OS X: So you think you’re password protected?

To quote Bob Marshall: “Security is always relative, never absolute”

When i started contracting, i thought it would be a good idea to make my macbook require a password on booting up or waking up from screensaver. For weeks i’ve been using it fine coming out of screensaver, but today i rebooted. I couldn’t log in. I think it must be something to do with the colemak keyboard layout. I entered the correct password, in colemak and qwerty, but it was having none of it.

Slightly flustered i turned to my phone and searched for “forgot osx password”. Very quickly i found a few articles on how to restart, hold down Cmd + s to get into single user command line mode, and then mount the filesystem for reading and writing.

Without entering a password, you now have superuser access to the whole system. You can reset people’s passwords. You can view and modify files. You can wipe the whole computer if you want to.

All i’m saying is, if you think an account password will protect you, you’re wrong. It may act as a deterrent, but if someone really wants access to your mac, they coud get it in less than 5 minutes.

It’s not just macs either: How To Reset Admin/Root Password gives easy to follow instructions for FreeBSD, Linux, OS X, Solaris and Windows. Ironically, Windows is the hardest one to crack on this point!

It’s a bit of a wake-up call for me.

The things i believe now

TL;DR

Do i believe anything anymore? Yes i do. I believe in the wonders of science, and it makes me happy!

Preamble – my spiritual history

My supernatural and spiritual beliefs have gone through many phases. I was brought up Christian and i believed unquestioningly. The idea that my parents could be wrong was unfathomable to me.

In my late teens i read “Conversations With God” by Neale Donald Walsch and turned to more esoteric beliefs, ideas like: we’re all equal with God, we are creating our own reality as we go along, there is no absolute right or wrong, only that which serves us and that which does not. I ceased to believe in the devil and hell.

On holiday in Budapest in 2007 i came across the book “The Whole Shebang” by Timothy Ferris. I began reading it in the bookshop and i was drawn in straight away. Although quite an old book, it gave me a glimpse of the wonders of the universe, and a taste for science. I borrowed many scientific books from the library and i really enjoyed learning the things we can know about our world and this universe.

My opinions on God at this point were mostly agnostic. I didn’t feel any real need to contemplate anything spiritual when i had so much of a scientific nature to think about. I wouldn’t say i disbelieved in God at that time.

However, on two occasions i felt myself craving the kind of unquestioning belief in God that i had during my childhood. I suppose i missed the feeling that God was a friend whom i could trust. I thought that i had drifted away from God and it was my responsibility to go back. I tried returning to church, but on both times i very quickly found that my ideas had changed so much, i could no longer blindly accept what i was being told by the church.

On the second attempt, which lasted about two months, something finally pushed me over the edge. I was standing at the front and someone was praying for me to receive the Holy Spirit. I really wanted to be able to give up rational thought and just entrust myself to God … but nothing was happening. The longer this went on, the more embarrassing it became. I remember that something suddenly just clicked. I thought to myself, “I don’t think there is a Holy Spirit!” and immediately all these spiritual beliefs just tumbled down like a house of cards. I walked out effectively an atheist.

The first thing i did was read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. I needed to understand how my parents could believe something so strongly, if it wasn’t true. Dawkins explained to me the evolutionary advantage to believing what you are told, the power of group reinforcement, the self-delusion of only noticing things that support your beliefs while ignoring things that don’t. I learnt not to pity my parents for believing what they do, but i was no longer under the hold of their convincing influence. I was free to think for myself.

For a while i was a militant atheist. I think i rebelled quite hard against organised religion. Since then i have mellowed out a bit. I currently consider myself a humanist: i am more concerned with human welfare than i am with anything supernatural.

All of this is a prelude for what i really want to write about. Most people will have figured out that i no longer believe in God, and i have put aside all my supernatural beliefs, having become skeptical about anything that requires discarding rational thinking. I’ve not written about this in such detail before because i’ve had no need to. I try not to interfere with other people’s beliefs unless i can see that it has the potential to directly harm somebody. My dad and my stepmum are still firm Christian believers. My mum is mostly interested in new-age spirituality.

Getting to the point

This morning i received an email from my mum. It was something about the process of life, death, returning to the glory of Oneness, emerging as a new individual. My mum’s question: “this is reincarnation … do you believe this ? ( Or indeed do you believe anything any more !!)”

I was quite hurt by the question, do i believe in anything anymore? This is my response that i would have written in an email, but i decided it needed to be shared more widely than just with my mum.

What i believe now

I have come to believe in many wonderful things. Things that i knew very little about before i started reading and educating myself in science. Beautiful fascinating processes that can be explored, tested and verified. Things like evolution, natural selection, quantum physics, cosmology, the big bang, deep space, the fundamental forces of the universe.

Most importantly of all, i believe in the scientific method. It starts with producing a theory to explain the things we see … but unlike mythology and religion, it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to make predictions using the theory. Experiments are performed to test the predictions. Those experiments are repeated and verified by many people, and not just those with a particular interest in showing the theory to be correct. Any contradictions are welcomed and celebrated because it means the theory can be refined to become more accurate. This process never stops, and our knowledge about what is real gets more and more accurate over time.

Specifically on the question of reincarnation

I don’t specifically disbelieve in reincarnation, but i find it unlikely. You can make nice stories about it, which may be comforting to some people, but for me there is little point in dwelling on the theory since it makes no predictions that can be tested and verified by experiment. I prefer to spend my time finding out as much as i can about things that we know to be true.

Science has led me to believe that the most likely thing that will happen when i die is that i simply cease to exist. My body will decay and my consciousness will end there. Occam’s Razor tells us that given two possible theories, the simpler one is likely to be correct. I am not at all saddened by this conclusion, because there was no emotion or wishful thinking that got me there. It only makes me all the more eager to enjoy this one life that i know i have.

Of course i recognise that people like to believe their loved ones live on, and they may receive comfort from believing they are still in communication. I don’t really see anything wrong with that. I think of it more as recalling the memories of what those people were like, rather than their souls actually being present. Since there is no discernible difference in experience, it doesn’t really matter what you believe is going on.

Whew, nearly there …!

My journey of belief has shifted so dramatically in my lifetime so far. I would be foolish to assume that i have arrived at my final understanding. I accept that my beliefs will continue to adapt, but i suppose that from here on they will only change when presented with evidence that causes them to be reassessed. So, for example, if anyone can provide me with firm evidence for reincarnation, i will gladly accept it to be true and update my beliefs accordingly.

I am happy in my current understandings. I actually find that scientific knowledge is far more reassuring to me than any spiritual hypothesis ever was.

If anyone is unconvinced of the comfort that believing in science can bring, i recommend this wonderful video by Phil Hellenes: This Remarkable Thing.

Fight dyslexia with a Kindle!

Something that some people know about me, but by no means everybody, is that i have dyslexia. I don’t think i have it to a very strong degree, but i have it enough to find reading quite difficult, and it takes quite an effort to override my brain’s resistance to reading.

At school we read Jane Eyre for GCSE. I hated it. We were obliged to read a certain number of chapters per week, and we did all sorts of textual analysis, none of which i remember now. There was no joy for me in reading the book, only stress and pressure. I found it dull, and to be quite honest, i don’t think i made it past half-way through. I’ve no idea how i blagged my way through the exam; my memory is blank. Nobody knew i was dyslexic back then, so i had no help and i used to dread English lessons more than any others.

I am one of those stereotypical people who never read anything until i read Harry Potter. I remember the emotion at finishing Philosopher’s Stone was so overwhelming that i burst into tears on a train at the moment i finished it! I love the Harry Potter series so much because it showed me that reading could be enjoyable, and i have been able to read many more books since then.

Enter the Kindle

As i am travelling a lot more these days, i decided to buy a Kindle for the ease of taking books with me. The Kindle is very clear and easy to read, and actually turns out to be very good for dyslexic people, for several reasons …

Kindle changing font options

One of my biggest obstacles to reading is the moment i turn over each page. If i see a big block of text, my brain reacts strongly against it. Every neuron tells me “No, that’s hard! Don’t make me read that!”. It can be overcome by putting a bookmark under a line at a time, letting me focus on a small amount. But on a Kindle there is a better way. You can change the text size, font style, and line spacing. If i see too much text, i can just turn the size up and it’s instantly easier to read!

If that doesn’t work, i can always turn on text-to-speech and have my Kindle read to me whilst i follow along.

I have a bad habit of ignoring words i don’t know. I often just make an assumption of what it probably means, using the context to help me guess. Using a dictionary is terribly frustrating for me because it feels like a bombardment of information. It can take me up to 5 minutes to find something in a dictionary. But hooray! The Kindle has a built-in dictionary!

Kindle looking up a word in the built-in dictionary

All i have to do is move the cursor next to a word i don’t understand, and it looks up the meaning for me! I have often been surprised that the meaning i guessed was completely wrong! I have learnt many words this way. I can highlight the word and add a note for myself if i want to.

Kindle search

Another great feature of the Kindle is its search. I don’t remember character names very easily, but with the search i can easily find out where that character was last mentioned and refresh my memory. It saves so much time and frustration wildly flicking forwards and backwards taking random guesses and having to waste time reading unnecessarily.

With a paper book, i always like to turn it on end to see how far through i am. It’s a little motivator for me. With a Kindle i get even better feedback: a small progress bar on the bottom shows the percentage that i have read. It feels like an achievement every time i see that number increase.

Even a little thing like finding my place again when coming back to a book is easier with a Kindle. Sure, i use a bookmark for paper books, but they usually have so many words on a page that it’s hard to find the spot again. With a Kindle it automatically remembers where i got to. Since i have few words on a page, i don’t mind reading the whole page again, or even going back a page to remember where i was.

There are many widely publicised good reasons for getting a Kindle, but i really think that more should be said about its benefits for dyslexia. These may only seem like small advantages to other people, but for me, anything that removes obstacles to reading means i have far more motivation to read, and i am much more likely to enjoy it.

I found that Jane Eyre is availably for free in the Amazon book store. I think most of the classics are free. I am amazed to find that i am really enjoying the story, it is far more intriguing than i remembered. I’m even reading the study guide that i got to help with my GCSE and now i find that, without the pressure of essays and exams, i am fascinated by the techniques of the author and how the story is put together. Who would have thought?!

Well, hello!

Hello to everybody who knows me from my two previous blogs: edendevelopment.co.uk/blogs/aimee and aimee.mychores.co.uk. I have decided to merge the two into one, which for convenience i’ve decided to have hosted on wordpress.com now.

Big news

In case anyone is not aware, let me share the news that eden development, my place of employment for nearly 3 years, closed its doors in March. For me this is sad news: eden was a truly remarkable place to work.

Through eden i met many amazing people, and learnt to hone the craft of developing excellent quality software. I have learnt how to listen to clients and understand their needs. I have been privileged to take on despo and Alberto as apprentices, imparting my knowledge and care and seeing them develop. Most importantly, i have grown in self confidence, to the point where i am now able to journey out on my own, taking on contracts and freelance work.

Contracting

My contracting has begun at a consultancy firm in London. I have been contracted as a front-end developer, doing HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript. It is easy work for me, not really particularly challenging. I am happy with that: at the moment i have big challenges to do with commuting and getting used to being self-employed, keeping control of expenses, invoices and tax. I didn’t want the added pressure of difficult work on top of that.

It turns out that the job is suiting me very well. I get on well with the people i work with, and i found i was able to start providing value for the company from my first day. I’m working hard and i believe i am exceeding their expectations of me. At the same time i’m learning how to use Demandware, a powerful ecommerce platform, and i may well find that the skills i learn here could come in useful for me again at some point in the future.

Looking ahead

My contract takes me until the middle of May, at which point i’d like to spend one week working on a freelance project. After that i’d like to take on another contract, and this time i’m particularly looking for something that uses my Ruby skills, as well as my knowledge of behaviour driven development. There are two possibilities i’m looking at, and i’m fairly confident that one of them will work out.

I am always interested in meeting new people to talk about work that i may be able to help with. I am really enjoying the freedom of contracting, so i’m not looking for permanent employment at the moment, unless it’s a very good offer. I’ve realised that job security is a myth, and painful though it was to leave eden, i think i needed that push to venture out on my own.

Right now

At this very moment i am at Scottish Ruby Conference in Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it last year, and this year seems even better. I am meeting new people and rekindling previous friendships. Today i have been inspired to work on a charitable project, i enjoyed an entertaining discussion on programming etiquette by Jim Weirich and Chris Nelson, and i was excited to see how MacRuby works.

It’s lovely that my mentor Enrique is here at SRC, sharing an apartment with me, and my apprentices are both here too. Edenites Chris and tooky are also around, and it’s great to spend time together again. Our shared experience of being part of eden is something that will remain with us, and we will always be good friends.

Notice that i say “edenites”, not “ex-edenites”. For me, eden was all about the culture and the people. My pride for quality of work, my valuing of client relationships, my commitment to learning, my honesty, my humility, these are eden’s values that have become deeply ingrained in me, that i intend should never leave me.

Thank you

If you read this far, thank you. You can see why this post has been a long time coming. It’s only now that i’m at Scottish Ruby Conference that i can really take the time to relax and reflect. The last few weeks have been like a whirlwind for me. Thank you to all who have supported me and encouraged me. It has been scary and exciting, and i’m relishing these new opportunities!

Here’s to my ongoing journey! :)