Guiding Questions

How can I bring silence and stillness into my hectic life as a law student? What drives me to seek this silence? How do I stay faithful to a contemplative practice when my daily life activities and obligations seem so all-consuming? What do I see in the Church? In God? Why go to Mass? These questions will change with time, as my journey progresses. This blog documents my struggle with practicing what I preach, so to speak -- my struggle to keep God in the center of my life. At times, I may fail; indeed, I often will. My hope is that both my successes and failures will lead me toward greater authenticity, understanding, and love.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I think Ray Kurzweil is a little...optimistic, if optimistic is the right word. "Crazy", maybe. It could very well be because I'm not nearly as immersed in the world of rapid technological change as he is, but a lot of his ideas just don't seem realistic. For example, he says, "Computers will disappear. Displays will be written directly onto our retinas by devices in our eyeglasses and contact lenses" 2009. Not even two years from now? I don't know if it's that I think we won't have the technology to do something like that by then, or that I think the computer industry has a large enough stake in preventing computers' disappearance, but I think computers are here to stay, at least for another decade or so. Maybe eyeglass devices will be in addition to computers. Really, who knows? I wasn't paying attention when the wireless headsets came out -- the really tiny Bluetooth ones -- but those probably seemed pretty out-of-this-world when they were first imagined.

As far as Bill Joy's theory that humans will make machines that are smarter than humans, and that will therefore be able to improve themselves to the point where humans will no longer be necessary, I think that is giving machines too much credit. Yes, machines can be "taught" to "think" and accomplish tasks by themselves, like Stanley the robot car, but everything Stanley did was a result of programming. He could not do things his creators had not programmed him to do; he could not think independently and come up with new ideas or better ways to do things. I think a key component of humanity is the ability, as a species, to think independently; not that every member of the species must be able to do so (I still think brain-dead people are human, even though they cannot think for themselves), but as a general rule, I believe this holds true (also with animals).

To sum up, I think both Kurzweil and Joy think too highly of machines.

I am very hopeful about the world I will live in for the next thirty years. Yes, we do have some fantastically complex and difficult issues that will need to be fixed, or at least dealt with: terrorism, war, nuclear threats, human rights abuses, pollution, apathy; but assuming we (as a human race) don't blow ourselves up or otherwise kill ourselves with weapons of mass destruction, I think we have a great opportunity to do good and improve people's lives for the better. If we do die off as a species, I am certain it will be because of something (or things) we bring on ourselves, not havoc wreaked by rogue machines we are smarter than we are.

I think the technological revolution in which we are living today is similar to past technological revolutions, just to a more extreme, rapidly-advancing degree. I do find myself longing for the days when people actually wrote letters, and often wish I didn't have to carry a cellphone around all the time -- it would be nice to really get away from everything for awhile, without everyone panicking because I didn't answer my cellphone for a whole hour -- and I'm only 23! What prevents me from believing in doomsday scenarios such as those advanced by Kurzweil and Joy (admittedly, Kurzweil doesn't think his is a doomsday scenario, but I consider it so) is the simple recognition of the fact that throughout history, people have feared technological advances, yet we as a human race are still thriving. It is somewhat similar to the fears over immigration: people are so convinced that illegal Mexican immigrants are going to be the death of this country and constitute an awful flood of humanity that must be stopped at all costs, but the Irish and Russian were also once considered a similarly foreign, unassimilable group, and they have integrated perfectly well into this melting pot we call America. I don't think things are ever as scary as the hysterical, fear-mongering-to-bring-in-higher-ratings media would have us believe. Cynical? I prefer to think of myself as possessing an untarnishable optimism about the state of humanity.

I am fascinated to see what the coming years bring, both in technology and otherwise, and just hope I will be able to keep up with all the latest advances!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Network Neutrality

The fundamental issue underlying the net neutrality debate is who gets to control the flow of information over the internet.

Google and Lawrence Lessig are two entities in favor of net neutrality. Proponents of net neutrality say it is important because it will keep the internet a neutral environment, so network providers will not be able to give content providers faster or slower service based on how much they pay or their subject matter. This will keep the internet on a level playing field, so the only thing that will determine whether a website will succeed is whether people like it and use it. If net neutrality is discontinued, network providers could greatly slow traffic to and from sites they deem less desirable, or those that are not their clients.

Comcast and AT&T are two entities that oppose net neutrality. Opponents of network neutrality say it impinges upon quality of service: packets of data all must be treated as equal, be they email, streaming video, or an online backgammon game. This means the network providers can make no guarantees as to timeliness of their service: for example, they cannot guarantee packets of streaming video data will all arrive quickly enough to ensure a smooth viewing experience. They believe this will stifle creativity and innovation because people will be less willing to invent applications that demand timely data arrival if they know network providers cannot guarantee this. Also, the infrastructure is quite dated, and it will be up to the network providers to replace it with faster, more technologically-advanced materials; these companies need some way to come up with the money to be able to pay for these improvements.

I am strongly in favor of network neutrality. I do not find the opponents of network neutrality's arguments to be convincing, in large part because a) they seem to already have more than enough money, and can surely afford to make upgrades to infrastructure; and b) it seems suspicious to me that it is the big companies who stand to gain financially that are against network neutrality, while it is the innovative websites and web-based companies (and a law professor from Stanford!) who support network neutrality. I know which side I'd rather be on! Also, I am a huge supporter of, a website which has been banned in a number of countries because many people find its content objectionable. I would be extremely perturbed if network neutrality were repealed and the network providers slowed down service to because they found its content objectionable. Content discrimination is not what made our country great! Innovation, and the ability of little guys to take an idea and make it accessible to the rest of the citizenry, even without buckets of money to begin with, is an integral part of our national heritage, and I believe this should be protected at all costs.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Artificial Intelligence

I do not think the Turing Test is a good test for determining whether someone (person or computer) is intelligent. Mimicry is not the same as intelligence; intelligence goes deeper than just being able to simulate a thinking being. I think intelligence must come from within the person (or animal, or computer), and not appear as a result of a program. For example, after Koko the gorilla was taught American Sign Language, she could then create her own phrases; a computer's phrases are the result of a program.

Many animals, such as dolphins and gorillas, are almost universally considered to be intelligent beings, yet they are not able to fool people into believing they are human; one drawback to the Turing Test is that it only measures intelligence in terms of human intelligence.

Another way to tell if a computer is intelligent would be if the computer spontaneously created dialogue, or spontaneously did something no one had programmed it to do. This would show that it could think on its own, which I believe is the true hallmark of intelligence.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I found the Vet Locator mashup to be extremely useful. When I take my pets (one dog and two rabbits) on trips, it would make me feel much more safe to know exactly where to find nearby pet hospitals. It is very convenient that the phone numbers are also listed. This application uses Google Maps and data from its own website ( The one thing I don't like about the Vet Locator application is that while there is a space for hours and service data, it seemed that most of them are not functioning. Still, a great application to have on a trip!

I just started training for a marathon which, if all goes to plan, I will run in March, 2008 (Napa Valley Marathon). I will be doing lots...and lots...and lots of running! I haven't been running very much recently, so I don't know off the top of my head many good runs. Whenever I used to go for runs around my neighborhood and town, I would either "guesstimate" how many miles I ran, or I would take my car out later and use the odometer to measure the distance. The main problem with this, of course, is that it only really works for road running, and I prefer trail running. Then, I discovered Gmaps Pedometer. This is awesome!! It combines Google Maps with the website's own data, a pedometer function created by a marathon runner. There are so many amazing functions all crammed in to one fantastic website: an elevation marker, calories burned, and I can even export the website to an external website. This will come in especially useful because I am doing the marathon with Team in Training, and have just created my own website; so people who are interested will be able to track my workouts and progress! This is definitely my favorite mashup so far.

The third mashup I really enjoyed is Soup Soup. This takes new stories from a variety of news sources (BBC, CNN, etc.) and combines them with related Wikipedia articles and blogs from Technorati, as well as pictures from Flickr. This is useful because it takes current news stories and makes it really easy to get much more information about them, just by rolling over the main story (a huge list of categorized links appears just to the right, instantaneously, as we discussed in class -- no waiting for the page to load each time I move my mouse!). Also, I can click on the story and be taken to the news outlet's version of the article. Easy to get a lot of information all from one place...what's not to love?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Personal Information/Privacy

My bank, my place of employment, and USF have the most of my information. The apartment complex where I used to live probably also still has my information on file. Gmail, Facebook, and other sites with which I have an account also have a relatively significant amount of my information, but only such as my address, not financially relevant information, such as my social security number.

I generally do hesitate when asked for my social security number, but the only people I can remember asking for it have been from my bank and USF, both of which I consider to have a legitimate need for that number. I don't think I would feel comfortable giving my social security number to a store I frequent, and hope that I would decline to give it out; however, I do tend to have a general belief that bad things (such as identity theft and fraud) only really happen to other people, so there is definitely a chance that I would give it out without even thinking twice. Generally, I do not mind giving out my address; this is because it is very easy to toss junk mail in the recycling, and it doesn't take up too much of my time. I am a bit more guarded with my telephone number, but as with my address, I figure I can always just politely say, "No, thank you," and hang up the phone if called by a telemarketer. If I don't frequent a store or business often, I usually decline to give them my email address; usually, however, I feel bad not writing my email in the space provided, so I provide a fake one instead. How is this better than simply declining in the first place? I have no idea...but I do it anyway. I'll frequently be swayed by the "sales pitch": "We'll send you emails with discount coupons! Free stuff!" and sign up to be on email lists, then regret it as soon as I receive the first email.

I am most comfortable sharing my information with my bank and with USF. I am confident in their security (accidental breaches aside) and know they have a legitimate need to use the information.

I mostly try to limit the information retail stores have about me, mainly by either declining to fill out their customer cards, or by providing them with fake information. The difference between these stores and organizations such as USF and my bank is that I know the stores just want my information for marketing purposes, whereas USF and my bank require my information in order for me to do business with them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

File Sharing/Piracy

Back in the days when I had slightly more time on my hands, one of my favorite things to do was make mix tapes and mix CDs. Before I figured out file sharing networks, I only used songs from albums I already owned. Once I discovered Morpheus, however, I did begin to download songs I did not own. I never considered this stealing, I think mostly because I never really thought about it -- it was free and easy, and I got to listen to a bunch of cool new (to me) music.

I think it is ethically okay to download a song I don't own, regardless of whether it is by a major label artist or a struggling, independent artist. This is because I would generally only download individual songs to determine whether I like the artist, and whether I like it enough to buy the entire album. For me, downloading individual songs is not the same as downloading an entire album. If I am just downloading individual songs, chances are I would not yet buy the entire album, anyway. Downloading individual songs for free gives me an opportunity to gain the knowledge I need in order to determine if I do, in fact, want to buy the entire album. Without listening to songs in advance, I will not buy an entire album.

If I already own something, I think it is okay to make one (or more) copies of it. As the RIAA website describes, it is okay as long as it is not for commercial use. I also think it is okay to make a mix CD to give as a gift to a friend. I have already bought the albums, and my friend would not have bought all the individual songs, anyway.

Shoplifting a CD from a store is not okay; I would already be in the store, so if I were not shoplifting it, I would otherwise be buying it.

I do not think it is okay to make music I own available online, publicly or not. This is because I would have no control over what the recipients do with the music; they could make copies and pass it along to hundreds of other people. It is true that a friend could upload a mix CD I made her to her computer and do the same thing, but that would be more her decision, because I would be just giving it to her for her own personal use, and she would have to take the proactive step of uploading it to her own computer, I wouldn't have done the hard (okay, not really "hard") work for her.

To sum up, I think downloading is okay when it is done with the intent to determine whether or not I like the music enough to buy the album. The main consideration for me is whether someone will lose out on revenue. By the same token, when I made mix CDs from music I downloaded from Morpheus, I never would have even known those songs existed had I not discovered them online, and therefore the artist loses out on no revenue by virtue of me downloading music.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It is a technology that uses a computer chip to store information, much like a barcode; unlike a barcode, however, which uses a laser to access the information, RFID uses radio waves. An RFID tag is generally a passive device which does not need a power source; it is activated by passing near an RFID reader. At the present time, it is used most frequently for inventory control in stores and warehouses, but RFID can also be placed in passports and even currency, to name just two.

One benefit of RFID is patient management in hospitals; for example, in Singapore during the SARS epidemic, all people entering Alexandra Hospital were given ID tags containing an RFID chip. These tags tracked when they exited and entered the hospital and kept this information in a database for 21 days; if one of them later contracted SARS, the hospital would already have a record of everyone the person came into contact with, hence enabling the hospital to contact those people and help slow the spread of the disease. A potential, but as-yet-unrealized, benefit of RFID is that if a washable RFID tag were embedded in the fabric of clothing and a washing machine had an RFID reader, the washing machine could automatically detect the clothing material, and adjust the water temperature and wash settings accordingly. No more shrunken wool sweaters!

One privacy concern associated with RFID is that if RFID tags are attached to the actual products themselves (e.g., to the 54" plasma flat-screen TV instead of to the box it came in), unsavory characters outfitted with RFID readers could prowl through neighborhoods and scan houses in order to determine which houses would be the most profitable places to rob. Another privacy concern is that, since RFID readers can be set to detect multiple items, if a person entered a place with RFID readers, the readers could pick up information about everything the person was carrying -- what wallet she owned, what handbag, etc. -- all without that person's knowledge.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


From my experience, I think the nationwide decline in the number of U.S. students going into IT and computer fields is partly because of the wide variety of other career paths that are available. The author of the Computerworld article mentioned that many people who would have otherwise been interested in the computer field have gone into biology as a major; especially in the Bay Area, with its many prominent biotech firms, for people who are interested in technology, that can be a very attractive career path. It also seems to have more of a human element than working with computers all day.

I am planning on a career in either politics or law, so I don't worry that my job could be vulnerable to outsourcing -- it is not possible for someone in India (or any other country, or state for that matter) to practice law, or run for office, in California! As in any career, I can protect my niche by constantly learning and making sure I am up-to-date on developments in my field.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Electronic waste is extremely difficult to regulate in part because there are so many links in the supply chain. It doesn't seem that there are many companies that deal with e-waste from beginning to end; the buck keeps getting passed from company to company and country to country. The sheer volume of e-waste is mind-boggling; with so much waste to keep track of, it is no wonder that much of it is slipping through the cracks. Most people want to believe in the integrity of those they deal with; therefore, when I research e-waste disposal firms on-line and find one that looks like it does the job well, I don't generally feel a need to dig deeper; I believe the company practices truth in advertising. Most Americans (as well as citizens of other countries) want to do the right thing and dispose of/recycle their used electronics in a way that is least harmful to the environment, but when there is a series of brokers (as described in the article) it becomes prohibitively time-consuming and difficult to ascertain where all that material really goes.

So far, I have never gotten rid of any electronic equipment; I am aware that e-waste recyclers exist, and think it would be a good idea to deal with it in that way, but for now all my old electronics are collecting dust in various closets around my house. I considered donating an old cellphone to an organization that would convert it into a 911 emergency-use cellphone, but have not yet done so because I wasn't entirely sure where to go or what to it has so far been easier to just do nothing, knowing that it is reasonably safe sitting in my hall closet! Especially after reading the article, it just seems like such an enormously complicated task to be sufficiently conscientious about where my e-waste will end up; how can I ever truly trust that an old computer will be properly dismantled and discarded of, rather than simply left to leach chemicals into the soil in Nigeria? I don't believe I can...therefore, my electronics will probably continue to collect dust in my home, hopefully without leaching chemicals into my carpets.

In the future, when I find it necessary to discard old electronic devices, I can reference the links and organizations we learned about in class, such as and, and use the information they provide to help me make an informed decision about what to do with my old electronic devices.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Internet Archive

The creators of the Internet Archive ( created it to preserve the history of digital culture and of the internet. They are working to staunch the flow of lost information, such as the record of rapidly-changing news coverage (what happens to the information on CNN's main page when it ceases to be relevant/breaking news?).

In addition to the Wayback Machine, the Archive captures myriad types of information, grouped in four main categories: "Moving Images," "Live Music Archive," "Audio," and "Texts." "Moving Images" encompasses everything from user-generated videos to classic films and news broadcasts; in the "Audio" section can be found MP3s, poetry readings, and news programming, to name a few -- most of which are free to download; the "Live Music Archive" is, as the name implies, an archive of live music; "Texts" include every imaginable types of texts.

As described on the "About Us" page of the website, there are multiple potential uses of the Internet Archive. The following are three examples of such possible uses: we can trace the way our language changes by enabling linguists to automatically search for the first occurrences of words and the subsequent migration of their meanings; we can establish internet centers internationally, to preserve the aspects of a country's heritage that exist on the Internet; we can track the Web's evoloution by researching when different ethnic groups or certain businesses first gained a presence on the Internet.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Internet technology, for better or for worse?

When I was in high school, I mainly used the Internet for email and Instant Messenger. I occasionally went into chat rooms, but didn't ever really get into using the Internet as a social networking tool. I chatted and emailed with people I saw at school, but mainly viewed the Internet as tool with which I could do research and find information I needed for school projects and assignments.

When I went to Pearson College, an international school on Vancouver Island, I met people from all around the world. After graduation, it was hard to keep track of people and stay in touch until I started using Facebook. Once I got an account and found a huge majority of my former classmates using the same site, it was like a whole new world opened up to me! In that instance, internet technology definitely changed my life for the better, as it has enabled me to stay in contact with friends who are scattered around the globe.

I cannot think of any ways in which Internet technology has changed my life for the worse. I don't always enjoy its ubiquity and sometimes long for the days of snail mail, but in every instance I believe the positive aspects of the Internet outweigh its disadvantages. The only negative thing I can think to say about the Internet is that it enables socially undesirable activities and images such as child pornography to reach a wider audience. However, just because the medium (Internet) is being used for an undesirable end does not mean that the medium itself is at fault. The aspect of the Internet that makes it possible to distribute child pornography is the same aspect that makes it possible to distribute my favorite oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie to all my friends. I think the Internet is a neutral technology, and each person has the power to choose whether it will make her life worse or better.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blog Post #1: About Me


My name is Monica Olsson; I am a new transfer student at USF, majoring in Politics with a hopeful minor in Theology and Religious Studies (I still need to talk to the Theology and Religious Studies department about this). I grew up on the Peninsula, and still live in Woodside. I went to an international school on Vancouver Island for two years instead of my last year of high school, where I received an International Baccalaureate diploma instead of a high school diploma; then I studied at the University of British Columbia for two years, before leaving in 2005 to take time off school and come back to California.

I lived in San Francisco for about a year before realizing that despite my best efforts, I am not truly a city person at heart and desperately need to be surrounded by trees and nature on a regular basis; hence, my move back down to Woodside to live with my parents. After being away from school for far too long, and sorely missing the academic world, I decided to take two Politics classes at USF as a visiting student last term (Spring 2007) as a test run, to get myself ready to go back to UBC in Vancouver. After falling in love with my classes and with USF, I applied for transfer admission and gained entrance to USF...and here I am, very excited to finally be a full-time student again!