Hello, goodbye

You liked F1 racing and made me look kind of reactionary. You hated Zen and people misusing or misspelling Latin phrases. It was fun to tease you by writing koan-style poetry ending in “per say.”

It was good knowing you, Andy.

Mein Name ist

My name is Mike Patterson. That’s almost what it says on my birth certificate; it actually says Michael. It also says Michael on my university ID card. There’s some other very similar variants on pieces of government ID, some include my middle initial or full name. Few people use Michael and fewer still even have reason to know my middle name. I’ve no real reason to use any other name, save for convenience – both my own, and for other people. Mike, as you might know, is a pretty common name, particularly amongst North American males, and doubly so amongst those of my generation.

Depending on context, I have a lot of other names to which I might respond. Depending on the context, I might also not respond, as they tend to be, well, contextual.

At work I’m usually just Mike, but I might be mpatters. That used to be my email address and it will still work, but I now tend to publish mike.patterson. I also use that for email addresses elsewhere, sometimes; my alumni forwarding account, for instance. Since my name is published in our directory as Michael though, some people do call me that, and I don’t bother correcting them. I might not immediately respond though.

On Twitter, I’m snowcrashmike, but nobody uses that anywhere else. Some very old IRC hands might know me as kraig, and I used that on MUDs. I also go by kraig on LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and some people who met me first through those communities tend to use it as my name, even in voice conversations. In some web communities and games (Forumwarz, for example) I’m generally kraig or kraigu, but sometimes kraigus.

In the very long ago, I used to use BlackSpy as a BBS handle, but that was too overloaded when I switched to IRC. Nowadays on IRC networks I tend to use kraigu. My Steam name varies, I usually set it to earless wondercat, but I often play with it: earless wunderkatze, earless dyingcat (I do a lot of dying in online games), fearless wondercat, feared blundercat, beerless wondercat… well, you get the idea. But usually people call me just earless or wondercat in in-game voice chat, it makes things easier.

Sometimes, in certain circles, I might be just [. I don’t even remember what my FIDONet handle was.

I’m old enough that things like IRC were fairly new when I was coming of age, and young enough that identity is really a fairly slippery thing. I’m old enough to still value some privacy and think that for some people it matters quite a lot, young enough to realise that not using your real name doesn’t mean you can’t be found. I’m experienced enough to know that a middle ground is very difficult to find, wordly enough to know that different cultures approach “true names” in vastly different ways, and finally, practical enough to not really care what name it is that people actually prefer – I try to find out what it is, and use that.

I think realnameonly policies are unnecessarily invasive, don’t do what proponents claim they do, and insensitive. In short, I think they’re misguided at best, generally no better than security theatre, and at worst, just flat-out stupid. Nobody else has the right to tell me who I am, nor do they have the right to tell anybody else who they should be.

Ada Lovelace Day

Per findingada, this is my Ada Lovelace tribute. My exemplar of women excelling in technology is one of the people who got me interested in – inspired me to take up – technology as a career. Despite not being a system administrator or a techie or a programmer or a designer herself, she nevertheless set a good example for me and, I believe, a couple of generations of young women she taught to use computers to solve problems.
This woman’s name is Dian, although when we talk on our weekly telephone calls, I call her Mum.
My mother isn’t any of what we would recognize as one of the traditional technical roles. She has a PhD in quantitative genetics and is a professor of animal science, but some of my earliest memories as a child involve going with her to the computer lab at the University of Guelph. She would set me up on a keypunch machine with a few cards while she did her own computer runs and other work.
When we moved to Nova Scotia, she helped to set up a computer lab at the Agricultural College, and one of the courses she used to teach involved computerized statistical analysis. I spent parts of a few summers helping her to run the lab, and got my start in security there too; I found some of the lab machines had been infected using Stoned while chasing down what I thought was a bug in a program I’d written to do hardware inventories.
I found out later that that class was infamous among some of her students; it was required for those who wanted to do the pre-vet program, and when I ran a business in the same town in which my mother teaches, I had a veterinary clinic as a client. The staff there had mostly done their pre-vet at the AC. Their expressions became very guarded when I told them who my mother was, and they cautiously expressed the opinion that the class was good but extremely tough, my mother a tough but fair professor, and that while they didn’t come out of the class loving computer analysis, they did respect the machine as a tool.
When I was 12 or 13, I came home one day to find my parents formatting floppy disks for their latest acquisition, a Commodore PC-10II. I know now that it was an 8088 at 4.77MHz with 640KB of RAM and a CGA adapter, but at the time I was slightly disappointed that it was not a Commodore 64. Nevertheless, I played around with it, and when I took a computer class in high school and learned some Pascal, my parents bought me a copy of Turbo Pascal 5.0. My mother encouraged me to continue programming and bought me upgrades to TP 5.5 and 6.0 Pro. I spent my allowance on and received for Christmas and birthday presents several programming books and tools: Pascal, x86 assembler, graphics, QuickC, Turbo Assembler, and probably lots of others I’ve forgotten. I was never an expert user of any of these tools, but I did learn a lot, went on to CS at UNB, failed out, and now I work in IT anyway.
I don’t know that my mother will ever win any awards for women in technology, but to me she proves that you don’t need to be a hardcore coder or a sysadmin to be successful at using computers. I hope her students learned that too, while they struggled with their analyses. She is definitely responsible for helping to put me where I am now.

That guy you know

When you were in high school or university or working your first job, you knew one of those guys, right? You may be working or going to school with one of them now. You know the kind I mean. He’s not happy unless he’s got everybody’s attention. He doesn’t care how he gets it, either.
One day he’s making fun of the boss or the kid with the cane. Next day he’s telling off-colour jokes and everybody shuffles uncomfortably back to work. Then he makes a point of stalking off and being by himself, only to return with the same shit-eating grin he’s always worn and pretending nothing happened.
He goes up to that line everybody just knows where it is, pauses to make sure everybody’s looking, and then flings himself bodily over it. The hell of it is, he’s a pretty smart guy and everybody knows he’d be just that much better if he kept his trap shut and just worked like everybody else.
I knew a fellow like that in the Reserves. Smart, capable. Not the best at anything, but always top 10. The kind of guy any unit would have been happy to have. Except for this one thing: he couldn’t resist. He just couldn’t help himself from pushing that one extra step.
Maybe I’d have felt differently about him if I hadn’t been one of the smaller guys he tried to pick on. I fed him his testicles once – just before a graduation parade, with us in full dress uniform – and he whined that I fought dirty. Pretty rich, coming from a guy who outweighed me by about 80 pounds and jumped me from behind. It wasn’t enough, so later I had to demonstrate how his nose only wasn’t broken because I’m a nice guy who also doesn’t want to go up on charges. Those retaliatory penalties are a bitch. If the boys were sitting around bullshitting and telling jokes, he always had a “good” one about Jews or Muslims or blacks or anybody else.
He was a good field soldier, maybe even a great one. He still is for all I know, but I also know I didn’t want him anywhere near me and I’m ashamed that he wore the same uniform I did. If he’s in Afghanistan now, I hope for the locals’ sake he finally learned his lesson.
You know the kind of guy I’m talking about. You know who I’m talking about now. Why keep giving him what he wants?