Archive for May, 2012

I recently saw a terribly-low-quality version of the image above on Facebook (with the attribution cut off, of course) and thought I would look into it. It is from the National Low Income Housing Coalition‘s report comparing income and rent across the country. The full report can be found here. Their website also contains some tools to calculate how much an individual would have to make in order to afford various rents. Their assumption that no more than 30% of the household income will be dedicated to rent seems extremely unrealistic, and contributes to their extremely high numbers, but this assumption in itself could be an interesting starting point for a class discussion when coupled with the map above.

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In response to things like Siri and Sync that respond to voice commands, I recently mentioned that technology can be useful in helping us navigate an increasingly complex technological world. Mitch Albom, on the other hand, is more concerned with voice commands staying off his lawn than he is with the ways that they may or may not be useful. Two paragraphs capture his crotchety perspective perfectly:

Conversations with a car should be one way only. And they should be limited to “Oh, come on, come on” (when it won’t start) and “You gotta be kidding me!” (every other problem).

Asking a car to find the nearest Belgian restaurant is not really what Henry Ford had in mind.

I’m sure that the other automakers of Ford’s day thought that producing a car that the multitudes could afford was similarly ridiculous. Of course, the actions that earned Ford a mention in Mein Kampf suggest that Ford might not be the best model for today’s behavior.

In Albom’s defense, Siri is not quite as helpful to regular people as she is to Samuel L. Jackson (via Daring Fireball).

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David Banks at The Society Pages has a nice summary of everything that is wrong with Comedy Central’s Tosh.0. The idea of somebody skewering the internet’s viral hits sounds great to me, but I would like to see somebody do it in a way that is not, as Banks writes, “Racist, Classist, Homophobic, Sexist, and Just Plain Gross.” Of course, Tosh.0 is among the highest-rated shows on Comedy Central. Maybe Bud Light Platinum should focus its marketing budget there.

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Although my semester has ended, student requests for my time have not. One of my advisees recently asked for a letter of recommendation two days before the recommendation deadline, which brought back memories of my own undergraduate days. When I was talking to my undergraduate mentor about applying to graduate programs he gave me some advice that I think benefits everybody in the application process. While this advice is somewhat applicable to graduate students as well, since I deal solely with undergrads I also decided that it is time for a companion to Fabio’s Grad Skool Rulz. As a result, I give you the first of my Rulz for Undergradz*:

When you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, you should provide the following information:

  • The application deadline
  • A brief statement about why you want to do whatever you are applying for. If your application requires a personal statement, a rough draft of that statement is acceptable for this purpose.
  • A list of the courses you have taken with the professor and the grades that you earned in those courses.
  • Your overall (and, if relevant or substantially different, major) GPA

If the recommendation can be submitted electronically, you should provide all of the above in a single e-mail along a relevant link to the electronic submission system. If a paper recommendation must be submitted, you should provide a hard copy of the information above in a folder with any recommendation forms and an envelope. You should also provide instructions about how the recommendation should be submitted. If the professor is supposed to send the application directly, you should provide a stamped, addressed envelope. If the professor is supposed to return the recommendation to you in a signed envelope, you should arrange a date and time to meet and pick up your recommendation.

By following these instructions, the process of writing recommendations is streamlined for professors, which can only help their impressions of the students they are recommending.

*The only problem with providing Rulz for Undergradz on a sociology blog is that most undergrads don’t read sociology blogs. To counteract this problem, print this post and hand it out to your advisees. Tell them that it came from the internet and they will be so impressed that one or two of them are bound to follow these guidelines, which should save you at least as much time as it took you to print the post and hand it out.

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Watching TV the other night I saw a commercial for Bud Light Platinum* that started with the piano notes from Kanye West’s “Runaway”. You can see the commercial here:

Given that rappers typically name drop more expensive (or, in some cases, their own) brands of alcohol, my first thought was, “why is a high-profile rapper allowing his song to be used in a commercial for a variation of Bud Light?” Then I thought about the lyrics to “Runaway” and realized that this commercial wins the award for the best match of a song and a product in advertising history. The reason is found in the first eight lines of the song:

And I always find, yeah I always find something wrong / You’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long / I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most / So I think it’s time for us to have a toast

Let’s have a toast for the douchebags / Let’s have a toast for the assholes / Let’s have a toast for the scumbags / Every one of them that I know

So here we have blatant recognition that the public has been putting up with Anheuser Busch’s shit just way too long and that the drinkers of something called Bud Light Platinum are likely to be douchebags and assholes. I have no idea who is responsible for this, but that person is a genius (and likely to be fired).

*I’ve never had Bud Light Platinum and I probably never will, so I make these observations while allowing for the slim possibility that Bud Light Platinum is a great beer.

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Over at Scatterplot, Drek points to a blog post by John Scalzi that likens being born as a straight white male to playing a video game like World of Warcraft on the lowest difficulty setting. Here’s a taste:

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

[I]t’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore.

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.

I like this analogy, but I wish it was presented through something like Call of Duty or Madden that a wider variety of (likely male) students spend their time playing.

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Given the multitude of features that today’s smartphones have, some may be surprised to see commercials featuring people holding their phones while talking. Not on their phones, of course, but to their phones (here is an example featuring Samuel L. Jackson). When I originally got my new phone I thought that the idea of talking to it was ridiculous and assumed that I would avoid doing so. What I’ve found, however, is that my new, touchscreen phone makes doing something like setting an alarm take three times as long as on my previous phone. In order to avoid the frustration of this process, I’ve found myself talking to my phone. It is much easier to say “set an alarm for 6:30 am,” for example, than it is to manually set the alarm.

Phones are not the only area where technology helps us overcome the challenges presented by technological convenience. My previous cars featured single-disc CD players. This required me to bring physical CDs with me when driving but made the process of selecting and changing music simple and straightforward. My current car has a six-disc CD changer but it also has a USB port that I use for a flash drive with digital copies of all of my CDs. Instead of having a few albums at my disposal when driving, then, I now have all of my albums. It is possible to access these by cycling through menus by artist and then album, but it is much faster (and safer, when driving) to simply tell my car what I want it to play.

As technology provides us with access to more things in more places, it also complicates our lives. Thankfully, technology also provides us with ways to simplify these complications. (Unless there is a power outage and we’re  left with neither.)

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Roughly ten years ago I was graduating from college and making plans to start grad school in the fall. I was lucky to have great undergraduate mentors  who gave me an idea of what to expect. Today, students can also rely on Fabio’s Rulz. Here, then, are a few pieces of advice for those who will be starting grad school in the fall from somebody who survived (and even enjoyed) the experience:

Show up to things (Whether or not there is free food, it is good for faculty and other grad students to know who you are.)

Once in a while, say something that sounds intelligent (Once people know who you are it will be helpful if they occasionally hear you say something that indicates you were paying attention.)

Do not tell your professors about your work habits (Ideally, they will think that you start every paper months before the deadline and thoroughly complete all of the readings. Don’t ruin the illusion for them.)

Do some thorough reading (In my first few years I diligently read every page of the assigned texts but I wish I had taken more time to actually digest the material that I was reading. Reading a portion of the assignment thoroughly and being able to discuss it intelligently is probably better than doing a surface reading of all of it but having nothing to say!)

Get started on research (Whether working on your own or collaborating with professors or other students, it is never too early to start developing your research agenda, whether or not you think this work is leading toward your master’s thesis or dissertation.)

Think seriously about the type of job you want (Research will be important for getting any type of job, but there being able to teach some of the core courses in your field will also be helpful in most situations. If you know what kind of job you want it will be easier to seek opportunities that will look good down the road.)

Have a good time! (Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. Your life will not be appreciably worse if you put off – or skip – some of the reading to go out with friends, but it will probably be appreciably better if you do!)

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It seems that around 2/3 of the way through every semester I find myself dealing with issues that have become major problems for a few students. Even after seven years of teaching college courses I still have a hard time being proactive in dealing with student problems. This is especially true if students do not do anything to establish themselves as “good” early in the semester.

One student, for example, missed three weeks of classes in a row before missing the first exam. I assumed that the student was planning to drop the class. I was wrong. When students were working on group projects and papers late in the semester, this same student neglected her group responsibilities. It is possible that she has been dealing with problems in her work or family life or that she just doesn’t care about my course. It is also possible that she has emotional or psychological problems that have prevented her from coming to class and performing her student responsibilities.

If she had been coming to class regularly at the beginning of the semester, I may have been more likely to reach out to her when problems developed. It would also be nice if students were more proactive in explaining their situations to me. As it is, though, I need to work on reaching out to students who are MIA before their problems become insurmountable (at least in terms of their grades in my courses).

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Along the lines of my Sexism sells post from a few years ago, Automotive site Jalopnik recently posted about the difficulties they face when looking for images of women working on cars. As Matt Hardigree notes:

Every bad stereotype about cars is present when searching for something as simple as “woman mechanic” in the various stock photo services we typically use. Most of the photos aren’t even of mechanics who also happen to have two X chromosomes, but photos of women standing next to male mechanics trying to affect a confused pose.

As inaccurate as the photos of the women who can’t use tools are the photos of women who seem to use them only as sex objects. These women are typically sweaty, covered in grease, and somehow replacing a transmission while wearing only high heels, cutoffs and a skimpy top.

Check out the gallery for the seven types of images they identified. Here are a few examples:

A sweaty woman mechanic with tools

Conspicuously clean woman mechanic in a sundress and heels

A woman mechanic who wants to kill herself with jumper cables

And finally…

A normal woman mechanic working on a normal car normally

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