First World Problem: MC Frontalot vs Weird Al Yankovic

Uh oh. Weird Al Yankovic has a new album leaking out and it looks like we now have competition for song about first world problems. Seriously.

Here’s MC Frontalot’s version:

And now Weird Al’s (updated with the official music video):

Same subject, very different takes.

So who did it better? Sound off in the comments.

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Switching it all: From the HTC Evo 4G LTE on Sprint to the LG Nexus 5 on T-Mobile

After many, many years of loyalty to Sprint, Shauna and I broke ranks and jumped ship to T-Mobile when our contract was up. After just a week of being on a new handset with a new carrier, I can see what a world of difference it makes to not only change the hardware, but also change the carrier supporting it. Here’s why I changed and how it has worked out so far. Continue reading

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On Excommunication

I’ve already pretty clearly drawn my line in the sand on the Ordain Women movement, so I can’t express any amount of surprise at the news that the leader of the movement may be facing an excommunication hearing. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what this means, so it’s worth providing some clarification and context.

First off, all Church discipline is meant to be private and internal. Nobody’s name is put on a list and stapled to a bulletin board. When a public or well-known figure is the subject, they may often choose to publicize the action in an attempt to garner public sympathy. This is neither effective nor encouraged. The Church does not operate by public opinion, especially in matters of Church discipline. It is a theocracy, not a democracy. It can only serve to drive a deeper wedge between the Church and the individual.

On that note, let’s be clear about what an excommunication hearing means. It is not a punishment. It is an opportunity for someone who has publicly stated a disbelief in church doctrines to determine if they are willing to do what is needed to realign themselves with church teachings. All too often, individuals who have reached this point are unlikely to realize that they have an opportunity to repent and square themselves with The Church and The Lord. If they don’t take that opportunity, they have their membership revoked to prevent them from doing further damage to their own eternal spiritual well-being. It is perfectly clear from Ms. Kelly’s response that she does not see this opportunity for what it is and will “stick to her guns” as it were.

I find the entire situation very sad and disheartening. Questions within the LDS Church are welcome, and any class I have ever been in invites theorizing and open discussion. We all have questions, and we all try to figure out the answer to them. What there is not room for, however, is attempting to redefine the doctrines of the Church without the appropriate position of authority. Engaging in highly visible and public dialog that undermines the purposes of the Church and the harmony of other members with its doctrine are right out. The privilege of revealing the Lord’s will for the Church as a whole is reserved exclusively for the prophet and president of the Church.

Unlike some others, I find no joy in people who drive themselves out of this faith. I believe it to be very spiritually damaging to both themselves and those around them. It’s a rare thing when someone in this position returns, something that is equally disheartening. Telling someone with doubts or questions to leave is, in many cases, the worse sin when you are in no position ecclesiastically to make that judgement.

I believe that this Church is true and that God’s will will be revealed on His schedule through His chosen prophet. If that will is contrary to my own or isn’t happening on my preferred timeline, I’m the one who needs to change, not the Church. This will probably involve hard things for me just as it will for many people. His servants will make mistakes along the way, but none of those mistakes will jeopardize my eternal salvation.

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Moving to the country (we’re gonna eat a lot of peaches)

We don’t have a date yet, but Jesse and I are hoping to move our family to the Cedar City area sometime this summer. Our house will be going on the market in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as we finish some projects to increase desirability and all that. Once we have an offer on our house, we’ll get more serious about looking down south, but we’re basically looking for a place with some more land where we can have some fruit trees and a giant garden and some chickens and goats possibly and live all country-like. I know you all are thinking there are places we can do that in Salt Lake County and before you excitedly start sending me links to MLS listings so we don’t move out of the area, we have some other reasons for moving:

First of all, the air quality here is terrible. We’ve known that for a while, but I recently stumbled upon this site which shows you the reported pollutants in your county. Salt Lake County is among the 10% DIRTIEST counties in the entire country. Some of the biggest pollutants showing for our area are LEAD and ARSENIC which, incidentally, my kids tested high for in a recent heavy metals testing we got back. We tested the house for lead paint of course and found none. It didn’t make sense until we saw this website report. Iron County, on the other hand, is among the CLEANEST 20% in the country. Even the highest pollutant (of only two reported pollutants), ammonia, is about HALF the amount of what is reported in Salt Lake County. We’ve had some genetic testing done and have discovered that we are genetically vulnerable to environmental toxins and want to be in a cleaner environment to give our kids the best chance of healing.

Also, my parents are planning a move to southern Utah and we could really use some family support/help with the kids. There is a lot we will miss about living here, but the idea of living in a small town really appeals to us and we feel really good about the decision. Since Jesse telecommutes full time, he’ll be keeping his same job and everything. Easy Peasy.

Stay tuned for info/invitations to our final summer backyard bbq bash.

Posted in Tender Lumplings | 2 Comments
Gallery

Lower Bells Canyon Reservoir – May 2014

This gallery contains 4 photos.

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Building a Better Social Network

Sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Sourced from Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest limitations of using a blog to own your own content is that you more-or-less give up controlling access to your content. Everything is out in the open by default. The workarounds are to either secure individual posts with a password or force registration on your site to secure posts. Both methods are cumbersome and awkward. Social networks have largely risen by attempting to provide a fix for that issue. Unfortunately, the trade-off is you give up ownership of your content. Social networks also tend to be very noisy since while you can control who sees your posts, you have very little input as to which posts of someone else’s you want to see beyond “all or nothing”. These issues are easily fixable.

The most widely recognized way to secure any data which should have a limited audience is with public key cryptography. Each individual would distribute a public key that can be used to encrypt a message for their eyes only. They would then use their private key to decrypt the message for their viewing. In the real world, most messages are encrypted with a symmetric key which is then put into a digital envelope with the public keys of anyone who should be able to read the message. It’s very fast and allows multiple recipients. This has been used with encrypted email for over two decades.

It wouldn’t take too much to extend this to blogs. RFC2440 and RFC4880 both specify standard ways in which public keys can be published. As part of a blog setup, the blogging engine could generate a public-private keypair, put the keypair in your browser, and publish the public key on an embedded keyserver. The SKS keyserver has the added benefit of replicating the key to other keyservers and being able to looking against them. This makes discovery of public keys, either your own or those of people you want to share with, very easy.

As a real-world example, let’s say you want to write a post about your top-secret award-winning macadamia nut clusters and only want to share it with your friends Alice and Bob. You don’t want Carol to know about it because the two of you compete for “best baked goods” at the church social every year. When you publish your post, it gets encrypted with a symmetric key. That symmetric key is then encrypted with your public key and the public keys of Alice and Bob (cue maniacal laughter from Yzma here). Carol won’t be able to see the post because her public key wasn’t used to encrypt the symmetric key. This gives you iron-clad guarantees of privacy because unless you add Carol’s public key to the list, she’ll never be able to read the post.

Blogs also make an ideal platform for solving the noise problem. Every single post gets placed into one or more categories with tags to further refine what the content is about. (Dear haters of tags: shut up. Machines are still not smart enough to determine content relevance without them. Facebook’s news feed is a prime example.) One you’ve chosen who to share your content with, those individuals can then filter based on category or tag so that they’re only seeing the content they want. Prime example: if you want me to shut up about politics, you could create a filter that anything I post tagged with politics is filtered out. It still relies on the publisher to tag their content, but it definitely provides much more control than Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Now how do you view all of this content? Just bust out your trusty RSS reader. Yes, Google Reader died, but a dozen or more companies have taken its place. I’m personally very happy with Tiny Tiny RSS. It would be a small thing to add a basic RSS reader into a blogging platform to complete upgrading blogs into a real social network.

I know you’re probably thinking this seems like an awful lot of work, but there’s a number of reasons why this makes sense. Facebook has been steadily trying to “smartly” filter your news feed, but it often ends up frustrating users beyond belief. Brands who use Facebook have seen engagement levels steadily drop as Facebook tries to shake them down for advertising dollars. RSS is guaranteed delivery to a reader; Facebook is not. Twitter has a tendency to be far too noisy and conversational. Most posts there end up being time-sensitive and fall off quickly, so it’s easy to miss things. And as much as I like Google+, it’s real power is as a way to influence the search results of other people.

You’ll notice that none of the major social networks really care about noise. For those that offer any kind of privacy or sharing options (Facebook and Google+), you’re also explicitly trusting those companies to be in on each and every posting. There have also been many high-profile examples of the privacy controls failing. Creating sharing standards which can be implemented by various platforms and placed under your total control is the only long-term solution to all problems.

Posted in Blogging, Geek | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Destination 210: Focusing on health, not weight

I’ve been dropping weight at a glacial pace for the last several weeks. It’s still coming off, but maybe at a rate of a pound a week, tops. I’m still losing fat mass, but that’s also going pretty slowly. I’ve decided to re-focus on general health, specifically eliminating the need for medications for blood pressure and cholesterol. Since I’m already working on both weight and exercise, I’m going to focus on the kinds of foods I’m eating.

The biggest factors in blood pressure appear to be potassium (which I know I’m low on) and magnesium. I’m adding in at least one sweet potato a day to get the potassium covered, and I’m going to increase my intake of dark leafy greens for magnesium. I’m also going to start doing some epsom salt baths as a way to increase my magnesium intake, something we already do with our kids.

Cholesterol is a lot more complex. There’s some competing opinions on what foods help, but there’s a general consensus around nuts, fatty fish like salmon, and olive oil. In short, you need some of the “good fats” around to keep blood cholesterol in check. Oranges and other citrus also seem to top out on the list, but the whole fruit, not the juice. Other fiber-rich foods like beans also get a nod.

Measuring results with blood pressure is easy. I already have an automated cuff I can use to take measurements at least twice a day. Cholesterol is going to be more complex since it’ll require a blood test and a trip to the doctor’s office. By my next annual check-up in September, I hope to be in good enough shape to stay off the meds. Why take what you don’t need?

Really, this is the nuts-and-bolts of nutrition and taking care of yourself. I started off reducing my incoming food, then added more exercise, and now am tuning the foods I consume. This is full-scale lifestyle change, not a “diet” where you hit a goal and stop. I’ll let Alton Brown bring it home.

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Ordain Women and doing it wrong

Ordain Women ProtestLike 87% of LDS Church membership, I do not support Ordain Women. I believe both their goals and their methods to be deeply flawed and out of touch with how the Church operates. I want to lay out some reasons why I think they have set themselves up for failure.

Ordain Women strikes the immediate wrong tone in their name. It’s a demand for an outcome, not seeking an answer to a question of gender roles within church leadership and authority. Asking the question “why is the priesthood a male-only privilege” is a worthy pursuit and worth asking. I fully support seeking a response both personally and by inquiring of church leaders. I do not support asking if your only goal is to get a specific answer.

Speaking of inquiry, honest inquiry happens in a certain way. Sending private letters to church leadership seeking a response fits this mold. So does discussing it with your friends and ward neighbors. So is prayer. Note that these kinds of inquiry are all low-key and conducted in meekness. Doing it in front of a crowd of TV cameras and reporters is not seeking an honest answer; it is attempting to shame another party into caving to your demands. So is attempting to disrupt an important spiritual meeting to “be heard” when the problem not is that you aren’t heard, but that you aren’t getting what you want. It is flat-out bullying, and it has no place within this organization.

If you believe that the LDS Church is headed by God, and that God reveals his will through a chosen prophet of the church, then you can reasonably assume that should the ordination of women be of God, it will be done according to the Lord’s timeframe. Public pressure will change absolutely nothing in this regard. It is, at best, a non-productive activity with no effect on if or when a final answer will be received.

Regardless of what the answer is, Ordain Women has gone about seeking it in the worst possible way, one that alienates with confrontation and demands. It is entirely possible to get answers to tough questions without going this route. I hope Ordain Women supporters will realize this sooner rather than later. Those who do not may subsequently jeopardize their membership in the Lord’s kingdom as the so-called September Six did two decades ago.

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In which I hate on the How I Met Your Mother finale

Warning: here be spoilers. Run the other way if you want to ruin, er, watch the show for yourself.

I’ve seen more than one source describe How I Met Your Mother as “Friends for Millennials”. After the train wreck of a finale this week (which was just the cherry on top of a bad season), I’m starting to see why. By the end of the series, most of the characters have done exactly zero growing up or maturing, only superficially learning necessary life lessons long enough to get past their personal crisis du jour. Instead of giving us some kind of ending with a hope for people being better than when they started, we realize they don’t really change at all.

But first, let me give kudos where kudos are due. Marshall and Lily should be the example of what people should strive for. They get into fights, often big ones, but they have a firm commitment to working through them. Aside from their broken off relationship when they were dating, I never once got the feeling that they ever considered splitting up to be an option. They learned better from their brief time apart. As they transitioned into family life, they adjusted accordingly to behave responsibly. Marshall often had a job he hated because it was good for the family. All of his hard work was rewarded when he got the judgeship positions he really wanted, but he did work for it. He wasn’t just handed the dream job because dagnabit he was just a beautiful and unique snowflake. They both cut back on going out when kids came along because really, that’s just how life works when you actually want to raise children, not merely keep them alive. Lily even grew up to no longer be pulling her family along for her quest for superficial self-fulfillment. In many ways, they embraced the work and social ethics of generations past.

The rest of the characters don’t seem to get anything out of these good examples of being a responsible adult, preferring an eternal adolescence. Barney is obviously a tragic figure, but he gets the comic relief treatment so we won’t be forced to uncomfortably acknowledge it. He never had a father or father figure growing up, and his mother was often absent. To cope with that kind of pain, he constructs elaborate lies about his life and past that are far more glamorous than the reality that he had no parents to speak of. The flashback to his coffee shop days show he had figured out a way to cope with it and be a more-or-less decent guy, but getting abandoned sent him into the spiral of self-destructive behaviors that came to define his life. Then Robin abandons him and he goes right back into it, never learning a lesson. Even seeing his daughter didn’t really force him to confront that he used other people to try and numb his own pain. Instead of trying to make amends or warn other men about his unhappy lifestyle choices, he jumps to blaming women for ruining his life. There was an opportunity for Barney to finally face his problems and the writers chose the cop-out.

Robin is at least as bad. She starts off as selfish and insensitive. By the end of the show, she’s still that same person. If there’s any kind of emotionally uncomfortable situation, she runs from it. She involves herself deeply in her work to avoid it in the first place. When she’s involved with Ted, she runs as soon as things start getting more than superficial. Just look at how she reacts to the idea of having kids, an emotionally intense experience she wants to avoid. When Barney is getting upset because he sees an encore of being abandoned by a woman, she reacts by running even further away, paying little heed to how much damage she’s doing in the process. By the end of the show, she still lives alone, still has a bunch of dogs that won’t challenge her, and is still making work, an ultimately meaningless pursuit, her top life goal.

And why exactly is Ted, the hopeless romantic looking for The One chasing down an emotionally unavailable basket case like Robin? Here’s a guy who is fully invested in the idea of true love: find a woman you’re head-over-heels in love with, marry her, have kids, and grow old together. Even career goals like having a building on the Manhattan skyline take a back seat to this kind of idealism in relationships. And this is where things start getting really sloppy. Ted, the guy who literally says “I love you” on first dates, meets The Mother, who is perfect for him, does a crazy amount of wedding planning, ends up with a “whoops baby” before the wedding… and then waits five years and two kids to actually marry her? When did Ted become a relationship slacker, just going along with the flow? And the idea that he’s completely hung up on Robin the whole time, who seemingly offers him nothing but the challenge of attaining the unattainable, instead of what appears to be the perfect woman? Are we really going to believe that the hopeless romantic was just putting on a show?

So what we have are “party hardy to numb the pain” Barney, “sabotage relationships and bury your nose in work to avoid hard things” Robin, and “hopeless romantic who can’t help but chase after something they can’t get” Ted. They’re eternal adolescents, never really growing up and embracing adulthood, teenagers that can legally drink. Marshall and Lily, instead of being presented as the responsible lifestyle to which their friends should have aspired, are a curiosity that their “friends” push away from as they refuse to confront their own issues. Why bother spending an entire season focusing on a wedding that would force Robin and Barney to both grow up (and Ted to move on from obsessing over the woman he doesn’t really want) only to flush all of those examples of personal growth down the tubes in a few minutes of airtime? If this was to be the ending the entire time (and the filming of Ted’s conversation with his kids from the get-go seems to hint at it), why would you intentionally refuse to develop the idea over nine years, much less spend the entirety of the last season moving in the other direction?

Friends has everyone grow up to pursue living like adults. Scrubs gave us an ending montage that hinted at the same. How I Met Your Mother just trolled millions of viewers for the ending they never wanted to see. If the point was to provide an uncomfortable mirror of how many of us don’t grow up and face our problems, you could have tried to develop that thought. Instead, you lead us on the road of growing up only to pull the rug out from under us for… what reason exactly? Beats me, but I doubt I’m going to watch any of the show again with this bad taste in my mouth.

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A one car family, revisited

Bye bye, YarisSome time ago, we thought about maybe going down to one car. We decided against it since I was working in an office and Shauna would still need to go places with the kids. That ended up being a good choice since I later ended up driving down to Lindon for work. Since July, though, I’ve been a full-time telecommuter and put under 100 miles per month onto my car. For the last several months, I’ve also been trying to walk, bike, and use mass transit to get where I need to go more often than not. It’s to the point where I asked the question again: do we need a second car?

The answer is no. No we don’t. Between registration, insurance, and maintenance, we’re spending $100 a month on a car we just don’t use. Meanwhile, it loses value over time as it lies fallow. Even if I needed another car for a day, an occasional rental is going to be less than what we spend on just owning the car, much less operating it. It’s less convenient, but the money being saved (and pulled out the car) is worth it.

When I had called USAA a few weeks ago to see what it would save us to go down to one car, they suggested using their car-buying service to find a buyer. Amazingly, it took less than five hours to get an offer from a dealership for more than I had listed the car for. We’re driving out to Tooele on Monday to say goodbye to this reliable little workhorse. I feel a little nervous about cutting back like this, but I think we can do it.

Posted in Life | Tagged | 1 Comment