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Mormons in Technology pt. 3 Print E-mail
Written by Cassie McDaniel   
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
University of Utah (Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library)

The electronic television: Philo T. Farnsworth

Philo T. Farnsworth is known as the “Father of Television.” Born in Utah in 1906, Farnsworth was always fascinated by technology and inventions that used electricity. At a young age, he was amazed by a telephone conversation with his far-away aunt. When he asked his father who made such amazing devices, his father said, “Inventors make these things.” Farnsworth wanted to join the ranks of great inventors.

When his family moved to his uncle’s farm in Idaho, he was thrilled to find it equipped with a Delco generator. Philo observed the technician who serviced the generator, and one day when it stopped he volunteered to repair it. Although the adults around him doubted his abilities, he repaired the generator and was declared “engineer in charge of the generator.” Farnsworth found a collection of technology magazines in the attic of the home which furthered his aspirations to be an inventor. His imagination was captured by an article about sending images through the air along with audio. In 1921, while running a plow line by line across his father’s field near Rigby, Idaho, Farnsworth realized that transmitting an image was like a field and must be transmitted one line at a time. In high school, he sketched ideas to transmit these images for his teacher and mentor, Justin Tolman. This sketch later played a key role in patent dispute of a key television component.

When the Farnsworth family moved to Provo, UT in 1923, Philo attended Brigham Young University until the death of his father later that year. Philo continued to dream of television but knew he would have to learn all that he could to perfect and prove his idea. Farnsworth became acquainted with and began working for Leslie Gorrell and George Everson in Salt Lake City, who saw the great potential in Philo’s ideas. They agreed to fund his work and Philo moved with his new wife, Elma Gardner, first to Hollywood and then to San Francisco to set up a laboratory and begin working on the television.

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Updating the Worldwide Application Print E-mail
Written by Devon Gibson   
Wednesday, 04 November 2009

It has been my experience that homegrown applications can present a number of challenges as they expand and evolve. One of these challenges is the absence of a defined build and release schedule. A homegrown application that I currently manage has evolved over the years into a massive system that is accessed around the clock by users worldwide. Because it has evolved so much over the years, there has been a great deal of interpretation left to different teams as to how builds and releases should be handled.

To add a little more flavor to the situation, this application is not written in Java, the long-standing development platform of choice at the Church. It is written in a mixture of classic ASP and ASP.NET, something that has only recently been adopted as an acceptable platform here. Due to the efforts of strong development and QA teams, we’ve seen an increase in application stability and improvements in overall functionality as we’ve worked to get this homegrown behemoth under control. We have now come to another fork in the improvement road: an acceptable release process.

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An Introduction to the Clerk Wiki Print E-mail
Written by Robert Lindsay   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009

How does the Church train 50,000 clerks in 40 or more languages? That’s a challenge that is getting easier to solve, thanks to the recently launched LDSTech Clerk wiki.

The Clerk wiki offers new training and support resources for ward and stake clerks, including membership clerks, finance clerks, stake technology specialists, stake auditors, and other record keepers, helping them to better understand how to magnify their callings. The Clerk wiki offers more than 250 searchable pages of content. There’s even information to help bishops and stake presidents understand their record-keeping responsibilities.

The wiki is built in MediaWiki, the same application that powers Wikipedia. For now, the LDS Tech Projects wiki is sharing space with the Clerk wiki, but at some point the Clerk wiki will get its own home.

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Community-Driven Maintenance Print E-mail
Written by Neal Midgley   
Thursday, 15 October 2009

In June 2009, Nathan Dickamore wrote an article on this site entitled “Participate in Community Development”. He wrote about open-source advocate Michael Tiemann's theories concerning "exonovation" and how community-driven (and supported) projects yield better products. Similarly, by using the community's time and talents, the Church can better tackle the monumental task of maintaining its legacy data systems, free up developer resources, and utilize the broad range of technical skills available in the larger community.

As an open-source advocate, Tiemann posits that more project contributors lead to fewer outstanding issues. As a software engineer for the LDS Church, I lead the maintenance efforts for a large number of applications within the Supply Chain portfolio. These applications use a diverse set of technologies and require a relatively broad skill set in order to maintain them. Resources are sometimes limited, and we find ourselves supporting and maintaining more products than a few developers can handle. Indeed, often a project’s needs are put on hold as other issues take priority. In addition, it seems that for every issue we resolve, the customer uncovers one or two bugs or makes enhancement requests. As maintenance developers, we sometimes find ourselves sinking as we do our best to keep maintenance applications happy while at the same time developing new software to meet additional needs.

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Real-time Collaboration: Building a Collaborative Community Within an Organization Print E-mail
Written by Jeromy Hall   
Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I work on a fairly large portfolio team within the Information and Communications Systems department—approximately ninety people who are organized into five or six project teams, each focused on delivering products for the Missionary and Public Affairs departments of the Church.

But we have a problem: the project teams have become siloed. This is because we do not have an effective means of cross-portfolio collaboration in real-time.

This problem manifests itself in a number of ways, including the following:

  1. When a technical problem is discovered by a team, a cultural boundary causes the team to feel that they’re on their own to solve it.
  2. We have no discoverable history of successes and failures, and consequently project teams either re-invent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of other teams.
  3. The perception of bureaucracy causes us to be inefficient while we wait for meetings and use the organizational hierarchy to disseminate lessons learned and best practices discovered by project teams.
  4. We think and behave in ways that prevent synergy and cause miscommunication, both of which lead us to false thinking. For example, we tend to promote false assumptions such as the following:
    • “My problems are unique.”
    • “Everyone sees my problems.”
    • “Everyone would see the same solutions as I do.”
    • “If I can’t solve it, nobody can.”

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Mormons in Technology pt. 2 Print E-mail
Written by Cassie McDaniel   
Thursday, 08 October 2009
University of Utah (Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library)

The hearing aid, audiometer, artificial larynx, and stereophonic recording: Harvey Fletcher

This installment of Mormons in Technology discusses some of the contributions of Harvey Fletcher to society and technology. Fletcher is known as the father of stereophonic sound and devoted much of his career to studying the production, transmission, and recording of sound.

Born in 1884 in Provo, Utah, Fletcher graduated from Brigham Young University in 1907. Fletcher then moved his young family to Chicago to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Chicago. There, Fletcher worked with Dr. Robert Millikan on the famous oil-drop experiments as part of his dissertation work. Millikan won a Nobel Prize for being the first to accurately measure the charge of the electron in these experiments.

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1911 with a PhD, Fletcher returned to BYU to teach for five years. In 1916, he accepted a job offer from the Western Electric Company, which became Bell Laboratories.

After retirement from Bell Laboratories, Fletcher taught at Columbia University and then returned to BYU to do research. In 1953, Fletcher established the Department of Engineering, which eventually became the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences. Fletcher continued to do research, especially in musical tones, and teach at BYU until his death.

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The Mormon Channel Project Print E-mail
Written by Tom Johnson   
Tuesday, 06 October 2009

The Mormon Channel iPhone application is the first software release from the LDSTech community. Not only does it stream the Mormon Channel on the iPhone, it also plays recordings of general conference talks, Church magazine articles, and scriptures. The application was given a four-star rating in iTunes and has been downloaded more than 55,000 times in more than 53 countries.

Views of the Mormon Channel iPhone application while streaming the Mormon Channel, browsing magazine content, and listening to magazine articles

The Mormon Channel Project will create version 2.0 of the iPhone application and also create applications to stream the Mormon Channel on Windows Mobile, Palm Pre, Android, and BlackBerry devices.

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Master Monkey Management Print E-mail
Written by Mike Ellison   
Friday, 02 October 2009

While serving a mission in South Africa, three missionaries in my district and I decided to go for a scenic bike ride on P-Day. The plan was to visit Cape Point—where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet—and enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside along the way. The isolated road we followed was carved into a steep mountainside that ascended from the ocean below. It was lush and full of trees, vines, and bushes.

While we were riding leisurely, the trees and bushes above the road started to shake and rustle. Loud noises and what sounded like screams came from the dark undergrowth. Almost immediately baboons were running onto the road beside us. Adrenalin kicked in and away we went.

Baboons have long fangs and do not have cute and cuddly dispositions. They can be very dangerous and cause serious injuries.

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Making it Easier Print E-mail
Written by Christopher Cieslinski   
Tuesday, 29 September 2009

In the day-to-day life of a developer there are always new projects to finish, new deadlines to meet, and new challenges to overcome. Sometimes the problems we face are new to us, and sometimes they are similar to ones we’ve solved before. Perhaps someone else has already solved a particular problem, or has a well thought-out approach to solving the same type of problem. We may “spin our wheels” unnecessarily on a particular challenge for days because we didn’t have those already-existing solutions or processes at our fingertips.

An individual developer within an organization can solve many problems alone and learn a lot. A team of developers can work with each other and become even better. To become first-class, though, an organization must enable all developers and teams to take advantage of collective knowledge and solutions already in existence. To be most effective, organizations should spend time, money, and effort creating and collecting those solutions and then disseminating the information.

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Test Automation with Free Tools Print E-mail
Written by Ronald Jenkins   
Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Since the mid ‘90s, test automation has grown from a handful of crude macro-recording tools and custom-built one-off applications to a suite of high-priced, high-powered frameworks. While the frameworks tend to perform as advertised, the pricing typically leaves small software shops out in the cold and mid-size test teams struggling to justify the budget. The framework itself can also have some limitations imposed by the limited flexibility of the scripting language behind it.

In the last few years, the open source movement has produced a series of tools that the enterprising tester can combine into a free framework with all the power and flexibility of full-fledged programming languages. One combination that I’ve used to test various Web-based applications consists of nUnit and WatiN.

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