Commencement Speech, ITT Technical Institute-Murray, June 7, 2008

I was honored to be the commencement speaker at the June 2008 graduation ceremony for ITT Technical Institute-Murray last Saturday, June 7 at the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Here’s the speech:

Thank you Mr. Bowcutt. I’m humbled and honored to be with you today.

I understand that you’re a generally older crowd than I might find at a place like BYU or the UofU. In 1982 I was facing the prospect of beginning school at the University of Iowa as a 22-year-old freshman. I was expecting to graduate at age 26, which seemed at the time like completely over the hill. I shared my concerns with a friend, about how I’d be 26 when I finished my degree if I went to college. He looked at me and asked, “How old will you be in four years if you don’t go to college?” “Um… 26?”

In fact it was six years later that I graduated from BYU at age 28, by which time I was married and the father of two little girls. I finished my Masters Degree at BYU when I was 34 and we had five kids. I finished my Ph.D. in Computer Science from Oregon State University when I was 38 and we had six kids. I started my professorial career at BYU at age 40, which was 8 years ago. And I’ve still got 19 more years to retirement!

It is NEVER too late to finish your degree!!

You are to be commended for your efforts and your commitment. And your families are to be commended for their sacrifices in your behalf.

I want to begin by quoting the late Douglas Adams [1], who was the author of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

You are receiving Associates and Bachelors Degrees in various technology fields. All of which are extremely cool. Most of which were invented between when you were fifteen and when you will be (or in some of your cases, when you were) thirty-five. All of which will provide for you an endless stream of puzzle-solving satisfaction throughout your careers. And all of which will allow you to find yourself completely obsolete within the next five years.

If that terrifies anybody, just remember that I completed my Bachelors Degree in Computer Science 20 years ago this spring, and my doctorate in Computer Science more than 10 years ago, and I now know absolutely nothing about anything.

But… I have a degree, and I am tenured.

That’s only partially true. I do know one thing, and it turns out it makes all the difference. I know that I do not know, and I strive constantly to figure out both what I do not yet know, and what the answers are to the questions I have not yet asked.

Lest we wrap ourselves around our own axles too quickly, let me introduce you to the Laws of Ignorance as described by Dr. Philip Armour in his book “The Laws of Software Process” [2].

We’ll begin with zero, as we should in a technology friendly environment.

Zeroth Order Ignorance or Lack of Ignorance

I have Zeroth Order Ignorance when I know something, and I can demonstrate my lack of ignorance in some tangible form. Zeroth order ignorance is provable, simply by demonstrating that I know something.

How would I congratulate you in Italian? “Tanti Auguri!” This is just something I know.

First Order Ignorance or Lack of Knowledge

I have first order Ignorance when I do not know something and I can readily identify that fact.

How would I congratulate you in Etruscan? I have absolutely no idea. But I am aware that I do not know, and I’m quite confident that I could find out if I wanted to.

Second Order Ignorance or Lack of Awareness

I have Second Order Ignorance when I do not know that I do not know something.

In other words, not only am I ignorant of something, I am unaware of what it is I am ignorant about.

A few minutes ago some of you turned to your neighbor and said, “Is Etruscan a language?”

In order to give a definitive example of Second Order Ignorance I would have to describe something of which I am unaware, and this is obviously not possible.

Third Order Ignorance or Lack of Process

I have Third Order Ignorance when I do not know of a suitably efficient way to find out that I do not know that I do not know something.

In other words, I lack a suitable knowledge-gathering process that would move me to Second Order Ignorance (where I would learn that I didn’t know something) which would move me to First Order Ignorance (where I would learn just what it was that I didn’t know) and from there to Zeroth Order Ignorance (where I would obtain the answer to the question I became aware of at the previous level).

Sitting in front of the television is in general not a suitable knowledge-gathering process. Depending of course on the types of knowledge you’re interested in. For example, what Rosie O’Donnell said this week about her time on The View. Some of you are asking yourselves, “Who is Rosie O’Donnell, and what is The View?!” To you I say, “Tanti Auguri.”

Insufficient knowledge-gathering processes remind of the man who took a speed reading course, and read “War and Peace” in 20 minutes. When asked, what it’s about, he replied, “Russia.”

Fourth Order Ignorance or Meta Ignorance

I have Fourth Order Ignorance when I do not know about the Five Orders of Ignorance.

Now, let me tell you one more thing that you need to know to continue on successfully in your careers.

Throughout your education in grade school, high school, and college, you have been fed a very specific and dangerous lie. You have been told that the teachers and professors know what the answers are, and that your job as a student is to learn those answers so that when you encounter those questions, you can answer them.

But guess what? The first time you write software (for example), and somebody pays you to do it, it’s because nobody ever did it before. That’s why they’re paying you to do it. If someone else already did it, it’s much cheaper to buy it for $30 and drop the payroll by $100K.

As you move out of a Zeroth Order Ignorance mentality, in which you think your job is to know something, you come to realize that in fact, all of the knowledge you possess is transient and subject to obsolescence.

As you move out of a First Order Ignorance mentality, in which you think your job is to answer questions, you come to realize that in fact, all the questions are open to discussion. They might not be the right questions to be asking at all.

Your most productive professional time will be spent in Second and Third Order Ignorance. You need to constantly expose yourself to new avenues of learning, becoming increasingly aware every day of every year of your life until you are dead that there are significant fields of study — science, art, literature, technology — of which you have been completely ignorant your entire life. By building the habit of being an informational sponge, you equip yourself to discover important questions that you never imagined existed and to tie those into professional areas to which you never imagined they were connected.

Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” said the following [3]:

The further we push the boundaries of knowledge and innovation, the more the next great value breakthroughs — that is, the next new hot-selling products and services — will come from putting together disparate things that you would not think of as going together.

In other words, every great innovation reflects a transition from Third Order Ignorance to Second Order Ignorance.

The big deliverable is the question, not the answer! Your value add to an organization must be something that can’t be outsourced to a call center in India.

To end, I want to help you understand your place as technologists in the history of the world.

Again, Dr. Armour:

There are have been, in the history of the Earth, five knowledge media:

1. DNA:

When a wildebeest calf is born on the grasslands of northern South Africa, it is able to stand and run away from predators within a few minutes of birth. How does it “know” how to do that? Where is the knowledge of running away stored?

2: Brains:

The human brain … can create and store knowledge that does not otherwise exist and has no recognizable analogue in the outside world.

The first two knowledge media were created by God (or by nature if you prefer). The next three were created by humans.

3. Hardware or Tools:

The real value of the hand axe as a tool is not in its material, but in the knowledge that went into its making.

4. Books or Written Records

People have been marking objects to retain images and information for a very long time. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts whose purpose seems to have been to store a visual image of some sort (as opposed to performing a physical function) that are tens of thousands of years old.

And finally the 5th knowledge medium in the history of the Earth.

5. Software:

All computer programs, and by inference the data on which they operate, are forms of stored knowledge. There are many differences in the nature of the five knowledge storage media, but the key characteristic of software is that it is executable. Software has the capability of running, of changing its state, of processing inputs and producing outputs, and of interacting with the outside world.

You have been prepared to labor and get paid to play in the coolest sandbox since Gutenberg invented the printing press. Or if you prefer, since Babbage invented the Difference Engine. Or if you prefer, since John Von Neumann stole the idea of a stored computer program from Echert and Mauchley of Iowa State University in 1945.

A warning: You will be frustrated your entire career with the rapid rate of change and your inability to keep up with a field that is both accelerating and expanding at the same time. What I can say is, “Enjoy the ride. You will never be bored professionally!”

I recommend that every six months you walk into the computer section of your favorite brick and mortar bookstore, and look for an entire shelf with dozens of books dedicated to a computer technology that you have never heard of.

Finally, I want to say, as passionately as I can: TENIN E TVRINES KIS FiLICS, which I actually don’t know what it means but I do know that it is Etruscan.

Good luck to all of you. God bless you. Thank you.

[1] Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt, Ballantine Books, 2003.

[2] Philip Armour, The Laws of Software Process, Auerbach, 2003.

[3] Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, 2nd Edition, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Dan Fogelberg: 1951-2007

The current crop of college students probably have only a passing idea of who Dan Fogelberg was. Younger than that and they pretty much haven’t heard of him at all (unless they’ve been surfing their parents’ CD collections).

From the late 70’s through the mid 80’s, Fogelberg was one of the most influential singer-songwriters on the musical scene in any genre. I saw Dan in concert a couple times (once in Iowa City and once in Provo). I was frankly never blown away by the live experience. But the songs! Different story. And in both concert experiences I loved it when he dismissed the band and just sat at the piano or on a stool with his guitar.

Bottom line for me is that I sort of moved through young adulthood into marriage and young parenthood with Dan doing the background music. I fell in love at least a couple times with Dan on vocals. I’ve walked out into the falling snow in the middle of a scene of unrequited young adult angst and heard his signature piano play in my mind. It’s tough to survive unrequited young adult angst without proper mood music, and Dan always obliged.

Fogelberg died last month after a long battle with cancer. I don’t normally emote like this when someone I’ve seen but never met passes away, but this one is different. Fogelberg’s music really had a positive impact on my life, and I’m grateful for that.

So here’s my personal tribute. In honor of Dan’s passing, I’m serving up my personal top 10 Fogelberg songs of all-time:

10) “Forefathers” – The Wild Places (1990)

“Forefathers” is a somewhat obscure piece in the Fogelberg collection, and probably makes it onto very few personal top ten lists. Musically it’s fairly simple, and lyrically almost clumsily autobiographical. But it just nails the entire genre of family history and genealogy in a way that I’ve never seen attempted (let alone pulled off) in popular music.

And the sons become the fathers
And their daughters will be wives
As the torch is passed from hand to hand
And we struggle through our lives
Though the generations wander
The lineage survives
And all of us from dust to dust
We all become forefathers by and by

9) “Sweet Magnolia And The Traveling Salesman” – Windows and Walls (1984)

Another obscure Fogelberg classic. “Sweet Magnolia and the Traveling Salesman” is a classic angst-ridden lost love piece. (Hello! He’s a traveling salesman! You think he’s sticking around?!) Relatively simple piano backing and soulful vocals. Dan’s not just singing here, he’s really suffering! Maybe it was just that time in my life, but this song always gets me.

Then one day I flew
Far away from you
I never knew how I’d regret it
My sweet magnolia belle
You know I loved you well
Even if I never said it

8 ) “Looking for a Lady” – Home Free (1972)

“Looking for a Lady” is one of a pair of absolute classics from Dan’s first album (Home Free) in 1972. The guitar work is relatively simple (I can play it well — this should be an indication). The vocals are twangy in a patently classic country sort of way. And yet the angst is golden. More lost love (or love as yet unfound, almost the same thing).

Well I have a few in mind but none in particular
I have had ’em before but nothing that was for sure
And my feelings have grown rigid like a wooden post
And my love is like a curtain that has been drawn closed
And my life just isn’t going the way I thought it was supposed to
And I’m crying and I find myself
Looking for a lady to change my night to day

7) “The Power of Gold” – Twin Sons of Different Mothers (1978)

“The Power of Gold” was the only hit from the Tim Weisberg collaboration Twin Sons of Different Mothers. (17 years later Dan and Tim tried it again, this time as clean-shaven aging guys with haircuts, calling the album “No Resemblance Whatsoever.” Excellent self-referential humor.) “The Power of Gold” features Weisberg’s distinctive flute and classic Fogelberg rock and roll (a’ la “Part of the Plan”). But Dan being Dan, the song ends with a haunting bass and flute backdrop for mysterious repeating lyrics:

The women are lovely, the wine is superb
But there’s something about the song that disturbs you.

6) “Times Like These” – The Innocent Age (1981)

I love this song, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it appeared in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy (which I never saw anyway). For me this is the ultimate Fogelberg rock tune. Put down the acoustic guitar, walk away from the piano, strap on an electric guitar and hammer it. (Not Guns N’ Roses hammering it, you understand. This is still Dan.) This is the song that “Part of the Plan” wishes it had been. It never made the charts as a single, and I don’t care. It’s one of the best Fogelberg songs of all time.

Nothing before you, nothing behind
Thoughtlessly chasing the thunder.
Traveling lightly, traveling blind
Never detouring to wonder why

5) “The Reach” – The Innocent Age (1981)

“The Reach” is probably the most tender and inspiring song on the amazing double album “The Innocent Age” from 1981. It tells the tale of lobstermen taking their sons and their boats out into the water in search of the “catch of the day.” Sounds a bit pedestrian, or seafaring, or working class, and it is. But it’s so much more than that. The music is elaborate, orchestrated, and moving. The tone and the vocals are tender and moving. And of course, it wouldn’t be Dan if there wasn’t some rain.

I will take from the reach
All that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul

4) “To The Morning” – Home Free (1972)

“To the Morning” might be the most brilliant early and mostly undiscovered song in the entire Fogelberg portfolio. No single. No charts. Dan and his piano and his silky voice. It’s not just good music, and a great composition, but the fundamental message of the song is about hope and perseverance in the face of whatever.

And it’s going to be a day
There is really no way to say “No” to the morning.

3) “Rhythm of the Rain” – The Wild Places (1990)

“Rhythm of the Rain” is one of the few covers that Fogelberg recorded. The song was written by John Gummoe and recorded in 1963 by the Thundernotes (formerly the Cascades), whose original version hit #2 in the states and #1 in many places internationally. It was later recorded by artists including Lawrence Welk, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Neil Sedaka. But Dan’s version kicks them all. The soulful vocals are classic, the sax solo about two-thirds through is classic Dan, and the slightly strange but smooth transition at the end to Lennon and McCartney’s “Rain” is, um, classic… for Dan. In 1990 when this song was released, Dan’s commercial appeal had already faded. But this song still moves me.

Rain please tell me now does that seem fair
For her to steal my heart away when she don’t care?
I can’t love another when my heart’s somewhere far away

2) “Hard to Say” – The Innocent Age (1981)

Back to 1981 for the finale. The Innocent Age was possibly the most amazing singer-songwriter accomplishment in musical history in terms of densely packed instant classics. Think MJ’s “Thriller” or Boston’s first album, except Dan with a guitar and a piano. My all-time #2 Fogelberg hit is “Hard to Say.” It’s got everything: cool guitar work (including a harmonic note transition created using the tuner, rather than distorting the string through fingering), classic Dan vocals (naturally), Glenn Frey of the Eagles on backup vocals (not making that up), angst-ridden lost love (of course), and both snow and rain. Why do you cry each time the sky begins to snow?! Not sure, but this song should help ease the pain anyway.

Lucky at love, well maybe so
There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know
Like why each time the sky begins to snow you cry

1) “Same Old Lang Syne” – The Innocent Age (1981)

Drumroll please… This is my number one Dan song of all time. I understand that your mileage may vary, but this is my list. I struggled a bit with this choice, but decided ultimately that it belonged here. The song starts with the opening notes of the “1812 Overture” (10 notes, followed in Tchaikovsky’s composition by cannons exploding) developed into a very cool but simple theme on the piano. Then starts the simple and beautiful autobiographical story, “Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eve.” To be quite frank, as in other biographical songs by Dan, the lyrics are sometimes a bit clumsy (“She went to hug me and she spilled her purse, and we laughed until we cried.”) But there’s just this honesty about the story telling, the honesty of vocal expression that was uniquely Dan (and ironically often not as well achieved in concert as in the studio). But the ending seals the deal. You’ve got Dan, his piano, an angst-filled encounter with a former girlfriend, a holiday, snow, rain, loneliness, and a saxophone. Say no more. In the Fogelberg portfolio this song brings almost every conceivable element of the Dan musical persona to bear.

Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

That’s my list. My apologies to those of you going, “Where’s Longer?! Run for the Roses?! Leader of the Band?!” Sorry. My faves. My tribute.

But most of all, thank you Dan for the music that was such a huge part of my young adult years. It wouldn’t have been the same — breaking up, walking out into the snow, and that sax playing in my head while the snow turned into rain. Somehow the Fogelberg soundtrack in my head made it all a bit more tolerable.

Thanks Dan!

Do you dare turn down this invitation?!

Yesterday I received an invitation for a LinkedIn connection from a friend and former student named Christian (last name obscured for his privacy).

LinkedIn invitations allow the recipient to indicate whether the inviter is an actual acquaintance, helping to regulate unwanted advances of the type so prevalent on less professionally-oriented social networks.

What’s interesting in this case, is what happened when LinkedIn abbreviated for the buttons…


There are some ominous spiritual overtones here, to be sure…

In case anybody is wondering, I clicked on “Accept.” 🙂

Junior high humor — There were no survivors

It’s not often that one of my kids lays down some adolescent humor on the home front that I hadn’t already heard 30 years ago, when I was their age. Generally such attempts weren’t particularly funny when I was in junior high school, and are even less so now. Unlike cheese, lousy humor doesn’t age well.

So this last week one of my kids asked me, “What’s red, and not there?”

“I give up. What’s red, and not there?”

“No tomatoes.”

I think that’s hilarious. Still wondering just why but it makes me smile.

This rare score by my youngsters brought to mind one of my favorite childhood memories. I was in junior high school, and had just stumbled on the greatest joke of all time, which I needed to share immediately with my dad.

“An airplane crashes on the border between the U.S. and Canada. Where do they bury the survivors?”

My dad looked at me, completely serious, and said, “There were no survivors.”

“That’s not the real Mona Lisa…”

The following is a true story. I swear it on my hardback copy of “The Da Vinci Code.”

I’m in Paris about eight years ago with my wife on a business trip. Naturally we’re going to see the sights (or is it sites?). I’m stoked to visit the Louvre for one fundamental reason: the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. I make my way to the room with a mass of people, try to get close enough to take a decent picture. I find a fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass.


I’m standing there absolutely soaking it up! In my mind I’m saying, “I am standing in the Louvre museum in Paris, and that is the actual Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci!” One of the euphoric highlights of my life. For about 15 seconds.

At about this moment an American man strolls up close to me with his kid, looks at the painting behind the plexiglass and says to his kid, dead serious, in a clearly audible voice, “Of course you know that isn’t the real Mona Lisa. The real one is currently on tour somewhere, and they put this fake one behind the glass to keep the tourists happy.”

I turn and look at the man, incredulous. My mind is now processing several threads of thought at approximately the same time: 1) Have I just seen the real Mona Lisa or not? 2) Why on earth did this man have to stroll up to me at this moment and say that to his son? 3) What kind of man would take his son all the way from America to the Louvre museum in Paris and tell him that this Mona Lisa isn’t real? 4) How can this man possibly know anything about the real Mona Lisa in the first place?! 5) Can I possibly inflict some sort of bodily injury upon this man without eliciting a hostile response from the ample security detail surrounding the Mona Lisa? 6) Why do I even consider the possibility that this guy might be telling the truth instead of dismissing it out of hand?!

Over several years of pondering, I have arrived at the following answers: 1) Probably. 2) Fate. 3) A clueless one. 4) He probably can’t. 5) Not inside the building. 6) Gullible personality I guess.

I have therefore concluded that I probably did, in fact, see the actual Mona Lisa behind bullet-proof plexiglass with a crowd of people in the Louvre eight years ago.

About five years later, when I visited Paris with my second daughter Brooke, a high school senior at the time, we stood in the same room before the same fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass. I said to Brooke, “Can you believe it?! The actual Mona Lisa!” She smiled, clearly experiencing a euphoric moment. I looked around furtively in the off chance that some clueless American would force an end to our reverie. No such misfortune this time. We were safe in our moment of awe.

So my daughter got to go to Paris, inside the Louvre, and stand before Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Me? I’m still not completely sure…

Dr. K’s first patent! :)

United States Patent 7,236,742

System and method for wireless data transfer for a mobile unit, patent No. 7,236,742, invented by Eric S. Hall of Provo, David K. Vawdrey of South Jordan, and Charles D. Knutson of Salem, assigned to Brigham Young University of Provo.

We’re pretty stoked. This is the first patent for Eric, Dave and me. We submitted this thing on June 12, 2002, back in the heyday of the Mobile Computing Lab when Eric and Dave were my M.S. students. So hey, only five years to find out we actually have something that the technology transfer office at BYU can license to somebody. Good thing the technology moves so slowly while we’re waiting for the patent process to pan out… 😉

Anyway, I just wanted to share. Dave’s friend Ricky saw the announcement in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning, told Dave, who called me. Apparently this is how you find out that you’ve been awarded a patent. 🙂

Congratulations are especially in order for Eric and Dave. They did most of the real work and deserve most of the credit.

In case any recruiters come across this posting while googling for Eric and Dave, Eric Hall is a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Informatics at the University of Utah. David Vawdrey recently received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Informatics from the University of Utah, and is heading off to his first faculty position at Columbia University in New York City. They both did their M.S. in Computer Science in the Mobile Computing Lab at BYU under my tutelage. Hiring either of these guys would be the smartest HR move your organization ever made.

The last URL I’ll ever need?

Just a heads up to my loyal readership. The blog has moved for the very last time (I hope)!

I’ve acquired a suite of domain names remarkably well-suited to myself: The default plan is for to be the permanent home of the blog from now until I either retire or die (whichever comes first). If I am again splogged with corruption, or in any other way compromised, I will clean off and press forward, but at least I won’t drag the good name of my university through the muck and mire next time.

If you have bookmarked either of the two former URLs, please redirect those to the new address. I’ll still have those former URLs redirect traffic over here just in case.

‘Cute Knut’ delights German crowds in debut

‘Cute Knut’ delights German crowds in debut


Okay, so this has absolutely nothing to do with anything related to anything this blog is supposed to be remotely about.


The new cuddly baby polar bear at the Berlin Zoo has been dubbed “cute Knut” by the German media. It’s now just a matter of time before one or all of my children come home from school bearing (as it were) tales of a new nickname.

Granted, there’s not a lot else you can do with “Knutson,” other than simply mangle and mispronounce it. I regularly get phone calls for “Charles Nutson” and it helps me to know that it’s nobody I know. In my young married years I would provide “Knutson” when waiting for a table at a restaurant, until one night at the Space Needle in Seattle a hostess hollered out, “Contusion?!” “Contusion?!” Everyone looked around for the idiot named after a bruise, and I stood up against my better judgment. It was that or lose the table. After that it was always just “Chuck,” thank you very much.

But now my kids (and me too, I suppose) get to be “cute Knut” thanks to the bear and the Germans.