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.