For Better or for Worse

December 3, 2009

I’m filled with excitement whenever I hear about all the great things that technology is being used for.  Unfortunately, some people seem to dwell more on the negative than the positive.  Recently, my father’s Stake President banned all electronic devices at church.  By doing so, he was focusing on the problems they cause, texting during lessons or playing games during sacrament, and ignoring what good can come from them, like being able to access the complete gospel library from the palm of your hand.  The sad truth of the matter is that now, the people who were abusing their phones in the first place still bring them to church, and the people who were using them for gospel purposes don’t, and are limited in what they can research and add to the discussions. The same thing happens in many public schools; instead of trying to use the various technological tools for learning, teachers fear and shun them, causing the responsible students to jump through hoops while not addressing the real problem of personal accountability. Technology is a tool, and like any tool it can be only be used the way the user intends.  The only way we can really ensure technology is used for good is to teach correct principles and thus empower personal accountability.


Returning to Level 1

December 1, 2009

The subject of video game addiction has always interested me, since I play some of the games that most consider to be highly addictive.  From what I’ve seen of video game addiction, the problem arises from a lack and/or degeneration of basic life-governing principles, especially time management and a proper perspective.  It’s far less likely for a game to control your life when you’re actively aware of and controlling the time you are spending with it.  Furthermore, keeping a perspective of reality and an understanding of what’s truly important will help you balance recreation with other life activities.  Before trying these games, or anything like them, it’s extremely important to develop, enforce, or reinforce the basics of self control in order to remain in charge of your life.

Clearing the Atmosphere

November 19, 2009

For all the good that the Internet can do, it also has the power to destroy when not used carefully.  For years now I’ve seen the dangers and terrible effects that the Internet and social gaming can have on individuals and society at large.  Addictions form, time is lost, and lives are destroyed.  Luckily, many wise people have given recommendations and guidelines to stay morally and emotionally safe on the Internet, and I would like to offer my own suggestion.  Whenever browsing the web, or even playing computer games, I do whatever I can to make the atmosphere spiritually uplifting.  When I was younger, I would tape note cards with scriptures written on them to the side of the computer monitor.  Whenever I booted the computer, or when it was loading for anything, I would memorize these scriptures.  It’s amazing the amount of temptation that is completely avoided when you’re reading about the Atonement of Christ or the importance of marriage.  Even now, I work to create an inspiring environment around my computer at home and at work, and it’s certainly worth the effort.

The World is Almost Flat

November 12, 2009

It’s been said that the world has become flat in terms of worldwide opportunity, and I agree for the most part.  Forces, events, and concepts that caused the world’s flattening have been enumerated and categorized; however, I feel that the process is still incomplete.  There are at least two obstacles in the way of a flat world: corrupt/backwards politicians and xenophobia.

Corrupt politicians have been a problem in society since the creation of government, but some are more harmful than others.  While I was in Russia, I learned its history and came to know its people.  I learned that Russia has enjoyed very few good leaders, and that the country was held back to some degree by each bad leader, most recently, Putin.  While Putin has done many good things for Russia, a flat world is not one of them.  If economic decentralization, innovation, and free exchange are world flattening forces, then surely policies and regulations that cause the opposite, such as those Putin has enacted, are obstacles.

As for Xenophobia, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, innovation and free exchange exploded with growth in the former Soviet Union and China, but there is still a remnant of the Iron Curtain.  Xenophobia is a byproduct of the years of enforced isolation and continues to be an opposition to the flat world today, especially in the Middle East, China, and North Korea.  Because of the xenophobia in China’s culture and the government, some flatting is being stymied.  For example, the internet is heavily censored, and communication to the Chinese people by outside sources is limited, while the same occurs in the Middle East on a religious level, and in North Korea on a much greater level.  Business transactions and the free exchange of information invariably suffer in these climates.

Neither the problem of retroactive politicians nor xenophobic societies have easy solutions. However, if we can overcome these obstacles, the world would benefit greatly; then it would be truly flat.

For Better or For Worse…

November 10, 2009

Eric Steven Raymond once mentioned in an article,

If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.

This principle of acting the way you’re treated is far reaching and extremely important in a managerial position.  I’ve personally seen this work both for and against managers.  While working at a retail store years ago, I had a manager who was sometimes referred to as “The Machine.”  He was an intense workaholic who assumed that his employees were either lazy, or trying to steal from him.  Some of the employees responded by hiding out in the break room, and a couple of them stole from him.  On the flip side, when I first started working with my current manager, he said, “I’ve managed top-level engineering teams in the industry for 24 years.  I’ll manage you the same way.”  At first I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I soon found out.  It meant that he respected us.  Despite being student employees, our boss treats us as professionals, and we respond by being professionals.  He expects us to work hard and to meet our deadlines, so we work hard and meet our deadlines.  How different would the industry (and working in general) be if all managers understood this? Often, for better or for worse, how our associates act is a reflection of how we treat them.

Middlemen are of the Devil

November 5, 2009

I recently read an article that shed some light on the hypocritical actions of the record companies as they simultaneously jip the artists and customers, all the while piously claiming to defend the artists from piracy. Record companies who’ve been manipulating copyright laws in order to get rich are zealously prosecuting small time music pirates. The quasi-monopolistic ISP’s are trying to encourage laws that will allow them to further manipulate ‘services’ and pricing. This, along with several other experiences, has lead me to believe that intermediary companies that offer no original content of their own, are inherently evil. The fact of the matter is that middlemen make money only by taking it from the content creator or the consumer, and usually both. Frankly, society could benefit if we could do away with middlemen in general.

Undecidedly Neutral

November 3, 2009

I recently wrote a post about how opposing sides, debates, and grey zones can be a good thing, but now I’ve experienced the negative side effects.  People have been discussing the pros and cons of net neutrality for awhile, so I decided to educate myself in order to make a good choice concerning the matter.  Unfortunately, the more I learned about the pros and cons, the more undecided I became.  I’m trying so hard to unbiasedly weigh the arguments of both sides that I can’t come up with a decision of my own.  This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed that as long as people are endlessly debating the right or wrong of a given decision, nothing actually gets done.  This is worse than deciding to do nothing, because at least once you’ve decided, you can move on to other projects.  Sometimes it’s better to make a decision you’re unsure of rather than make no decision at all.

Computer Dolls

October 27, 2009

The field of CS has unfortunately always been bereft of women.  While I think that CS would benefit greatly from more women, and that something should be done to open the doors to what is traditionally a man’s territory, I also think there’s a wrong way to do this.  When my boss looks for a programmer to hire, almost no women apply for the job, but when one does, she’s almost sure to get it.  In one case I think he made the right decision.  This female coworker is a wonderful problem solver and a great programmer.  In another case, however, one of my coworkers is under-qualified and overwhelmed.  She’s taken one programming class and has virtually no other experience, but because she’s female my boss decided to hire her.  It’s now come down to my boss simply giving her a low priority project until I finish what I’m working on and can take over her job.  Were it not for the first example of a qualified female programmer, people might jump to incorrect assumptions and stereotypes, potentially making it more difficult for women to find employment in the future.  I reiterate that computer science would benefit greatly from more women in the field, but realistic solutions are needed; we should not resort to unjustified favoritism.  This type of affirmative action or artificial inflation is not the right answer, and is ineffective at best, harmful at worst.

Grey Zones

October 22, 2009

Recently, a case was brought to the Ohio Supreme Court pitting the concepts of free speech and child protection against one another. One side wants additional laws and restrictions to protect minors online, while the other feels that such laws would limit freedom of speech and the legitimate viewing of adult content. What I think is truly interesting aren’t the particulars or details of the case, but the grey zone that’s created.  Even though I’m against what’s termed “adult content,” I acknowledge the importance of free speech.  However, should free speech become the only virtue protected by law, then any number of insidious crimes could hide under its protection, and the same can be said for extreme and unchecked laws in the name of “protecting the children.”  As long as there are grey zones and enough supporters on either side, no one side will be able to dominate the other, and that’s what ensures balance and protects against extremes.

Hacking Away at Hackers

October 20, 2009

Five years ago I gave a class presentation on identity theft.  In an attempt to endear everyone to my position early on, I played upon what I thought was a universal disdain for computer hackers, and was surprised at how little positive feedback I received.  Whether my fellow students had images of romanticized James Bond style hackers, or if they respected the skill it would take to be a hacker, or even if they held complete apathy, I don’t know, but I feel it important for me to explain my position. It seems obvious to me that hackers who perpetrate identity theft and financial loss, while having a complete disregard and lack of respect for the privacy of others, are a menace.

With Trojan Horses, Zero-day attacks, and other methods, computer hacking is a major avenue for identity theft.  When a hacker is able to successfully commit identity fraud, he can steal your money, abuse your reputation, and even commit crimes in your name.  It’s hard to keep an idealized image of a savvy computer hacker, or even remain apathetic, when you think about how some punk is stealing grandma’s prescription medication, or taking all your money.

Identity theft is very easy to condemn and to calculate damages for, but not all crimes come with a price tag.  A more difficult crime to categorize, but one I consider very important, is the personal damage a hacker causes by going through private systems.  On a personal level, the information kept on a computer can be very private and for some, privacy is sacrosanct.  Things like grades, love notes, school papers, and personal diaries aren’t exactly unique, but it’s kind of like underwear, everyone has it, but it’s really embarrassing when other people can see it.  I even go so far as to say that what’s on my computer reflects my own personality and character, and the thought of some stranger rifling around and messing with my stuff is extremely offensive.  On a societal level, who can measure the damage caused by a loss of trust in a community or business when someone breaks into private correspondences, medical records, or address books?

Movies and Television often romanticize hackers. From movies like The Core, Sneakers, and The Net people somehow get the idea that hackers and hacking are okay, much like theif lords and other discontents are made out to be heroes in the movies. But if you take the hacker out of the movie and ask yourself “What if he were doing this to me?” I highly doubt you’d be on his side for very long. Hackers are not cool, or savvy, or in any way worthy of respect; they are thieves and vandals and should learn to keep thier code to themselves.