It is a well-recognized feature of the holiday pilgrimage: We children pay homage and respect to our parents by fixing the problems we see in their information technology. We buy them new gizmos, too, and require them to learn how to 'Facetime' with grandkids or to get on Facebook to see pictures of the family. Point being, we ask our parents to figure out how to do new things all the time. And in many of those cases, we actually teach them how to do it: we lead the cursor around the screen and dictate hows and wherefores, while Bing Crosby plays in the background.
My own parents are quite technologically savvy. My mom might be the most prolific blogger I know and runs databases at work. My dad has a sweet Apple rig and has been using computers since Compaq's portables came in a little suitcase. They got our first computer when I was five (that'd be the mid 80s) and the Internet when I was 11 (that'd be the early 90s). Both are avid social media users. In other words, they're early adopters who are not afraid of technology.
And yet, when I go home sometimes, I realize that while my parents are good at doing the right things on their computers, they are terrible at doing the wrong things.
Let me explain.
It's hard to do something irreparable to your computer when you're messing around with a browser or iPhoto. Things are correctable. Settings can be reset. Problems can be fixed. So, it makes sense to simply try stuff. Click here, click there. Is the menu in this tab or that one? What happens if I change this radio button? What's this view look like?
In the argot of videogaming, you button mash until you find what works. And if you watch almost any kid with a digital device, this is how they work. Swipe, tap, click, shake, spin. They try it all until they've exhausted the interaction possibilities and understand what's supposed to happen.
Yet whenever my parents see me engaging in this time-honored learning practice, they get anxious. My dad peers over my shoulder, asking me what I'm doing. My mom asks me to slow down.
But I don't know what I'm doing until I've done it. So it doesn't make sense for me to narrate or for them to try to duplicate my actions. Because I'm not going to the right spot; I'm running a process of elimination on the wrong spots.
This methodology has served me well for decades now. But only with computers. When it comes to mechanical things, I find that I have the same problem that my parents do on the digital side. If you ask me to put together a piece of furniture or replace a headlight on a car or add a new wire to our electrical system, I worry that I'm going to break something. Permanently. The physical world is not the digital world and it is definitely possible to do permanent damage to things, your own body included. (And let's be honest: I was a big strong kid and I broke a lot of stuff trying to figure it out. I had an uncountable number of interactions with products that ended with the thing in one hand and a shard of plastic in the other.)
And yet I know that not everyone feels this way with physical systems. The atomic materials of the world make intuitive sense to a lot of people. People who feels this way know where they can poke and prod and push and pry and what they should leave alone. That frees them up to experiment with solutions in the white space between the DO NOT TOUCH lines of the mind.
So, from this observation spring two resolutions for 2013: 1) I want to learn how to make the right kinds of mistakes in the physical world. 2) When teaching, I'm going to show my parents (and others) how to screw up their technologies safely. I'll demonstrate how to break, not only how to fix.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
A scholar’s analysis of American culture presumes too much.
Last week, Gawkerinterviewed Robin DiAngelo, a professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University. She discussed aspects of her thinking on whiteness, which are set forth at length in her book, What Does it Mean to be White? I’ve ordered the book.
Meanwhile, her remarks on police brutality piqued my interest. Some of what Professor DiAngelo said is grounded in solid empirical evidence: blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately victimized by misbehaving police officers; there are neighborhoods where police help maintain racial and class boundaries. And if our culture, which she calls “the water we swim in,” contained fewer parts racism per million, I suspect that police brutality would be less common.
The former secretary of state jettisons sweeping rhetoric, and focuses on specific policies.
Hillary Clinton has been an official candidate for president for five weeks, and she still hasn’t done the thing most candidates do on day one: given a speech laying out her vision for America. Nor is she planning on doing so anytime soon. Politicoreports that Hillary’s “why I’m running for president,” speech, initially scheduled for May, has now been delayed until June, or even later.
There’s a reason for that: The speech is unlikely to be very good. Soaring rhetoric and grand themes have never been Hillary’s strengths. That’s one reason so many liberals found her so much less inspirational than Barack Obama in 2008. And it’s a problem with deep roots. In his biography, A Woman in Charge, Carl Bernstein describes Hillary, then in law school, struggling to articulate her generation’s perspective in an address to the League of Women Voters. “If she was speaking about a clearly defined subject,” Bernstein writes, “her thoughts would be well organized, finely articulated, and delivered in almost perfect outline form. But before the League audience, she again and again lapsed into sweeping abstractions.”
In any case, people have probably heard the phrase in reference to something gone awry at work or in life. In either setting, when the shit does hit the fan, people will tend to look to the most competent person in the room to take over.
And too bad for that person. A new paper by a team of researchers from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado looks at not only how extremely competent people are treated by their co-workers and peers, but how those people feel when, at crucial moments, everyone turns to them. They find that responsible employees are not terribly pleased about this dynamic either.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In September 2009, the second platoon of Charlie Company arrived in Afghanistan with 42 men. Ten months later, nearly half had been killed or wounded, mostly in the Arghandab Valley—a key to controlling southern Afghanistan. Now these 82nd Airborne troops were getting ready to leave the Arghandab behind. They had one more dangerous job to do: a joint mission with the untried artillery unit that would replace them patrolling the fields, orchards, and villages they called the Devil’s Playground.
July 11, 2010, 11:09 a.m.
Staff Sergeant Christopher Gerhart’s stomach rolled, queasy. He stood alone under a trellis heavy with fat bunches of white grapes, planted his hands against a mud wall, and stared at the ground, head rocking as “Love Lost in a Hail of Gunfire,” by the heavy-metal band Bleeding Through, blasted from his headphones. Gerhart had already deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. Promoted 10 days earlier, he was 22, brash and outgoing. “You grow up quick out here,” he’d told me. “You’ve got to. You can’t be a little kid when your buddy gets blown up next to you.”
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
The big change: None of the officers was indicted for false imprisonment. That’s notable, because Mosby emphasized during her initial statement that Gray’s very arrest was illegal, saying officers had no basis for detaining him.