bnewman: (firefly)
I don't write about Good and Evil very much — I tend to be more of the It's All Relative school. But Good and Evil do exist, and Heaven and Hell are very real as well, as close as the cartoon angel and devil on your shoulders. This Friday, real, unalloyed Evil, as petty and pitiful as it may be, will be coming to Brandeis University. I speak of a contingent from Westboro Baptist Church — yes, them, the so-called "Christians" who, without knowing anything about you, already hate you because you are different from them. I won't dignify them with a hyperlink.

The Brandeis community has, of course, organized a response. Wisely, it will not be a direct counter-protest, but a celebration of our community's shared values. Community members have pledged money to Keshet, an advocacy group for LGBT Jews, in proportion to the duration of the WBC protest. And Hillel is organizing a Harry Potter themed Shabbat dinner, I assume for the express purpose of pissing off the WBC. Good!

But, for me, as a Jew, as a fan, and as an enchanter, there's more to it than that. Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us that our words matter. G!d created the world with speech, and saw that it was good. We, too, can create the world as we speak — when we say "Thank you," or "I love you," and most of all when we articulate in speech our vision of the world we hope for, and invite others to join us in making it a reality. This is true of all speech, not just some special category of magical speech, but ancient Jewish wizards did, in light of this, seal their spells with the declaration "I create as I speak" — אברא כאדברא — Abara k'adabra. Abracadabra!

We create as we speak. But we can also destroy — this, also, we learn from the Torah and from Harry Potter. Jewish tradition speaks of לשון הרע/lashon hara, the evil tongue. Hateful speech that stings and demeans can poison souls and destroy lives, even kill. The line between creation and destruction may seem stark and clear, but it is very thin, as thin as one stroke of a pen, the one stroke that turns ר/resh into ד/dalet: "I destroy as I speak" — אבדא כאדברא — Avada k'adabra. Avada kedavra, words that kill.

This is what we're up against, the face of the Enemy. But ultimately, Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us, love is stronger than hate. When we stand together in love, G♥d is with us, helping us create a world of hope, tolerance, peace, and good will. So claim the power of your voice. Create the world as you speak — אברא כאדברא — Abracadabra! — just like magic. Because if we do that, together, we'll win.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your children may live. — Deuteronomy 30:19

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. — John 1:5

Now, after writing Walk in the Day, I'm not sure how I feel about the diurnal assumptions embedded in that last quote. But we are diurnal animals, and that is our metaphor, and our Truth — it's the message of Chanukah, and it's the message of Advent (and Christmas after): The Light will return. Hate ultimately destroys itself. Love triumphs.

Prayers, spells, and all forms of positive energy are welcome in support of Brandeis's response, please direct such energy to the Brandeis community as a whole. Feel free to link to this post.
bnewman: (omg_wtf)
Apparently, LJ will no longer allow the creation of Basic (free, ad-free) accounts. Existing accounts can (for now) still be switched to and from Basic status. The latest news posting (which might, theoretically, have prominently mentioned this) says nothing about this change.

As has been ranted about at greater length elsewhere, this is a violation of (legally non-binding, but quite explicit) promises LJ has made in the past regarding the character of its service and its relationship with users. Brad, original founder of LJ and now Not In Charge, but on an advisory board which is apparently going to be ignored by the new Powers That Be, agrees that this was a breach of trust and a bad move.

I'm not sure what I'm planning to do about this. My account will remain Basic unless and until there's another change in policy (I wouldn't trust an assertion that this won't happen if I were given one), but I can certainly no longer recommend in good conscience that anyone join LJ in order to keep up with me. On the other hand, I don't post here all that often. People can follow my journal, such as it is, using RSS, and comment anonymously or using an OpenID, and I have few locked posts.

At the same time, I will say this: Why have so many of us put ourselves in this position where the data that make up our personal and social lives is held by a company that we don't control and with whom we don't even have a real contract? For each other. I could drop LJ in a moment — log out and never log back in — if everyone on LJ whom I care about would follow me. They only have a hold on me because they have a hold on you, and so on, circularly. We are hostages. We came because it was a good deal, but we will stay even if it becomes a bad deal, at least for a while.

Where could we go? Another social networking site? There are others that have better reputations (InsaneJournal seems to be an especially popular destination for LJ refugees)... or, we could hope for some software and protocols that would allow us to achieve the same functions we get from LJ while hosting our content on whatever machines we choose.
bnewman: (Default)
Our society's trust and authentication systems are fundamentally broken. They are broken for a very specific, concrete reason which I will outline below. Bruce Schneier has, of course, written on this exact matter, but I can't find the specific article I'm thinking of.

Suppose John Doe applies for a credit card. He tells them truly that his name is John Doe and his SSN is 123-45-6789. He tells them a bunch of other stuff too — enough stuff for someone to decide whether or not to issue him credit as John Doe, 123-45-6789. This means that any employee of the credit card company with access to his application can submit a fraudulent application to another credit card company, just like that, because they have all the information that needs to be on such an application!

The problem with this system is that transactions are replayable — the same "secret" is used to authenticate to everyone, which makes it a lousy secret. The SSN was never meant to be used this way. It was meant to be used for identification purposes, in the strict and limited sense: If I say "John Doe, 123-45-6789", and you say "John Doe, 123-45-6789", we know we are talking about the same person, and that one of us is not, for instance, thinking instead of John Doe, 987-65-4321. But we have no reason to believe that either of us is John Doe, 123-45-6789 — how could we, when everyone who has ever had need to refer to him in such a capacity knows his SSN?!

Well, then, we need a new authentication model... )
bnewman: (damselfly)
<large><friendly>DON'T PANIC</friendly></large>
bnewman: (damselfly)
I may be getting over my profound ambivalence about Chanukah.

Click here for a rant explaining the source of my ambivalence about Chanukah. )

What we need is a version of the Chanukah story which abstracts over just some of the details, not all of them. Like this:

There's a light in each of us. Sometimes, people will ask us to hide our light. They may threaten us with exclusion if we let our light shine, or with violence. And we may sometimes give in, and hide our light, and it may even seem to go out entirely. At times like this, we may look within, and take stock of the inner resources that we have for the rekindling of our light, and they may seem inadequate. But, if we dedicate ourselves to letting our light shine, in order to increase the light in the world, then whatever we need to rekindle our light will be given to us, in the form of the very resources we already had, but thought were inadequate.

That's much better, isn't it? Moral of the story: Let your light shine. If anyone tries to tell you not to, kick their ass. I'll help.

I especially like how this new version encourages me to integrate my Judaism with a wishy-washy, cosmoplitan paganism — hey, that's my light, I'm gonna let it shine. At least it's not a state-sponsored, monomaniac-pandering cosmopolitan paganism. That would be wholly evil.
bnewman: (Default)
Okay, we knew that already. But why?

For those who are confused, Slans are superintelligent, telepathic mutants from the science fiction novel Slan by A. E. van Vogt. Once upon a time, there was a "Fans are Slans" meme in fandom. This meme was subsequently rounded up and defanged on account of being chauvinistic.

But really, it's just wrong. Fans are superintelligent, alright — we're just not telepathic. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that mundanes are telepathic. Who exactly has trouble parsing social signals?

So now I want a science fiction novel about a culture with two races, of which one is superintelligent and the other is telepathic.
bnewman: (Default)
In QuickTime 7, "Save As..." is a PRO feature.

By itself, that's merely evil, and — sad to say — merely the industry standard level of evil.

So what did they do that's stupid? )
bnewman: (Default)
As I was reminded last night at the Hillel social, I hate to schmoose.

What's new is, now I know why — when I walk away from my first conversation with someone, I want to know why I can expect to speak with them again. Where a person is from doesn't answer this, unless they are from my neighborhood and remember fondly the same restaurants. What a person is studying doesn't answer this, unless they are going to be in my classes, in which case I will get to know them in class, and don't need to beforehand. Only the prospect of shared interests and projects serves this purpose, and while I imagine most people at the Hillel social did have one thing in common, the Jewish community at Brandeis University is too large and diffuse to serve in toto as a social nexus for someone like me. I eagerly await the Activities Fair on Sunday, which I imagine will be much more useful in this regard.
bnewman: (Default)
Sunday: I bought a new computer. I almost couldn't afford it — the Apple Store couldn't take a check, because I don't have photo ID with an address on it that matches the address printed on my checks. Grrr. I has $800 free on my credit card, and was able to extract $900 from the ATM in the mall before I got locked out. That gave me enough for my new 14" iBook and its AppleCare warranty, but not any of the accessories I wanted. And since my Brandeis ID hadn't been printed yet, I couldn't get the student discount. Mood: Grrr!

Thursday: My credit card payment having cleared, I returned to the Apple Store, and purchased the accessories I wanted — a USB hub, a pack of DVD-Rs, a set of speakers, a copy of iWork. I had forgotten my receipt from Sunday, but my credit card was sufficient to find my record and get my student discount, $100 off the computer and $66 off the AppleCare Protection Plan. Plus, I got an iPod Mini, which will be free after a mail-in rebate. Mood: W00t!

On my way out of the mall, I stopped at Best Buy and purchased a notebook backpack. Having stuck with my slowly dying iMac DV for 5 years, while all my friends got laptops and iPods, feeling all the while that I was losing my geek cred on account of insufficient gadgetry, I now feel much better ;-).
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