Apr 10th, 2014

Don’t You Care That I’m Dying?

By Nick Robison

Yesterday, I attended an  ethics talk on the potential issues of merging Secular and Religious healthcare organizations. It was an extremely interesting discussion and one that’s far too complex to try and detail here1.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past few years, the US healthcare system is undergoing a tremendous amount of change and reorganization. Changes in treatment reimbursement and shifting regulations regarding electronic health records and such have seen many smaller hospitals consolidating into larger Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). This has inevitably resulted in religiously affiliated hospitals (primarily Catholic ones) merging with or associating with secular institutions. With these new agreements come another set of governing documents known as the _Ethical and Religious Directives_ (ERD) which are handed down by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives are an attempt to elucidate Catholic Social Teaching within the context of medicine and healthcare and provide a framework for not only reasoning about critical decisions, but also for defending existing doctrine. Of course, these documents don’t stand on their own, they are products of a current political and cultural climate and thus deal with extremely delicate topics centered around both the beginning and end of life. And it’s these stances that are proving to be problematic.

As the session opened the panelists each gave their perspective on the topic and attempted to explain the issues at stake. This is where things began to get interesting. Like any old fool, I’d originally assumed that in a discussion of both Catholic teaching and Catholic hospitals, there would be representatives from some of the respective organizations. Silly me, in fact, not only were they not in attendance, they were purposefully not invited, in order to keep the discussion focused on ‘the ethics’2.
The problem with this approach, is that catholic3 teaching is focused within a larger religious framework that makes it impossible to split off and analyze as a piece of secular health policy. Consider this section from the ERD Introduction:

The mystery of Christ casts light on every facet of Catholic health care: to see Christian love as the animating principle of health care; to see healing and compassion as a continuation of Christ’s mission; to see suffering as a participation in the redemptive power of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection; and to see death, transformed by the resurrection, as an opportunity for a final act of communion with Christ.4.

As a religious person, I find this statement to be incredibly powerful, beautiful in its hopefulness for a world renewed, and invigorating in its extortion to us as agents of healing and change. To a non-religious individual, this statement is at best completely inaccessible, and at worst extremely offensive.

Consider Directive #61, which ends with:

… Patients experiencing suffering that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.

When trying to evaluate this as a piece of health policy it largely reads ‘let them suffer until the bitter end, and maybe preach at them until they pass out’.  Which brings us to the crux of the forum, the prevailing opinion is that the merging of secular and religious hospitals is unethical because Catholic teaching is inconsistent with moral care of both the dying and the soon to be born, or accurately scheduling those soon to be born.

A religious person would bristle at this statement, and rightly so, but that fact remains, this is the perception of a huge swath of the American populace.

But why is this the case?

While there are most likely a myriad of reasons, the one that stuck out to me was the fact that religious views on health and ethics are inextricably rooted in a larger religious system. The reason Catholics oppose abortion, is not some form of uterine control, but a deep understanding on the meaning and value of life. Likewise, this concern is extended to include those whose time on earth is drawing to a swift, though painful, close. Thus, when you simply strip all that away, you’re left with a series of cryptic one-liners which seem to simply regurgitate the last remnants of some medieval council.

But this misunderstanding goes even further. Consider the recent supreme court case Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby, here the court wants to know why the actions and choices of an individual must be made subject to religious doctrine. A fair question, but one that’s inherently misguided. To a religious person, the question is not about why actions may be held to account for religious teachings, but _if _these _specific _actions can be held to such a standard. Religious people understand the concept of _self-surrender, _whereby our wants and desires are made subject to the perfect will of God. So, while you may argue over specific cases, it makes logical sense that there would be situations in which our own wants and desires would have to be surrendered for some larger purpose5. Of course, without a theological framework to lean on, this explanation holds little to no weight.

At this point, there are probably quite a few people who would take issue with my characterization of religious doctrine, in that God’s truth extends beyond simple metaphor or liturgical ritual, it indeed resounds in the night and shines in the light of day6. This is absolutely true, and one need only take a cursory scan of places like The Public Discourse,  _or [_First Things ]4in order to find logical, well reasoned discussions of Christian ethics and thought within the public realm; however, these discussions seem to be relegated to the back-burner of public society and have ceased to light the way forward.

But again, why is this the case?

I would hold that the fault lies not with the secular world, but with those of us who profess to hold such believes. We have failed. We have failed to translate the spiritual to the physical, not only in our explanations of truth, but in the way we model and reveal the glory of God in this world. We have become a Church defined by what we’re against, not what we’re for. A Church in which ‘not as you are’, has replaced ‘what you will become’. Is it any wonder people are pushing back against us? If the Church was really what they perceived it to be, would you want to be a part of it?

This is what I hear people rebelling against. Not our forms of worship, or our personal moral codes, but our perceived abandonment of mercy and compassion. The Church is seen not as a field hospital for those cast about by the waves of post-modernity, but as a wall with which to break upon. In discussions such as these, I hear less the mocking laugh of atheism, then the heartbroken pleas of those left behind. And while the Church’s truth on death and dying may hold together from a logical perspective, it seems a cold comfort to those on death’s door, without any hope of what lies beyond.

In the end, this is not a doctrinal issue, it’s a language issue, it’s a relational issue. Perhaps it’s an issue that will never be solved, perhaps the chasm is just too great, but if the Church ever hopes to regain its place in the public sphere, it needs to shift is language7, it needs declare its support for those in life’s most vulnerable states. It needs to show (through words and actions) how it values all people and that the truths it extols are, in fact, those most consistent with human flourishing. Only then, will people begin to understand the crux of the religious arguments, which are built upon the idea of a loving savior, and a world broken but longing to be renewed. Until then, we’ll all just be talking past each other and we’ll keep running down this same road, and I find it highly unlikely that things will simply work themselves out over time.

Today, I don’t really have any good answers, like everyone else, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian in 2014, living in the community I’ve found myself in. I’m trying to figure out how my faith and beliefs work themselves out in the public life I live. And, like everyone else in that room yesterday, I’m trying to work towards alleviating the pain and suffering from those in this world who seem to have too much of both. But while I don’t have any direct answers, I do know one thing for sure. The way things are right now, does not bode well for the future of religion and American Christianity. Living in Seattle we find ourselves not in a post-Christian _world but a _post-post-Christian one, one in which the the forms and frameworks of religion have faded quietly into the past. Unless we change the way we communicate hope and truth people won’t understand. And unless we change the way we live out that truth in the world, they won’t listen.


  1. The tax issues alone require at least a month to go through, but that’s probably because everyone would be falling asleep with regularity.
  2. In case you’re worried that this would cause a slant in the dialogue, fear not, the ACLU provided all the necessary expertise.
  3. Notice the small C spelling, from here on out I’m going to use Catholic doctrine as a model, but I think the issues are largely transferable between faiths and denominations.
  4. Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th Edition (2009).
  5. Some questions will, naturally, be raised as to what type of freedom we’re promoting, but I would dodge that whole debate by simply stating ‘positive freedom’. Yes it’s a simplistic response, but it leaves a little something for next time.
  6. I love that UW’s motto is Lux sit ‘Let there be light’
  7. notice I said language, not doctrine.

Apr 9th, 2014

Microsoft in 2014

By Nick Robison

I started writing this post last week, right after I sat through the entirety of the BUILD 2014 Opening Keynote, then real life. So now, I’m finally getting it posted. So hopefully you’ll enjoy my (most likely) old-news musings.

This conference marked the first time I’ve actually sat through the entirety of a major conference keynote. Usually, like a normal person, I just let Anand sit through them and tell me what I need to know. For some reason, this year we were left to our own devices, and thus 3 hours later I found myself trying to process the sheer amount of info, product changes, and demos squeezed into those 180 minutes. All joking aside, it was actually a really good presentation, you should take a look. While there will be thousands of words written over the next few months by people far more qualified then myself, I thought I’d offer a few quick thoughts and observations of my own.

Note: I am by no means a Microsoft expert, while I have extensive experience as a user of the OS (both phone and desktop), and many of their business applications, my experience as a developer is limited to a few aborted app attempts and a smattering of copied C# code. However, I do have a lot of experience crossing between system platforms, cloud offerings, and a bunch of different programming languages. So take everything with a grain of salt.

If I had to sum up the entire presentation into a single phrase, it would be: We told you so. The last few years have been really rough on the giant of Redmond. Vista was a mess, the success of 7 was quickly followed by a huge paradigm shift with 8, which landed right in the middle of the enterprise upgrade cycle from XP (as most people skipped the sinking Vista ship altogether). On the phone front Windows Phone (WP) quickly established itself as something uniquely different from anything being done in the iOS or Android camps. While the platform seemed to test well with potential users, it never quite seemed to gain the desired traction and only gained the 3rd spot in mobile OS usage, while being propelled aloft by the flaming crash of the once great RIM Blackberry. Finally, on the web services side, Bing became an acceptable alternative for googling information when google seemed inconvenient, and while Windows Live Folders Windows Live SkyDrive SkyDrive OneDrive always seemed quite slick, navigating the myriad of byzantine menus, logins, and UIs quickly made any thought of switching from DropBox laughable at best. Also, the Surface is still a thing, right?1

While all this was going on, Microsoft kept working. They released Azure (and it rocks), they moved WP to the NT kernel, they slogged through the messiness of migrating from Win32 to WinRT. They unified their web services and made some awesome improvements2. Then, yesterday morning they came out beaming.

Windows Phone 8.1

Honestly, it feels like this should really be Windows Phone 9. There’s so much tied into this release it’s almost impossible to summarize here, but some will try. Basically what you need to know is, Microsoft hit parity. They took WP8, which often felt quite powerful, but a little unfinished, and revved it right to the level where iOS and Android no longer resemble that one cousin at family reunions which seems to be all the things your parents hoped and dreamed you would be. Now, you just might have a fighting chance.

The thing most people will be talking about is, of course, Cortana, _but really, while I’m really excited to use it, it’s not all that interesting from a technical perspective. Only time will tell if it proves superior to Siri or Google Now, but honestly, it doesn’t need to be better, it just needs to be comparable. For Microsoft, this is about showing that their web platform can compete with anything Google can build, or Apple can buy. Interestingly, one of the thing briefly mentioned, was that Cortana only processing personal information stored on your device. While they didn’t go into much detail as to what that actually means, they emphasized (several times) the work being done _by the __application, as opposed to server side processing. This could stack up as an interesting alternative to Google’s approach which involves their own processes running rough shod over whatever private data you have stored within their server farms.

This dual SIM thing could be really, really cool. Especially with the ability to automatically tag contacts to specific SIMs, this could be a huge deal for individuals carrying multiple phones, or international users where pre-paid sim cards and multiple competing networks are the norm. Couple this feature with all the added enterprise hoopla3 and you have a strong entrant to bring balance to the BYOD conflagration. Perhaps here is a device that both users, and administrators can be happy with. Perhaps.

I’ve always liked WP. I picked up a Samsung Focus not too long after the WP7 release. In fact, I even rocked an HTC S620 back in the day, and loved it4. That being said, I never quite got over the feeling that us Redmond faithful were slowly being left behind. Apple and Google were adding features and apps at breakneck pace, new hardware designs put my plastic slabs to shame5. The other week I was lamenting to a friend that even though WP8 is my favorite mobile OS, it seemed certain that another iPhone was in my future. After yesterday, I’m not so sure. Microsoft has shown that they’re still in the game, at least for now. What we need now is a roadmap, are they on a yearly release cadence? Does the shift to services mean more rapid, out-of-band, updates to Bing and other apps? Right now, I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure. Unless Apple releases a revolutionary change to iOS at WWDC, I’ll be rocking the blocky blue for at least another upgrade cycle.

Windows 8.1

Meh. I don’t use Windows very often, and I never really found Metro Microsoft Blokus OS, much of a hassle so bringing back the start bar and such is largely uninteresting to me. That being said, I do like the fact that they’re bringing convergence to the two star crossed launchers, and are seemingly open to user input and complaints. I look forward to them continuing to promote synergy like a boss.

Universal Apps

This is where things get interesting. Now, keep in mind, everything we’ve seen so far has been ‘keynote speak’, we’ll have to wait until devs get their keyboards on some shipping software and see what shakes out. That being said, the demos they showed of sharing almost the entirety of the Windows 8 app code base between laptop and phone, are if not a game changer, then at least a huge remittance on the pain and confusion suffered over the past few years. Let me try and expand on this.

The major complaint lodged against WP was the lack of available apps. Purists proceeded to shout back that almost all of the top apps on iOS and Android were available, and that WP was so superior to anything else that you didn’t need all those fancy apps which were merely responding to the shared misery of the Apple Industrial Complex. While I myself uttered the same arguments and passionately demonstrated WPs inherent understanding of information and context one thing still bugged me. The Facebook app was written by Microsoft. In fact, a bunch of the best applications were written either by Microsoft or Nokia. While that’s been changing somewhat over the past few months, it doesn’t seem to bode well for the health of the platform as a whole. In addition, even the apps developed by their respective owners seemed to be afterthoughts, lacking the robustness and features of their gleaming counterparts. Of course, this is the classic chicken and the egg condundrum. Developers aren’t incentivized to port their applications (or develop entirely new ones) to WP without users, and users are less inclined to use a platform which is missing any number of app they find themselves using in an average day. Windows, as a platform, is a totally different story. Just about any application you can think of has some sort of presence. It’s a huge market with a strong user base and entirely new interface that’s just begging for beautiful new ways of interacting with traditional services and applications6. In one fell swoop, what Microsoft’s done here is taken all the work they been building on for the past decade, all the work on the Common Language Runtime, the fragmented APIs and leveraged it open up both platforms to developers with the hopes that all the interesting things people are working on in Windows 8 will quickly be ported to WP8 as well and thus drive user growth on the platform. Of course, this isn’t as simple as snapping one’s fingers and hoping for apps to magically descend from the great developer on high, a lot of applications have years worth of cruft, meticulous validated logic, or fragile code bases that probably won’t take well to being moved to an entirely new system. Don’t worry nervous dev, Microsoft has the (an) answer. During the Keynote they gave a quick demo of an old ADO.net database application, moving the core logic (in its entirety) into its own processing container and then calling that code from a brand new WinRT interface that’s fully touch compatible and complies with all the latest rules in hipster app design. While seemingly simple on the outside, this ‘pathway to upgrading’ opens the door to a huge number of enterprise-esque applications that may never have been upgrading to the new OS without a way to separate the application logic from the presentation layer. In a sense, Microsoft has planted its stake in the ground, it desperately wants apps on in the Windows Store, it doesn’t care about your crappy application logic. It cares that you’re using their new delivery mechanism and embracing all the new ways of touching your computer, if you don’t want to move your app from ADO, fine, don’t, just don’t make your users suffer through your 2000s Windows Forms anymore.

Oh, and you can run your apps on Xbox.

Oh, and you can run your Store apps in a window on the Desktop.

The last reason why this is potentially a big deal, is that everyone else is trying to get here as well, and Microsoft beat them to it. They built their ecosystem from the ground up, they own the compilers, they own the tools, they own the cloud, they own the devices, and now they can leverage all those benefits to give a unified set of tools and APIs to enable developers to develop software in a way views hardware in the same way web apps view browsers, they don’t care what your OS is, they don’t really care what modern browser you’re running, or what weird refresh rate you’ve set your monitors to, they just run on a common runtime and go from there7.

Concluding Thoughts

BUILD 2014 was Microsoft taking a stand. They came out declared a vision for future, and set down the first, few, steps on how to get there. While you may disagree with the direction they’ve chosen, or you may find it overly ambitious, or maybe you’re still smarting over IE6, the fact remains that they’re going somewhere, and it’s functionally different from anything Google or Apple is doing.

While it’s still too early to know how things will pan out in the long run, personally I’m hopefully cautious. I think the path they’ve presented is imminently achievable, I think it’s a realistic approach to the direction computing is moving, I think it leverages some really cool technologies, and I think it’s going to result in genuinely useful tools for their users.

It’ll be interesting to watch both I/O and WWDC and see what tricks the California wonder twins (if that’s not a phrase, it should be) have up their sleeves. Regardless though, last week showed that the giant of Redmond still has some fight left in him.


  1. JK, the Surface Pro is the future of computing. Seriously.
  2. Seriously, go checkout how OneDrive handles photos.
  3. VPN access, device profiles, company app stores, S/MIME, etc.
  4. Belt holder included, of course.
  5. It’s worth pointing out, that I quite enjoyed my Lumia 920, right up to the point where it got in a fight with Mother Earth. That camera though, oh that camera.
  6. Go checkout some of the marque apps, like Netflix, or Kayak, or Facebook. They’re gorgeous.
  7. yes, yes, I know there’s a huge amount of variability between browsers and device platforms that affect how your application performs, but there’s still a large chunk of Javascript that’s just going to work whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or IE.

Feb 6th, 2014

Seattle and its Seahawks

By Nick Robison

Seattle is a football town. Yes, on first blush people would probably associate us with a myriad of other things. Espresso, evergreen trees, grunge music, IPAs, pot shops, hipsters, airplanes, technology, brilliant grad students, etc. All those things, but probably not football.

So, in this not-football, football town, myself and nearly three-quarters of a million of my closest friends crowded into downtown Seattle, in the freezing cold (25F is pretty cold for us) to welcome home our conquering victorious heroes. It was a truly momentous occasion and one I’ll probably remember for a long time to come.

There are lots of things to be said about the Super Bowl (World Champions? Seriously?), football in general, and America’s manic heroism of sports culture. All those things can be said, have been said, and will be repeated for eons to come, and yet, over the past few weeks I’ve watched an entire city join together and rally around a common cause. Here, this is something really special; Seattle is a city of many cultures, divided along many lines, and undergirded with a deeply rooted sense of individualism, nothing is easier then finding your own community (for they almost all exist up here in one form or another) and diving in with nary a thought for the wide world around you. It’s not that the city is bubbling under with racial tensions, or open animosity, it’s that people tend to view each other with a kind of cool detachment. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine, everyone wins. But over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the ’12’ flag flown from the Space Needle, and the 787 hanger a Boeing field. I’ve seen the ‘I’m in’ posters hanging in the coffee bars, and sports bars alike, and I’ve heard the call and response of: ‘SEA’ ‘HAWKS’ echo in the University quads, and the bus stops in Belltown. In a city where people ride the transit in solitude, perfect strangers have struck up conversations over what Richard Sherman really meant, or if the Denver line will be completely powerless in the face of the ‘Beastquake’ (spoiler: they were).

This city, united, set the record for loudest crowd ever. Then did it again. This city set off the seismic alarms when Marshawn Lynch scored against New Orleans (Sorry Bressus). And this city, packed 700,000 people (for reference our population is about 620,000) from all walks of life (the Public School system reported that nearly 25% of their teachers were absent along with 30% of their students) onto 4th avenue, broke into chants of ‘Pete, Pete, Pete!’ when Carroll came by, and threw Skittles back and forth with Lynch. All while the 12th man flags waved from fans, players, and National Guard trucks alike.

So, while in the end it may just be football. Ok, it is just football, and when they hoisted the trophy above the crowd I did channel my inner Colbert and shout: ‘Bow before your god Babylon!’ And yes, tomorrow things will largely go back to the way things were, but for a brief moment of time I saw an image of a city united with a common thread that cut across the various sub-cultures of the city and bound it together no matter how loosely. And while it may be a fleeting victory, I think, in the end, I’m going to let them have this one.

GO HAWKS!

Coach Pete

Legion of Boom


Jan 31st, 2014

Love, Fire, and Blaise Pascal

By Nick Robison

There’s a passage in scripture that we all know, in fact, it’s probably so common that’s simply faded far into the background. It’s the story of the woman with the purfume, and while familiar, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:

36One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

The first question that comes to mind is: what just happened? She poured what where? Followed quickly by: that seems like quite a waste. It’s true, this is a strange passage, it’s rooted in the customs and moires of an ancient culture and can be a bit obtuse to modern readers. It also seems a bit irrational, why would she waste so much money on a trivial action? Aren’t there better ways to spend ones resources in service of the kingdom?

The problem is, this isn’t a story about rationality, it’s a story about love.  This is what all those endless country songs are about. This is the ending to all those movies. This is every drawn out metaphor that Mark Helprin ever concocted. If you’d asked this woman why she did what she did, she would’ve stared back at you, puzzled, and ask: why wouldn’t I?

But it also goes deeper, this is not simply a woman in love, this is a woman forgiven. This is a woman who has been redeemed from the depths of despair and given a new hope. For her, there is nothing in the world that can even possibly compare to the gift she’s been given. If I may dip into pop culture for a moment, and decidedly coarsen the dialogue, it reminds me of this.

Actually, that doesn’t even come close to what it means, but it’s a funny distraction. The real problem with this scene, is that we’re not supposed to see it. This is not a public act for the enjoyment of all, this is a private moment. A gesture of deep love that resonates strangely with the other people in the room. But Jesus responds. He doesn’t condemn her, he defends her. He doesn’t suggest improvements as to how she might better frame her emotional responses within the accepted sociopolitical context, his response is simple.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:50

For whatever broken, painful, awkward form her love took, whatever emotional baggage, or unrealistic expectations she brought with her, Jesus didn’t care. He saw her heart, he knew her love.  If people could simply wrap their minds around the idea that God takes our imperfect, weirdly dysfunctional love and affection, and welcomes us as we are, here and now; well, I don’t think things would quite be the same.

As I was reading, my mind immediately went to two other stories from the annals of time. Two other stories of drama, and emotion. Two other expressions of love, two other glimpses into hearts renewed. While they may be familiar, even over played at times, they’re worth quoting in full. As you read them, don’t let them simply be more words on the digital page. Imaging the words as pouring from the hearts of the authors. Or if it helps, imaging Hunter Hayes singing it. Or you know, someone better.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

– St. Augustine _‘The Confessions’__

>_

From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.

Fire

‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.

Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.

God of Jesus Christ.

God of Jesus Christ.

My God and your God.

‘Thy God shall be my God.’

The world forgotten, and everything except God.

He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.

Greatness of the human soul.

‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’

Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

I have cut myself off from him.

They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.

‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’

Let me not be cut off from him for ever!

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.

Let me never be cut off from him!

He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.

Sweet and total renunciation.

Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.

Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.

I will not forget thy word.

Amen.

– Blaise Pascal ‘The Night of Fire’

Both these men saw God. And they saw him in their own way, in their own language. Pascal came to the end of his reason, truly saw Jesus, and suddenly everything around him paled in comparison. In fact, he sewed this vision to the inside of his coat, so it would be with him always. Augustine came to the edge of the world, to the end of everything this earth could provide, and found nothing. Except, him who his heart had been searching for all along.

But the story doesn’t end there, in all three vignettes, the beloved do not remain the same, they are changed. Though they came with broken hearts, twisted love, and captive minds, they left changed by the person and love of Christ.

This is a powerful story. This is a stunning story. This is a transformative story. As we read it, we cannot allow the text to become dry and dead. This is not a factual recounting of mythic history, this love as real as anything the great romantics ever dreamt of. When you read it, feel the heartbreak, feel the passion, and feel the overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and awe that comes in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

Let me never be cut off from him!

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”


Jan 30th, 2014

New Informatonauts

By Nick Robison

If you haven’t checked out the _Informatonauts _podcast yet, you definitely should. We’ve added 3 new episodes since I last posted about this, and they’ve turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

If you’re not into technology, that’s OK, we talk about other things. Ok, not really, it’s mostly technology. And science. But you never know, maybe something will pique your interest.

You can subscribe on iTunes, then you’ll get each new episode automatically delivered to your i{device} of choice. It’s like a digital drone for your auditory enjoyment!


Jan 28th, 2014

New Look, New Feel, Old Soul

By Nick Robison

Look ma, new CSS!

Yup, the old, venerable look was finally starting to show its age. So I did what any self respecting geek would do. I replaced with the newer, yet still stock, theme supplied by WordPress. Hello 2014, you’re looking real nice.

Hopefully, you’ll also notice that the site is much more responsive and that some of the images that weren’t showing up previously are working again. There are still a few minor bugs to work out, but overall things should be much smoother.

Let me know if you have any thoughts/comments/suggestions/rants/haikus for me. Again, thanks for reading.

Cheers,

Nick


Jan 27th, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday!

By Nick Robison

Happy Birthday nickrobison.com (yesterday)! Yes, despite my best efforts, we’re still around, albeit, barely. It’s been a quiet year around here, with only a little traffic, and even fewer posts, but I guess that’s ok. For comparison, can see last year’s summary post here.

Without further ado, I present you 2013, in stats.

  • 13 posts (about half of last year).
  • 11 comments.
  • 1,203 visits (a little less then last year at 3.29 visits/day, which isn’t bad considered I had half the new content).
  • 836 unique visitors (much more then the year before, so the audience is growing).
  • 3,354 page loads.
  • 2.79 pages per visit.
  • Average visit time was 2:38.
  • Visitors from 44 different countries (with the US and Canada being the highest).
  • 10 different browsers on 10 different operating systems (I think the 1 Blackberry finally gave up, by Symbian seems to still be a thing).

The pretty pictures:

The world is watching
The world is watching

As usual, most traffic comes almost entirely from the US, with a bit from Canada and Europe.

US Visitors 2013
Westward Ho!

In a surprising shift, the bulk of visitors are now from Washington (specifically Seattle), with Indiana supplying the third most traffic. Apparently I’m more interesting to Chicago then I am to my own family. (Yes, that was me showing my new PNW passive-aggressive side).

So that’s the state of the website, we’re but a small blip in the world of the internet, but it’s still my little blip, and I love it very much. If you’ve been trolling around here you’ve probably noticed that some images aren’t loading correctly, and that the site can take FOREVER to come up. Yeah, I need to fix that. I’m trying to get to it this week, I just haven’t had the time.

So thanks for sticking with me for another year, hopefully things will only continue to get better.

Another year old, and maybe a bit wide
Another year older, and maybe a bit wiser

Jan 16th, 2014

On Cooking

By Nick Robison

The worst part about cooking, is the actual process of learning to cook. Specifically, the resultants of learning to cook, which consist primarily of largely unappetizing creations, this then destroys any desire to cook again, less you end up with something even worse then before. This vicious spiral is extremely difficult to overcome, and best rectified by aligning yourself with another person who doesn’t suffer from said spiral.

At least, that’s how I’ve been approaching it.


Jan 16th, 2014

New Project: Informatonauts

By Nick Robison

There comes a time in very man’s life, when he looks at his buddy and utters one simple phrase ‘we should do a Podcast’. That time, my friends, has come.

Informatonauts Logo

The story of this project is simple. My friend Nikhil and I, like most friends, often find ourselves in various coffee shops and restaurants talking about all manner of interesting (at least, interesting to us) topics and ideas. With some regularity people around us will chime in with a thought or comment, or snicker at something one of us says. So we reached the most natural of conclusions. Let’s fuel our narcissism by recording our conversations and posting them online for all to revel in and enjoy. And thus, _Informatonauts _was born.

You’re probably thinking, that’s not even a word! To which, you would be correct. It’s less a word and more an assertion. It’s the conjunction of two ideas, information, and exploration. Traditionally, people in information science have been known colloquially as informaticists, which conjures up images of test tubes and network cables. But in reality, it’s so much more then that. It’s about exploration, about mapping the uncharted regions of knowledge. To go where no nerd has gone before.

Or, it’s just an excuse to design a cool logo with astronauts on it. Cool logo is forthcoming.

So, take a listen, let us know what you think. In this first episode, we discuss evidence of time travel on the internet, NASA approved plants, the best books of 2013, and how to keep your data from crapping out on you. All in all, a great way to spend 1:03:14. We’re still getting the hang of things, there are bugs to sort out, and awkward pauses that need to be obliterated. There’s also one host’s annoying habit of dominating the conversation, which needs to be rectified.

We submitted the first episode to iTunes, it should be approved shortly, and the 2nd episode should be live by early next week, at the latest. Until then, you can hear the first episode (appropriately called Unbounded Narcissism) on our website, and follow us at @informatonauts.

Until next time, never stop exploring.


Jan 16th, 2014

On Net Neutrality

By Nick Robison

With all the hubbub around the recent Court opinion on Net Neutrality, I thought I’d way in with my two cents. It’s important to point out that I am in no way a lawyer, nor do I have expansive experience in legal analysis. The following thoughts are simply my reflections and understandings from reading the Opinion. Take them as you well.

**Did the court kill Net Neutrality?

**

No.

What, yes they did!!

No, what they did was vacate 2 provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, specifically the anti-blocking and anti-_discrimination_ provisions, which prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling content on their networks. All, while leaving the disclosure rules intact.

Dude, I think you’re full of it, that sounds like killing to me.

Yup, that seems to be the prevailing opinion (see what I did there), but in reality, the court didn’t really comment on the content of the rule, only the FCC’s statutory authority to implement said rule. The issue of neutrality is very much alive.

Hmm, explain.

I’ll do my best. But first, a little history. In 1996 the Telecommunications Act (Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 ) was passed which broke telecommunications providers (telcos) into 2 classes, those who provided basic services (such as phone lines), from those who provide more enhanced information services (such as America Online, when that was a thing (sorry Tim Armstrong)). Then, in 2000 the FCC classified all cable broadband providers as ‘single, integrated information service’ providers, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court (National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005)).

So what?

So, the last time this issue came up, it was in 2008 for Comcast blocking peer-to-peer networking apps (for a refresher on the gems people were torrenting in 2008). The court held that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate the network practices of Comcast, since it had classified them as ‘enhanced providers’ (600 F.3d (2008)). So, the FCC, instead of changing the rules and reclassifying Comcast and its ilk as ‘basic providers’ they instead opted to issue the Open Internet Order (25 F.C.C.R. 17905) which Verizon challenged.

Still not clear, maybe you’re not so good at this.

Probably not, but still, I press on. The FCC’s argument is based on a simple assertion: We (the FCC) have the duty (and regulatory authority) to promote internet access nationwide. We take the stand that an open internet is critical to said access, and thus we have the authority to enforce a certain minimum standard that all ISPs must provide, because we have the authorization to regulate telcos as ‘common carriers’ and thus enforce minimum standards.

Verizon’s response: I thought we weren’t telcos.

FCC: ….

What’s a common carrier?

The term “common carrier” or “carrier” means any person engaged as a common carrier for hire, in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio or interstate or foreign radio transmission of energy, except where reference is made to common carriers not subject to this chapter; but a person engaged in radio broadcasting shall not, insofar as such person is so engaged, be deemed a common carrier.

– 47 U.S.C. § 153(11) 

Basically, it’s phone companies. The courts have consistently (FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U.S. 689; Cellco, 700 F.3d (2012)) upheld that cable (video cable) and mobile data providers are not subject to common carrier rules (for a variety of reasons). And remember, the FCC took the stance that ISPs were distinctly different from traditional ‘basic service’ providers.

I feel like you’re building towards something. I don’t like being strung along.

You’re right, here’s the kicker. The court ruled that the FCC, by forcing the ISPs to provide service indiscriminately (e.g. to any weirdo with a WordPress blog) then they are in fact forcing them into ‘common carriage’ status.

And that, faithful readers, is the primary reason why the court vacated the Open Internet provisions. Not because they were bad per se, but because they overstepped the statutory authority granted to the FCC.

Cool story bro, so what happens now?

Well, Verizon has already stated that would be exploring pray-for-priority arrangements, if it wasn’t for the _Open Internet _restrictions (Oral Arg. Tr. 31), so that could happen. Comcast, due to its merger with NBC,  is prohibited from any such action until 2016. AT&T has stated that they will continue to abide by the _Open Internet _rules, for now.

So is the FCC going to be relegated to the dustbin of federal agencies?

No. At least, not until they allow cellphones in flight.

Will Verizon stop providing internet to rural areas? Because I’m so over having only EDGE at my grandma’s house, it makes holidays akin to Dante’s 2nd circle.

What do you think?

No….?

Correct. The Court reaffirmed section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which is what governs broadband rollout and other such matters (47 U.S.C. § 1302(a). Section 706(b)). To be clear, it was never overtly challenged, but the court still reiterated that the FCC has a property role in the internet in general. In fact, a primary argument by Verizon is that infrastructure is expensive, and they need more capital in order to continue expanding and improving their services.

Do you actually believe that?

No, but it’s now in oral testimony, so somebody should hold them to that.

Did the Court simply roll over and let Verizon walk all over them?

Nope, in fact, they were pretty unconvinced by the majority of their arguments (see most of Part II), so I think in future cases telcos will have their work cut out for them.

What if I like my Net Neutrality? Can I keep it?

If you like your Net Neutrality, you can keep your Net Neutrality. Sort of. The FCC laid out a couple of options.

  1. The FCC could reclassify ISPs as ‘basic providers’ and thus be subject to ‘common carrier’ regulation. [Actually, I’m a little shaky on this, it seems that this is possible, but the ruling in _Midwest II_ seems to make things tricky. It seems the Court is suggesting that ISPs could be considered common carriers with respect to third-party content providers. I would love some clarification on this.]. Nevertheless, the Court remanded the case back to the FCC, so the ball’s in their court (Part IV, 63).
  2. Congress could pass a law that places ISPs directly under common carrier rules, after all, they didn’t write a statute that prohibits them from doing so (Part III, 53).

Ugh, I hate Congress!

You and 86% of your peers.

What else can we do, while Congress is debating how much bathroom tile to embargo from Iran?

A few thoughts.

  • It seems to me that this is an incredibly fertile ground for some good-old-fashioned anti-trust litigation, especially once Comcast gets into the game. Since many of the ISPs are moving into the content production realm, I could see some seriously angry third-parties camping out in front of the FTC’s office.
  • Going along with that, just because a corporation is allowed to engage in contract negotiation and variable pricing (like most businesses), doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want (like most businesses). They still have to abide by fair practice laws, and now with the eyes of the world upon them (or at least, all the eyes that can be spared from the latest Vine stream), it should only be a matter of time before something happens. Remember, see something, say something.
  • We as consumers do have _some_ abilities to influence markets. While it’s true most people only have 1-2 options for internet access, that doesn’t mean that all forms of civic action are simply out the window (remember the Comcast data caps?). If the ISPs do start charging places like Netflix more and more money, it’s likely so they can drive people to their alternative service offerings. Services that people don’t have to accept, or embrace.
  • I find the assertion that ISPs will limit access to news sources a bit incredible, that seems like a huge violation of Freedom of the Press, and the courts have shown a pretty substantial reluctance towards doing anything that would impede their ability to disseminate information. So, while most blogs (including this one) would hardly count as news, there’s still a pretty good argument for Comcast not doing this.
  • Can we do a Kickstarter ISP?

Ok, but I still think ISPs should be required to carry all types of content.

You’re probably right, here’s a good piece by my friend Nick DeBoer talking about it in more detail, along with an incredibly convoluted opening metaphor.

It really comes down to a simple question. What is the Internet? Is it a public utility (like power, water, etc)? Is it a public good (like food, or healthcare)? Or is it a commercial business (like YouTube, or Best Buy)? How you answer that question is largely going to determine whether the Court’s decision angers your, or relieves you.

What do you think?

I haven’t decided yet. I think there are very strong arguments for a concept of the Open Internet, I’m a strong believer in freedom of information, and I think the Internet is a tremendous tool for justice and equal rights. That being said, there are substantial commercial interests involved, and I think the public utility arguments are both 1) not quite applicable to the dynamics of internet economics, and 2) not a great model for us to follow in general (do we really want our internet to look like our power grid?); however, when you phrase the argument around a freedom of speech issue, and when you basically apply a status-quo (as opposed to a highly regulated model) to the current system, the arguments get much stronger in favor of openness. That being said, I really don’t think this does a whole lot (either way) to address the root issue of ISP cost and quality. We still have a long way to go before things get measurably ‘good’.

Well, this wasn’t a total waste of my time, is there anything else I should know?

Yes, I would like point out that the court did use the example of a ‘video of a cat’ (Part I, 6) in their opinion, a strong point in their favor as actually ‘getting the internet’. Also, they took the time to point out that even federal agencies are entitled to a little pride (Part II (A), 20).

That’s funny, where can I read that?

Here

Whoa! That’s like 80 pages!

Yup, gotta love Administration Law.

Forget that, I’m going to go troll Buzzfeed.

Enjoy it while it lasts.