Monday, January 20, 2014

5 Little Bottles of Happiness

I don't normally talk about my feelings here, but after looking over my first 3 (somewhat cynical) posts, I decided to share some of my more sincere feelings.

First, there are difficult days. Kelly Clarkson's lyrics from People Like Us are particularly applicable here:
Hey, everybody loses it; everybody wants to throw it all away sometimes.
The rest of the song is applicable too. I do have these feelings sometimes. But I have learned to identify them, and I made a decision a while ago: when I have these feelings, I don't make any decisions. I distract myself--with homework, friends, music, youtube, whatever--just long enough for them to go away. And they do go away, I promise.

Other than those occasional days, I am generally and genuinely at peace with my experience. I have been called an anomaly--in a good way. I don't have and haven't had a lot of the same feelings that some of my gay friends have had--namely depression, anxiety, and shame. Once I understood that my natural attraction isn't by choice, I was almost instantly at peace. Afterall, being hungry is a natural phenomenon of the human body and there is nothing shameful or embarrassing about it (except for the stomach growl in the middle of sacrament meeting on fast sunday haha). If there is any shame due, it would be for gluttony in the unhealthy eating habits to fulfill that hunger. Same concept here. Attraction: natural. Reaction to fulfill it: my decision.

My friend Spencer updated his facebook status recently:
You ever feel so good, peaceful, and full of joy that you wish you could bottle it up so that you could save some of that good energy for a bad day? Yeah. That's me right now :)
I started thinking about this. Some days (including these past 3 or so days at the time I'm writing this) I just feel incredible. Optimistic, hopeful, sure. I'm trying to capture what about these days make them so great so that I can port them to my Kelly Clarkson days. Sometimes what makes them great is pretty elusive, so I'm taking it one day at a time. I offer up 5 little bottles of happiness that have made my days great (don't ask why...I still don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out):

Friends and being yourself and talking about whatever. Finding other gay friends and hanging out with them is so relieving. Gay stuff doesn't dominate our conversations, but occasionally being able to talk openly about how we're feeling, what our future plans are, and what our challenges and experiences are is really great to be able to find peace. They don't judge and are good allies to have.

Racquetball. Some regular exercise and stress relief brings lots of happiness. A good 1.5-to-2-hour session of hard racquetballing makes me feel like I can conquer the world.

This video. Though I'm not a proponent of living the gay lifestyle, I laugh every time I watch this video (I have watched it many, many times!). "If you're gay, then you're gay. If you're straight, well THAT'S GREAT! If you're somewhere in the middle, it's the best place to be: every fish in the sea wants to kiss you!" A good friend shared this video with me, and it makes me feel awesome. (Remember that awesome song Say Something by A Great Big World? Same group.) From the youtube "about" section:
A while ago, our friends Kristin and Dannielle (who run a website called that offers advice to LGBTQ youth) challenged us to write the "gayest song ever" for a compilation. And this song was the result! We believe in their mission and stand by all those who live in fear of being their authentic selves. NO ONE deserves to be bullied or treated unfairly based on sexual preference.

This video. Through Heaven's Eyes, from The Prince of Egypt. Being at peace and coming to terms with who you really are and seeing yourself through God's eyes is the first step. Once you achieve this, you can then decide how to respond to who you are--how to act on it.

And, finally, this video. Yep, I'm baby hungry, want to be a dad, and want an eternal family. This video just mesmerized me. I guess it's just a waiting game to find the right woman that could love me for being me--which isn't an issue specific to being gay but a definite twist on the traditional issue :) Keeping in mind what I really really really want brings perspective and happiness.

Of course, prayer, fasting, scripture study, and temple worship help tremendously and are at the top of my list of bottles of happiness, but these were some of the other things I've come across that I hadn't thought about before. Sometimes it's tricky to identify your feelings, but with practice, you can correlate them with things you do and invite them back on those Kelly Clarkson days :D

Dan Bunker

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Society: The Great Machine

I think it's about time to explain the title of my blog: Um...Wait...What?

A little background...
I took a computer science class this last semester: Algorithm Analysis. Our professor helped us see the amazing beauty of algorithms. In some class slides, he briefly introduced us to Donald Knuth (Ka-NOOTH), a recipient of the ACM Turing award and author of The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP), who stated:
Science is knowledge which we understand so well that we can teach it to a computer; and if we don't fully understand something, it is an art to deal with it.
I think it's great to get to a point where we understand something so well that we can teach it to a computer. There are ethical questions, though.

Machine Learning (skip this section if you already know what this is or don't really care)
Machine learning and control is an area of computer science that involves teaching computers to be more like humans. You basically train a computer on a set of data--pictures, numbers, stock prices, protein folding structures, anything--and then you pass it some new data. The goal is that the computer will "learn" new patterns based on the training data and apply those patterns to the new data to predict the outcome. For example, you tag a face in a few pictures on facebook or iPhoto, and the machine learning algorithms apply those facial patterns to other pictures and ask you "do you want to tag [friend's name] in this photo?". That is teaching the computer to recognize your or a friend's face in photos.

Machine learning algorithms aren't the best algorithms for solving a problem, though. It turns out that they're often a last-ditch effort when you can't mathematically compute something without training data--like a face. Relatively often, they get it wrong. What happens when you give a computer a new face--one that was never in the training data? It can mis-name that face or fail to classify it at all.

So what?
And that's the issue: we teach computers to classify--to classify people, places, things, behaviors. In many applications, this classification is necessary and useful--tagging photos; predicting protein folding for development of new pharmaceutical drugs; and extracting names, dates, and locations from pictures of tomb stones are some examples--, but what about the classification of people? A system that goes through training data and then classifies people--and makes decisions or recommendations based on that classification--could be dangerous. I think of a scene (video below) in the movie "I, Robot", where the robots scan and analyze an emergency situation, calculating the chance of survival of several people, and then they rescue the person with the greatest chance of survival. But what if the robot was wrong?

(Video didn't load? See it here)

The Blog Title: Um...Wait...What?
The programmer has to think of this case: What should the computer do when it comes across something it hasn't seen before, when something doesn't match the patterns that it discovered in the training data? Should it stop classifying and ask? Should it make a best guess? In a way, the computer sees the new data and stops and asks "Um...Wait...What?".

Society: The Great Machine
That has been my experience with being gay. I grew up pretty hostile against gays--I'm still trying to figure out why. Society often paints a picture of gays: rainbow flags and speedos in pride parades. That is NOT me. I didn't identify myself as being attracted to the same gender for a long time because society trained me with that training data. I was new data coming along, and I didn't fit that pattern. So that was my reaction while coming to terms: Um...wait...what? What am I? Who am I? I'm definitely not the extroverted, flamboyant, outspoken, flag-waving, speedo-wearing dude that society presents with the label "gay". I do have feelings for guys, but I don't identify with THAT so what am I? It took me a little while to learn that gay doesn't mean sexual activity. The thing is, in many cases when somebody comes out as "gay", they choose to be sexually active with those attractions. But every definition I've looked up for "gay" and "homosexual" talks about same-gender attraction, mentioning nothing about sexual activity. Somehow society and cultures have been incorrectly trained, and when someone comes along and comes out as "gay" but chooses abstinence, the abstinence part is ignored and the "gay" classification makes people assume, judge, and react negatively. It's not entirely their fault, it's what they were trained on.

Now what?
(Video didn't load? See it here)

In "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (see video above), the grinch changed his attitude when he "thought of something he hadn't before...maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store...maybe Christmas perhaps means just a little bit more..."

I changed my attitude when I considered that maybe "gay" doesn't necessarily mean rainbow speedos--maybe there's something more to it--different dimensions that I'd never considered. (And even those who do sport the rainbow speedos are people and should be talked to and their feelings considered.)

It is my hope that society and cultures change their perception--that they consider that just maybe the stigmas, classifications, and years of one-sided training are wrong, that we are all humans with real feelings living on the same planet and that nobody can be boiled down into one statement or classification. I hope that the first impression that society has of someone is not "oh he must be [classification]" but rather "My training data could be wrong...I should get to know him more".

The saints faced a lot of persecution early on; the Lord's response:
Pray ye, therefore, that their ears may be opened unto your cries, that I may be merciful unto them...That wise men and rulers may hear and know that which they have never considered

Many treat topics like this as knowledge that is understood very well--a science. The truth is, we don't fully understand it, so the art is manifest as we learn how deal with it. Let us turn the way we view and interact with people from a science that can be taught to computers into an art as we seek the big picture.

That's all.
If you've made it this far in reading (I know it's long...sorry!), please leave a comment with an idea of how we can change society's training on the gay topic or any topic really--I'd like not to do one-sided blogging :)

Dan Bunker