Monday, December 20, 2010

I have an awesome wife

This is what my wife got me:

Ready to hitchhike across the galaxy

She also took me to see Tron Legacy.

Need a towel? Check out Thinkgeek.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Philosophies of men

I have lately found myself thinking about LDS theology's intersection with politics. I am a practicing Mormon, so it makes sense that LDS theology would affect my political views. The reason I have been thinking about it so much lately is mostly due to two LDS friends. These friends hold political views I do not agree with. They choose to share those views in such a way that it is clear that they think anyone not sharing their views is ignorant or stupid or (more likely) both. They also choose to share those views often. In general, I admire the conviction of these two friends and think I could learn a bit from that conviction.

This past week one of them emailed me a ridiculous powerpoint presentation. I read a good portion of it and skimmed through the rest. It consisted of pictures of political, historical, and LDS figures and quotes they made. It basically talked about how there are Gadianton robbers in our day and that we need to fight them. I'll get back to my thoughts on this later, but I responded to my friend by saying "That's pretty special" and questioning the emphasis on politics in the Book of Mormon. He caught my sarcasm and responded with some more content I will talk about later. I told him I would explain myself a bit more. This blog post is that explanation. It will not be concise. It will not be short.


I took the required History of Civilization course at BYU from the Political Science department. I had Dr. Matthew Holland for my instructor (son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and current president of UVU). I should mention here that this entire post is my personal opinion and is in no way endorsed or acknowledged by Dr. Holland, the LDS church, or anybody other than myself. In his class, Dr. Holland had one lecture where he tied what we had been studying that semester (Plato, Socrates, Machiavelli, etc.) to LDS theology. I found it extremely interesting to see all the parallels in the scriptures to Plato's Forms. He also said that during the semester we had learned about "the philosophies of men." He continued to state that although that phrase has a negative connotation in LDS theology, there are many good, important, and true things to learn from those philosophies.

The one idea from Dr Holland's lecture that I want to highlight comes from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Daniel 3). At this point in their history, Jerusalem has been sacked by the Babylonians and what then remained of the Lord's covenant people carried off into captivity. The Babylonian king took some of the young Israelite men to serve in his court. I will note for the overall point of this blog post that they actually served these captor-kings. In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, they refuse to worship a golden image, so the king gets mad and is ready to throw them into a furnace. Dr. Holland's point is in how they respond in verses 16-18:
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
The point is to trust in God's will and acknowledge He is in control. These three men did not know if they would be saved, but they did know that God had the power to save them if it was His will. They also knew that God was in control of their nation, including putting them under the control of king Nebuchadnezzar.

There is a counterpoint to this. LDS theology teaches that We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. However, we also believe the men of the American Revolution were inspired by God. There are times in LDS history when, living on the western frontier, Mormons showed some of that revolutionary spirit and frontier justice. There is an interesting and delicate balance to walk there (if any of you are deciding to start a revolution sometime soon).

Remember that the Jews of Christ's time were manipulated by the Sanhedrin into demanding His crucifixion because they were expecting a political savior instead of a spiritual savior. Even in the face of the farce that was His so-called trial, Christ recognized the authority of the high priest. Then there is the explicit example of Christ's teaching on taxes:
19 ¶And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
20 And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.
21 And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:
22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Cæsar, or no?
23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
24 Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Cæsar’s.
25 And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which be Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.
Paul shows similar behavior to Christ in his interaction with the high priest (although with a bit less self control): "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." Peter speaks along the same lines, putting those who despise government as the unjust who will be punished. A handful of references is not concrete evidence, but I feel that it is enough to show that the question cannot be settled by latching on to certain quotes or scriptures.

While we are wresting the scriptures, let us consider the most political chapter of the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 29. In that chapter, Mosiah sets up laws to transition his kingdom into a republic. On my mission, I had a very strange district meeting where some rebellious missionaries used verse 29 to attack their district leader. My response to that argument is to look at all the wars which occur from that point until the end of the book: they are all started by men of high birth or lesser judges looking for power. It is also unclear from this chapter how they implemented the "voice of the people." It is nice to think that is a democracy, but how does that work in such a large kingdom? No TVs, no radio, no cars, no trains. I think it must have been more of a republic with elected officials called upon to represent the voice of the people. Kind of like the United States Constitution originally sets up our leaders to not be dumb products of a popularity contest. Moving on.

The biggest problem I had with the powerpoint presentation my friend sent was that it didn't have any quotes from President Hinckley. The presentation was put together in 2007, so the living prophet at the time would have been President Hinckley. Why is this important? Well let's go to last October's General Conference and review Elder Costa's talk and Elder Duncan's talk. They both review President Benson's 14 fundamentals in following the prophet, and I would like to highlight the third one: "The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet." While I am pointing out conference talks, I should mention that Elder Cook's talk from this past conference and Elder Oak's talk from a year ago both provide good guidance on theology and politics.


All this most recent discussion started because I tweeted my support of the DREAM act. The DREAM act looks to be voted on in the senate tomorrow (Saturday). It will probably fail due to the racism and fear-mongering in the country and the spineless politicians in congress. One of my friends is a loyal follower of Glenn Beck. I was first exposed to Mr. Beck in 2007, when my Elders Quorum presidency counselor and I were driving back from service cleaning church trucks in Salt Lake. He turned on Beck's radio program and talked about how awesome it was. I had a hard time keeping a straight face with what I was hearing. He and Palin are the face of the TEA party? When the TEA party first started I thought they had some good points. Now I think they are mostly a bunch of nutters. Their leaders and pundits use an annoying and disingenuous strategy of inserting gross falsehoods in with a bunch of truths, and then repeating that over and over again. Exposed to something enough, anybody believes.

Even the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Online profiles

I played around with my online profiles a bit.

To begin with, I created a "profile graveyard" on this site and moved a bunch of links from my Google Profile. My Google Profile had gotten fairly ridiculous. Alright, fine. It started out ridiculous and it still is ridiculous, but it is less ridiculous than it was a few days ago. All my rarely/never used profiles are now linked from the graveyard and not from the profile.

Once I got going, I then moved on to my LinkedIn profile. My resume and my LinkedIn profile are a bit stale. They still are a bit stale, but my LinkedIn profile is less stale than it was a few days ago. I added a few sections and noted some volunteer work I am doing with the PDMA-CDMA Educational Foundation.

Please go check out my profile graveyard, Google profile, and updated LinkedIn profile. Feedback is welcome, more or less.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tangled

I took my family to see Tangled today. It was awesome. My kids were a little bit aware of it, but my wife prepped them good this past week with YouTube previews. They were very excited. I love Disney, and I loved The Princess and the Frog, but their animation studio still has a ways to go before it regains my complete trust in their quality. Pixar has it still, Disney Animation does not. Rapunzel Tangled, however, helps.

I was also a little worried about the movie because of its name. I had first heard about it and seen a clip back in 2004. Back then it was still going by "Rapunzel," which is what it really should be called. However, Disney was apparently disappointed with the reception by boys of The Princess and the Frog, so they tried to fix that with this movie. I am not sure what was wrong with Princess and the Frog. Maybe they made the prince too weak/negative. I don't know. I was worried that they would compromise in order to appeal to young boys. No need to worry. Still a great story, and still should be called Rapunzel.

I was a little worried about my kids "freaking out" at the scary parts, which is what they have done with any modern movie they've watched that has a decent plot. Surprisingly, my eldest managed to not freak out. I do not know if this is because she is maturing or if it is because the movie is not that scary. There is really only one scary part, and it is pretty low-key. That didn't stop my youngest from spazzing, but at least the oldest one did fine.

The villain in Tangled, Mother Gothel, may not rise to the upper echelon of Disney villains, but I did find her compelling. She is interesting for two, slightly related reasons. The over-arching quality is immense selfishness. She has found the proverbial fountain of youth and wants to keep it for herself. Part of that is keeping Rapunzel locked in a tower as her "daughter." However, since Gothel is selfish she is also abusive. The abuse comes as emotional abuse, which is a bit unique among Disney villains. I like it, and it made me think a bit about the things I say when I am "joking."

The songs were short but great. I liked the animation style and thought the story was compelling. The characters were also great, with Rapunzel and Flynn both being a great balance. Rapunzel is young and naive, but part of the film's journey is her learning she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Flynn is a self-absorbed thief, but he shows depth in the end and is not a shallow and helpless pansy (like Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog). The favorite line from my kids: "They can't get my nose right!"

In keeping with the lame posts of this week, here are the three trailers for Tangled to finish this one off:
Trailer 1

Trailer 2
Trailer 3

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Charlie

I find that this series of videos embodies most of what is great about the internet. It's right up there with Homestarrunner.com.







Gotta love Charlie

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tron

My wife just purchased opening-day tickets for Tron Legacy on IMAX 3D. I have an awesome wife. I realize that some of you may not be familiar with Tron (hint: light cycles), so I have gathered some of the trailers in this post for you. Some are a bit redundant. All are awesome. Okay, fine, this first one is a cheesy product of the 80s:
The original movie is like that as well. However, it was the first movie to use CGI and it talks about computers and video games. It is right up my alley, even if it is a bit dated. This next trailer is what the trailer would be like, should they have edited it today:
So that is the original Tron. The big deal is that they are releasing a new Tron movie in two weeks. It will be awesome. Here is the trailer:
Didn't catch all that? Try the second trailer:
Doesn't that look awesome? Here is the third one:
Needless to say, I am very excited. The new movie should be great. It should have great special effects, great acting (Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award last year), and great geekiness. But that is not all. There are a few flavors of video games coming out at the same time which cover the story between the two movies:
I like this short trailer for the games (introducing the virus antagonist):
I am excited for Tron. Putting together this post makes me want to go play GLtron.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Guild

This weekend the big new World of Warcraft expansion comes out: Cataclysm. I know somebody who is taking time off work next week to play. I am sure he will not be the only one doing this. I am intrigued by World of Warcraft (WoW). I played a fair amount of Starcraft in college and also went through Warcraft III. I enjoy the Warcraft mythology. However, I stay away from MMORPGs like WoW for reasons I discussed in my last post.

Even though I do not play, I have friends and co-workers that do. I also keep track of what is going on with the game in terms of storyline. Plus I'm a geek. All those reasons enable me to appreciate The Guild. It's an on-line show about a guild playing an unspecified MMORPG. The show isn't for everybody, but I think it is hilarious. They produced a couple of music videos to go with the last two seasons:
Do You Want To Date My Avatar
Game On

Check out The Guild or you can even purchase the DVDs (Seasons 1&2 or 3). Watching The Guild helps me stay strong in my resolve to not play MMORPGs

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My escape from video game addiction

My guess is that half of you are saying "when were you ever a video game addict?" while the other half are saying "what do you mean 'escape?'" I like video games. I grew up on King's Quest and Space Quest from Sierra. My favorite games were/are the Final Fantasy series. In college I picked up Half-life and Starcraft. I eventually broke down and got a Wii in graduate school. The game flavor I currently enjoy is that of tower defense games such as Plants vs. Zombies.

One type of game I have religiously stayed away from is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Strangely enough, I actually played the first one of these to come to the market: The Realm. Well, "first" depends on your definitions, but it was definitely groundbreaking and one of the first in the genre as we recognize it today. It was put out by Sierra. Since I enjoyed Kings Quest I decided to install the demo and see what it was all about. I played it for a while and then never played another MMORPG again. That was my escape from video game addiction.

At the time I did not think much of it. In fact, I think the decision was mostly financial (I didn't want to pay the subscription fee). I do remember noting that the game would be dangerous for me since it did not have a clear end point. The newest Final Fantasy game may take a while to beat, but eventually you have done pretty much everything. There are even a finite number of side quests. Those games also do not have any of the social compulsion found in MMORPGs. I have a personality that would get sucked into these MMORPGs and have a hard time coming out.

This is not to say that I do not play video games. I do play video games. However, I mostly play off-line. During my freshman year of college I played a bit of Starcraft and Half-life on-line, but I stunk. Although there can be some concept of teams in those games, that is primarily individual play so there are not the social pressures normally associated with MMORPGs. Not to say that those pressures do not exist outside MMORPGs. Counter Strike wasn't really big yet (Half-life had just barely come out), but I had a roommate during my senior year that played Ghost Recon nearly 24/7 as part of an elite team.

A "gaming" addiction can also form from much more benign "games." I have given up all fantasy sports other than Tournament Challenge for March Madness. I found that reading the stats, forming a team, and hands-off battles games felt very similar to a role-playing game. Although each season had an end, during the season there is no end to how often you can tweak your team. This meant I could endlessly crunch numbers and sink time into it. Not good, so I decided to stop playing. The difference with March Madness is that players just pick the brackets once and then the rest is hands-off.

Why bring all this up? I was listening to The Internet Safety Podcast a few weeks ago and the host, BYU's Dr. Knutson, interviewed Brad Dorrance of ExGamer.net. Brad's website has been down, but he is also affiliated with online gamers anonymous. They talked about game addiction and made a number of great points. I like Dr. Knutson's podcasts in general, although he sometimes interviews in order to solidify his positions instead of in order to gather information. You can get some idea about his positions from the Ensign article he co-wrote, Just a Game?. I find myself agreeing with him most/all of the time, and when I think I don't agree I often realize he's right when I think about it later. He seems to be in line with Elder Bednar's counsel. Can't go wrong with that.

Subscribe to The Internet Safety Podcast. Read about gaming addiction in social science, psychology, and theology. Chances are very good that you will have to deal with this at some time to some degree, either directly or indirectly. Now please excuse me while I try to get to some deeper dungeons in MAngband. j/k

Monday, November 29, 2010

So, about last week

Any loyal readers may have noticed my conspicuous absence from blogging this past week. I blame this on a number of things:
  1. I played too much Cursed Treasure: Don't Touch My Gems. No, that isn't a TSA simulation game; it's a tower defense game. I finally finished it on Saturday.
  2. I was sick. I started coming down with it on Monday and it just got worse and worse until about Saturday when I mostly came out of it. Having a cold made it hard to motivate myself to do things. I mostly just sat around, which is why I played too much Cursed Treasure.
  3. It was Thanksgiving. Luckily, this year we weren't hosting the meal. It still meant that this week did not follow my normal weekly routine (insofar as I have a normal weekly routine).
  4. I needed to break precedent. I had been going along at a three-posts-a-week clip for a month and felt some pressure to keep it up. That is bad for a number of reasons. I need to be able to not feel guilty about not blogging if I really do not have time for it. Breaking that routine (and the earth not ending because of it) helps me with that a bit.
Those are my excuses. They may be lame, but they are all I got.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Best Pizza in Provo UT and Arlington MA

I have long believed that Nicolitalia Pizzeria is the best pizza in Utah. Even better than The Pie. When I was out in Utah a year ago I had "eat at Nicolitalia's" on my list of things to do. It ended up not working out on that tripv(because we never went down to Provo), but it gives you an idea of how much I liked their pizza.

My wife and I were some of their first customers after they opened in 2005. We took our siblings to it for major events. We chatted it up with the owner. The owner told us about his pursuit of good cannolis. He shared a three day birth story with my pregnant wife right before we had our first child (after a labor spanning three days). He told us about his family's restaurant back in Massachusetts. On one of our last times there I discussed with my group how it was a shame the place was so empty. I worried that he would have to close up. That was a few years ago.

Tonight my wife and I went on a date. We have a notoriously bad time choosing where to go eat. Today I decided to try a pizza place called Nicola Pizza House in Arlington, Massachusetts. I thought this was probably the family restaurant related to Nicolitalia's, but my wife was not convinced. She thought it was in Worcester. When we found the pizzeria it looked like a bit of a dive, isolated and next to an auto mechanic. My wife was even a little nervous about the neighborhood. Don't worry, we made it in safely.

On the way in I noticed some pictures of the pizza and they looked similar to Nicolitalia's. As I walked in familiar smells surrounded me, but I also was overwhelmed by the menu which stretched across the wall and was several feet deep. Other customers were around, so we felt a little pressure to make an order. My wife still did not believe Nicola's was related to Nicolitalia's, so she ordered a steak & cheese. I decided that sounded pretty good and got one as well. While we were eating we saw a number of people come in and pick up pizzas, while some townies came in and got a sub.

Then my wife overheard somebody asking the owner, Nick, about his son, Nick Jr. The father then explained how Junior was doing really well serving the best pizza in Utah. What was the likelihood? We decided to ask and make sure. We talked to Nick as we left and confirmed the relationship. We then found out the business in Utah was doing really well, and they were opening a second store in between Salt Lake City and Provo. Senior explained that his son was coming to town for Thanksgiving and that we could see him next Saturday. He got our names and said he was going to ask him about us. We tried to tell him it had been a while since we'd been there, but he didn't seem to care.

We were happy to hear that Nicolitalia's was doing well, but we were more excited to find the same style pizza locally in Massachusetts. My wife then repeatedly berated herself for not believing me and therefore not ordering a pizza. Unfortunately, our plans for the rest of the evening fell through. After socializing a bit with some people we ran into, we decided we needed to go back and get a pizza. So we called in an order, drove back to Nicola's, parked right in front, and I went in (my wife stayed in the car).
Nick: Nathan! You are back so soon. What's wrong?
I explained that my wife had not believed me that this was the original family restaurant.
Nick: Wasn't that your wife with you earlier?
I clarified that she had believed Nick, but that she had not believed me before we asked him. I then told him that we had ordered a pizza. He got me it and I asked about the cannolis.
Nick: We have packs of two large ones that are chocolate or packs of four small ones. If you want a pack of two large ones that aren't chocolate, I can go back and make you some.
I ran out and asked my wife, and then came back in to finish my order. I explained that my brother-in-law was a fan of Nicolitalia's and he was watching my kids. Nick asked about my kids as I paid. As I was leaving I mentioned that we would probably be coming by a lot more now. He explained that he had been doing it for almost forty years. I don't think he gets many referrals in that direction.

So we brought back a Nicola Pizza House pizza and four cannolis. Then my brother and sister-in-law joined us in eating it all. We had a chicken and broccoli pizza, just like we used to at Nicolitalia Pizzeria, and it was still awesome.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Disqus

After noticing that a few people comment on my imported feed in Facebook, I have decided to try Disqus. Supposedly it aggregates interactions from all over the web. I am not sure how it works. There will probably be some bumps in the road as I try to set it up right. Now I have to add my Disqus profile to my Google Profile. Now I have Disqus. Discuss.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Chrome Extensions

This weekend I beefed up my browser with a few more extensions.

I use Google's Chrome browser. I find it very fast and uncluttered. I'm also a bit of a Google fanboy, so that helps determine which browser I use as well. For a long time I used Firefox, but I think it has become too bloated, especially with extensions. I even tried Flock, but I am happy with Chrome right now. I like Chrome's extension gallery and have found a few that I like:
  • 1-ClickWeather for Chrome - There are a lot of weather extensions. I like The Weather Channel, but I have to admit there is probably a "better" weather extension out there.
  • Amazon Wish List - I have an Amazon wishlist, and I also maintain my own versions of wishlists for my kids and for my wife. Amazon wishlists can even include things outside of Amazon. Doing that is facilitated by this extension.
  • bit.ly | a simple URL shortener - Ever sent a link in an email and a line break inserted by your email client makes it not work? Ever try to insert a link mid-paragraph and find it makes the line breaks look weird? You need a URL shortener. Bit.ly is probably the most popular because of Twitter, but Google's is starting to have some legs.
  • Google Mail Checker - I have had some trouble with this one because it sometimes loses my connection with Gmail. However, it is nice to be working along and see a nice little icon when new mail has arrived (instead of having to go back to the actual Gmail page to check.
  • Google Reader: Note in Reader (Unofficial) - I used to have the bookmark to do this that you can get from Google Reader. The biggest problem with this is that I like to hide my bookmarks by default, which makes it hard to use. This solves that.
  • Google Sidewiki - I have not ended up using this one much, mainly because I do not think Google is emotionally invested in Sidewiki. Hopefully that changes because I think it is a potentially good idea. Who doesn't want to be able to make comments about any arbitrary web page?
  • IE Tab - Unfortunately, sometimes we need IE. Many offices require quirks of that horrible browser in their software. Microsoft often plays better with IE. This extension allows one to use IE inside a Chrome tab. Not perfect, but better than switching browsers completely.
  • InvisibleHand - Supposedly this extension alerts you when you are paying too much for something. It throws up a warning like "You could get that for cheaper at Amazon" or something. I have hopes and dreams.
  • StayFocusd - I mainly use this one at work. No, it is not a typo. It will shut down access to certain sites after a certain amount of time has passed. You use up your time for the day then too bad!
Any really good extensions I am missing? Know of a better weather extension?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shout out to Wooster Roofing

Let's be honest: there are a lot of things wrong with my house. Most of the things we knew about going into the purchase, some we did not. One item that falls into the first category was the flashing on the roof. The previous owners had put on a fairly nice roof, but had then put some awful patch-job on instead of real flashing (see "before" pictures below). Last winter there was a leak in my daughter's bedroom and this summer we saw evidence of a couple other leaks. It was time to act.

So I called around, read customer reviews, and got a couple estimates. After discussing with my wife, we picked a local company called Wooster Roofing. Yesterday they started the job and today they finished it up. I think it looks fairly nice (see "after" pictures below). This flashing, along with our new gutters, and some better drainage (i.e. gutter extensions) should help us keep water outside of our house (including the basement). Yay!

Before After
If you are looking for some roof work in the Massachusetts area, give Wooster a call. I am pleased with the results. So far. Maybe I won't be the next time it rains, but I expect I will be still.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Editing Conference Talks

Elder Packer gave a controversial talk this past General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (October 2010). I only caught bits and pieces of the talk (having kids makes it really hard to pay attention), but it was obviously a strongly worded talk against immorality. The most controversial part came when he addressed the the theological issues around California's Proposition 8. That particular debate is not the subject of this post.

The subject of this post is related to what happened later. The Salt Lake Tribune reports how President Packer edited the transcript to "clarify his intent." You can read the article yourself for the details and the controversy. The significance to me is that I had not been aware of the practice of editing the transcripts. I also did not know about a previous (and more substantial) edit.

Elder Ronald E Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy gave a talk in the October 1984 General Conference entitled The Gospel and the Church. Apparently, Elder Poelman gave one version of the talk in Conference and then re-recorded it (with an audience or "cough track"). The second version became the official version. Whereas Elder Packer changed a couple lines, Elder Poelman performed much more substantial changes

The most intriguing aspect of all this (and the reason I am writing this post) is that I agree with Elder Poelman's original talk. I am not sure where it was inconsistent with the official position of the church. The talk is meatier and would probably find a more appropriate audience in a leadership training broadcast, but it still rings true. The original talk provides potential fodder for rationalization, which might be why it was changed.

So what did Elder Poelman talk about? He originally talked about separating "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and the "Church of Jesus Christ." Said differently, Mormon culture is not an eternal gospel principle. I think that is something all Latter-day Saints should remember.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Article in Lowell Sun about new bishop and upcoming Thanksgiving linger-longer

I know, that title goes on and on and on. It adequately describes the topic of this post. The Lowell Sun interviewed the newly called ecclesiastical leader of my church congregation and printed the resulting article.

My local church congregation (Mormons call congregations "wards") is having a linger-longer (social gathering after regular meetings) on Sunday November 21st. It is an annual tradition. This past Saturday we delivered invitations. Should be a good time and the food is always excellent.

Check out the article on the Lowell Sun's website: Thanks for coming by Debbie Hovanasian. Please share the article with others (use the sharing buttons on the Lowell Sun's website)!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Antivirus Studio 2010

My wife's cousin sent out a cry for help on Facebook the other day. Some malware had taken over their computer and neither she nor her husband knew how to get rid of it. My wife and I both responded to the Facebook post saying I could help. Her cousin called us the next day and then that evening helped them fix the problem over the phone.

The name of the virus is Antivirus Studio 2010. This particularly nasty guy pretends to be a trial anti-virus program saying you need to upgrade (by paying). Basically phishing, but it also locks down web browsers and circumvents Microsoft Security Essentials. Not a nice program. It also explains why the cousin took a while to respond to our response and why they could not research the problem on their own.

The site I found the most useful in my quest to remove the faux-antivirus was Can Talk Tech. Unfortunately, the site's design made me think it was some kind of lame demand media and therefore could not be trusted (please don't flame me). However, I eventually decided to go with it after looking around a bit more. It presented the solution two fairly straightforward steps. If I was going to avoid a trip out to their apartment then I needed straightforward steps.
  1. The first priority is to get a working internet in order to download the other tools. That was successfully accomplished by booting into safe mode on Windows XP. From Microsoft's instructions:
    As your computer restarts but before Windows launches, press F8. On a computer that is configured for booting to multiple operating systems, you can press F8 when the boot menu appears.
  2. Use that recently re-acquired internet access in safe mode to download the free version of Malwarebytes. Install it and then run a full scan. That should take care of Antivirus Studio 2010.
  3. Ha! I snuck a third step in on you. For good measure, go download CCleaner and clean up the crap on your computer (C = crap). Specifically, I had the cousin's husband run the registry cleaner. Some other sites had mentioned some registry artifacts tweaked by the virus. I love crap cleaner.
After that, the computer seemed to work fine and I was thanked like the amazing hero I am. "Hail, the conquering hero!"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Political Views

My brother-in-law wrote a blog post where posted his results on a couple of political spectrum quizzes. I figured I would do the same. He offered some commentary about the quizzes, I will not.

Here is the first time I took the first test, right after his original post.

I am a center-right moderate social authoritarian
Right: 2.66, Authoritarian: 1.77

Political Spectrum Quiz

I thought I was a bit timid about my answers the first time, so I took it again and got this:

I am a right moderate social authoritarian
Right: 4.26, Authoritarian: 2.14

Political Spectrum Quiz

Here's another test. I know, really exciting.

Economic Left/Right: 2.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.41

The Political Compass

So that's that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stop reading this blog!

  1. Stop reading this blog.
  2. Go outside.
  3. Travel to your polling location.
  4. Vote.
  5. . . .
  6. Profit.
Seriously, why are you still reading? Don't stop reading forever, just until you vote. Voting is important, even if you are going to vote for those crazy TEA party people.

After you have voted, take a minute to make sure you are fully subscribed to this blog. Go over to the Followers widget and follow the blog. Also subscribe to the post feed, the comment feed, and the page feed. It's a little more difficult than voting, not as satisfying, and not as important. It will make me happy, though.

If you do one thing today, go vote. If you do two things today, vote and subscribe to my blog.



I still love that trailer, even though I've never seen the movie. See what you might miss if you don't subscribe to my blog?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vilifying

I have recently been thinking about vilifying. I tend to view things as either black or white. Not a lot of grey, if any. This is not to say that I am always correct in my associations. I'm not. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes take a while to shift my position when it is incorrect, but I do feel like I shift when I discover what I thought was white is black or vice-versa. I just mention this so you know a little bit of where I am coming from and why it might be to question the accuracy of the villain label.

Villains are great in fiction. They act as the antagonist and give the protagonist (often a hero) someone to measure up against. In a created universe it is easy to paint a villain as either one-dimensionally bad or maybe just seriously misguided. I think that we are too quick to apply the label of villain in the real world. There may be some who actually deserve it, but I feel like almost all groups make villains in order to either have antagonists or scapegoats.

I really started to think about this a while back when I was looking for LDS films on Netflix. Eventually I found States of Grace. A more familiar description of it to most mormons would be God's Army 2. Richard Dutcher, the director, pioneered modern LDS commercial cinema. I have not yet seen States of Grace, but I found the first film thought provoking and fairly well done. It was definitely hyperbole, but that's Hollywood.

I was a little shocked to discover he had left the LDS church a few years back (letter announcing his departure, second follow-up letter, interview at the beginning of this month). Like God's Army, a lot of what he said stoked my brain. In particular I enjoyed his apology of Thomas Marsh from the second follow-up letter. Thomas Marsh really is reduced to a one-liner Sunday School lesson. There has to be more depth. He was the chief apostle, after all. A similar apostolic example is that of Judas. Do you think Jesus would pick him just so he would be in a position to fail? That is not very charitable. I think Judas must have been a valiant disciple and good apostle, at least at the start. I have heard that Jesus Christ Superstar deals with this theme more, but I have never seen or heard it (but I did wiki it).

Continuing on the mormon theme, what happens when we apply this line of questioning to characters in the Book of Mormon? While I think the order of Nehor, the King-men, and the Gadianton Robbers, are difficult to justify, the Lamanites are often painted negatively. Especially in the beginning of the book. There are times, when this depiction is obviously unjustified. Jacob calls the Nephites out by pointing to the fidelity of the Lamanite husbands. The sons of King Mosiah lead an extremely successful missionary effort about midway through Nephite history. Numerous dissenting Nephite groups are accepted and embraced into Lamanite culture. I propose that the issue is all are about how the Nephites looked at their Lamanite brothers. Nobody likes being viewed as ignorant villains.

One of my favorite scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (the movie) is when Faramir turns over the fallen Southron and says:
The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he comes from, and if he really was evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home, and would he not rather have stayed there... in peace? War will make corpses of us all.
In other words, he ponders if the Southron is really a villain, or if maybe the Southron even viewed the men of Gondor as the villains.

The last aspect I want to touch on is that of politics. The modern political scene in America is a horrible example of vilification. Each side of the aisle tries to make the other look like the bigger villains, while neither seems to care about actually making progress. Television ads, news stories, campaign debates, and strategists/pundits all focus on talking points and slander instead of the actual issues. People are fed up with this behavior in Washington, with the unfortunate result of a bunch of crazies (the TEA party) gaining a foothold. See! Even I can't help it. I made them into the villains.

I'll end with a clip from this past Monday's Daily Show about the firing of Juan Williams:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
NPR Staffing Decision 2010
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Monday, October 25, 2010

New England's Best Movers

On Thursday I put our old couch on craigslist. Within a few minutes I received an email from someone who wanted it. Last night he came by and picked it up. A similar thing happened with our old wood stove. This time I was expecting it so I pulled the ad as soon as I heard from the first person. Anyway, another success from craigslist. One can almost always count on somebody wanting something that's free.

On to the point of this post: New England's Best Movers. The fellow who picked up my couch used the opportunity to give me some business cards. He has recently started a moving/removal/delivery/anything company called New England's Best Movers. The emphasis in the name is on moving, but it sounds like they'll do just about any job.

I have not actually used their service (yet), but the guy was nice and I thought I could express my gratitude for taking our couch away by giving a little shout out. They are based in Revere, Massachusetts.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Brief notes on wiki setup

I have been trying to learn a little bit about setting up a nice wiki, but the project has not kept my interest as much as I had hoped. The main thrust of this project has been figuring out how to get the Navbox template working on a wiki at my office, so most of my research has centered on that.

The Navbox template is a fairly slick way of grouping articles in the midst of a fairly flat structure. I would propose that anyone wanting to make nice looking wikis needs to learn about templates or at least understand them enough to use them well. They are used extensively for navigation, which is important for a hierarchy that continues to grow.

A good place to start with getting templates on a wiki is the Navbox template talk page. At the top of that page it has a description of what you will need to get going, including a link to HTML tidy. It even points to a deprecated version in case you can't get the current one to work. I have found that wiki development is like HTML development: easiest way to learn is to learn from examples. Wikis have pages for copying templates from one wiki to another.

Finally, a few notes about installation. Installation is more-or-less straightforward, although you need a number of pieces. It is all freely available for download. Installing on Fedora is fairly easy. You can even get going with yum install mediawiki.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What about OAuth? Gesundheit!

I volunteer some of my time to serve as a board member for the the Educational Foundation of the PDMA. Our product for facilitating business education is still in preliminary development, but it is coming along nicely. There are security and privacy concerns which complicate what we are trying to do, so we are investigating existing solutions.
  • OAuth - One approach I hope we take with privacy is to limit the amount of private data we store. We still want to have access to people's social media, so for that we should use OAuth. OAuth allows a site to access private data without having to reveal your password to the site. My understanding of OAuth does not extend much beyond the introduction of a beginner's guide, but Twitter, Facebook, and Google all have OAuth interfaces.
  • Open Social - Open Social is Google's suggested (and open) API for web services. I do not think we will be creating web services, but we should definitely follow this if we do.
  • Friend Connect - Google's social overlay for sites. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have legs. Sometime soon Google will make an announcement about social that will either replace or revamp this.
  • Facebook Connect - Our website uses Drupal for its content management system. A plugin exists for putting Facebook Connect on a Drupal site. Facebook Connect is basically Facebook's version of Friend Connect.
  • PayPal - I have generally stayed away from this site because when it first started it had some privacy/security issues. They seem to have ironed them out now and are a very easy resource for setting up payments.
Any other neat technologies I should take a look at? Anything I should stay away from?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Farewell, faint-hearted

I was shocked and appalled to see that my follower count in Google's friend connect has gone down. Alright, not really. My wife's blog once again has more followers than mine. This is not surprising since she can actually write funny and insightful posts, but it still hurts my pride because her blog is private (which is why I did not link to it).

C'mon people! Stand up and be counted! I actually understand why the follower left: I probably got too geeky for them. While I hope to have a heavy tech bent on this blog, for a while the only things I blogged about had to do with my involvement in the LDS church. I even briefly changed the name of the blog to "Mormon Yankee Hacker." I have now refocused on tech, but there is a button on the right to my mormon.org profile. I also reserve the right to talk about whatever I want to. It is my blog after all.

The point of this post is to ask for you to follow me on Google friend connect. Then subscribe to my feed. I know everything I write may not be gold, but every once in a while I hit something good!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mac Software

I do not use a Mac. I never have used one. There is a lot of cool software available for Macs, and now that they use Intel chips you can pretty much run any Windows software on it that you want too. Below are some sites I found that seem to have a good selection of good software. They all come from a family of sites by Worcester LLC.