Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The ACM Code of Ethics Applied to the Google vs China debate

A company like Google must have significant trust with all second and third parties, as well as within itself, to continue as a business. To ensure that trust, Google would need to have a code of ethical conduct for all its constituents to abide by. The ACM's code of ethics for computing is a model applicable to any profession, so from an ethical point of view, it can be used to understand Google's recent decision to cut off China. The hacking attacks on Google's intellectual property threatened not only Google's trade secrets but its status as a trustworthy business collaborator and the security of all its customers. Under ACM ethics, Google would be duty-bound to protect its customers by eliminating the threat1. The attacks specifically targeted customers who had human rights agendas, working against the ACM principles of bettering society and doing no harm to others. Google realizes that no matter the business losses of cutting ties with China, it cannot afford to lose its reputation. Considering the concept of PageRank as an example, reputation and trust are the principles that e-commerce is built upon, without which it ceases to function as legitimate commercial platform. Besides duty to its own investors, Google has a duty to society to support and protect human rights, just as any entity does, regardless of the entity's acknowledgment of that duty.

1. It is not known if the attacks on Google were commissioned by the Chinese government, but Google had to make a judgment call to ensure the safety of its customers. It would be unjust if the Chinese government has been framed. However, the People's Republic of China has such a bad human rights track reputation, it has profiled itself in this criminal case. In other words, it has a lot of explaining to do. Furthermore, Google has a right to do business or cut ties with anyone they choose, unless dictated otherwise by contract.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Know Thine Enemy

Gone are the days when sheltering children from knowledge about evil could protect them from it. That knowledge is far too ubiquitous (whether or not you have Internet access) to bar its influence by denying its existence. Know thine enemy. Know what forms it takes, and where and how it operates. But don't be foolish and get cozy with it. Don't be on speaking terms with it. With that said, a look inside yourself is needed for full security. If you ever begin to set your heart on the wrong things, then you don't need evil in your life in order to mess it up, you can do that all by yourself (as in the Ensign article, Tangled In the Web, Aug. 2001, 48). No inappropriate content needs to be perused; a preoccupation with things that you do not cherish, at the expense of what you do cherish, is enough. The drawbridge to your castle lies not so much at the keyboard, as at lies in your heart.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Relentless Power of Dogged Gamers

Some gamers don't know when to quit. Why is that? Can we harness that power?

For an example of the tension and rush of the challenge and victory that's one of the aspects of gaming that keeps us coming back, see this interesting clip of real-life vs. gamer:

Monday, March 22, 2010

You May Also Like...

in Kathleen Lubeck's Ensign article, The Church and Computers: Using Tools the Lord Has Provided, she lists numerous benefits to the church provided by computers. She wrote the article in 1984, just when personal computers were entering the scene in earnest. She showed almost everything about using computer technology to be a good thing, but a concern emerged from some Dean R. Cannon, then managing director of the Church’s Information Systems Department. He said that “Too much dependence on computers can cause a person to be less receptive to the promptings of the Spirit...If a priesthood leader relies too heavily on computerized information at his fingertips, there’s a danger that he might not realize when an individual has a problem and needs help. " What? Computers somehow decreasing your ability to be guided by the Holy Ghost? It might sound silly, but by eliminating all the hassle of communication between two people, the more you get exactly what you asked for, and the less you get any other information. Convenience and efficiency can hide unsolicited cues that share a person's situation with you—things you'd notice if you met with them in person. Getting hyper-focused on getting the information processed can leave out these little reminders to respond to people's unspoken needs and the promptings of the Spirit. Advertisers understand
this principle as applied to entertainment and merchandise. When you search the Internet or rent a movie from Netflix, they know there's more to your story, so they try to find out more about you and even make suggestions, like "You may also like Toy Story 2." The key here is remembering that the information you think to request is never enough. To magnify your calling you have to give opportunities for accidental information and spiritual promptings by meeting and mingling with people. "Got that report from Bro. Brown? You may also like to know how Bro. Brown's family is doing, and why Bro. Brown looks so tired lately."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We Still Need Cathedrals

In The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric Steven Raymond promotes more agile, open collaboration-style software development methods as superior to traditional managed approaches. He shoots down any counterarguments to that thesis one at a time. Being an entry-level software developer for BYU Risk Management, I have seen the two approaches mix, and I've seen both of them cause long, miserable software deaths as well as rapidly built, sleek, easy-to-use products. Agile and open development using more minds outside of Risk Management or the Office of Information Technology would have saved us hundreds, even thousands of dollars on missed design details and bugs. On the other hand, outside motivation to collaborate on BYU projects is not easy to find. Our projects largely concern and benefit only BYU Campus—it's why our department is here, after all. So on campus, we need a largely "cathedral" approach, but with the kind of focused, productive laziness my expert co-workers exhibit. This laziness efficiently finds a way to do the least work and get the most results, which is good for everyone involved. We succeed at our software development jobs on campus when we combine a looser cathedral structure with a bazaar attitude (pun intended).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Homebody Steps Onto the Flat World

Growing up in rural LaVerkin, Utah, I enjoyed a less social, but more liberal education than many of my peers. I was home-schooled, not by necessity as much as by choice. I felt my education was superior until I attended some middle and high school classes and discovered that the kids were surpassing me in mathematics. Illusion shattered: I was no longer the smartest kid in town. But neither was I the dumbest. Nevertheless as adulthood approached, I became increasingly concerned about my future and my ability to succeed in the grownup world of work and business and all those other mysterious adult things, especially with my lack of social skills. All I had ever wanted as a kid was a way to realize my creative imaginings and go on various adventures, or to make all the inventions I'd conceived. Much to my frustration, I kept hearing about other people beating me to all the inventions I thought of, because they were more skilled or educated or they knew more about how the world works, or they had more money and resources, or they knew the right people.

Enter post-mission freshman college year. More anxious than ever about being able to make it in the world, I took my first steps as a full time student anywhere besides my own home. It was hard and stressful but I did much better than average, and even had a few pseudo-girlfriends for the first time in my life. The structure of the public education system however caused me to increasingly view my home-school background as inadequate and behind the times in meeting current demands. After all, how could one or two parents mentor me in everything I needed to know, and provide all the resources to pursue my personal educational ambitions? Truly they couldn't provide me all the skills I wanted, but they gave me something more important—a desire and belief that there was no reason I couldn't be successful at anything I truly wanted, and the curiosity to explore it all. They kept a keen eye out for what turned me on and found opportunities for me to experience it more times than I can count. They couldn't usually afford it, but the attitude continues to make an impression on me. I've recently come full circle from my fears about my upbringing and realized our present conveyor-belt system of education is broken and inadequate to fill the rapidly changing needs of the world, despite how much I've learned in it, and how it's brought me to this very point of enlightenment in my life.

Unfortunately, before this epiphany, I was paralyzed by doubt and a traffic jam of life decisions that proved to be NP-complete. For about 6 years of schooling now, I've had to make unpassioned decisions about my career and education path, in absence of any clear, singularly defining role for me to take on. But recent experiences, including reading The World Is Flat, have shifted my paradigm. If Thomas Friedman is right, I wasn't being cheated at all by my homeschooled liberal arts education. My wise parents were training me to think in the ways required by the new, flat world. My dad saw it all coming, and I remember watching at least half the videos that were included in our CS-404 class curriculum while growing up. I remember almost everything presented in our class, as it actually happened. I lived through it. However, I didn't understand its effect on the world or myself until taking this course.

I am relieved to know that my "laziness" as a teenager was actually largely spent keenly exploring my interests and passions, adopting new technologies as soon as I could excitedly get them into my hands, and developing the hunger for knowledge that will keep me on the crest of the world's leading edge. Not because I have to try and keep up, but because all the things I love are what make me special enough to compete, because my interest in them joyfully impels me to explore, improve, and add a personal touch to the things I do, making them valuably unique in an increasingly commoditized world. This paradigm shift was inspired by Chapter 7, "The Right Stuff," and now I can finally stop fretting about my life decisions. Perhaps my reluctance to assign myself a single hat to wear throughout my life was a healthy attitude after all. My natural inclination has always been toward a variety of things too vastly different to fit into a packaged, cut-and-dried college major. Good news: The world doesn't want cut-and-dried anymore. I'm a success story in the making and I didn't even know it. I should've saved all those tears.

Further vindication came with Chapter 16, "The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention." My biggest passion besides creative arts and technologies is any fight against tyranny and injustice. Boyish fantasies inspired by the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars and various heroes of fiction, religious works and world history grew into conviction for contemporary issues and events. Things like the Tiananmen Square massacre in China and China's continued use of political prisons to torture and repress its citizens who dare to think differently... those things lit the fire inside me, and I constantly wish to know how I can be more directly involved in these hot-button humanitarian issues. My interests have expanded to fighting slavery and human trafficking in the United States, combating terrorism abroad and at home, undermining the porn industry, and preventing serious local crimes. I feel bad that my involvement in school has kept me too busy to do much in these areas, and I wondered how going to University is supposed to help me make any difference. As I've become more educated I realize that all the crazy revolutions and insurgences I'd dreamed up in my teenage mind to help people get freedom would have a terribly high cost in human lives and a horrific failure rate, especially considering what it would take to prevent societal collapse thereafter.

Since reading Chapter 16, I found further confirmation that free-market diplomacy would more fully persuade totalitarian and isolationist governments to give up their unrighteous control and persecution of their people, much more than any adventurous militant action could do. The more vested interest they can—and must—place in the world market, the more they must comply with the vigilant eagle's eye of people and businesses who love their fellow human beings. I learned that simply by being successful in doing the things I love, and even tapping local markets to provide for myself and my loved ones, I am doing the whole world a favor by increasing all nations' need to treat their people kindly, lest they lose face and their economy takes a turn for the worse. This, I believe, will prove more beneficial than all the blacklisting and boycotting and destructive action anyone could take against them. The more we invite them to share our goose that lays the golden egg and grow the pie larger, the more they'll have to abide by our ethics, or risk losing customers. And if we invest enough in places like China and Africa and get inside their infrastructure, we can influence them to support human rights because we will take our business elsewhere if they don't, because we don't want that stain on our hands, either. They know it, too, and they know they're missing out if they don't collaborate. Ergo, they must cooperate.

So by doing business rather than boycotting it in these (some would say undeserving) governments' nations, the human condition improves in general for all, so long as our ethics are more important than our pocketbooks. The reversal of those values is, after all, much of what causes human rights abuses in the first place, be it in Provo, Utah or Guangdong Province. I never had enough passion to be a businessman or entrepreneur before I came to think that collaborating internationally could save a breadwinner from going to the Laogai prison system for having unorthodox beliefs such as Christianity or for being a Falun Gong practitioner, perhaps never to return home. Such free business correspondence may very well be the vehicle that opens these nations' doors to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its missionary efforts.

So let's trade with them. Let's do business with them. If their money is dirty, lets help them make it clean. The best way to remove corruption is to starve it of incentive. And we can all do that best by doing what we love and loving what we do, always exploring and learning more about it. If a child is only interested in snakes (as in the book How Children Fail), and that interest is nurtured, it will grow into knowledge of herpetology, zoology, biology, international field studies, ecology, even statistics and math, and before long you have a youngster with the mindset of a PhD. Don't disapprove of your passions. The world needs them. It's not too late to chase your dreams, no matter how esoteric or eccentric they may be. Don't be afraid if a course isn't charted out for you or there are no college degrees for your interest. If it edifies, somebody out there needs you to excel in what you love.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Click the image to enlarge it so you can see the text:

I used to believe DownloadHelper wasn't necessarily trying to help people get into porn. Now, there's no doubt they are. See the horrified look on the wife's face in the picture above? How does hiding the source of the horror and denying its existence make things any more right? All it does is grant a sense of justification and false moral security.

Does anyone else find anything wrong with helping people sneak behind their spouse and children's backs and pour filth into their own home? Deceiving your family is destructive. If you feel like you have to hide something from them, you shouldn't involve yourself in it.

Video DownloadHelper is a useful browser add-on with legitimate and wholesome uses. It's very helpful for getting content for public domain and fair-use projects. It also has a patch available that excludes video sites specifically for "adult" content. However, DownloadHelper's willingness to support the forces that destroy families makes me think I should denounce their services to everyone I know.

They demonstrate a mentality that people should be able to consume sexually explicit material, and that hiding such material from their families protects them from any damage it could cause. This is wrong. Consuming such material inevitably damages relationships and social, mental, and emotional health.

If that last picture didn't convince you, here's another excerpt from the lower left area of their home page:

If you're using this product in the way its Web site is encouraging you to, this should give your conscience a twinge. But its creators are apparently not afraid of any such discomfort in your conscience. That's not much of a compliment to your character or theirs.

Spouses: Don't be fooled. It is not okay for your partner to bring porn into your marriage and justify it by hiding it from you. It is not just their own private matter.

Here's the offending page: