I have for a long time thought that the IT industry has an issue with how people within it present themselves to the rest of the world. Everyone wants to be an "Engineer", indeed my current job title is "DevOps Engineer" (a title I am not particularly enamoured with, but that is a matter for another time). We all know that Engineers create clever solutions to otherwise very difficult problems. The issue I have with this is that in many other fields where you find Engineers there are rules, and regulations, and bodies that decide who gets to call themselves "Engineer" and what standards those people must meet. In most of these other fields there are highly defined Engineering Standards against which we can measure the ability and performance of these Engineers. In IT this is not enforced, now I have been very lucky to work with some incredibly talented and intelligent individuals, and I do not wish to deride their contributions in anyway, but without the standards to measure ourselves against, using the term "Engineer" just cheapens it. Unfortunately I have no idea what the standards should be in IT, and I have no idea what the underlying problem with the way many working in IT think that I feel is not proper Engineering, after all I am no more an "Engineer" than anyone else in IT using that title, and claiming otherwise would be a lie. And so I have joined BCS in order that maybe I can get more exposure to the rest of IT and perhaps learn more about what the standards I feel are missing should be.
I shall probably write more on this in the future, but for now here's to hoping that membership of a professional body is going to be a positive step towards understanding my industry, and how I can make it better.
Not so long ago I suggested I may change my mail server software. I have recently done so, moving from a highly customised qmail installation to postfix. I have done so for a number of reasons, but that is not to say I dislike qmail.
What did I get out of qmail?
- Easy to configure, all the configuration was done using flat files, named for their purpose, there was no monolithic and confusing config file to search through
- Highly customisable, I had applied many patches, and made alterations to my specific installation that served my needs
- multi process mail system, this one mattered to me, and is why when I switched I switched to postfix, there is no single binary running as root, that does everything, each process runs with the privileges it needs.
So why did I want to change?
Well qmail, and specifically my installation, had become unwieldy to add new functionality to, I wanted to add greylisting, and there were many ways to do this, but they all required adding yet another patch, and out of laziness I had not committed all my changes to any sort of source control. I couldn't stomach manually going through another patch and seeing where it didn't apply cleanly and why, and fix it again. So I had a choice stomach the pain of another round of patching, rebuilding, and testing, and make things worse for myself, set up source control for my qmail set up, or move to something better supported in the community, and with more features.
Postfix suited my needs reasonably well, it is a multi-process mail system, using the idea of least privilege, it has a modular design allowing the addition of extra features much more quickly and easily. It is also better supported, and even has pakages within debian, my operating system of choice. Greylisting was added easily by simply installing another package (postgrey) and altering the config of postfix to use it. By setting up postfix to allow access over ssl on port 465 (as I had previously on qmail) it has also enabled opportunistic encryption for any mail servers sending email to me (something I had considered adding to qmail, but had decided wasn't worth the effort) and I have also been able to easily enable opportunistic encryption for when my server sends email out to other servers that support it.
So do I regret using qmail in the past? Not at all I learnt a great deal from using qmail, and I still prefer it as a basic mail system to postfix, it was just becoming too much hassle to support new features.
What mail server would I advise others to use? For the most part I would suggest google apps or office365 if you want your own domain, or any of a number of other paid for mail hosting solutions, very few poeple have the time and skills and patience to run their own mail server. It started as a learning exercise for me, and I like the control I have over my set up. If someone genuinely wanted to run their own mail server my advise would be to find out what suits their needs best, qmail is great if your needs are simple, and is relatively easy to learn if you have some basic knowledge of how networks and specifically email work, but everyone has different needs, and those needs can change over time, my certainly have.
So, about a year ago I renewed my SSL certificates, and I was using StartSSL as my certificate provider, because they were free, if a little awkward to use. One of the limitations they placed on the free certs is that they could only be valid for a year. At the time I was interested to see what would become of Let's Encrypt as it promised not only free certificates, but a much easier way to get, and manage those certificates. They went live in April this year. I have been considering setting up my cert through Let's Encrypt, and renewing my SSL certificate was the perfect opportunity to do so, however, I have not got myself into a possition to fully automate the renewal of all the places I use my SSL certificate, so while it is still a manual process, and I got the reminder from StartSSL I figured why not give them another go.
So, there was this vote last Thursday. Apparently we voted to have Armageddon! Or at least if my social media feed is anything to go by that's what we did. What annoys me about the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from those who voted to remain (or at least the most vocal of them) is that they claim to be liberal, and that those that voted Leave are as illiberal, as stupid, and as racist as it is possible to be. And yet, look at what they are saying "the leave camp are wrong, we should not listen to them". Last I checked liberalism was about allowing personal freedoms, not about refusing to acknowledge a view point that diverges somewhat from your own.
So I commute by public transport, this involves using the bus train, and Sheffield's SuperTram. The problem I am about to rant about is far worse on the tram and train than on the bus, but does occur on the bus occasionally, it's also a rush hour problem more than at other times of the day, presumably because rush hour is when their are fewer seats and more people have to stand. The problem is that people get on and stop, which at first glance doesn't really sound that bad does it, but consider this, lots of people do this, and by get on and stop, I don't mean get on, find some space, and settle in for the journey ahead, I mean step through the door and just stop right there. At busy times this means you have to fight your way past the crowds of people just to get through the door. Every time this happens to me (almost entirely without fail, and the exceptions don't really bother me much) there is amble room for everyone stood in the doorway to stand apart, and have some space, if these people just spread out into the middle of the tram/train carriage. I have had to fight my way through people crammed into the vestibule of the train, and when I had to ask one woman to move out of the way of the door into the carriage she asked me why I wanted to get past as there were no seats. What appeared to escape her however was the fact that the aisle was empty, not just less crowded, empty. Why stand like sardines for a thirty minute journey (my morning commute by train) when I can stand in plenty of free space? The tram is basically the same problem, but without the excuse that there is a door to separate the doorway area from the rest of the tram. The disabled area on the tram is also next to the doors (a sensible location all things considered) but due to this location it gets clogged up with these ignorant twats milling about the doorway. I am ashamed to say that recently (about a month ago now) when I got on the tram to see a woman with a disabled child in a wheel chair blocking the steps into the middle of the tram I didn't yell out to all the people blocking the disabled bay that they were utter failures as human beings, or try and move them on. More recently I had to fight passed the same group of people to get onto the tram, to allow people to get off (as I couldn't get far enough onto the tram not to block people from getting off initially due to these crowds), to get back on again, and then once more to get off a couple of stops further on!
Seriously, what does it take to get these people to think "hey, maybe I'm in the way, perhaps I should move, possibly that will make everyone's life easier, my own included"? The fucking morons!
So, we have another bill in Parliament to allow the government to spy on us. This one tries to ban end to end encryption, so that should the police or security services need to access your private communications they can do so with out you, or the person you are communicating with knowing about it. Aside from this defeating the point of encryption, it's a lovely side step around the criticism that the government wants to ban strong encryption, the encryption can be as strong as you like as long as it has a hole in the middle where the government can read it. Now as a technical person this riles me, but I am not an encryption expert, so rather than rant about something other people can tell you about far better than I, I'm going to wander off on a different tack.
So a number of concepts and ideas and comments have been floating around my head of late, and none of them have been significant enough, or have I formulated my thoughts enough, to want to pass comment on them on my blog. But it has occurred to me that they have a common thread, and that is that there is a price to pay, and we, as a society, must choose the price we are willing to pay!
So my last blog entry was on religion, and one of the things I mentioned about religion was that it offers hope for our lost loved ones. In some rather unfortunate timing (not that there is ever fortunate timing for a death in the family) my grandmother has passed. I knew she was not well when I wrote my last blog post, but it is rather difficult to prepare yourself fully for the death of a loved one. So, how, as an atheist, do I cope knowing (based on my beliefs) that my grandmother is gone?
I can take some comfort in the fact that she was in her 90s, and so had led a long life up until this point. But that doesn't change the fact that she is gone.
Grief is one emotion I have always struggled with, I know of no real rational way to deal with the loss, which is, to someone with my beliefs, rather final. I have no hope that they are happy now, or that I may see them again. They are just gone. So I am left with nothing to help me cope. All I have left is my own internal coping mechanisms, and unfortunately I fear they I not terribly healthy, the most effective method I have, and the one I dislike the least, is to descend into rationality and shut away the troublesome emotions, to deal with them later, when they have had time to subside, unfortunately they tend to subside very slowly when not dealt with. I have tried hard, for years, to avoid this coping strategy, as it tends to set me back in my relationships. I also have a tendency to compartmentalise my life, this is more a general coping strategy, than one for strong emotions, but I also find it hinders my personal growth, and my relationships, and I have, in the last few years started to break down the last of those compartments, but I fear this will not last in my current state of mind. Unfortunately this rather shows that I, as an atheist, don't really cope with grief. Writing this blog post is proving to be a little helpful, but only a little.
Essentially I am saying that I, as an atheist, do not really cope with grief. Perhaps other atheists handle it better, I certainly hope so.
So an old friend of mine has started to look into religion. She is a person who I consider rational and intelligent. So why should I care about this? Well I care because I fear they may find religion, and this will shake my view of them as rational, and in turn my view of the world around me. It is an entirely selfish fear, but alas not one I think is entirely irrational.
So to start with, before I explain why I fear my friend will become religious I should explain some background. As I have said I credit them with intelligence, and rationality, religion is inherently not rational, it is founded in faith. Also it is worth noting that I myself have looked into religion in the past, and I have not found religion in the process. They, like I, are atheist (believe that their is no god). So what is the problem?
Well to start, they are atheist, but it is not the same passionate, burning atheism that I am afflicted with (and it is an affliction), they are more agnostic than that, whereas you would be no more able to convince me that God exists than you would be able to convince me that I am a fish. It is this atheism, founded in hatred, that has prevented me from becoming religious, not my rationality. My friend is far more rational than me on this, and so a good argument could sway her. Indeed the whole reason I ever started to investigate religion was so I could tear it apart wherever I saw it (I have since mellowed, but I have not changed my beliefs), my friend is looking into it out of curiosity. Then there is religion itself, belief is an essential part of life, you must believe in something to be able to go about your daily life, even if that belief is as simple as "my experiences are an accurate reflection of my life". Religion uses this, and seductively has answers for some of the harder questions in life "why are we here?" "what is it all for?" "what is right and wrong?". These are not easy questions to answer to an atheist, but religion answers them, and does so comprehensively (although I would argue not necessarily correctly). As I have said we need belief, so why not extend that belief to include answers to the hard questions? Especially when you consider what else religion offers, hope, that there is meaning to your suffering (whatever form that may take), hope that loved ones we have lost have found happiness, and hope that death is not the final meaningless end to life for us. All of this offers a great deal to anyone who will just believe. My life is good, I have troubles, but nothing I can't deal with, my friend suffers from mental health problems, and is far from wealthy, so religion offers far more to her than it could to me.
So why does this bother me? Well for the same reason I never became religious, even when I was at my most vulnerable to the hope and answers religion offered. I have a deep seated, and irrational, hatred of religion, I recognise it now, and it is a weakness, but one that informs my view of religion and the religious. I see religion as irrational, foolish, stupid even. If my friend became religious, I would struggle to reconcile my view of them with my view of the religious, doing so would require me to question my beliefs, such that they are, and this is a problem. We all need faith to function, faith in something that allows us to get on with our lives, how can we cope without that faith? How will I cope without mine?
So, Richard Dawkins has courted controversy on twitter, this tweet
Should I have used the sensitive subject of rape to illustrate a logical point? My answer is here http://t.co/tSPlTEbXwB
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 30, 2014
links to a blog of his about the controversy, and this post is an attempt by me to respond.
First off, Richard Dawkins, in his blog discusses the idea that all topics, no matter how sensitive, or controversial, should be open to rational, dispassionate, debate. Now on this point I agree, rational debate is important, and on particularly emotional subjects the only way to have meaningful debate is to do so dispassionately. However, that said, the thing about sensitive topics is that they are, well, sensitive and that means they need to be handled sensitively. That is where me and Richard Dawkins appear to differ. The tweets that started this controversy are discussed in the blog linked above (you really should read what he's done in his own words to understand the point I am trying to make) but they were about one evil being worse than a different, but related, evil. That is not the issue, the problem is that Richard Dawkins is a prominent man, who attracts a lot of media attention, went onto a very open, and public forum and raised the subject of rape, in an insensitive manner without (or possibly worse, with) considering the impact it would have on those who have suffered, and been traumatised by, rape. Now if I were to go into a busy town centre and yell "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think
that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think." (a direct quote from the blog) what do you think would be my fate? I would probably be arrested for causing a breach of the peace, and possibly confronted violently by people upset by my choice of topic, and choice of method of airing that topic (hopefully I would be arrested before suffering serious harm). And this is the point I want to make. Open, rational, dispassionate, debate of sensitive topics needs to be done in a way that allows those who would be traumatised by the subject to refrain from taking part. Yelling about it in a crowded space is just wrong, getting upset with people made angry by your forcing them to face an emotionally loaded, potentially traumatic, subject is just silly, and Richard Dawkins, in posting that on twitter has essentially done the internet equivalent of walking into a crowded space and yelled at the top of his lungs about a massively emotional subject. Being a renowned evolutionary biologist, and self appointed spokesman for atheism, does not entitle you to be a massive dick!