Minority Opinions

Not everyone can be mainstream, after all.

Archive for May 2013

Topics of Conversation

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There seem to be two kinds of people in the world. News, I know; there are whole systems built around various differences between people. The one most recently pointed out to me, though, doesn’t seem to have a place in the major personality groupings I’ve looked into.

At my wedding reception, my new siblings sat me down at a table, to get to know me better. (Due to distance, most of them hadn’t met me before that day.) The youngest led by asking what my super power would be. The fact that I responded immediately, without questioning their sanity, impressed them. The fact that my answer was slightly off the beaten path led one to declare me a keeper. It has taken me several years to learn why anyone would have considered that odd.

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Written by eswald

28 May 2013 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Lifestyle

Color Selections

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Select an option:

Left

Right

This has been annoying me lately. Which one is selected? With only two options on the screen, it’s impossible to tell, because the only difference is in the color. And I’m not even significantly color-blind; how many people wouldn’t even be able to see the difference, much less interpret it correctly?

Worse, such selection screens usually use arrow keys or buttons to change the selection, and frequently wrap from one end to the other. With just two options, that means they swap colors no matter what you do, eliminating the only way to be certain which color means what. Some video games can also accept mouse input, but DVD menus rarely have that luxury.

Seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard to have some sort of arrow pointing to the selected option. After that, color highlighting would be an optional bonus. And no, thickening the lines of a black-and-white drawing doesn’t cut it; I need something obvious.

Written by eswald

21 May 2013 at 9:40 pm

Notarized Auth

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A time or two, I’ve had a signature authorized by a notary public. Someone trusted to verify my identity, with official symbols to validate my signature. Granted, that identity verification relied on tokens granted by other widely recognized agencies. I, being legitimately who I claim to be, have no problem providing such tokens, though the process of replacing or updating some of them has revealed some potentially abusable holes in the web of trust.

More recently, I have been wondering how this compares to single sign-on and related problems. I maintain a system that provides a service for customers of our clients. The customer will log into the client’s system, and ask to use our service. At that point, the client will tell us who the customer is, through a series of pre-arranged tokens and signatures, and the customer will be granted a token allowing access to our service.

Perhaps more analogous is OpenID. Certain online services will accept a URL as my identifier, as long as that URL points to a service affirming that I am allowed to use it. Such services generally don’t care who I am, as long as nobody else can claim to be me without my permission. (We haven’t gone this route, but we could use OpenID for SSO. It would require accepting only URLs that point to OpenID services of known clients, but that’s not harder than storing a shared secret.)

For the sake of completeness, OAuth is related, but almost entirely different; a more appropriate analogy here is a (perhaps limited) power of attorney. I can tell my email service that a certain third party is allowed to send emails on my behalf, or edit my contact list, or both. In practice, there are some technical details that must be followed for the permission to be considered valid, but they can be abstracted behind the scenes to something that can be signed or clicked. (Surprisingly, a power of attorney document doesn’t need to be notarized.) Despite that difference in underlying philosophy, the OAuth protocol has been used as a base for one of the SSO options we accept.

Perhaps I could make an entire analogy out of the whole system, with OpenID as a notary public, various online services as state governments, and so on, but it would probably be too fragile for any insightful teaching moments.  If you want to take it further, be my guest.

Written by eswald

14 May 2013 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Technology

Boring Science

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The scientific method is boring.

Don’t get me wrong; science can do some amazingly interesting stuff. Chemistry and physics demonstrations can be awesome to watch, and fun to perform. Pretty pictures and fascinating facts come out of biology, geology, and astronomy. I love learning about it all, and enjoyed (most of) my physics classes in college.

But then I tried my hand at research. Designing and crafting devices for an experiment can provide some interest and challenge, but the bulk of the work is taking data. Mounds and mounds of it. Then sifting through it, searching for patterns or meaning. Even with a computer to do most of the tedious transcription, you spend quite a bit of time waiting for test runs to complete, or for graphs to appear, or for programs to finish.

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Written by eswald

7 May 2013 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Lifestyle