Stack Overflow Moderator Elections, Part IV

Earlier this year, I stood for election as a moderator on Stack Overflow, the biggest and best Q&A site for programmers. I was not elected that time around. Yesterday, Stack Overflow concluded another election, and I am happy to say that I was elected, along with two other excellent candidates!

Stack Overflow Election Results Screenshot

I was amazed and humbled by how many people voted for me in the primaries and in the main election, not to mention by the many kind comments that people made. I am excited about the opportunity to serve the community as a moderator, and I am grateful for the support of everyone who voted.

For those who wonder, this will actually have a relatively small impact on how much time I spend on Stack Overflow. Between my work and my own curiosity, I have already been on there quite a bit.

Anyway, again, thank you!

Cereblitz has LAUNCHED!

As you know if you have been reading this site, I have been working on Cereblitz, a first-of-its-kind e-commerce platform for selling custom and customizable products. I’m proud to announce that IT’S ALIVE! We have officially launched our platform!

Cereblitz makes the first fully-customizable cart for customizable products

As of right now, you can sign up to run your site on the Cereblitz platform. Plans start at $50/month. If you sign up for our email list today, I’ll give you a special discount that you can use to save 20% on a monthly plan or 40% on a yearly plan.

If you want to see the system in action, please check out, a small business that Sarah and I have launched to sell sporting goods and safety products. You can also look at, a business that I helped found many years ago (and have since sold) and that now runs on the Cereblitz platform.

Don’t forget to bookmark the Cereblitz blog and follow us on your favorite social network:

Getting Started and Moving On

This is my first week running my new company, Cereblitz. So far, it has gone wonderfully. I’ve already had a couple of meetings with clients, and my ecommerce platform is close to launching.

If you haven’t already done so, please remember to sign up for our email list, follow @Cereblitz on Twitter, and like the Cereblitz page on Facebook.

Decorative Scales Of Justice In The Courtroom

One of the side-effects of this, of course, is that I have left legal practice behind. I started law school ten years ago, and started my first legal job exactly seven years ago today. And now, I am not practicing law at all. It’s a little surreal. On the other hand, I have been programming almost my entire life (since I was learning to read), and I was running a software development company before law school, so this is not really a second career. It’s more like a return to my first career.

Anyway, thanks for joining me on this thrilling, crazy ride. Please remember to sign up for my newsletter so I can keep you up to date on everything!

Faith-Based Physics

theory-of-relativity-486718_1280When I enrolled at Rice University, I thought I would dual-major in math and physics en route to a Ph.D. in physics, a university professorship, and a career relishing the life of the mind in the esoteric realms of the subatomic. No, I had known that I would do that since sometime in middle school.

Within a semester, I had doubts that my career path lay in academic physics. By the end of my freshman year, I knew pure physics was not for me; I was considering biophysics, physical chemistry, and other, physics-adjacent disciplines. By the end of my third semester, no majors involving the name “physics” were even on my radar. I ended up, after some soul-searching and a year of exploration and reflection, settling on majors in math and religious studies, the latter with a concentration in Judaism.

Why? It wasn’t that I had lost my interest in physics as a subject; I still haven’t. It wasn’t my grades. It wasn’t even that I was unhappy with the work I was doing.

What really drove me off was this: I found that the kind of physics I wanted to do—the cutting-edge, theoretical stuff—was disturbingly full of hand-waving. That is, the really tough problems were either ignored entirely or roundly dismissed as inconsequential, even if they had potentially huge significance for the entire field. These were problems in which no one was doing any serious investigation—indeed, serious investigation might not even be possible under the current state of the art—but “we” supposedly “knew” something was true. Nine times out of ten, statements of this sort were literally accompanied by hand-waving by the professor or teacher’s assistant making the statement. In at least one incident, I witnessed a Nobel laureate brush off a series of hard-hitting questions in precisely this manner.

This is not to say that no one ever attempted to explain such things. Usually, the explanation was a deus ex machina based on the “standard model” or an appeal to authority. The thinking seemed to be this: If you don’t know the answer, just refer vaguely to the standard model, Einstein, Heisenberg, or Feynman, and the troublesome freshman/sophomore/high-schooler will get the idea that he or she is out of his or her depth and leave you alone. Even if the question was perfectly reasonable. There’s no grant money for investigating pesky “side effects” that show up in 200-level labs but that we can’t explain. “No grant money” means “forget about it.”

With all of the latest buzz about the so-called “multiverse” and, relatedly, parallel universes, at least a few of my beefs with academic physics have gone mainstream. In particular, Rod Dreher has posted an excellent piece about the faith of the physics academy. Some key quotes:

Physicists have a nerve. I know one (I’ll call him Mark) who berates every religious person he meets, yet honestly thinks there exist parallel universes, exactly like our own, in which we all have two noses. He refuses to give any credit to Old Testament creation myths and of course sneers at the idea of transubstantiation. But, without any sense of shame, he insists in the same breath that humans are made from the fallout of exploded stars; that it is theoretically possible for a person to decompose on one side of a black hole and recompose on the other, and that there are diamonds in the sky the size of the moon.

. . . .

I have never quite understood why the “many-universes” theory is considered science, not religion. How could you ever falsify the thesis?

. . . . We assume that the Scientist must know what he’s talking about no matter what he says, because he has studied his field, and is committed to a rigorous methodology and epistemology that rules out what cannot be known empirically. If a Scientist says it, it must be true, because it has either been proven experimentally, or can be.

. . . .

. . . . [C]ertainty in the sense of probability is not the same thing as necessary being: If I toss a coin, it is certain that I will get heads or tails, but that outcome depends on my tossing the coin, which I may not necessarily do. Likewise, any particular universe may follow from the existence of a multiverse, but the existence of the multiverse remains to be explained. In particular, the universe-generating process assumed by some multiverse theories is itself contingent because it depends on the action of laws assumed by the theory. The latter might be called meta-laws, since they form the basis for the origin of the individual universes, each with its own individual set of laws. So what determines the meta-laws? Either we must introduce meta-meta-laws, and so on in infinite regression, or we must hold that the meta-laws themselves are necessary — and so we have in effect just changed our understanding of what the fundamental universe is to one that contains many universes. In that case, we are still left without ultimate explanations as to why that universe exists or has the characteristics it does.

When it comes to such metaphysical questions, science and scientific speculation may offer much in fleshing out details, but they have so far failed to offer any explanations that are fundamentally novel to philosophy — much less have they supplanted it entirely.

Read the whole thing.



Leaving My Job and Starting a Business

Entrepreneur Name Tag Business Owner New Startup Company

As you may know, I gave my notice at the First Court of Appeals this week. I am leaving the practice of law in order to start a software company, Cereblitz!

Cereblitz makes the first fully-customizable cart for customizable products

I will be developing and marketing an ecommerce platform for selling customizable products, such as products that can be imprinted with text or logos or have other user specifications. I have mentioned the software before, but now I am going to be working on it full-time.

This platform is one-of-a-kind: there is nothing else out there that is available to small and medium-sized businesses for selling customizable products!

I need your help getting the word out! Please help me by doing at least one of the following:


How to Stop Random iPhone Vibrations

I had problems recently with my iPhone 6 vibrating randomly. I didn’t get any alerts, banners, or app icon badges that I could see, so it was driving me a little crazy.

It turns out there are two kinds of mail notifications. The first kind is under Settings > Notifications > Mail. The second, which causes these phantom vibrations, is under Settings > Sounds > New Mail. Head there and change “Vibration” to “None.”



In case you haven’t heard, I am now a proud daddy! Our adorable little girl, Catherine Jane Cottrell, arrived last month. Mom and baby are both doing well.

Needless to say, I’ve been busy ever since. It’s so worth it.

Using SSL with MySQL

If you ever make remote connections to a MySQL database, it’s extremely important to connect over SSL. Otherwise, you run the risk of someone seeing data in transit, modifying data in transit, or, worst of all, stealing your credentials. This could be an utter disaster.

Unfortunately, getting MySQL to use SSL is kind of complicated. Here’s how to do it.

Make Sure SSL is Enabled

First, make sure your installation of MySQL supports SSL. Using PHPMyAdmin, a MySQL command-line prompt, or whatever you prefer, run this command:

You should get a result looking something like this:

If you see “DISABLED” next to “have_openssl” and “have_ssl”, great – that means that your copy of MySQL supports SSL. If you see “NO”, you need to recompile or reinstall MySQL. If you see “YES”, you’re already done!

Create SSL Certificates

Now, you need to create some SSL certificates. Go to wherever you want to store them (I’d suggest something like /home/mysql/certs) and run the following commands:

Enter information as needed at the prompts. This will create self-signed client and server keys for you to use. The last two lines are very important! OpenSSL versions 1.0 and newer create keys in the PKCS #8 format, but MySQL expects them to be in the PKCS #1 format, so you have to run these commands to convert the keys we just created. You can read more about that problem in this Ask Ubuntu question: Enabling SSL in MySQL.

Tell MySQL to Use the Certificates

Edit your my.cnf file (probably at /etc/my.cnf) to include the following entries:

(If you used a directory other than /home/mysql/certs above, use it in the entries here.) If your my.cnf file already has mysqld and/or client sections, just add the appropriate entries to those sections.

Restart MySQL. The command varies by system, but will usually be something like service mysql restart.

Test It

Run this command again:

You should see something like this:

If so, congratulations! You’re done! If not, you might find the post Debugging MySQL SSL Problems on the Percona blog helpful.

Have you had problems with MySQL over SSL? Let me know in the comments! I’ll try to help you out!

Stack Overflow Moderator Elections, Part III

As I posted here and again here, I stood for election as a moderator on Stack Overflow this year. While I was not elected, I made it much further than I expected and finished in sixth place out of 32 nominees, 30 primary candidates, and 10 general-election candidates.

Stack Overflow is an amazing site, and the moderators have a tremendous responsibility. The candidates elected are all excellent choices who I know are already making the site even better. That said, I greatly appreciate the thousands of people who cast a vote for me, and I am deeply humbled that so many people thought of me as a good choice for the role. Thank you.

Stack Overflow Moderator Elections, Part II

In case you missed my first post on this topic, I am a candidate in the 2015 Stack Overflow moderator elections. I made it through the nomination phase (32 candidates) and primary (30 candidates), and now I’m in the general election with only 10 candidates for 3 spots remaining! I am extremely honored and humbled to have received so many votes in the primary phase, especially with so many amazing candidates. Thank you to all who supported me!

I would really appreciate your vote in the general election! I would also urge you to vote for Martijn Pieters and meager, though I don’t think you can go wrong with anyone in this amazing group.

Larry Niven Programming Quote

Please remember to read all of the remaining candidates’ nomination comments and candidate questionnaire answers.