Friday, December 30, 2011

Let there be light

The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other scriptural texts are full of symbolism that uses light. God is light and uses light; those who oppose Him work in darkness (see the links in this sentence for some examples). I've noticed a phrase that is used repeatedly in the Book of Mormon: "God worketh not in darkness." Of course, we are encouraged to emulate Him.

There are many ways to apply this idea. I'd like to focus on honesty and openness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Different ways of looking at programming

People are frequently mystified by the fact that I do things with computers. From their reactions, you'd think that because I program, I'm some sort of intellectual demigod. When I talk with them a little more, it becomes clear to me that many people don't know what programming is like, so they imagine something much more difficult and specialized than it is (it turns out that your computer is not made out of magic, despite this amusing article).

As is the case with any profession, it takes a lot of work to do it right. I'm not minimizing the training that other programmers and I have received. But we're not superhuman - even if most of us claim to be.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The problem with girl power

I’m all about empowering women. Those who know me well know this. Lots of people seem to see the same issues that I see. At least, they see some of what I see. It’s common for people to promote women’s rights in print (both physical and virtual), in movies, and in music. I’m all for it. But popular statements about girl power are frequently counterproductive to the empowerment of women.

Allow me to illustrate with some lyrics from Beyoncé, Shania Twain, and Rihanna.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Flirting today

Flirting is hard these days. It's not that there aren't good people to meet. It's not just that flirting has always been hard. There are societal effects in place today that add difficulty that, to my knowledge, has never existed before. Please forgive me as I indulge in stereotypes – and don’t wear the shoe if it doesn’t fit.

Men have to deal with the possibility of being branded as "creepy." A man becomes creepy when he violates social protocol, as it is perceived by others. This is frequently unfair to the men in question: as much as we’d like to think that there are universal standards, or even societal standards, everyone is a little different and has different rules. We all communicate differently (in fact, I have an entire blog post about it), so a woman may reject a man in a way that is both clear and gentle to her, but that doesn’t communicate rejection to him at all. The fault here belongs to both parties, but calling him a "creeper" places all the blame on him. To further complicate matters, men are encouraged to break social protocol for the women they love – as long as he doesn’t go too far, a man can express sincerity by going beyond social norms. But it only works when she’s interested; if not, going beyond is unquestionably creepy.

Some women experience something remarkably similar;

Friday, October 21, 2011

The attention span I never had

I was bored a lot as a kid. And I do mean a lot. It seemed like adults always just wanted me to be quiet and not bother them. It chafed, but I wasn't in much of a position to argue. As the fictional Valentine put it in Ender's Game, "They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice" (p. 127).

My mind works really fast. It always has. I'm sure this contributed to the interminable nature of each car ride, church meeting, class, or social gathering. I'm reminded of something Data tells Captain Picard: "0.68 seconds sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity." (Star Trek: First Contact - Maybe all the other kids were just as bored as I was. I'm not sure. But having a quick mind definitely didn't help.

It may be surprising to some of my readers that school bored me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The forest for the trees

I’ve lived in Utah for several years now and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard about Logan Canyon in the fall, but I hadn’t seen Logan Canyon in the fall since I was young – probably about 12. And my brother lives in Logan, which means that I really had no excuse to miss out. Since I’m on fall break, I drove up to Logan and my brother and I drove up the canyon. We went for a little hike and drove around and talked.
I was surprised by the colors; they weren’t as vibrant as I remembered. I also was surprised by how sparse the coloring was; every brightly colored tree had a bunch of dying autumn grass around it. At first, I was a little disappointed – and then I had a thought: all of the colors together look like autumn. Subdued browns are as much a part of autumn as the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. They may not be as exciting or as aesthetically pleasing, but they are part of autumn – and there is beauty in that alone. I’m beginning to see what my roommate Jason has been so excited about since the air started getting brisk.
It’s hardly as if I don’t enjoy the beauty of autumn. And it’s hardly as if I don’t enjoy the cool, clean feeling of autumn’s morning air. But I know that these things precede the long, cold, dark winter, so the change in the weather has filled me with dread instead of with wonder. Now that I’ve seen autumn’s beauty more clearly, I wonder how much I’ve been missing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gently destroying walls

I spend a lot of my time visiting people. Sometimes I talk; sometimes I listen. As I'm unabashed about sharing my opinions and feelings, I think some people will be surprised to know that I enjoy listening. Of course, there are things that don't interest me: mindless chatter, pleasantries (especially in large amounts), and so on. But if you want to talk about something significant, you'll usually find that I'm a captive audience.

As I've realized how much I like to listen to people, I've learned to change my behavior in ways that encourage people to talk about the things that matter to them - and because those things matter to them, they matter to me. I've noticed that many people genuinely care about others but have trouble being satisfied with their conversations. I hope that my experiences will be useful to them. I also hope that my friends, especially those whose temperaments differ from my own, will add their thoughts in comments.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why I call myself Petey

My family doesn't really do nicknames. I think that it comes from my family's very proper culture (especially by Californian standards) and from my parents' desire to remind us of our Biblical namesakes. I'd been called Pedro occasionally as I grew up, but it never really stuck. "Stevie Wonders" didn't long outlast my brief moment of 4th-grade recess football glory. Everyone I knew called me Peter for my entire childhood.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I’m an old man: What I learned from Taylor Swift

I own copies of two Taylor Swift albums and a single. This is about as much as I own by any artist, excepting the Beatles. I'm pretty sure my liking for her music flies in the face of the stereotypes that are typically applied to me: most computer geeks don't (openly) listen to her, and I'm not sure that most men my age do, either. Despite the seeming incongruity, I love what she has done. She has a gift for melody and another for words. More importantly, her songs about love are usually about love and not lust - a sadly rare distinction but one that is very important to me.

As with the work of any artist, some of Taylor's works speak to me less than others. For example, I like that Mean fights back against abuse but think that the vengeful attitude it portrays won't solve the problem. I have a problem with The Way I Loved You because I've felt like the nice guy who finished last too many times. I don't really get the whole kissing in the rain thing (Taylor: feel free to contact me if you'd like to educate me). And some of her songs have rubbed me wrong because they are so wholly about emotion - and because they sometimes depict an unrealistic idea of emotional satisfaction. Being as left-brained as I am, this is fairly natural. But, at least in this last regard, I'm beginning to experience a change of heart.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Geeks in large groups

Three weeks ago, I attended CAV, an academic conference about formal verification (proving that computers actually do what we think they do). Yesterday, I attended a practice run for some of the talks that will be given at SIGGRAPH, a conference about computer graphics. Despite the fact that the two conferences treat very different topics, I had a very similar experience with both events. Some of my observations are of an academic nature. The rest are insights into geek culture.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

DRM only makes things worse

Intellectual property is a fiction that we create to encourage innovation. By fiction, I mean that it is contrary to the nature of ideas for them to be limited. Ironically, a system that protects intellectual property discourages innovation: because derivative works are one of many ways to diminish the value of a work, the right to create them must be restricted. The irony of limiting innovation to foster innovation should not be lost; however, without such limitation, innovators could not hope to benefit financially from their inventions. The idea is to strike a balance: limit knock-offs enough to encourage innovation but still allow innovators to build on each other's work.

In an attempt to create such a balance, the Constitution of the United States of America gives congress the right to create laws that give exclusive rights to creators for a limited period of time. The idea is that in that limited period of time, innovators can be rewarded. After the time period elapses, other people may innovate further, improving upon what has already been created.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Behind blue eyes


People look at me quizzically when I tell them that I had a nasty temper as a kid; if they've met me since junior high, they usually have a hard time imagining me being angry. The truth of the matter is that I did have a nasty temper when I was young and that I've changed dramatically in more recent years.

This post is very personal - I don't often talk about these things. But a conversation I had recently convinced me that my experiences might be beneficial to others. I hope that by writing this, I'll enable readers to help themselves or people they know to eradicate anger from their lives.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Other drivers aren't always sociopaths

Road rage is an interesting phenomenon: people who are usually level-headed become irritated - or even irate - when people drive poorly or aggressively around them. I've given some thought to road rage because  I've mostly removed anger as a part of my life, but I frequently get annoyed with other drivers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The neighbors’ grass

People are frequently surprised when they meet me at how open I am. I’ll share thoughts and feelings after knowing someone for only a few minutes. I don’t mind if people disagree with me; on the contrary, it can lead to interesting discussions and important learning. I try to encourage sincere communication. This is probably a major factor in the frankness I receive from other people.

But there are things that I don’t talk about much, especially in groups and especially with people I don’t know well. It’s not that I’m opposed to openness. I actually think that openness is a high ideal in communication. But there have been several occasions when I’ve tried to open up and been rebuffed. I remember multiple occasions when I’ve been told things like, “Petey, I just don’t believe that your problems can be as big as mine,” or, “But things always just work out in your life.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I sense much fear in you

While at my social dance group last night, I stopped to talk with a friend. In essence, she mentioned my lack of fear. To make her point, she observed that I am capable of performing an interpretive dance in front of my peers. She said so because she's seen it happen. I offered to talk to the DJ to give her the chance to do the same. Wide-eyed, she declined. I suppose that my exploits make me look fearless; after all, dancing strangely in front of one's peers can have unfortunate social consequences.
I think that I appear fearless because I'm willing to take uncommon risks: performing in front of people, stepping up in group situations, taking a long shot on asking someone out, and so on. But the more I think about my behavior and motives, the more I see fear lurking inside.
It isn't that I don't feel fear;

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On vocabulary

Americans (and people of several other cultures) are generally plagued with the notion that not knowing a word that a colleague uses is cause for embarrassment or even shame, as it implies a lack of education. In order to accommodate our fellows, we have taken to using a small vocabulary in order to not embarrass our fellows.

But not knowing a word is not an embarrassment; it is an opportunity to learn! We should enthusiastically embrace the chance to expand our lexicon – and, as a result, our ability to express ourselves. Our friends would hardly disown us for asking a question to further our own education. In fact, learning is among the choicest benefits of friendship.

On the other hand, it is an embarrassment to be a mumpsimus.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sweeter than Fiction

I read the entire Percy Jackson series from cover to cover in eleven days. The fantastic nature of the stories was a captivating escape: for a few minutes at a time, I fight the minotaur or meet Artemis instead of writing something boring for homework. Even more interesting than the richly colorful world of Percy Jackson were his abilities; being Poseidon’s son, Percy can breathe underwater, sail inhumanly well, create seawater out of nowhere, control the water around him, and gets strength, health, and stamina simply by being in contact with water. One of Athena’s daughters takes an interest in him for some reason and he duplicates a lot of Heracles’s feats – and even does some of them better than Heracles did. I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone acquainted with my proclivity for delusional daydreams that I adored the vicarious experience.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Green Eyes

During my first year in college, I was asked to teach a Sunday School class to my peers. I was apprehensive at first, having taught few times and having never formally taught anyone my own age. I was also disappointed to not have the assignment that I thought would be the most fun.

After one week, my apprehensions were gone. I loved it. Every week, I would study with my partner and we would split the lesson and the time in two. She was a good teacher and fun to study with. We settled into a great rhythm and so did the class: people sat in basically the same seats every week – all but the front two rows. To be honest, I remember very little of it because it was so long ago and because it was so routine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Speaking positively

The other day, I was looking at soup cans in a grocery store. I noticed that a few of them had a little logo on them that said something about being heart-healthy. Upon a closer look, I discovered that “heart-healthy” meant that it was low in saturated fats. The label did not advertise the fact that the soup was loaded with sodium. Saturated fats in large quantities are detrimental to the heart, but so is sodium. This fairly unimportant example of misleading advertisement demonstrates two ways in which members of our society systematically deceive and delude themselves with the misuse of language.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The limitations of superpowers

I watched Megamind last night with my friends. One of the characters is a “superhero” called Titan, who ends up being less of a hero than the city was hoping for. The entire movie asks viewers what they would do with superpowers. Really, it asks viewers what a villain is, what a hero is, and which one each of us is.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Optimizing away efficiency

I’ve been changing lots of things in my life and I’ve been considering several other changes. I’m in the process of changing banks, I’ve been thinking about moving in with some friends, the way I go about dating is constantly changing as I learn, and I’ve been organizing some of my congregation’s efforts to reach out. My schoolwork hasn’t lessened and I’m trying to have a social life (which includes, but is not limited to, dating).

As I wondered about these changes and the time they’ve required, I began to see a pattern. It’s not that they’re all necessary; it’s another form of perfectionism. I’m always looking for ways to improve things.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A pain in the wrists

I haven’t been blogging much recently. Part of the reason is that I’ve been really busy with school and so on. But a very important reason is that I’ve been trying to type as little as possible because of wrist pain, which seems to be caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

It turns out that “as little as possible” is still quite a bit for a graduate student in computer science.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A little stroll

This morning, I chose to walk across campus instead of taking the shuttle. It was a very pleasant walk - the air was crisp and not insanely cold and I took some time to think. I even reminisced about dancing the country polka.

When I got to the engineering building, there were several minutes before class started. I decided to go up to a little lookout point to appreciate something beautiful.

The haze immediately convinced me that the walk could have done more damage to my lungs than it benefited them.

Utah, I think it's time we did something about the air here.