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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Groupon Honors ‘President’ Alexander Hamilton

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What’s worse? Being wrong on purpose or being wrong accidentally?

For a Presidents’ Day promotion, Groupon announced a promotion for $10 off a $40 purchase. Nothing unusual about that, except they said it was in honor of Alexander Hamilton, “undeniably one of our greatest presidents.”

Needless to say, people were quick to deny this claim by pointing out that Mr. Hamilton was never president. Groupon’s response basically boiled down to, “We were just seeing if you were paying attention.”

I suppose this might be the truth, but it seems like it could just as easily be a hasty excuse. If this was always intended to be sarcastic, shouldn’t the rest of the press release been sarcastic, playing up the gag of getting Hamilton’s role in history wrong? The press release did contain other, accurate facts about Mr. Hamilton, so you have to figure the copywriter at least glanced at his Wikipedia page.

Regardless of whether or not Groupon is telling the truth, they certainly got a lot more people linking to the press release — an often ignored way of making an announcement nowadays — because of the inaccuracy than they would have if they played it straight. Granted most of those stories were negative. But I guess no publicity is bad publicity, so… success?

10 Ways to Help with Typhoon Haiyan Relief

A huge outburst of charity always follows a terrible disaster, but that can fade as the news cycle moves on to fresher news. It’s important to always remember the road to recovery is long, painful, and expensive. Sometimes the biggest impact you can make is to donate to charities well after the disaster has passed.

With that in mind, here are eight different charities still helping to rebuild after devastation hit the Philippines.

Philippine_Red_Cross_logoThe Philippine Red Cross is the logical starting place. A little trickier if you want to write a check, since you’ll have to mail it to Manila, but you can also just use Paypal. Don’t be confused when the provided link suggests giving to Typhoon Yolanda relief. These storms are one and the same (Haiyan is the Japanese name, Yolanda the Philippine).

oxfamOxfam is one of the most powerful and reputable non-government charity organizations, and is typically a good bet if you want to make sure your money is used appropriately.

logo

Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in the US as Doctors Without Borders, tends to be more upfront about the fact that your donation dollars sometimes go to help all sorts of projects, not just the ones that prompted you to donate in the first place, but their missions of providing medical treatment to those who can’t afford it is always in demand and always worth donating to.

crs

Catholic Relief Services is focusing on providing clean water,  temporary housing, and other basic needs to displaced refugees.

worldvision

Another religious-based organization, World Vision‘s efforts have gone toward food and clean water, focusing primarily on families with children. It has established a separate fund just for typhoon relief.

Saving_Lives_WFP

As the name implies, the World Food Program, run by the UN, focuses on providing food to those in most need of it. They also work to keep the basic communication and transportation infrastructure operational, so resources can get where they need to go.

americares

Americares has sent $1.4 million in medical supplies and care to the Philippines so far. That number sounds impressive, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.

mercy_corps_logo_detail

Another incredibly easy-to-donate-to organization, Mercy Corps provides a variety of humanitarian services and is very upfront about how it spends its money.

hfh

Habitat for Humanity is focusing its efforts on literal rebuilding. The donations it collects go toward providing tools and assistance to piece back together the homes Haiyan took away.

Warhol-Campbell_Soup

OK, this last one isn’t so much an organization, but you should really make sure you give cash, not canned goods or other resources you’ve collected. Charity organizations are very good at stretching every dollar as far as possible. Canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup isn’t quite as flexible. Let the charity organizations decide the best use of your money.

Of course, there are many, many more options available that aren’t listed here. Just be sure to always take special precautions to make sure you’re not donating to any scams. Awful as it sounds, they do exist, preying on the generosity of others.

10 Halloween Costumes You Can’t Avoid This Year

Every year, there are a handful of costumes (usually something topical) that dominate Halloween. This is especially true in college, where the resources you have to throw together a decent costume are usually pretty limited. Last year, if you overlook the typical pirates and Marios and other costumes that never go out of fashion, you got around 25% Mitt Romney, 25% Barack Obama, and 50% Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.

Here’s our list of ten costumes you’re basically guaranteed to see walking around this year, ranked on the Heath Ledger as Joker Terrifying Scale.

Daft Punk

  • Costume: Biker helmets, gloves, shiny jackets
  • Why this costume? Because this was the year that everyone on the planet suddenly remembered how much they liked Daft Punk.
  • Terrifying Level: 0 Heath Ledger Jokers

North West

  • Costume: Diaper, shutter shades
  • Why this costume? You might be surprised at how many college students jump at the opportunity to dress like a baby. When it’s a famous baby that’s easily recognized with the addition of cheap props, you have a dream costume.
  • Terrifying Level: 0.2 Heath Ledger Jokers020p_joker

Lance Armstrong and/or A-Rod

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Source: USA Today

  • Costume: Biking jersey or Yankees uniform, fake muscle suit, Livestrong bracelet or t-shirt that says “Biogenesis”
  • Why this costume? It was a bad year to be world-class athlete caught cheating.
  • Terrifying Level: 0.4 Heath Ledger Jokers040p_joker

(more…)

A Timeless Speech from the Creator of Calvin & Hobbes… in Comic Form

See the full strip at Zen Pencils

See the full strip at Zen Pencils

I worry constantly about dating myself in these blog posts. I’m fully aware that I have less than 2 years of my 20′s left, while most of my readership has significantly more than that. So I hope I don’t make too many references that are meaningless to you guys.

That being said, I can recommend Calvin & Hobbes without reservation to every generation. I was lucky enough to be able to read it while it was being published in newspapers. I also got to see it come to an end, and see just how boring every other comic strip afterwards seemed in comparison. I guess it’s appropriate that newspaper comics have fizzled and died steadily since C&H ended in the mid-90s. So much of what its writer/artist Bill Watterson did helped break away from stuffy newspaper formatting. Most cartoonists these days are web-only, so they can have ambitious designs like xkcd‘s infographics or Homestuck‘s interactive and animated strips.

Anyways, in 1990, at the height of C&H‘s popularity, Watterson delivered the commencement speech at his alma mater, Kenyon University. It was an excellent speech on the variable definitions of success, lauding people who seek happiness and fulfillment in their work, even if that means turning down more profitable opportunities.

Recently, the artist at Zen Pencils got hold of this speech. Zen Pencils illustrates inspirational quotes from people like Einstein, Buddha, andThoreau as beautiful prints, wallpapers, iPhone covers, etc. The artist rendered a large section of Watterson’s speech in cartoon form, and the results are really a must read for any college student, particularly those about to graduate or those with ambitions, creative or otherwise, that aren’t directly linked to profit.

In keeping with Watterson’s merchandise ban on Calvin & Hobbes, Zen Pencils isn’t selling this print, just letting the cartoon form speak for itself.

Carpe Diem When Building Your Perfect Schedule

Checking scheduleMapping out your college schedule is always a tug-of-war between short-term and long-term gain. You don’t want a schedule that’s too hard or too easy (because that just means you’re putting off the hard schedule for later). You need to keep in mind the delicate balance between core requirements, credits for your major, and electives. Even if you map everything out in advance, your best laid plans could go awry when the classes you were eyeing all get scheduled at the same time.

When I was an undergrad, I developed a strategy early and held fast to it for the remainder of my four years: Try as many things as possible, avoid commitment as long as possible. First, I didn’t declare my major until the last possible minute. This was for two reasons: (1) I wanted as much time as possible to try everything first. (2) At my school, if you entered declared, there were certain freshman year required intro classes. Declare later and you could skip those, leaving more time for more interesting material.

The other piece of my long-term strategy was knocking out core requirements as quickly as possible, trading a comparatively tedious first year for more freedom down the road. It mostly worked out well, especially since I decided to go for a double major by the end of my sophomore year, so I needed all the room I could get credits for two majors before the end of the four years.

While the plan worked to a point, I made a big mistake by not leaving myself any wiggle room to do things on a whim. This screwed me out of a number of courses that needed to be taken sequentially. Since I’d eaten up my first two years with checking off the essentials, I didn’t have leave myself much time to work up to some of the higher level courses in my majors.

The second mistake was more tragic. My Medieval Lit course was run by a Prof. Wilson. Easily one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. He spoke seven languages (half of them dead ones). He could recite the first 100 verses of Beowulf from memory. In Old English. He was the sort of professor who could go off on tangents and loop them back around to the main topic. He could bring current events into a discussion of Pilgrim’s Progress and make it feel organic. He was passionate about what he did and you could feel it every time his class met. (For your mental picture, he might have been played by Richard Attenborough.)

When Prof. Wilson announced he’d be teaching a course called Heroic Literature, I couldn’t believe I could get credits for something so tailor-made to my interest. It would be a cross-cultural examination of the idea of literary heroes. It was a course of his own design, so no one else in the department was really qualified to teach it.

But I had my strategy, so I held off, opting to take it next time it came around so I could take care of more boring stuff first.

Near the end of the semester, Prof. Wilson was nowhere to be found. A few other professors in the department took over his classes for the remaining weeks. Eventually, word leaked: Prof. Wilson had a particularly aggressive form of cancer. He was diagnosed in November and passed away shortly after the New Year.

I wish I’d taken more classes with the guy. I wish I’d thrown my plans out and just gone with my gut. But I didn’t.

That’s my advice to anyone mapping out plans for the future. Not just for college, but for anything in life. If there’s something you truly want, go for it. Never put off the things you’re most passionate about. You never know if the only day is today.

3 Massive Screw-Ups Blamed on Interns

A finger held disconcertingly close to Sideburns' faceIt’s no fun being an intern. If you’re lucky enough to get an internship that actually pays you, it’s probably chump change. It’s unlikely you’re doing the work you want to be doing. You’re almost entirely at the mercy of the company you’re working for, and they don’t have much reason to treat you as well as their normal employees.

Continually fighting the tedium of your position, avoid the temptation to editorialize, plagiarize, or to try too hard to be funny. Because if you do and it makes the company you work for look bad, you’re already in ready, aim, fire position.

Then again, saying “uh… the intern did it” is a pretty lame, cliched PR excuse. It’s entirely possible that none of these public screw-ups actually were the intern’s fault. We might want to consider the possibility that there wasn’t even an intern to begin with. But I’ll leave that to you to decide, depending on how much you trust politicians and government bureaucracies to own up to their responsibilities.

1. Plane crashes aren’t the best time for bad puns

KTVU, a local news channel in San Francisco, recently pulled a Ron Burgundy when reporting on the recent Asiana Airlines crash at the San Francisco airport. The network reported the names of the pilot and crew as a  string of cheesy, racist puns. Asiana Airlines threatened to sue. KTVU obviously needed an excuse fast. They apologized, saying they only read these names after confirming them with the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB followed up with their own excuse, saying this was all the work of a devious, rogue intern, who had been promptly fired. The airline ultimately decided to drop the lawsuit.

2. Politicians can’t keep track of what they have and haven’t said, that’s the intern’s job!

During the 2008 presidential election, a web page with a list of “McCain Family Recipes,” something that has no reason to exist apart from illustrating just how stupid our election process is, appeared on the McCain website. Under the section of recipes accredited to Cindy McCain were verbatim copies of Food Network recipes. Campaign spokesman: “The intern [responsible] has been dealt with.” In 2011, former senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown had a supposedly autobiographical section of his website lifted word-for-word from a speech written by former North Carolina senator Elizabeth Dole. Brown: “It was a summer intern that put together the site.”

3. The thousands upon thousands of tweets that come back to haunt their senders

If I had a dollar for every time something stupid was posted on Twitter… wait, let me back up… that’s far more money than I could ever spend in a thousand lifetimes. If I had a dollar for every time a company or politician followed up a stupid tweet with a “But I don’t even know how to Twitter!” type excuse, I’d be a rich, rich man. Listen, politicians, just because you don’t understand social media and your interns do, doesn’t mean your interns should be solely responsible for handling what’s said on Twitter, Facebook, etc. All that proves is that you don’t understand how powerful social media can be. Would you ask someone who was only getting paid with a handshake and recommendation to send out your press releases unapproved and unedited? Of course not. Twitter is the exact same thing, except the damage and bad press fallout occurs about 1,000 times faster.

Ethiopian Kids Go From Illiterate to Hackers in 5 Months

Kids are smart. Much, much smarter than we give them credit for. Most kids have an inherent curiosity, a craving for knowledge and a greater patience with the learning process than most adults. And curiosity is the most powerful force in education.

That was the hope of the non-profit OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project, an organization that provides educational resources to kids in the poorest communities. For this particular project, they shipped a box full of Android tablets to a rural village in Ethiopia. The town was illiterate. The kids had no concept of written language. Yet they were suddenly gifted a box of English-language tablets. No instructions, no instructor, just a powerful device.

The old axiom tells us that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish. But what about giving the man a fishing pole? OLPC wanted to see how well these kids would perform if they simply had access to better tools. Would the kids’ curiosity be enough?

The answer was yes, but to a much greater degree than anyone expected. These kids went from having never seen the printed word to accessing hidden and disabled features on the tablet in months.

It’s an amazing story, but kind of a bittersweet one. There is limitless potential inside kids who haven’t yet had access to education and millions more who will never have access to education. There aren’t many causes as noble as providing that access.

For more information on OLPC, visit laptop.org.

How the Web Has Turned Us All Into Mini-Eberts

Roger Ebert passed away yesterday at the age of 70. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a more influential or well-known critic, and I mean critic of anything, not just film. He was the first person to receive a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, back in 1975, and only 4 other people have received that reward since. He had fought with cancer for 11 years prior to his death, losing a large portion of his jaw and his ability to speak due to surgery complications in 2006.

Photo of Roger Ebert from this 2010 Esquire profile.

Photo of Roger Ebert from this 2010 Esquire profile.

I’m probably a bit older that most of the readership of this blog, so I’m sorry if I sound too much like an old fart in this post. For people college age and younger, I don’t know if there’s much of a sense of who he was or why so many people are eulogizing him.

I watched his show At the Movies only a few times as a kid. I probably knew him better from parody than from reality. (Animaniacs and The Critic come to mind. What can I say? I really like cartoons.) The parodies always depicted Ebert (or Ebert-like characters) as an impossible-to-please curmudgeon who enjoyed tearing things down more than appreciating them.

If you’ve read any of his writings, you know that’s pretty far from reality. More than any other critic I’m aware of, he tended to evaluate movies as emotional experiences. Sure, he could tear something down, and did so with some brutally hilarious put-downs, but it always came from an honest place. A bit of dialogue from the movie Ratatouille, between a young chef and a food critic, comes to mind:

LINGUINI: You’re thin for someone who likes food.

ANTON EGO: I don’t “like” food… I LOVE it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.

Analyzing something with a critical eye doesn’t mean you don’t like it. Rather, it means you care enough about it that you want to pick it apart.

That’s a good part of Ebert’s legacy. He became synonymous with the word “critic” in the popular conception by writing conversationally and intelligently. He was an easy person to disagree with, in that I could read a review of his, completely disagree with every conclusion, but still find it full of smart, intelligent, and valid points. Now that the web has given each of us a potential audience of strangers, we should all aspire to that same level of discourse.

That potential audience really a fantastic thing. It’s allowed criticism to become more of a two-way street, not confined to late-night TV or an article buried in the Style section of the newspaper. There are hundreds of great websites where like-minded people can find each other to intelligently and analytically discuss whatever form of art they care about. Just remember, while you and all the other aspiring Eberts are going back and forth over the merits and demerits of a particular movie, that the people who disagree with you have just as much right to be in the conversation as those who agree.

Lone For the Holidays

There’s three kinds of college students during Thanksgiving break. There’s the people who travel home, gorge themselves on food, and return in the  worst possible mentality going into finals.

Group two are the people who see a break coming and decide to get as much out of it as possible.

Lazy College Senior meme: "Thanksgiving break/ Leaves the Friday Before"

And group three doesn’t go anywhere, because plane tickets are expensive, they have a lot of work to do, or they don’t have a lot of close family.

If you find yourself in group three, you’ve got to make a plan to keep your sanity. Because if 7 pm rolls around and you find yourself sitting in bed, eating day-old Domino’s breadsticks, and watching re-runs of House, you might start to feel down. So here’s a few ways to stave off the lonesome Thanksgiving blues.

  • Makeshift family. You might not have your family around, but the odds are pretty good that there’s somebody else on campus. Scrounge up a group of stragglers who’re in the same boat as you and have everyone chip in a dish or two. You might not have those sweet potatoes your grandma makes that you love so much, but you’ll still capture the spirit of the holiday.
  • Hold off for the weekend. Don’t care much for the other people left on campus? Then wait a few days before throwing together your makeshift family meal. Not too many of your friends will object to another awesome meal on the Sunday when they get back. A few of them might be able to smuggle back leftovers of their family’s finest cooking to boot.
  • Volunteer. There’s no better way to gain perspective and appreciate what you have than helping out people in need. (Check with your nearby shelters first. A lot of places get more volunteers than they need this time of year… and not nearly enough at other times. You might want to hold on to this thought until later.)

Photo of a young woman handing a bag of groceries to an older man.

  • Spoil yourself. Money might be too tight to get a plane ticket back home, but you don’t need to spend too much for budget decadence. Get yourself a pint of your favorite ice cream flavor. Go see a movie that none of your friends are interested in. Never change out of pajamas. Have a thanksgiving dinner of scrambled eggs and take-out curry… or whatever crazy mismatched dishes people don’t normally serve together.
  • Something completely different. Sometimes a day can feel like a holiday just by doing something unique. Go on a hike, visit a museum, take the train or bus to a nearby town. If you do something you’ve never done before, the holiday won’t feel like a waste, just a brand new experience.

It’s Time To Stop Pretending Dumb Twitter Reactions Are News Stories

Olympic gymnastic Gabby Douglas holding her gold medal.

There was a very, very, very pointless news story last week regarding Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair. A handful of idiots took to Twitter to complain that her hair looked unkempt. Now any reasonable person reacts to this “story” by not reacting at all, because what an athlete’s hair looks like is about as important as what shoes a surgeon wears. In this case, a high and tight bun is standard operating procedure for gymnasts, so I really don’t know where the conversation came from in the first place.

Oh that’s right, it came from a handful of idiots. Turns out when you give everybody a voice through social media, idiots will say idiotic things.

What I don’t see is how that handful of easily ignored idiots got to dictate headlines. Tell me what’s wrong with the following real headlines:

“Controversy”? “Debate”? “Outrage”?

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

You all do realize that for a debate, you need a point and a counter-point. All we’ve got here is a counter-point. Nobody is actively arguing that Douglas’ overly practical hairstyle is unacceptable. But the press, blogs, and other commenters are keeping this one-sided conversation going anyways. It’s blossomed into a full-on “debate” but the only people having the debate are the ones still acting like there’s something that needs refuting.

Check out this lead from NBC’s Today Show website (the first link above):

Just before the scoreboard showed that Gabby Douglas had won the gold in individual gymnastics last week, her mom Natalie Hawkins had only one reaction: relief. It was relief that came after ten years of training, after her daughter said she dreamt of being an Olympian, and after she let her daughter move away from home at 14 to chase her dreams.

The relief didn’t last long, as Hawkins soon found herself defending her daughter’s hair, which had been swiftly criticized for being both “unkempt” and “embarrassing” very soon after Douglas made Olympic history.

“The relief didn’t last long”? Give me a break, Today Show. I seriously doubt Gabby or her family give any thought whatsoever to this “controversy” beyond when you and other media outlets bring it up. This all grew out of a handful of Twitter posts. Don’t you all know how easy it is to ignore a dumb Twitter post?

Creating a news story from Twitter stupidity is incredibly easy. You can do it yourself. Next time any sort of news or sports event happens, just search for keywords that could be linked to the most offensive possible interpretation. You are bound to be hit with big pile of ignorance and failed wit. That’s what one story did after the women’s soccer match between Japan and the U.S. I’m sure you can imagine what the keywords were for that.

Now, admittedly, we ran a story back in the spring about Twitter reactions, regarding The Hunger Games and the casting of actress Amandla Stenberg as the character Rue. Actually, it’s remained one of our most popular articles on the blog. But, as the writer of that article, I’d argue there’s a difference between stories that ask broader cultural questions — in that article’s case, people judging a film based on how it matches up to their own imagination, not to the descriptions in the book — and stories that simply point out dumb people saying dumb things.

We’ll always have idiots. Let’s try to limit how often we give them a stage.

 

 

 

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