Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Teamwork according to Google

Google has five tips for effective teamwork as discovered by their People Operation's Group. They asked 200 people in their Project Aristotle a series of questions hoping to figure out the proper mix of tech nerds to physicists to scholars to come up the proper ingredients for the perfect team.

But what they found was not what they expected. It wasn't the mix of PhDs that made a good team, but how they worked together. Is it just me but doesn't that seem obvious?

So what are Google's five keys to a successful group:

1. Psychological Safety. Are you free to safely take risks in your group or will you be ostracized or punished. Hopefully, your teammates are supportive and don't see risk takers as ignorant or disruptive.

2. Dependability. Anybody who has done a school project knows exactly what this means.

3. Structure and clarity. Does the group get the assignment (task), have a plan to accomplish the assignment, and will it be successful? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are on your way to success.

4. Meaning. This can really only be defined by an individual, but it basically boils down to "Do you like what you are doing?" In the case of Google (or any other employer), this can be a lifetime of drudgery or delight. In the case of student groups, it can amount to how valuable the project may be to your landing a job. Did it help you make a decision (do you really want to do this for the rest of your life?).

5. Impact. For Google employees what "impact" amounts to is does your work make a difference? For student groups you might think it applies to the grade you received, especially in those groups where you get to grade each other. There is ALWAYS that one person that didn't do anything (or very little).

Do you like working in groups? You will be working in groups when you get into the working world, how do you think you will handle that? What do you think makes a successful team?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Student Loan Forgiveness

There is a lot of confusion about student loan forgiveness, so let's try to clear things up a bit.

In 2014, 37 million Americans had student loan debt that averaged $23,200. Depending on where you live and where you go to school your student loan debt may be larger - a lot larger.

I bet most college students are aware of student loan forgiveness programs, but they probably have no idea how they work.

Over at Student Loan Hero, Eric Roseberg has outlined the basics of student loan forgiveness - and it's something to think about.

Here's some of the basics (disclaimer: this stuff changes all the time, so stay caught up with new or revised forgiveness plans):

Student forgiveness plans apply mainly to federal student loans (Perkins loans are another matter), so all those loans you took out with Wells Fargo will NEVER qualify for forgiveness. Most banks are private institutions out to make money, so avoid taking a loan with them at all costs.

Federal loans for certain kinds of degrees, mainly public service (social workers, etc.), qualify for some type of forgiveness after ten years. You have to work in the field to qualify for forgiveness.

Some teachers with federal student loans qualify for forgiveness after as little as five years depending on where you teach. For the rest, they have to wait for ten years.

Loan holders with income-driven payment plans will qualify for forgiveness after twenty to twenty-five years.

Something to keep in mind, most forgiveness programs only apply to loan holders who have maintained good standing, meaning you have made all your payments on time and are not in default.

Sounds good? Well, think about this. Yes, you can get a big chunk of your federal loans forgiven, but the government treats that like regular income, with an exception for public service and teachers who will not receive a tax bill. What does this mean? If you have $100,000 of your student loan debt forgiven, you can expect to pay taxes on $100,000 worth of income. That's right forgiven loans are treated just like regular income and are taxed at whatever rate you fall into. On $100,000 for some that could mean a tax bill of $25,000.

As Rosenberg points out student loan forgiveness is not "all rainbows and unicorns." Do you have any student loans? Do you plan on having any student loans? How can you avoid borrowing as a student?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Superman Explained

This blog usually talks about DC's Superman, but this time let's talk about Nietzche's Übermensch, aka Superman.

What? Yes, you are supposed to take philosophy somewhere along your college academic path, and, in the words of Monty Python, "Now for something completely different . .  ."


Friedrich Nietzche is not examining physical strength (like the DC character), but the mind of the superman and claims that we can't possibly be the final product of evolution. So what might the man of the future be like? 

Nietzche felt supermen would make their own values, be independently minded, they might need to hurt people in the name of great things, selfish, reform men towards pagan values, not resentful, hard to understand, lonely, gentle towards the weak, sexually wicked, and all those characteristics were needed to lead mankind towards salvation through culture.

Who would you be mentally if you could be the "super" version of yourself?

100 Years of Progress

Peter Diamandes writes a few fun facts about what life was like in 1917 compared with what life is like today. Here's a sampling:

1. World Literacy Rates
     - 1917: The world literacy rate was only 23%.
     - Today: Depending on estimates, the world literacy rate today is 86.1%.

2. Travel Time
     - 1917: It took 5 days to get from London to New York; 3.5 months to travel from London to Australia.
     - Today: A nonstop flight gets you from London to New York in a little over 8 hours, and you can fly from London to Australia in about a day, with just one stop.

3. Average Price of a U.S. House
     - 1917: The average price of a U.S. house was $5,000. ($111,584.29 when adjusted for inflation)
     - Today: As of 2010, the average price of a new home sold in the U.S. was $272,900.

4. Average Price of a Car in the U.S.
     - 1917: The average price of a car in the U.S. was $400 ($8,926.74 when adjusted for inflation)
     - Today: The average car price in the U.S. was $34,968 as of January 2017.

5. Average U.S. Wages
     - 1917: The average U.S. hourly wage was 22 cents an hour ($4.90 per hour when adjusted for inflation)
     - Today: The average U.S. hourly wage is approximately $26 per hour.

6. Supermarkets
     - 1917: The first "super" market, PigglyWiggly, opened on September 6, 1916 in Memphis, TN.
     - Today: In 2015, there were 38,015 supermarkets, employing 3.4 million people and generating sales of about $650 billion.

7. Billionaires
     - 1917: John D. Rockefeller became the world's first billionaire on September 29.
     - Today: There are approximately 1,810 billionaires, and their aggregate net worth is $6.5 trillion.
     For context, Rockefeller’s net worth in today’s dollars would have been about $340 billion. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, is worth $84 billion today.

8. Telephones (Landlines vs. Cellphones)
     - 1917: Only 8% of homes had a landline telephone.
     - Today: Forget landlines! In the U.S., nearly 80% of the population has a smartphone (a supercomputer in their pockets). Nearly half of all American households now use only cellphones rather than older landlines. And as far as cost, today, you can Skype anywhere in the world for free over a WiFi network.

9. US Population
     - 1917: The U.S. population broke 100 million, and the global population reached 1.9 billion.
     - Today: The U.S. population is 320 million, and the global population broke 7.5 billion this year.

10. Inventions and Technology
     - 1917: The major tech invention in 1917? The toggle light switch.
     - Today: The major tech invention of today? CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology, which enables us to reprogram life as we know it. And we are making strides in AI, robotics, sensors, networks, synthetic biology, materials science, space exploration and more every day.

11. High School Graduation Rates
     - 1917: Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.
     - Today: Over 80% of all Americans graduated high school this past year.

What do you think literacy rates, travel times, the average price of goods and services, or the state of technology will be in 100 years?

Think about this. We look at science and society 100 years ago and think how silly it all seems. What do you think society in 100 years will think of today's science and social trends?

Monday, January 23, 2017

The First Futurist

Leonardo da Vinci thought about some really cool machines, which he recorded in a number of journals. From flying machines and war machines to water and land machines he was so far ahead of his time that many of his inventions would not be built until the 20th century.

Remember, Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 and died in 1519, so he was inventing things some 500 years before they could ever be built.

So let's take a look at how he saw the future, shall we?

da Vinci saw a ornithopter in our future which looks a lot like those early Wright Brothers planes that flew overhead in the late 19th century.

He envisioned the aerial screw or helicopter which wouldn't be built until the 20th century. He based his designs on the flight of bats and birds.

The tank wouldn't get here until the beginning of World War I in the early 20th century.

What da Vinci called a 33- barreled organ, or what we call a machine gun, arrived during the U.S. civil war and made gangster movies worth watching in the 20th century.

What about scuba gear, you ask? That's another machine our inveterate Italian thought about. Thinking of breathing underwater makes me wonder where he came up with that? In nature, watching fish or frogs.

He also put mobile bridges on paper which were heavily used in World War II.

Last but not least, is the self-propelled cart, or CAR. What? Some guy 500 years before there was a bunch of steam engines chugging around the landscape came up with the idea of a car.

What kinds of inventions can you imagine that we might create in the future? Think about things that may take 500 years to produce?

What, in nature, would we like to emulate? Scuba? Why not breathing underwater? Can we create a way to oxygenate the blood without air?

How about physics? Will we travel faster than light?

Will we live on other planets?

How will we accomplish those things?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why do we have an Electoral College?

First, let's look at facts.

In the U.S.A. we do not elect presidents by popular vote. We elect electors who then cast their vote for the candidate. The number of Electoral College votes in each state is based on the total number of U.S. representatives and U.S. senators.

The 2016 presidential electoral results map shows you how the electors in each state will cast their votes. The red states represent where the Republican, Donald Trump will receive all the elector votes and the blue states indicate where the Democrat, Hillary Clinton will receive those votes. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. Many are upset because it looks like Hillary Clinton will earn more popular votes--and this isn't the first time this has happened (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000).

So why do we have an electoral college if we don't elect the person who earned all the votes? The Electoral College was created by the writers of the constitution, and while we may think this is an antiquated vote against democracy, let's take a closer look.

First, our nation is not a democracy. Our country is a constitutional republic. The Electoral College was put in place, partly, to protect the nation from a "tyranny of the majority". Pure democracies have been likened to "two wolves and a lamb deciding what's for dinner." You can see how that wouldn't work for the lamb.

Not every reason for the Electoral College was a good one. The New York Times reminds voters,"Above all, some historians point to the critical role that slavery played in the formation of the system. Southern delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, most prominently James Madison of Virginia, were concerned that their constituents would be outnumbered by Northerners. The Three-Fifths Compromise, however, allowed states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person — enough, at the time, to ensure a Southern majority in presidential races." Why would we do this? In the early days of our republic, we needed the slave-holding states in order to fight (and win) the Revolutionary War that created this country.

There are other reasons too, chief among them was that "The founding fathers sought to ensure that residents in states with smaller populations were not ignored."

The avoidance of pure majority rule is also why the United States has three branches of government, the legislative, judicial, and executive; a senate with two representatives from each state no matter the population; and a legislature with representation based solely on population.

So why was this important and why do some believe this is still important today? First, a candidate has to build a nationwide coalition to earn the most electoral college votes. The writers of the constitution believed it would make presidents more moderate and diverse. Secondly, if we lived in a pure democracy, candidates would only need to go to the largest cities in order to win the presidency. In other words, why would you need to be moderate or diverse, if you just needed three states?

But there are ways to change the way electoral college votes are cast. "Some states have discussed a possibility that would not necessarily require amending the Constitution: jettisoning the winner-take-all system, in which a single candidate is awarded all of a state’s electoral votes — regardless of the popular vote — and instead apportioning them to reflect the breakdown of each state’s popular vote. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, already do this."

In order to get rid of, or specifically change the Electoral College, we would need to amend the constitution, and to do that we would need a supermajority in congress and 3/4 of the states would have to approve the move. Thirteen small states would ALWAYS block this 3/4 approval to eliminate the Electoral College.

What do you think about changing the way Electoral College votes are cast? How could we create a system where everyone's voice was heard from the smallest town to the largest city?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What happens when work is a thing of the past?

Elon Musk and other economists believe that automation will soon take so many jobs that governments will be forced to face the universal basic income (UBI).

While these experts believe a UBI is inevitable due to robots and artificial intelligence, it seems that we might consider what a society would look like without "gainful employment."

The CEO of Tesla's optimistic belief is that “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things,” says Musk. “Certainly more leisure time.” But I have to wonder, is that what people want - endless leisure time to do interesting things?

If we drill down into this premise, what does a universal basic income actually mean? Does it mean people will choose whether they want to be educated or not? If we don't have to go to work, will schools close and then turn into bastions of the arts to enrich our inner and outer lives? That sounds great if people choose to do that, but then who needs schools even for the Arts when you have MOOCs (massive open online courses)? You can take painting, reading, animation, sculpting - or learn how to use a machine that does all this for you.

Will anybody take statistics, physics, or higher mathematics? No one would have to because there's an AI app for that. Of course, there are those intrepid math geeks who would find it interesting and want to practice the ancient technology of slide rules just for kicks.

What about philosophy? It seems like philosophy teaches us how to interact with each other and/or the mystical, invisible powers of the universe or the lack of said powers. What about machine philosophy? I mean the machines are going to be doing everything from creating devices to repairing and inventing technology. It seems only natural to assume that fully functional AI will probably have their own philosophy. Hopefully, they don't conclude by thinking, "What do we need these meat bags for?"

And if you can just sit around all day eating potato chips, watching television, or immersed in some virtual reality, it seems we will soon be living Idiocracy, stuck to a barcalounger wrapped in corporate logos. Will people be happy with this life?

What happens when people get bored or start to feel resentful because they want more, what will they do? A universal basic income does not mean we will be equal. Will human society riot and/or sabotage? Will we become the Elois fodder for the Morlocks (go look it up, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells). Seriously, what's the point when you don't have to work, or do anything for yourself, for that matter.

What do you think? Will a universal basic income create a utopia where we all get along and create art or do good for humanity and the environment? Or will it create a resentful (and stupid) lower class with too much time on their hands? Or something in between?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jetsons here we come!

Who are the Jetsons?

George Jetson had the greatest car ever when I was ten and now UBER is planning on taking commuting to the sky. Yup, you read that right they want to introduce VTOL aircraft "vertical take-off and landing" crafts to make commuting safer and cleaner.
According to Futurism. com "the concept is simple: Uber plans to provide a cost-effective and efficient ridesharing service in the sky. Commuters will ride a 'network of small, electric [VTOL aircraft] that will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities,' according to Uber’s paper. Not only that, this service is green as Uber’s VTOLs will run on electric propulsion systems with zero operational emissions."
What about infrastructure? Easy. Uber VTOLs can take use roofs, existing parking structures, helipads, and unused land around freeways for vertistops or vertiports.

But what is this going to cost? "Uber believes VTOL trips won’t be expensive. Initial estimates of a VTOL ride from San Francisco’s Marina to downtown San Jose is $129 and could drop as low as $20 in the long term. An equivalent two-hour Uber X ride between the two destinations currently costs $111."

Well, I don't know about you, but I can't wait. Can you envision a day when you are ridesharing over the freeways of the Bay Area to work or school? Do you think it will relieve congestion? Can you see how the stuff of science fiction leads to future technological developments?

How to Impress College Admissions Staff

How do you give a stellar impression to your prospective college? It's not your admission essay, or your volunteer work, or your GPA . . . it's your social media presence. What!? That's right it's what you tweet, post, and blog. Huh? Oh, and I don't mean in a good way.

If your college uses social media to narrow the field of incoming freshman you could find yourself reeling when you receive that "Thanks, but no thanks" letter in the mail. At least that's what the good folks over at CNN are telling us as they go through some step-by-step questions.

1. Should I delete my social media account or make it private? CNN recommends delete, but I think that is a bit extreme. Private is probably a good idea because it narrows what comes up about you. BTW when was the last time you conducted a google search on yourself?

2.Do I have to delete every single party pic of me and my friends? Nah, just be sure you take down the ones that "exhibit poor judgement" - you know the one. Plus, ask your friends not to tag you in every single pic they take.

3. The college I'm interested in contacted me through Facebook. Doesn't that mean that they're cool and won't care about my "youthful indiscretions"? Be careful, once you respond to a school via social media you have let that person/school in to your social media account. Do you really want them to know that much about you?

4. I once got in a public war of words with someone not on my social media but on another online forum. Will that hurt me? CNN recommends that you have a separate "ranting" account. I think that is cowardly. If you have a "war of words" with someone, you might consider responding just like you would in person. That is an impressive feat - staying cool under pressure. And, yes, it can hurt you if you have a "war of words" that includes a bunch of ad hominem attacks. (Remember that fallacy from English?)

5. Will the weird stuff I like on other people's social media reflect negatively on me? I'm not even sure how to respond to this. I guess it depends on what your definition of weird is. Disturbing, yeah, that might be seen negatively.

6. Could the school look poorly on me if I follow provocative figures on social media? I agree with CNN when they say if all the provocative figures you follow are biased in the same direction, it might reflect negatively, but if you have a good general mix that shows you are open to other points of view.

7. What should I do if I think a school unfairly disqualified me because of my social media? Most school would be using social media to examine you because they have so many qualified applicants, but CNN advises if you think that you were disqualified because of social media you should contact the school and ask.

8. Should I groom my social media specifically to look good for colleges? I think this is a hard question. I was taught that you should think of EVERYTHING you write down, and that includes social media, as something that could end up in front of a judge. This may be a bit extreme, but you want to make a good impression. Don't exaggerate your goals, don't exaggerate your exploits, just present a "spiffier" version of you.

By the way, you should keep all these things in mind when looking for a job. Employers definitely use social media to narrow applicants. In fact, more than 50 percent do so.

Do you have anything to worry about? Is there anything that you would change on your social networking sites?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Internet is in flames

Have you ever asked yourself why internet users are so angry? I have and upon reflection took down most of my social media accounts leaving only Facebook, where I have pared back on everyone except REAL friends and family, and Twitter, which is where all comic book people seem to post. Even so I still have to read or scroll past some of my family and friends' flame-filled rants. I admit I have been guilty of the same, but I really try resist throwing a scorching Molotov cocktail in the direction of those I don't agree with . . . most of the time. So why do we engage in this hateful kind of behavior?

In the infamous words of Mel Brooks, "C'mon, you do it, you know you do it and you're going to do it again." But why? Does it accomplish anything? Do you feel any better? Does anybody ever change their minds? The answers are simple: No, no, and no.
Live Science wrote, "online comments 'are extraordinarily aggressive without resolving anything.' this is according to Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. 'At the end of it you can't possibly feel like anybody heard you. Having a strong emotional experience that doesn't resolve itself in any healthy way can't be a good thing.'"
I mean that seems common sense, right? But we still do it anyway. One thing I've noticed on social  media sites and the comments following any article (where they allow comments) is the proliferation of the "Anonymous" aggressor. One thing I won't do is post anonymously. If I have something to say and I can't say it to someone's face (or in this case on a social media site) that's just cowardly. Maybe it's the distance or the fact that we don't know who so many of these commentors/posters are. Writing as yourself teaches you to be polite. Like my mother always said, "You can tell your teacher (boss, professor, store clerk) whatever you want as long as you do so politely and respectfully."
 Professor Markman believes "A perfect storm of factors come together to engender the rudeness and aggression seen in the comments' sections of Web pages. First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they're commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it's easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper)."
When was the last time you flamed someone? Did you do so anonymously? Did it make you feel better? Did the receiver of said flame change their mind?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Are you sure college is right for you?

Here's a fun fact: "For every 100 kids who start college, just 25 get degrees and attractive jobs. Some 45 drop out, and another 30 graduate but end up under- or unemployed"--at least that is what Market Watch is reporting--and those drop outs and underemployed have whopping amounts of student debt.

Too many students may be "book ready" once they leave college, but they can't even accomplish the fundamental real-world applications required by their major. Take the example of the MIT graduates (yes, that's plural) that could not use a wire, light bulb, and battery to make a light bulb work. Yikes.

It is important to get a hands-on education--that's why vocational studies are so important in high school. Oh, you don't know what vocational studies are? Well that's because wood shop, bookkeeping, nursing, and auto shop have been cut from K-12 education. Did you have electronics in high school? Could you build a basic computer? No? Yeah, that's what I've been saying. You have been cheated because instead of framing out a room, or wiring a house, or connecting an actual light bulb to a battery, you have been learning about Ohm's Law.

And then what happens? You go to college, pay a bazillion dollars for an education, graduate and then can't find a job.
Even Google is starting to notice and "changed its hiring strategies after Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations, analyzed their data and found no correlation between job performance and an employee’s GPA, SAT’s, or college pedigree. Google now considers an applicant’s ability to collaborate and to perform authentic job-related challenges. Now, they hire many new employees who never went to college."
And Google is your dream job? As a college student you need to consider what it is you actually need to know before you graduate college. What is it that employers actually want?  Do you really need to spend $100k to get the experience you need to land that job?

What is your major? Can you get all the education AND experience you need at college to land a good job when you're finished? What is your dream job? What company would you love to work for? Is a college-degree required? What kind of degree(s) do they like? What kind of experience do they want? Do you think you will be ready for the real world once you leave college?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Speaking of Robots...

Lately there have been a few stories about bad robots.

From the Tesla driver who was killed by running into a semi. The driver was going so fast that when he went through the truck trailer the driver didn't even see him. Certainly, a setback for automated automobiles.

In Russia, an AI robot kept escaping the lab and is now being considered for decommission. Promobot IR77 is designed to be a concierge or sales person and can remember every person it has ever met and help with sales requests, directions, tourism, etc.. At the lab, a technician left a gate open and the white metal robot made a break for it ending up stranded in traffic because its batteries ran out half way across the street. The AI program was scrubbed and replaced, but Promobot made another break for it leading creators to contemplate scraping the escape artist. Maybe it's just too smart for the lab.

And robots may not like small children.

Stanford Shopping Center's 5-foot-tall, 300-pound Knightscope security robot knocked down and ran over a 16-month-old boy at the shopping center. The robot is designed to look out for environmental changes and known criminals, but apparently toddlers aren't on its radar. Thankfully, Knightscope is not weaponized and only reports on suspicious incidents.

The robot comes equipped with "multiple high-definition cameras for 360-degree vision, a thermal camera, a laser rangefinder, a weather sensor, a license-plate recognition camera, four microphones, and person recognition capabilities." But apparently, it needs to work on kid-recognition software.

Are we on our way to some crazy scifi Terminator movie? Everything we own comes with some kind of sensor from our garage door openers to our food-tracking refrigerators, we are surrounded by technology designed to make our lives easier and safer. Should all AI robots be programmed with Asimov's three laws of robotics (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.)?

While it is great that robots will make our lives easier (hopefully), do you think robots will take over all the minimum wage jobs?  Apparently, they will be our security guards and sales clerks. McDonald's is automating its stores in Europe where there is a higher minimum wage. Do you think you will see AI doctors and nurses in your lifetime? How about teachers? What is your major? Do you think you might be replaced by a robot?