Saturday, November 22, 2008

In, Out, and the Space In-Between

I’ve always heard that integrity is doing what is right all the time, even if no-one is looking. As Stephen R. Covey put it in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", "'Wrong' and 'right' … have little to do with being found out". Then there’s what I’ll call outtegrity – doing what is right because that outward appearance is somehow beneficial. To have outtegrity is to live a duplicitous life, and that kind of life is never sustainable. I could go on, but I think you get the point, and that’s not I’m driving at.

Between integrity and outtegrity is a grey area that I don’t have a name for yet. There are two parts to this grey area. First, there’s doing the right thing because you hope or think or want to believe it is right, but it is not yet a conviction. You may be working on it, but in the mean time you’re trying it and checking out the consequences. Second, there’s acting like you hold beliefs that you don’t, but those beliefs are not necessarily moral in nature. For example, pretending you hold political beliefs that you don’t, or saying you’re a cat person when in fact you think they’re minions of the underworld. This type of behavior is employed typically to get people to like you, getting the relationship jump-started until you get to something you actually have in common.

So here’s my question: Are either of the grey area issues immoral? Are they okay? Or are they really nothing more or less than grey? I have my own opinions, but I want to know what you think.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Or, how playing RPGs shaped my view of Corporate Life

When I was younger, I was introduced to the game Diablo II. This is the game that kept me from playing World of Warcraft, because it helped me realize that I'm an RPG addict. As you may or may not know, once you're an addict you're always an addict, and my social and academic life suffered enough during my Diablo stint. If you're not familiar with RPGs, this Wikipedia article may be enlightening.

The thing that RPGs hook you with is control. You control everything about your character(s), including what skills they acquire and what their specialties will be. As you earn the experience and find or buy items to help your character, you decide what skills your character will develop. Experience points get you a lot further a lot quicker at the beginning of your character's "life" than they do after the character has become well established. This is what provides the addictive nature to the game. You very quickly become addicted to the rush of "leveling", or getting your character to the next level. In Diablo, for example, I could get a character from level 1 to level 5 in a single day, no problem. However, getting that same character from level 41 to 45 or, worse, 91 to 95, is a considerable feat. Why do people do it? Because they're already addicted.

Now, how does this affect my view of Corporate Life? Simple. Corporate Life IS an RPG! I just started out at the lowest position offered at the IT division of the company I work for. I've been there almost 3 months and expect a promotion to the real foundation position of the division. My next several promotions will likely come every 18-30 months, depending on how quickly I'm able to develop the right skills - or gain experience. The higher the position I get, the more time will pass between promotions.

This puts me in an interesting position. Here I am, an RPG addict in the "Real World" trying to map my game play throughout the life span of my character - who just happens to actually be me. I'm setting goals for what positions I want to acquire, when I want to acquire them, and what courses of action will get me there on time or early. I'm looking at corporate and continuing education opportunities, high visibility projects, and "A List" connections. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing or not, but I definitely get the impression that not everyone sees their career like this. I'm really interested to hear what other people think. Please respond with your thoughts, and please include whether or not you play or used to play RPGs, electronic or otherwise.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Brand New Life

I feel like I have just begun a whole brand new life. I have a new son (well, I've had him for 7 months now, but for a human that's still pretty new). I have a new job. I have a new no-more-school! I even have new furniture in a new apartment (and I mean new - we're the first to live in it)!

I have to say, I really enjoy life here even more than I thought I would. When I accepted a job with Wal-Mart I knew it was the right thing to do, but it always felt like I was settling, like I was just taking this job until I started my "real career". But the benefits are pretty good, the challenges are unique, the atmosphere is great, and the opportunities for advancement and lateral placement are phenomenal. I'm really starting to feel like I could settle down with Wal-Mart. Actually, I could stick with Wal-Mart, retire at 55, and travel the world!

The point is, I'm really excited about everything! The only downer is the lack of improv here. I tried out this one new group in the area, but it's an hour drive to get there and all but one of the existing members are old enough to be one of my grand-parents. Of course, the age thing in and of itself wouldn't be so bad except that only one of them has any improv experience. So I figure that, as long as I'm planning on staying in the area for a while, I'll try to recruit some college kids from the University of Arkansas to do improv and (hopefully) end up helping establish a ComedySportz here.

So that's my "new life" in a nutshell! I just want to end with a shout-out to all my friends from BYU - you know who you are - and let you know that this is a great area with a lot of opportunity, so get down here already! :)

Monday, April 21, 2008

The New* Big Blue

Hind sight is 20/20. So often it seems that events that occurred decades ago were inevitable, and the current state of things is accepted as obvious. Those who make the future are those that realize that there is no such thing as inevitability.

Not that long ago IBM, Big Blue, was the all-powerful behemoth that ruled the realm of technology. It was a scary world for new companies like Apple, Microsoft, and those countless unfortunates who are no longer in existence. For the last couple of decades or so, Microsoft has been the Undisputed World Technology Champion, and it has seemed like an inevitability.

Those of us in the industry have sensed a shift lately, and Microsoft is no longer "the place to be". If Microsoft was the "New Big Blue", then Google may be considered the "New New Big Blue". And, just as sure as Google is becoming the industry giant now, some company will replace Google, likely one that has not even been formed yet.

Dr. Charles Knutson of BYU stressed to me the importance of the individual. There will likely come a point in each of our lives where we'll have an opportunity to say something, to make some decision or point out some insight, that will change the shape of whatever industry we may be in and, potentially, the world. And children who are born after that change is effected will count it as an inevitability. The sad, scary, and unfortunate flip side to that coin is the fact that many of us will not realize the opportunity. We won't make the decision, realize the insight, say the right thing at the right time, and we won't change the world. The important thing to realize is that it is up to us - it hasn't happened yet, and it is most certainly not an inevitability.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Free Like Speech

Those who are familiar with the realm of Open Source have probably heard the phrase "Free like speech, not free like beer". The underlying concept here is that intellectual property should be easily and widely distributed, but still protected from abuse or profiteering by those who get their hands on it. I believe this concept relates to the music piracy issues of today, but it's hard for me to say - I'm not a huge music person. So I'll try to relate it to something I am passionate about - improvisational comedy.

In the spring of 2007 I started getting into improv. I came to absolutely love it, and I wanted to learn more about it. That fall a friend of mine lent me "Truth in Comedy", which can arguably be considered the Bible of improv. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and for Christmas my wife bought my the follow-up "Art by Committee". However, that was supposed to be used as a companion book and not strictly a sequel. So, I went online and bought "Truth in Comedy", along with another book or two about improv. I already have a small and growing list of improv books I intend to buy sometime this year.

The point I'm trying to make is the power of word-of-mouth. I was introduced to improv by word of mouth, and I was lent a book that I ended up buying. If I were to lend my copy to a friend who has no interest in improv then he might find it amusing or even enjoyable, but he won't buy it - unless, by my lending him the book, he becomes interested in improv and wants to become active in it. Either way, by my lending him the book I did not detract from the book sales, but I may have contributed to it. I believe this applies to most or all creative works, and the music industry needs to realize this before they end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Internet == Time Vacuum

I'm a huge Friends fan, and one of my favorite lines comes from an episode where Ross's girlfriend is looking at his old family pictures. When asked about the one with him and the albino kids, he replied, "Those weren't albino kids! That was Computer Camp!" I laughed harder than my wife because I know all too well about the albino geeks out there. To people like me, computers are fascinating machines that empower and gratify. Of course, the Internet just makes things worse! Knowledge and entertainment are readily available to fulfill our every whim. With such wonderful devices at our disposal, what motivation have we to ever leave them? I have the motivation of outside sports, improv comedy, religion, and, most importantly, my family to knock me off-line and into the real world. Every geek (and I use that term affectionately) needs to set limits that will get them out into the sun and interacting with real people. Do it for your physical health, your social life, and your pigmentation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making the Internet a Safer Place

An amazing effort is being made right now by individuals who care about how safe, or unsafe, the internet is - especially for families. A new website has emerged, the Internet Safety Wiki, and, along with it, the Internet Safety Podcast. But this is a new resource with open-source mentality, so they're looking for help. If you care about safety on the Internet and you want to help, please check these sites out and find out how to contribute. The knowledge is out there, we're just trying to make it more accessible so that everyone who wants to be safe can be.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Better Education and the Flattening World

Hundreds of years ago education was scarce, and the best education was an apprenticeship. As the opportunity to become educated has become more available it has also become more necessary. For decades now a high school diploma has been required for anything career beyond manual labor.

We are now entering an era where a University degree is becoming the new high school diploma. In other words, if you don't get a University degree then there's a good chance you'll end up doing work that is not personally fulfilling. Fulfilling jobs that used to be attainable with a high school degree are now being digitized, automated, or outsourced. And to get a job on the "cutting edge" will likely require a Graduate degree.

The expectation that people educate themselves is not a bad thing. Education should be a lifetime pursuit for all people. The problems that arise with requiring more education deal with the opportunity to attain such education. This is a huge problem in the U.S., where higher education is not paid for by the government and most Universities put their students so far into debt that their graduates jump at the first job offered them instead of the one they really want or deserve. There are even more who are unable to amass the debt education imposes and are therefore unable to even qualify for those jobs that they are ultimately capable of doing.

As the world flattens we should be more aware of those around us. Instead we seem to be distancing ourselves from anyone who is not like us with respect to education and social status. We need to recognize the fundamental social changes imposed by a flattening world and adjust accordingly to prevent the elimination of the middle class and revert to the Dark Age caste system of educated nobility and the ignorant masses.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vocal Cords: Next on the Obsolete List

Ambient Corp. recently unveiled the next big breakthrough in speech recognition - recognizing words you don't even vocalize! A sophisticated neckband detects signals intended for the vocal cords and sends them wirelessly to a computer that then vocalizes them for you. This, of course, has astonishing potential for those who have lost the ability to use their vocal cords, whether through injury or illness. My only concern is for those people who have already substituted dating for chat rooms and outside activity and socializing for online RPG's. Physicality and sociality are already out the window, and it looks like speech in general is next!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Women in Computing:
Nature vs Nurture

Just over a year ago my wife graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Men in her field are about as prevalent as women in my field, Computer Science. Did my wife choose to work with children because she wasn’t given the opportunity to study any of the hard sciences? Is it because she is not capable as a woman to comprehend the hard sciences? No, she simply prefers working with children. I’m not saying that the field is perfect – we’re still getting used to women who prefer to study computers – but the rampant sexism just isn’t there.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Imitation – Flattery, or just good sense?

I’ve always heard that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But in business that imitation isn’t usually intended to flatter the imitated – it’s intended to make money! The mantra “Good artists create, great artists steal” is still alive and well, as evidenced by LinkedIn’s recent updates.

Facebook is currently king of the social networking hill, and LinkedIn has recognized that, if they’re going to be taken seriously as a networking utility, they need to take a few leaves from Facebook’s, er, book. Of course, they’re still taking the business aspect very seriously, so I wouldn’t expect a “Hot or Not” module any time soon, but it’s only a matter of time before people find their work relationship status on LinkedIn.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Education vs Expertise:
A lesson from "Cuckoo's Egg"

Education does not equal expertise. Only experience can produce expertise, especially in fields in which there are not yet experts. So much of technology has been invented and researched that many of us don’t think we will ever end up doing something that we didn’t study, much less something that has not yet been created! And more than that, to become the expert! Yet that’s exactly what happened to Cliff Stoll, and that’s what I got out of his book “The Cukoo’s Egg.”

In case you’re not familiar, Cliff Stoll is an astronomer by education, but through an interesting turn of events became one of the early leaders of Internet security. He was inventive in his tactics and methodical in his tracking. He was everything that a Microsoft or Google or Amazon would want in a security tester. That’s because he was the prototype, the version 1.0, of security testing!

I’m about to graduate from university, and I’m going to start off my career in a fairly typical IT department. I have the option to only learn what my job requires of me and do my job precisely how I’m expected to. I’d probably make a decent living doing it, too. But I may get the opportunity to solve a problem that no one’s solved before, in a manner that I’ll have to devise. I could become the expert of a field that I help to create! That would be more than fulfilling – that would be cool!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cyber Bullying

The pen is mightier than the sword, and the keyboard is the pen of this generation. According to a recent article by the Associated Press, a new website,, promotes anonymous gossip that is literally destroying students’ lives. In previous generations you knew who was bullying you, and gossip was relatively contained. Today cyber bullying is so easy and powerful that it has resulted in lowering self-esteems, soiling reputations, and even the suicide of a young teenage girl. I’m not typically in favor of censorship, but when there’s malicious intent someone needs to intervene.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I often hear about how massive the Internet is, and one Google search on any topic confirms that to be true. Yet I only have a handful of sites that I visit regularly and rarely add to that list. I used to just find out about really cool sites from friends and the sites I currently visit. Then, a few days ago, my wife came across in Parents Magazine. is like this cool, new mixture between Google and Facebook and something else that I can’t really describe. Set up was minimal, and stumbling is addicting! Try it out, and you’ll be glad you stumbled upon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Family History and the Information Age

I believe that a society’s true motivations are revealed by how it utilizes the available technology. When you search Google for “genealogy OR family history” you instantly get 457,000,000 results (as of February 6th, 2008). Searching for “American Idol” only returns 31,200,000 results. Maybe it’s the search for identity, the desire to find familial connections, or the simple hope to know that we’re not alone, but something drives us to build and utilize tools for researching family history. Whatever the case, it feels good to know that genealogy is more important than American Idol.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Inspired Progress

I believe that God inspires men to advance technology and He wants us to take advantage of those advances. The end of the Dark Ages was marked by the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, and the printing of the Bible. Shortly afterward Columbus discovered America, which would eventually provide religious freedom to all. We are now in the Information Age, and our great legacy is the Internet. The most common usage of the Internet may not be wholesome or uplifting, but God still wants us to utilize this amazing tool to spread His Word.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lost Art

Writing is becoming a lost art. This can be largely accredited to technology’s growing influence. Emails and text messaging have brought about a new and shrinking vocabulary consisting of phrases like “lol, snds gr8! ttyl.” For most people this is the only writing they do. Meanwhile the engineers and other technical people who develop technology largely despise writing and avoid it at all costs. If we don’t act now to reverse this trend we will, as a generation, miss out on utilizing the most durable and powerful medium of communication.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Technology Priorities

When I saw the headline “Researchers Develop Bionic Contact Lens” I immediately thought of the coke-bottle glass wearing individuals with complex eye issues finally receiving relief through the magic of technology. And yet the focus of the article, and seemingly the research itself, was not on improving vision but on taking gaming and personal computing to the next level. Indeed, the only sentence to the contrary came near the end, “Maybe the technique could even create sight aids for visually-impaired people.” I’m all for cool technology and sweet new games, but our priorities are getting fatally skewed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Technology deteriorates wisdom. As text messaging and email become more popular, communication suffers. As the knowledge of civilizations becomes accessible with the click of a mouse, individual thought vanishes. I have a wealth of knowledge attained from movies and T.V. shows, and it is not uncommon for me to say something funny and my wife respond with “What is that from?” Granted, I often have the answer ready, but it is something of a reality check when something funny is actually an original thought. People are smart and capable of learning vast amounts of information, but when people spend all of their time taking in data – Googling, checking YouTube, crawling Wikipedia for hours on end – one must wonder how much time they actually spend thinking.