Monday, February 25, 2013

What's the big deal about hacking?

I've written before on how to protect your digital life from malware and identity theft, but never on why shady types might target you in the first place. There are a variety of reasons, but with a few less common exceptions they generally boil down to money.

When I started out in the systems administration / hacking world a couple of decades ago - and even when I first moved into information security as a profession nearly 15 years ago - the dominant incentive was the ego trip: what can I get away with? Truth be told, that's the original (and to many, myself included, the "real") meaning of hacking: take something and make it do what I want, rather than necessarily what the creator intended. That culture has nothing to do with malicious use of computers - see automotive performance shops, or the motorcycle customization industry glamorized by West Coast Choppers for two examples. A hacker could be known less controversially as a Maker, or a tinkerer, or a modder - or an engineer.

Hacking in its purest form is perfectly legitimate. Where it becomes illegal is when I stop tinkering with things I own, and begin tinkering with something you own, without your permission (or, according to the US Copyright Office, if I tinker with certain digital devices even though I own them, a gross misinterpretation of the US constitution, but I digress...).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No Better Feeling on Earth...

...Than to have your 12-year-old son's last words before going to sleep be "That was awesome, Dad!"

note: I wrote this nearly a year ago, but unintentionally left it unpublished until now. 

Saturday night, I took my three boys and a couple of friends to San Antonio, to go to the Winter Jam concert tour.  I have been a lifelong music junkie - in fact I ran one of the first online magazines for Christian music from the mid-90s until shortly after my oldest sons were born in 2000.  But after my kids were born, my priorities changed, and I have not been to many concerts in the last 12 years.  What a thrill to introduce my kids to the world of live Christian music!

Winter Jam has been going on for 17 years, and is a bit like a travelling music festival.  10 bands played over 5+ hours, with worship, prayer, and even a little magic mixed in, all for $10.  This was by far the best $10 I have ever spent on entertainment and is certain to become an annual tradition for my family.

During the time after the doors opened and before the "proper" concert began, two bands new to the US market entertained.  We As People kicked off the night, but alas I missed much of their set getting my kids situated.  Aussie duo for KING & COUNTRY followed with a very enjoyable set.  They are perhaps best known for the recent radio hit “Busted Heart” but there’s a lot more to them than that one song.  Youth leaders got an extra bonus – a goodie bag that included among other things a free download of their newest album “Crave.”  I have to say they've been growing on me the last few days.

Group 1 Crew ushered in the main show, bringing down the lights to a rendition of “Party Rock Anthem” (aka "Everyday I’m Shuffling"), complete with neon-lined outfits that would have been cool if they had worked more than half the time.  Fortunately the singing was more reliable than the wardrobe.  Building 429 rocked to crowd-pleasers “Where I Belong” and “Listen to the Sound.” Newcomer Dara Maclean did a lively rendition of the radio hits “Free” and “Suitcases.”  During Kari Jobe’s performance of “We Are (the Light of the World)” my son pointed out the absolutely amazing scene of the entire arena sparkling like a starry night, from 9,000 cell phone flash lights.  Cool doesn't even begin to describe it!

Newsong’s Russ Lee emceed the entire event, but was not silent during the singing.  His amazing tenor filled the arena during Newsong’s performance of the power ballad “Arise My Love,” sung while an artist’s portrait of Christ’s face was etched on a 30-foot-square screen through light effects.  That song has always given me the chills, and hearing it performed live was worth the price of admission by itself.  They then sang a new release, “The Same God.”  That song really hit me.  “The same God with you then is with you now.  The same God who led you in will lead you out.   So take all the fear and doubt, go on and lay them down.  The same God, the same God is with you now.”  I needed that reminder!

After a brief intermission, Sanctus Real raised the audio level (as if that were necessary!) another few notches, getting the crowd singing along to “Forgiven,” “I’m Not Alright,” “Lead Me,” and “The Redeemer.”  As much fun as they were, that was nowhere near the highlight of the night.

I've been a fan of Skillet for many years.  As a matter of fact, I wrote about their self-titled debut album way back in 1997 (reprinted in my blog).  This was my first chance to see them live though, and frankly was the reason I went to the Winter Jam (I’ll be returning though, regardless of who headlines next year – the entire night was incredible).  To say they rocked the crowd would be the understatement of the night.  From the introductory rock duet between headbanging violinist Jonathan Chu and cellist Tate Olsen, to the closing strains of “The Last Night,” from onstage pyrotechnics to 20-foot hydraulic lifts and Jen Ledger’s rotating drum platform, the show was everything I expected and more.

Winter Jam 2012 may not have been the best concert I’ve ever attended (I doubt anything can top a small acoustic show with Petra lead John Schlitt back in the early ‘90s), it certainly falls in the top 2 or 3.  If you’re in the Eastern US and have a chance to see the remainder of this tour, take it.  You won’t regret it!

Review of Skillet's self-titled debut

Reprinted from CMRH, first published 06-24-1997

In the mood for something loud, fast, and totally cool?  Then check out Skillet, one of ForeFront's new artists. Granted I'm about 6 months late on this one, but nonetheless it's a good listen.  From the first slams of "I Can" to the final fade-out of "Splinter," Skillet's self-titled debut rocks. “I Can” plays a musical see saw between the airy guitar and piano during the verses, and the hard core guitar-driven choruses. The screaming and rocking seems a bit out of place with the message - the title is the answer to the simple question, "can I come to you?" - but hey, Christ said to go into all the world preaching His name; He didn't say we had to do it calmly!

"Gasoline" is a pretty innovative idea - the chorus sings (or screams - take your pick) "You want to soak my heart in gasoline, light a match and consume me. You want to soak my pride in gasoline - all of You and none of me." The song is that of a man who is scared of being hurt, scared of letting go of his heart. He is holding it out for God, but would rather have it locked up in a box where it can't be hurt or crushed or broken. But that's not what God wants of him. The song ends with the man's heart sitting on a table next to a bloody mess that used to be Jesus' heart. It's a gory picture, one that some may say doesn't belong in a Christian song. But Christ's crucifixion was hardly pleasant. It was messy, bloody, painful, and gruesome. That's what it took to redeem a lost world.  And sometimes we need to be reminded of just how much Jesus actually did for us so that we don't take it for granted. In light of that, does God really ask too much of us?

I've many times said that an artist painted a picture of this or a portrait of that. By that analogy, Skillet would be the abstract painters who throw paint in front of a high-speed fan, which blows it randomly onto a canvas. They have a perspective on life that's quite colorful, and quite enlightening when you really look at it. "Saturn" is a perfect example of this. It's also proof that there's more to Skillet than just let-it-all-out rock. This song is much more down to Earth, musically, driven mostly by an unplugged-style acoustic rhythm. In their unique style, they allude to the fact that we don't have to see Heaven to know that it's there; we don't have to see Jesus face to face to know that what He did was real.

Other highlights include "My Beautiful Robe," which speaks to the deceptiveness of our own righteousness (or lack thereof); "Paint," a ripping cut with an almost sinister sounding lead vocal through the verses; "Safe With You," a toned down tune about the refuge we find in Christ; "Boundaries," which has some really cool guitar work and a lot of lyrical contradictions; and the totally cool "Splinter," with its truly high quality musicianship.

Skillet successfully blends raucous hard rock, deep and sometimes subtle, sometimes provocative lyrics, and the gospel into a great addition to ForeFront's arsenal. If you can handle a CD meant to be cranked up loud, then pick this one up!