Thursday, November 26, 2009

Free speech or espousing religion? tells us that one creationist film was shown last night at the United States Space and Rocket Center, a facility operated by the State of Alabama. Yes, there are "two sides" to the issue, but so are there "two sides" to other issues, like whether or not I went to work yesterday. A preponderance of evidence suggests one answer is correct, and investigation without bias will reveal the most plausible answer. So if you show a movie that says I did not go to work yesterday, and you fervently believe I did go to work because a book with lots of good hints for life suggests that I did, should you also be allowed to show that movie in a government-funded theater? I suppose that depends in part if you pay enough money to offset the entire cost of showing the film.

If you have doubts about evolution, don't take the banana example (which is horribly flawed because all Cavendish bananas are genetically identical and they were selectively bred to fit our hands and be the right size for eating and sweet) or any other counter-example given by other evolution doubters, but check with people who have been researching these things with an open mind. I doubt God created a geologic and fossil record with intent to deceive us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SOAP is not a transport protocol!

Repeat with me: SOAP is not a transport layer protocol. I have now seen two implementations that use SOAP with dummy methods to pass XML through an authenticated channel. The XML messages that you can generate for these two implementations are really quite simple and their entire functionality could quite easily have been exposed on the WSDL. SOAP uses XML to convey its messages! So in these bogus implementations, there is XML wrapped in XML! If you find yourself implementing a web service, please take care and expose your API.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Choices: A Cautionary Tale

The year was 1966. It was the year that James Meredith was shot in Mississippi and the year the sniper in the University of Texas tower in Austin shot forty-three people, killing twelve. It was also the year that I chose my sexual orientation.

Not that I had no sexual orientation prior to that time; at age thirty I had had one for years, but it was certainly not one I had chosen nor one I ever would have chosen for myself. After all, what rational individual freely chooses to be a pariah — to be ridiculed, ostracized, and discriminated against? Since the age of fifteen — throughout high school, college, graduate school, and three years of employment — I had known beyond any doubt that I was one hundred percent, red-blooded, all-American "queer" (the slur of choice in 1966), this despite the fact that I remained sexually inexperienced until the age of twenty-eight. From the moment I became aware of my unorthodox affectional orientation, my soul recoiled before the flame-thrower of society's condemnation of homosexuals, and I plunged deep into the closet. I felt much as I imagine a Jewish kid growing up in Nazi Germany might have felt had he attempted to pass himself off as non-Jewish.

In 1966 in Huntsville, Alabama no one was openly gay. No TV talk show featured gay guests, and no TV sitcom featured a gay character. No medical research results had yet been published to suggest that sexual orientation is probably determined at birth or soon thereafter. The Stonewall rebellion would not take place for another three years, and no gays marched before network television news cameras proclaiming their pride. The notion that homosexual persons might have human and civil rights that were being abridged was yet to be articulated.

In the Huntsville of 1966, no bookstore carried gay titles, and no newsstand displayed gay newspapers or magazines. However, the mainstream press carried reports of heinous crimes committed by "sex perverts", "moral degenerates", or "sexual deviates". Occasionally a hapless soul was convicted of the infamous "crime against nature".

The literature of the day on homosexuality was limited primarily to obscure academic treatises on abnormal psychology wherein I might read what a truly diseased wretch I was. (In 1966 homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness.) Oh, I could be cured, to be sure, but the accepted treatments for homosexuality in those days — including prefrontal lobotomy, electroshock, hormone injection, and castration — seemed to belong more to the realm of horror movies than to that of clinics and hospitals dedicated to healing. In any case, the treatment seemed to me infinitely worse than the disease which, truth to tell, felt quite pleasant except for the terror I felt at the prospect of having my secret longings discovered by friends and relatives who, I expected, would then fall upon me like a pack of ravenous wolves.

Although I felt neither sick nor sinful, it was inevitable that I should acquire much of the prevailing attitude towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Indeed, it is extraordinarily difficult to convince oneself entirely that one is right and the rest of the world is consummately wrong.

And so, in 1966, I faced what seemed to me a cruel choice: I could have the love and respect of friends, family, and coworkers, a career with prestige, financial security, and the myriad material goods our society offer a reasonably conscientious heterosexual male WASP. Or I could have a love life, but to have both appeared to me utterly impossible.

Thus it was that I came to choose a heterosexual orientation, that is to say, in much the same manner as one being robbed at gunpoint "chooses" to surrender one's valuables.

Determined to make myself acceptable to society, I vowed silently that, if it were humanly possible, I would "cure" myself of this terrible "sickness" and become heterosexual. I undertook nothing less that the total reconstruction of my personality from the ground up.

Systematically I set about effecting the required metamorphosis. I purchased a new car, a house, and a boat. I had myself fitted with contact lenses and had my hair styled. I bought stylish new clothes and signed up for lessons in ballroom dancing. I joined a singles club and subscribed to a computer dating service. Relentlessly suppressing all insecurities and every impulse to turn and flee, I drove myself by sheer force of will to date women. With dogged determination I repressed all homosexual fantasies. The Rev. Jerry Falwell would have been proud of me.

And so it was that I set out to cross an emotional desert, a trackless wasteland of unknown, perhaps infinite, extent Medical science and religious leaders of the day assured me that good health and salvation lay beyond, and on their counsel I wagered my future.

Fast-forward through twenty years to 1986. At age fifty I have been scrupulously faithful to my wife of seventeen years, and we have two fine children together, but the noble experiment has failed. Although my behavior since the wedding has been exclusively heterosexual, at no time have I ever been able to regard myself as anything other than gay. In my own mind I have simply been a gay man masquerading as a straight man, albeit quite successfully to all outward appearances. In effect I have created a fictional straight character and lived his life rather than my own.

Eros is dead, the victim of slow starvation. My wife and children find me remote and unfeeling. Like the Cheshire cat, I have vanished except for the smile I show to the world. In a state of deep depression, I have no sense of personal worth or identity, being neither man nor woman, neither gay nor straight. A nonentity — at most an object, a thing. A robot perhaps, or a zombie? From my vantage point somewhere beyond the orbit of Saturn, I observe the vain struggles of humankind, its members — male and female alike — appearing to me as cardboard cutouts or department store manikins. Suicidal thoughts occur with increasing frequency.

I am obsessed with the idea that I shall die never having made intimate contact with another human being — that none will ever know who I truly was nor what my life was all about. Like the ephemeral neutrino, I should have transited Earth, leaving behind no trace of my passing. Another fearful choice looms. In desperation I confide in the person nearest me; I tell my wife that I am gay.

Fast-forward again, this time through five years to 1991. Divorced for two years, I now face the third grim choice of my life. Quite simply, the fictional straight character I have created has no future. (Shall I have him remarry? Never! Then what?) No, clearly the straight character must die. The only question remaining is whether I shall die along with him. At age fifty-five, like one parachuting from a burning aircraft, I close my eyes, hold my breath, and leap — out of the closet.

I summon my children to me and explain to them that their father is gay. At the office the following day I inform my supervisor that I am gay. In church the following Sunday I announce to the congregation that I am gay. All these I do with full awareness that my words are being misunderstood by many as a confession of sexual misconduct, or an admission of guilt, or weakness, or moral turpitude, but I am not deterred; for the first time in my life, I am simply declaring to the world my true identity — not what I do or have done, but who and what I am.

Fast-forward one last time, through three years to the present. Clearly the wager I made so long ago is lost. The medical and religious authorities of that time to whom I had entrusted my fate are proven by time to have been woefully mistaken, and the desert I once set out to cross has taken a terrible toll.
The romantic dreams which formerly warmed my youthful heart have turned, every one, to ashes. The sweet, warm wine of life that once coursed through my veins has turned to cold, sour vinegar. Despair has robbed my heart of its once-great capacity to give and receive human love, so that my affectional orientation is now largely moot. Perpetual celibacy and alienation appear to be my fate.

I am today filled with bitter resentment toward a benighted society that has denied me the only life I might actually have lived, bullying and coercing me to pursue another's vision of happiness rather than my own. My chief regret is not that I was born homosexual, but rather that I was born into a nest of vipers. Had I but been born into a more enlightened society such as that of ancient Greece, I might have lived my own life and still have enjoyed the respect of friends, family, and coworkers. In a misguided effort to comply with the cruel and perverse demands of an ignorant and uncaring society, I have neglected entirely my own imperative emotional needs with uniformly disastrous results.

Despite everything, I still feel an impulse to live. In a sense, I feel that my life has only just begun. Only now am I free to speak the truth as I know it, and I feel compelled to bear witness to the folly of attempting to deny one's own basic and immutable nature. With the love and support of my two loyal sons, I shall do whatever I can to promote truth and justice with respect to homosexuals and homosexuality.

In setting down these reflections, it is my hope that they may stand as a warning of the dangers inherent in forced choices and in false choices. At worst, this chronicle can serve as an object lesson to others who mightbe tempted to venture onto that pitiless wasteland.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, February 9, 2009

My filing system

I have a straightforward filing system that took me a few years to figure out.  Here are the goals:

1. Maintain most records for at least 3 years, but not much longer
2. Keep tax records for 7 years, and other special records indefinitely
3. Have current-year records readily accessible
4. Make it quick to go through the mail
5. Make it easy to file papers and easy enough to find a particular filed piece of paper in the comparatively rare occasion you need to
6. And for gravy, track receipts in the financial software, hang on to them for returns if needed
7. File for flexible spending account expenses

And here is how they are accomplished: 

For the first and third goals, we have 3 file drawers and 1 file box, each for a year.  The file box is for the current year and it lives near the bill-paying area.  In January, empty the oldest drawer, take the contents (except taxes) to a commercial shredder, and put the contents of the file box in the empty drawer.  The rest are in a secluded file cabinet.

For the second goal, there is a drawer of permanent files.  It contains medical reports, instructions in the event of various peoples' deaths, career notes, older tax records, and so forth.

For the fourth goal, we have a set of 3 paper sorters: bills, things to file, and recycling.  Junk mail goes straight in recycling.  Explanations of Benefits from the insurance and other "notices" go straight in the place to file.  I think you already know where the bills go when they come in.  After they are paid, they get stamped "PAID" and move to the "to file" area.

For the fifth goal, we have a simple set of folders.  Here's a sampling of the titles: Automotive, Cats, Child Care, Credit Cards, Court (this is where you put the class action stuff), Health Insurance (for EOBs and other notes), Health (one for each person), Home Maintenance, Investments, Keepsakes (greeting cards, letters), Loans, Utilties, Tax, Work (for each worker).  These titles are deliberately broad.  The busiest folder is probably "Utilities," but it has never been a problem to find the appropriate cable bill or cell phone bill in the pile, because the pile is pretty small and the need to find it is infrequent.  When these broad folders don't hold a particular piece of paper, we'll make a new broad folder to hold it and other things like it.

For the sixth goal, there are three shoe boxes. The first box collects receipts out of pocket and purse.  They are then entered weekly (or perhaps bi-weekly, but no longer than that) in the financial software and stamped "entered."  The next two boxes are for even and odd months.  Receipts generated in an even month go in the even box, and from an odd month into the odd box.  At the start of each month, dump its shoe box into the shredder.  

For the seventh goal, insert a step special for FSA-applicable receipts between the receipts being entered and their being filed in their appropriate month shoe box.  Put them in a folder, and take that folder to work to file the claims.  Stamp all receipts filed "faxed," then bring them back home and put them in the monthly shoe box.

I have lately taken to scanning my tax data so as not to have it take so much space in the file cabinet.  I also figure I can retain it indefinitely in digital form because storage capacity increases faster than the digital footprint of my tax information.  I expect to scan medical reports to keep them likewise.