Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Even Leonardo had to Write a Resume'

One would think that Leonardo da Vinci, the guy who invented the helicopter, created the most famous picture of man (you know the guy in the circle holding out his arms), and painted the Mona Lisa, wouldn't have to create a resume', but then one would be WRONG!  Before da Vinci was the toast of Renaissance Europe, he was a nobody, a student, just like you, and just like you he had to send out a resume' or two.

Marc Cenedella posted a translation of DaVinci's resume as follows:
“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

3. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, etc.

4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.

5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offense and defense; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.

6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.

7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

8. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.

9. Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvellous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offense and defense.

10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency – to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc.”
What can you learn from da Vinci?  Well, one thing that Cenedella points out is how da Vinci does not just give a laundry list of what he has done.  He talks about what he can do for a specific employer, in this case the "Most Illustrious Lord."

It appears this Lord fights a lot, which da Vinci addresses, by talking about portable bridges, bombs, and artillery. But da Vinci also recognizes that life is about more than war and "In times of peace" he can "give perfect satisfaction" when creating "architecture" and "sculptures in marble, bronze, or clay."  If that isn't enough da Vinci can accomplish "painting whatever may be done."

So what is the point here?  Sales!  You have to sell yourself and you have to let a prospective employer know what you have to offer.  This is another reason why you can't just have a single resume' that you send out to every company on the planet.  By addressing specific "needs" an employer may have or want, you can stand out from the 1,000,000 other resume's that hit the HR department's in box.

How do you find out those needs?  Look on the company website.  What are their current projects?  What does the job posting ask for? Think about your dream job at your dream company and answer this:  What do you have to offer?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Bless Her Heart"

Once the kids were safely dropped off at school, this one-time stay-at-home mom had lots of opportunity to coffee klatch.  These gab fests would eventually make their way to a sentence that began with "Bless her heart." Instantly, my antennae would go up because a juicy bit of gossip was about to be revealed. A cheating husband, less-than-stellar children, or the expanding width of a rear end were all fair game if it was preceded by "Bless her heart."

What is the point of "bless her heart" and other "tee-ups"? After all, a blessing is a good thing, right? Wrong, not when it is instantly followed by some snarky comment.

Like the author of "Why Verbal Tee-Ups Often Signal Insincerity" I cringe when someone says to me "Don't take this the wrong way . . . "  I mean you know what's coming.  Professor James Pennebaker asserts these "tee-ups" are preludes to criticism and worse.
"Language experts have textbook names for these phrases—"performatives," or "qualifiers." Essentially, taken alone, they express a simple thought, such as "I am writing to say…" At first, they seem harmless, formal, maybe even polite. But coming before another statement, they often signal that bad news, or even some dishonesty on the part of the speaker, will follow.
"Politeness is another word for deception," says James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department of the University of Texas at Austin, who studies these phrases. "The point is to formalize social relations so you don't have to reveal your true self."
"'In other words, 'if you're going to lie, it's a good way to do it—because you're not really lying. So it softens the blow,' Dr. Pennebaker says.
"Of course, it's generally best not to lie, Dr. Pennebaker notes. But because these sayings so frequently signal untruth, they can be confusing even when used in a neutral context. No wonder they often lead to a breakdown in personal communications."
There is speculation about why we use "tee-ups" or those little phrases that pack a wallop and how they may be leading to some unpleasant conversations and hurt feelings.  

Has someone ever prefaced a comment to you with "I am only telling you this because I love you" or "I thought you should know" or even the dreaded, "I just want to be honest."  Hurt feelings?  You bet.
"'If you are feeling a need to use [tee-ups] a lot, then perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are saying too many unpleasant things to or about other people,' says Ellen Jovin, co-founder of Syntaxis, a communication-skills training firm in New York. She considers some tee-up phrases to be worse than others. 'Don't take this the wrong way…' is 'ungracious,' she says. 'It is a doomed attempt to evade the consequences of a comment.'" 
But I bet there are "tee-ups" this author missed.  After all, he's a college professor, not a college student.  What kind of "tee-ups" make you cringe?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

DWYL - Do What You Love

It may be hard to see in this home/work space, but there it is a cute little picture proclaiming "Do What You Love" next to another cute little graphic "Love What You Do."

We've all heard this phrase, but at Jacobin an article entitled "In the Name of Love" claims that
"There’s little doubt that 'do what you love' (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers."
After all, we're not all Bill Gates building computers in our garage.

Is DWYL just a bit of self-aggrandizing fluff?

Jacobin makes a good point when saying, "By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it."

Jacobin uses the example of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, the creator of all those gadgets we can't live without today.  In his 2005 commencement speech for Stanford graduates he advised them that
"You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."
But as Jacobin so aptly points out "Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love."

Jacobin futher claims that the idea of DWYL divides workers.
"Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.
"For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased."
This article goes on to talk about academia and how professors are all contract laborers because most of us are part-timers and the plight of the poor intern who gets paid nothing, but is doing what you love really just for the privileged few?

The longer I teach the more I hear students say that their chosen career path isn't in something they love, but in something that will earn them "bank".

So why did you choose your career path?  Love?  Money? Or something else?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vindicated. Finally!

Reading Twilight, Harry Potter (take that Harold Bloom), Hunger Games, and Watchmen, for that matter, will improve your brain.

Don't believe me? Let's ask the experts.
ABC News is reporting that scientists are using some of their most sophisticated tools to peer inside the human brain to see what happens when we engage in the process of reading, and they are finding a number of surprises:
-- Reading is a very complex task that requires several different regions of the brain to work together.

-- But surprisingly, we don't use the same neural circuits to read as we grow from infants to adults. So our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives.

-- It appears possible that reading can improve the "connectivity" between the various brain circuits that are essential to understanding the written word.

-- And there is recent evidence that simply reading a good novel can keep that enhanced "connectivity" working for days, and possibly longer, after we have finished the book.
What? Read a novel and enhance your brain function?  Yup, that's what they're saying. "Reading is not just one of the talents we were born with, like seeing and hearing. It is a 'recent cultural invention,' as one researcher put it. Just a few thousand years ago, some creative human probably carved the first symbol in the wall of a cave, launching his followers on a rich, new adventure -- reading."

Over at Emory University scientists put 21 students through an MRI for 30 minutes a day for 19 days while they were reading. "The scanner revealed a sharp spike in two neural networks after the first chapter, and that continued throughout the rest of the experiment, including the five days after the reading was over."  So the students' brains kept functioning on "high" even days after they finished the reading.

I bet many of you already knew this . . . What was the last novel you read?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reading Visuals: Infographics

My students often look at me like I'm crazy when I assign readings about reading visuals.  We don't just read written texts anymore...we read television, YouTube, graphic essays, and infographics.  In this visual-laden society, being able to read a graphic is a required skill.  As a teacher, a good visual in an otherwise excruciatingly dull (sorry, but you all know what I mean) essay can often make me drop my red pen for a moment or two.  And it appears, I am not alone.

Over at Brain Pickings they published an article entitled "How to be an Educated Consumer of Infographics:  David Bryne on the Art-Science of Visual Storytelling" and I just couldn't resist another blog post about visuals....I got The Best American Infographics of 2013 as a Christmas present and devoured it in one afternoon.  According to Bryne, of Talking Heads fame,
The very best [infographics] engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece — when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!”…
The point about allowing us to grasp a relationship quickly and easily is why I love visuals (infographic, comic, painting, photograph, television, etc. etc.).  It just seems like you get to skip a step when you read an infographic.

But as Bryne reminds us, just like written text, there are a lot of bad infographics out there.  So it is important that we learn how to read visuals just like we would any other text.
One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information. Ideally, an educated consumer of infographics might develop some sort of infographic bullshit detector that would beep when told how the trickle-down economic effect justifies fracking, for example. It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing.
"Should I Check my E-mail?" is my favorite infographic from the article. As a writer, I can be one heck of a procrastinator and since I'm already on my computer, there's no greater time waster (errr, I mean, important task) then checking all my email accounts (personal and professional), Facebook, YouTube suggestions that I may like, OH, and whatever cute kitten video is purring its way around the internet AND reading all the articles, newsletters, geek trivia and pictures that are in my in-box.

But back to infographics...Some of the infographics featured in The Best American Infographics of 2013 are just plain beautiful.  Go check out "Paths Through New York City"--paths that appear to be veins in a leaf leading one through an otherwise concrete world--really stunning.

So as you write your next text - take pity on your reader and create a really stunning infographic.  I'm talking especially to you, science majors, don't just create some dull pie chart for your professor.

What kind of information could you visualize for your next paper?