Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pilots

I went to an African Children's Choir concert in Idaho earlier this month. The choir is composed of kids from Africa, and it gives them a chance to see the world and realize that life can be better. At the end of the concert, all of the kids in the choir came out on stage, and, one by one, each of them said what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was moving to see that these kids who grew up with nothing, many in refugee camps, had high hopes for the future. Many wanted to be doctors, a few engineers, some teachers, and one cute kid said he wanted to be an optometrist. However, by far the most common aspiration was to be a pilot.

Last night I watched a documentary about Iraq (Iraq in Fragments). One segment focused on a fatherless boy who worked at a mechanic shop in Baghdad. At one point someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said he wanted to be a pilot.

These are just two anecdotal experiences, but it is interesting that so many of these kids who grew up with little aspire to be pilots. Perhaps for them flying is not just a respectable profession, not just a way to make money, but a symbol of freedom. Flying means control; it means hope. Flying means being able to soar to new personal heights. I hope that these kids—and the millions of others like them—reach their aspirations. I'm thankful to have grown up in an environment that has provided me the freedom to choose my future.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Look Ma, I'm on TV!

Apparently I'm a TV star these days. My cousin Matthew is in town for Thanksgiving, and he mentioned offhandedly last night that he saw me on TV recently. KBYU filmed lots of footage of the rocket project I worked on, and they interviewed me and a few other team members, but I didn't think they were ever going to produce the segment since we never launched.

It turns out I was wrong. After a little digging, I found the 16 August 2008 edition of BYU Weekly, which featured the rocket. You can watch it below.

video

(The original video is available from BYU Broadcasting.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Flying over the Grand Canyon

I got a last-minute invitation a week ago fly over the Grand Canyon in a small plane. At first I equivocated, since I had some other commitments, but after thinking for a little while, I realized that I might not have such an amazing opportunity for a long time, and I decided to go.

I showed up at the Provo airport on Saturday afternoon and met my friend Alyssa, her friend Dan (who has the plane and is a pilot), and Alyssa's friend Jenny. We loaded up, and Dan took off. After he got his Cessna 172 off the ground, he turned over the controls to me, and I got to fly pretty much all the way to Las Vegas. We flew over Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park on the way, and we stopped to get gas in Mesquite.

Flying was amazing. I've been interested in aerospace since I was a little kid, and I've always wanted to become a pilot, so I was living the dream last weekend. I had to concentrate while I was flying to keep the plane at the right altitude and headed in the right direction, but it wasn't too hard.

We landed at Henderson Executive airport in Las Vegas on Saturday night. After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Strip. We rode the Big Shot at the Stratosphere, which was really fun, although it was almost 3 a.m., so I was pretty tired. We went to church in Las Vegas the next morning and then headed back to the airport.

We flew the length of the Grand Canyon from Vegas to Page, Arizona. Along the way, we got great views of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, Havasupai, and the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. We stopped in Page for gas, and when we took off from there, the sun had just set over Lake Powell, and the reflections of the vivid sunset off of the lake were beautiful.

The weather was beautiful and the views were great this past weekend. I'm really glad that I got to go. Thanks, Dan and Alyssa!

I took a couple of sets of pictures (set I, set II). You can see a few of my favorites below.


The cockpit. There are two sets of controls for everything, so either person can fly. I sat on the right.


Jenny and Alyssa


Zion National Park. Angel's Landing is the small mountain (below all the others, on the left edge of the valley) in almost the exact center of the picture.


Landing in Mesquite. The airport wasn't much more than a little shack.


On top of the Stratosphere, with the Strip behind us. We were all a little tired.


Dan's Cessna 172, tail number 20529
(that's "two zero five two niner", just like on The Incredibles :))


Hoover Dam and Lake Mead


Grand Canyon. Turns out it's a pretty big hole.


It was kind of hazy on Sunday. It made some things less pretty, but I really like how it gives depth to this picture.


Glen Canyon Dam. Lake Powell is on the left.


Sunset over Lake Powell

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Don't save the automakers

I was going to write a blog entry about why we shouldn't bail out the U.S. automakers, who, like everyone else, it seems, are in financial trouble. The Economist saved me an hour or two, though, since they wrote up the argument against the bailout—and they did a better job than I would have, anyway.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lectures

As a college student, I've been to my fair share of lectures—well over 2000 of them since I started, I reckon. Most have been regular class lectures, of course, but every once in a while I go to others, which often end up being the best ones. One of the things that I really like about attending a large university is that there are lots of opportunities to learn about things outside of my usual field of study.

This semester I've been to some interesting lectures:
  • Sustainable education in Cambodia, presented by an American woman who adopted a child from Cambodia, and ended up establishing a school there. She discussed how just giving money isn't enough, and can sometimes even be harmful; to make lasting progress, local people must support themselves.
  • Privacy implications of new technologies, and methods for making ethical decisions in areas where no rules have been established yet.
  • Peru at the Global Stage, presented by the Peruvian ambassador to the U.S. He talked about the challenges and opportunities that Peru faces as they become more prominent in the world.
  • History of Uganda over the past 150 years, presented by the Ugandan ambassador to the U.S. He detailed Uganda's transition from tribes to a British protectorate to an independent country.
  • Why You Should Go to Graduate School, given by my friend Chris Monson. Chris got his Ph.D in computer science a couple of years ago and now works for Google.
  • Social Robots and Human Social Development. This one was a really interesting look at how robots can be used in diagnosing and treating autism.
I also watched the Utah Supreme court hear a real case at the law school last week. That was fascinating.

If you're at BYU, I'd definitely encourage going to lectures, talks, and discussions on things that you're interested in. Part of the point of a university education is to gain a broad knowledge of the world, and BYU provides some amazing opportunities to do that. The university forums are almost universally excellent (with speakers including the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Senate Majority Leader in the past year), and the devotionals are also usually great (although the quality there is more heterogeneous).

So where do you find about about interesting lectures? Since I'm interested politics and technology, I like the Kennedy Center Lecture Series and the Computer Science Colloquia. However, there are tons of other lectures all the time—just watch the walls of the buildings you walk through for posters. And if you hear about a lecture I might like, let me know. If I go to a few more extra ones, maybe I'll break 3000 before I graduate. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Perspective

The last couple of months have been a pretty rough ride for me emotionally, and there have been several times when I've felt pretty empty inside. I often focus too much on the moment and lose sight of the bigger picture. Today was one of those days.

As I was walking home under heavy skies that looked about as gray as I felt, I decided to listen to the "Sunday" playlist on my iPod, which contains religious and other uplifting music. This hymn, which has long been one of my favorites, randomly came up:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
Join the great throng, Psaltery, organ, and song, Sounding in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord! Over all things he gloriously reigneth.
Borne as on eagle wings, safely his Saints he sustaineth.
Hast thou not seen How all thou needest hath been Granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee.
Surely his goodness and mercy shall ever attend thee.
Ponder anew What the Almighty can do, Who with his love doth befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath breath, join with Abraham's seed to adore him!
Let the "amen" Sum all our praises again, Now as we worship before him.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, by Joachim Neander (listen)

These lyrics struck me powerfully today and brought some much-needed peace. Sure, my life isn't perfect right now, but my trials are "but a small moment", and I have been abundantly blessed. Although I'm certainly weak, God, who loves me, is all-powerful, and he will certainly bear me up, sustain me, prosper my way, defend me, attend me, and befriend me. What more can I ask for?

I, like Nephi, sometimes forget who is on my side. I am grateful for inspiring words and uplifting music that reminded me today. Today's heavy skies will clear, and the future is bright.


A couple of footnotes:
  • BYU has an excellent recording of this and other songs on their Echoes of the Sabbath album.
  • It turns out that the LDS version of this hymn includes only part of the original poetry. The full version (heads up: obnoxious auto-playing music) further develops the theme. It's worth a read.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How to bankrupt America

How can we bankrupt the federal government? Simple: just keep doing what we're doing and wait a little while.

I.O.U.S.A. is a recently-released documentary about the national debt, and its conclusion is frightening. The U.S. is on a path toward financial ruin, and none of the major political figures are talking about it. This isn't just a big conspiracy theory by a bunch of crackpots, either. It's explained by top figures in finance, including Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, Alice Rivlin, Warren Buffet, and David Walker. These are people who have run the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Government Accountability Office, and the New York Stock Exchange.

The documentary is a fascinating and scary look at our country's financial history and possible future. I'd encourage you to take the time to watch the 30-minute "byte-sized" version (below). You can also watch the trailer or watch the full-length movie in theatres.



(Higher quality version available from blip.tv)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I voted

Since voting in Oregon is done completely by mail, I've never had the pleasure of wearing an "I Voted" sticker on election day to advertise my civic responsibility. That's OK, though, because vote by mail encourages participation, decreases costs, and makes the process run more smoothly. I mailed in my ballot last week.

There were some interesting items on the ballot this year, aside from the one that everyone's been talking about:
  • Measure 58, which would prevent teaching students in a language other than English for more than two years. That's a horrible idea! I think that bilingual immersion education is a great idea—in fact, I would love it if all students were educated in bilingual classrooms. And what happens to the students who don't pick up English in two years? No education for them? Bad idea.
  • Measure 26-95, which would allocate over a third of a billion dollars for Portland Community College. I voted yes on this one. I'm generally pretty fiscally conservative, and this was by far the largest single price tag on the ballot. However, I think that education is vitally important, both for society and for business, and there seems to be a lack of good education in the Portland area. PCC seems to be doing a good job now, so I'm hopeful that they will be able to use additional funds effectively.
  • Measures 57 and 61, which are both "tough on crime" bills. Both would institute mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes, and measure 61 would spend a bunch of money to build new prisons. Measure 57 requires addiction treatment for some offenders, which I think is a great idea. While we do need to lock up some people, I think that the "Department of Corrections" should do more correcting and less carcel-ing. I also think that it's better to let judges decide sentences depending on circumstances, rather than require them to issue one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum sentences. Finally, I don't think that it's worth diverting the government's resources away from education and healthcare to fund more prisons. Interestingly, if both of these measures pass, then only measure 57 will be enacted. Some people who aren't fans of either one are voting for measure 57, just because they think it is the lesser of two evils. I decided that I want no evil, so I voted against both.
  • Several positions (mostly for county judges) that looked like this: "(Position): Vote for one: (1) Person A. (2) Other: __________". Those ones were easy.
I thought a lot about most of the 15 positions and 19 issues that I voted on, and it ended up taking me about six hours to finish. Voting took a lot more time this time around, since I haven't been living in Oregon. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the issues, so I had to do a bunch of research on them.

I ended up voting for five democrats, three republicans, and a guy from the Pacific Green Party.

One of the republicans I voted for was Gordon Smith, the incumbent senator. I've been really impressed with his moderate, bipartisan record in Congress. It's too bad there aren't more politicians like him.

One of those democrats is probably the one that you're wondering about: I voted for Obama. (I know, I know! Heresy! A BYU student voted for Obama!) Here's some of my reasoning:
  • I've been appalled at the lack of fiscal restraint that has swept over the Republican party during the last several years, and I think that they deserve a slap on the wrist.
  • I don't think that Sarah Palin is prepared to hold high office, despite her popular looks. Can you imagine her negotiating with Vladimir Putin? It wouldn't be pretty. There's a non-zero chance that McCain will die during his term, and the thought of President Palin doesn't leave a good feeling in my stomach.
  • Obama seems to genuinely care about improving life for common Americans. While I'm economically pretty conservative, I'm rather socially liberal, so Obama and I agree on many issues.
  • Obama will do great things for our international relations. Bush and Cheney have been an absolute disaster, and we need someone who can restore our good name in the world. When I was in Europe this summer, every European I asked supported Obama. The rest of the world cares a lot about this election. They want to like the United States, but we haven't given them many reasons to do so for the past few years. Our actions have spurred anti-Americanism across the globe. I think terrorism is largely a boogeyman that has been blown out of proportion, but if we want to reduce our risk to terrorism, I think it's more valuable to quit making everyone mad than to send our military around harassing everyone we don't like.
  • I'm impressed with his energy policy, despite his stance on ethanol (see below). Energy is going to become a huge issue—perhaps the issue—over the next decade, and Obama has a much better plan than McCain to deal with it. I like the idea of an Apollo-like program to catalyze the nation into solving this immense problem, because private industry doesn't seem to be doing enough. The space program resulted in huge advantages to our economy, and I think that a similar energy-related program will also pay off.
  • I think that Obama takes a more reasoned approach to decision making. I'm a fan of leaders who think.
  • I think that Obama is a good person with good intentions.
There are also several things that I don't like about Obama:
  • He wants government to solve a lot of society's problems. I think there's a legitimate role for government, but I think his idea of its role is bigger than mine.
  • Having a democratic president and a democratic congress produces too little governmental friction. The idea of separation of powers runs deep in American government for good reason. I would prefer to have a little more tension between the executive and the legislative branches.
  • He supports ethanol, perhaps because he's from corn-rich Illinois. That's a bad idea for many reasons. It's not sustainable, it increases food prices, and the subsidies for it cause problems for agricultural exports and imports in developing countries.
  • He lied about fundraising for his campaign. He told McCain that if McCain accepted public funding, Obama would too. McCain went ahead with public funding, and Obama went back on his word. He's since been able to outspend McCain by immense margins. Not cool.
For a more detailed explanation of some of the reasons that I voted for Obama, see David Bassett's analysis.

Although I didn't get an "I Voted" sticker, thanks to the magic of technology, I'm now able to self-issue myself a virtual one:


I voted... and you should, too!

Rexburg

I went on my hexennial* trip to Rexburg this past weekend to visit my sister Kristy, as she mentioned in her blog. I used to think that Rexburg was too far away, but recently I realized that it's the same distance as Zion, just in the opposite direction. Since I've gone to Zion twice this fall already, I figured that it was time to give Kristy a turn. She's more important than rocks, anyway.

Snake River

I drove up with a couple of friends, who provided good company and some help paying for gas. (Speaking of which, it's down to about $2.50 these days, which is crazy, since I paid around $4.50 most of the summer!) We got to Rexburg around noon. I dropped off Carianne so she could go rock climbing and then headed over to Kristy's apartment.

Idaho at its finest: a poop-flinging manure spreader

Kristy made an amazing lunch for me. In fact, I might have to make another trip up north to get another lunch like that! :) After lunch, we went rock climbing for a few hours. On the way out there, we passed a driving range. I thought that it looked strangely out of place in agricultural southeastern Idaho. However, on the way back, Kristy saw:
  • a shirtless, beerbellied man
  • a guy with a mullet
  • a guy wearing a flannel shirt and overalls
With golfers like that at it, the driving range didn't look so out of place after all. :)

When we got back, I visited the Rexburg temple, which was completed this year. It's beautiful, and I love how it's set way up high on a hill.

I wouldn't let her down, so she just hung around for a minute

After another good meal (thanks Kristy!) Kristy, my cousin Emily, and I went to the African Childern's Choir concert on the BYU-Idaho campus. I loved the music, dancing, and energy of the kids, and I loved the idea behind the choir. The kids are orphans from Africa, and they tour around the world, raising money to support 30 African schools.

My favorite part of the concert was when all of the children told us in turn what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was inspiring to see that kids who had been raised as orphans in an environment of war and poverty aspired to be pilots (a very popular choice), doctors, engineers (that kid got a big cheer from the audience), and even an optometrist. Although the choir takes kids on tour around the world, they are expected to return home and stay in their countries to make them stronger when they're done.

They'll be performing in Salt Lake this Saturday, and around the U.S. for the next several months. Check the tour schedule if you're interested. I'd definitely recommend them.

I slept at my cousin Matthew's apartment, and it was good to talk to him. We stayed up pretty late talking about life. I got to help him a little with some things on his new Mac, too.

I went to church with Kristy on Sunday, and in Sunday School she beat me at a game that I taught her how to win several years ago. I guess the student is smarter than the master these days.

She's not really that short

During the last hour of church they were teaching a lesson on unity, and to show that it was easy for their congregation to be unified, the teacher pointed out that "We're all pretty much the same here. We all like trucks, girls, video games, and guns." I guess it's good that I don't live there, because I'm only 1 for 4 on that list. :)

We stopped in Pocatello for a few minutes on the way back so that I could visit my grandparents. I only stayed for about 10 minutes, but it was really fun to see them. I have some pretty cool grandparents. :) I'm really grateful to have such a great family.

* The last (and only other) time I went to Rexburg was about six years ago.