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Privately famous

Posted by johnreynolds on December 17, 2004 at 8:03 AM PST

Most folks are familiar with Andy Warhol's prediction: "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". My 15 minutes have come.

I was at the express checkout (10 items or less) of the the HEB on Red River (that's a supermarket near UT here in Austin) when a young man (whose name turned out to be Ben) approached me:

Ben: Excuse me sir, I know this is going to sound strange, but are you a programmer?

John: (caught slightly off guard) Why, yes I am.

Ben: Are you a blogger?

I'm not sure what exactly I said at that point... but it had something to do with my wonderful mugshot and my recent blog on "Too old to program?".

I really touched a nerve with that blog, and I am not surprised in the least. Ben told me that every programmer he knows starts having the same fears as they approach 30. Imagine, a career where you are "over the hill" within 10 years of starting. We might as well chosen to be Olympic Gymnasts.

Back to my story... when Ben excused himself and walked away, the checkout guy remarked: "Wow, a famous guy came through my checkout line!"

"Famous Guy!" Wow, This must be my 15 minutes! Who'd of thought that it would be in a checkout line, and in response to a cropped mugshot? Oh well, enjoy it while it lasts.

My online UserID is always "johnreynolds" if I can get it, and some variation on that theme if that UserID is already taken. I've never been all that interested in adopting a nickname or pseudonym, even though "John Reynolds" is a very common name.

The downside to this is that anything that I write online can be traced back to me. Every opinion that I put in print may come back to haunt me at a job interview, or maybe even in a checkout line ;-)

The upside to this is that I'm more careful about what I write. It's like living in a small town, anything that I say will get back to the neighbors, so I need to be careful what I say about them.

Other folks choose to be more circumspect about their identities. For example, the Tapestry Table Component was authored by MindBridge. I was under the mistaken impression that MindBridge was a pseudonym for Howard Lewis Ship when I first published my Tapestry examples. I still don't know what MindBridge's real name is (and I wouldn't divulge it if I did know), but I can tell you that he's a great coder and a very generous person.

In this day and age, privacy is an illusion.

A piece of spam recently arrived in my inbox that caught my attention. The subject line read:"John, your current checking account balance is $1,234.56" (I've changed the amount to preserve my privacy). The amount was correct. Needless to say, I was less then enthused to realize this information was public.

All in all, I am less interested in preserving my privacy then I am in insuring my identity. Think about it, how can I prove that I am me? My education and employment records are tied to a Social Security number... but there is nothing tied to that Social Security number that identifies me as me. There's no picture, no finger-print, no DNA on file; just a number and some information that is common knowledge.

I know that many people fear a National Identity Card, and I can sympathize; Governments are notorious for turning oppressive. I hold the other view; I want a National Identity Card, and I want my DNA and finger-prints on file.
Without a trusted identification authority (and I know that nothing is foolproof), it's just too easy for someone else to pretend to be me, and too hard for me to prove that I am me.

Fortunately, has changed all that. All that I have to do is point folks to, cock my head to one side and crack a toothy grin, and voila!, proof positive that I am me! Isn't fame great?

(Cross posted at The Thoughtful Programmer)

John Reynolds

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