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.

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.