Thursday, April 19, 2012

The End-of-semester Slump

Well, it's that time of the semester again. Finals are done, the next term's classes don't start for another week, and I'm sitting here at the computer at a loss for something to do. I was afraid this would happen.

It's funny, because I had so much planned. Among the items on my ongoing to do list:
Build a wah pedal.
Get my plasma speaker working.
Finish reading the Return of the King.
Write a song.
Learn to cook something.
Develop a new method to approximate quantum wave functions.
Okay, so the last one is a little weird as far as things one does in one's spare time, but it's not a joke. Anyway, the point is that I have plenty to do, yet I find myself wasting a half-hour or more on Reddit!

Is it just recuperation from academic burnout after a tough semester? I hope so. However, I suspect that I'll be battling the desire to waste time as long as I have any to waste. Curse my internet addiction. As I've considered in a previous post, it is easy to let electronic entertainment take over and allow my intellectual faculties to atrophy, and this really is a tragedy.

As a student, I should be driven by a consistent desire to learn and improve. While I do hold that desire, it does not always drive me as it should. At least, it does not drive me sufficiently to pull me out of the ruts into which I tend to fall. For example, I started this blog for a class. I was fully convinced that after the class ended, I would go through the effort to keep it going of my own accord. However, when I sat down to write just now, this is the best I could come up with-- a quaint little complaint initially developed because I couldn't think of anything to write. Why not? Because all of the various interesting things about which I could write would require me to do research, find sources, back up claims, and so forth. Somehow now that class is over, I just can't seem to get excited over that research like I did before.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Time will tell if I can regain my will to study for studying's sake.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Long and Wordy Look Back

What follows is a reflective post looking back at the previous semester, focusing on the work I did in the course for which I started this blog. After this post, the blog will simply consist of my own thoughts and ideas.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Invitation Efforts

Don't worry, just one more class-related post after this one and then my posts will be what I want to say again. This is a post detailing my efforts to invite people to the end-of-semester class-sponsored event, "Digital Citizens Unite!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Openness: Introduction

In lieu of any actual social commentary or interesting thing that I would love to do if I had the time, here is a brief introduction to the chapter my group is writing on openness.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Openness: An Annotated Bibliography

Note: Unfortunately, this blog is for the moment a necessary vehicle for me to present class assignments. As a result, I have to post this despite the fact that I would not actually post this on a blog were it my decision. Soon enough I'll get back to blogging about things that I care about.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Glasnost: Unpredictable Openness

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On the Civic Duty of Voting

Have you ever been told that to vote is your civic duty? What does that even mean? Here is a loosely Platonian approach to see whether or not voting is a civic duty and why.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Where Have All the Scientists Gone?

This post will be a little less rigorously founded than some of my others (partially because I lack the time at the moment to do the sort of rigorous study necessary for a more well-sourced post), but I think the subject matter can readily be seen. A classmate in the class for which I initiated this blog wrote last week about the conspicuous absence of big-name scientists today. She cited examples from biology and medicine like Pasteur and Salk, as well as Einstein from the field of physics. She then pointed out that there don't seem to be many parallels to these names today. Essentially, she discusses how lamentable it is that today's scientists are not in the public eye like those of the past, and she suggests that the attention of the public has turned away and that this is the main cause of the lack of focus on scientists in the media.

I have been aware of this lack of attention myself, and I have wondered about the cause. I'm afraid I must break with my classmate and suggest an alternative view of the situation. In the process I believe that it will be possible to abstract from it a more general rule about success in our society: our current culture discourages individual advancement in favor of group achievement.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Internet Sociopathy

This post addresses the phenomenon of belligerence and lack of adherence to social mandates in internet communities. Why does this happen, and how can it change?

People are mostly good. That's something that I've heard a lot and I believe it is true. I think the average person out there is good, civil, willing to help out in a pinch. Jay Michaelson, a writer at the Huffington Post, suggests that we are prone to helping and caring for each other on an instinctive level, in common with many social animals, for the preservation of our species. That seems like a reasonable justification, even barring the more spiritual or religious explanation for an inherent goodness of heart.

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Interview with a Nonconformist

Can you imagine giving up electronics entirely for a month? It sounds daunting; many might even say it is impossible today. But even within my lifetime (and I'm not even 25 yet), there was a time in which giving up electronics meant nothing more than turning off the TV and the stereo. For most of the twentieth century, kids were perfectly contented to entertain themselves by playing outside, playing board games, or building things. People communicated by telephone, by post, or in person. Most of the information you needed was stored in books. Of course, anyone reading this will agree that times have changed drastically. The many benefits of electronic devices today have rendered our old ways nearly obsolete. Though I am not suggesting that this be considered a problem, a question comes to mind. Have we now become so irrevocably attached to the digital world over the last twenty-or-so years that we couldn't take a step back and disconnect while remaining functional in society?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Objective

Now that I've been blogging for a few weeks, I'm going to take a look back at what I've said so far, what it all deals with, and what I really want to get across. Now, I've definitely digressed on a few items, but I've identified the posts with the common theme that sort of sticks with me as I write all this stuff. The list is below and it constitutes the majority of my substantial blogging:

The Communicator's Conundrum
If Everybody Blogs, Who Will Read?
Huey Lewis, Look No Further
Three Reasons Why I Stayed off the Anti-SOPA Bandwagon
Chopsticks on a Grand Piano
It's Not About Money (Part III)
Technology: Paths of Least Resistance

I don't actually expect that you've gone through all of them (I probably wouldn't have if I were in your shoes), but if you looked at a few you might have noticed that the common theme was a sort of criticism of actions or beliefs that have arisen as common in the digital age today.

I've mentioned every so often that I am not anti-technology. I think that the internet is great. My criticism usually stems from the observation of irresponsible or unreasonable use of technology. In essence, I wish to highlight the necessity of maturity, responsibility, and restraint in the use of digital technology today.

If I have encouraged someone to be more civil, more objective, or more responsible in the use of technology, or to think more critically when receiving new information, then I have accomplished what I wanted to do.

To that end, I'll close this post: don't be stupid.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nothing for Money

Place yourself, for a moment, in the sweaty seat of a World of Warcraft player. Let me tell you a little about it. You are a level 85 hunter and you need more agility for an epic raid. The agility scroll costs 500 gold at the auction house, you're broke, and your guild is doing the raid in six hours. No way are you getting 500 gold in that time. So you log out of the game, wander on over to a website like, and fork over somewhere between $5 and $15 (That's USD, of course) for 10000 in-game gold.

That's right. You just spent real money for fake moneyMark Knopfler would not approve.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Technology: Paths of Least Resistance

Electricity is really complicated. There are a lot of simple explanations, but as soon as you look at any system complex enough to be useful, those explanations break down at least in part. However, there is one bit of information that is generally helpful enough to be useful beyond the ideal examples: electrons tend to follow the path of least resistance. This is the essence of Ohm's law, named for Georg Ohm, an early pioneer of circuit theory of the nineteenth century. Basically, set up two parallel paths for electrons to follow, and you will get more current across the path with less resistance.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why I'm Not a Humanities Major

This was spurred by a Google+ discussion initiated by the TA for my class. While not strictly associated with anything digital (the ostensible focus of this blog), it is certainly telling of the current state of affairs in education and it addresses the concepts of creation and consumption.

One might assume that I, as one studying physics and mathematics, might look down on humanities majors. I know people in my field who scoff upon hearing about humanities majors, derisively suggesting that they are not in touch with what is "important" or "useful". Jokes abound about people with humanities degrees in dead-end jobs or unemployed. This is not uncommon behavior among "my people", so to speak. However, if you read on you will see that my viewpoint could scarcely be further from this.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Open and Closed

In class I have heard a lot of discussion about openness, and in particular about open science. While I have my opinions about open science, its relative merits are not the focus of this post. Instead, I want to write about an interesting phenomenon in which a movement towards openness eventually becomes the main source of frustration to its proponents. More concisely, due to changes in technology and expectations, a movement for openness created a closed system.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Not About Money (Part III)

And now for the exciting conclusion! If you are curious, here are parts I and II. The question is simply this: where do we see large movements for something other than profit today, and should we be seeing more?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Not About Money (Part II)

This is, of course, a continuation of "It's Not About Money (Part I)". I left off having speculating about the possibility of large groups producing results for free becoming a more fundamental part of our economy. Of course, since that time, I have been thinking about this subject a lot and my thoughts have changed on a few things. However, I still have some food for thought on the issue.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's Not About Money (Part I)

I have a lot to say about this subject, so my next couple of posts will focus on it. I'm going to begin with a thought: given the extraordinary amounts of work done by professional to provide free services online for little or no profit (think Wikipedia, for example), could we see a world in which most groups work primarily to achieve an end other than money? What would their incentive be instead?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chopsticks on a Grand Piano

Have you ever bought a fancy kitchen mixer just because you needed a new bowl? Or maybe a fancy moleskin organizer for doodling? Would you buy a $10000 custom road bike to ride to school? Yeah, me neither.

But this is exactly what we often do with technology today.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Three Reasons Why I Stayed off the Anti-SOPA Bandwagon.

Being enrolled in a class whose entire focus is the current evolution of a digital society, it was not possible for me to avoid the SOPA/PIPA controversy. I was all but forced to develop an opinion on an issue that I would otherwise have left for the more bombastic crowd.

It would have been easy to accept the "facts" as they were presented:

"SOPA is censorship in open violation of the Bill of Rights! SOPA will break the internet! SOPA won't work!"

But I didn't like that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Huey Lewis, Look No Further

In the twentieth century, we have seen the rise of the “common man’s” drug… 

and “designer” drugs… 

and pretty much all addictive drugs. (See here and here for excellent resources on the history and status recreational drug use in America)

In fact, prior to this era people were stuck with opium, tobacco, and alcohol to satisfy their recreational drug desires. It was a very boring time for those sorts of people. However, with the development and popularization of cannabis, heroin, amphetamines, LSD, cocaine, and a host of others as well as variants of these, drug users entered an exciting new era! There were drugs for the wealthy, the poor, and everyone in between. Plenty of new users joined in the fun of substance abuse! The 1960s and the 1970s were the golden age.

But then something happened.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

G. D. Rockefeller

I have heard of late the worries of concerned friends and others regarding the new major powers arising in the internet world. It appears that people are concerned that we are seeing the rise of new monopolies. Are Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. the new Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers? I'm not an economist and I don't pretend to know all about this sort of thing, but I'll try my hand here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

If Everybody Blogs, Who Will Read?

It is, perhaps, somewhat paradoxical that I would write about this topic in this medium. Perhaps it is best; this may be the perfect means for me to find a counterpoint to my own thoughts. And if someone out there does actually read this, you can probably let me know where I've gone astray.

I have a friend who grew up in a very large and very musical family. His father is a music teacher and each of his siblings is proficient in one or more musical instruments. I was naturally surprised, then, when he told me he does not really play anything. His explanation: "If everybody plays, who will listen?" To his credit, he is an excellent singer, but his response made me wonder about a few things. What happens when everybody starts writing?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012


To get started, I should explain that I am initiating this blog as part of a class at Brigham Young University called Digital Civilization. Each student is required to maintain a blog related to the course content. As a result, some of my posts for the next few months may seem odd (should anyone actually stumble upon this blog beyond classmates), like I'm responding to a prompt or something (because I probably am). However, this conveniently happens to be a field in which I have been tempted to blog for some time, and there is a good chance that I will continue after the end of the class.

For this initial post, I am required to respond to the prompt "What do I know about the historical period and the digital concept assigned to me?" As you may have deduced, I have been assigned a historical period: the 18th century; and a digital concept: information.

Well, where do I begin? The 18th century: a lot happened in those days. That period saw the extensive colonization of the Americas and the birth of what became the most powerful nation in the world, not to mention the single society most responsible for the development of the modern digital age. But there is much more to be said: The 18th century was the time of enlightenment. Scientific advances from such great thinkers as Sir Isaac Newton, coupled with the facilitation of the distribution of information through the printing press, set the stage for a rapid change in intellectual thought throughout the century. The scientific method was more rigorously developed and people sought to understand rather than just cope. The first extensive experiments into electricity were performed, beginning the process that would eventually allow for electronics and most of the technology around us today. But the enlightenment was not simply relevant to the production of technology; rather, one might argue that the shift in modes of thought precipitated the very society that allowed for our digital age to develop.

As for information: the term is a little abstract. I imagine that information in the context of my discussion must be taken partially axiomatically, for establishing a precise and non-circular definition is beyond me at the moment. For my purposes now, I will consider information to be any idea stored in some medium. Though "idea" is a vague term, I don't feel like going into a Platonic dialog to nail down its meaning. The definition I have given will suffice. Now, information is central to the digital civilization in which we live. The average American does not seem to be able (or, perhaps, willing) to function without a constant influx of information, and that information is generally provided digitally. Billions of dollars are lost or won with information, and to some, certain information is worth that much. Censorship, content control, piracy, and most other digital issues are centered on the availability of information. In short, even if I can't properly define information, I can certainly establish its importance. In the end, we would not have a digital civilization at all were it not for information, for digital technology was originally developed and is still used entirely for information acquisition, storage, and transfer.

I suppose that will do for now. I hope I wasn't too dry.