Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Highest Priority

Tonight I attended the wedding reception of one of a good friend from high school. I love the excitement that accompanies wedding receptions as a new family begins. It puts life into perspective. When it comes down to it what in this life has the greatest potential for bringing happiness or misery to our lives? I believe its our families. In a world that downplays family relationships and encourages individuals to seek happiness in self-centered ways, it is important to protect and defend these family relationships. From my point of view, a family is the most fulfilling thing this life has to offer. It deserves the highest priority in our lives.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tolerance in America

Yesterday, there was a story in the news about two Mormon missionaries who had vanished while hiking. My mom called and let me know that one of the two missionaries was a friend of mine that I had grown up with. I was extremely worried yesterday, but filled with gratitude this morning when my mom woke me up to let me know that they had been found and were just fine. Yesterday, as I read the news articles about the missing missionaries, it was very disturbing to me how mean and cruel people could be in their comments regarding the news articles. They took it as an opportunity to insult the Mormon faith, instead of expressing concern as any decent person would do. It was extra hurtful to me, because I knew what a good person my friend is. We need greater religious tolerance here in America. I appreciated Mitt Romney's speech this morning, I believe that there is a great need to accept others because of have in common as members of the human family, instead of focusing on differences in our beliefs and customs. Why can't we all just treat each other with respect?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Facebook Beacon: How far is too far?

Last week, online privacy concerns were raised to a new level as the tainted underpinnings of Facebook's Beacon advertising system were exposed. Now as Facebook tries to save face, the important question that everyone online needs to ask is how far is too far? The public is now beginning to see that when you are online, it is quite possible that the whole world might be able to see what you are doing at a given moment. Publishing your latest movie rental or recipe might not seem like a huge deal, but given enough data points and you can turn a lot of harmless information into something quite harmful. For instance, knowing that an anonymous online user speaks Japanese does nothing to help you identify that specific person. But combine that with the information that the user's hometown is some small, mostly Caucasian town in the middle of America and you can probably figure out who that supposedly "anonymous" user is. I'm pretty sure that Facebook did not have bad intentions, but other people will. Facebook is not a small company, how many other people on the web are following your every move? Do you care? In general, we are willing to sacrifice a little privacy for better service in our behalf. But it begs the question, for you how far is too far?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Mitt the Mormon" for President

Check out the front page of today and the first thing you'll see is a picture of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, accompanied by the words "Boxers, briefs or Mormon underwear." The author of the article, Christopher Hitchens, insists that Romney should feel obligated to discuss his Mormon faith. Hitchens spends the majority of the article accusing Mitt Romney of being a racist, a fraud and a leader of the "mad cult" of Mormonism. The article is blatantly bigoted, packed with half-truths and empty accusations. Hitchens wears his feelings on his sleeve and expects that Romney should as well. Essentially he is asking Romney to center his political campaign upon a religion which Hitchens obviously abhors. In his eyes it's not Mitt Romney but "Mitt the Mormon" running for President. I personally believe, and Mitt Romney does as well, that the President of the United States should be elected based on what they would do for the country, not based on the church they attend. Martin Luther King Jr. hoped that one day his children would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." The same type of argument should apply to all people of faith, be they Methodist, Mormon or Muslim.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oceans Away?

Last Friday an estimated 200 million people tuned in to watch a regular season basketball game between the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks. That's twice the number of people that watched the Superbowl this year. Who were all these viewers? The game took place in Houston but most of the viewers were found on the other side of the world in China. Friday night was the first meeting of Yao and Yi. When you think of China, the first thing that comes to mind isn't basketball. But Yao Ming and Yi Jianlin are breaking the mold and bringing basketball to the attention of mainland China. It is one example of how connecting the world together has changed the way we live.

In the past oceans and mountains, languages and customs made the world seem enormous. But fiber optic cables and satellites have brought us to the realization that "it's a small world after all." The internet is an amazing thing, my site statistics shows recent visitors to this blog from India, Canada, Chile, England, France, Italy, Vietnam, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania, Germany, Israel and Greece. It's never been so easy for ideas to be dispersed throughout the earth. Some people, citing examples like last Friday's basketball game, think that this means "Americanizing the whole world. They say that before we know it everyone will be chomping down Big Macs and singing along with Garth Brooks. I don't think so. Although the cultures of the world will continue to intertwine, they will continue to have their own distinct flavor.

Even here in America we appreciate and assimilate the good of other cultures into our own. Drive down University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota and there are probably four Vietnamese restaurants selling "pho" (beef noodle soup) on every street corner. For years, destitute Hmong refugees in Thailand have hand stitched "pa ndau" (Hmong flower cloth) to send to their relatives in America, where the intricate handiwork is then sold to admiring American collectors. Due largely to the internet, we have unprecedented opportunities to be exposed to unique new forms of art, music and food. Countries all over the world will be able to embrace light and truth, regardless of where it comes from.

The internet has also provided a way for cultures to retain their distinct flavor. Wikipedia has articles in over two hundred languages, evidence that the internet is no longer just an American thing. It is providing a new forum for individuals to communicate in their own language and share information vital to their cultural identity. It is also helping to change the way the world does business. As more and more countries begin to establish their place in the global economy, individuals are able to be successful while remaining in their own countries. These changes suggest that although Beijing and Boston may be only an email away, they can still be an ocean apart culturally.

Why be afraid of the direction the world is moving? We shouldn't feel that our cultural identity is in danger. I am just excited to see what the world has to offer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Music in the 21st Century

Pretending that things are the same as they've always been can be dangerous. When I think music in the 21st century I think digital. But the music industry is so busy remembering how they made money in the past that they are dragging their feet to join the rest of us in the future. I'm sure that when Henry Ford started pumping out Model T's the people who sold horses and buggies weren't too happy about what it meant for their business. But ignoring new problems does not make them disappear. The music industry has two choices, either adapt and find new ways to make a profit or sit back and watch their share of the market disappear. They are on the losing end of the legal war over digital media and the key is to jump ship while they still can.

The rise of digital music can not be ignored. Napster, Audiogalaxy and Kazaa were some of the first to come pounding on the doors of record companies. They each faced legal problems, but each lawsuit brought the issue of digital rights and the potential of digital music more into the public eye. Along came iPod and iTunes, which helped mp3 players and digital music become part of the mainstream. It was legal and backed by Apple, but there was still the problem of digital rights. Customers asked the question "I purchased it, why am I restricted in how I use it?" Now with Amazon opening up a DRM-free music store, and others including iTunes following suit, the customer can use their music for any of their personal needs without the previous restrictions. All of this spells trouble for the "conventional" music industry.

The move to mp3 can still be profitable for the music industry. It requires a shift in business strategies. All of the music I own is legal. Nearly all of it was purchased because I discovered the band, album or song on the web. If used properly the web can be just another way to promote music. For example, I use the web service Ruckus, which gives college students access to free and legal mp3 downloads. There are a few restrictions, it is only free for college students, the music can't be burned to a CD or put on an mp3 player, and the license for a song must be renewed each month. But none of that bothers me too much. Whenever I find something that I really like on Ruckus, I buy it so I can throw it on my mp3 player and burn it to CD. Friends have always shared tapes and CDs with each other, the music industry counts on that to increase their sales. Why not try and find some way to promote the same type of sharing on the web? When someone purchases an mp3 let them "lend" it out to a limited number of friends for a specified amount of time. Take advantage of the connections people are making online. Web 2.0 is all about social networking. It is about staying connected with others and sharing ideas. The record companies could exploit those channels for their own gain if they put some real thought and effort into it instead of wasting time suing their potential customers. The tear filled eyes of a working single mom are never good for PR. It is time for the music industry to clean up their act and catch up with the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mourn with those who mourn

I was impressed a few weeks back by students at Brigham Young University students who protested against the violent treatment and arrests of Buddhist monks in Burma (Myanmar). More than anything I was grateful to be made aware of how I could take action to help prevent further injustices by being directed to a website that suggested solutions. I just don't feel right knowing that a government has locked up and potentially even killed comedians and monks for peacefully protesting and that everyone I know doesn't even have a clue. We are so blessed as Americans to enjoy the freedom we have, but sometimes we can be so oblivious to the pain of those who don't enjoy the same blessings. Whenever I read about US soldiers losing their lives in Iraq it tugs at my heart. But it also sickens me that every time I get to the bottom of the article I find one sentence that reports the deaths of dozens of Iraqi civilians also killed in senseless acts of violence. The Washington Post recently published the results of a study that found an estimated 500 unexpected violent deaths of Iraqis are occurring everyday. How can we as human beings be so filled with hate for each other? And how is it that so many are unaware? Is it because we have more pressing concerns like the latest Hollywood hookup or celebrity DUI. Knowledge precedes action. We as Americans can do more to learn and care about the sufferings of others in this world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What is radianrss-1.0?

Just curious to see if anyone out has been receiving hits from radianrss-1.0 or knows what it is. It has retrieved content from my blog fairly often over the past few weeks, but querying it on google didn't yield many clues into what exactly it is. The only discussion I have seen about it were on these two blogs.

Blog 1
Blog 2

Anyone know anything about this?

Why do we do what we do?

Picture a computer programmer in your mind. Have one? Was it a man or a woman? Chances are it was a man. The numbers also support it, a large majority of college graduates in computer science are male. Why is it that men are drawn to computer science in far larger crowds than women? My first thought was, "Oh, that's easy, men and women are just intellectually different. Girls do English, guys do math." But on second thought I decided that much of that is just societal expectations. I think that women are just as prepared intellectually to excel in math and the sciences as men (having seen it firsthand in my classes). But I don't think we can just pass the whole thing off on societal expectations. I consulted the source of my knowledge regarding womankind, my fiance. Her opinion was that it was not the abilities, but the desires which are inherent to woman that steer them to areas other than computer science. She believes that women generally have an increased desire to care for and nurture others. They have a desire to witness first hand the positive effect they have on the life of another. Hence we have the large numbers of female teachers, therapists and nurses. I think she might be on to something. While the gap between the genders continues to narrow, there is something that will always make us different. It may not be so much in what we can and can't do, but more in what we want to do.

PS. Read the title of this post 10 times fast...sounds almost musical doesn't it? Sorry, couldn't help myself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bad, Worse, Worst

The article above brings up the parallels between the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq. It shows that the devastating effects of a war may last far beyond its last battle. Everyone has heard that there are two sides to every story. With regards to war, I think that two sides may not be nearly enough to tell the whole story. I have heard firsthand the horrific stories of ethnic cleansing experienced by the Hmong in Laos both during and after the war. Yet most Americans are oblivious to the essential role Hmong soldiers, including child "soldiers" like the ones in this picture, played in defending and rescuing American troops. They are unaware that Hmong people today in Laos still suffer repercussions of their decision to side with America. The effects of war can not be measured simply by the number of casualties. That is why we must be careful about any decision we make or position we take. Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke last month on the good, better, and best ways to make decisions. When it comes to war, I think it is usually a matter of bad, worse and worst.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lock the doors to Facebook

The other night my friend's car was broken into. His iPod, camera and check book were all stolen. All the windows were intact, he had simply forgotten to lock his doors. Before he even realized what had hit him, he had also lost nearly 600 dollars from his bank account. Carelessness can cost. No one would deliberately leave their car doors unlocked overnight in the middle of the city. Nor would anyone leave their credit card just laying out on the front porch. Or stash their personal diary away at the local public library for anyone who was curious. But many people do similar things everyday on the internet without giving it a second thought. Sometimes we need to be careful to lock the door behind us.

For instance, that same friend moved in with me a few months back. He had never heard of Facebook, so I put in a plug for it, saying something to the effect that Facebook was the social network where you could feel safe about your information. Four months later, by checking out his Facebook profile you can find out his age, hometown, birthday, cell phone number, email address, religion, apartment complex, current place of employment and even that his car was recently broken into. This doesn't even include the information you could glean from the hundreds of pictures and posts on his wall. And all that information is available for anyone at our university to peruse or abuse. Even information that seems inconsequential can be dangerous if put in the hands of someone with malicious intent. You never know who is looking at your profile.

Two years ago, students at MIT conducted a fascinating study on privacy concerns and Facebook. Two things stood out to me. 1. How easy it was for them to find a way to retrieve large amounts of information . 2. How much information people allowed to be publicly available. This study was conducted before Facebook was open to all comers and before the Facebook API was released. Both of these changes bring additional risks to those using Facebook. There is also growing concern with regards to law enforcement, school administration, and employers using information against Facebook users. And you never know which online predators are creeping around your profile. All of this suggests to me that Facebook might not be as safe as I suggested to my friend that it was. Facebook is just one example of the potential dangers we face with Web 2.0.

Ultimately in a system designed for sharing information there is bound to be some leaks, regardless of the precautions taken to guard the system. Although I do believe that companies have a moral responsibility to do more to warn and protect their users, when it comes down to it, users really need to be more defensive of their information. We can learn two lessons from my unlucky friend. First, lock the doors. Choose an intelligent password. Be careful to log out when using public computers. Don't share private information in public ways. Second, don't leave valuables where they may be vulnerable. If my friend hadn't left possessions worth hundreds of dollars in his car then not locking the door wouldn't have mattered much. If information about yourself could be harmful in the wrong hands, then the only way to make sure it doesn't get there is by not publishing it online in the first place. So next time, make sure to lock the doors and bring in anything you don't want to lose.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Purser Family

Chances are you've probably never met someone with my last name, Purser. Other than my extended family I never have either. They are out there somewhere though. I know because there are 124 of us in the Facebook group "Famous Pursers." The group is dedicated to helping to link the Purser clan by providing an open forum for information sharing. It is a small example of the expansion of family history work going on over the Internet. The desire to know where you came from is more than just a curiosity, it comes from the deep emotional ties we feel to our family. The Internet not only provides an overwhelming amount of information for those wondering about their predecessors, but also an easy way to discover and collaborate with distant living relatives who are also searching for their ancestors. The potential of social networking in family history even caught the eye of the New York Times last year. The wealth and ease of information and relationships available on the internet is just what is needed to perform family history. Social networking will help us connect back to the original social network, the family.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

LDS General Conference

I'd encourage all of you who either don't know what LDS General Conference is, or do but weren't planning on watching to tune in today. You can find it on the internet here. There are sessions Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon. A member of the twelve Apostles will be called and there will be plenty of excellent counsel. I look forward to it every year as an opportunity to hear the word of God for us today and discover what ways I can improve. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments wouldn't you have liked to have been there. Tune in today because God takes as much interest in the world today as he did then.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Can you understand me?

A month back I flew to Minnesota for my sister's wedding reception. On my way to Denver, where I had a layover, I sat next to an old Chinese couple. It didn't take long to realize that all the English they knew was "hello" and "yes." They were really excited when I used the half dozen Chinese words in my vocabulary, but they soon realized my Chinese skills were about as good as their English skills. Our conversation ended before the plane even got into the air.

I began learning the Hmong language four years ago . For those who don't know, the Hmong people are a racial minority found throughout Southeast Asia, and hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees now live in the United States. During a 4 hour rain delay in Denver I overheard a Hmong family talking together. Fearlessly I walked up, greeted them in Hmong and we engaged in an hour long conversation in their own language. I've since reflected on what an impact communication can have on how you view people. I'm sure that the Chinese couple and Hmong couple were similar in many ways, including their desires and needs. Yet the way I viewed the Hmong couple was completely different than the way I had viewed the Chinese couple earlier that morning. The way we view someone is shaped largely by our communication with them. It is hard to relate with someone if you can't understand what they're saying.

When I first began to study computer science, sometimes what I learned in class may as well have been Chinese. I had little experience before college with computer programming and the topics I learned in class occasionally flew right by me. Today I am much more comfortable with "tech talk" but I remain aware of how difficult it can be for those not involved in technology related fields to keep up. When discussing technology to others who aren't technically inclined I try to make it sound to them like I'm speaking English and not Chinese. John Taylor said "it is true intelligence for a man to take a subject that is mysterious and great in itself, and to unfold and simplify it so that a child can understand it." This principle applies to all of us in the tech field, so let's remember it the next time we are tempted to assault others with a barrage of words like multiplexer and megabytes. Because to them a "mega bite" might just be a really big mouthful of food.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chill Pill

A few weeks back I moved into a new apartment. There was a long line in the office to get keys, parking passes, pay rent, etc. As I stood in line there were probably around half a dozen parents who came in livid because the apartments their kids moved into weren't perfect and they wanted them fixed that very instant. I was left wondering how they could be so oblivious to the situation. 1) It's the start of the semester so everyone is moving in and they have a million things to do. 2) One look at the employees tells you they aren't the owners, they are just college kids trying to make a few bucks. 3) A faulty light bulb or dirty bathtub is not the end of the world. These parents weren't just in there letting them know about the problems, they were angry and upset, demanding to see the managers and spouting out threats. Now I understand about making sure you get what you pay for, but you also have to be realistic. If you were shelling out a thousand dollars a month for rent then you could expect your apartment to be perfect, but we're paying 250, what do you expect?

It makes me think that, at least here in America, many of us tend to think the world revolves around us. I came across a website with a collection of dumb lawsuits from the past few years. From suing coaches because you warmed the bench all season to suing department stores because you got injured in a fight over one of their products, Americans have done it all. I think it all stems from a selfish desire to not be accountable for our actions. Combine that with the fact that we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we are blind to the situations of others, and you have the type of society we live in today. The type of society with page after page of legal documentation attempting to keep your money in your own wallet. Sometimes we might just need to take a chill pill and realize we're not the only ones with problems.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mitt Romney

Interesting editorial about Mitt Romney and the new challenges he faces as a Mormon running for President. It mentions the influence of books ("Under the Banner of Heaven"), television ("HBO's "Big Love") and movies ("September Dawn") in casting a bad light on Mormonism. Much of the opposition that Romney faces is because of false or incomplete information. Emphasizing what I said earlier about using what we have, it is important to spread correct information. A few months back I heard a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak about the revised Church websites and how one of the reasons for the changes was that the Church wanted to be the first source of information with regards to its teachings. They do not want someone to google "mormon" and have the first website that pops up be anti-Mormon. It is easy to get your message out on the web, but this ease should make you question the validity of what you read. With so much false information on the web and in the media it is vital to get your information from reliable sources. For people like Mitt Romney the battle against false information could be one of the key factors to success.

Anxiously Engaged

Last week Joel Dehlin, the CIO of the LDS Church came to class and spoke to us about the Church's use of technology. The biggest thing I got out of it was the desire to use the technological talents I've been blessed with. The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith that members of the Church should use the talents they have to move forward the work of God. The blessings promised them were that they would not only improve the talents they had, but gain new talents, even an hundred fold. This year I am helping to translate the LDS Church's General Conference into Hmong. It is a powerful experience to witness a simultaneous translation into over 80 different languages and to realize that it is done largely by volunteers who receive no benefit other than knowing they are using their talents to move forward the work of God. When we feel passionately about something we should be willing to give something of ourselves to that cause. I felt that in my life this past week as I realized my shortcomings in using my technological talents to further God's work. For those who are tech-savvy members of the LDS Church I think we could be doing more. Joel Dehlin encouraged us to get involved in the Church's online community at And for all of us, let's use the talents and skills we possess to benefit the causes we care the most about. The world needs fewer people who just talk the talk and more who walk the walk.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drowning in Information

The past day I spent some time thinking . Novel idea eh? I ignored the googles and the wikipedias of the world and faced my own thoughts and feelings. In doing so I realized how much the way we live out our lives parallels the frenzied pace of the world around us. When I was two years old my family made the 10 hours drive from Salt Lake to Phoenix. I was content to spend the whole time giggling as I played with a simple Sesame Street toy. Fast-forwarding twenty years finds me barely able to make the 10 minute walk to campus without headphones plugged into my ears or to eat dinner without flipping through dozens of tv channels. What happened? In part I've gotten so wrapped up into doing "something" that I replaced the actual "somethings" in my life with a bunch of inconsequential "nothings." Honestly, five years down the road I won't be thanking my lucky stars that I was able to listen to Miss Teen South Carolina's ramblings on Youtube or that I found out from ESPN about the latest athlete to be involved with steroids. Instead I think I'll be wishing I had spent more time discovering who I am and what I feel about life. We need to get better acquainted with the newest stranger in town, ourselves. Information is a liability until we start to do more than run to and fro picking up and dropping the nuggets that abound in the "Golden Age of Information."