In the four weeks that the ask me anything post has been up, I’ve received two questions. My father wanted to know when I was going to call my mother, and my mother asked what a “blog” was. The third question arrived just as I began typing this post. My friend Katherine, she of the photography critique, writes:
Oooh, I have a good one: when are you going to update your damn blog?
You know, if you’re having writer’s block, I could contribute as a guest writer. Then again, the only articles I can think of right now are “How to make awesome cheese sticks,” “The optical properties of cyanobacteria”, or “How to attract pallid, underweight, socially maladjusted men.” I could write any of these articles with some level of expertise, but none of them go well with the computer security theme.
Maybe we should have some guest articles.
Okay, no, I received over three hundred questions, which is remarkable because I didn’t even know there were 300 people on the Internet. I’ll start sorting out the questions and answering the best ones in the coming weeks. To help you pass the time until then, I’m including above a gratuitous photograph from Boothbay Harbor in Maine, shot on July 4th. Which is an American national holiday celebrating Thomas Edison’s invention of fireworks in 1776.
When I’m giving a talk that doesn’t have a firm time limit, I like to end it with an Ask Me Anything™ segment, which I briefly described before:
That’s where I brilliantly field all questions I can answer, and make up incredibly convincing answers for any I can’t. (In the past, I’ve been asked about computer science, geophysics, abstract algebra, and British post-modern literary theory. Really.)
As an experiment, we’ll try to do the same right here. If you have a question for me, ask away in the comments. Ideally you would ask about things like systems security, programming, scalable systems and Python, but I’ll take humorous questions about education, technology, educational technology, math, British post-modern literary theory and just about any other subject. The questions you leave won’t show up below this post, but I’ll read them all and answer any interesting ones in a followup post. Bonus points for making me think, and don’t be shy. And please don’t ask why I’m so handsome — there’s just no accounting for good genes.
(Update, July 28th: questions are now closed.)
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Inexplicably, my e-mail address seems to have wound up on the distribution lists of a number of PR people, who are now sending me press releases announcing new hardware and software a few days before the news officially hit the wire.
There are lots of problems with this setup. Notably:
- Since I didn’t ask for these releases, they’re unsolicited. Since they’re not addressed to me but mailed to a distribution list, they’re bulk messages. Since they’re transferred by e-mail, this makes them unsolicited bulk e-mail, which is the official name for spam. To say nothing of the fact that most of the e-mails include no obvious way to opt-out from future communiques.
- These are press releases, so they’re written to absolutely destroy my chances of gleaning any useful information whatsoever about the product being discussed. This is by design, as press releases focus on explaining what industry the product will revolutionize and how it will increase leveraged synergies for the manufacturer instead of, you know, telling me why the hell I should care about the product.
- Possessing no useful information about the product, and not having seen it since it hasn’t even been announced yet, what am I supposed to do with the “information”? Write or care about it, sight unseen, based on the press release?
So, new rules. I’m usually interested in both new software and hardware. If you want me to look at software you’ve built, send me a short technical description of why I should care, along with a link to a demo install if it’s a web app or a download link if it’s not. If you want me looking at hardware, send me the technical specs and tell me how, if you’ve managed to interest me, I can get my hands on a unit to play with — you can have it back in perfect condition when I’m done. In both cases, include the e-mail address of a technical contact, which is someone I can ask questions and expect intelligent technical answers. In neither case should you actually send me the press release itself.
Following these simple guidelines, dear PR people, will win you a reprieve from my spam filter despite the fact that you’re still sending me spam. Failure to follow them will, on the other hand, earn you a permanent date with said spam filter (he goes by “Bubba”) and cause me to report you to Spamhaus, your ISP for violating their terms of service, and inform the company you’re representing of your uncouth business practices.