Friday, November 30, 2012

Twitter is the de facto OpenID

OpenID was intended as a way for website visitors to log in to one website and then reuse that logged-in "identity" on other websites as well. The wonderful benefit of OpenID is avoiding the hassle of setting up separate identities for separate websites. And if someone is already logged in to the "providing" website, then they can step the login step altogether on the "relying" websites, which more or less only need to ask the provider about who's currently logged in. (The typical security precautions apply: the easiest first steps to prevent someone else from reusing information is to log out from all websites and quit the web browser.)

If the preceding paragraph led to the reaction, "Huh? OpenID sounds good but I've never heard of it," then it's clear why some commentators declare OpenID a failure. It's currently in use and it will most likely survive for a long time to come, but it never achieved widespread popularity. In my opinion, a surprising competitor has surpassed it to become the top identity source: Twitter. Here's why.
  • Publicity. By any measure, Twitter is well-known and constantly visited. This is vital for a successful identity source. If an identity source is relatively unknown or dormant, websites won't have a strong reason to accommodate it. And the fewer websites that accommodate it, the less appealing it is as an identity source, which then causes fewer websites to accommodate it, which then causes it to be less appealing as an identity source... The upshot is that an identity source excels when its main attraction is something famous other than providing identities to other websites.
  • Upkeep. Twitter's reputation for availability has fluctuated. Nevertheless, as a major website (see #1), it has an obvious interest in ensuring that visitors, apps, and other websites can log in quickly without problems. OpenID was by necessity a secondary option for logging in, so neither the providing nor the relying websites were especially careful at ensuring OpenID functioned properly—OpenID visitors were less valuable anyway, precisely because the website didn't force them through the information-gathering portion of login setup. All too often, either the providing or the relying websites rejected the other due to miscellaneous errors. Since OpenID was a low priority, it wasn't as well-tested or maintained while the website's normal login code evolved. Like RSS feeds, redesigned websites accidentally broke OpenID access and then never repaired it. OpenID's independent and noncommercial existence protected it from the potential extinction of any single company, but it didn't have a specific team of paid support staff responsible for its bugs, like Twitter's login.
  • Informality. In comparison to other websites, Twitter's login setup is quite rapid, undemanding, and painless. Twitter needs very little information for the activities it has. Thus, whether on purpose or not, it's an effective strategy for the incidental task of just creating uncomplicated login information. Given that the motivation behind the search for an identity source is dodging irksome/repetitive login setup, this characteristic of Twitter is ideal.
For anyone who wants to scatter their comments throughout the Web, Twitter has greater practicality than OpenID. Who knows, someday I may stoop to use it to micro-blog...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

ethics vs. atheism brought to you by the letter K

I'm proceeding leisurely through The Brothers Karamazov for the first time. (Whenever I speak the title I say "The Brothers K" so I can giggle at others' pronunciations of the full name.) The book so far contains lengthy conversations—often more like sequential lectures—about ethics, human nature, and religion. Although I haven't finished it, I feel compelled to respond to some of its ideas. By "its ideas", I'm referring to my interpretations of characters' statements in the book. I'm unsure what the author believed.
  • Atheism leads to egoism, overindulgence, and despair. This misconception is similar to the silly assertion that all atheists instinctively "know" about god(s) but they deliberately deny their "knowledge" in order to eliminate guilt for unethical actions. It's true that atheists don't accept the ethical authority of sundry religious hierarchies and dictates. Regardless, they're still trained by human culture to be ethical, and they certainly can experience the same moral feelings. Faith-beliefs aren't the only possible basis for rejecting distasteful and/or unproductive behavior patterns such as egoism and overindulgence. (In philosophical terms, one of the startling contradictions of American politics is the proud religiosity of so many self-labeled they obey the master who preaches self-sacrifice or the master who preaches self-exaltation?) As for despair, an obvious question arises: why shall an atheist suffer from it? Surely the absence of needy/demanding gods has substantial upsides. The manifest absence of any afterlife is perhaps the most justifiable rationale for despair, yet I assume that atheists in good mental health usually replace it with acquiescence. I believe that humans are capable of rigorous pragmatism in their thoughts, and acquiescence is the pragmatic reaction to unchangeable realities. Finally, it's worth remembering that this is a comparison between the emotional and ethical effects of atheism or theism, and theism often fails in practice to eliminate despair, egoism, and overindulgence.
  • Humane religion approves of freedom. And so do I! Humans thirst for the power to think and choose for themselves, rather than obey mindlessly. When humans are coerced, their actions of good and evil are mostly pitiful and dehumanizing for the individual, apart from any resulting benefits or injuries to the surrounding society. Then the perennial debate question is which influences on a decision qualify as "coercion". I suppose the pragmatic distinction is whether the decision-maker self-identifies with a specific influence. For example, someone who self-identifies closely with a group may condemn one of the group's collective actions and nevertheless characterize their participation in it as "merely part of who I choose to be: a member of this group". Or someone with an addiction may experience a craving that fills every thought and nevertheless use the metaphor of a separate "monkey on my back". On this topic, I again disagree with the book's analysis of the effects of atheism. It correctly mentions that atheistic decision-makers have lots of freedom, but it also declares hastily that atheistic freedom is horrible. Without religion to cage them, atheists go berserk! For a religious follower, freedom is an essential part of their authentic humanity, but for an atheist, freedom is the signal to always make the worst self-centered decisions. This prejudicial double-standard exposes the actual intent of the book's concept of religious freedom, which is believers who absorb the religion and subsequently "freely choose" exactly what it directs. To an outsider, this goal bears an alarming resemblance to reeducation in 1984; in either case the ideal subject must both comply and eagerly choose to comply. To the contrary, since atheists are (at least a little) less likely to fall back on behavioral programming to make difficult decisions, atheism is more consistent with conscious agonizing freedom.
  • Sometimes it can be ethical to act as if something false were true. I'm being vague on purpose. This is the general method for applying many of the book's snippets of ethical advice, because the snippets are embedded in phantasmal albeit fascinating conjectures about spiritual realities. Is every object on planet Earth connected together into one grand whole through invisible spiritual threads? Is every human responsible for every other human? Is a human life one long test of the willingness to love completely? However, for pragmatic ethics, I wonder if poetic/metaphorical language style could be more useful than not. I admit that it's more superficially appealing than stating the bare principles. Moreover, I don't see helpful metaphors as dangers to understanding materialistic naturalism...on the condition that the audience is fully aware that the metaphors are literally false. And the wackier the metaphor, the more it surpasses that easy condition. Theism isn't necessary for pretending to talk as if we are all as closely related as "brothers". 

Monday, November 26, 2012

immoderate credulity

Previously, I dismissed animosity as a contributor to my sidestep into atheism. A far different attitude played the major emotional role: immoderate credulity. Due to my religious background I learned to assume that my faith-beliefs were accurate. This assumption of accuracy seemed harmless for a long time, but eventually it functioned as a "belief landmine". When I reckoned that none of the faith-beliefs were confirmed to be accurate, the intertwined assumption of accuracy exploded, and then I simply stopped believing in the remains too. My immoderate credulity raised the great expectation that faith-beliefs should be harmonious with verified real things (i.e. work in a broad pragmatic sense) but of course those expectations weren't met. After hearing repeatedly that my parents' particular religion should matter to me because it is true, in the end I leaped to the obvious conclusion that an untrue religion should no longer matter to me.

Thereby I completed my outgoing journey without stopping at a popular half-way point: moderate religion. Training in immoderate credulity for my former faith-beliefs predisposed me to reject such "halfhearted" compromises. I had prejudice against the concept. I didn't seriously consider the possibility of believing in something that was only true in a moderate way. As bizarre as it sounds, perhaps I could have remained a believer if I'd taken my faith-beliefs less seriously. Couldn't I have believed indefinitely in a faraway god? A mysterious god? An illogical god? A god which is "actual" but only in a subjective manner that's indefinable and therefore independent of all known objective evidence? A postmodern god that's neither this nor that but whatever the believer happens to want?

Monday, November 19, 2012

reluctant apostasy

I'm irritated by the mistaken assumption that fury motivated me to drop the faith-beliefs of my childhood. Like some other modern-day apostates over age 25, I wasn't searching for intellectual reasons to justify angry rebellion or revenge. To the contrary, as my earnest learning/thinking on a range of topics continued to erode my confidence in the basic ideas, I still felt committed. Over time, my shrunken "faith" began to resemble the preposterous definition from the movie Miracle on 34th Street: "Faith is believing when common-sense tells you not to." While I teetered on the brink of total rejection of my faith-beliefs, my emotions were guilt, shame, and anxiety. I wasn't enraged by awful incidents inflicted by imperfect believers. I was disappointed by the ongoing failures of the faith-answers in pragmatic reality.

Furthermore, my atheism is highly inconvenient for me, so I'm perturbed by the accusation that I chose irrationally to upend my life. My religious family is excellent. My fellow religious believers were excellent. My religious leaders were excellent, with one sad exception (misuse of funds). I wasn't resentful beforehand; I was quite comfortable. Everyone including me considered religion to be a major ingredient of my stable self-identity and my position in society.

It started early. My parents were deeply devoted to their religion before my birth—my father converted in his teens. Throughout my developmental years, we were active members of religious communities. When I earned my bachelor's degree, I attended a proudly religious university. When I found my first professional job, I worked at a proudly religious organization. Therefore the majority of my friends and acquaintances professed faith-beliefs similar to mine.

Then why would I suddenly despise and attack one of the most predominant factors of my life up to that time? I wanted to be convinced again. I wanted to resume thinking like the rest. I asked my questions, but the good-intentioned replies were vacuous. I heard the same reassurances that I had heard before, but now I couldn't stop noticing counterarguments. I no longer heard mystical descriptions of the ultimate reality beyond the reach of systematic investigation—I heard tall tales, which the speakers and listeners treated seriously due to wishful thinking and social pressure.

Consequently, I don't know of any human action that could have halted my slide. It wasn't anyone's fault. Those around me weren't the "problem". My eventual atheism wasn't created by fixable glitches in my parents' religion, such as old-fashioned music, inadequate lessons, or strict rules. None of those trivialities were sufficient to drive me away. Instead, I renounced the entire enterprise because it was just...too...unreal. I understand that it's easier for believers to dismiss any example of apostasy as a desperate and/or childish emotional response. But that interpretation doesn't fit me at all.