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?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In Honor of Comic Comic Con and the Olympics

Since I'm feeling sorry for myself after reading all the exciting posts from my friends at San Diego Comic Con, here's a comic website that will make you smile -- Comics with Problems. Today let's take a look at "The Insiders: The Marijuana Mystery".

This comic from 1991 features Holly, a gymnast aspiring to win the state championship, who has a crush on Mike, a popular jock and failing student. Holly offers to tutor Mike hoping he'll ask her to the prom, but instead he rewards her with marijuana. She takes one toke off a joint and immediately quits studying for tests and misses gymnastic's practice. When she makes it back to practice she gets injured and can't go to the state championships. After confessing to her best friend that all of her new problems are due to marijuana, there's a robot intervention.

Here's the facts laid out in this comic about marijuana abuse as delivered by Alpha the Robot:
[BEEP.] Marijuana impairs a person's thinking, making it hard to learn and remember. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana affects the natural balance of hormones which build a healthy body.
[BEEP]. It affects a person's reproductive system. 
[BEEP]. It also impairs the immune system's ability to prevent disease and illness. 
[BEEP]. THC remains in the body, trapped in fatty tissue. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana is a gateway drug. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana is more dangerous than tobacco because it contains more tar, cancer causing chemicals and carbon monoxide.
After learning about marijuana, Holly's response is to educate Mike so he doesn't "get hurt." It doesn't work, so she goes to the school counselor and gets Mike some help. Hmmm, I'm not sure about that.

This company also produced "The Insiders: The Tobacco Temptation" and "The Insiders: Tony's Sobering Lesson." I can only imagine how much fun those must have been.

We can argue all day long about the validity of Alpha's claims, but I suppose if your audience is made up of 8-year-olds this might be a comic to read with them, but then again, I don't think I want my 8-year-old even thinking about smoking pot.

Oh, and what's up with the title, "The Marijuana Mystery." It reminded me of the Scooby Doo Mysteries I loved as a kid, but I was sorely disappointed. There is no mystery. Marijuana is EVIL . . . end of story.

And, what's up the visual and textual sexual innuendo and double entendre? Were the writers and artists just goofing? Were they even aware of all the sexy bits? Were they high?

I hope all those gymnasts in Brazil have read this, so they don't get hurt. Do you think "Marijuana Mystery" seems silly because it was produced for a 1991 audience? What do you think junior high students today would think about this comic? If you were to make a PSA comic today directed at junior high school students, what would it be about and how would you title it?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Saving Money While you Relax

One thing you might miss once you move into the dorm is having those 363 channels your parents subscribed to at home for $176 per month. Yup, cable is expensive.

You also might think I wouldn't recommend TV, but after a hard day's working and studying sometimes you just have to veg in front of your own personal boob tube and it doesn't have to cost a bunch of money.

There are a few different ways to get free (or relatively free) television in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you have a laptop you can use that free high-speed wi fi in your dorm room to access Project Free TV. I have to admit I don't use it that much - I'm pretty old school - but I have used it on an iPad, it gets good reviews, but I'd beware of viruses.

Speaking of free wi-fi, another way to watch TV is to get a Roku with an initial investment of anywhere from $50 to $120 (Costco, BestBuy, Fry's). The Roku is a streaming tv service that attaches via your TV's HDMI port and comes with a really easy remote. Roku is super simple to set up and has lots of free channels you can enjoy. If you have a streaming Netflix or an Amazon prime account, you can easily watch those channels. You can also rack up money by subscribing to HBO, Showtime, or NBA, etc, however those fees are usually less than most standard cable packages. Roku's most popular free channels are Crackle (TV/movies), YouTube, PBS, CBS, NBC, TwIT (geeks), History Channel, Smithsonian Channel, etc. and something called Twitch, which being a gamer I don't understand, but my game-playing kids love.

The biggest drawback of Project Free TV and Roku is that you don't get local news (some limited selections) and SPORTS - I know, no Warriors! AYK?! - but not to worry, if you have a television (a new tv costs less than $100) you can get an antenna (remember, I'm old school) and before you say "No way!" I have a secret to share. Today's antennas are not the rabbit ears padded with tin foil that you had to hang from a coat hanger off the nearest curtain rod. Today's antennas deliver HD signals FREE. And, btw, today's antennas deliver snow-free signals, you either get the channel or you don't. In the East Bay you can get over 90 channels (check out Antenna Web to see what channels are available via antenna in your area). Of course, you have to buy an antenna and those can run anywhere from $20 to $40 depending on . . . who knows. It just depends on which antenna your TV likes, so you may have to try a couple (save that packaging). The best one I've found that works way out here in the sticks is the Mohu Curve. BTW new antennas need a power source.

You can even buy a Roku TV (40 inch, $250 at Costco) that comes all set up and ready to go and includes 3 HDMI ports for your video equipment and the antenna connection for local tv.

There is also a way to turn your computer monitor into a TV by using a ATSC Digital Tuner (about $40) hooked to an antenna, but that's a whole different post.

Now that you have your FREE tv set up, you can also get free tv listings on the internet from Titan TV where you can view customized schedules for broadcast tv (antenna) and various cable services, so you can figure out when your favorite shows are on.

So now that you are a starving student who needs to unwind to some free tv every once in a while, what are you going to watch? What is your favorite show? Why do you like it? What is your guilty tv pleasure? Mine are Firefly and Downton Abbey.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kafkaesque - more than an unnecessarily frustrating experience

In comics this season, we studied the graphic adaption of Kafka's Metamorphosis by Peter Kuper. In the story, a salesman wakes up and finds he has turned into a bug - seems the perfect premise for a graphic novel.

Kafka's novellas led to the creation of the adjective Kafkaesque which according to Mirriam means something "having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality, such as Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays" (we've all had those). The hoops one has to jump through are often so twisted and frustrating that success is pointless.

Kafka's many short stories have strange illogical, usually bureaucratic, twists that are worth reading. They reflect the disconnect in industrialized societies, the alienation that comes when life is reduced to working for faceless bureaucracies and corporations and being subjected to the rules and laws of the same. One strange twist in Kafka's Metamorphosis is that when Gregor discovers he's turned into a bug he worries incessantly about how he is going to get to work instead of what happened to his body.

Have you read other Kafka stories? If so, how do they relate to today's world? If you haven't, have you been trapped in a DMV line? Stuck in a mound of red tape or bureaucratic paperwork? Have you lived a Kafkaesque story?

Friday, June 24, 2016

When will we see these fashions on campus?

Predicting the future is never easy and when we look back at 1930 clothing predictions for the new millennium it all seems so ridiculous, but these styles weren't created for laughs, these designers on history's cutting edge were serious.

What did they predict? Women will wear trousers (what a shock), climate controlled dresses, and even a headlight to "catch a man." The male narrator treats style for women as simply a way to attract the other sex. Maybe that's true in an evolutionary sort of way, but hey, if any guy saw the way I dressed on the weekends . . . not to mention sexuality in the 1930s could only be fathomed in the female/male variety. The one prediction designers of the 1930s seemed to get right was the portable phone--today's cell phone, except that only men would "wear" them.

Predictions are a sticky business and there have been a lot of bad ones. Remember Y2K when all the computers would stop working. Or the Mayan calendar crisis of 2012 - hey, we're still here. In 1977 a global ice age was predicted, in 2008 it was global warming, now it's climate change (just sayin'). Haley's comet is going to take out planet earth. As the physicist Niels Bohr once said,“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

So now you are on the cutting edge of history, what predictions would you look to forecast for 2085? What will we wear and drive? Will we all be living underground? What will the environment be like? What kind of government(s) will populate the planet? What will we do for fun? Will we all be embedded with chips? Will we be living in a transhuman or even artificial intelligence sort of world? Will Skynet have wiped out all the humans?

Most of all, why do all predictions have to be so gloomy? Don't any of us think that we may be living in a better world?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nine Habits from College that will Suck the Life out of your Wallet

You made it! You're in college, living on your own in the dorms or sharing a space with your best friends. Things couldn't be better until reality hits.

In The 9 Habits You Develop In College That Will Haunt Your Wallet, Maggie McGrath at Forbes talks about some real money drains, in other words how to just flush money directly down the toilet, especially if you rely on credit cards.

First off, the article doesn't mention a couple things: 1) set a budget and stick to it, and 2) use CASH whenever possible. Relying on plastic just makes it too easy to do the following nine BAD habits:

1. Eating in the dining hall for every meal. Well, this should read "Eating in the dining hall for every meal AFTER your meal plan has run out." Granted there isn't a gigantic kitchen in the dorms, but, heck, Top Ramen was invented for college students, wasn't it? If you have a freezer, get stuff you can nuke.

2. Late-night bingeing. Studying at 2:00 a.m.? Need some brain food? Avoid those late night binges for pizza, or whatever. Again, keep some food in your place. Think of having a case of, yes, you guessed it, Top Ramen.

3. Stretching deadlines. Even though your professor may extend your deadlines, the credit card company won't and those late fees add up fast.

4. Procrastinating - and then cramming. We're not talking about papers and exams here. If you know you are going to fly home after finals week, buy the ticket at the beginning of the is sooooo much cheaper; up to two and three times as cheap.

5. Over-sharing. Who needs to know what you ate for breakfast? Quit sharing all your info on social media. In fact, 1 out of 5 identity theft complaints comes from college students. Identity theft can keep you from a job, a home, a car, or any kind of credit.

6. Relying on a magical money tree. Their name is usually mom and dad. Often college students are not responsible or even a part of their own finances. Now, that's a scary thought. Let me ask you this: have you ever done your own tax return? The real world is coming and you should be thinking about helping out your mom and dad pretty soon.

7. Making one-time exceptions. Oh, the thrill of the European spring break, the concert to end all concerts, the year-end party. Just say no, you can't afford it. Who wants to pay for that concert for the next five years?

8. Mixing up the pennies and the pounds. Since college students don't have a lot of money they tend to be frugal on the 50 inch flat screen tv (just say no, your roommates will destroy it anyway) and overspend on the small things. Seriously, do you really need a $4.00 cup of coffee from Starbucks every day? Get an electric kettle.

9. Not looking at the big picture and/or factoring in little costs. Living in a dorm? You don't know how lucky you are. No cable, PG&E, water, garbage - or it was all factored in to your dorm cost, but once you leave school you have to pay for all those incidentals and they add up. Your rent is only a small portion of the monthly bills adults have to pay.

What are you guilty of? What suggestions could you give college students to avoid acquiring these nasty financial habits?

Welcome to 1984!

FindFace is a facial recognition app developed by two Russians that boasts a 70 percent reliability rate.

Why is such an app necessary?

According to the creators using social media proiles it can help find missing people, your friends, or men or women that look like actors. In the case of the ersatz-famous you can send them a friend request and ask for a date. Talk about harassment?!
"It works by comparing photographs to profile pictures on Vkontakte, a social network popular in Russia and the former Soviet Union, with more than 200 million accounts. In the future, the designers imagine a world where people walking past you on the street could find your social network profile by sneaking a photograph of you, and shops, advertisers and the police could pick your face out of crowds and track you down via social networks.
          In the short time since the launch, Findface has amassed 500,000 users and processed nearly 3m searches."
Harassment is exactly what has been reported by The Guardian. It has become a problem in Russia with trolls sending threatening messages to sex workers outing them to their families and stalking them online. But that's just sex workers, you say?

Think about it: “Three million searches in a database of nearly 1 billion photographs: that’s hundreds of trillions of comparisons, and all on four normal servers. With this algorithm, you can search through a billion photographs in less than a second from a normal computer,” said one of the creators during an interview at the company’s modest central Moscow office."

But don't worry, this app can also be used for shopping (apparently the only requirement, besides pubic safety, to make any app legitimate). A store camera takes a picture of you looking at those Jimmy Choos and suddenly you get bombarded with shoe ads. How convenient.

Some Russians are concerned with how popular this app has become in a country not known for its privacy laws. Currently, FindFace cannot access Facebook's image database, but that's just because they haven't figured out how to ... yet.

Maybe the bigger concern in an age when everyone has chucked their privacy in support of  some form of social media, FindFace seems inevitable. Wanna date an actor, upload your favorite celebrity's photo and you'll get a dozen suggestions based on looks alone. How about uploading sneaky photos because you think you have spotted a criminal? Doesn't that guy at the next table look like an armed robber or that woman at the counter a purse snatcher?

What do you think about being monitored in EVERY public space?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Top Ten Interview Questions

You are getting ready to graduate and the ever-dreaded job interview is coming up. Interview Success Formula lists the Top Ten Interview Questions You Must Know How to Answer and it would be a good idea for you to prepare some responses before you hit the halls. Interview Success goes into some detail about how to answer the Top 10 Questions and provides real-world examples.

Here's a brief preview:

Interview Question 1. "Tell me something about yourself?"
A. Don't go blathering on. List your top characteristics and motivations and then connect them to specific job strengths related to the open position.

Interview Question 2. "Walk me through your resume."
A. Umm, yeah, you should know every component of your resume and have something pithy to say about each position, job skill, and experience. Be sure to highlight the items related to the job you are seeking.

Interview Question 3: "What makes you better than other candidates?"
A. Ugh, a real brain drain. Nobody likes to talk bad about other people, but what makes you special? Why are your experiences and skills unique and something the company really, really needs. Think about something you think no other candidate has done and that will make you stand out from the pack.

Interview Question 4: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
A. You better see yourself climbing the ladder at said interviewer's company, otherwise you can kiss that job goodbye. One way to look at this is what is your dream job at THIS company? Where do you think you can get in five years? How would your skills allow you to do that and why is it beneficial to the company?

Interview Question 5: "Why are you leaving/did you leave your current job?"
A. Don't talk trash--no matter how hard it is--about your boss, co-workers or the former company. A piece of advice from this former interviewer about your current position: it is way easier to find a new job when you have a job. For some reason companies just love to steal employees from one another and having a job signals that YOU are not a problem.

Interview Question 6: "What is your biggest weakness?"
A. I hated answering this question. I hated asking this question. It's that one that leads to awkward silences or way too much information about a topic you may not want to stress, but you began digging that hole and . . .  Interview Success lists a good strategy. Pull out a strength that can also be seen as a weakness. Begin by explaining how it's a weakness, then how it is also a strength, and then how that strength will lead to something great in said company's corporate environment.

Interview Question 7: "What do you do during your free time?"
A. Sometimes this sounds too personal, but it's really just a way to see if you will harmonize with other employees and the company culture and if you can schmooze. Yes, shmoozing is a valuable skill (look it up). I don't know if there are any "bullet" answers, but there certainly are bad answers.

Interview Question 8: "Why don't you give me your understanding of the position, and explain how your experience lines up?"
A. You should have read the personnel ad and then checked to see if you could find a job description somewhere if it wasn't readily available. If it's unavailable, when you are asked in for an interview, you should ask if a detailed job description is available. If not, look at how other companies define the position. You should be able to connect all of your talents, skills, and experience to the job somehow (this may take some creativity, but you can do it).

Interview Question 9: "Why this job, at this company?"
A. This should be a question you could answer off the top of your head, but you shouldn't. Think about it, why did you apply at Google and not Oracle? Do NOT say "because you were the first company to call me for an interview."

Interview Question 10: "Do you have any questions for us?"
A. Think about it, you are interviewing the company at the same time they are interviewing you. What do you want to know? It is a appropriate to ask about starting pay and benefits. It is not appropriate to harp on about vacation allowance, personal days off, etc.

Are you ready for your interview? What question were you not expecting? What question would you ask your potential employer?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Humanities' New Definition

Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores what it means to be human by looking at what it means to be an android. The big tell for androids; they can't empathize with each other, with humans or animals. To determine an andy from a human, there is the elaborate Voight Kampff test that measures empathetic response to a series of questions. Each question should elicit some kind of sympathetic response. If no dilation of the pupil or blush response, then you are dealing with an android.Seems pretty straight forward and since it's science fiction, we know it works (at least in the novel).

As humans empathy cues us to feed a crying child while an anguished look tells us to help out a pained friend and requires communication -- we can read both smiles (pleasure) and suffering (pain). It's more than just putting yourself in another's shoes, it's caring about what happens to the person in your sneakers.

At the University of Virginia, James Coan, psychology professor, "and his U.Va. colleagues conducted [a] study with 22 young adult participants who underwent fMRI scans of their brains during experiments to monitor brain activity while under threat of receiving mild electrical shocks to themselves or to a friend or stranger.

"The researchers found, as they expected, that regions of the brain responsible for threat response . . . became active under threat of shock to the self. In the case of threat of shock to a stranger, the brain in displayed little activity. However when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self.

“The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar,” Coan said. “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat” (read the entire study).

But are we as empathetic as we were in the past? Are we weening ourselves away from empathy as we become more and more tech savvy?

Sherry Turkle's article, "Stop Googline. Let's Talk" (NYT 26 Sept. 2015) looked at that very phenomenon. "In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000."

Turkle's not saying there are no empathetic conversations today, instead for the MIT researcher it's the idea that "we turn away from talking face to face to chat online. It’s that we don’t allow these conversations to happen in the first place because we keep our phones in the landscape." Does the rise of technology correlate to a decline in empathy? Do we care more about what's happening on our iPhone then we do about our friends? How many times have you gone out to lunch where everyone has one eye on their phones and one ear on the conversation?

Philip K. Dick may have been prescient about the human condition and empathy, or more strictly speaking, that as we lose empathy we lose part of what makes us human. Have we become the androids who dream of electric sheep?

Do you think your emoji response on Facebook is as meaningful to the receiver as a face-to-face "Congratulations"? When was the last time you truly engaged in a two-way, face-to-face conversation? What do you think it means if humans quit empathizing with each other? Would you suffer an electric shock for a friend?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Overcoming Challenges

When writing a problem/solution essay, your biggest challenge is to get readers to take action. As a writer, how can you accomplish this?

Writers must give the problem presence. Authors can get readers to see and feel the problem by using anecdotes, startling quotes, stats, photographs and emotional appeals (pathos).

Writers must appeal to the values and interests of decision makers. Appeal to idealism or how your solution will benefit the decision maker. Appeal to the values of the audience. Show how the benefits outweigh the costs - especially if it's free. What have you got to lose?

Writers must overcome people's resistance to change. In order to do that, sometimes you have to emphasize the seriousness of the problem (give it presence). Stress the benefits of solving the problem and the lost potential if no action is taken. Show that risks are minimal and negative consequences unlikely.

Writers must predict consequences. Do not over promise. You must persuade your readers that your predictions are realistic and not over exaggerated. If you can, cite instances where a similar proposal led to benefits.

Writers must evaluate consequences. Any solution that brings one group benefits may bring costs to another. In a solution that doesn't cost anything emphasize the benefits of increased happiness or the greatest good for the greatest number. Appeal to idealism and why your solution is the right thing to do.

When looking at what writers must do when writing a problem solution essay, what do you think you need to work on as you go forward with your essay? How will you accomplish your task?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why don't you talk to me?

Sherry Turkle, an author and M.I.T. professor of Science, Technology, and Society recently wrote in "Stop Googling. Let's Talk" that college age students cannot carry on a face-to-face conversation.

She cites plenty of statistics to show that most believe that using "phones in social settings hurt the conversation," but apparently we either don't care, don't know how to carry on a conversation, or can't put them down.

There are plenty of anecdotes from young people who want the fairy tale life where families sit around the dinner table and share their day while speaking "enthusiastically" about the rule of three--at least three people must be conversing before you can check your phone.

According to Turkle, this loss of conversation leads to a loss of empathy and an inability to just be quiet with one's thoughts. We must be secure with ourselves before "we are able to really hear what other people have to say."

But all is not lost. We can reclaim conversation. Turkle approaches regaining conversation like a counselor towards an addict -- well, not exactly. She's not saying give up that cell phone completely. She believes we should limit our time and offers some suggestions  to do so.

Do you find it challenging to have a face-to-face conversation? If so, why? What suggestions can you offer to limit cell phones in social settings?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wanna be my Valentin?

Then you better learn how to spell ... and how to use whom while practicing good grammar.

Grammarly found that American adults prefer grammar over confidence when it comes to a potential date.

What? Who wants to date someone who can't spell hart (as in Valentine) correctly? Maybe he or she just typed in the wrong word, unless of course, you are a doe looking for love.

Who makes the most mistakes in their online profile - women. Who uses more words - men.

So why do you think that good grammar is more likely to help you win the heart of your future love?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

August 29th started just like any other day . . .

Pompeii, August 29, 79. The day begins with a slight rumbling coming from Mt. Vesuvius and things just get buried from there, literally. By the end of the day nothing visible remained of Pompeii or neighboring Herculaneum. Since its (re)discovery in 1599 historians and tourists alike have been fascinated by the former Roman tourist town.

Buried by tons of volcanic ash, and thereby preserved, tourists can now walk the streets past houses, shops, baths, aqueducts, amphitheaters, and villas. Pompeii was home to the rich and famous where one could see Kimbius Kardashius and her favorite senators and gladiators as they strolled the walkways and gardens enjoying beautiful weather, great outdoor sports and entertainment, sumptuous feasts, and delicate wines.

This video depicting the destruction of Pompeii was produced in conjunction with an exhibit called "A Day in Pompeii, held at the Melbourne Museum in 2009, [which] gave its more than 330,000 visitors a chance to experience Pompeii’s life even more vividly," especially on that fateful day in August.

Did anyone survive the volcanic eruption? We know Pliny the Younger did:
You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.
Living in the Bay Area, we don't have to worry about any active volcanoes, but we do get earthquakes. Are you ready for the next big shake? Do you have a plan to make contact with friends and loved ones?  What is in your earthquake preparedness kit?

Monday, January 25, 2016

What is Critical Thinking?

The New York Times article "Bosses Seek 'Critical Thinking' but what is that?" mentions that employers find critical thinking to be a valuable skill, but have a hard time defining what the term means.

Does it mean you should think inside the box? Outside the box? Break the rules? Bend the rules?

Job seekers complain that "critical thinking" is often listed as a requirement in a job posting, but they have no idea what the phrase means until they arrive at a job interview and discover that it sometimes means "forming your own opinion from a variety of sources" or even analyzing data with some kind of rubric.

Some bosses believe it is the ability to deal with problems found in the business world or to "accumulate data, analyze data, and synthesize it to make a balanced decision." That seems to reflect a belief in wanting problem-solving skills.

Most bosses say college graduates don't have critical thinking skills. They can regurgitate information, but they can't apply that information or training to solve problems.

But some psychologists say that idea--applying principles to problems--creates people who tend to challenge the status quo and bosses aren't necessarily looking for that.

So what is your definition of critical thinking? Can you come up with a definition that blends ideals for both academia and the professional world?