Tag Archives: Mashable

The “Real” Purpose of TV (& Movies): Education, Inspiration, and Storytelling, Part 2

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the purpose of TV and I think I sold it (TV) short. That is, in that post, I essentially decried TV:

Watching TV is a mechanism that allows people to stay at jobs that they are otherwise less pleased about. Being able to tune into a created reality (or sometimes an actual reality) of a situation that they envy or can vicariously live through is something that I think allows people to feel better about themselves and by extension their life. Feeling better about one’s life makes one less likely to reflect on the things that aren’t going as well as they would have planned in life. So, like I said, I don’t proclaim to know the real purpose of TV, but I think that it can be argued that a fair majority of television is meant to entertain, allow for escapism, and sustain employment.

While I still think that there’s some truth to what I wrote over 4 years ago, as I indicated earlier, I think I’ve sold TV short. And while we’re at it, movies, too. Maybe there’s more to TV and film than entertainment, escapism, and employment. Well, of course there is, but let’s get into it.

Maybe there’s also an element of education to it. Remember my post from the other week on fictional presidents and the sunk cost trap? If the the script were written differently, that could have shown viewers the more optimal choice.

Or what about the idea that watching a TV show or a movie can inspire us? Last year, Reese Witherspoon starred (and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar!) in the movie Wild. The movie was based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir regarding her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Importantly, the movie didn’t give viewers misconceptions about hiking 2,500 miles. It’s hard. With that being said, consider this:

“People are definitely worried about the ‘Wild’ effect, though we can’t really figure out what it is yet,” said Dan Moe, a baker from Portland, Oregon who’s hiking this year.

He said while he thinks there are more hikers on the trail this year, he hasn’t yet met anyone who’s out there because of the book or film.

“At least they don’t admit it,” he said.

To add to that:

Before the book was published, about 300 people would take out permits to attempt the full hike, which usually takes four to five months. It’s not yet known how many will try this year, but estimates range from 1,600 to 3,000 — 10 times the number who tried before the book came out.

So, while we may be wrong to infer causality here, there certainly appears to be a correlation worth noting.

There are two more things I want to address. The first, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” This is the motto of a movie/documentary of which I’ve written about many times before: Miss Representation. There has certainly been a lot of progress (at least there appears to have been) since that movie came out, with regard to women having more prominent roles, but similar to the anecdote from above, I’d caution on inferring causality. However, I will say that I’m glad to hear that it appears that there’s this concerted effort arising. For instance, did you know that there’s going to be female Thor? Or that they’re bringing back Macgyver as a female?

Lastly, there’s the idea that TV is a mechanism for storytelling. While that may seem obvious, consider the time before movies, TV, and radio, when we’d have to sit around the fire and tell stories to each other. This was the way that many things were passed on from generation to generation and now we have things like the Internet where we don’t even need to hear the story from someone — we can read all about it (and the blatant hyperbole contained within).

There was a great article on Vox a couple weeks back with the main thesis that the recent string of superhero movies have been an attempt to rewrite the images of 9/11. It’s really a very interesting read and I encourage you to check it out, but I think this adds to the idea that TV (and movies) are and can be much more to us than a place to escape. They can also be a place where we heal. That may seem somewhat ironic given that the average American spends 3 hours a day watching TV (and, in a sense, accelerates their ageing/death because of sedentariness), but maybe it’s time we have a bit more compassion for those among us who would rather go to the movies or binge-watch a season of Star Trek.

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 3

Over the last two days, I’ve been going through Mashable’s list of the 13 weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014. On the first day, the guesstimate question took a little of time to answer because I had to type it out as I was talking through it out loud. In yesterday’s post, I was thrown for a bit of a loop when I answered why tennis balls are fuzzy (note: tennis balls are fuzzy because, “The felt delays flow separation in the boundary layer which reduces aerodynamic drag and gives the ball better flight properties.”) Today, I’ll answer the last three questions.

11. Can you instruct someone how to make an origami ‘cootie catcher’ with just words? – LivingSocial

Yes. There are two tricks for doing this. One would be to actually make an origami ‘cootie catcher’ and then retell the process to someone else as I’m doing it. The second way, and probably closer to an answer your looking for would be for me to imagine that I were making the ‘cootie catcher’ as I was telling someone how to do it. In this second way, I’m able to flex that part of my brain that is used for spatial reasoning.

12. How honest are you? – Allied Telesis

The research from psychologist and behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, would indicate that I’m at least a little dishonest — as we all are. The degree to which I’m dishonest might vary depending on one’s perspective. I would say I’m more honest than the next person, but the next person might say they’re more honest than me. A testament to my honesty: I’m honest when no one’s looking. There are times in our lives, when we have the opportunity to ‘cheat’ and do something for which we know is dishonest. Of course, as Ariely would tell us, we rationalize our behaviour. In knowing that we have this inkling towards rationalizing our behaviour, I do as best I can to be aware in these moments, so that I can prevent myself from being dishonest. For instance, maybe I don’t take an extra cookie when no one’s looking. Or maybe I am honest about what time I arrived and sign in at the ‘right’ time rather than back-dating my time a few minutes.

13. If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? – Yahoo

[Note: In arriving at this question at the end, it feels like a chance to say… “there’s always one…” with the implication being, that there’s always one of ‘these’ questions where you’re asked to name some things you’d bring to an island based on certain criteria. This one doesn’t seem to have any specific criteria. It’s also worth noting that there’s no specificity in the kind of island one’s on. Anyways…] If I were on an island and could only bring three things, I’d bring my laptop, my Aeropress, and a surfboard. I’d bring my laptop, so that I could continue to write — I really enjoy writing. I’d bring my Aeropress because — hands down — I make the best coffee using it. And I’d bring a surfboard because I always wanted to learn how to surf.

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I started to answer some of the weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014 as chosen by Mashable. Today, hopefully, I’ll get through the rest of ’em. Let’s get to it!

7. Describe to me the process and benefits of wearing a seatbelt. – Active Network

When one sits down inside a car, in most cases, there’s a belt that they can fasten across their lap and/or over their shoulder. If you enter on the right side of the car, the seatbelt will normally be found on the right side of your leg/shoulder. If one enters on the left side of the car, the seatbelt will normally be found on the left side of one’s leg/shoulders. To fasten the seatbelt, pull the belt across your body/lap and insert the metal fitting into the buckle, until you hear a *click*. Then, if you have a lap belt, you’ll need to pull the strap until the belt is snug — but not too uncomfortable — over your body. The primary benefit of a seatbelt is to ensure that your body is in the optimal position, in the event of a collision. If one weren’t wearing a seatbelt and one’s car was in a collision, one’s rate of injury is extraordinarily higher than if one were wearing a seatbelt.

8. How does the Internet work? – Akamai

Very well for some. Two very good examples: Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. Without the internet, there’s an extremely low probability that Bieber’s eventual manager finds Bieber’s YouTube account and sees him singing. And without Justin’s manager finding him through YouTube, his world, and the world of many “Beliebers,” would be quite different today. Building on that is Carly Rae Jepsen. Jepsen had made a name for herself in Canada, but when Bieber tweeted a YouTube video of her song, she became an international star.

9. If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors? – Apple

If I were a pizza delivery man, it’s probably only because that’s my cover for being a spy. As a spy who’s walking around as a pizza delivery man, the scissors would come in handy when I needed to cut the electricity to house that I was delivering pizza to, but I needed to do so under a cloud of darkness.

10. Why is a tennis ball fuzzy? – Xerox

When people play tennis, they usually hold more than one ball at a time and in order to do this, sometimes they’ve got some sort of velcro like receiver on their hip. The makers of tennis balls found that as a way to ensure that tennis balls didn’t fall off of the velcro on player’s hips and to ensure their safety, they needed to make the balls fuzzy. [Note: I’m almost 100% sure this isn’t the reason why tennis balls are fuzzy because tennis has been around for a lot longer than velcro, but it was the first thing that came to mind and better represents how I might have answered if I were surprised with this in an interview.]

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That last question from Xerox kind of threw me off a bit, so I’m going to put this on pause and come back tomorrow to finish up the last three questions.

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 1

Yesterday, Mashable published a listicle of the 13 weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014, along with the origination of the questions (i.e. in which company’s interview they were [or will be] asked). I thought it’d be fun to go through and answer the questions as if I were in an interview with that company. I specify in an interview with that company because that would change the way that I answer the question. One last thing: I didn’t read the questions before answering them. That is, I’ve tried to maintain the element of surprise that the companies were trying to have in answering these kinds of questions. Here we go!

1. Are you more of a hunter or gatherer? – Dell

I know it’s clichéd to say this, but I like to think of myself as a hunter and a gatherer. There are times when I’d consider myself a gatherer, for instance, when trying to collect information to make an important decision on green-lighting an aspect on a project/product or when I’m trying to build support for a project idea in an upcoming meeting. In this way, I’ve got to use my skills at working around the edges — gathering — the right data or the right employees. There are also times when I’d consider myself a hunter, for instance when I’m looking for the right junior employee to motivate with an important project. In this way, I’ve got to use my prowess — hunting skills — to find the right employee for the job.

2. What is your least favorite thing about humanity? – ZocDoc

Without a doubt, it’s how mean we can be to each other. It can be so jarring to watch someone ‘hate’ another person either with words or with actions.

3. If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office, what type of parade would it be? – Zappos

A sock party. Quite simply, socks are the unsung hero of Zappos’ business. Yes, some people don’t wear socks with their shoes, but the vast majority of people [Note: if I had statistics, I’d quote it here!] still prefer to wear socks with their shoes. We should appreciate what the sock has done for shoes.

4. How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year? – Goldman Sachs

[Note: I’m familiar with this kind of question. After having completed an MBA, I’m quite familiar with the types of questions that you might get in interviews with investment banks like Goldman Sachs or management consulting firms. A question like this is trying to determine how you solve this kind of a problem — not whether you know how many square feet of pizza are eaten in the US each year. To do this, you’re meant to talk through the problem aloud, so…] To begin, the US population is approximately 300 million. Let’s say that about every 2 out of 3 people eat pizza and of those 2 people, the average person will eat pizza two times every month (or once every other week). In eating pizza, some may eat quite a few pieces, while others will eat far less, so let’s say the average person will eat approximately 2 slices every time they have pizza. This amounts to 4 slices of pizza a month, per person. Now, let’s say that the average slice of pizza is 6 inches across at the crust and 12 inches long, then each slice of pizza is approximately 36 square inches. So, four slices of pizza amounts to 144 square inches of pizza, which also happens to equal the amount of 1 square foot of pizza (144 square inches is 12 times 12). So, one person will eat approximately one square foot of pizza each month. We can then say that there will be 200 million square feet of pizza eaten each month — multiply this by 12 months, and we get 2.4 billion square feet of pizza eaten each year in the US.

5. It’s Thursday; we’re staffing you on a telecommunications project in Calgary, Canada, on Monday. Your flight and hotel are booked; your visa is ready. What are the top five things you do before you leave? – ThoughtWorks

1. Find out if anyone else on the project team has lived in Calgary for any amount of time (questions regarding weather, things to do in Calgary).
2. Find out if Calgary is still dealing with the aftermath of the floods and if there’s a way I could volunteer to help while I’m there.
3. Find out how far Banff is from Calgary for a weekend trip.
4. Find out if there are “tours” to see the Canadian Tar Sands.
5. Book a weekend train ride to through the Rocky Mountains.

6. Have you ever been on a boat? – Applied Systems

Yes. In fact, I’ve lived on a boat. When I was living in Victoria, British Columbia, I was fortunate enough to live in a floathome. It is exactly what it sounds like — a house that floats. It was an experience that took some getting used to, but it was absolutely amazing to be able to open my eyes in the morning and see the Pacific ocean (!) right outside my bedroom window.

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It took a little longer than I thought to answer the first 6 questions, so I’ll save the next 7 questions for tomorrow.

Cable TV in Trouble? 43% of Young Adults Subscribe to Netflix

I’ve written a few times about TV, but a post from Mashable (with data!) convinced me even more that TV, or at least the viewers of it, are headed elsewhere. Take a look at the graphic below:

Pay close attention to the % of American adults who subscribe to Cable TV and Netflix. In particular, notice the 18-36 age category. For cable TV, 46% of this age group subscribes and for Netflix, 43% of this age group subscribes. The difference is negligible. We can also look at the subscription rates for satellite TV (16%) and then two other online sources: Amazon Prime (17%) and Hulu Plus (8%).

No doubt, some of the folks who subscribe to Cable TV may also subscribe to Netflix and other online sources, but it seems pretty clear where the trend is headed. In fact, if we look back at the Cable TV subscription rates across all age groups, we see a sloping line from the bottom left to the top right. If you’ll notice, there’s a decided decrease in Cable TV subscription rates from the older age groups to the lower age groups. Similarly, there’s the inverse relationship when we look at online places like Netflix and Amazon Prime. There’s a decided increase as you get into the lower age groups.

High-Speed Rail in the USA: Why Hasn’t it Flourished?

Over two years ago, I wrote a post about high-speed rail in the USA. It was right around the time that the USA had announced that it was going to be improving its high-speed rail system. As someone who enjoys public transportation, it was pretty exciting to see that one would be able to travel from Montreal to San Diego by high-speed train!

While I wrote it over two years ago, it is consistently one of my most popular posts. It’s probably not fair to draw too strong a conclusion from that, but it’s reasonable to think that people are at least interested in high-speed rail in the USA. On that note, I came across a post on Mashable that offers a disheartening update to high-speed rail in the USA:

The not so good news is, if you live in the United States, you’re out of luck when it comes to HSR, thus far. High-speed rail in the U.S. is mired, for the most part, in opposing views about what’s best for the country’s travel infrastructure — and how we should pay for it.

As is the case with many ‘public goods,’ there’s always the question of who’s going to foot the bill. It seems to me, the USA, more than other countries, have a harder time coming to an agreement on who should pay for public transportation. As I mentioned in my post two years ago, most folks say that Europe is much smaller than the USA and that’s why it has public transportation galore and the USA doesn’t — incorrect. Would you believe that Europe actually has more land area than the USA? You should (Europe: 10,180,000 km²; USA: 9,826,675 km²).

After debunking the land area myth, the next logical progression is population. That is, are there enough people that even need to be transported by high-speed rail. Europe’s population is over 700 million, more than double the USA’s population. Of all the points against high-speed rail, this one seems like it’d be the most compelling. With that being said, it still stands to reason that there could be high-speed rail between the large urban centers, right?

At the beginning of the month, Business Insider created a map that showed that half of the United States lives in 146 counties. That is, half of the USA’s population is accounted for in these counties. In looking at the map, you’ll recognize many of the areas. So then why can’t the USA start its high-speed rail adventure by building between some of these urban areas? Well, we’re back at the political issue of who pays for it. Building a high-speed rail line between Chicago and Detroit crosses state lines, so who pays for it: Illinois or Michigan? And this, of course, reinvokes ideological differences.

Like the Mashable article foreshadows, the outlook for those who would find joy in the proliferation of high-speed rail doesn’t look good.