Monday, November 28, 2011

The Nerd Drug

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games or MMORPGs are destroying the lives of users all around the world. While they seem harmless (and even can be when handled with caution) they have caused gaming addictions that take over many gamers' lives. The typical gamer is a geeky guy who doesn't do well socially and often feels like the underdog in real life. When he is at his computer with his guild, he is on equal footing with everyone else 1. The virtual life becomes more attractive than reality so the gamer spends more and more time online developing his virtual self and becoming more and more addicted. Video game addictions (particularly addictions to MMORPGS) have led to divorces, college dropouts, lost jobs, and even suicides. It is unlikely that the government will be able to regulate video game addictions without violating our rights, so it is up to each individual to maintain a defense against this new drug.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Group Catalyst

 The world has many people, therefore there are many groups of people as well. Each person has so many characteristics that it is impossible to not share some of them with other people. The natural tendency humans have to associate themselves with people who have common characteristics used to be barred by the difficulty of finding such people. For example there may be a duct tape enthusiast in California and one in South Africa, but up until recently there was no way for them to collaborate and share ideas. With the social media revolution, it is now easy for anyone with access to the internet to join groups of people with the same interests. With the duct tape enthusiast example (which was randomly selected without any prior knowledge to any duct tape groups) any tape artisan can simple google "duct tape forum" and find a place to discuss their craftsmanship. With the cost of forming groups lowered nearly to zero, people can communicate and associate with unprecedented ease.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The United States Constitution permits Congress to pass patent and copyright laws to encourage the development of ideas. The idea is that the inventor will be more willing to invent things because he or she will make exclusive profit on the invention for a small amount of time. The current laws have digressed to the point that even the inventors hate them. Musicians would make more money if they owned their music, but they are forced to sell their ownership to record companies. The majority of software designers are fans of open source projects. The current patent laws actually impede invention through people who exploit them. "Patent trolls" are companies that don't actually invent anything, but just buy patents in order to sue people who happen to invent the same thing. In other words, instead of curing cancer, they buy an idea that may lead to curing cancer, wait for someone to cure cancer, and then sue them. Due to the fact that patents can be as vague as "an online backup system" and as bizarre as "thermally refreshed bread" (aka toast), just about anything an inventor can make is already patented.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Women and Wizards

Last Friday an old friend asked me if computer science was hard. My answer was simple, "It's easy, you just have to be friends with the wizards." People who don't understand computers think that they are magical. To them, little wizards live inside your laptop and summon the powers of the internet gremlins to process data. Both men and women are capable of eradicating this fallacy, but men are more likely to believe they can. Computer science is largely dominated by men due to the fact that women are more likely to lack self-confidence. As a computer science TA, I have seen that women tend to do as well (and often better) than men in CS classes. Even the brilliant female computer gurus, however, often do not feel confident with their abilities. If more women could see their capability in the computer industry, more women would exercise their capability in the computer industry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

By small and simple things

Often when talking about technology in the church, people say that it helps us by making talks and articles available worldwide, allowing us to do family history work, and allowing the church to manage its members. These things are important, but honestly if those are the only reasons why computers are good, then almost all of the time I spend using a computer is wasted. Computers are a part of our everyday life and are necessary in order to really function as a member of our society. I mostly use my computer to learn. I use it to do my assignments, to check when my assignments are due, to remind myself when I have classes, to submit my assignments, to look up answers to homework questions, and even to know what time it is so that I can get to class. I look for jobs and housing using computers. The entertainment and media I find on computers helps me join my culture by allowing me to understand allusions to internet memes. In short the little things that don't seem to have a huge spiritual significance are what really make computers important to members of the church.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Black Suits or Tux, who makes better software?
It seems that every year, more and more people are switching from using proprietary software to open source alternatives. One would think that the reason would be due solely to the fact that copyrighted programs are often expensive and open source software is usually free. In fact it is actually because the open source materials are better. The benefits of a business structure are apparently outweighed by the freedom that open source licenses provide for collaborative developers. The open source web browser Firefox and Google's browser Chrome (which is just an adaptation of their open source browser Chromium) hold 47% of the web browser market share1. Most of the users of these two web browser already have Internet Explorer or Safari installed on their machine, so the only reason they would use an open source browser is because they feel that it better supports their needs.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The keyboard is mightier than the sword

The internet has become a great source of power to the common people. According to Clay Shirky, the power of social media allows people can express their opinions more freely and inhibits governments ability to control what their subjects believe. Today, however, the Syrian government showed that the governed aren't the only people who can use this new weapon. In order to gain sympathy for their cause, the Syrian electronic army temporarily defaced Harvard's homepage, replacing it with a picture of their president and a threatening message accusing the US of aiding in the rebellions against their government. The fact that the Syrians have an "electronic army" and that they used it to post a message on a university's site, shows that internet communication is no longer just for the oppressed rebels. It serves both sides.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New's that actually affects real people, Netflix is splitting

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, just announced that he is planning to split Netflix in half. He will form a new company called "Quickster" which will handle all of the DVD by mail service so that Netflix can handle all of the online streaming. His hopes are that this will force his costumers to choose between the two (and more precisely, he's hoping they choose online streaming). Online streaming is the future of movie watching, and if Hastings wants to be successful, he'll have to operate his company accordingly. Personally, I hope that Netflix grows because I'd like to see more movies available on instant play. I'm bumming off my parents account, so I can only watch online (the DVD's get sent to their house in California). I'll be pretty upset however, if my parents switch over to Quickster and leave me with only YouTube for entertainment. Maybe I'll have to get off my rear and get my own account some day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The New Dr Watson

Last February, Watson (a 2,880 core IBM supercomputer) amazed the computing community as it defeated the two top human competitors in a game of Jeopardy! As impressive as this feat is, IBM has bigger goals in mind and could change the use of computers in scientific fields. Recently IBM announced that their next step is to apply the technology developed for Watson will be used to help doctors diagnose cancer. The interesting part is that Watson will learn how to recognize symptoms in much the same way that humans do: through experience. The question now is what this could mean for artificial intelligence in the future. Although Watson is still just a computer, it's almost eerie how human it seems. Could Watson lead to the development of rebellious computers that take control of humans like HAL? I personally think not. But am I as sure about that answer as I was a year ago? Definitely not.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Technology! Run for your lives!

We live in an era of rapid technological advancements, which, for many people, is frightening. It is true that new technologies affect our society and some of these effects are negative. However, it is important to remember that our generation did not invent technology. Technology is something which has been continually developing since the dawn of man, and it has always affected society for better or for worse. The invention of the wheel brought better transportation and car accidents; the invention of the internet brought improved information sharing and more addictions to pornography. Saying that the invention of the internet is bad for our society is like saying that the invention of the wheel was as well. In a driver's ed class, the instructor teaches the students how to avoid car accidents, but does not teach them that they should avoid cars. Likewise we need to understand the dangers that new technologies may present, but that does not mean that we need to shun technology as if it were some evil which comes to ruin our society.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The moment you have all waited for

I imagine that most people who know me (who I imagine to be most people (I'm very imaginative)) have spent a great deal of time thinking to themselves "self, why has Nathan's brilliant insights been shared with the whole world?" Well, you may now rest at ease because starting today, I will be declaring my thoughts to the world through the beautiful art of blogging and it will be the worlds own fault that they haven't read them.

I imagine that most people who know me well, don't believe this for a second and know that I'm probably only going to write a few blogs and realize that I'm not actually that brilliant and that the world doesn't really care for my ideas and then I'll quit. Well it turns out that I actually can't, at least not until the end of the semester because I'm actually required to keep this blog for my "Ethics and Computers in Society" class which ironically enough is called CS 404 (for those of you who don't understand what's funny about the number 404, go to

So since this is for my CS 404 class I will be required to make some posts on topics which may not appeal to the general non computer scientist public. I will, however, try to the utmost of my ability to keep them relatively interesting and entertaining. I will also make posts that are not required for the class which will hopefully be on more interesting topics. I will also post most or all of my facebook notes to this blog.  (I'll post them gradually over suspenseful intervals to keep you all on the edges of your seats).

So yeah. That's it I guess. Hope you enjoy, and if you don't pretend you do.