August 2011 archive

Why The "Nym Wars" Matter – Preserving Pseudonymity On An Open Internet

Identity (Clone trooper Tales #44)

There's an identity war going on out on the Internet right now... there are multiple aspects to it... but the key is that:

it is a battle for control of YOUR identity!

Think of any website you've visited lately that has offered you the ability to "Login with Facebook" or "Sign in with Twitter".

It's simple. Easy. Convenient.

And dangerous.

Because in embracing the convenience of such services (and I am certainly guilty of this myself), we surrender control of our identity to the identity provider.

But that is a broader topic for a much longer piece I want to write...

Right now I want to touch on the point:

What if the "identity provider" won't let you use what you consider your "real" identity?

What if the identity provider requires you to use your "birth name" (or "real name") instead of the name that everyone knows you as?

Welcome to the world of pseudonyms... persistent identities used by people instead of the names they were given at birth.

Pseudonyms have been with us for eons... as noted above, authors and entertainers have long used them. In fact, a pseudonym was involved with the founding of the United States.

And this pseudonymity is exactly what is at stake in what is being tagged as the "#nymwars" on Twitter.

This latest battle in the much larger war really began back on July 22nd, when Kirrily Robert, a developer (and former co-worker of mine) who has gone by the pseudonym "Skud" for many years, was suspended from Google+ for not using her real name and took to her blog to publicize this fact. There have been literally hundreds (and maybe thousands) of articles on the topic posted between then and now... with the most recent wave being about Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comments that Google wants you to use your real name because they want to be an identity provider... and do things with that "real identity" of yours.

This battle isn't just about Google+, though. Facebook would also like you to only use your "real name" and to have you assert only your "real" identity.

I could go on at great length about why this is a bad idea, but would instead point you to this excellent but lengthy piece:

Read it... and then go back and read it again. A powerful piece laying out so many of the reasons why pseudonymity is important.

And a key point is:

Pseudonymity is NOT anonymity.

There is an entirely separate discussion to be had around true anonymity... and the value therein - or not.

But that is entirely different from the idea of a persistent identity that one uses as a replacement for one's "real name".

Should we not have the right to use the name that people know us by on these services?

The response, of course, is that using these services is optional and you can, of course, choose NOT to participate in Google+... or Facebook... or whatever other service requires you to use your "real name".

And obviously that is an option.

But what if many of the conversations I want to participate in have moved to one of those services? What if all my friends are sharing photos using some new service... and I can't because I'm forced to use a different identity than what I want to use?

What if I am an author or entertainer and want to engage on that service with my fans through the persona I use?

What if that service is the only way to communicate out of my country or region and using my real name may get me killed?

Pseudonymity matters.

Control over our identity matters.

The ability to control the identity we choose to use on services on the Internet matters.

The war for our identity will continue to rage... will the victor be the organizations who control the services we want to use? or will we retain the right to control our identity?

Your choice...

Other good articles worth reading:

Image credit: koisny on Flickr

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Happy Birthday, Skype! Celebrating 8 Years of Disruption

skypelogo-shadow.pngIt was 8 years ago today that the first public beta version of Skype was released... and so began the amazing journey of a product/service that has truly disrupted the telecommunications industry. The Wikipedia page on Skype has a good record of the history, which is interesting to look back upon now.

I started using Skype sometime in early 2005 or so... working in Mitel's Office of the CTO charged with evaluating new technology - and seeking to understand what Skype was all about. I started writing about Skype then... and still continue writing a good bit about Skype as it is certainly one of the more disruptive players in the industry. Skype today is a HUGE part of my daily life and truly is one service that is integral to my daily workflow and life online.

Skype's blog post today, of course, focuses on their current fixation on video calls... even including the strange text (my emphasis added):

What started off as a little idea to connect the world over video calls has turned into something so much more, and we believe this is making a huge difference in making the world feel smaller and a lot more connected.

I don't actually know the ideas of the original founders of Skype, but I do know that in the actual early days of Skype it was all about audio versus video. Perhaps they had the grand dream then of video and had to focus on the reality of audio... or perhaps this is just the current Skype marketing trying to focus on their current messaging around video.

From my perspective, the 8 years of Skype thus far have:

  • completely destroyed the expensive costs of international telephony;
  • provided people a real viable option to use video telephony;
  • introduced people to the idea that you could have audio calls that sounded FAR better than the PSTN via wideband audio codecs;
  • gave people a true multi-modal "unified communications" experience with the ability to easily migrate between chat, audio, video, file sharing and screen sharing;
  • provided the industry with a solid example of secure communications using SRTP (while the carriers were whining about how they couldn't use SRTP because it would be too demanding on their infrastructure);
  • provided an incredible example of the power of persistent group chats;
  • provided an example of what a simple and easy user experience could be in a world of cluttered interfaces; (although some may argue that ended with Skype 5.x)
  • gave we who are fascinated by networks and amazing example of a peer-to-peer communications system; and
  • provided an example of a product that can "just work" from behind pretty much any network configuration including layers of NAT, firewalls, etc., etc.

... and so much more. It's been a fascinating service and company to watch, write about and use their products.

Oh, it hasn't all be great, of course... the business side of Skype has been all over the place. The partner/developer programs are on their 7th or 8th iteration. Various other programs have come and gone (SkypeCasts? Extras?). Skype has pursued it's incredibly fractured product management strategy across the multiple different operating systems.

But all in all it has certainly been fun to have Skype around ... and it sure has disrupted the industry!

What lies ahead now that Skype is slated to become part of Microsoft? Much remains to be seen... but odds that when their 9th birthday rolls around they won't be quite the same disruptive troublemakers that they are today. We'll see.

Meanwhile... Happy Birthday, Skype!

And two other friends have shared their thoughts today:

And here is Skype's birthday video... slickly produced with a message that does indeed celebrate the communications power that Skype has brought to our world:

I'm looking forward to seeing where the next 8 years of Skype takes us...

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The Hellacious Purgatory of Waiting


Waiting sucks.

There is no other way to say it. More polite phrasings simply do not convey the correct emphasis. Waiting sucks.

And now... we wait.

Two weeks ago we visited my wife's oncologist to learn what would be the treatment options for her breast cancer now that the mastectomy was done. Naively, we thought based on what we had heard after the operation that all we would really be talking about was whether or not it made sense for her to start taking a hormone drug, Tamoxifen, for the next five years. There are some various medical history issues that raised some questions about that... so we thought our discussion would be about that.

The oncologist at our local hospital sat down with us for what turned out to be most of 2 hours. She walked us through my wife's pathology report and started out talking about all the positive aspects of the report... but with an unspoken "BUT..." hanging out there... until the "but" was spoken... and a word we thought we'd never hear was voiced:


We figured with the tumor rather drastically removed (since the entire breast is gone) and the sentinel lymph node coming back clear, we were done with any thoughts of chemotherapy.

And we may be... or chemo may be back on the table.

Unfortunately, my wife's tumor turned out to be invasive breast cancer and as such there is a danger that it could spread into other parts of the body and morph into other forms of cancer. The "sentinel" lymph node was clear, meaning that there was no sign that cancer was regularly spreading into the rest of her body... BUT... there is always the chance that a small amount of the cancerous cells could have already spread into her body and not left any sign in the lymph nodes.

The oncologist had an interesting viewpoint:

My wife will never have as little cancer in her body as she does right now.

It took me a moment to wrap my brain around that one. The reality is that with the tumor gone and with the sentinel lymph node clear, odds are that IF any cancer made it out into the rest of the body it is only out there in a tiny amount - and has not yet started to attack other cells.

So now is the time to do everything possible to kill it.

Hence considering chemo as an option.

waiting ...could be the hardest thing.

Of course, the insanely frustrating aspect of all of this is:

There may be ZERO cancer cells in my wife's body!

They may in fact have been completely removed with the tumor. But there is no way to know... and it comes down to what level of risk you want to assume and how comfortable you are playing the odds that the cancer is gone.

Hence the waiting.

They are doing another round of blood tests and actual tests on my wife's tumor, specifically an Oncotype DX test, to help provide more data to determine whether chemo would really help fight the specific cancer my wife had/has. It turns out that for a certain % of women, chemotherapy really isn't that effective, for a certain % it is very helpful, and another % is in the middle of those two sides.

Into which category does my wife fall?

For that we wait... "7-10 business days" is how long the test takes once they get her tumor... and while you are waiting that seems like an agonizingly long time.

And so we wait.

And wait.

Stuck in an unwelcome purgatory... unable to make concrete plans for the next few months... unable to understand what our future holds... paused in a limbo where life seems to be on hold - even while the everyday life around us must continue.

Just waiting for a call that says the test results are in and we can sit down and start to understand what comes next.

Waiting sucks.

And so we wait...

Image credits: mag3737 and 25182350@N03 on Flickr.

Can You Help With Data Collection For Hurricane Irene Crisis Response?

CrisiscommonsWith Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast of the US and expected to make landfall within the next 24-48 hours, many volunteer efforts are underway to be in position to help the regions that may be effected... including efforts by "technology volunteers" to collect data and assist crisis response organizations that are there on the ground.


The CrisisCommons group now has a page up at:

with information about how you can get more involved - see the "Open Data" block on the right side for current volunteer projects.

One such effort is a map of shelters and incidents that will evolve as shelters are set up - volunteers are needed to help put existing maps of shelters onto the map.

Another effort is media monitoring being done by Humanity Road.

The CrisisWiki is also gathering resources about Hurricane Irene.

If you aren't in one of the affected areas (where you may have much more direct things to worry about), all of these are great ways that you can help out from afar!

If you have some time to spare today or over the weekend, please check out the CrisisCommons page to learn how you can help!

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Video: How to Communicate at Burning Man using OpenBTS and Tropo

Heading to Burning Man this coming week? Would you like to use your mobile phone to connect up with others on the playa in Black Rock City?

If so, check out this video from Chris Pirillo about the work being done by a team of folks to supply local cell phone coverage... the vans with satellite and cell hookups are already enroute... it uses software from OpenBTS and to let burners leave each other voice messages, exchange SMS messages and more. Here's the video:

And here are some blog posts that provide more information:

I'm not personally going to be at Burning Man, but this does sound very cool!

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Running Over 400 Miles And Counting…

400milesLast week I passed a milestone in this little running adventure of mine. Per the "Nike+ GPS" app I've been using on my iPhone I crossed over 400 miles total that I've run outdoors and tracked with this app.

Not bad considering that my first full run was about a year ago, September 7, 2010, for a whopping total of 1.6 miles. Prior to that I'd mixed running and walking.

And I'm still incredibly amused by it all given that as I've mentioned before, I NEVER expected to be a "runner"!

Not in a million years.

Yet here I am. Not only enjoying running... but actually craving running and starting to get twitchy if I don't get a run in at least every other day.

Strange world.

I'd note, too, that this app didn't track all the running I did indoors on a treadmill over the winter. And there have been a couple of runs where the app malfunctioned... or where my iPhone ran out of battery power.

So my actual mileage is substantially higher.

But, hey, this is a good measure of my outdoor runs... and given that I'm running 15-20 miles a week now, I should be cruising through 500 miles fairly soon.

Fun stuff to track!

P.S. And if you don't believe that I wasn't a runner, read this post about how 40-year-old fat men can get up and run. :-)

Adhearsion (and AdhearsionConf) On Tomorrow’s VUC Call – Telephony Via Ruby

Adhearsionconf2011Want to learn more about the Adhearsion framework that lets you easily create telephony and other communication apps using the Ruby language? On tomorrow's VoIP Users Conference (VUC) call at 12 noon US Eastern, Ben Klang from the Adhearsion project will be talking about all that's new in Adhearsion-land, including the upcoming AdhearsionConf 2011 in October in San Francisco.

I've written about Adhearsion before and while I don't do much with Ruby myself, the power of Adhearsion to create powerful telephony apps in a few lines of code is pretty amazing.

If you'd like to join the VUC call live tomorrow, the info is:

There's also a very active IRC backchannel (#vuc on free node) that provides another way to communicate during the call.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Techmeme stevejobsRight now, at the moment I write this post, Techmeme stands as a monument to the end of the Steve Jobs era.

Go on, check it out... scroll down the Techmeme page... I've not honestly seen another day quite like this.

A zillion posts lionizing the man who, love him or hate him, has so disrupted multiple industries through his leadership of Apple. As Walt Mossberg wrote, Steve Jobs is very much still alive, but his resignation as CEO of Apple does indeed mark the end of an era. Tim Cook may have effectively been the CEO of Apple since January... and he may indeed be an excellent CEO to lead the company forward...

But he's not Steve Jobs.

No one truly can be.

I've been impressed by the many personal stories being written this morning. Among them:

I'm sure many more will be written today and in the days ahead. Including this post, of course.

The Original Hacker Machine

I can credit Steve Jobs for my start in computers. In 1977, my friend Dave's father bought one of the first Apple II computers. There we were... two 10-year-old boys playing with this amazing machine. People may not remember that the first Apple II was a true "hacker" machine. In a box somewhere, I still have the original Apple II manual, because it was truly a thing of beauty... you could find out everything about every single memory location and everything else you wanted to know about the computer. It was a wonderful way to learn.

In retrospect I suspect that that first manual was probably much more of the Steve Wozniak influence, as the next version of the computer, the Apple IIe, had the much simplified manuals that came to be part and parcel of "the Steve Jobs view" of the simplified user experience.

But that first Apple II set me on a path of learning about these things known as personal computers.

Teaching Teachers

Entering high school in 1981, the school had just received its first Apple II computer. I can remember it sitting there on a lone desk in a room that had all the other components of a DEC PDP-8 and other devices in it. The teacher responsible for the computer lab, Dan Ryan, let a group of us "play" with that one computer... and as the lab grew to include more Apple computers, our "computer club" learned more and more. They were amazing times.

In fact, my first job with computers was helping out two summers at the high school - as a high school student - helping teachers learn about these computers. I remember some who were very enthusiastic ... and one in particular who was so frightened of the machine (although I've long since forgotten that teacher's name.)

NOT Going To Antarctica

Apple also is responsible for a career choice that really led to where I am today. In the summer of 1990, I was working as field technician at a remote research station on top of the Greenland ice sheet. It was a six-week gig that I had literally stumbled into by walking into an office at UNH while unemployed and having a friend say "hey, the guys upstairs are looking for people to go to Greenland". And there I was.

While there, though, I had met this whole corp of people who spent their summers supporting field experiments in Greenland and our "winters" supporting field experiments in Antarctica (where it's summer). Competition to get into this group was fierce, but there was someone there who was willing to help me get connected... and as a single early-20-something, there was a great amount of appeal!

And then I received word that Apple had funded a grant proposal I'd submitted a few months back to start up a non-profit in New Hampshire that would help other nonprofit organizations learn how to use computer technology. Apple was donating several computers, printers and other devices to help me start this organization up.

So I put aside that Antarctic idea, returned to New Hampshire, started up the nonprofit... which ultimately led to other positions that brought me 20 years later to where I am today.

Fast Forward To Today

In fact, I write this post this morning on a MacBook Pro, the corporate laptop Voxeo distributes to all its employees. While my household had a mixture of Windows, Linux and Macs, it's evolved to where it's all just Macs... and a Linux server. My iPad2 is right next to me with my list of things I planned to do today. My iPhone is in its holster on my belt... having just moved from my armband where an app helped track my 4.5 mile run this morning.

Yes, I've helped fund Steve Jobs success. :-)

Systems That "Just Work"

But there's a reason for that... and it goes back to that vaunted perfectionism of Steve Jobs. For the most part, Apple's devices "just work".

When I moved from a Dell laptop to a MacBook Pro back in 2007, I had a very simple demonstration I would do for my Windows friends:

I closed the laptop. I opened it back up. In moments, I started typing.

I closed the laptop again. I opened it back up - and started typing.

I repeated this several times.

Certainly at the time this was not something that worked well on most Windows-based laptops. (May still not work well... don't know.) It was a little thing, but a HUGE timesaver!

Sure, there are reasons for things that "just work"... a closed system with proprietary hardware that is more expensive than other options. A fanatical obsession with CONTROL over every aspect of the system.

But in the end... it just works. Not all the time... and not every device... but for the most part.

One of Steve Jobs' greatest gifts to the industry was showing that:

user experience matters!

And the industry as a whole has seen the demonstration by Apple of what can be accomplished when you focus on the user experience.

Thank you, Steve!

I could go on... about how the iPod and the rise of podcasting has enriched my life... I could talk of the excellence of Jobs as a presenter (I loved Om's reference to him as a thespian)...

... but I will close by simply saying:

Thank you, Steve.

You've led Apple through an era of disrupting several industries... helped many of us in so many ways with your products... and taught us so much.

Thank you... and best wishes for what is next.

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oXygen’s Excellent Example of a Release Timeline / ChangeLog Page

As I was recently downloading a new version of the excellent oXygen XML editor (which I used to write my “Migrating Apps to IPv6” book for O’Reilly), I was struck by how great their Release Timeline” page is. It’s truly a thing of beauty. You can easily see release dates for every major release going back to the beginning of the product (well, okay, they’ve collapsed some of the early 1.x, 2.x, 3.x, etc. releases) and with a single click on the release number can see the release notes for that particular version.


Kudos to the oXygen team for making it so easy to get to this kind of information!

Canada’s Jack Layton Succumbs To Cancer – And Leaves An Awesome "Final Letter" to Canadians

Jack Layton, Leaders Tour - Tournée du Chef - Jack Layton
Today is a sad day for our friends up north in Canada - Jack Layton, leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), passed away this morning at the age of 61 after multiple battles with cancer. The Globe and Mail has a nice tribute to Layton and pretty much every Canadian media outlet is currently writing about his death. For those with no clue who he is, his Wikipedia entry provides a detailed background on his life and work.

I never had the privilege of meeting Jack Layton, but certainly knew of him and read about him / saw him on TV all the time. When we lived in Ottawa, Ontario, from 2000-2005, the NDP was first led by Alexa McDonough with Layton taking over the leadership reins in 2003. Given that as Americans living in Canada we couldn't vote, we didn't have any direct connections to the political activities going on... but as a hardcore political junkie[1], I was fascinated by the Canadian political system and how very different it is from ours.

After moving back to the US in 2005, I've tried to keep up with what is going on north of the border. It's actually quite hard given that our mainstream media here in the US pays almost no attention to what's going on up north. My main news conduit actually has been through the Canadian friends I follow on Twitter and Facebook... their links have kept me up-to-date with what's going on in Canadian politics.

And so it was that I followed the rise of the NDP and their amazing success in the 2011 election with the NDP becoming the official opposition party for the first time in history.

And while it was known for some time that Layton was ill, the finality of his passing certainly has shocked a nation.

Layton's final letter to Canadians, though, is what is also getting a great amount of distribution today. The 2-page letter is available online for all to read and continues the positive tone he always seemed to promote. I was naturally drawn to his language relating to people fighting cancer:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer

The letter goes on to talk of Canadian politics, of the youth of the country, and a great final section to all Canadians.

He ends with what I'm sure will become a widely quoted/tweeted/retweeted/posted text:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.


R.I.P., Jack Layton. Thank you for all you did for Canada and through that for the larger world.

P.S. And as a long-time sci-fi fan, I admittedly have to respect a politician that can be found (circa 1991) wearing a Star Trek uniform! ;-)

RIP Jack Layton. 1991 Star Trek Convention

[1] Hey, I live in New Hampshire... it's hard NOT to be into politics!

Image credit: mattjiggins on Flickr. It turns out that this was also chosen as the official portrait used on Layton's Wikipedia page.