Educated Drivers Wanted

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Advertisements for the first automatic transmissions, 1939. Image: NTY/General Motors

Interesting article in the Times recently about the explosion of problems surrounding gear selectors in automobiles that have come to light since the tragic death of actor Anton Yelchin a month or so ago.

The most interesting takeaway for me was about the intersections of technology and psychonomics, the link between products and minds. A well-crafted bicycle handbrake is an example given in the article of something that one intuitively knows how to use.

For me, ever a car nut, I was reminded of driving my 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco, the cockpit of which was perfectly laid for me. I didn’t have to think; I just moved an arm or finger or foot. It was a brilliant automobile. And I think its brilliance ultimately lay in its simplicity of operation.

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Ergonomically and psychonmically perfect, at least from this driver’s viewpoint, was the last of the Volkswagen Sciroccos sold in America. I sold mine when it was 10 years old with a hair under 200,000 miles on the clock. Image: German Cars For Sale Blog.

Recently, I heard Jay Leno posit that operating an automobile has changed more in the last 20 years than it has since its invention. And I think he’s onto something.

We are cramming more and more technology into our cars while we’re hampering the driver experience. I am absolutely sure that cars manufactured today are safer than those built 20 or 25 or 50 years ago, but I’m not sure that we are operating them more safely.

In the last few years, automotive designers have been experimenting with new and different ways of electronically shifting gears — buttons, joysticks, paddles, dials — and placing these shifting mechanisms in areas of the car that may be counterintuitive; especially if you are seeking an old-fashioned (but tried and true) PRNDL shifter. However, are we actually doing the driving public a disservice when we produce vehicles that the average consumer can’t be sure they’ve put it in Park correctly?

I’m all for technology, but let’s be savvy about it.

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Is Journalism Descending into a World of Tweets?

Here’s a great op-ed from the Dec. 11, 2014 WSJ. It may be paywalled, but you should find it and read it.

The writer is Edward Kosner, who is the former editor of a couple of little publications that you may not have heard of: namely Newsweek, New York and Esquire. Kosner takes to task this new wave of pseudo-journos who have left fact-checking in the backroom and traded it for sensationalism (Rolling Stone’s rape victim story), omission because fact-checking might bring legal challenges (Mark Whittaker’s biography of Bill Cosby) and utter contempt for an established culture (Chris Hughes’s remaking of The New Republic).

Is it better to get it wrong but have a sensational viral build? That seems to be the central thesis of how things are heading in journalism today. In a fast-paced, TMZ-obsessed, facts-aren’t-as-important-as-they-used-to-be, feed the beast, apologize later, 24/7/365 news cycle of a world, is there room for civility and discourse and thoughtful analysis and researched, fact-checked, credible investigative pieces?

What would Edwin Newman say? Or Cronkite? Or Dan Schorr? I think Edward R. Murrow is off somewhere in the ether having a cigarette and a good, sad cry over the state of things today.

Kosner’s piece put me in mind of the latest installment of the HBO series The Newsroom, which focused on the takeover the fictional cable network by an unscrupulous non-journalist who saw nothing wrong with bending the facts if rating ticked upward and twinned that story with a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of campus rape and how hard it is for victims to get justice in a system that is weighted heavily against them.

There’s nothing in me that says that Twitter — or a blog — cannot deliver legitimate news, that newspapers that deliver the news on newsprint are better than those that delivery the news in pixels or that print newsweeklies are somehow superior to online magazines. To me, that’s not even the argument. What’s really at stake is the credibility of journalists. Do we say, “Hell, no!” and continue to check our facts and fight to publish high-quality reporting? Or do we roll over and let the 1% at the top of the corporate food chain’s mania for profits win?

LinkedIn University Rankings – Because We Need More?

LinkedIn University Rankings – Based on career outcomes | LinkedIn.

I would argue that this is something else that the world doesn’t need. “Best Colleges” as ranked by numbers of people who are on LinkedIn. So, type of education doesn’t matter; depth of education doesn’t matter; deep thought doesn’t matter, only numbers matter.

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Another set of bogus rankings? Really?

Gotcha.

So, all of the large universities are the best, right? Because they have the largest numbers of graduates?

Those of you who are going to/have graduated from small privates, smaller public universities, Ivy League schools, polytechnics and the like, where do you fit in? Nowhere, I suppose.

A former boss told me — many, many times — that college rankings are “junk science.” He was right.

General Operating Funds, Admin Expenses and Why We Nonprofits are Our Own Worst Enemies

I think I may have a little “writer’s crush” on Vu Le, who brilliantly assays the blog, Nonprofit With Balls. This is a terrific litany of much of what’s wrong with fundraising today. When grantor organizations place so many restrictions on their gifts, they ultimately hurt the nonprofits that they allegedly want to help. I’ve seen it a thousand times, but I’ve never seen the problem written about with so much wry humor. H/T Tom Cott|You’ve Cott Mail

For years I have been railing against restricted funding to anyone who would listen. I wrote a piece imagining what it would be like if a bakery ran with the same funding restrictions as a nonprofit: “I need a cake for some gluten-free veterans. I can pay you only 20% of the cost of the cake, and you can only spend my money on eggs, but not butter, and certainly not for the electricity; you have to find someone else to pay for the oven’s electricity. Also, you need to get an accounting firm to figure out where you’re spending my money, but you can’t use my money to pay for that service.”

via General operating funds, admin expenses, and why we nonprofits are our own worst enemies / Nonprofit With Balls.

Condé Nast Drops Intern Program

Condé Nast Axes Intern Program|MediaBistro

Good piece. Was Condé Nast correct in eliminating all internships? Will it end up being a good thing since they will now have to pay for all of their talent? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

On one hand, we’ve become so damn litigious that we’ll sue at the drop of a hat over things like interns working for slave wages, say. On the other hand, are we ever going to have another generation of journalists who learn by doing as opposed to figuring out which textbooks are wrong?

We shall see….

Here’s what you miss by only talking to white men about the digital revolution and journalism

Here’s what you miss by only talking to white men about the digital revolution and journalism.| The Washington Post – The Switch blog

On Monday, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy and the Nieman Journalism Lab launched Riptide, a new project about the disruption of journalism by technology. The project bills itself as an “oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, from 1980 to the present.”

But looking at the final product and their list of sources, it appears that the project misses a key aspect of how the digital age disrupted traditional journalism: Digital advances, particularly the spread of the Internet and the rise of blogging, gave a powerful new way for voices marginalized in the elite journalism sphere to spread their stories.

I love this. And it’s so true. In journalism, certainly, but across the Western World in its entirety. Whenever you see a “captain of industry” that is anything other than a white man — more specifically, a white man 55+ — it’s a novelty. It’s true. It’s sad; but it’s true.

The project would have been stronger if it had done a better job of incorporating the perspective of female and minority voices. For example, one of the ways the digital age disrupted the journalism field was making it easier for marginalized voices to find audiences. 

Indeed. African-Americans, women, the LGBT community, Latinos — all groups that have been marginalized by the mainstream and all groups which have embraced the Internet with vigor. Who needs a white male out-of-step gatekeeper when you can produce your own content and get it to your constituents??