Me And My Facebook Unfriend Finder

Yesterday Mashable had an article about a new plug-in that alerts you when someone unfriends you, de-activates their page or ignores your friend request.

Mood music:

“That would be bad for my mental health,” I told myself, seconds before hitting the “install” button. I was reminded of the Black Flag song where Henry Rollins screams:

You say you don’t want it
You don’t want it
Say you don’t want it
Then you slip it on in

When I told Erin about the plug-in she scolded me with the very words that came to mind right before I installed it: “That would be sooooo bad for your mental health.”

So why did I install the thing, knowing what I know about my compulsive tendencies? To be honest, I was curious.

I’ve written before about Facebook Unfriend Syndrome: That nagging feeling you get when someone unfriends you. You wonder if you offended the person and want to ask them why they left. It’s a stupid state of mind, to be sure. But having OCD is partly about developing stupid compulsions.

Indeed, I have offended people over things I’ve written in this blog. A close friend got mad at me for something I wrote and ditched me, though she recently added me back. My own mother defriended me because she couldn’t handle my version of past events. I long ago accepted that I’m going to lose people along the way. That’s life, especially when you’re the outspoken type.

With all that in mind, any sane person would prefer not to know who unfriended them. I never claimed I was playing with a full deck.

An hour after I installed it, I got a message, just like any notification you get on Facebook, saying so-and-so deactivated their profile. An hour later, someone else deactivated theirs.

“Hmm,” I thought. “It is good to know when someone kills their account.”

Now I almost find myself wanting someone to unfriend me just so I can watch this new toy do its thing.

It’s crazy, I know.

There are arguments for having this kind of tool. Seeing the types of people who leave can give you an indication of who is more or less likely to want your content. If a relative does it, it’s good to know so you can try to fix whatever you did to bruise them. Of course, sometimes family members deserve to be bruised.

In the final analysis, though, I’ve decided to uninstall it because, as Erin said, it’s dangerous for my brand of OCD. I also realize people have a right to unfriend without telling people.

It’s a personal and private action.

Also, as I’ve noted before, sometimes unfriending is the right thing.

A Confession (Or Four)

This is for those who believe in a higher power — especially the messed-up Catholics among us. Those who might take offense should go away and come back tomorrow.  I won’t think any less of you.

In the Catholic Faith, there’s a Sacrament of Reconciliation — modern language for going to confession. Duncan did it for the first time Saturday. Sean, Erin and I used the occasion to do it, too.

Because you tell your sins to an also-flawed human being (the priest), a lot of people are turned off. I got past that by realizing the priest is really just a direct phone line to God. He doesn’t have to be pure as the driven snow to fill the role.

Mood music:

Being the screw-up that I am, I need to empty the trash from my soul every few months. The poison is constantly building up in my system — anger, resentment, narcissism, selfishness.

Simply put, Confession is where I go to unload all the things I keep doing wrong. It’s just me and the priest. It’s a moment of truth, where I can be honest about myself before God and let the accumulated angst, guilt and exhaustion drip away.

For those of you who have different beliefs, the concept may not make sense. You may even find the concept ridiculous. That’s you’re right.

I know a lot of good Catholics who struggle with it.

One guy I know hasn’t been to Confession in nearly a decade. Last time he went he listed his sins to a priest who was later convicted of sexual abuse. Why, he asked me one day, should he be telling his sins to someone who was supposed to be clean and trustworthy, but was in fact dripping with filth more foul than anything he could confess?

It’s a fair question.

I’m sure a lot of people in Haverhill are going through the same emotions over Father Keith LeBlanc, who allegedly used church funds to buy pornography. Is this the kind of person you want to go to to confess about having dirty thoughts when an attractive woman walks by?

The man who confessed to a sexually abusive priest is a good man. He raised four children who grew up to be pretty awesome. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He also continues to go to church almost every Sunday.

But he doesn’t go to Confession because he doesn’t believe he should be confessing to a priest who is full of sin himself.

It’s a shame he feels that way, because I think Confession would do him good. At the same time, I can’t blame him. That kind of anger takes a lot of years to tame.

Here’s how I see it:

We forget priests are human, prone to all the mistakes the rest of us make. In the case of Father LeBlanc, he was under the spell of one of the most insidious addictions a person could have. When the addiction has you by the balls, you do terrible things to feed the habit. Stealing money, for example.

My most destructive addiction was compulsive binge eating. I always knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. And I used a lot of money that wasn’t mine to feed that addiction. It was money from the family account, but it could have easily been money from someplace else.

My kids have been selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts and I recently took the order form and cash envelope to work to sell some for them. For a good three weeks I had an envelope full of cash sitting in my laptop bag. Five or 10 years ago, chances are pretty good that I would have burned through some or all of that money to get my fix. Thank God I don’t have to face that danger today.

Addicts of all stripes: Food, booze, drugs — know exactly what I’m talking about.

You know it’s wrong. You badly want to stop. BUT YOU CAN’T.

Sounds like every other sin out there.

Priests have a role to play in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the official term for Confession. Their job is to sit there and absorb someone else’s sins, then grant forgiveness.

What people fail to understand is that they are telling their sins to God. The priest is just a conduit.

It’s a brutally hard concept to swallow, especially when we spend our lives trying to oversimplify the fight between good and evil.

All I know is that Confession is important to me.

I screw up daily. I’m forgiven for sins and then I go out and do the same stupid things all over again. It’s like a trash can. You empty it and spend the next week filling it back up with garbage. Then it has to be emptied again. 

When I go into the Confession booth and dump out the garbage, I walk away feeling a hundred pounds lighter.

If that sounds stupid to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

In this blog, I can only tell you where I’ve been and how I got through my own personal hell.

But what works for me can’t possibly work for everyone.

I’m just glad I found another piece of God’s Grace. Hopefully, I’m a better man for it.

Why I Skipped #ShmooCon This Year

A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t go to the ShmooCon security conference in Washington D.C. this year. After all, it is one of my favorite events of the year.

Mood music:

I’ve told some people I sacrificed it so I could spend the travel money on a trip to L.A. to work on a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve told others I skipped it so I can go to Black Hat and Defcon in Vegas this summer. Both are true. But there’s also a realization that I can’t be on the road as much as I’ve been in the past because in doing so I miss things at home.

Ever since I shook myself free of the fear and anxiety that came with my earlier form of OCD, I’ve had a craving for these journeys, perhaps for the simple reason that I can go through an airport and onto a plane without feeling like nails are being hammered into my intestines.

I think there’s also a high I get from going to a security show and kicking ass with my writing (I wrote eight posts in my security blog at this latest conference). Writing conference stories used to leave me harried. No more.

But that liberation has come at a cost. Specifically, since the OCD still runs hot from time to time, I have a problem with balancing my professional cravings with life at home.

I started to figure it out at the RSA conference in San Francisco last year.

Something went very wrong on that trip. Professionally everything was fine. But below the surface a personal crisis was brewing. If you look at my OCD Diary posts from that week, you could see me coming unhinged. I wrote about discomfort I felt as everyone told me what an honest guy I am because I’m not always so honest. In fact, that week a lie was eating away at my conscience.

I came home to a wife who was understandably angry with me. I was also sick as a dog, burning with fever. We worked through it, but it woke me up to the fact that I can’t do it all, 24 hours a day like I sometimes want to.

I needed to find the middle speed, which is hard as hell when you have an obsessive-compulsive mind and an addiction or four to keep in check.

I re-realized that I had to be truer to my top priorities: God, my wife and children. I can’t stop doing all the things I do. My life has evolved this way because, I think, I’m meant to give a part of myself to helping others. At the very least, it’s payment for the second chance God gave me.

But, to use corporate business-speak, I need to do it smarter, and be willing to drop it altogether for family. That’s one of the truly sick things about OCD: You know who and what you should be paying attention to, but the mental pull still drags you to less-important things that seem awfully important at the time.

That’s my blessing and my curse.

This time, ShmooCon coincided with Duncan’s first confession, a very important event in the life of a young Christian. There was no way I would miss that. Not even for ShmooCon. Being Sean and Duncan’s dad and Erin’s husband comes first.

I’m also fighting a nasty cold, so I’m better off here instead of contaminating everyone in D.C.

Some choices are brutal, especially when you are the type of person that wants it all.

But this time, I feel none of the discomfort I felt last year when I skipped another conference over this. I made the right choice, and I’m grateful for that.

I’ll return to ShmooCon next year.

RIOT Guitarist Dies From Crohn’s Disease

I’m sad to report that Mark Reale, founding guitarist of the legendary metal band RIOT, died yesterday from Crohn’s Disease complications.

Mood music:

Here’s the news from Blabbermouth, a heavy metal news site:

Reale died yesterday (Wednesday, January 25) in a San Antonio hospital due to complications of Crohn’s disease — an ailment he had battled for most of his life. He was 56 years old.

Reale had reportedly been in a coma for the past two weeks after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage on January 11.

Mark is survived by his father, Anthony Reale, and was preceded in death by his mother, Frances Reale.

Mark spent most of his life working and performing while enduring almost constant pain and the side effects of treatment for Crohn’s disease. He was in Texas bravely attempting to practice for the shows, but was felled by a severe onset of Crohn’s symptoms, leaving him in the Intensive Care Unit at an undisclosed facility. Mark was struggling with these symptoms throughout the production of RIOT‘s new album, “Immortal Soul”, and guitarist Mike Flyntz recorded a major portion of the guitars on the LP with Mark‘s creative direction while Reale was unable to perform. 

For those wondering if I’m freaked out because the disease I’ve had for most of my life killed someone, the answer is no. I’ve always known this is a potentially fatal disease. But deaths are pretty rare. Deaths from asthma are rare, too, but asthma complications killed my brother all the same.

The truth is, you never know when you’re time is up. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about my own mortality but not anymore. The more time you spend doing that, the more life you waste.

I’d rather go out knowing I did my absolute best as a dad, husband and writer than sitting back at age 95 wondering what the hell happened to my life.

Smarter People Drink, Which Makes Me Feel Stupid

I’m pissed off about an article in Psychology Today that suggests smarter people consume more alcohol. As someone who’s sober, the article is kind of insulting. After all, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person.

Mood music:

Here’s a snippet from the article by Satoshi Kanazawa:

Drinking alcohol is evolutionarily novel, so the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people drink more alcohol than less intelligent people.

Human consumption of alcohol, however, was unintentional, accidental, and haphazard until about 10,000 years ago.  The intentional fermentation of fruits and grain to yield ethanol arose only recently in human history.  The production of beer, which relies on a large amount of grain, and that of wine, which similarly requires a large amount of grapes, could not have taken place before the advent of agriculture around 8,000 BC and the consequent agricultural surplus.  Archeological evidence dates the production of beer and wine to Mesopotamia at about 6,000 BC.  The origin of distilled spirits is far more recent, and is traced to Middle East or China at about 700 AD.  The word alcohol – al kohl – is Arabic in origin, like many other words that begin with “al,” like algebra, algorithm, alchemy, and Al Gore.

Indicators of alcohol consumption in the Add Health data include the frequency of binge drinking (drinking five or more units of alcohol in one sitting) and the frequency of getting drunk.  That such behavior is detrimental to health and has few, if any, positive consequences, is irrelevant for the Hypothesis.  It does not predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in healthy and beneficial behavior.  Instead, it predicts that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in evolutionarily novel behavior.  Since the consumption of modern alcoholic beverages – including binge drinking and getting drunk – is evolutionarily novel, the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in it, and the empirical data from the UK and the US confirm it.

His hypothesis pisses me off because there are days when I hate being sober. I’d give anything for a few drops of wine, for that mellow feeling I get after a couple glasses.

It’s also been drilled into my head that addiction isn’t about being smart or stupid. The perfect description comes from this “West Wing” episode where Leo, the chief of staff, tries to explain what alcohol does to him:

As Leo says, his brain works differently. It has nothing to do with being smart or stupid.

Nevertheless, there are days where my addictions make me feel supremely stupid. It has certainly compelled me to do stupid things in the past.

To be fair, the article doesn’t really say that only smart people drink a lot. Reading it just pisses me off because I can’t drink anymore.

I can’t eat flour or sugar anymore. Lots of smart people love those two ingredients.

I can’t smoke anymore. Lots of smart people smoke.

I won’t lie: I used to think I looked very smart and sophisticated with a cigar hanging from my lips.

Some would call that stupid. Whatever.

The bottom line is that I can’t drink or do the other things anymore. It’s not because I lack intelligence. It’s because that intelligence is powerless against the mental impulse that screams out for a good feeling; for a break.

Mine is a particularly strange tale of addiction. My biggest problem was compulsive binge eating. My drinking accelerated after I put the flour and sugar down because I needed a crutch. Then I realized I needed the wine a little too much, so I put that down and started on the cigars for a crutch.

Now I don’t smoke anymore, and there are days where I struggle to find a good release. Yoga doesn’t do it for me. As Erin points out, yoga could do it for me, but I’m prejudiced against it. Fair enough.

Moderation doesn’t exist in my world. It’s all or nothing.

That doesn’t make me dumb. But it might mean I’m a victim of dumb luck.