Saturday, March 23, 2013

100 things I'm grateful for

I've been working on this list for several months, off and on. It seems my life is pretty awesome. I don't mean to brag; I just hope my list makes you a little more grateful for the blessings in your life.

  1. I have friends who care about me.
  2. God listens when I pray.
  3. God put me here on this earth to learn and gave His Son to get me back.
  4. I get to learn daily about how the world works.
  5. I am healthy and strong.
  6. I've been blessed with an acute intellect.
  7. There is beautiful music.
  8. Nature is beautiful.
  9. Nature provides never-ending opportunities to study.
  10. I get second chances. And thirty-fifth chances.
  11. There are magnificently powerful tools to help me accomplish almost anything.
  12. There are holy temples all over the world and I get to attend them frequently.
  13. Even the people I don't know are usually really nice to me.
  14. There is lots of freely and reasonably priced art available in lots of forms.
  15. I have a good singing voice.
  16. There are more good books to read than I could possibly digest in a lifetime.
  17. God guides me. He knows what He's doing, even though I don't.
  18. My body heals itself.
  19. Not everyone is the same as I am, which makes life interesting.
  20. I have a stable family.
  21. I was raised in a home where education is valued.
  22. My basic needs have always been met.
  23. I was able to become financially independent while still in college.
  24. I basically never had to pay tuition.
  25. For almost every topic, I have a friend who is knowledgeable about it.
  26. There are libraries.
  27. The internet allows me to access information quickly.
  28. I can communicate instantaneously with people all over the world.
  29. There have been and are prophets and their teachings are invaluable.
  30. The prophets also provide good (but human) examples.
  31. My friends know my quirks and shortcomings and still want to be my friends.
  32. I have friends who are willing to call me out when I'm wrong.
  33. I have friends who can see qualities in me that I can't see.
  34. People teach me the lessons they've spent a lifetime learning.
  35. My mission changed me forever.
  36. I have frequent opportunities to serve others.
  37. I'm capable of growing a beard.
  38. I have enough flexibility to take a nap when I need one.
  39. Hot showers during cold winters.
  40. Worlds don't end when I err, which is a luxury not afforded to movie characters.
  41. My ex-girlfriends aren't ex-friends.
  42. People do so much good that I see it even when I'm not looking for it.
  43. My car works and even looks pretty good.
  44. I'm not dead, despite the many times I've been in serious danger.
  45. Thanks to freezers, I can enjoy basically any food at any time.
  46. I know stuff about nutrition.
  47. I look pretty good bald.
  48. Dancing is fun and I'm good at it.
  49. People's parents seem to like me.
  50. People can change - myself included.
  51. Someday, I get to have a family.
  52. The chant "You're either with Petey or against America!"
  53. I've had lots of opportunities to benefit from the wisdom of generations past.
  54. Little children have a knack for believing and seeing the best. It's inspiring.
  55. I get to live in a place where there's room to spread out and breathe.
  56. My mother taught me how to cook.
  57. My mother taught me manners.
  58. My father taught me to always do what's right, regardless of circumstance.
  59. In-laws: they're sudden extensions to the family.
  60. I've never had to fight to defend myself and likely won't have to.
  61. I live in a culture where most people deal effectively with bodily odors.
  62. I get ample reminders to do good things and improve.
  63. I get ample reminders that I'm actually a decent guy.
  64. Summertime.
  65. I've always had a ward, so I've always had friends.
  66. It's okay to take a break when I need one; there's always more time.
  67. Beyond my necessities, I enjoy several luxuries.
  68. I can type. It's fast, accurate, and otherwise less annoying than writing.
  69. I get divine help when I need it, even for mundane tasks.
  70. There are many good examples of familial happiness and stability.
  71. My whole life is perfectly designed to teach me what I need to progress.
  72. Winter is beautiful.
  73. The sun always comes back.
  74. The vast majority of the bad things that could happen don't happen.
  75. Exercise works. It's possible to do hard things and not be sore later.
  76. Nerd skills come in handy.
  77. Affordable gamma lids.
  78. Poetry beautiful enough to get my attention.
  79. I live in a time where violence is discouraged rather than encouraged.
  80. The ability to learn from my mistakes.
  81. Writing allows me to express myself and to think through my problems.
  82. Different cultures capture different truths. We get to learn from them.
  83. It's fun to learn languages and doing so changes how I see the world.
  84. My failures and disappointments have made me better.
  85. Every once in a while, I hit a string of green lights.
  86. People I haven't seen in years are happy to see me again.
  87. Deciduous forests.
  88. Mountain lakes.
  89. I sometimes get feelings of surpassing wonder. They're never predictable.
  90. My vivid imagination makes my life incredibly rich.
  91. Hoods and hats go a long way towards keeping my bald head warm.
  92. There's a reason to laugh every day. Often, there are several.
  93. My great sense of smell is coupled with a strong resistance to revulsion.
  94. When there aren't great people to spend time with, there are good books.
  95. Most of the things I need to do become interesting if they aren't already.
  96. Sometimes I do something and am met with a shocking degree of success.
  97. People often value my opinion.
  98. There is always something new to boggle my mind.
  99. I've had uncounted wonderful experiences and I know many more are coming.
  100. As terrific as this life is, there's something much better waiting.

Update: Fixed a typo in #71. Life teaches me things. It does not reach me things.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"So, when are you getting married?"

People frequently ask me when I'll marry. They give me advice on how to become married. It's the same with basically everyone who's single, especially those of us in Mormon culture.

In most minutes and on most days, I'm at peace with the fact that I'm single. I'd rather be happily married but my life is good. Most of the time, it doesn't bother me when people bring up the fact that I'm single. There's no need for a taboo on singlehood.

But there are hard days. Even though most of the time, people mean to encourage – or, a least, they don't mean to offend – the things that people say can serve to make those hard days even harder.

One reason it's hard for me to hear some things is that my training in logic has taught me to see implications. In my more cynical moods, my mind leaps to more cynical implications. I think that in most cases, people aren't fully aware of what they imply. My goal here is to bring to light some of these assumptions (I certainly don't claim to have treated this exhaustively) and the thinking that underlies them.

You control when you find and marry someone

"So, when are you getting married?"

"It's your turn next!"

I know most of you mean well, but marriage involves two people and divine intervention. I can control only myself. Siblings don't always marry in order. In fact, I challenge you to name a single happily married couple that didn't experience significant serendipity to get together.

You're doing something wrong

"Why aren't you married yet?"

It's very possible that some failure of mine is the cause of my singlehood. I'd love to find something I can do differently that would lead me to marriage. I will listen to your thoughts on the subject. I recognize and value the impartiality of people who aren't me in this matter. I'd suggest, however, that you try to know me well enough to know whether or not I've already done what you suggest – and whether or not I've been doing it for the past several years. And please don't be offended if I decide that your advice doesn't fit me.

Do what I did

"You just need to ..."

This is basically the same as the last assumption, but more specific.

Finding a mate is like finding anything else; we stop looking when we've succeeded. It amuses me how frequently people tell me to try what "worked for them." By that, they mean the last change they remember making before their marriage worked out. Typically, this ignores all other changes they made, all decisions made by other people, and all circumstances surrounding their dating and marriage. And a sample size of one is hardly compelling. I mean, no one tells me to look under my bedside table for my keys as if it's profound wisdom.

Do what I didn't

"Attraction doesn't matter much. You just need to be good friends."

Advice about what one would have done at a previous age tends to come in one of two flavors. One of the flavors is the wisdom of years. I value this sort of wisdom. The other flavor is the faux wisdom of forgetting what youth is like. Advice that is at odds with past behavior often sounds more like the second than the first.

A twenty-something man and a sixty-something man are going to value different things. As I want my marriage to be happy and to last into the eternities, I'm looking for someone whom I can love unreservedly in all stages of my life. That is, some degree of physical attraction should exist because that's important to young men (and, of course, to young women). And we must have the sort of friendship that can mature into a relationship that an old man (and an old woman) can appreciate.

Am I being too picky? Maybe. I'm certainly not discounting the possibility. I ask myself that question quite frequently.

There's something wrong with you

"You're so ...! I can't believe you're not married yet."

Of course I appreciate the compliment, especially since my deepest insecurities are that I'll fail in any number of ways to be an adequate husband or father.

If I'm so kind or talented or whatever that you're astounded at my singlehood, where's the hangup? What failure or fault do the girls I date see in me that you have failed to see? Because I've been turned down for enough second dates that sometimes I wonder.

I've thought about this one a lot because so many people try to say things like this when they're validating others. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn't. Honestly, the best thing that any one has ever done in one of those down days was to give me a hug. She listened well and tried to say things that helped, but a little tender physical contact made much more difference.

You're not married, so you must not really want it

"When you really decide you want to get married, ..."

Really? When I really decide I want to get married?

I don't think I've ever called anyone out on this. I'm going to set the record straight.

I had an epiphany once. It happened at an age when my guy friends were definitely into girls, but when their interest seemed focused either on kissing (or the host of related motivations) or on troglodytic notions of conquest. I remember that I was walking through a hallway in my church. I think I was by myself. And it struck me that my interest was in a stable, long-term relationship. I wanted to be married.

This epiphany took place half of my life ago. Never since then has that desire been forgotten. Every major decision I've made has been designed to make me a better family man. Even during my full-time missionary service, when dating was prohibited, I was conscious of the ways in which that service would help me become a better man. The foremost question I have about every potential career is how it will affect my family life. I could go on.

I don't know all of the causes of my prolonged singlehood, but I know it isn't lack of desire – or effort. Just don't go there.

It isn't just the singles

In the same way that there needn't be a taboo about singlehood, we needn't refrain from talking about other aspects of people's lives. But we should be very cautious before talking with people about when they will have children, when they'll serve missions, and so on. As says a favorite hymn, "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see."

My game plan

I know that marriage won't come easily. I know that I'll have to change to get there.

I'm going to keep trying. I'm going to keep asking hard questions and I'm going to keep improving myself. I'm going to keep on discarding ideas and assumptions that I find to be incorrect and I'm going to keep on doing my best to apply what I learn. And I'm going to keep on trusting that one day, I'll find someone I want to marry who wants to marry me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Copyright was so last millennium

Creating stuff is hard, especially in a fast-paced world like ours. It takes time, effort, and inspiration to make something new and valuable. The things we create – writings, inventions, theories, artwork, ideas, and so on – are natural to share and we do. We talk about our ideas and show people our inventions. We put our art in showcases. The more valuable the creativity is, the more anxious we are to share it because of the impact it can have. Other people are similarly inclined to share the results of creativity. Naturally, creators want their work to be shared – and they want to be remunerated for the significant time and effort that went into their creativity.

Once something has been created, it's relatively easy to duplicate it. This bothers many creators because duplication typically means that they will not be recognized or remunerated for their work. But copying is simply too rewarding: relative to the effort required to create, the effort to copy is so small that people naturally tend to wait for others to create so they can use the things others have created. As a result, people are motivated to not create; instead, they hope that others will create so they may benefit.

In an attempt to correct this perverse incentive structure, many governments create a notion of intellectual property, which treats ideas as the property of their originators. Intellectual property laws typically prohibit people from selling, distributing, or claiming works without the creator's permission. These laws, when implemented intelligently and enforced effectively, ensure that authors get credit and payment for their works – assuming, of course, that there is a demand for the works.

If creativity were a simple thing, our discussion would end here. But no one creates in a vacuum. Every piece of creativity depends on countless other innovations. If we simply protected creators' rights as described, we would make creativity prohibitively expensive – the time and expense of identifying all prior art and then securing permission to use that prior art would be astronomical. Also, all creativity could be stifled by a single creator who doesn't permit his or her work to be used. This could get particularly difficult in the case of orphaned works, whose creators cannot be identified.

Accordingly, most notions of intellectual property are limited to a period of time. When that time expires, the inventions or writings enter the public domain; in other words, the ideas become public property that everyone is allowed to use freely, although credit is still given to the originators of the work. The intent seems to be to allow monetization for a long enough period of time to be effective but to allow works that are part of our collective consciousness to be freely used as the basis for new creativity.

This compromise is incorporated into the Constitution of the United States of America: Congress has the power to give exclusive rights for a limited period of time to authors and inventors. The cited purpose is to promote progress. So, in the United States, we have patents to protect inventions and copyrights to protect most other types of creativity. They protect works for a few years, after which the works become public property and can be used freely. In the united states, copyright restricts the act of reproducing a written or artistic work because it's relatively easy to enforce and selling copies is the traditional way that copyright owners have monetized their work.

The times have changed, though. It is much easier to copy digital works than physical media, which means that it is much more difficult to enforce traditional copyright. The mere act of consuming digital media makes copies of it, so the idea of restricting copies is a little strained. Most significantly, there are countless legitimate reasons a consumer might copy digital media that don't apply to traditional media.

Digital media can be consumed on all sorts of devices: phones, tablets, computers, TVs, and more. The device that is best suited for some content at one moment may not be at the next moment. For example, I may prefer to read eBooks on my laptop or on my TV. When I'm flying, I may prefer to read on my phone. This is even more true in the case of movies, as DVDs and Blu-ray disks don't travel well. The process of "ripping" a movie off of a disk to store it on a laptop or some other device is easy but may not be permitted by copyright law. The alternatives to space shifting (copying media from one device to another) are to buy additional copies in different formats or to go without.

Buying another copy of digital media doesn't make any sense. A consumer gets no additional physical media with such a purchase (and if they do, the cost of the media is trivial), so there's no manufacturing cost to justify the additional expense. And copyright is about protecting intellectual property – but the intellectual property is exactly the same. The copyright owner has produced no additional material to justify charging the consumer again, especially because the task of creating the additional copy is trivial for a consumer to do for himself or for herself.

The world has changed. The media we consume have changed. It's time to change the way we think and the way we legislate about them to catch up with the times.

First, the rate at which we create things is increasing dramatically and yet we have ever longer copyright terms. Lengthening copyright terms may be the easiest way to limit creativity. Only those with sufficiently large portfolios or sufficiently capable lawyers can afford to create. Everyone else must live below the radar, hoping that nothing he or she writes happens to look like something penned by someone with a legal team. We need to reduce copyright terms. A work of art can enter the collective consciousness in a matter of days. It should be accessible to the public for further creativity in a comparably short period of time. As a compromise for the content creators, I suggest only cutting copyright terms back to what they were when they were first implemented in the USA: 14 years.

Second, we need to revise the way we think about this "property" and the way we protect it. Instead of preventing the act of copying, which is both impossible and detrimental to consumers, we should think about copyright protecting access to a work. If I've bought a legitimate copy of a book, I really have purchased unfettered access to it. I can read it whenever I want. I can lend it to a friend and that friend can have my right to access it temporarily. And I can give it away or sell it if I like. This is not about physical goods; it's about access to intellectual property (significantly, the terms of sale of most digital media deny consumers the right of first sale).

Third, we should consider if we even want to view it as property anymore. The purpose of copyright law is to create an incentive to create. The particular guarantees we have traditionally given to authors are not necessarily the best way to accomplish this goal. We could come up with a system of taxes on the consumption of media and cash rewards for creating things. Or we could guarantee that authors get credit for their work and allow consumers to pay them what they think the work is worth without legal coercion – but with a culture that agrees that it is unacceptable to consume media without paying for them, except perhaps to try them out.

I'm not certain that I know exactly what the solution is, but I am sure that we need to change the way we think about intellectual property. Reality has outpaced the law and its enforcement. There are reasonable things we can do to improve both our enjoyment of life and the creativity of our whole society. So let's talk about it, decide on a course of action, and make some changes.