Tag Archives: Things
What are the three most important things non-programmers should know about programming? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Early in my web development career I realized that there were three things that were critical for every non-programmer to know before interacting with programmers in a professional setting.
My experience building a single feature with a non-technical product manager taught me these lessons almost immediately.
Let me explain…
I was working with Colin, a non-technical product manager who was responsible for driving the direction of the product and working with my team, the development team, to implement features for our product.
As a developer, Colin was great to work with. The feature requests he created were always really well thought out. He always had all the edge cases accounted for and he drew detailed wireframes, diagrams of what the expected behavior of the feature should look like.
But then, all of a sudden, Colin had a feature request for our team that caused a major problem for our entire development team!
Colin gave our team a wireframe diagram of our application that had an additional checkbox that would allow a user to store their credit card information on the platform.
The feature request seemed simple enough, but because of laws and regulations about credit card information (specifically PCI compliance laws), storage of credit card information is something that is highly complex and regulated.
Despite seeming simple, supporting this one feature in our application would require a complete rewrite of our code.
I brought this issue up to Colin and at first he didn’t get it. “All I’m asking for is a simple checkbox, it can’t be that difficult to add”, he said. I explained that adding the checkbox would be super easy, but making the checkbox do what it claimed would be the difficult part.
Colin then did something that proved that he was the type of product manager who got things done.He explained, “Let me explain why I wanted to include the ability to allow a user to save their payment information…” and then Colin explained that after making a certain type of purchase, it was very common for users to make a related purchase shortly after.
Together we realized there was a solution where we could prompt the user to purchase both items at the same time, instead of worrying about storing the payment information. This was a solution that would give Colin everything he wanted and be ten times easier to implement for our team.
Together with Colin, we implemented this solution. This experience taught me that there are only three things that non-programmers need to focus on when working together with other developers.
They’re also easy lessons to learn…
1. Communicate the technical details to developers quickly and efficiently.
There is no more effective way to explain functionality of an application than showing a developer wireframes of proposed changes.
2. Things can appear to be easier to implement than they actually are.
Be open to the idea that things that seem like they should be really easy can be much more difficult to implement in practice.
3. Provide context about why you think things are important.
Explain the why behind the thoughts you have in situations where you’re getting pushback from developers — if you do this you’ll find yourself working together with them to solve problems.
Remember that you are have the same end goal as the developers you’re working with — to provide the best experience possible or the application you’re building.
Follow these steps and the developers you’re working with can focus their energy on being the best developer they can be. And if you’re a developer you can focus on the.
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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) on Monday launched a spinoff of its Android operating system for home appliances and other machines, following mixed results with Android offshoots for cars, smartwatches and televisions.
‘Android Things’, which arrives as Google opens its annual conference for developers, could bring its Google Assistant virtual helper to refrigerators and robots and familiar designs to cash registers and vending machines.
“The goal is to enable them to be built faster, cheaper and more secure,” said Venkat Rapaka, a product management director at Google.
Android derivatives aim to provide users with a consistent interface across devices, while Google and its business partners benefit from a standard way to distribute their applications.
Though Google does not charge hardware manufacturers for Android, it expects to generate a return as consumers use new gadgets to use search, watch videos on YouTube and buy content from its Play Store.
The Android operating system powers many of the world’s smartphones and drives consumers to Google’s cash-minting apps.
But Google has struggled to extend Android’s dominance into other areas over the last four years, technology and financial analysts said.
“If you’re charitable, you say it’s early,” said Richard Kramer of Arete Research. “If you’re not, you say Android is irrelevant outside phones.”
Android Automotive is not yet deeply embedded in any cars. Shipments of smartwatches with Google’s Wear OS were outnumbered five-to-one by rival Apple Inc (AAPL.O) devices last year, according to research firm IDC. Four times as many smart TV shipments last year had Samsung’s (005930.KS) operating system as Android TV, according to IHS Markit.
In each category, Google’s Android system posted less market share last year than manufacturer-customized Android variants, which are less fruitful for Google because they typically are not pre-loaded or compatible with its apps.
Android variants thrive in China, where Google does not operate.
Google also has been slowed by resistance from carmakers to hand over a key interface, smartwatches from consumer electronics brands that failed to attract mass appeal and TV software that manufacturers found too rigid, analysts said.
Google officials said the spinoffs have momentum. Activations of Wear OS devices rose 70 percent late last year compared to the year-earlier period. Android TV activations doubled last year compared to the year before, while vehicles with Android embedded should arrive next year, company officials told Reuters.
South Asia and Latin America are bright spots, they said. Android TV had “tremendous traction over the last year” from Asian cable and satellite operators seeking it for set-top boxes, said Google product management director Shalini Govil-Pai.
Android Automotive was gaining attention from Indian automakers and from Brazil, said Patrick Brady, a Google engineering vice president.
Google says it will guarantee three years of free security patches to hardware makers and paid extended options. It is also considering automated security scans of device makers’ apps.
Health technology startup Byteflies, an Android Things tester, said it viewed the system’s optional integration with Google’s cloud computing service and the large Android developer community as big advantages.
Reporting by Paresh Dave, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
Entrepreneurs who feel lucky report higher levels of motivation and wellbeing, both essential for sustaining performance during tough times. So how do you cultivate your own daily luck? Here are three things to do every day,
1. Choose A Lucky Attitude.
Luck is about flexibility of mind and a willingness to experiment and trust your gut. Take advantage of chance occurrences, break the weekly routine, and once in a while have the courage to let go. The world is full of opportunity if you’re prepared to embrace it. Steve Jobs emphasized the importance of trusting your gut when he delivered his now infamous commencement address at Stanford University: “If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, and karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
2. Be Ready.
Luck is as much about what you expect as what you do. Do you wait for success to happen, or do you get out there and make it happen? In his book The Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, England, describes why lucky people tend to share traits that make them luckier than others. This includes the impact of chance opportunities, lucky breaks, and being in the right place at the right time. He says: “My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” On the flipside he says: “Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune.”
3. Own Your Success.
At times, you might privately think you can’t go on. You must persist. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, says it best: “I failed, many times in my life. One failure that I always remember was when 36 publishers rejected my second book. Many years later, I watched Huff Post come alive to mixed reviews, including some very negative ones, like the reviewer who called the site ‘the equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar, and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one. But my mother used to tell me, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.”
Dear Future, I’m Ready.
Luck isn’t just chance but an alchemy of courage, focus and a willingness to experiment. It’s about declaring to the world ‘dear future, I’m ready’.
If I had a dollar every time an older person said something disparaging about a Millennial, I’d be talking to you from my own private island. What I have found, is that working with them (or managing them) can be rewarding as long as you treat them accordingly.
For example, I understand that in managing Millennials I have to offer a flexible work schedule to accommodate their juggling act of responsibilities, such as continuing their education and pursuing entrepreneurial side projects. All employees have different skill sets to offer and work at differing paces, so if in 2018 you’re blanketing how you expect your coworkers to perform, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
A study of nearly 10,000 adults aged 18-67 by Ernest & Young Global Limited, shows that Millennials are having a harder time balancing work and life than their predecessors. It proves that Millennials are as almost twice as likely to have a spouse working at least full-time compared to Boomers. Baby Boomers and Generation Xers don’t actually work harder than Millennials, and studies are showing that younger generations really do face a more difficult time of balancing it all.
Here are three things that might surprise you about Millennials and their older colleagues.
1. Baby Boomers are finally winding down.
Baby Boomers have the reputation for going at their work hard and fast, but there’s a season for everything and everyone. With Boomers born in the late 1940s to 1950s, they are retiring now. Even if they aren’t retiring, they are slowing down their careers to enjoy the beginning of their twilight years. In the meantime, Millennials are the ones that are hired to take their place.
2. Millennials are great with technology.
You know that computer program or new app or gadget that’s been giving you trouble? The newer, the more high-tech, and the more out there something is, the better. They’ve grown up with this kind of technology, so they learn fast, and working these kinds of gadgets is just intuitive to them.
3. Millennials are energetic, and want to carve a place for themselves in the world.
Some people say that Millennials are entitled and don’t know the value of a dollar. Not so! The ones I have met are often go-getters who are ambitious, have dreams to pursue, and want to really make a difference. The way they see it, everything has already been said, written and done, so they want to do something different with their lives, even if that means working long hours for it.
Growing up with major FOMO (fear of missing out) has lit a proverbial fire under their butts to be successful enough to live their dreams. In true Millennial fashion, that’s the reason I decided to start my own company four years ago–to be able to afford a lifestyle that would allow me to travel the world and have free time.
4. Gen-Xers and Millennials are better adapted to problem solving.
Everyone has their strengths. While Baby Boomers are known for being independent, goal-oriented and competitive, Millennials are known for their skills in problem solving, technology use and management, and teamwork.
These may be all skills that their predecessors have too, but the reason why Gen X-ers are so great at them is because that was the focus of their education. They were taught to work in teams and they grew up with the technology that they now excel at.
I recall a time in my freshmen year of college when a professor didn’t take too kindly to me problem solving in my own way. One of the tasks on a test called for me to locate a folder on and save a file to it. Having grown up using computers I found a much quicker way to get the task done than by using his detailed instructions, which I patted myself on the back for.
However, the professor didn’t take too kindly to my doing things my own way, and actually deducted points from my final score for doing so. I was blown away, and explained to him that if anything I should earn bonus points for being more efficient and finding a better way to complete the work, which only made the situation worse.
What this has led to, is my appreciation of employees who are able to think critically on their own and rewarding them for it. As a manager I know that I don’t have the answer to everything, and I look to my team to ensure that collectively we’re doing our best. Do not forget to consider the valuable traits of other employees as well as your team should be well rounded. Don’t get stuck with too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.
Apple is one of the most desired employers in the world. It’s been said getting a job at an Apple store is harder than getting into Harvard. If you want to work there, you might assume you need to be a total tech-expert, but that’s not true. Apple says it can teach you about technology. What they can’t teach you are the soft skills needed to represent the company well.
Online reviews reveal extensive details into what it takes to get hired.
Sites like Glassdoor offer job seekers access to anonymous reviews by people who have gone through the Apple interview process. Reading through them, you quickly see a pattern: Apple uses behavioral interviewing techniques and loves candidates who are comfortable telling stories and speaking up. In fact, one successful applicant summed it up best:
“Apple looks at how you talk more than what you know. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question, but don’t just say, “I don’t know.” Apple loves stories so let your inner J.K. Rowling out! All in all, be confident, smile a lot, don’t be nervous, and stay calm.”
Moreover, if you look for patterns in Apple’s behavioral interview questions, you’ll realize they look for three things they know they can’t teach employees. Apple intensely screens applicants to ensure they already have these important skill sets.
1. Displaying confidence.
Customers don’t buy things from people who lack confidence. If you can’t appear knowledgeable and confident on the job, Apple users may doubt what you’re saying.
2. Knowing how to talk to people.
Your job in an Apple store is to assist customers. If striking up a conversation with strangers doesn’t come easy to you, you likely won’t enjoy, or succeed in this job.
3. Being a nice person.
Maya Angelou said,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Apple customers can feel intimidated by the technology. Store staff need to make customers feel capable and happy with their decision to invest in Apple technology.
P.S. If at first you don’t succeed…
One of the other major pieces of feedback in the hiring process reviews was you shouldn’t give up so easily. Many of the people who posted comments indicate it took several tries to land a job at their dream employer. If you want to work for Apple, you’ll need to have a gameplan and stick to it. Rejection means, “no, not today.” It doesn’t mean, “no, not ever,” unless you give up!
Whether you are looking to gain awareness, improve SEO, or increase sales, having great exposure can help you get there. But PR is not a band-aid for an overarching business problem–nor is it a get rich fast technique.
A great PR strategy can take many years to build. Over the years, I’ve seen many companies start their efforts, only to stop before they’ve given the program enough time to develop. I’ve heard dozens of marketers and founders explain that they quit their PR efforts after their pitch didn’t get picked up by enough outlets in the first few week. Gaining great coverage takes time, pitch optimization, and persistence.
Often times, if a brand could have taken a step back after a rejected story to tweak their angle and try again, the second story they pitch could have been widely successful. Here’s why you shouldn’t throw in the towel for your PR outreach just yet:
1. Relationships take time to build.
Imagine you are at a party. You immediately start talking about you, your business, and your news. Very quickly, many people will not want to talk with you.
The same holds true when you’re building relationships with the media. It takes time to get to know a reporter and what they are writing about and then creating relevant pitches that are helpful to them. When you build trust and rapport with reporters, they’ll be more likely to open your emails, which is the first step to gaining great coverage.
You can build a better relationship with reporters by becoming well versed with their past writings and looking for opportunities to tell them stories of interest. Take a look through their Twitter accounts and personal websites to learn more about what they’re covering and the news that is important to them.
When you reach out to a reporter for the first time, show them that you are knowledgeable about their area of coverage and that your story fits their angle. When we reach out to reporters we make sure to spend time reading their past work to ensure our pitch is the right fit for their area of expertise. It can be easy to burn a press bridge simply by not personalizing an email enough–take your time, do your research, and get to know reporters for the long term. Slow and steady wins the race.
2. SEO is a long-term game.
When you receive a press mention, you’ll likely see a spike in traffic on the day it’s published–but don’t discount the future traffic. If you are a mattress company and you get listed as “The Best Mattresses Ever Made,” you’ll benefit from both the spike and also later from people who are searching for mattresses and come across the article. Traffic from press articles should be monitored for months to come, even after publication.
An authoritative link will not only drive traffic, but will also help your website in the search engine rankings. This boost will not happen instantly. With time and relevant inbound links, you’ll see not just your referral traffic grow, but also your organic search traffic from Google.
3. Press takes commitment–and a bit of luck.
It takes a while to learn about the best way to pitch your product. Each time you pitch, you’ll learn more about what copy and message resonates with reporters.
If you’re not seeing any success, it does not mean you don’t have an interesting story. It might mean you are pitching to the wrong reporters, your email subject line needs work, or you simply didn’t follow up.
By tracking your emails with a tool like SideKick or Yesware, you’ll be better able to see who is opening your mails, what they’re clicking on, and how many times they went back to the email. You can use this data to refine your pitch the next time. With the media always changing, it also takes a bit of luck to pitch at the right time to the right reporter with the right story.
Pitching takes a strong backbone and you’ll get a lot of rejections. If you haven’t had success yet, keep trying. And if you’ve been pitching for months with still no results, it might be time to call in a PR pro to help you optimize your pitch and press kit.
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of the press, start early, optimize often, and plan your strategy for the long haul. This time next year, you’ll be glad you stuck with it.
IPsoft is, in many ways, an unusual entrant into the crowded, but burgeoning, artificial intelligence industry. First of all, it is not a startup, but a 20-year-old company and its leader isn’t some millennial savant, but a fashionable former NYU professor named Chetan Dube. It bills its cognitive agent, Amelia, as the “world’s most human AI.”
It got its start building and selling autonomic IT solutions and its years of experience providing business solutions give it a leg up on many of its competitors. It can offer not only technological solutions, but the insights it has gained helping businesses to streamline operations with automation.
Ever since IBM’s Watson defeated human champions on the game show Jeopardy!, the initial excitement has led to inflated expectations and often given way to disappointment. So I recently met with a number of top executives at IPsoft to get a better understanding of how leaders can successfully implement AI solutions. Here are four things you should keep in mind:
1. Match The Technology With The Problem You Need To Solve
AI is not a single technology, but encompasses a variety of different methods. In The Master Algorithm veteran AI researcher Pedro Domingos explains that there are five basic approaches to machine learning, from neural nets that mimic the brain, to support vector machines that classify different types of information to graphical models that use a more statistical approach.
“The first question to ask is what problem you are trying to solve.” Chetan Dube, CEO of IPsoft told me. “Is it analytical, process automation, data retrieval or serving customers? Choosing the right a technology is supremely important.” For example, with Watson, IBM has focused on highly analytical tasks, like helping doctors to diagnose a rare case of cancer.
With Amelia, IPsoft has chosen to target customer service, which is extraordinarily difficult. Humans tend not to think linearly. They might call about a lost credit card and then immediately realize that they wanted to ask about paperless billing or how to close an account. Sometimes the shift can happen mid-sentence, which can be maddening even for trained professionals.
So IPsoft relies on a method called spreading activation, which helps Amelia to engage or disengage different parts of the system. For example, when a bank customer asks how much money she has in her account, it is a simple data retrieval task. However, if a customer asks how she can earn more interest on her savings, logical and analytical functions come into play.
2. Train Your AI As You Would A New Employee
Most people by now have become used to using consumer facing cognitive agents like Google voice search or Apple’s Siri. These work well for some tasks, such as locating the address for your next meeting or telling you how many points the Eagles beat Vikings by in the 2018 NFC Championship (exactly 31, if you’re interested).
However, for enterprise level applications, simple data retrieval will not suffice, because systems need domain specific knowledge, which often has to be related to other information. For example, if a customer asks which credit card is right for her, that requires not only deep understanding of what’s offered, but also some knowledge about the customer’s spending habits, average balance and so on.
One of the problems that many companies run into with cognitive applications is that they expect them to work much like installing an email system — you just plug it in and it works. But you would never do that with a human agent. You would expect them to need training, to make mistakes and to learn as they gained experience.
“Train your algorithms as you would your employees” says Ergun Ekici, a Principal and Vice President at IPsoft. “Don’t try to get AI to do things your organization doesn’t understand. You have to be able to teach and evaluate performance. Start with the employee manual and ask the system questions.” From there you can see what it is doing well, what it’s doing poorly and adapt your training strategy accordingly.
3. Apply Intelligent Governance
No one calls a customer service line and asks a human to talk to a machine. However, we often prefer to use automated systems for convenience. For example, when most people go to their local bank branch they just use the ATM machine outside without giving a thought to the fact that there are real humans inside ready to give them personalized service.
Nevertheless, there are far more bank tellers today than there were in before ATMs, ironically due to the fact that each branch needs far fewer tellers. Because ATMs drastically reduced the costs to open and run branches, banks began opening up more of them and still needed tellers to do higher level tasks, like opening accounts, giving advice and solving problems.
Yet because cognitive agents tend to be so much cheaper than human ones, many firms do everything they can to discourage a customer talking to a human. To stretch the bank teller analogy a little further, that’s almost like walking into a branch with a problem and being told to go back outside and wrestle with the ATM some more. Customers find it incredibly frustrating.
So IPsoft stresses to its enterprise customers that it’s essential that humans stay involved with the process and make it easy to disengage Amelia when a customer should be rerouted to a human agent. It also uses sentiment analysis to track how the system is doing. Once it becomes clear that the customer’s mood is deteriorating, a real person can step in.
Training a cognitive agent for enterprise applications is far different than, say, Google training an algorithm to play Go. When Google’s AI makes a mistake, it only loses a game, but when an enterprise application screws up, you can lose a customer.
4. Prepare Your Culture For AI As You Would For Any Major Shift
There are certain things robots will never do. They will never strike out in a little league game. They will never have their heart broken or get married and raise a family. That means that they will never be able to relate to humans as humans do. So you can’t simply inject AI into your organizational culture and expect a successful integration.
“Integration with organizational culture as well as appetite for change and mindset are major factors in how successful an AI program will be. The drive has to come from the top and permeate through the ranks,” says Edwin Van Bommel, Chief Cognitive Officer at IPsoft.
In many ways, the shift to cognitive is much like a merger or acquisition — which are notoriously prone to failure. What may look good on paper rarely pans out when humans get involved, because we have all sorts of biases and preferences that don’t fit into neat little strategic boxes.
The one constant in the history of technology is that the future is always more human. So if you expect to cognitive applications simply to reduce labor, you will likely be disappointed. However, if you want to leverage and empower the capabilities of your organization, then the cognitive future may be very bright for you.
1. Don’t complain.
Instead, model the ability to pick yourself up in the face of setbacks. According to Stephanie Marston, psychotherapist, consultant and co-author of Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World, children learn resilience when they see their parents being agents of change instead of passive complainers.
2. Let kids climb trees and handle sharp objects.
According to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, risky play–the kind where someone actually could get hurt–is good for kids. Researchers suggest that the fear kids experience when climbing at great heights, being near a cliff or handling a knife keeps them alert and careful and teaches them how to cope with potentially dangerous situations. And over time, mastering such scary situations has an “anti-phobic” effect which results in lower levels of anxiety overall.
3. Limit the use of electronic media, especially in the evening.
Researchers analyzed the sleep quality of 530 German three-year-olds and found that the kids who consumed higher amounts of electronic media had more problems with sleep, including resistance going to sleep, sleep anxiety and sleepiness during the day. Plus, other researchers have found that the brains of little kids can be permanently altered when they spend too much time using tablets and smartphones. Specifically, the development of certain abilities is impeded, including focus and attention, vocabulary, and social skills.The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all, other than video-chatting. For kids ages two to five, it recommends limiting screen time to one hour a day. For older kids, it’s a matter of making sure media doesn’t take the place of adequate sleep, exercise, and social interaction. The AAP also says parents should make the dinner table, the car, and bedrooms media-free zones.
4. Read to them.
Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine have found that babies whose parents read to them have better language, literacy, and early reading skills four years later before starting elementary school. And kids who like books when they’re little grow into people who read for fun later on, which has its own set of benefits. That’s according to Dr. Alice Sullivan, who uses the British Cohort Study to track various aspects of 17,000 people in the U.K. “We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less,” she writes for The Guardian. “In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, in vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics.”
5. Make them work.
In a 2015 TED Talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and the former dean of freshman at Stanford University, cites the Harvard Grant Study, which found that the participants who achieved the greatest professional success did chores as a child.
6. Let them fail.
According to Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and author of Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed, failure is good for kids on several levels. First, experiencing failure helps your kids learn to cope, a valuable life skill. It also provides them with the experience which helps them to relate to peers in a genuine way. Being challenged also instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score. Over time, children who have experienced defeat build resilience and are more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail. And, rescuing children sends the message that you don’t trust them. “Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one,” she says.
7. Be a role model for fitness.
High achieving adults consistently make exercise a priority and if you want your children to grow up fit and active, you need to practice doing it yourself. Researchers at the University of California conducted a study which found that girls who perceived their parents exercised at least three times a week were about 50 percent more active than girls with sedentary parents.
8. Don’t tell them they can grow up to be anything they want.
According a survey of 400 teenagers, conducted by market research agency C+R Research, young Americans aren’t interested in doing the work that will need to be done in the years to come. Instead, they aspire to be musicians, athletes, or video game designers, even though these kinds of jobs only comprise 1 percent of American occupations. In reality, jobs in health care or in construction trades will be golden in future decades. Why not steer them into well-paying professions in which there will be a huge shortage of workers?
If one thing has become clear during the two years of working the race beat at Fortune is this: Everything has a backstory. Our ability to understand and embrace these hidden histories can help us all become more curious, aware, empathetic and informed.
Here are three podcasts that I’ve recently enjoyed that brought a fresh perspective to something I already thought I knew a bit about. Turns out, I was missing more than just some interesting facts. Enjoy.
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a delightful podcast, and ordinarily a breezy conversation between two friends, Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, about their complicated modern relationship with faith, love, social justice and American life. They took a break from their usual dish to join an annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, a Japanese American internment camp just north of Los Angeles. This year’s visit commemorated the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Executive orders matter, yo.) The trip was organized by the Vigilant Love Coalition and their Bridging Communities program, which draws parallels between the Japanese experience post-Pearl Harbor and the experience of Muslim Americans today. “Today we are retracing the humanity of a group of people who our country shamelessly mistreated,” the tour guide begins. While Taz and Zahra continually hand the mic to other pilgrims and survivors to make sure their stories are heard, the bigger message is clear. “Your citizenship will not protect you,” one woman tells them.
Every installment of Second Wave is a revelation and a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of Vietnamese Americans in the aftermath of a war that hasn’t ended for everyone. One delicious example is Pho, part savory noodle-dish, part iconic comfort food born in a faraway land and now, a dish ripe for cultural appropriation. Seemingly out of the blue, the dish has been embraced by hipster chefs in the U.S. and turned into a barely recognizable version of itself, with pho experts everywhere making fancy derivations like pho dumplings, pho salads, even rolling “phorritos.” Host Thanh Tan sits with two women who have made their own careers with the noodle dish, writer Andrea Nguyen and chef Yenvy Pham, owner of Pho Bac in Seattle, and have a fascinating conversation about what the soup meant to both the working class and elites in Vietnam, and the uncomfortable peace they’re making with its gentrification stateside. And then the talk turns to a scandal you may have missed — the recent Pho-gate, and their ultimate defense against the ultimate erasure.
I’ve fallen hard for Uncivil, a new Gimlet podcast about the Civil War that explores the stories that have been left out of history if you get my drift. Again, there are no wrong choices, but for the purposes of digging into a juicy backstory, start with their eye-opening exploration of the true origins of Dixie, the unofficial and still beloved anthem of the Confederacy. The common knowledge was this: Dixie was a Confederate anthem, written by a Southerner, during the dark days of the Civil War. As usual, the common knowledge is completely wrong. There are a couple of twists before we get to the painful truth, an erasure so profound that it’ll get you whistling Dixie yourself. Hosts Chenjerai Kumanyika and Jack Hitt are both excellent. But later in this episode, Kumanyika talks about “coon spaces,” a framing for performative blackness for the benefit of white audiences. It yields one of the richest conversations I’ve heard in ages. In this instance, it’s with a musician named Justin Robinson, who both understands the true roots of the song and has performed it with a sense of dignity and restorative justice. It didn’t quite work. “They invite you to dehumanize yourself for profit, for their pleasure, to deepen their sense of identity,” says Kumanyika of the “coon space” dynamic. “You’re sort of hitting on the head what it means to be black in America or indigenous in America,” Robinson begins.
|Cult leader Charles Manson dies having failed to achieve his dream of a full-on race war|
|It’s an element of his cultish control over his “hippie” followers that often gets the short shrift. His murderous rampage was not just an attack on the Hollywood elite. It was a full-throated attempt to incite a race war that would – insert magical thinking here – end with him running the world. The Root has a great explainer here. I’d also point you to another podcast, currently in production called Young Charlie. It unfolds as the breathless true crime it actually was, but also gives rich context to the person Manson was and the country he was planning to overtake. Not only did he fall through every possible crack in his young life, he was monstrously smart and profoundly cynical, fully prepared to leverage a racist country for his own benefit.|
|How rapper Meek Mill has come to personify criminal justice reform|
|Rapper Meek Mill is back in prison for a parole violation stemming from various criminal charges he faced over a decade ago. And now, the Philadelphia home town hero has become a flashpoint in a long overdue conversation about reform and judicial overreach. If you haven’t been following the story, then this explainer from the Washington Post will get you up to speed. But don’t stop there. Read this op-ed from Jay-Z, whose Roc Nation reps Mill, but who has also become increasingly outspoken on justice reform issues. “On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started,” he begins. But Mill was nineteen when he was sent to jail for drug and gun possession and served an eight month sentence. “For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.”|
|Lena Dunham under fire for siding with friend accused of sexual assault|
|The man in question is Girls writer Murray Miller, and he was accused by actor Aurora Perrineau. While the backlash was swift and followed by a penned apology, writer Zinzi Clemmons has decided enough is enough. In a statement posted to Twitter, she announced that she will no longer be contributing to Lenny Letter, Dunham’s online feminist newsletter. “She cannot have our words if she cannot respect us,” she writes. She also describes the casual racism, and worse, that she believes defines Dunham’s circle, many of whom she was acquainted with in college. “It is time for women of color — black women in particular — to divest from Lena Dunham,” she says.|
|What it’s like to live in North Korea|
|The Washington Post has interviewed 25 North Koreans who have lived, in some capacity, in the country under Kim Jong Un. Their tales are uniformly grim and disappointing. They all thought that the millennial leader would bring fresh ideas and much-needed change to a country crippled by generational dictatorship. Instead, things got worse, as the state broke down and the economy crumbled. The only way to survive is the constant hustle of dealing in bribes and the illegal/informal economy. The threat of state violence, they say, is ever-present. “I once went for six months without getting any salary at all. We lived in a shipping container at the construction site… Once I didn’t bathe for two months,” said one construction worker who escaped in 2015.|
|The Washington Post|
The Woke Leader
|Princeton University comes clean on race|
|Here’s just one example: Researchers have recently found evidence that Samuel Finley, the school’s fifth president, sold his slaves in front of his stately 18th century clapboard home, once a popular stop on the campus tour. That is just one of many stories being brought to light as the institution works to reconcile it’s complex past. To that end, it’s worth spending time with the Princeton and Slavery Project, an evolving work of depth and honesty that includes primary documents and articles highlighting the university’s long history of slavery-related funding and racial violence.|
|New York Times|
|The bleak and poignant history of black NASCAR drivers|
|After a 46 year dry spell, a black rookie driver is set to become the first full-time black driver since Wendell Scott stopped driving in 1971. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr., is set to drive car number 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports next season. “There’s only 1 driver from an African-American background at the top level of our sport … I am the one,” he said on Twitter. “You’re not gonna stop hearing about ‘the Black driver’ for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey.” But it’s worth remembering Scott, the very first black driver, who braved Jim Crow laws and death threats to persist in the sport. He won money and acclaim, but never the traditional post-race kiss from the white beauty queen. Click through for the real deal history.|
|Take a jazz lesson with Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste|
|Batiste, the less-well-known of the two jazz greats, is the leader of the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” band, and absolutely holds his own with Marsalis, during this hour-long segment on the genius of jazz from The Aspen Institute. The conversation includes plenty of music and technical talk, like how pentatonic scales originally came from Africa. It also weaves in discussions of painful elements of life under the English plantation system, which also exploited Irish people. The strange mix of race, culture, and oppression found its way into the alchemy known as blues and jazz.|
This year, everyone’s crazy for retro phones. LG slapped competitors in the face with a surprisingly solid flagship. A futuristic-looking, hyperconnected car debuted at MWC instead of at the Geneva Motor Show. And there were just enough weird gadgets for us to geek out over while we sped through the Fira Gran Via’s sprawling convention center halls.