Friday, February 27, 2015

Fa'a Samoa: The Samoan Way

The South Pacific Islands
    I appreciated Makena's comment about rejecting what has been declared "true" as the prevailing dogma. As Descarte was bold in his day, we should model his forethought in regard to education.  I also thought about Ashley's comment on the public policy and legislative issues necessary to implement changes in US public education. In considering these, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Namulau’ulu Gaugau Tavana. Dr. Tavana is a native of Samoa, and was instrumental in designing and implementing a new educational system for the nation of Samoa. Instead of adhering to the British (or European) system, at which many Samoan youth experienced defeat  (and like Tonga, originally instituted because of their ties with New Zealand), Samoa embraced a new system which allowed direct input into curriculum standards and formation from village and district representation. In this system, native Samoans, elected from village chiefs and commoners, had a representative voice, along with business and government leaders, in determining what type of education would allow for the sanctity of cultural customs and mores combined with foundational core classes and life skills, thus benefiting all students. It was policy change from the ground up.
    Whereas the old system, taught in many instances by native teachers, but administered through New Zealand testing by “palangi” (whites) unfamiliar with the culture and intimidating to the native students, resulting in poor performance on standardized tests, the new system allowed for a wide range of achievement in not only core academics, but also what we might consider a trade school curriculum such as business, carpentry, metal work, home economics, and native agricultural skills. 

    As a native Samoan who grew up under the restraints of the old system, Dr. Tavana is one of the few native youth who achieved enough success to continue his education abroad. His life goal has been to increase the opportunities for success for the youth of his country by preserving the best of Samoa while fitting them to take their place without fear anywhere their dreams lead them.

Democracy isn't for Everything

On Tuesday I took a firm stand against an internet of open standards and consensual development of technologies. Corresponding with others has led me to refine my stance. I will explain why.

Baptism and Authority

As I wrote about in my last post, I argue that the way missionaries deal with investigators' concern of already having been baptized needs to change. I shared my ideas with multiple Facebook groups that I found, including an online missionary group, and an MTC teachers group. I got varied responses. Most of them admitted that they never had considered that there was a problem with the approach, or that there was another way to do it. This just confirmed to me the problem. For some reason we've only been teaching one way to do it, but as far as I can tell there is no manual or set of instructions that state it has to be done that way--we've just been doing it out of tradition.

Because it has only been done one way for so long I got some backlash for thinking that the way may be wrong. Some people did add some great insights to my thoughts, though. Some pointed out that when we emphasize that only our baptism is valid we are attacking their baptism, their beliefs, and probably an event that means a lot to them. The more I thought about that the more I decided that their baptism is probably actually valid in some ways in God's eyes. When someone is baptized into a church they are probably doing so because they have a desire to follow Christ and make a commitment to Him, and they are doing so to the best of their knowledge. When someone is baptized in another church out of the sincerity of their heart I don't think God frowns on that one bit. On the contrary, I'd bet He is delighted! Yes, I'm sure that He would rather they be baptized in His restored Church (and eventually they will have to if they are to live with Him in the Celestial Kingdom), but they are doing the best they can with the understanding they have. It's not our place to attack that. As President Hinckley used to emphasize, we need to invite them to bring the good that they have, and see if we can't add to it. We need to build on an investigator's faith, and the choices they've made to follow God up to this point in their lives, not tear down their faith, and minimize their previous righteous decisions.

Online Missionary Work Has Been Very Well Accepted

As I was searching online through forums on different websites, I was surprised to see how many people really accept online missionary work.  I couldn’t really find anyone who was truly against online missionary work.

There were, of course, many people attacking the church, depending on the website they were making their comments online.  However, many of these people were pretty obviously atheists, ex-Mormons, etc.

Image result for young ldsThere were also many people within the church who commented on the subject of online missionary work, and it was pretty obvious that most of them appreciated and accepted the church’s adoption of online media to do missionary work.

Thinking about what to do or how to continue with my idea of challenging the dogma of missionary work (since it seems like most people within the church already agree with me), I thought that the problem must be with those of my age group.  Granted, many people of my age group struggle to do a lot of things, given the fact that many of us are very busy with school, starting our lives, etc.  Whatever the case, it seems to be a struggle with my age group.

Also, I thought that it could simply be that the people online commenting on these things are most likely people who are good with and very accepting of technology already.  It would also make sense that most older people against online missionary work probably aren’t online commenting about it.

I think my next step would be to see more of what people my age think about online missionary work, and how to encourage them better.  Also, I think talking personally to people of older age groups who aren’t very into technology would help as well.

Viral or Downward Spiral

What color is this dress?

Chances are, some of you see white and gold and some of you seem blue and black.

Last night, this dress hit the internet and online forums (Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) went berserk debating the color of the dress. "Blue and black Camps" and "Team White and gold" started popping up, usually accompanied by #thedress. I first noticed the epidemic on twitter, where the only two trending topics were escaped llamas and the dress pictured above. I had been working for about five hours, during which time both dilemmas had risen to internet fame. The tweets at the beginning were fairly innocuous, most people were just weighing in. Did they think the dress was blue? How many iterations of "llow speed chase" could the active, tweeting community really come up with? But as I scrolled closer and closer to real time, comments posted became increasingly caustic. People spent less time defending what they saw in order to cut down whoever saw the other colors.

Ultimately the dress story will die down, but it illustrates a nice point and made my internet discussions with strangers a bit easier. In my last post I argued that we are too easily fueled by our passions and confirmation bias online, but after participating in a few Reddit threads and Twitter conversations I would like to amend my claim. We are likely fueled by the same bias concentrations in person and online, however, the platform of the internet facilitates fiery-er responses. Either anonymity or that degree of separation we are allowed online removes the human aspect of whomever we are talking to. Even as I was scrolling through different feeds to try and find a good place to begin conversation I cringed at most of the material I was sorting through.

My argument here is not any sort of regulation of anonymous comments, rather a call for ideas. How can we fundamentally change the way we think? How can we, in the future, look at comments online and see the person who wrote the comment before we see the potential argument?

Professor Burton also took part in the conversation after class on Wednesday, at my request, and provided an interesting suggestion: rather than regulate content, write "codes of conduct" into literal codes (and I'm paraphrasing). But what if we actually wrote into the codes of programs that would... say... bring a comment that got more likes to the top of a feed? That way most of the filthy comments could sink to the bottom and be ignored. Of course there are problems with a model this simple, but isn't it an intriguing idea? In one of my discussions I brought this up, and the user cited the app YikYak. For those unfamiliar with the app, it is essentially an anonymous Twitter for your geographic area. All user posts are anonymous, but if any post gets five "down" votes, it is deleted from the site and those with more "up" votes can be found on popular pages.

Even this has its problems, and after a few days of trying out the app I deleted it for wont of content worth scrolling through.

Perhaps as the internet continues to develop and we as individuals become more "programmed" into our profiles and as we become more comfortable with relationships that are strictly digital, we will be able to recognize the humanity of those we interact with on the internet. And perhaps when they are more human, we will maintain a decorum more similar to that which we carry on in physical debates and will blog with the understanding somebody thinks that the opposite side of your argument is valid, and maybe even consider not typing that thing at all if it isn't nice. 

In the meantime, the next time you are tempted to write a disparaging blog post that has the potential to go viral, or tweet an insult that tells the white and gold team that they must see white and gold because they are depressed, remember who the other side is and ask yourself if you would start that conversation face–to–face.

Don't Tell An Actuary He's "Too Smart"

            I never back down from a challenge. As expected I have received a lot of pushback to my new ideas surrounding the certification of actuaries from a couple of actuaries who have been around the block a few times. As I previously discussed in my last post, I feel that actuaries in general have a mentality about them that is almost unavoidable in feeling “smarter” than others. I have felt this in myself from time to time as I tirelessly work and sacrifice my time to pass actuarial exams. When I do pass them. I too can sometimes become “big-headed”. It is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped.
            This semester I have had the opportunity to take a class from a visiting Actuary. His class is amazing and his insights are great, as there aren't any fellowship actuaries currently teaching at BYU. I asked him what he thought about the exams, and if this dogma of being “smarter” than others existed, and was leading to the difficulty of the exams. He quickly shot me down, and stated that the exams are not a product of a better-than-the-world mentality, and that they have to be difficult to ensure actuaries know what they are doing. A response I expected as Joe’s comment suggested.
            I also messaged an actuary on LinkedIn who is in a group with me titled, The Entry Level Actuary. He responded almost identically to my teacher, saying that no such dogma existed among professional actuaries, and that the exams should be harder if anything else.
            So was I completely wrong? Perhaps. But I think it is also fair to suggest that those I talked with about this issue have a skewed frame of reference in which they would be unlikely to respond in any other manner than in which the one they already have. These were two men who had sacrificed many hours to take 8-10 actuarial exams, sacrificing time from family, friends, work, and school work to accomplish professional goals. They aren't about to say that the exams they sacrificed over are too hard, and especially that they are hard because of some kind of poor mentality among actuaries.

            The world is changing, and because of this there are more people out there that could be actuaries but can't because of an outdated thought about the requirements. Actuaries of the future need to change their frame of reference and see that more can be done to allow those who are able to be actuaries to become certified. 

Haters gonna hate

This assignment has been quite the ride.  Originally I started out with some general, warm and fuzzy ideas about how we should be more accepting of people coming to our country in search of a better life.  I thought the dogma I was attacking was racial haughtiness mixed with overzealous nationalism.  Since racism is talked about a lot I wanted to discuss something fresh and dug a little deeper.

Illegal immigration has opinions ranging from intolerant to permissive to hateful to accepting to you name it.  After getting to see a personal side of the issue by getting to know people in Mexico, the “illegals” crossed that way because the legal process is out of their monetary reach.  I saw that the majority crossing were seeking prosperity, safety, and new life.  That’s noble right?  It sounds to me a lot like the “pursuit of happiness.”  If that’s not “American” I don’t know what is. 

New Tolerance: Changing the Religious Education in America

      Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post that argued for an important change to be considered within America's education of religious tolerance (if you missed the post, please see the following link: Incurable Religion: Searching For Tolerance). After sharing the post with fellow students, I decided to engage over 1,500 individuals, individuals that I lovingly refer to as "Facebook friends," in this important dialogue. Surprisingly, the responses I received were focused, positive, and provided me with a thought-provoking analysis over the past few days.

      Zack Payne, an acquaintance that resides in North Carolina, brought up a key point.

Physical or Psychological? Whats worse?

My perspective has been enlarged greatly through communication with others. From conversation through social media to face to face interactions I have heard many people say they disagree with what is allowed on television but don’t think we can change anything.

Seniority the Outdated Mode

Well, it was a long shot, but I tried to contact the principal of my former high school, the president of the Clark County Education Association (the union for teachers in Las Vegas), and a trustee from the Clark County School District. I asked them all a very generic question about what their thoughts were on seniority in the school district. I’m still waiting to hear back from all of them. 

I did find a Facebook group that my own mother is a part of (who knew?) which is discussing these very types of issues as they relate to my former elementary school.

Ya just gotta love what ya do

Work = Money. Money can provide virtually all you need. Though it may or may not be true, that was my though process as a child and growing up in America, I was convinced that many thought the same for we are taught to value work.

“Surely this guy has good ideas,” I thought when I saw what looked like a prominent business man approach the restaurant.  He was wearing a well-fitting suit and tie and driving a luxury brand car. Surely, he was well off.

Thinking of the American dogma that sacrificing time off to work will bring success, I was convinced talking to the business man would reveal the same truth I learned as a kid. Though vacations are nice, certainly this business man understood the value gain from working as hard as possible or he would at least have interesting views about work. “Why do you and other American’s work so hard? A lot of people sacrifice vacation because it could put them ahead. Don’t you value taking time off?” I asked.

At first, he seemed puzzled for surely the answer seemed obvious. “I work to provide for my family,” he said. “We live in a society where we can work. You ask the question as though every American is miserable about the job they do. The problem is not that American’s aren’t taking time off. The problem is that American’s are doing jobs they hate. You know the saying. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Thinking back to the enlightenment, people were working hard. Their work developed much innovation and set the stage for our time today. Yet for the most part, we assumed they enjoyed it. Maybe the dogma isn't that American’s shun vacation, maybe the true problem is that American’s stopped loving what they do.  

Not Everything on the Internet is True??

As I browsed various internet articles and their comment threads regarding the legitimacy of information gathered over the internet and how to personally verify the source of said information, it struck me as ironic that I was falling into the mindset I am arguing again by blindly trusting the opinion of anonymous strangers over the internet. After all, how credible are anonymous opinions about credibility on the internet?

Changing the way we look at education

I have tried and am currently working on getting in touch Deanna Mayers. She is the curriculum coordinator for which is a website that develops curriculum for grades K-12. What made me want to get in touch with her was a presentation that she posted on twitter about how to become a maker educator. This is the idea of allowing kids the opportunity to build something with their own hands. Throughout the process they will be able to express creativity while at the same time learning about math, science and engineering. Now this is an idea worth pondering.

Since I have yet to hear from her I have been perusing the internet for ideas behind educational reform. I was immediately drawn back to Sir Kenneth Robinson. He is a member of an organization called RSA or Royal Society for the Arts. Their mission is this, “21st century Enlightenment: enriching society through ideas and action.” Sir Robinson has taken a particular look at the educational system and pondered how we can improve it and what actions need to be taken. He mentions that our current system of education was “designed and conceived for a different age… during the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution.” That was a few hundred years ago. It served its purpose when it was initially created but now it is simply outdated. With the advancement of technology we have all the information we could imagine at our fingertips.

Most companies now are looking for people who will be creative and innovative. Another important skill is adaptability since technology and the world around us seems to be changing so rapidly. Most schools are not focusing on developing these skills within their students because they are still hung up on the idea of what education used to be a few hundred years ago. This thinking will have detrimental effects on our economy in the future if we don’t act now. We need to start making changes from the bottom, up. We need to truly take a look at our schools and see them NOT as some sort of factory spitting out the next generation of workers but as a living and breathing organism, students are the future. Kids have a natural desire to learn but we snuff that out as soon as we begin to "educate" them. It may seem like a radical idea, but what if we let them govern their own education? Allowed them the opportunity to learn about what intrigues them? What if we let them use the technology that is so readily available for them? I believe that this would foster creativity, it would nourish their natural desire to learn and help them to understand the world around them. This goes back to being a maker educator. Giving students the opportunity to become producers instead of consumers, to learn how to collaborate with their peers, to be creative and innovative. These young thinkers have great potential, they are our future. Let's not fail them.

The 4-hour Workweek

A 4-hour workweek. Can you imagine? That's like going to work Monday morning and starting your weekend Monday afternoon. What a dream. In my research online, I came across the book "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. He was a workaholic who took a three week sabbatical to Europe. In those three weeks, he developed a new system that boosted his productivity tenfold.

In the reviews I read about the book, one advocate (Joshua Steimle) even wrote a love letter on Forbes to Tim about how much this system had changed his life. I reached out to Joshua via Twitter, and we had a brief exchange about the idea of a new norm for a workweek. My question for Joshua was what it would take for corporate America to adopt a new (a 4-day workweek, for example). His response was whether we want a new norm, or if we want no norm at all.

This completely shifted my perspective. Wouldn't it be better to just abolish the idea of a workweek altogether? We can all work when we want, where we want, how we want as long as we accomplish our objectives. Why even try to redefine what a "workweek" is? Why not just move to a new paradigm shift completely? It does make me wonder what it would take for society to be comfortable with no workweek norm at all.

It makes me think of the "certainty unbound" theme we discussed. Perhaps to see what society would become without the strains of a workweek norm, we'd have to just take a leap of faith. We'd have to go with what Bacon believed about being okay with not having all the answers. Some companies may flourish and some may fail, but we could adjust and continue testing new norms (or no norms) to see how we could benefit from systems that move away from the 40 hour workweek. Only time will tell what the workweek will become.

Is it the Issue of Privacy or the Issue of Power?

I discussed with various people about the potential benefits and risks of big data. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term big data, a formal definition from Google is given: extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. With the recent events concerning privacy issues, I thought my perspective would be unpopular. However, when I asked people about these ideas, I was pretty surprised.

Most people I talked to felt that we could benefit a lot from big data. When talking about it, often the example of pulling data from people's Facebook profiles came up. Most said they were fine if someone were to use their info from Facebook in order to promote research. One even said they liked how their ads were personalized to them so that if they were going to get pestered by ads anyways, at least they might be relevant to them. Another common view was that what you did on the web was your responsibility, and if someone used your web activity as a tool for measuring human behavior, there would be no fault to the analyst.

So all in all, the dogma of our behavior being exposed as a whole wasn't as big of an issue as I thought it was. Most of the issues had to do with power as well as the integrity of mankind today. The question became who is looking at this data? Do the opportunities really outweigh the risks?

Many of the people who had these concerns were the same people who worry that our national security or even that our government has too much power. However data is evolving in a different way than people are, Times are changing, and we are living in a world where more and more data is being produced. Once data is out there, it can never be erased. The answer isn't necessarily to not let people use the data, but rather to control it. If it better regulated and not loosely managed, we can be more assured that the chances of our private information going into the wrong hands will be greatly reduced.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Down with Levittown.

In waiting for a response from my previous Sociology 111 professor about his ideas, I've been thinking and looking up articles about credentialism.

One thing I thought about was what Sean M commented on my post. He brought up the idea that we as a society simply have the wrong definition of success. We strive for a do instead of a be.

Down The Rabbit Hole

In the search for how to make voting easier so that we will get a government that more fully represents the people, I looked into many ideas, including the good, the bad, and the outright radical.

In the search, I stumbled upon a journalist working in Detroit. When describing his feelings about voting on the internet, he expressed worry about what it could lead to, “#DownTheRabbitHole” has he put it. Opening voting up to the internet could easily lead to politicians taking control of the voting process. This is a valid concern, but is it all that different from the idea that there are politicians today tinkering with the voting process?

In communicating with an analyst in Denver, I discovered a much more radical solution. Dissolve the legislative branch of the government, and draw a random sample of citizens each year to fill those seats. Statisticians would love the idea, for this “sample” would be the best estimation of the “population” that is possible. If your name is drawn out of a randomization process, you go work for the government in deciding legislation.

This would lead to a government that, statistically speaking at least, would be a better representation of the people—which is exactly what we would be trying to do with enabling voting online. Its feasibility, however, remains an issue. What will the future hold? I suppose it is up to us, but we need to vote to make it happen.

Taking scientific theories with a grain of salt

I posted that our society needs to change our frame of reference on how we understand and accept scientific findings. During the Enlightenment, science took a forward step when the scientific method was implemented. Models were created to explain observations rather than taking the approach of "seeing only what I want to see because it agrees with my beliefs". Since then much progress has been made and we see the result in today's technology, medicine, and entertainment. So much progress has been made that we have begun to see science as more than it was intended.

Mathematics as a Safegaurd

After discussing melding mathematics, statistics and social sciences more with a Math Ed graduate student I got to interview one of BYU’s Math Education Faculty.  Our discussion was insightful as he sympathized with putting data analysis into social science classes and making math courses somewhat more exploratory in nature.

He naturally cautioned against pushing this too far, relating that people can learn to think well without mathematics.  He did, however, note that even those who are not interested in researching or using mathematics are often unequipped to evaluate and avoid financial predation of organizations who understand math and statistics all too well.  He emphasized learning the math of finance and understanding how to interpret statistical data and look at both critically.  Many people are deceived by arguments involving numeric data today and there are certain nuances to this sort of information that most college graduates are sadly unaware of.

Thomas Hobbs would have called for authority to prevent men from taking advantage of each other using numbers or finances.  I see that is what we need today as well.  The authority should build up the common man with the understanding they need to critically evaluate numeric data and analysis.  This skill can be taught in mathematics and statistics classes, then also reinforced and applied in social science classes, and it can be done for youth and adolescents as well.

The Arguments of Overhead

The video I linked to my post last week of Dan Pollota is one that I have seen many times. I have seen it in multiple classes and before that, I saw it on my own while digging through TED talks. Most of the comments I have heard from those I associate with (particularly in the nonprofit management minor) feel quite positive about his remarks and about how people ought to care about other factors besides overhead to determine whether or not a nonprofit is fulfilling its mission.

As I have plunged into other conversations through twitter feeds and online comments, I have found that there is a lot of negativity about this idea (granted, there is probably some self-selection bias because only people who are extremely passionate or extremely peeved will generally take the time to comment on an article). There were quite a few people who said that Dan Pollota was out of his mind and the majority of their arguments were that if they gave a dollar to charity, they wanted to know that a whole dollar made it to fulfilling the mission. While that is fine in theory, they are not taking into account the fact that it takes a lot of work to get something useful to the beneficiary. Also, a lot of that hard work is being done by people who need to be paid.

In some ways, a nonprofit is the opposite of a business like Walmart. There are products in Walmart that the company only makes 7-10 cents per dollar that someone pays for the product because of the cost to produce that item. Now, a nonprofit is doing the same process, but instead of being the consumer, the general public is now Walmart. Yes, you want to provide a toothbrush to someone in need, but first you have to pay for the production of the toothbrush. You have to pay for the raw materials, the building where it is produced, and the people's hourly wages who put in all the hard effort. Therefore, it makes sense that it is virtually impossible to get 100% of the donated money to the end user. There is a process and that whole process takes time and it takes money.

Additionally, as many other's pointed out in the conversations through the internet, when people only look at overhead percentages, they are not looking at the overall impact that the organization is making. They get so caught up in the salary of the CEO (because it is actually public information on a 990) that they don't see all the good that the organization is doing. This information is public because the government wants nonprofits to be held accountable for their spending. But, what for-profit CEO is going to tell you his/her salary? It is private information and in our culture it would be extremely improper to ask. Therefore, I don't think people should get so caught up in the overhead. People should look at the end product. Is the nonprofit really serving the constituency they say they are and are they doing a good job?

Keeping Up with the Joneses

From: Debt Free Me Please
On my way of out ENG 212 when I walked by the WILK, I stepped into Wells Fargo and just made a small withdrawal. Because they do it every time, I knew I would be invited to open a credit account. Although I have had this conversation with my teller before, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to run my new frame of reference by someone who knew a lot about credit.

A Pattern for Learning

The girl I visit teach could not be more different from me. She’s a freshman; I’m a senior. She doesn’t know what she wants to major in; I’ve known since seventh grade that I would major in English. She listens to mainstream Christian Music (think Reliant K); I listen almost exclusively to British artists (think Ed Sheeran). She wants a sapphire in her engagement ring; I’m all about the diamonds. You name a topic, and we will each have a very different answer.

I found out today that we’ve both been thinking about the same question. Why do we go to college? What is the point of higher education? It should be no surprise that our answers are very different.

Intolerant of Intolerance

As I continued to think about my topic of political correctness and the way it affects our society, I discussed with some acquaintances about what they think the main cause of or problem with being politically correct is. Based on my last blog post, I believe that political correctness is being taken to an extreme and is encroaching on personal freedoms of speech and expression, and can be used as a crutch by certain groups or political parties.

The feedback I received from people varied. Several had my same viewpoints. Two people felt that political correctness is useful in society to prevent minorities from feeling isolated, and that the pros of what political correctness is trying to accomplish outweigh the cons that we see today. However, I feel that the idea of being politically correct is being hugely abused.

After discussing this over with the people I chose, it seems that politically correctness comes from this feeling of entitlement that our generation seems to have. This leads to pride which causes people to feel very offended by something if you say it in "the wrong way." Our society is trying to prevent intolerance but is thereby being intolerant of others for their ideas that may seem intolerant. It's one big irony. One of my acquaintances expressed how political correctness is an "insidious form of censorship which only serves to push the limits of societal norms further away from that which we know to be right because we might be perceived as being mean."

So how do we change this? How do we make sure that people aren't saying harmful things or creating stereotypes, but not get our panties all up in a wad when someone has a difference of opinion, or a political party is pushing for a certain standard. And the truth is, I'm still working on that. As of right now, I don't know if there is a tangible way to cool the fire everyone is stirring up that is political correctness. It is an ideal our society needs to reach as a whole. But we could start by drawing a line. Don't make Paula Dean grovel for forgiveness because she said the "N-word" 20 years ago when it wasn't considered a bad word. That was 20 years ago. Let the past be the past. We need to look to the future. We need to teach at young age the idea of truth mixed with tact. Speak the truth in a tactful way. As my friend stated, "My conclusion is that people should strive to be straightforward yet tactful in all instances. That is how Jesus Christ taught and we should inevitably follow his example."

Connected, But Alone

Has social media made us less social?

You would think ‘social’ media would include a lot more interacting and socializing, just over various media instead of in-person or other ways. But over the past few years, people of all ages and demographics have integrated their lives with social media and can be found spending lots of time on their phones or other devices. I desired to discuss this issue with others. In an online forum, I asked this very question and received some very good feedback and discussion.

One response I received that answered yes said, “People no longer need to be able to communicate properly with others due to the fact that the internet is doing it for them. The ability to use internet phones to check social media sights has turned places like coffee shops and cafes into non-social areas. Instead of approaching strangers to be entertained in new situations people are just pulling out their phones and checking their social media so that they can feel connected to others without actually being connected to others.”

Another response that answered no talked about how “[social media] helps us grow a better social understanding with each other.” He stated that we can get to know people better by seeing what they are up to all the time through pictures and other media, and helps us stay connected with them.

Overall, I received about 75% of responses that said yes it has made us less social, and 25% that said no it hasn't. One particular response that stuck out to me the most gave me a link to a TED talk by a woman named Sherry Turkle. She is an author who wrote a book called: “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” I have posted the video below to this TED talk and it really hits home this idea to change the way we use and rely on technology/social media. It is great to be connected, but when your relationships are all online, we tend to actually feel alone and that is when it has to change.

To pay or not to pay

To pay or not to pay? That is the question. After speaking with Sterling Randle and Alex Clark , the sports editors for the on campus newspaper, I learned that there is not one clear answer on this issue. Randle is fully supportive of paying athletes and feel that it is simply not right that athletes are not compensated for jersey sales. However, he does not believe that it would be possible to pay all college athletes. Clark on the other hand feels that athletes already receive a free education which is more than fair in his mind when it comes to compensation for athletes. He also thinks that if schools were to start to pay athletes then this would diminish collegiate sports. 

"If we start paying athletes then I think it will destroy college athletics," said Clark. I think by paying athletes, college football would become the NFL d-league. This would mean that all the good athletes would go to the schools that are willing to pay the most and the smaller schools would not longer be able to compete with them."  

Here is a video against paying college athletes.

On Reddit, I thought one person made a very good point in support of paying athletes. 

"While they(athletes) are being compensated for playing by being given a scholarships you have to realize that they do not go to school, play their given sport, then go to bed only to repeat. Education is not money. While a scholarship has significant value, it cannot be exchanged for money. A student who comes from a poor family cannot use the "payment" of education to help feed his family, buy clothes, or other things, and if he tries to borrow money from anyone for this purpose, he and the school are struck with sanctions and suspensions. Unlike other college students, they do not have time to get a job, or paid internship to help pay for these things. Then is the problem of how much. I believe they should be given reasonable compensation. Ways to do this would be for them to get a cut of revenue, or seek endorsements."

Here's a video in support of paying athletes. 

I think that this is an issue that needs to be changed but I don't think that there is one right answer to this problem. However, I hope that someday college athletes can be paid for their merchandize. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Computation and Research

Theoretical math based on gambling was formalized by the French mathematician Pierre Fermat in the 1650s, from his exploration of probability theory came a theorem from Reverend Thomas Bayes.  Bayes work was well reasoned from the axioms of mathematics, however, it was computationally unfeasible, and therefore lived only in theory until the 1990s, when algorithms made Bayes’ theorem computationally feasible and improved dramatically the world of statistics and machine learning.

Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, worked with a mathematical model made by Johann Gauss to develop the idea of statistical regression, using statistics to analyze observational data. Observational data is abundant in our digital age.   Observational data is automatically being collected and could be used to inform research experiments. Today everyone who plans on researching using the scientific method ought to understand collecting and interpreting observational data.  To see things through the new lens of online data we need to pull from the world of the theoretical, arrived to on the ship of deduction, to build data finding and processing algorithms.

The past called for specialization of a field of knowledge like sociology, math, computer programming, economics or statistics.  Those who specialized typically were the more successful in their research as they could focus on something so specific that no one had attempted it before.  Today is the age in which flexibility is the dominantly trait of a world changing researcher.  At present we have so much information recorded.  It would inform focused research so well in social and organizational sciences.  However, there is a division between mathematicians, statisticians and social scientists that needs to be breached.

We need to change how the classes are taught so that students are ready to explore beyond the forte of their field.  Statisticians need to reason and derive their formulas deductively, they need to explore being a mathematician until they are comfortable coming up with models and formulas on their own.  Mathematicians need to estimate results before learning how to derive them exactly and reason through them totally soundly.  Social scientists need to become technology savvy and learn how to interpret and embrace new types of numerical data.  Doing this will open all three to the possibility of understanding the social and organizational world around them and performing more useful and significant research.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To Heck With the Open Web!

You're probably not a web developer so you may not fully understand my rage regarding this issue. When I say "open" I mean open source with open processes for developing technologies. To heck with that! It may sound good to most but I promise you its holding us back! The internet is great and I personally love to make great things on it. But because its so great and everyone uses it we can sometimes get stuck using old stuff that doesn't really work as good as the new stuff.

Missionary Work in the Modern World

Recently I was released from my calling in my ward as the ward mission leader.  Right when I was called, I was very unsure of what to do.  The previous ward mission leader came to me and let me know some of the things he had done, and he said I could pretty much do what I wanted.  My Bishop even told me that I could do what I wanted.

Part of the dogma of missionary work is that you go out and physically do missionary work by meeting with people in person.  Sometimes calling them on the phone can be appropriate, but even then you usually only do that with people you’ve already contacted in person.

As a newly called ward mission leader, I was told by the stake that our ward would be doing a pilot online missionary program.  We mostly focused on using Facebook to communicate with old friends about the Gospel.

Most of the members of my ward weren’t too excited about doing online missionary work.  They felt awkward about it, because they didn’t want to bother their friends.  I think this is the same worry that people have about missionary work in person.

I think we should be more comfortable with doing missionary work online.  I personally believe that the reason so many people are uncomfortable with it is because it’s new, and it’s out of the set of rules, or the dogma, that everyone is used to.  This can make change hard, but I think it will benefit us a lot if we’re willing to make the change.

That's Not Why You Were Baptized - The Problem of Authority

I've worked at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for a long time. There we help missionaries learn how to help others come unto Christ through baptism. We teach them how to help others overcome their concerns and make commitments to follow Christ. We as teachers often would role play as investigators to give the missionaries practice opportunities. We would pretend to be investigators with concerns, challenges, and questions, and then the missionaries would have to help us work through those and lead us to baptism. The last thing Christ commissioned to his apostles before he left was to go forth and baptize. This is still the commission to His missionaries today, and is something we stress in the MTC. Missionaries in the MTC will often extend an invitation to be baptized in the first meeting. The most common response to this invitation (at least from christians) is that he or she is already baptized. Almost without fail, the response to this by the missionaries to the investigator involves telling them in some way or another that their baptism was not performed by the proper authority, and that baptism has to be done by the proper authority to be valid. What the missionaries are teaching is absolutely true (that in order to enter into the Celestial Kingdom of God, one has to be baptized by the proper authority), but it drives me crazy that that is always our response to that issue, and I think that there are so many better responses to this issue (I don't want anyone to confuse my point. I absolutely believe that proper authority is essential to baptism, and that our church is the only church with that authority. I just think there are so many other things associated with baptism that are more worth focusing on). First off, how many of you were baptized because you had a burning testimony that whoever was baptizing you had proper authority. You may have known or understood that they had the proper authority, but I doubt that is why you were baptized. You were baptized probably because you believed that this church was true and you wanted to be baptized a member of it, or you believed on the testimony of your parents. The thing is, most of us got baptized because we wanted to join ourselves to the Church (which is one important main purpose of baptism), and receive all the myriad of blessings associated with membership in this church, not because you wanted to be baptized by proper authority.

I think the issue stems from the era in which the Church was founded. At the time, Catholicism was no longer THE authority in Christianity. For so long the Catholic Church had claim to proper priesthood authority, and then with the fall (in some sense) of the Catholic Church, and the rise of so many other Christian churches, there was a real dilemma pertaining to authority.  Then came the Restoration and the restoration of authority. If you read the accounts of many of the early missionaries for the Church you will read that their main selling point was not the Book of Mormon, but rather restored priesthood authority. That makes perfect sense, because that is what the people were looking for. You hear stories of people like Wilford Woodruff who searched diligently for a church with proper priesthood authority to baptize. Society has changed since that time, but unfortunately our preaching tactics too often have not. Not many people are anxiously searching for proper priesthood authority to baptize. They are, however, searching for happiness and peace in their families in this life and in eternity, forgiveness from their sins and peace of conscience, closeness to God, understanding of truth, etc. These are all things that baptism into our church can give them. These are the things people are searching for, and as missionaries we need to help them see the connection between those things and baptism, and not get too hung up on authority.

Internet Epistemology

The Enlightenment inspired us to ask ourselves how we know what we know, an ideology that we sometimes sweep under the rug. A change that is necessary, particularly in our internet age, is asking ourselves where we learned what we know.

The advent of mass media facilitated unearned credibility. It began with the printing press and has found its new home on the web–particularly in the blogosphere. I am not arguing that these sources should always be ignored, but the effulgence of the knowledge of those authors caught in the throws of their own passions is lost. Their watchers, readers, subscribers often only pass on base, emotional rhetoric.

Beyond this, information cherry-picking is easier than ever. Demassification of mass media has created niches in which validation for any worldview, opinion, or "best family recipe" is not only available, but readily accessible.

I understand confirmation bias has been and will continue to be an integral piece of individual development. However, moving forward with more information more accessible than ever, we must train ourselves to be vigilant in the media that we consume, particularly when it is more driven my emotion than reason. A professor recently relayed a caution about searching for news media, "if there is more heat than light, it is useless."

The next time you hear or are tempted to say, "I read in an article that..." remember that Facebook friend who authors a popular blog. We must fundamentally change what we consider credible, or at the very least take more grains of salt rather than spoonfuls of sugar with our information.

Video Killed the Radio Star?

As the years have gone by, radio seems to have been kicked farther and farther into its grave. First, the Walkman and portable mix tapes. Then CDS. And the most fatal blow of all—MP3s and iPods. Each development has made radio seem more and more irrelevant. Why listen to a random stream of music when you can listen to a personally curated playlist? And when’s the last time you heard of a family sitting down together to listen to their favorite radio program? It was when your grandparents were talking about their childhood. Nowadays, we have our widescreen hi-def 3D plasma SmartTVs to keep us entertained.

So radio is dead, right? Broadcast executives sure treat it like it is.  And that is the source of their many problems.

NOT a "One Size Fits All"

Tongatapu, main island of Tonga
    Many Americans are dissatisfied with the public school system, and scapegoats vary from federal mandates, standardized testing, local districts having inept superintendents poor teacher training, poor incentives, student apathy… the list continues on and on. One thing has become very clear: what we need isn’t a scapegoat, what we need is a new way of looking at education. 
    The Kingdom of Tonga is, economically speaking, the poorest nation in the South Pacific. It would be the last place most people would look for a role model, but its educational system--particularly on the main island--bears a little scrutiny. Tongans have historically viewed fair-skinned people as being of noble rank or birth, and have accorded them respect. Smart enough to recognize the knowledge that Europeans possessed as they came among the native people, King Tupou I was eager to educate his people in knowledge beyond what Tonga then possessed. At first, wearing European-style uniforms, and modeling after the British system, Tonga began a more formal kind of education, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that they could keep what was innately Tongan, like dress and language, while embracing math, science, world history and the English written language—all in a way that made sense for Tongans. The current national literacy rate is 99%. While there is not variety or “fluff” courses offered in the Tongan system, what is taught is learned well. Students entering BYU-Hawaii, for example, found that some core GE courses consisted of material comprehensively covered in Tonga.

    We must find alternatives to the current prevailing philosophy of standardized testing and “one size fits all” attitudes prevalent in the American school system. What we teach must be taught well. If it is possible for Tonga to adjust curriculum, expectations, and outcomes, surely one of the greatest nations on earth can find their way out of the dark. And a little island (nation) shall lead them…