Tuesday, June 20, 2006

IE interview

Window Snyder of Matasano posted an interview of IE Lead Program Manager Christopher Vaughan on their blog today - its a worthwhile read, so I'm not going to bother paraphrasing. Check it out yourself!


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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got. (Really?)

Did Sinead O’Connor reach the pinnacle of human existence where she truly does not want what she has not got, or is she just in self denial and living in holier-than-thou martyrdom? I suppose there is a possible middle ground, she is a total and complete sellout, writing something to tug at the heartstrings just to sell albums... :) Regardless, I don’t know ANYONE who doesn’t want SOMETHING that they don’t currently have. There is a reason lust and greed are two of the seven deadly sins, and ‘thou shalt not covet’ is in the 10 commandments. People have wanted things that they don’t possess for as long as there have been people.

I’m not talking just about physical desire/lust, though that is obviously one form of wanting. I’m talking about the basic premise of wanting. Wanting in and of itself isn’t bad. I want world peace – which is not a bad thing to want. But no one’s appetites stop at altruism (even mine), and what people want isn’t always materialistic. Wanting to be a leader in your community/church/office, wanting killer abs, wanting to screw around with that hot guy/girl you met at BlahLocation – we are a species born and raised to want what we have not got. And what we want is tied directly back to our self-identity (or identities).

I believe that there are two kinds of wanting. Routine desire for things you don’t have is pretty normal. The problem is when you take a look around your life and realize maybe all the things you’ve accomplished – while what you wanted at one point in your life – are no longer things you are interested in. Not just that you have the Audi A4 and really want the A8, but that you have the Audi A4 and instead want a Harley Davidson. This is a nice big highway billboard sign of impending identity crisis 50 miles ahead, do not miss, not for the squeamish or depressed, something you just don't want to miss.

So now the things you want out of life (family, freedom, career, possessions, etc) are so completely different from the things you have, you can’t figure out what to do about it. Do you give up everything you have and start over, or do you find the peppermint schnapps the Claus's didn't share with Rudy & Hermey and continue to live the life you previously bought into?

Ultimately though, wanting is still being driven by identity, not the reverse. And identity is so much more than just your social security number/name/credit rating. We display who we are to the outside world through our appearance, our belongings, our behavior. But the essence of who we are is something much harder to pin down, measure, or quantify - even to ourselves. In the words of the ancient Greeks:

Know thyself
The unexamined life is not worth living

But the road of self inquiry is not an easy one to navigate, and isn't necessarily a joy ride. Some get lost. Others turn back. Some run off the road into a ravine and perish. Some never leave home to begin with, preferring to stick with the comfortable routine they know than explore the unknown because change is scary and stressful. There is a significant amount of discomfort in realizing your life itches like an ill-fitting suit you’ve outgrown, and as you shed your old skin, the new you coming out is something else entirely.

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
~Anais Nin, "Winter of Artifice"

"All the world's a stage And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts"
~William Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

As a student of human nature, I find the whole topic of identity fascinating. But unlike Anais and William, I am not convinced that everyone needs to travel a lifelong path of self examination to change states, or to reconcile their various personas, or uncover some repressed or hidden true self. There are people who are so comfortable in their current skin that they are exactly who they appear - to everyone. Family, friends, strangers and co-workers all know one person, who knows themselves and most importantly is happy with who they are. I'm not sure if I actually know any of these people, but I'm sure they must exist. :) I think I need to do more international travel and spend more time embedded in foreign cultures around the world. I'm sure there are very different identity paradigms to learn about and explore than those in the western cultures I've been raised in.


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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sex in Videogames Conference

Wish I'd known about the First Annual Sex in Videogames Conference ahead of time... I'd have taken some time off work to personally attend. Maybe next year since the conference agenda topics look pretty interesting from a sociological perspective.
The Sex in Video Games Conference: Exploring the Business of Digital Erotic Entertainment. This unique conference will focus on the design, development, and technology of sex in video games from a national as well as international perspective. In addition, this conference will also have a strong focus on business matchmaking and networking. During the conference's two day run, it will feature numerous lectures and keynotes, a machinima art show (erotic art and movies derived from video games) as well as panel discussions with leaders in video game and adult video game development.

If, like me, you didn't attend this conference, Wired has an interesting writeup on one of the panels and the focus on how to make pornographic videogames into a viable business, what some of the barriers are to success (porn is usually low investment/high profit, while game development is high investment, pre-existing notions of what is adult entertainment) etc.

The Friday keynote sounds like it might have been pretty interesting.

Sheri Graner Ray has been announced as the keynote for Friday, June 9.

Ms. Graner Ray is an accomplished game designer with 16 years experience in the video game industry and is the author of “Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market.” She will be speaking on how to make adult games that appeal to women, using her research on creating games that appeal to women to specifically discuss what women would want to see within the adult game space.

According to Brenda Brathwaite, Game Designer and Chairperson of the Sex in Video Games Conference, “everyone knows Sheri as the expert on gender issues in video games. I'm really looking forward to how she applies that body of knowledge to adult games. The same lessons she teaches mainstream developers will apply to adult content developers, too. Who doesn't want a bigger audience?”

Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka, President of Evergreen Events, agrees that, “Sheri Graner Ray is a well respected authority on the issues of what attracts women to games and her insight into this area will be invaluable for developers of adult oriented games."

IMO one of the main reasons to have a diverse workforce in the field of software development (not just sex games but any application) is so you are designing and developing products that will appeal to and be usable by a diverse customer base. It isn't about affirmative action, it is about creating the best product for the broadest audience.


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In the immortal words of Pete Townshend, ‘Who are you?”

Before continuing yesterday's post about identity, I want to point out something tangentially related to virtual identities that amuses me. I've written before about Second Life, and how I don't get the attraction (outside of financial gain). Guess what - I'm not the only one who doesn't get it. Chris Pirillo has a funny blog post about his first Second Life experience - I laughed out loud reading it. Chris is no dummy when it comes to computers, so the fact that he ended up with a box on his head is extra amusing to me.

Ok, so back to identity. I've been talking with a few friends about this topic for months now, and while the discussion has been fascinating (to me at least), I am not claiming to offer any revolutionary new answers or insights on the topic.

So why do people end up with multiple identities (and I'm not talking about clinical schizophrenia)? Several months ago I had a conversation with a friend about not underestimating people’s personas based on what you see in public. I asserted that some people are exactly who they appear. They are comfortable in their skin, in their identity. Conservative or freak, they are exactly who they seem to be. But not everyone can do that. For starters, society would have a hard time functioning if everyone ignored decorum and rules and said and did whatever they felt like. So while it feels unnatural to be this conflicted and have a personality different from the veneer you show the world, it is often necessary.

Let’s face it, if Hermey had wanted to be a plastic surgeon instead of a dentist, he and Rudolph could have avoided their whole journey with Yukon Cornelius and the Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph was different due to evolution or (as his father and other reindeer thought) a birth defect. The other reindeer shunned him even though his being different was completely out of his control. Hermey was a more egregious offender to society’s working order: he CHOSE to pursue a deviant career path from his peers. He wasn’t born a dentist, he had the nerve to choose that path instead of testing rubber duckies or whatever else the elf-master made him do in the little-people sweatshop. Either way, Rudolph and Hermey couldn’t fit in with North Pole society (though I’m thinking if Mr. & Mrs. Claus had been a little more liberal in sharing their peppermint schnapps they could have dulled their independent identities enough to make a go of it) so they struck out on their own. While the North Pole society depicted is a bit simplistic in its monoculture, the basic premise isn’t all that different from reality.

At a very basic level we push deviants to the fringes, underground, and that allows the rest of us to feel normal and safe. People are generally uncomfortable with things they don’t understand. So for a lot of people it is easier to mold themselves to fit in even if it isn’t who they are. It is a peculiarity of human society around the world that is started in our childhood as kids take sides and ostracize the ‘different’ kids, so we learn early in life to fit in. Later in adolescence even the 'non-conformists' (emo, goth, mod, punk, whatever) really do conform to one another – they listen to the right music, wear the right clothing to fit in with their tribe. Because isolation isn’t safe. If you are isolated from your tribe and get injured or have a bad season hunting you could die. It isn’t so drastic today because you can just go to the grocery store, but the basic premise of survival of the fittest comes back into play.

So what happens next is an interesting twist - identity drives materialism. People want things because they want to fit in. People in Miami don’t want the best pickup truck on the block like people in Topeka do, because it doesn’t help them fit into their tribe. Rudolph wanted a ‘normal nose’, because he wanted to fit in. You could argue that is a sign he is a weak person, er, deer, because he didn’t have the chutzpa to be himself – even if that meant being different. It isn’t easy to be on the outside looking in (as anyone who was unpopular in high school can tell you) but when even your parents don't understand or accept you for who you are, well, that increases the pressure to fit in tremendously.

next: I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got. (Really?)


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Monday, June 12, 2006

The competition for internet domination continues...

Google or MySpace? Who is your money on for internet overlord? (and for chuckles, who do you think has better security?)

In the red corner... Google is moving to compete with eBay with an online auction offering that sports the spectacularly innovative name 'GBuy'. (yes, that was sarcasm) If not successful, I forsee a plethora of 'g'bye' jokes in their future. If it is successful, maybe the next new Video Professor title will be Introduction to GBuy (sorry, but I think the fact that there was demand for a class on how to use eBay is the saddest thing I've ever heard. It's eBay people. How hard is it?)

And in the blue corner... MySpace is trying to attract the LinkedIn and Monster.com crowd by adding MySpace Careers. This isn't necessarily a terrible idea... for those compelled to publicly display their popularity and social connectivity by creating accounts on MySpace, Friendster, and LinkedIn, this could be a chance to merge multiple online identities, cut down on accounts and passwords to remember and manage.

On the other hand, for people who don't want their personal and professional lives to bleed into one another, this isn't really any help at all. More and more recruiters and hiring managers are looking up job candidates online (both in MySpace and through your garden variety googlestalking) and using the information learned in their candidate profiles and interviews. Which if you've maintained a wholly professional online profile isn't a problem. But if you and your college buddies put up pictures of your latest keg party and get comments on your profile from the girls you partied with this weekend about what a stud you are, you might not want the general manager for one of the big 5 accounting firms you just applied at seeing you extra, uhm, happy, out at the club with your posse and getting the impression you're just a party animal boozer who is going to be late due to hangovers on a regular basis. And it isn't just the party animals that worry about identifying their personal lives to potential employers. Use your personal blog to connect with other members of your spiritual community? Discuss your kids latest adventures and your wish to adopt more kids from overseas? All personal details that aren't relevant to a job, but can still color someone's impression of you as a job candidate.

As always, the topic of identity interests me. Personal, professional, public, private. How can one effectively firewall their personal and professional identities? How do you handle things when your worlds collide? And what happens if your personal identity is best kept anonymous from family, neighbors and employers, but some of the people in your personal circle are also in your professional circle? Sure, a lot of people on planet earth only have one identity and the idea of having more than one is shocking and alien to them, something only a criminal would do. But many people have found that it is easier to fit into mainstream society if they isolate their personal pursuits from their employer, colleagues, and customers. You'd be amazed how many doctors and lawyers are swingers or into BDSM. Yes, your mild mannered dermatologist might like getting freaky on the weekends in leather and submission games, and you'd never guess it.

Obviously it is challenging when your personal and professional relationships start overlapping, and even harder when some of those identities cross the public/private barrier. Thus the need for pseudonyms, to help protect personal identity - and not just in the online world, this happens every day in 'real' life too. But how many identities are too many to have? How to you truly maintain anonymity if needed in one or more? And what happens when you start to have an identity crisis, unsure which one is the real you, which one takes priority over the others? I have friends struggling with this very issue every day, mediating internal debates between conflicting personas that are chafing at co-existing and resisting a life of eternal compromise. All outstanding future discussion topics for the blog seeing as this didn't start off as a post about identity but about new internet properties from two of the big internet players on the scene today. :)

Coming soon: In the immortal words of Pete Townshend, ‘Who are you?”


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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Black Hat Vegas Speaker Schedule Posted!!

Check it out - looks like an awesome lineup. Very impressive...


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new meaning for 'soda fountain'

Can't make it to Black Hat Vegas this year (lamer)? Cheer yourself up a bit by watching this outstanding abuse of carbonated beverages - you can pretend its the fountain show at the Bellagio.

Thanks D for the url. Very funny stuff.


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Friday, June 02, 2006

Fun stuff for a Friday

Far more portable and office appropriate than my potato cannon (if you saw it, you'd understand why it isn't just a potato 'gun'), this paper clip trebuchet is a fun diversion and doesn't require as much investment in propellant and ammo.

Wired News compiled a list of the 10 worst engineering mistakes. There are no software engineering mistakes on the list - it is made up of civil, mechanical, industrial, and some electrical engineering. Surprisingly, Galloping Gertie didn't make the list.

Insider trading at Google is spiking in May. Wonder what that means.