Taking a course that includes the word “bullshit” in its title is many a student’s dream. Now University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West are making it a reality. Their 10-week seminar, temptingly named “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data” begins in March.
The professors say “We will be astonished if these skills do not turn out to be among the most useful and most broadly applicable of those that you acquire during the course of your college education.” Each of the “Calling Bullshit” lectures, says the syllabus, “will explore one specific facet of bullshit.”
In the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts” this course promises you will be able to “provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.”
The “Calling Bullshit” course covers “The art, science, and moral imperative of calling bullshit.” Among the course lectures are:
– Introduction to bullshit
– Spotting bullshit
– The natural ecology of bullshit
– Predatory publishing and scientific misconduct
– The ethics of calling bullshit.
– Fake news
– Refuting bullshit
I lost my memory of the time between when the first tower fell on Sept 11, 2001 and when a first responder helped me and my dog get to a hospital. The 9/11 events I do remember come up less often now, mostly in bad dreams, or with the prolonged sound of sirens. Or certain sounds the wind makes.
But those are not the most important memories of the day.
I lived three blocks south and we were evacuated to Battery Park. I’ll never forget the smells, the smoke, the screams, the jumpers. But then it goes blank for a few hours and has never come back.
One most important memory
What I remember most of all about 9/11 – and will never forget – is people helping each other. Street vendors handed out water. One hotdog vendor gave out ice cream. I fed it to Sam, my Labrador Retriever, who hadn’t had breakfast before we started running. Somebody handed us towels.
People picked up others who fell when we ran. Strangers shared water, gave their jackets to people whose shirts were torn. People whose phone still had signals let other people make calls and send messages to family.
People were kind on 9/11. Because people, inherently, are kind.
I can’t explain the hate that has surfaced in so many corners since that day. What damn difference does it make what religion one practices? Or the color of one’s skin? People have been killing each other over these issues for millennia. How could a anyone want to fight over things like that? Time doesn’t seem to teach the lessons we need most of all.
Yet, I believe that most people – given the chance – are inherently good. Some lose their way, apparently. But in the end, love will trump evil and hate. That’s the memory I hope we can all keep in mind.
I miss civility, kindness, intelligence and love in our President. I am sad beyond words at what America is becoming under the new administration. Here, more eloquently than I could ever say it, are excerpts President Barack Obama’s Dreamers statement in response to Trump’s heinous DACA announcement.
“Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules.
But that’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license.
But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?
Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.
Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.
What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.”
NASA is looking for a Planetary Protection Officer to protect the planet from potential alien contamination. The U.S. government’s official employment site posted the job ad. U.S. citizens and nationals have until August 14 to apply. One of the applicants is a 9 year-old self-appointed Guardian of the Galaxy.
The job comes pays between $124,406 to $187,000 per year—and security clearance is listed as “secret.” The role involves stopping astronauts and robots from getting contaminated with any organic and biological material during space travel. “Candidates must have “broad engineering expertise,” and should be an expert in planetary protection,” according to the ad.
9 year-old Guardian of the Galaxy applies
Nine year-old Jack Davis, self-appointed Guardian of the Galaxy, applied for the job. NASA sent him a seriously, and sent a wonderful response.
“At NASA, we love to teach kids about space and inspire them to be the next generation of explorers,” NASA’s Planetary Science Director Jim Green said. “Think of it as a gravity assist — a boost that may positively and forever change a person’s course in life, and our footprint in the universe.”
He also received a phone call from NASA’s Planetary Research Director, Jonathan Rall at NASA Headquarters in Washington, to congratulate him on his interest in the position.
What an extraordinary way to encourage a young man’s dreams!
Beware of companies that misrepresent their paid placements as news. You will never be asked to pay for legitimate news coverage.
I had a most exciting email this morning. It said “I’m reaching out to you because one of our producers came across Funwalkers, and thought that it would be a great fit for our show, NewsWatch. If you’ve never caught an episode, we are a 30-minute consumer review show that airs in over 200 markets and 95 million US households on The AMC Network.”
What the email – and the website – didn’t say: this would be a paid placement, aka advertisement, to the tune of $15K.
There’s nothing wrong with paid placements. And I am not saying that they don’t work for many companies. We see paid placements every day on videos, TV shows, movies, in games and even in ads.
Funwalkers License Plates is my startup company that makes funny license plates for walkers and rollators. I aim to encourage seniors to make more use of their walkers by reducing the stigma associated with their use.
The company is coming along, and has already gotten some press coverage, with more coming up in major media.
The TV “opportunity” wasn’t real!
So the idea of being featured on a TV show with a national audience was something that put me over the moon. Until I Googled NewsWatch. Turns out, coverage on NewsWatch would cost several thousand dollars!
Then I wrote to the producer and asked if there was a production cost. He said “yes.”
I’ll listen to what you have to say. But be aware that Funwalkers is a startup with no advertising budget. ..”
He wrote back:
“I feel it would be a waste of both of our times.” And cancelled the call.
The consensus: No. “Real news exposure doesn’t cost you. My products have been on a few local news shows (we do safety and work with kids so there is general appeal) and they have never asked for money.”
Companies That Do Paid Placements Right
Captivate Media which makes videos for lobby and elevator media screens, is a legitimate company that provides paid content and does not deceive. It explains clearly on their homepage that they produce paid content. And, hey, it’s fun to get a quick bit of news while on an elevator!
In-flight Media provides content for seatbacks on airlines in flight. Their homepage clearly leads to a pricing category and they describe themselves as provider of advertising. We’ve all watched those. Some of them are quite engaging.
There are scores of companies that create “embedded content” for films, TV, games and even ads. It’s no accident, for example, that a character reaches for Smirnoff, or Pepsi, or that he or she drives a particular car. There are millions of dollars worth of product placements every year, and they’ve expanded with the decline of traditional advertising.
You Could Get Sued for Undisclosed Paid Placements
The new Facebook Grid Tool shows you whether images in your ad contain more than 20 percent text. More text violates Facebook’s 20 percent grid rule. Ads that do that are rejected by Facebook – or worse.
Worse than rejected?
What’s worse than having an ad rejected that you worked hard to create? The ad will run, but with hardly any delivery.
To use the Grid Rule Checker, you place your image within the grid. Text is allowed to appear in a maximum of five boxes on the grid. If the picture/banner has text in six or more boxes, Facebook will reject it because it violates the 20 percent text rule.
Facebook has additional image requirements for ads, including:
No before/after images
No images of a person in pain and/or distressed
No false functionality (such as a play button in the center of an image, encouraging viewers to think the ad is a video so they will click on it)
In this short video, Josh Bernoff, author of Writing Without Bullshit, offers three top tips for taking the BS out of business writing.
“My definition of bullshit,” he says, “is any communication that is not clear and effective.”
Writing Without Bullshit
Boy, oh boy, is there ever a lot of muddled prose on the Internet. Why, I asked, is there so much bullshit in corporate writing? Simply put, Bernoff responded, “it’s the fear of saying what you really mean.” And the bad habits we learned in school.
Watch the video and learn how to become a No BS business writer.
For companies with something to say that may be of interest beyond the CEO’s office or the marketing department, here are nine great reasons for corporate blogging. (I originally published this post in 2008, and I think the reasons still apply. I’ve updated some of the links and references.)
1. Chief among them: the research, reading and writing for a blog help you keep learning. Sadly, many people really haven’t learned anything new in the past 10 years. But you need to keep learning to keep attracting readers.
2. Because knowledge means nothing until it is shared. Being a respected member of the community requires contribution as well as consumption.
Add to these, the following blogging objectives:
3. Blogging can help you to be a thought leader: E.g. Charlene Li.
4. You can generate awareness in the market of your products/services/your personal brand: E.g. Dustin Stout
5. You’ll get to know other thought leaders in the space: E.g. Francine Hardaway
6. You can obtain feedback from your audience (readers, customers etc.) on new products/services: E.g. Toby Bloomberg
7. Make sure your blog appears for specific terms on organic search (Search Engine Optimization): E.g. David Erickson
8. I also like the reason Robert Moskowitz gave in iMedia Connection back in 2005
“Blog to gain on the Big Dogs”
9. And, as Hugh Macleod at gapingvoid pointed out “why I have a blog, I suppose. I like the control. I write something, I post it, it gets read, hopefully good things happen as a result, somewhere on this small blue planet of ours”
Oreo Cookies is renown for clever marketing. Their latest #MyOreoCreation contest is fun and it has a delicious $500K prize. It also shows how much money it takes to induce consumer created content these days. Not all that long ago, a $10K prize was a big deal. Just saying…
From their warp speed blackout ad in the 2013 Superbowl, to their social media interactions with other brands, Oreo marketing is sheer genius.
Oreo is asking us to create our own Oreo cookie. The contest, which is open until July 15, could earn you $500K! Come up with a new Oreo flavor, use the hashtags #MyOreoCreation and #Contest and share your ideas on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win.
The video featuring Ellie Kemper and friends introducing the contest is heading toward 5.5 million views on YouTube and 925K on Facebook.