Beware the Digital Footprint

Start here

What the Tesla Will Need to Succeed: A Perspective from the Ground Floor

A bit of advice on the side: If you need a shortcut to intelligent conversation, and have a lot of long car rides in your life, listen to CBC Radio. Appropriate, as it was on one of those long car rides that I was recently reminded of the Tesla Model-S, the most successful attempt yet to commercialize the electric car.

Rather than waste the word space describing it, I’ll link to this Oatmeal Comic explaining what it is, how it works, and why it’s so great.

Impressed? I was. Too bad I’ll never be able to afford it this millennium. The CBC report mentioned it, and a quick Google search confirmed it, but the starting Canadian price is $65,500. I avoid sharing financials, but rest assured, I do not possess that amount of money, and never have in my life, period. The language being used it that it’s the first electric “luxury” sedan, emphasis on the luxury, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: It’s entirely possible the car just isn’t able to be produced on the cheap yet, and the “luxury” tag is an attempt to make the price more palatable. Regardless, the price is the real problem, and represents the most difficult aspect of marketing this, and indirectly saving the environment.

To demonstrate, let me show you my car, an older Toyota Camry I inherited from my parents when they upgraded. My friend Agnes is the one leaning on it.

DSC_0149

There’s now a significant dent on the back, the result of slippery winter conditions, and an impact with a guard rail. And even if I had inherited it with the dent, I’d have taken it anyway. Why? Because fundamentally, I just need to get from point A to B as quickly and cheaply as possible. I’ll ride this thing until it breaks down and is too costly to repair, then after that, get something else as cheaply as I can, because my fundamental mantra is to keep it as financially stable as possible. Far as I’m concerned, getting a nice car is rock bottom in the list of “things I’d do if I had the funds.”

There’s a more cynical side to this, as well, and one that I’ll be up front about: When given something abstract like the environment, and comparing it to day-to-day concerns, the unfortunate reality is people care more about their everyday life and convenience. It takes a certain type of person to shell out a small fortune for an environmentally safe vehicle when there’s a far cheaper, easier option staring them in the face, and that person is a small minority. Certainly not enough to save the world.

I think it’s not an unverified statement to say that the inheritors of this first world, i.e. those in my age bracket, mostly think the same way. And that’s the key. If Elton Musk wants to save the world, designing an elaborate, luxury vehicle isn’t the answer. He needs to release an electric car that is super cheap, and easy to acquire. Certainly, the only reason I’d buy one. I look at things like the auto-detection pop-out handles, the smartphone compatibility, and the onboard computer, and I wonder if shaving those things off the model would reduce the price.

Readers and thinkers, I pose this question to you: At what point would you purchase one of these? How cheap does it have to be? How convenient, too? Would you need charging stations every block? A part-replacement system in place? Basically, what’s the threshold for conversion?

Advertisements

Branding Yourself: Professionalism, Personality, and Mixed Messages

Most of my classmates have already seen this, but I’m going to throw it up here to illustrate a point. One of my final assignments will be to create a newsletter advocating my own brand.

I make no secret of my boundless geekery, and last week, I was in one of those moods of whimsy, and whipped this up, with an intention of using it somewhere in the final product:

Bio Note send

While it’s not obvious at first, it’s a replica of a “Bio and Tech Specs” that would have been included with a Transformers figure, specifically the Generation 2 figures I grew up loving in the early 90’s. Here’s a sample of an original bio:

58913_Grimlock_Techspec

This took me a long time to make. Despite how simple it seems, it took hours of work, an entire afternoon and evening. Matching the colours, finding a decent match to the fonts, making the dimensions similar, it was a hurdle of an effort, even if it was a labour of love. But, having slept on it, I’m starting to wonder if that effort was in vain, because it clashes with a need to present a professional image.

The fact is, I’ve been told different, conflicting things. This upcoming newsletter would be the sort of document I’d stick in my portfolio, so presumably prospective employers would be looking at it. On one hand, I’ve been told, you need to demonstrate the utmost serious professionalism. On the other hand, I’ve also been told I need to be unique, and that showing my personality off is a part of that. A professional image might be bland and generic, identical to the thousands of other young professionals struggling against the recession. But something too full of character runs the risk of unflattering unprofessionalism, putting you in a worse scenario.

For example, we’ve been told to watch our digital footprint (title drop!) on social media, that it’s a grand trap of employer disqualification. On the other hand, we’re told to emphasize our quirks, and show some personality. Myself, I tend to post irreverent things on my Facebook profile, but it’s always work-safe, and never anything I wouldn’t want my parents or employers seeing. Usually, it’s about my geeky interests, and that’s important to me. My interests define me, and when I’m not putting up as composed and professional front as I can, they’re a large part of my persona.

So, what’s the balance? Anyone from the working world out there, what’s your opinion? Should I do something quirky yet appropriate, or serious? How should I skew my online profile? Should I trash this component of my newsletter in the name of something more straightforward?

Honesty, Ambition, Rejection: A Challenge for Employers

Here, have an “Interview Selfie” of myself being as professional as possible:

Ignoring the Evangelion poster. And the crowd of Transformers. Do focus on the degree uptop.

Ignoring the Evangelion poster. And the crowd of Transformers. Do focus on the degree uptop.

I had a pair of interviews today for school placements. They’re the first time I’ve gone job hunting in about a year, thanks to my second burst of schooling, and it had me thinking of a few things. Like it or not, I’m an old hat at this process, having spent something like two years with “looking for jobs/shooting resumes out/going to interviews” as a part-time job, a common artifact of the modern quarter-life crisis (aside: check the recent title change up top). Sometimes, I really feel like we’re missing an essential element in these interviews: Honesty goals, ambitions, and rejection.

I need to tack those quantifiers regarding honesty onto it lest I lead you to believe I mean exaggerating or fabricating qualifications. My principle reason not to do that is that it will only come back to bite me later when it turns out I can’t do something I’ve advertised. I’m speaking of honesty and transparency about the process, both from the applicant and the company.

Admittedly, I’m far better off now than I once was when it comes to resumes and interview. I know now that I was doing certain things horribly wrong, thanks to my “professional practise” classes, or “how to do all those little things regarding employment that everyone should really know.” Nonetheless, even during my initial hunt, there were certain idiosyncrasies that made me wax philosophical.

For instance, you’re not supposed to say “please hire me. The job market is terrible, and I need the work.” Somehow, that translates into desperation, which is a negative thing.

But why is that negative, exactly? Should the impression not be that it instead means “I’m willing to work hard and do what needs to be done because I am extremely aware of my tenuous grip on employment?” Surely an employee who shows such signs would be more dedicated, and more devout. But, that level of honesty is, for some reason, not permitted by the social contract.

This flows both ways, and I feel sometimes like I’d appreciate honesty from an employer regarding their process, as well as turning a prospective employee down. I don’t particularly mind being refused for something on general principle. Desperation or not, that’s how life goes. However, it would all be so much easier if I was just straight up informed that I’d been turned down. In my early Professional Job Hunter days, I’d let things sit for weeks at a time, thinking I’d get a call or an email back. Nowadays, I know that I should have followed up myself, but even then, a lot of places went out of their way to erect barriers prevention that, and I was forced to guess.

It was a hard lesson learning that, by default, you must assume you didn’t get the interview, or the job, simply because they’re probably not going to contact you to tell you that. There were a few exceptions, and I appreciated them dearly, inasmuch as one can appreciate a rejection.

That’s my challenge to employers, then. Or rather, as much of a challenge as a tiny blog in a dark corner of the internet can send. Let your applicants know that it’s not happening, so that they can be released to search for the next job. And if you receive 5,000 applications, surely you can at least put together a form response. Perhaps some people would take umbrage to that, but I would not. Rather, I’d feel free to move onto the next thing.

Really, I think that’s the problem with modern job hunting (speaking, again, as some sort of semi-professional). There isn’t a dedicated set of forms and rules. I think in the middle of a recession, where untold masses of people my age are scrambling and hunting, some obvious set of conventions could save both employers and job hunters time and worry. Well, mostly job hunters. With employers, it’s a buyers market.

Of course, it’s worth noting that previously, I was attempting (poorly) to break into a profession that was shrinking at an alarming rate, stopping only to scoop the absolute top percentile of applicants. Perhaps this time around, things will go better.

Sometimes, food is a drag, or, I swear I’m not being paid for this

 

DSC_0186

The above photo is of my typical breakfast on a school day: A peanut butter and jam toasted sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a big bottle of water. The sandwich is bagged, because I make it the night before, and if I can’t get ready fast enough in the morning, I eat it one-handed in my car on the hour-long commute to school. Even if I have time to scarf it down at home, the water bottle at least needs to be shotgunned while my car is in-motion. Only the coffee (I need it to live) is a guaranteed sitter-downer. All so I can get the maximum amount of sleep before my lengthy days, while still having time to roll into my car in time.

This lengthy introduction is meant to demonstrate the temporal gymnastics a busy twenty-something such as myself must go through to wrangle in the necessary meals to not starve. Lunch and dinner go a similar way. While I like my delicious gourmet food as much as the next Italian, I’ve frequently said, that my preferred superpower would be to never have to eat or sleep unless I wanted to. Well, I’ve become fascinated by the idea that there may be a solution to one of those. This isn’t a promotion, and I’ve got no stake in this. Rather, I’m fascinated by what this invention could represent.

The future is here, and it’s ambiguously beige

It’s called Soylent, and rather than being a diet shake, it’s supposed to replace all your food, ever. It’s a powder and oil that you mix into a thick, chalky shake, and it contains all the nutrition a person needs to survive and thrive, by breaking it down into chemicals and minerals. I first heard of it when a writer on Ars Technica spent a week on the stuff, chronicling his ups and downs in sometimes excruciating detail.

I later read an article by the New Yorker, explaining it in more complex terms. In particular, the New Yorker article highlights that Rob Rinehart, one of the creators, was involved in it specifically because he was resenting being chained to food, and how he was having time, money, and nutrition problems while working to get his tech startup moving.

At the moment, it’s only sold online, $65 for a week’s supply, and I’ve got no idea how or when a Canadian release will happen. However, the creators are open about the ingredients, intending it to be open-source, so there’s nothing stopping you from simply making your own, though it loses the convenience factor for me. It’s essentially still in beta, with Rinehart throwing out ideas for it becoming far more widespread.

Frankly, I’m thrilled, but I’m far from the norm. I’m a very time-conscious person, and I’ve found myself resenting the sheer time-suck of having to put (at least) three meals together. If I come home late from school, which tends to happen, I can’t start my homework without a two hour long meal-suck, or the financial strain of getting something made to order. And I’ve never been a picky eater, so if I can stay at my desk and take sips from a giant shake bottle all day, I don’t really care *how* it tastes, so long as it’s at least inoffensive (the taste has been compared to “liquid cake”). Lee Hutchinson, the writer who went on the stuff for a week, did a followup piece basically outlining this idea, about how to a certain subset of people, reducing food to something simple and quantifiable is a giant relief.

The price is a factor, but I genuinely hope this becomes a thing, as I’d completely buy in, purely for the sake of efficiency.

P.S. Full disclosure, there was a study suggesting the mixture might have long-term problems, but as the linked article reveals, it hasn’t really bee proven yet.

Community, College, and the Lost Life Story

Well, it’s time to get this rolling again, and I figured I’d start with something light, and save the heavy stuff for a later post. I don’t watch much television, but one of the few shows I’ve followed religiously is NBC’s Community. In case you didn’t hear, it recently got the axe shortly after its fifth season wrapped. It’s tragic, but hardly surprising. It had always been a cult show, and the last three seasons had each ended with the show’s fate up in the air. But this is hardly a post simply complaining that a T.V. show I liked got cancelled. Rather, I’ve been struck with how its now-incomplete story starkly parallels the uncertain future of my particular demographic’s career and education.

Our protagonist.

First, let me get the exposition out of the way. For the (hopefully few) people that don’t know, here’s the breakdown super quickly: The show was set at a fictitious hole-in-the-wall community college named Greendale. It initially followed an amoral ex-lawyer named Jeff Winger (seen above), disbarred for faking his degree, as he attends the school in an attempt to earn a real degree as quickly and easily as he can. It quickly became an ensemble piece, though, focusing on the offbeat antics of the members of his study group, each season representing a year of school in-universe. The show relied heavily on meta humour, obscure references, and plot lines that could verge on the surreal, making it a hit with a certain segment of internet culture, but less so with a general audience. Probably its greatest success was actually managing to not let the serious human factor, and a proper ongoing storyline get lost amongst the strangeness.

As mentioned above, the show frequently found its fate uncertain. Fearing cancellation, the third season worked hard to wrap as many character arcs and plot lines up as it could (including Jeff finally developing a conscience), and give the series a possible finale. This was repeated with the fourth season, with an extra layer of finality: Having done his four years, Jeff graduates, and prepares to move out into the world. While the show was no longer entirely about him, the initial protagonist completing the thing he set out to do also worked as a stopping point. But they got picked up again, and here’s where it gets interesting.

Season 5 was starkly real for myself. To put it bluntly, none of the central cast had been able to make it in the real world. Jeff left the school intending to work as a legitimately moral lawyer for the needy, and found himself ruined, curb stomped by life. Similarly, the rest of the central cast  also failed to achieve their dreams in one way or another, either entering jobs they didn’t want, or going nowhere in life. In the end, they’ve all failed to launch, haven’t made it in the outside world, and all decide to reenrol in Greendale. It’s very much portrayed as them leaving harsh reality for the comfortable womb of college.

That’s the eerie parallel, that made the season itself both compelling and hard to watch. That’s where I am, and that’s where most people my age are: Leaving the place of schooling full of potential, and finding the real world inhospitable. I’m not the only person my age re-enrolling because they feel they have no choice. Their education didn’t serve their purpose, and their careers failed to take off, or went horribly sideways. It was a starkly realistic turn, and as someone who’s gotten more than a little tired of the idealized image of post-secondary education most media seems to present it in, it was refreshing, if grim. If you were my age, or in my demographic, the show was now very much About You.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is going to turn out, and I suspect the people around me now also do not. And that’s why ending where they did was particularly harsh. This season didn’t have a faux-ending, but was just another year. As a result, we don’t get to see them offer a solution to the problem, save that they’re still there, taking (or teaching) classes, unable to escape the orbit of school and transition into independence and adulthood. While I don’t expect a show to give me answers, it’s symbolically disheartening when the work simply leaves the fate of its characters up in the air, without offering concrete answers to how they’ll continue to proceed through life. Essentially, they’re frozen in the same spot as myself, and the work ending there is unusually poignant to a person anxious about the conclusion of his own story. Indeed, if we follow the tethercat principle, who’s to say they’re not now trapped in college for the rest of their lives?

Unless you take Abed’s closing remarks seriously.

Anywho, when we next return, onto something a bit more serious.

Time Keeps on Slippin,’ or the Perils of PR

Well, one semester of school is down, with another on its way, and it’s time to reflect a bit. To me, a reflection asks for an honest collection of my thoughts. As such, there will be some rambling in this piece
First, something immediately relevant from the last week or so. Apparently, I should be getting involved in political volunteering somehow. Not only did Mississauga mayoral hopeful Louroz Mercader stress this when he guest lectured a class, but so did one of the guest speakers at the last CPRS networking event. However, my initial reaction was “with what time?” That still stands. I look at the prompting for political volunteering, and I look at the people in the program involved in Project Fusion, and I genuinely wonder how they do it. Perhaps it’s my weekend employment causing the problem (and I must get paid), but even then, there genuinely does not seem to be enough hours in a day for me to do much in the way of extracurricular activities. How is it done? And this question comes from someone who counts time management among their strengths, hence my vexation.
Next semester seems like it’s still going to be intense even with the day off, which I’m sure I’ll need to get my homework done. But there’s one thing I’d like to stress: I don’t hate the workload. I’ve always felt comfortable when busy, and my frantic job hunt after my Journalism education (or College 1.0, as I’ve been calling it) proved how uneasy I felt being idle. I’ve always liked the productivity and purpose that comes with being busy. However, it’s the nagging sensation that it’s not enough, and that I should be doing more than the work I’m already throwing myself into that bothers me. I look at the job on LinkedIn I’m applying for in my Professional Practise course, and I see over 200 applicants, and I realize I have to do more to stand out. Is that volunteering the “something more?” Am I supposed to will hours into existence in order to get a leg up on those other applicants?
This brings me to a another thing I’ve noticed, which my most recent CPRS event once again underscored: I’m being told by multiple authority figures in this profession to take some time to find a thing I enjoy doing. This is strange to me, as when I worked (or rather, attempted to work) in journalism, I found it supremely difficult to find any jobs at all, and this was partially chalked up to a generally lethargic youth job market. Now I’m being told to pick and choose both my placement and my career carefully, and it sounds like a strange, foreign concept to someone who just wants reliable, paying work. The advice seems to be predicated on the fact that there’s high employability in the CCPR field, but the memories of my time as a journalism expat leave me weary of such promises, especially since, once again, there’s those 200 applicants for that writer/editor job on LinkedIn. So, what’s the truth of the matter?
But there’s things I’ve picked up on that are not all abstract workload and career business. If there’s one area I’ve learned a lot about, it’s Public Relations Agencies as a potential path I can take. While I don’t know if they will fit me in the long run, it’s certainly a thing I’d like to get involved with, perhaps as a placement.
This has been helped by Edelman and Strategic Initiatives showing me the sheer variety to be found in agency life, by each being very different environments, especially in terms of corporate culture. Edelman handles things I enjoy, like technology. However, it’s an unbelievably trendy, modern place, whereas I’m not that person, so I have misgivings about fitting into that expensive, stylish, downtown GTA corporate culture. Meanwhile, Strategic Initiatives felt more down to earth and familiar to me, reminding me of my time doing media with the TCDSB. On the other hand, they simply didn’t handle things I was nearly as interested in.
Certainly, my enjoyment of being active and busy means I’d at least fit the workload regardless of where I’d go, and I’ve found in the past that I’m content simply doing the things I’m good at, rather than doing them in a specific area. While I’m hearing a lot of “find your focus” messages, I’ve not found it, but at least I know I have options out there.

Oculus Rift and Facebook: Subverting the Underdog Story

First, some background. For the five people that don’t know, Kickstarter is the king of crowd-funding websites, a sort of open-source Dragon’s Den where people pitch their ideas, and strangers throw money at them in vague hopes that their projects will be funded.

The Oculus Rift is probably one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories. Basically, it’s true, proper virtual reality, a headset that tracks your movements and lets you be truly immersed in an environment. It was inching closer to release, with development kit prototypes being sent to some of the early backers.

Well, to everyone’s surprise and shock, Facebook straight up bought them, forking over a cool 2 million for the company. And people are furious.

A curious response can be seen on the original Kickstarter page for the project, which is still active. A large number of people are straight-up demanding their money back, claiming alternately that they didn’t pay for this, they don’t want to support Facebook, that they’re going to destroy what Oculus worked to build, or, amusingly to me, that they missed the boat and aren’t going to get a share of that huge corporate money. Here’s some screenshots, taken from Kotaku:

deemiowtngu7zljfxku0

Probably the most serious response comes from Markus “Notch” Persson, creator of the smash-hit indie PC game Minecraft. He was in talks with Oculus to develop a version of the title for the Rift, and promptly announced his company was going to halt development on the project, simply because of his dislike for Facebook, saying “Facebook creeps me out.

It’s Notch’s cancellation that exposes the interesting branding problem with this move. Minecraft is an independent game, developed outside of major studio or corporate involvement, a true underdog success story. Up until now, the Oculus Rift was seen as the same thing, a few kids working out of their garage who had a dream, and struggled to see it through. A scrappy independent developer does what major corporations can’t do. It’s the modern, business-related version of a rags-to-riches underdog story, and it’s seen as damning when other indie success stories disassociate themselves.

Looking at these reactions, it feels more like people are angry that the brand narrative of the cool indie project was interrupted, that being bought out and going corporate was not the happy ending the story was supposed to have. It’s really because of the narrative. People want to see these guys complete the narrative, not go corporate. Instead, they “sold out” to “the man.” This is ignoring a very real problem with Kickstarter, that a successful campaign is not a guarantee of success, period, and so only a third of game-related Kickstarters that are successfully funded actually deliver. Even the Oculus Rift in all its success still hasn’t been released, and they were funded two years ago.

Indeed, co-founder Palmer Luckey took to Reddit to defend his position, and a large part of his defence is that the raw money is allowing him to actually see his vision through. He also took the time to promise no Facebook tie-ins, and claim he didn’t go to Apple or Microsoft so his creation wouldn’t be torn apart. His choice of Reddit as the forum to discuss these things is worth noting, too. Rather than doing a corporate press release, he opted to seem as down-to-earth as possible, and communicate through an extremely informal medium, almost as an attempt to remind everyone where he came from.

Response seems to have cooled since then, and, to be honest, considering Facebook’s brand power, nothing will likely come of this. For all their noise, the fact remains that the hardcore gaming and tech audience that funded this are really a drop in the bucket compared to the audience they can reach. For now, this will go down as an interesting look at how we build narratives around companies, and how we react to plot twists that don’t jive with the narrative tropes we’ve grown to expect.