Productivity

Skimming through my daily set of blogs this afternoon, I encountered one of the many productivity posts out there, outlining a system for organizing your life, managing time and getting things done in an orderly and effective manner. These things pop up all over in different forms all over the web, appealing to our universal desire to live better and easier lives.

The ideas are good, like classifying tasks by importance, limiting email to a certain block of time, or restricting aspects of your life that eat away time. I feel, however, that, though implicit in these suggestions for life management, the most important message is missing.

We are independent beings, aware and in control of what we do and don’t do. Simple, right? Except that when you start running through your day-to-day actions and interactions, you begin to notice thoughts such as, “I can’t believe he’s making me do this.” or “if only I could sleep in a few more minutes.” We deceive ourselves, essentially shifting the blame for unpleasant realities upon the shoulders of other individuals, circumstances and fate…when really each and every bit of our lives is a choice made consciously or unconsciously by us.

Now, consider the potential liberty and empowerment accompanying this newfound power. Say you’re daydreaming in class because I’m tired and don’t want to be there. If I consciously engage in these moments and recognize that it is by my choice, not someone else’s, that I’m here, it becomes my time and my thing to be made the most of.

Daydreaming becomes time to process some interesting piece of the lecture, or planning time for the rest of the week. Hours stuck in traffic, related to my choice to drive to work (I could have biked, quit my job, or previously sought a job for which telecommuting was an option) becomes a time to mentally go through a presentation I’m giving that morning, a chance to get up to date on world affairs on the radio or podcast, or a time to get back in touch with friends and family.

We always have a choice. Let’s own these day-to-day choices and turn a dreadfully dull or painful experience into something that can enrich the day and teach something new.

Oh Man Apple…

ipod905

With the most recent set of apple announcements came a new line of iPods and an updated price on the iPhone. The iPod nano got a makeover, shaped now to handle movies with a wider screen and more square design. The iPod Classic got a slightly sleeker design and a price cut.

Most exciting, however, is the release of the new iPod Touch. Design is almost identical to the iPhone and for all practical purposes, it can be considered the same device, minus the phone capability.

I wondered for quite some time about the incredible publicity of the iPhone when it was only really practical for a small portion of the population, and only targeted to the elite few with cash to burn and serious connectivity needs. And yet, kids, seniors, and the average citizen from every walk of life heard about it and knew what it was and what it could do.

Now, it’s all clear. The iPhone is not something the average person should care about. But it’s brother, the iPod Touch, most definitely is.

So many have failed trying to make a smart phone or palm device for the masses, but with this bold move, it is obvious that apple thinks it can succeed where others have failed. The iPhone hype gave people the dream of a device so beautiful, and the iPod Touch gave them a way to grasp that dream and move into the same plane of sophistication as those elite enough to own the iPhone itself.

Wow, apple. I’m impressed.

Now, financial analysts are screaming about the ‘disastrous’ $200 price cut so soon after the iPhone’s initial release. Yes, its price was initially way too high, but that price point placed it upon a pedestal, barely attainable, that fueled hype and intrigue. Jobs is giving a $100 store credit to those early adopters who were “cheated” by this price drop.

Apple will sell plenty of the iPod Touch to make up for the small bit of negative spin in the air now. Give it a month and no one will remember these stories of apple’s faux pas, and apple will be slowly taking over the portable device market, corner by corner.

Off to Canada

canada

Well I’m off to Canada for five days of camping in the woods of our neighbors to the north. I expect it’ll be a good chance to relax without the usual hustle and bustle of daily life. Believe it or not, the laptop stays home – nature at its best without interruption. I think somehow the world will manage without me for a few days…

And We Thought the Age of the Pirates Had Drawn to a Close

I’ve always wondered if this sort of thing still happened in today’s modern world of high-level weapons and global surveillance. Well, it turns out some 200-300 pirate attacks are reported each year to the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur.

Long gone are the days of rope-swinging, eye-patched, parrot-adorned raiders, plundering the riches of the seven seas, but still survives the spirit of boarding thieves armed with grappling hooks and a slightly more advanced of rocket-powered grenades and automatic rifles.

Check out this truly wonderful and incredibly in-depth look at The Pirate Hunters and those they pursue. load testing website

Interesting Security Exploits

Talking with my good friend Chris Mueller this afternoon, we stumbled across an article about a cross-site scripting sort of vulnerability that’s pretty wide-spread on the internet.

The general background is that many many dynamic websites, including probably this one, use forms or variables in the url of the page to communicate information from one page to the next. This includes things like login information, page choice, and virtually any link that changes over time. (mousing over the “Most Recent Entries” links at the right gives ….?entry=entry839402874 and such)

This is hackable because, though my password might be unhackable, once I’m logged in to the admin or user-privaleged portion of a site, a hacker can send me to a site that essentially gets me to do their work for them. They do this by adding a tag to a page. Because the user is already logged in on their site, when this page opens the link within the tags, it allows things to go through, changing database entries, deleting pages, or even adding users with administrative privaleges.

If only the vulnerability stopped there….

Unfortunately, it’s also possible to create a form with default values that automatically submits itself to your password protected page when the hosting page loads. And, just as the URL-based hack works, this tricks the site into thinking it’s the authenticated user making the changes and gives a hacker essentially free reign if they know what they’re doing.

Now, this isn’t something that will just randomly happen to anyone – it relies on the hacker deliberately planting these or tags on a page and getting a logged in user to visit the page. Nevertheless, it’s striking how many seemingly secure sites are open to this type of attack.

What can you do? SESSION variables cannot be spoofed in the same way as these POST and GET variables can so using them protects you against this kind of issue. Additionally, there are a variety of frameworks such as xaraya and other tools that generate authentication codes to verify that indeed submitted forms came from a safe location.

It’s a crazy crazy world out there…

SQL Server Migration

So I just want to say for the record, if you’re ever moving sql databases, use a migration and synchronization tool.

I tried shutting down the servers and copying data over. I tried using sql queries to do it. But no matter how careful you are, something will get corrupted, some constraints or dependencies will get lost. I used a free time-limited but fully-featured version of Red Gate SQL Professional Tools which made the process incredibly smooth and safe to do.

Oh, the things I wish I’d known before I began this endeavor.

Free Hugs Campaign

So I heard about this a long time ago and liked it then and I recognize it’s nothing new to most. But everytime I come back to it, the idea behind it hits me a little bit harder.

Free hugs.

Simply the thought of a complete stranger in this hateful and isolating world, knowing nothing about my life or who I am, wanting nevertheless to reach out and make my day a little better…wow. And it’s not exactly a selfless act on their part either. You know the little-school sayings like “love grows when it’s shared” – however cheesy, this is the physical manifestation of that lesson.

What is the purpose in life? How about making everyone’s just a little bit better. Someday I’ll find myself a sign like that and a street corner all my own.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, give it a look.

AJAX Permissions Error

So you’re going along nicely with a small ajax application and you run into this:

Error: uncaught exception: Permission denied to call method XMLHttpRequest.open

AJAX restricts server-side requests to local servers to avoid security issues that would potentially allow javascript to make calls to hostile servers. This can also show up even within your own server if you’ve got a hard-wired path to the query page and the domain has been entered differently (http://www.mypage.com vs. http://mypage.com). Give relative paths, it makes everything more pleasant.

In Pursuit of What?

I was having a general conversation this evening about politics (I know, real shocker here in DC) and as so often happens, we ran into the wall that is two-party politics. With only two choices, how can the population, or even a single individual for that matter, find their beliefs modeled exactly by either of the options. And just like every other time this barrier pops up, it is just as quickly acknowledged as the inevitable best option among a world of evils.

I’m not advocating reworking legislation or constitutional precedents upon which our entire understanding of government is founded. This issue isn’t about the dirty politicking that inevitably dictates the action of any campaign hoping to accomplish anything.

The phrase “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” represents the American dream and beliefs binding our nation’s populace. The words don’t, however, exactly model their original phrasing. Where our country has broadened matters to a pursuit of happiness, John Locke was originally speaking of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.”

Now there’s no surprise here that Locke’s capitalistically founded philosophy acknowledges propery and possessions as our mandate and ultimate object. The distinction is that America, champion of the free market economy and fair, democratic elections, is founded on the basis not of power, nor with the intent of securing wealth or objects in the name of its citizens. Our founding fathers spoke of a higher calling than these in the form of happiness.

Think for a moment of that playful child, gleaming smile spread across his face as he plays and experiences the world. This fact is universal and independent of all other things. Now look at government and the politics that dictate its movements. When did happiness fall by the wayside? When did we forget the meaning of freedom and the ideals we fight to maintain through diplomacy and military action around the world?

Perhaps the solution is not a challenge of our two-party system. Two opposing ends of the spectrum with their own extreme and moderate factions do have the potential to weigh benefits and costs of each decision and find some appropriate balance in the middle. The nature of our parties, not their existence, is the problem. I admit to party politics, broad generalizations of others I oppose, and a fascination with their downfall, whether by honest or dirty means. Still, I believe that with a change in tone we can make steps foreward rather than steps back.

Compassion. What would life be like with gleaming smiles dictating policy. I’m not suggesting throwing money at the poor or bailing people out to the point that they no longer feel the need to support themselves. What I am saying is that our existence as a respectable nation relies entirely on our respectful treatment of those within and without. People are entitled to different, even wrong opinions. They’re welcome to shout them from the rooftops and they’re welcome to argue them to no end with every individual they encounter. What we need is a dignity and recognition that dissent is okay and part of a decision-making process.

Our two parties exist to offset each other in a cooperative, not destructive manner. The system relies on the continued existence of these two parts. Can we not recognize the inevitability of this truth and take steps towards compassionate progress? Yes we can. But it better be soon because things are falling apart.