do with following cultural trends towards political correctness, as with a genuinely Christocentric desire to work out the Gospel in practice.

In summary, I've actually come to think of the differences between denominations as being less and less important lately. Or rather: I wish that Christians were more interested in arguing about their differences, and slower to get angry about them. No denomination is perfect, and if Galena and I were to move, we'd certainly consider churches from other denominations as well. But we'd probably try out the Presbyterian churches in our new neighborhood first.

Wrong about the iPhone

I was wrong about the iPhone. The real problem isn't its lack of haptics – though that would still be a neat touch to add. It's the fact that Apple is hell-bent on turning the iPhone into a device as proprietary as the calculator sitting on my desk. It's simply astonishing to me that Apple has managed to get away with an update that intentionally and permanently "bricks" unlocked phones, or more astonishing yet, automatically removes or breaks any third-party app you might have installed. To put this in perspective: imagine Microsoft automatically uninstalling OpenOffice or Lotus Notes during an update because it decided they weren't authorized. Try to imagine the outcry; and you'll see why I'm astonished that there's only been the current level of bad PR about Apple, and not several orders of magnitude more.

I was thinking hard about getting my wife an iPhone for Christmas: they're pretty cool. But I'm going to hold off until Apple changes their tune, if only as a protest vote. I really am astonished at how badly Apple has stumbled on this one.