Wednesday, September 5, 2012

LDS Values and the Democratic Party

Personally, reading this article makes me feel uncomfortable, especially after hearing Harry Reid's speech yesterday at the convention. (It's hard for me to see one Mormon so blatantly distort the intentions and character of another in a public discourse when, as a fellow Mormon, I know he knows better.)  I feel like they're twisting the true meaning of one of my favorite hymns into something that it is not.  I was particularly disturbed by this part:

"I'm sure it's that way in both parties," he said. "Many of us are uncomfortable with our party's position on abortion, just as I'm sure there are many Republicans who are uncomfortable with their party's lack of attention to 'love thy neighbor.'"  In fact, Janis said, "the Republican Party is saying that the idea of loving our neighbor and taking care of each other are not good things to be striving for. I'm sure that makes a lot of LDS Republicans pause and wonder if they are in the right party."

What is his definition of "love thy neighbor"?  Never has anyone in the Republican party said (that I'm aware of) that loving our neighbor is "not a good thing to be striving for"!!  This man is equating "love thy neighbor" with "create a government that enforces transfer of resources from those who have more to those who have less".  That is NOT the same thing as "love thy neighbor".  This man judges the Republican party of not supporting the idea of "love they neighbor" simply because we believe that true heart-felt love and charity is a personal quality and not one that can be enforced by government, and that the role of government has more to do with enforcing the environment of freedom and liberty so that true love and charity is able to thrive.

It's true that neither party is perfect.  It's true that there are individuals in both the Republican and the Democratic parties that are imperfect, and some that are very bad, in both parties.  We have to be careful in the Republican party of hypocrites who claim to be a part of our Morality but who personally are quite the opposite.  But when you get down to the fundamentals of the principles we are pushing for, those sought for in the Republican party seem to me to be much more consistent with LDS values than the ones that are being sought for in the Democratic party.  I will concede that historically, the Democratic party had a less extreme view on things, respected personal agency, responsibility and Biblical morality more, and simply stood as a voice for things the government should be doing, whereas the Republican party historically stood for things the government shouldn't be doing.  That in and of itself is not a bad thing -- the government has both vital responsibilities and vital limits, and it's good to have people checking both sides.   But the Democratic party is different now, especially with Obama as their figurehead.  It has begun to completely abandon critical American values that have been with us since the Founding, and adopt the view that the Constitution is "old" and "outdated" because it protects Liberty at a higher priority than Health and Comfort, that it protects Freedom of Religion at a higher priority than Tolerance, and that the Balance of Powers only gets in the way of enacting an Ideology which is becoming increasingly and inconveniently inconsistent with our Founding Documents.

Some members of the church will argue that because the church doesn't endorse any party or candidate that its somehow taboo to declare one political direction right and true and the other perilous and wrong.  On the contrary, it is our duty to do just that.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Concerning David Cameron

When I took AP Comparative Politics my Junior year of high school, Tony Blair was Prime Minister in the United Kingdom. It was 2007, and as we watched "Prime Minister's Questions" each week, I was extremely impressed by the clear and nimble way that Mr. Blair defended his positions and those of his party. He is a charismatic man, and I liked him because he was quick on his feet, and his reasoning was, well, reasonable. I remember wishing that we had "The President's Questions" in the United States, where Presidents would have to defend their policies in front of the onslaught of members of Congress. (However, Bush was president at the time, and that, of course, would not have gone over well)

Moving back to the study of England that year, I remember watching the "Shadow Government" led by David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, argue with the policies of Tony Blair's government. Biased by my liking of Tony Blair, I didn't like Cameron. He may have been more to the political right than Blair's government, but somehow he came off as a sort of intellectual brat, with quipped words and angry, calculated arguments that made him seem like the angry mother hummingbird that used to live in my backyard, furiously driving away any bluejay or robin that came to rest anywhere on the tree where the hummingbird lived. Cameron had no right to be so critical of a government that was obviously doing such a good job running the country, I thought to myself.

Well, four years pass, and I discover that Blair's successor Brown had been quite the failure, and David Cameron was now in charge of a Conservative coalition in Parliament. I wasn't impressed. When I heard of a wiretapping scandal, and then rumors that people higher in government knew about it, I blamed it all on PM Cameron. I imagined that if he wasn't bad enough as an irritating shadow prime minister, it's only right that he would be corrupt too. Oh, if only they would call another election so Labour could win back it's majority, everything would be so much better!

Well...that was a long story that should have been shorter, but to sum up, I seriously misjudged David Cameron. Recently I've had the opportunity to get to know his positions better, and I've been very pleasantly surprised by a couple of the speeches I've read by him lately. I like British politics because it's so different from American politics. It's more hats off, hands on, versatile, and smaller scale. They're ruling an island closer to California in population (a bit more actually) with actually a lot less land and even more diversity. With the way Parliament is run, and especially with "Question Time" every week, it feels government leaders are more directly responsible to the people. Washington, D.C. is a long ways away when you live in Utah. But in England your PM just lives over in London, and every week he has to stand up and defend his positions to the people. That's a cool way to run the country.

Anyway, so Mr. Cameron gave a speech about the King James' Bible, and I thought it was brilliant. Actually, I accidentally read a speech of his about families thinking, at first, that it was his Christian values speech. It was equally brilliant and very pragmatic. Both articles made me very interested in the man, so I read more than half of the wikipedia page on him. He seems to me to be a solid individual - young (the youngest PM since the Earl of Liverpool, 200 years ago), and very passionate. But he's also a man of decent character. I may be wrong about that when some scandal happens, but the fact is that his speeches are very convincing of this fact, and his words calling for a "responsibility revolution" in England are very stirring to me. In his speech on the King James Bible, he states multiple times that the UK is a nation formed on Christian values, and that there should be no shame in making that clear. His reasoning for the great value of religious principles to the country, including charity, kindness, respect, and virtue, are convincing, and it seems he really did his homework, even quoting his favorite passages of the Bible. His arguments are completely contrary to what the men over at are doing, a site that I found to be very falsely professional. They're anti-religion so they might as well just come out and say it. They want God and all mention of HIm out of their lives and out of the country.

My project in England is going to be more to inform than to evaluate. But I am exercising my "reflexivity" (a term I'm supposed to memorize) by noting that I have a very big point of view about religion. I wish the UK was more religious because I believe the people would be happier if they were. I believe religious beliefs inform moral decisions and support the structure of strong families. I see increasing secularism in the country as a negative change, although I don't believe everyone who is involved in it is an evil person. On the contrary, I believe England is made up of mostly very decent people, and that is why losing religion is so harmful. Even very decent people are highly influenced by their circumstances, and the world today teaches little more than immorality and self service, two principles which only serve to break down society further.

So that's my bias, and I thought I would get it out there. Still, after reading David Cameron's comments on the matter, it's nice to know there are influential leaders in the country that don't feel much differently about religiosity than I do.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Look at Two Competing Programming Ideologies

A Look at Two Competing Programming Ideologies
by Steven Schmidt

In today’s world of science and technology, a couple of competing ideologies have arisen in the realm of computer programming. These two ideologies are held, more or less, by two different camps of people.

On the one hand we have the Computer Scientist.  These individuals came out of the School of Thought which has embraced the computer revolution of the past 25 years, and which teaches that this revolution has led to the pinnacle of programming perfection - the art of Large Scale Software Development, Object Oriented Programming, an assumption that computer memory is cheap and plentiful, and that nearly all problems have already been solved by Logicians and Mathematicians in the Standard Design Pattern collection.  This camp views any deviation from these principles as old, obsolete, and out-of-date.  This is an assumed fact, since a large majority have never spent any significant time programming in any other way than this Software Development ideology that they have been taught.

On the other hand, we have the Engineer or Physicist.  These individuals spend less time in the world of philosophy and abstract logic, and live in a more practical world.  They have real-world problems that must be solved, and ultimately what matters is that the answer is absolutely right, and that it was arrived at in good time.  Or, that the machine absolutely works, and that it won’t break.  These types of programmers are often in circumstances where memory is not plentiful (either because the data sets are huge or that the computer hardware is small, hardened, and/or proprietary), and the efficiency of the algorithm can be the difference between success and failure.

The nature of the problems that these two groups face have resulted in two very different programming philosophies.  Each have their pros and cons, and each is effective for the type of problems they are intended to solve.

The Computer Scientist’s philosophy works well for large-scale projects that are seen and maintained by hundreds of software engineers over several years, and the software used by thousands of users.  The computer hardware is generally standard consumer-level electronics, and the data-set sizes are usually small and easy to work with.  Little bugs or inaccuracies in the software’s operation are inconvenient, but most of the time do not jeopardize the whole project.

The Engineer or Physicist’s philosophy works well for small yet highly complex proprietary projects that will most likely be maintained by only a small group of engineers.  The problem it is designed to solve is extremely specialized, and absolutely must work properly to work at all.  The circumstance of the algorithm is often unusual and specific to the problem at hand, so no assumptions can be made until the problem is understood thoroughly, by which time an efficient process has already been comprehended by the engineers without respect to any pre-defined Standard Pattern.  Thus, any similarity to actual Design Patterns, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

These two philosophies ought to be able to live and work together in harmony.  The problem, however, has been an insistence of many individuals within each of these two camps to stubbornly stick to their own preferred ideology, assuming that their point of view is “Right in All Cases and is Inherently Superior”.  This attitude seems to have affected those in the Computer Scientist camp more than the Engineer/Physicist camp, largely, I think, because of the way each have been taught their field.  Computer Scientists are taught a purely Object-Oriented Programming style with a historical context that emphasizes it as a “new” pattern that replaces and improves upon the non-Object-Oriented patterns of the past.  They then immerse themselves in this Object-Oriented paradigm, and gain little or no experience using the older patterns.  Most Engineers and Physicists, on the other hand, are not given any Object-Oriented education, but are immersed instead in the non-Object-Oriented pattern, with emphasis not on programming styles but rather on results.  The Engineers and Physicists suffer because they miss out on the Object Oriented understanding, but they become very familiar with many advantages in non-Object-Oriented programming.  They comprehend that Object Oriented programming has many advantages in many areas (as their practical experience suggests that all programming styles have their pros and cons), and so respect its use, but lack the experience to utilize it effectively. The Computer Scientists, however, interact with Physicists and Engineers and quickly recognize their lack of Object-Oriented understanding.  Their knee-jerk reaction, therefore, is that the Physicists and Engineers are ignorant and old-fashioned when it comes to programming, because they use what the Computer Scientists have been taught is an inferior programming style.  As a result, many Computer Scientists have little or no interest in learning or appreciating the many pros that non-Object-Oriented programming has in many circumstances.  Thus, the divide perpetuates.

And so, in an attempt to break this divide, let us examine these two philosophies in some detail, highlighting some of the difficulties that arise from enforcing a one-sided point of view.


The Computer Scientist is all about sacrificing for the sake of the software’s “public interface”.  To them, the public interface is the pinnacle of all programming holiness, and must always be maintained.  This means that no matter what the object or function or framework actually does under the hood, it needs to maintain the "face" of being a standard Joe Blow element.  It's all about properly maintaining the facade.  Even if this means bending over backwards and jumping through strange obscure hoops, overriding initialize and deallocate functions, etc, all for the sake of maintaining an interface that the user of the object or framework finds normal.

This, of course, is because it is assumed that there is a huge group of people using this interface that have their own software that depend on its consistency.  This makes sense for large-scale software projects that are in fact used by many different people and entities.

The problem with this, however, is that nobody outside of that framework ever knows really what's going on under the hood.  The Computer Scientist would argue that you "don't care" what's under the hood, because, like I said, if the interface is maintained, then it doesn't matter what happens, even if what actually is happening is completely different then what you'd expect by the normal 'meaning' of the interface syntax.  As long as the result is correct, you shouldn't care, they say.

The Engineer or Physicist, on the other hand, is all about consistency and transparency.  What happens under-the-hood matters -- to obscure what is going on just works against you.  An Engineer or Physicist is sensitive to the validity of a syntactical language.   If the code is written a certain way, then it implies a particular functionality underneath.  If the code is written differently underneath, then it should be written differently on the outside to reflect that difference in operation.  If sacrifice must be made, then conformity should be sacrificed for the sake of being specific and accurate.

The Computer Scientist is also the king of re-using functionality.  Why do it over again if what's already there has already been tested and proven?  And so, a Computer Scientist will sacrifice and program and bend-over-backwards twice as much all for the sake of utilizing already-created functionality.  Don't reinvent the wheel, they say.  You might introduce new bugs, they say.  Who cares if our logic seems upside-down and backwards because we're trying to adapt a functionality to something way different than it was intended?  As long as we maintain the interface, who cares? they say.  These arguments are good arguments, it is true, but only to a certain extent.

The Engineers and Physicists, by contrast, are all about practicality.  If it can be done simply, then do it simply.  If there's a direct way to get the job done right there in that function, then do it directly and get the job done right there.  Enforcing the reuse of code or conforming to the standard pattern is frivolous when it could have been done in a quarter of the time and with a quarter of the code by reworking the problem from scratch in twenty lines of code.  Besides, to do it this way makes it very clear what is being done, because you see it right in front of you.  No need to trace the bug through five different frameworks and fifty different class methods before you find the block of code that actually does the work!  In addition, if there’s a slight variation in how the algorithm should work in that particular instance, then it’s easy to adjust it without unexpectedly affecting how a different unrelated part of the code operates.

The Computer Scientist considers it extremely important to conform to Standard Design Patterns, even if the software ends up being structured differently than the reality the software was designed to serve.  This inconsistency is not seen as a problem because the majority of programmers are so deep in their corner of the software that they don't know or care to know the big-picture purpose.  The fact that the chosen design pattern is “over-kill” for the context of the problem (since the pattern was designed to solve a much wider set of problems than the particular one at hand) is either not considered or is ignored for the purpose of conforming to a pattern that all programmers (it is assumed) already know.  (This assumption is rationalized by a circular proof - defining “real programmers” as those who know and embrace these design patterns, and dismissing all who don’t know them as irrelevant, since by that definition they are not “real programmers”.)

The Engineer or Physicist, on the other hand, is very careful to remember the form and structure of the reality behind the model.  The software must clearly parallel the reality it is designed to work for, for both conceptual clarity and algorithmic accuracy.  Ultimately it is the end goal of the software that counts, and the underlying structure is only created to serve that end.  It is recognized that there may be a standard design pattern for doing this particular thing, but if that pattern obscures the reality behind the purpose of the software, or if it makes the software more complicated then it needs to be, then it shouldn't be used.  If a programmer who is new to the project thoroughly understands the problem (the reality) the software was designed to solve, then parallels between the problem and the software are recognized quickly and easily, allowing the new programmer to quickly become a contributing member of the team.

As this is done, the simplest and most to-the-point solution is preferred.  You see, the big-picture concept behind the code does matter, and the more abstraction and unneeded complication you layer on, the harder it is for the scientist to conceptually maintain the big-picture model.  The fact that the programmer seeks to see the big-picture helps keep the project to a small scale.  And because of its small conceptual ‘size’, the software can be written fast and can go from development to outcome quickly.  The few programmers who work on it understand the project from top to bottom, inside and out, and can therefore modify and change the code quickly, can find bugs in the code quickly, and potential inefficiencies are comprehended and avoided.

The Computer Scientist will rarely attempt to comprehend the big-picture of the software.  Whether this is a result of the software being too big and complicated to comprehend even if they tried, or because the software became that way because they never tried in the first place, is debatable and probably depends on the specific project.  Nonetheless, as a result the Computer Scientist depends on other reference points to maintain code reliability and operation than does the Physicist or Engineer.  Hence their insistence on using Design Patterns.  The fact is, they don’t understand the big picture of the program, but they do understand the Design Pattern and the Public Interface to the incomprehensible blob that is the rest of the program.  So if they maintain the pattern and match the interface, then the software should keep on doing what it’s doing -- whatever that is.

Also as a result of not comprehending the big-picture, the Computer Scientist is hyper-paranoid about unknown or edge use-cases.  They are constantly building into the code every last safeguard against every last possible way that a framework or class or method could possibly be used by an unknown caller to the code.  And since they don’t know what the rest of the program does, then every case is within the realm of possibility.  Certainly, when working on a large-scale project, this is very often the only way to avoid potential bugs.

The Engineer or Physicist doesn't have to be so paranoid.  They have no need to consider every edge case, because they already know who will call the code and how the code will be used.  In response to the Computer Scientist's complaint "But if you call this method this way then the code will crash!" the engineer or physicist will say "But I will never call this code that way.  It's only going to be used in a specific such-and-such scenario, where that isn't an issue."

Both the Computer Scientist and the Physicist or Engineer from time to time find need to write data to disk.  Computer Scientists have many formats that they find themselves partial to, but XML seems to be one that is particularly common in recent years.  If something needs to be written to disk, XML is very often the format of choice.  This is because the format is extremely easy to write a parser for, and is very “object friendly” -- it allows for clear text representations of objects and structures of objects.  It also helps that the classes defined in many standard libraries have built-in XML support.  As a result, many Computer Scientists will default to using XML whenever anything needs to be written to disk.  This is understandable, since a common and unambiguously defined file format makes it easy to allow many different frameworks and programs to read and interpret the file without much adaptation or head-ache.

However, this partiality to the XML format has become so predominate that many Computer Scientists have either forgotten or are completely blind to its negatives, some of which are big problems for the types of applications that Physicists and Engineers encounter.  Take, for example, the fact that generally an XML file must be parsed completely from beginning to end before the data contained in the file can be used.  The file format generally does not support “streaming”, or the ability to read and work on small pieces of the file at a time, without seeing to the end of the file.  (This is because an object being read from an XML-formatted file can’t be created fully in memory until the ending </tag> is reached.  Usually, there is a tag that defines the whole file, the start <tag> at the beginning of the file and the ending </tag> found at the very end.  Nothing is for sure until that ending tag is reached.)  Think about what this means for both speed and memory.  If the whole file must be read in order for it to be used, then that probably also means that the entire contents of the file must be held in memory at the same time.  It also means that the computer must wait for the file to be completely read before it can do anything.  What if that file is 200 GB in size?  What if the computer running this code has only 4 MB of RAM because its a proprietary embedded computer system on a satellite?  Another negative is the percentage of the file that the identifiers take up.  If a particular item in the file is only a few characters in length, then adding the identifier tags could double the size of these files on disk.  That 200 GB file just became 400 GB.

The Engineer or Physicist (as the above paragraph makes quite clear) often has clear reasons to choose to write their files not in an XML-type format but instead as simple lists of numbers or matrices.  These files can be read one line at a time, with the program only needing to hold one line or even one number in memory at a time.  The file only contains the information it needs, so will not be overly bloated on disk, saving both disk space and the time it takes to read the file.  The sacrifice, of course, is clarity.  If the program reading the file doesn’t already know what format to expect, then that information is lost.


There are probably more areas that can be highlighted.  The point is, as computers and technology hold a bigger and bigger influence on our world, the need to understand the engineering philosophies behind all kinds of technological fields will become more and more important.  No one philosophy trumps all, and no one paradigm is superior to any other, as much as each of our Prides want to tell us otherwise.  As people, and as coworkers, let us hope to keep our minds open to new ideas and even old ideas -- always remembering that perhaps, in this case, there was something I missed.  Maybe, just this once, doing it that way is better after all.