Trevor Stinson

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AT&T launches Sponsored Data

In short, AT&T will allow providers to subsidize the delivery of their content. This is being framed as a benefit to consumers since it could save them money. However:

The flip side of all this though is that content providers that can afford to pay for data costs will be able to entice more AT&T customers over to their services. Instead of encouraging more variety in content consumed it could reinforce the status quo as consumers naturally gravitate to the websites, apps and videos from the big internet brands willing to foot the data bill.

But one of the foundational principles of the internet is that it’s neutral, that no content is prioritized over other content. While AT&T stressed it won’t actually prioritize traffic in the Sponsored Data program — apps and content will work the same on the network no matter who’s footing the data bill — this type of program creates a kind of de facto hierarchy from the consumer’s standpoint. If all other things are equal, why not watch the video or use the app that doesn’t drain your data plan?

Looks to me like AT&T has found a good way to violate net neutrality while appearing to keep their hands clean.


Gloria in Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all–
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountains of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate–
Where the thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightening fears to be late:
As men dive for a sunken gem
Pursuing we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star that has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

G.K. Chesterton, Gloria in Profundis


Advent is tension

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light a candle that represents hope. I asked a young father to light the candle for our worship service. It was fitting: his six-year-old son had been fighting brain cancer for two years. Through all the ups and downs of diagnosis, regression, and relapse, these parents held firmly to the belief that God not only could, but also would heal their son; the very picture of faithful, trusting hope to our congregation. We came alongside them in prayer and fasting. “Any day now, God,” we would pray. “We are ready to see your miracle. Show your glory.”

Shortly after lighting the candle of hope, the boy returned to the hospital. We gathered in the tiny chapel and praised God. Still waiting. Still expecting the miracle. Then he died. I found myself trying to plan a worship service themed around joy (the third week of Advent) while thinking, “We live in a world where six-year-olds are cut down by cancer.”

How could I sing of the joy of Advent on this of all weeks? It seemed wrong, even offensive, until I remembered that Advent is not only about the wait for the first Christmas. The joy we express in Advent is a joy not yet realized. Israel longed for a savior, but did not yet see him. We long for his return, but he has not yet come again. In Advent, we acknowledge and name this tension. We remember the wait for the first Christmas because we are still waiting.

Scripture tells us that all of creation groans with this same longing. The promise of Christ’s return is not only for humanity, and not only for earth. It’s for humans, plants, animals, dirt. Every planet. Every star. This whole world is bound up in decay and corruption, but it will not remain this way forever. Heaven and earth will be made new. All will be restored. All will be made right.

As I watched those parents mourn, I prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And somewhere, lightyears away, a dying star shines that same prayer with its last light. Come, Lord Jesus.

And so we see the rhythm of Advent in the loss of a child: Hope. God, we know that you can heal our son. Peace. Father, we know that his life is in your hands. Joy. Our son is dead; this too will be made right. Love. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Christ. “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


Nelson Mandela's approach to justice

So often, we—”good” people, even Christians—seem to know of no better justice than to seek the blood of our enemy. We think that the only way to overcome violence is with better violence. And we think that the only way to set a life on the right course is to lock a person in a cell where their life will have no course at all. We care more about punishment than about making things right. Look to the late Nelson Mandela for a better example:

If there were any question as to whether President Mandela would pursue a course of reconciliation or revenge, the answer was given when he invited his white jailer to be his honored guest at his presidential inauguration.

But what would the future hold for South Africa? Many assumed there would be a bloodbath of retaliation. Many assumed that now it would be time for those who had so long been denied justice to exact their revenge with violent retribution. But that didn’t happen. South Africa instead made a peaceful transition from a racist regime to a stable democracy. It was nothing short of a miracle. But how was this accomplished? It was accomplished through prophetic imagination — through daring to imagine a new and creative way of moving beyond the wrongs of the past. Not the way of exacting revenge and not the way of ignoring justice, but by the way of restorative justice; a new way which gave room for both truth and reconciliation.

Read Brian Zahnd’s post for the whole story.


A Prayer for Prisons and Correctional Institutions

A close friend of mine checked himself into jail a few hours ago after a long legal battle. He’ll be there for ninety days. It’s hard to know what to say in a situation like this. It would be easy to say too much about his particular situation and what I personally think or feel about it. But I’m going to let my words be few and leave it at this collect from the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy’s sake. Amen.


The tone of the Act Like Men conference

I confess, I had strong misgivings about coming to the Act Like Men conference. Mark Driscoll is one of the headline speakers—a pastor known to focus on stereotypical masculinity. Not exactly my cup of tea. I don’t see any value in making fun of men who do not exemplify muscularity and force. Mark Driscoll and I have different understandings of the meaning of strength and courage, and, it often seems, on the very meaning of Christ’s example and teaching.

Going into this conference, I was worried that Mark Driscoll would set the tone for the whole event. I also realized that I needed to give Driscoll himself a chance, and that I should be open to learning from him. Regardless of how his message goes (I write this is he begins his message), I was glad to hear the following statement from Matt Chandler, the first speaker on Saturday:

The danger of men’s conferences is that we get too masculine. We start making fun of things that are actually in the room. Well, some of us like soy lattes. And some of us struggle with same-sex attraction. That’s not a joke.


Two takes on the iPhone 5s camera

AnandTech provides quite a bit of technical detail (more than I claim to understand), concluding thus:

Overall the improvements to the 5S camera system are very positive and I’m very happy to see Apple going the direction of bigger pixels rather than marching down the pitch size roadmap and trading off sensitivity. Larger pixels and bucking that trend is absolutely positively the right direction to go. If Apple went the other way I’d start getting concerned about the camera team over there. Obviously the choices made in the 5S do a lot to put me at ease and reassure that there’s still some sanity in the smartphone imaging space.

John Carey on Fiftyfootshadows gives a more philosophical take on what this means for the future of photography:

The way I see it photography as a craft and as an art form will only end up growing stronger. The approach Apple has taken in their camera technology has no place in the pro or enthusiast world of photography outside of being exactly what it is, a great snapshot camera. The essence of the craft and the art of using the fundamentals of exposure combined with great glass and continued excellence in design will have plenty of room to flourish among casual shooters in the exact same way it does today. […] The future is as bright for photographers as it has ever been and the new ideas and technology laid in place by Apple could end up helping the pro market as far as I’m concerned.


Worth A Thousand Words (Minimal Mac)

Patrick Rhone argues that the camera on the iPhone 5s is the real story:

The camera in the iPhone 5S basically moved the needle two years ahead of the entire camera industry. Not just smart phone cameras — all cameras.

(Read his post before assuming disagreement on DSLRs.)


TidBITS: Q&A about Fingerprint Scanning

TidBITS has a good overview of fingerprint security in light of the new sensor on the iPhone 5s. The two quotes below provide answers to what I consider to be the most important questions. Read the full article for more detail on how fingerprint scanners work, and what to expect from the one on the iPhone.

On the possibility of your fingerprint being stolen:

The template is then stored in a database, ideally after being run through a cryptographic hashing function, just like your passwords. Passwords themselves are never stored in databases; instead they are converted by a one-way encryption algorithm, with the result being stored in the database. Done properly, this means your password can never be recovered, even if a bad guy gets the database.

Apple made it a point to note that your fingerprint will never be uploaded into iCloud or any Internet server. Instead, it will be encrypted and stored in what’s called the Secure Enclave within the A7 chip itself.

On whether or not fingerprints are actually more secure than passwords:

…using fingerprints creates better security through improved usability. Most people, if they use a passcode at all, stick with a simple four-digit passcode, which is easy for an attacker to circumvent with physical possession of your iPhone. Longer passphrases, like the obscure 16-character one I use, are far more secure, but a real pain to enter repeatedly. A fingerprint reader, if properly implemented, provides the security of a long passphrase, with more convenience than even a short passcode.


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