Friday, March 25, 2011

Part # 146: We’re Slaves to Our Attachments

The second of the Four Noble Truths, the most fundamental tenets of Buddhism, tells us that the cause of all suffering is attachments. As one of the authors of the standard that defined email attachments (MIME), I bristle at this gross exaggeration. Surely attachments are responsible for no more than 25% of human suffering. (Most of the rest, I think, is caused by cancer, reality television, and okra.)

Read more here...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HBGary lives by the sword and, well ….

I’ve got a sufficiently twisted sense of humor that I believe that, under the right circumstances, identity theft can be funny. I suspect you do, too.

Read why I can laugh at [some] security breaches here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Encryption Follies, Infinitely Repeated

Some Hindu philosophers estimate that the universe repeats itself every 311 trillion years or so. Modern scientists such as Sir Roger Penrose have lent credence to this basic idea, though with less precision. Everything that happens, it seems, is likely to happen again and again and again. I find this vaguely comforting.

What I find less soothing is the many things that are endlessly repeating within the brief interval of my career in computing. You can read about the latest of them here, on my Mimecast blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Is Email So Complicated? Part 362: Too Many Lazy Idiots

...It’s unlikely that the world will ever run out of lazy idiots. But it’s relatively rare for one of them to decide to start naively spewing poor imitations of TCP/IP packets. Unfortunately, sending email is such a user-visible function, and the format looks sufficiently simple, that email generation seems to be the project of choice for the protocol-challenged...

You can read the entire post here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Assessing the Appalling Austin Enterprise Email Events

Technology rarely, if ever, succeeds in improving human ethics. But if the politicians were — like 85% of the youngest workers in our study — avoiding their enterprise email for the relatively laudable goal of doing their jobs better, then technology can help.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Postel's Law: What the Internet Teaches Us About Life

Ask an Internet geek why the highly decentralized protocols work as well as they do, and the the answer will probably be some version of what's known as Postel's Law. Although Jon Postel himself was less concise, it's most often stated simply as:

"Be conservative in what you send; be liberal in what you accept."

In protocol design, this a recipe for robustness. Each implementor is exhorted to follow the standards as precisely as possible in what his code sends out over the net, but to be more forgiving and tolerant in trying to interpret what his code receives. As long as most implementors follow this philosophy, the open Internet protocols work, despite countless small mistakes in various sending systems.

The Internet's success is nothing short of astonishing. Few human constructions have even a fraction of its complexity, scale, and reliability. It's not unreasonable, therefore, to ask whether Postel's Law might be useful beyond its intended domain of network protocol design. In fact, for some time, it has been one of the basic principles by which I've tried to live my life.

The essence of the law is a mandate of individual responsibility. Each implementor is to hold himself to the highest standard (of compliance with the protocol specification), while being as forgiving as possible of the failures of others to do the same. Each is encouraged to strive for perfection in his own actions, while expecting far less from others.

The real world, of course, works nothing like this. People struggle for advantage over each other, cutting corners, casting blame, and generally behaving as individuals with no responsibility to any larger social organization. They hide their own misdeeds while piously decrying the failings of others. In short, they expect more from others than from themselves, holding others to a standard they are themselves failing to meet.

What would it mean to live in a world guided by Postel's Law? It would mean holding oneself to the highest standards, while striving to be as forgiving as possible of the failings of others. It would mean being more concerned about one's own actions than those of others, and more concerned with the welfare of one's society than the wealth of one's self.

Consider the hottest of hot-button issues: If you believe that abortion is murder, you of course would not get an abortion your self. You might also work to provide alternatives to anyone considering abortion, with help getting through the pregnancy and giving the baby a life. But you would strive to be as tolerant as you could of people who made what you considered the wrong choice -- of those who, for whatever reason, do not feel they can uphold the same standards as you.

In a world ruled by Postel's Law, people would still disagree. But they would focus on their own behavior, on their own struggle -- never perfect, for human beings -- to live up to their own ideals. And they would view others with the compassion of knowing no one ever lives up to every ideal. Some people would remain beyond the pale by any standards -- violent criminals, repeat offenders -- but most people who did something wrong would be treated with education and encouragement to do better.

Unfortunately, we don't live in such a world. But we can live in such a mindset. We can try to behave, in our own limited spheres of influence, as correctly as we can, while being as compassionate as we can about others' failures. That's what I'm trying to do, and I encourage you to do the same.

But I'll do my best to be accepting and understanding if you don't.