Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feelings of inadequacy at Christmastime

It doesn't take a whole lot to excite me, so the glitz of Christmastime is more than enough. I love the lights and the music and everything else that's shiny. But Christmastime can be a downer, too.

I love to serve people. I can't think of a thing that makes me happier than putting a smile on a friend's face. I try to find and to meet others' needs every day, regardless of the month.

During the month of December, the people around me seem to catch the vision. Everyone knows about opportunities to serve and takes them. People become so generous and happy. And I feel exactly the same, so I think that I'm falling behind.

This feeling, of course, is not a positive one. It reflects a desire to excel ( Its premise doesn't even make sense; it is based on an oversimplified comparison that I make between myself and others. I can't possibly know enough about my own psyche to adequately compare myself to anything and certainly can't know others' thoughts well enough to compare.

My feelings of inadequacy at Christmastime demonstrate a need for me to improve: to improve my attitude and to rid myself of the habit of comparing myself to others. Pres. Eyring suggested a healthier way to improve (found here): I can compare myself with myself at times past. If I am improving, then so will my feelings at Christmastime. My hope is to continue to build on my strengths without trying to make myself better than anyone except my past self. I am confident that if I do so consistently, each Christmastime will truly be brighter than the last.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reflections on seminary teaching

As part of a class (and so that I could gather information for my decision about a career - see my previous post) I taught a seminary class for two weeks. In summary, I loved the first week, but I thought that I could have been more exciting. And during the weekend between the two weeks, I decided that I would teach computer science as a career (as opposed to seminary).

On Tuesday of the second week, I taught about Mosiah, chapters 3-6 (in the Book of Mormon). I wanted to be more exciting than I had been, but those chapters are very sacred because they testify directly of Jesus Christ. It's easy to have fun with historical chapters of scripture, but those chapters are a king and prophet's final words to his people. The class was attentive, but I could tell that it wasn't terribly exciting to them.

Then, on Thursday, the students filled out feedback forms about my teaching. Afterward, I taught Mosiah 7-10. These chapters were mostly historical and we had some fun with them. The class broke up into four groups and each group took one of the stories found in those chapters. Two of the groups told the class their story by skit and the other two drew diagrams on the board and explained. I think they had fun, and then we wrapped up.

When I got home after teaching, I took a moment to read my feedback. I was surprised (and so were my friends) to see that my comments consistently told me to be more interesting or enthusiastic. One student told me to have a personality!

It took me a little while to assure myself that I did actually have a personality. Since then, I've done a lot of thinking.

I thought about the necessary balance between information and entertainment. If I focus on teaching and spend no time trying to make my presentation interesting, I can communicate more information. On the other hand, efforts to make my presentation entertaining help students to pay attention (and learn as a result).

I also thought about how people teach and learn at BYU, as far as I have been able to observe. The general rule is that it is the students' responsibility to learn and the teachers' to teach. If the students don't pay attention, that's their problem.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm curious. I don't just try to learn. I fight to learn. That said, I have a lot of trouble staying awake in lots of my classes. Part of this is the fact that I don't make myself sleep enough at nighttime. But part of it is because many of my teachers focus at conveying information. They're good at it, but there isn't much flair in their presentation. Even though I really want to learn, I have trouble paying attention when classes are boring.

And if I, who am extraordinarily curious, cannot learn as well from boring (but informative) classes as I can from entertaining classes, then I definitely must learn to teach in an entertaining manner. After all, the point of teaching is students' learning.

Since it will take me a few years to receive a PhD, I won't be teaching for a little while. I'd still recommend that you brace yourself now, though. This is a lesson that I intend to apply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How I finally decided on a career

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to decide for some months between two different career options: teaching seminary and teaching computer science. I needed to answer two questions: which of the two I wanted to do and which, if either, God would have me do. I came to know early on that it was my decision to make. So I gathered information and thought deeply and often about the advantages of either choice.

As part of this decision-making process, I taught a seminary class for the last two weeks. I couldn't believe how great my students were. They were attentive, helped each other, and really wanted to learn about the gospel. I had fun getting to know them and trying to be the best teacher I could be for their specific needs.

Halfway through my two weeks, we discussed the first two chapters of the Book of Mosiah (in the Book of Mormon). I thought I'd been a little too dry, so I tried to make the lesson a bit more entertaining than my previous two. My efforts were moderately successful, and I thought the lesson went extremely well.

As I left the building, I thought about how much I loved teaching these students. It's challenging and fun. I realized that the single thing I love most about teaching seminary is the feeling I get when I teach the gospel. The Holy Spirit testifies of truth, and it testifies most strongly when we learn something new or when we teach others (see,22#21). As I thought about it, I realized that I recognized the feeling from the countless times I've taught others about the truths I know and hold dear, formally and informally. It was the same feeling I enjoyed in those particularly good lessons on the mission, in the devotionals I taught to my participants at EFY, and in conversations with friends. I realized that because I have no plans to stop living and talking about the gospel, I have no reason to suppose that I'll stop having opportunities to teach the gospel.

This realization meant that the largest motivation I had to teach seminary over any other career was largely irrelevant. I hadn't yet decided, but I immediately recognized that this would be an important consideration in my decision.

Towards the end of the week, I talked with a professor and friend of mine. I don't remember what we were discussing, but I remember that we touched on some research I'd heard about last year that was a collaboration between electrical engineers and classicists. I remember thinking that perhaps my niche could be to encourage such collaboration between departments and colleges. I thought that I would only be able to fill this particular niche if I decided to pursue a career in computer science. As with my previously mentioned consideration, I filed the fact away for further consideration without making a decision in the moment.

The next day, I went to the temple. I had a moment to sit and think and pray. I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss what I'd learned with God and to ask Him to help me to gather the information I would need in order to make a reasonable decision. I had expected a long, drawn-out process over the course of the next several months. So I was floored when I had the distinct impression that God told me that He'd already given me all the information I needed. I thought for a moment, made a decision, and told Him about it. He accepted and approved of my decision.

I am now preparing for a career as a professor of computer science.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Intellectual Property

The Constitution of the United States of America states that
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”
(Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8). All intellectual property law (IP law) in the United States of America may exist because of this clause. The purpose of such protection is to promote science and "useful arts" by ensuring that creators can control their creations, presumably for remunerative purposes, while also ensuring that other creators may build upon others' ideas after a reasonable period.

While I support creators' right to remuneration, I think that current copyright law is excessive:
“As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first”
( It is my opinion that current copyright law protects works for such a long period of time that it fails to comply with the purpose stated in the U.S. Constitution.

Worse still, there are (serious) discussions about extending it further:
"As you know there is also Jack Valenti's proposal for [copyrights] to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress"
(California congresswoman Mary Bono, Congressional Record: I recognize that this may not seem ludicrous to those who aren't mathematicians, so I'll explain: forever is an infinite period of time, or an infinite number of days. An infinite number minus one is still an infinite number. Infinite periods of time, of course, are not limited. The implementation of "forever less one day" in law would directly contradict the clause in the Constitution that allows Congress to create IP laws in the first place.

Although I think that there is a need for serious reform in intellectual property, we are still bound to obey these laws. In words that are binding on Latter-day Saints, who believe them to literally be the words of God though a modern prophet, and that are solid political theory for anyone,
"We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. ... We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience"
(D&C 134:2,5:,5#2). My personal interpretation is that the rights mentioned in the first section (freedom of conscience, property, and life) are the inalienable rights mentioned in the latter part. Therefore, those of us who have these rights protected (and I submit that every American does) are unjustified in any sedition or rebellion.

I have conversed with several friends who feel that violations of IP law are not harmful to others. Some even say that by disobeying IP law, they are fighting an evil or ineffective organization. Their resistance, they say, makes the world a better place. I have heard several references to civil disobedience.

When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led Indians in civil disobedience, he outlined rules for their behavior. I quote some of them here (from
  • A civil resister will express no anger.
  • When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities.
  • A civil resister may not salute the Union Flag, but he will not insult it or officials, English or Indian.
  • In the course of the struggle if anyone insults an official or commits an assault upon him, a civil resister will protect such official or officials from the insult or attack even at the risk of his life.
Although Gandhi's followers were instructed to never express anger, they were instructed to defend their oppressors against physical and verbal abuse, even at the risk of their own lives.

As they resisted, many suffered severe punishments. In protest against a tax imposed by England on salt in India, civil resisters marched towards Dharasana as part of what is now called the Salt Satyagraha. Retribution was swift and harsh (from Webb Miller's report from May 21, Martin, p. 38., see also

"Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow. Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down."

Those who violate IP law today are unlikely to meet physical violence. They may encounter legal prosecution and litigation.

To those who consider civil disobedience, I submit that:
  • Civil disobedience is effective because third parties become aware of it and apply pressure to the powers that create or enforce the laws in question.
  • Civil disobedience will be ineffective unless it holds to the principles quoted above, including willingness to be arrested for such disobedience.
  • Physical and verbal retaliation destroy the validity of any civil disobedience. Any statement at all weakens it; the Salt Satyagraha was effective because outsiders spoke about it.
  • Civil disobedience against laws that do not violate citizens' inalienable rights will fail to impress third parties and will therefore fail to change the behavior of the people who create and enforce laws.
I encourage my friends and colleagues to willingly obey all intellectual property laws, even the ones that fail to comply with the Constitution. I also encourage all of my friends and colleagues to promote laws and measures to bring IP law into harmony with the true principles upon which it is based.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Even Spiderman...

I frequently hear comments about myself. People say things like "Petey can talk with anyone," "Well, he's Petey - of course he can [insert action here]," and "Petey is always happy." Not knowing what to say, I usually content myself with a quip about people thinking that I have superpowers.

I'll leave the debate about superpowers for another day, as it is irrelevant to this post.

My point is that, superpowers or no, even superheroes can't do it all. Spiderman failed to save his girlfriend's life (see Superman even died (see! And Petey absolutely cannot do it all - I have limitations.

I'll digress long enough to explain that although I am usually cheerful, I am not always happy. Even people who seem happy are not always happy. Please take time to be kind to everyone, including the people who don't seem like they need it.

I was up late doing homework the last couple of nights. As a result, I slept in a little later than I'd hoped to be up this morning. I got up in time for my busy day: I was going to start at 9am and likely have no breaks in church-related and other meetings and social events until about 7pm, with a short break around 5pm for dinner. I got up at 8am, which was enough time to be ready to go at 9am. As so commonly happens, something came up that I didn't expect and I didn't get any breakfast by my first appointment in the morning.

For those who aren't aware, I am hypoglycemic and am under doctor's orders to eat regularly and healthily. By 10am, I was already feeling the effects of low blood sugar and knew that I wouldn't be worth much to anyone - including myself - if I didn't get something to eat. The only optional event in my schedule began at 10am, so I bowed out of one of my favorite Sunday activities: going to a hospital to sing hymns to those who want them. Instead, I ate breakfast and wrote an email to my little brother, who is a missionary in Florida.

As much as I want to be a good student, serve others, and perform well in every aspect of my life, I can't do everything. I sure wish I could, though. I guess it's time to let go.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the other hand,

During my first year of college, I had four classes with another guy named Peter. Enough other people had classes in common with us that they had to distinguish between us. I became known as Pete the Loud. My friend (who is now my roommate) became Pete the Other.

I lived up to my nickname, although I tried not to be overwhelming. I'm sure I failed, but the people I hung out with seemed to like me well enough. By the end of the year, I thought of myself as a pretty popular guy.

The following summer, I reported to the Provo Missionary Training Center as I began my two-year mission to Brazil. Within a week of my arrival, I had two companions instead of one - and one of them (as far as I could tell) didn't like me at all. In fact, my district (class) generally seemed to dislike me. By the end of my nine weeks of training, I had started to think that I wasn't likable at all.

I thought a lot about it. I learned a lot. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, I have rounded off some of the rough edges that caused so much irritation to those who rubbed shoulders with me.

But this week, I started to notice some of the same things. People didn't seem to want to have me in their classes. I said something without meaning to offend and noticed that it seemed to bother the person I addressed. And lots of people, whose behavior had seemed entirely normal before, seemed now to be polite without demonstrating interest in my friendship.

I recognize that much of this could be in my head. I'm not concerned enough about people's opinion of me (especially if it's based on too few interactions for them to know me) for it to cause me deep anguish. All the same, it started me thinking about the things that I do and say that bother other people. Once I discover what it is that I do that's bothersome to my friends and acquaintances, I can begin to discover if these frictions are due to innocent personality conflict or my own character flaws.

I hope that my discoveries will help me to round off more rough edges. I hope that the people I know will have the courage to tell me when I bother them and help me to understand why my actions are irritating to them.

I also hope that we will all take time to express our positive feelings for each other, for positive feedback is sometimes as effective as tactful negative feedback.

I would like to conclude with a note of gratitude for those who love me for who I am now, foibles included. I am grateful to know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me despite my faults and who communicates frankly with me to show me what I need to change about myself. I have seen it before, so I know that as I give my best efforts, He will change me into a fundamentally better person.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stumbling into life aspirations

This summer, I knew that I had one year left in my undergraduate education and that the time to make a decision about my career was fast approaching. I've been torn for some time between two different career paths: teaching in a seminary and teaching at a university. I love to teach the gospel, so seminary teaching appeals very much to me. That said, I love teaching just about anything. I'd be able to provide more for my family as a professor than as a seminary teacher, and I think that teaching computer science would be a great use of my natural logical abilities.

Seminary teaching would not require an advanced degree, but computer science teaching would. Since I'm not yet sure which way I'll go, I've been preparing for both eventualities. That means that I took the GRE this summer and that I started to look into research opportunities, TAships, and signed up for the next seminary teaching class. I hope that as I try these things out, I'll have a better idea of what to do.

Besides the question of which career path I'd like to take, the route of computer science requires an answer to another question: what will be my emphasis? I enjoy many aspects of computer science, but although I tried to familiarize myself with many of the current topics in CS, I failed to find something that I was sure I wanted to study indefinitely. A research topic was the subject of much thought, study, and prayer throughout the summer.

I started doing some research with a professor who taught one of my classes last year. I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to research, but some of his work sounded interesting and I decided that I'd never know unless I tried. So I decided to jump in. I started my research in parallelization on Thursday.

Towards the end of my first few hours in the lab, a man came by and spoke with my advisor briefly. The two of them left shortly thereafter for some sort of meeting. Someone pointed out that the man who had just walked past was featured on a flyer in the hallway. His research sounded interesting, but I figured I wouldn't see him.

I left a few minutes later. I passed an auditorium as I was leaving the building and noticed my advisor speaking in the front. He was introducing Matthew Might, the man whose research had sounded so interesting. I slipped in the back and noticed another professor and friend of mine seated nearby and sat next to him.

As Dr. Might spoke, I quickly became fascinated. Fireworks began to explode in my brain: he was talking about something that really made sense - something that I could actually study for my whole life!

In the midst of the pyrotechnic spectacle, the professor seated next to me leaned over and asked if I would TA for him. I had decided during the summer that I didn't have time to TA, no matter how qualified I was or how much I wanted the experience. My initial reaction was that I had no time, although I wanted to accept. While still observing the shooting stars that seemed to originate from somewhere near the projector screen in the front of the room, I tried to come up with a way to fit a job as a TA into my schedule.

I suddenly realized that I would most likely be able to count my research as a class and drop another, thereby freeing up more time than I would spend as a TA. A brilliant, smiley-faced shape erupted in the sky, accompanied by a resounding cannonade.

I asked the questions, filled out the paperwork, and made the changes to my schedule that were necessary to accommodate all of this.

I'm tempted to think of this as happenstance, but I know better. The Lord heard each of my prayers this summer and answered quickly and powerfully. In so doing, He reminded me that He is watching over me and will always act for my benefit. I know that God loves me enough to show me wonderful opportunities. By extension, I know that He loves all of His children in the same way.

Explanatory note

I originally created this blog so that people who were a long ways away could know how I was recovering from a jaw surgery that I had about a year and a half ago.

I've since fully recovered and haven't been blogging.

I decided that it's now time to start recording the Adventures-o-Petey(TM) without limiting them to just the adventures that relate to particular medical procedures.

In short, it's time for Petey to start blogging for realsies.