The week@work: digitizing common sense, Vatican women@work, Dee Rees on cinema and Radhika Jones on journalism

Since we’ve done so well with humans’ ability to demonstrate common sense, it follows that there would be an effort to teach machines ‘native intelligence’. This week@work we follow the efforts to digitize common sense, and explore the lives of women@work in the Vatican, cinema and journalism.

Common sensesound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence”. It’s one of those ‘must have’ components in a successful work/life portfolio. Cade Metz reports on Paul Allen’s endeavor to translate ‘native intelligence’ into ‘artificial intelligence’.

“A.I. “recognizes objects, but can’t explain what it sees. It can’t read a textbook and understand the questions in the back of the book,” said Oren Etzioni, a former University of Washington professor who oversees the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. “It is devoid of common sense.”

Success may require years or even decades of work — if it comes at all. Others have tried to digitize common sense, and the task has always proved too large.”

Perhaps it’s impossible to duplicate what’s not totally present in the original.

The ‘random’ compensation of nuns

If you were raised Catholic or attended Catholic schools, you’ve probably been influenced by the women, ‘sisters’, who served as teachers, administrators and counselors. In a stunning report this week, in a monthly supplement to the Vatican daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, these women confidentially shared the realities of their 24/7 workplace.

vatican nite.jpg“It is hard to evaluate the extent of the problem of the unpaid or badly paid work of these women religious which is in any case barely recognized…Yet it is not only a question of money. The matter of financial compensation constitutes rather the trees which hide the forest of a far greater problem: recognition of how matters stand. So many women religious have the feeling that much is being done to give new value to male vocations but that very little is being done to do the same for female vocations. “Unfortunately behind all this lies the idea that women are worth less than men and, especially, that the priest is all whereas the sister is nothing in the Church.”

“We are religious in order to serve to the very end and it is precisely this that causes a slippage in the subconscious of many people in the Church, creating the conviction that paying us does not fit into the natural order of things, whatever may be the service that we offer. The sisters are seen as voluntary workers to be made use of as desired which gives rise to real abuses of power. Behind all this lies the question of the professionalism and competence of women religious, which many people have a hard time recognizing”.

As we reflect on the ‘power’ relationships in film, politics and corporations, perhaps @TIMESUPNOW should broaden the tent to include folks who took a vow of poverty not realizing it meant losing their voice, being invisible.

Dee Rees delivers a tutorial on the art of cinema
On Saturday, writer-director Dee Rees was awarded the Robert Altman Award for her movie, Mudbound. She accepted with a speech that many industry insiders described as a cinematic manifesto. It’s a must read for anyone who considers themselves a film-maker.

DGWG0odUMAEyXHa.jpg“I know that as Independent Filmmakers, as the so-called Rebels, as the Outsiders creating without respect to means or access…

I know that we, of all makers, are far, far beyond any Identity Tokenism or Snobbery of Form 

In both production and distribution

Because we know that cinema lies not in

A strip of celluloid 

A length of magnetic tape

Nor across the blind plain of an image sensor 

No, we know that

Cinema lies in absorbing , electrifying Performances by committed actors 

That make audiences feel, that make them think, make them observe themselves and world around them in a more expansive way

Like Rob Morgan’s intelligent, deliberate, emotionally exquisite performance of Hap Jackson, a man whose capabilities, ambition and work ethic are continually undone by the ancient and overlapping systems of social and economic oppression that still exist today 

We know that cinema lies in the thoughtful and narrative Composition and Choreography of subject, movement, color, and light 

Like  Rachel Morrison’s compelling, sculptural,  humanistic photography that elevates reality into a visceral, highly textured symphony of feeling…”

(Full text and video at deadline.com)

Radhika Jones on culture, conformity and journalism
In November, Radhika Jones was introduced as the new editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, adding to her resume of experience at Time and The New York Times. March marks the first issue under her guidance and in her first editor’s letter she connects her background to storytelling and her new “responsibility to interrogate the culture’s most powerful players and hold them to account.”

edit-master768.jpg“There’s a movie coming out this month that I’ve been waiting all my life to see: A Wrinkle in Time, based on Madeleine L’Engle’s fantasy novel, which was published in 1962 but is only now receiving its first big-screen adaptation. There was almost no novel to adapt. Twenty-six publishers rejected L’Engle’s manuscript before John Farrar, of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, took it on. You can imagine how A Wrinkle in Time may have perplexed publishers. The plot hinges on shortcuts through the space-time continuum; it leavens its central fight against evil with amusing scenes involving midnight liverwurst sandwiches. But at its core L’Engle’s tale tackles a problem most people have to cope with sooner or later: how to be yourself in a world that prefers conformity.

I was born in New York City and grew up in Cincinnati. My first name, common enough in India, was unusual and often threw people off. I tried not to mind, though I secretly wished I were called Elizabeth. I grew up, grew into myself, became an editor, and learned the delights of helping writers shape their stories.

For those of us who care about storytelling, about influence, about soft and hard power, this is a singularly rich moment to be in journalism. I had my first, heady conversation about the editorship of Vanity Fair on September 20 of last year. Two weeks later, The New York Times published the first of its series of reports about Harvey Weinstein. Arguments that have simmered for years—about the importance of championing women, new voices, people who come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds—are finding an audience.”

And, one last storyMichael Cooper‘s profile of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the new music director of The Metropolitan Opera.011618_2330a.jpg

If binge watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ has prompted you to consider a career as maestro, spend 14 hours ‘shadowing’ the new conductor at the Met.

“If there is one thing Mr. Nézet-Séguin has been criticized for, it has been for taking on too much: He is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre Métropolitain in his native Montreal, and is wrapping up his final season with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. But earlier on Friday, as he headed back to conduct “Parsifal,” he had brushed off the suggestion that he was overstretched.

“Yes, I do have a high level of energy — that’s clear,” he said. “That’s maybe why I love New York. There is this kind of pace. But I am able, definitely, to also stop and do nothing.”

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: Ms. Jones – The New York Times, Mr. Nézet-Séguin – Rose Callahan Met Opera

The week@work:’post-truth’, Facebook’s ‘news feed’, Gwen Ifill, a new leader @Lincoln Center, & Udacity’s tech job tryouts

This past week@work Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ the 2016 word of the year, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg realized his job description included a responsibility to combat fake news. In contrast, the week marked the death of an authentic journalist, PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill. Lincoln Center chose a new leader from academia and MOOC provider, Udacity announced tech job tryouts.

On Wednesday, the BBC reported “Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a “highly-charged” political 12 months.

It is defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.

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Oxford Dictionaries says post-truth is thought to have been first used in 1992. However, it says the frequency of its usage increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared with last year.”

The Economist explored ‘post-truth’ in ‘The Art of the Lie’.

“The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance…

Post-truth politics has many parents. Some are noble. The questioning of institutions and received wisdom is a democratic virtue. A sceptical lack of deference towards leaders is the first step to reform. The collapse of communism was hastened because brave people were prepared to challenge the official propaganda.

Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media… The fragmentation of news sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip spread with alarming speed. Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any mainstream-media source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth. Presented with evidence that contradicts a belief that is dearly held, people have a tendency to ditch the facts first. Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too. The pursuit of “fairness” in reporting often creates phoney balance at the expense of truth.”

The New Yorker contributor, Nathan Heller examined one example of the phenomena in ‘The Failure of Facebook Democracy’.

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“The unexpected election of Donald Trump is said to owe debts to both niche extremism and rampant misinformation. Facebook, the most pervasive of the social networks, has received much scrutiny and blame. During the final weeks of the campaigns, it grew apparent that the site’s “news” algorithm—a mechanism that trawls posts from one’s online friends and rank-displays those deemed of interest—was not distinguishing between real news and false information: the sort of tall tales, groundless conspiracy theories, and oppositional propaganda that, in the Cenozoic era, circulated mainly via forwarded e-mails.

Facebook is not the only network to have trafficked phony news, but its numbers have been striking. A much-cited Pew survey, released in May, suggested that forty-four per cent of the general population used Facebook as a news source, a figure unrivalled by other social networks. An analysis this week by Craig Silverman, of BuzzFeed, found that the twenty top-performing fake news stories on the network outperformed the twenty top real-news stories during the final three months before the election—and that seventeen of those fakes favored the Trump campaign.

If a majority of Americans are getting their news from Facebook, then Facebook surely has a civic obligation to insure the information it disseminates is sound.”

Which brings us to the initial response from Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.”

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On Friday, he posted details of the projects in place to address the issue.

“A lot of you have asked what we’re doing about misinformation, so I wanted to give an update.

The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”

Buried in paragraph four was this nugget that seemed to transfer ownership from the corporation to the community, ignoring a leader’s civic obligation.

“We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”

Contrast this approach to the definition of the role of a journalist, courtesy of the American Press Institute.

“The journalist places the public good above all else and uses certain methods – the foundation of which is a discipline of verification – to gather and assess what he or she finds.”

So let’s return to the days of ‘truth’ and remember the contribution of journalist Gwen Ifill through the eyes of two colleagues.

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‘What Gwen Ifill Knew About Race in America’  by Jeffrey Goldberg “An insufficient number of people have recognized what is obvious. Gwen’s death is a punishing blow to her family, and to her wide circle of friends, to her colleagues and to her viewers. But it is also a cruel blow to her profession, which hasn’t recently covered itself in glory. And it’s an especially cruel blow to her lovely nation, which is right now in need of her bravery, her farsightedness, and her willingness to tell the truth. Hers is an incalculable loss.”

‘The Life and Example of Gwen Ifill’ by David Brooks “Gwen worked in a tough business, and being an African-American woman in that business brought its own hardships and scars, but Gwen’s smile did not hold back. Her whole personality was the opposite of reticent, and timidity was a stranger to her. When the Ifill incandescence came at you, you were getting human connection full-bore.

I suppose every profession has a few people like this, people who love the whole profession, who pay compliments when its standards are met and who are tough when they are not.

Gwen’s death merits a bit of the reaction that greeted the death of the writer Samuel Johnson centuries ago: She has left a chasm, which nobody else can fill up and which nobody has a tendency to fill.

Now that Gwen is dead, who is the next best thing? There’s nobody. There are many great people who will follow her example. But nobody quite reminds you of Gwen.”

In other news this week@work:

‘Debora L. Spar, Barnard President, to Lead Lincoln Center’Michael Cooper for The New York Times  “In appointing Ms. Spar, who is also an author and a former Harvard Business School professor, Lincoln Center’s board looked beyond arts administration circles and decided to tap someone with experience running a large nonprofit and with a track record of raising money for capital projects — skills that could prove useful as the renovation proceeds.”

Mr. Cooper reported in a related story that you may want to share with the aspiring musicians in your life, ‘It’s Official: Many Orchestras Are Now Charities’.

‘Udacity, an Online Learning Start-Up, Offers Tech Job Trials’Steve Lohr for The New York Times “The program, called Blitz, provides what is essentially a brief contract assignment, much like an internship. Employers tell Udacity the skills they need, and Udacity suggests a single candidate or a few. For the contract assignment, which usually lasts about three months, Udacity takes a fee worth 10 to 20 percent of the worker’s salary. If the person is then hired, Udacity does not collect any other fees, such as a finder’s fee.

The Blitz initiative and Udacity’s evolution point to the role that nontraditional education organizations might play in addressing the needs of workers and employers in the fast-changing labor market for technology skills.”

In closing this week of work, I am still trying to clear the fog in my brain and understand ‘post truth’. I reside in the real word, but apparently it’s changing. What does work look like when words hold no meaning?

I’ll end with classicist Mary Beard‘s reflection on the U.S. election.

“Trump and Trump’s policies are truly ghastly, but you have to face the fact that a very large number of people actually voted for him. What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power.”

 

Photo credits: Facebook Menlo Park HQ courtesy of Facebook Newsroom Media Gallery, Mark Zuckerberg from his Facebook page, Gwen Iffil/Morry Gash AP

 

 

The week@work – heat dome, plagiarism, ‘Pokemon Go’, Yahoo, life/work coaches, and classical music

This week@work was hot, with a meteorological ‘heat dome’ encasing most of the continental United States. When I saw the photo above in The New York Times on Wednesday, I just wanted to be transported to a barge in Venice where the cast of Amazon’s ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ were filming. (Enjoy the view from Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times)

In other stories this week, the Republican Party chose their candidate for president and initiated a valuable conversation about plagiarism. The ‘Pokemon Go’ app provided a much needed diversion as thousands engaged in this new high tech sport of creature collection. Vindu Goel took a stroll down memory lane to a time when Yahoo reigned over Silicon Valley. Life/work coaches are the new workplace perk, and classical musicians are returning to the small screen.

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No that is not a photo of Zeus expressing displeasure with politicians in Cleveland. It’s Port Washington, Wisconsin photographed by AP photographer Jeffrey Phelps.

Rebecca Herscher reported on the weather for NPR.

“A heat dome occurs when high pressure in the upper atmosphere acts as a lid, preventing hot air from escaping. The air is forced to sink back to the surface, warming even further on the way. This phenomenon will result in dangerously hot temperatures that will envelop the nation throughout the week.”

NASA reported on Tuesday that ‘2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records’.

“Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet’s warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.”

We are hot. We are busy. We live in a time of ‘short-cuts’. Workplace deadlines force creativity into ‘cut and paste’ document creation. Original thought becomes a casualty of increased workload. Sometimes we forget to give credit to other’s ideas and find ourselves on the slippery slope of plagiarism.

Last week the Republican National Convention became the unexpected catalyst for a discussion of this topic, an essential component of every college new student orientation program.

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Writing on huffingtonpost.com, Karen Topham offered ‘An English Teacher’s View Of The Trump Plagiarism Issue’.

“Plagiarism is any unattributed content. It’s kind of like pregnancy: you can’t plagiarize just a little because even a little is plagiarism.

I had my last case of plagiarism late last winter. A girl was under the gun and copied an essay from the internet. I explained to her (as I’d done so often before) that she was probably lucky in the long run that I had caught her. Anyone who gets away with this stuff is likely to try it again. In high school, it’s a zero and maybe a chance to do it over. But in most colleges, it’s a violation of academic honesty that can get you expelled. And this is my point: we hold college students to this very high standard.”

You have been warned.

On the lighter side, David Streitfeld gave a first person account of ‘Chasing Pokemon In Search of Reality In a Game’: downloading the app, setting out to capture a few creatures, and meeting fellow gamers along the way.

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“In this season of random assassinations and political uproar, who could resist the temptation to supplement a high-strung and frightening reality with some gentle make-believe?

Fifty years ago, the F.B.I., worried that the youth of America might foment revolution, would infiltrate San Francisco demonstrations. Now the tech companies are doing the monitoring, wondering if games like Pokémon represent a threat that must be neutralized or an opportunity to be exploited. That’s progress for you.”

In other Silicon Valley News, Wall Street Journal reporters Ryan Knutson and Deepa Seetharaman confirmed the Verizon acquisition of Yahoo.

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“Verizon Communications Inc. has agreed to pay $4.8 billion to acquire Yahoo Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter, ending a drawn-out auction process for the beleaguered internet company.

The price tag, which includes Yahoo’s core internet business and some real estate, is a remarkable fall for the Silicon Valley web pioneer that once had a market capitalization of more than $125 billion at the height of the dot-com boom.

For New York-based Verizon, the deal simply adds another piece to the digital media and advertising business it is trying to build.

The deal is expected to be announced early Monday. The news was earlier reported by Recode and Bloomberg.”

In an article earlier in the week, Vindu Goel revisited a time ‘When Yahoo Ruled the Valley’.

“Back in the mid-1990s, before Google even existed, the world’s best guides to the internet sat in Silicon Valley cubicles, visiting websites and carefully categorizing them by hand.

They were called surfers, and they were a collection of mostly 20-somethings — including a yoga lover, an ex-banker, a divinity student, a recent college grad from Ohio hungry for adventure — all hired by a start-up called Yahoo to build a directory of the world’s most interesting websites.

Today, with more than one billion websites across the globe, the very notion seems mad. Even then, there was a hint of insanity about the enterprise.”

Two additional articles of interest from the week@work cover a new benefit for employees transitioning back to work after a leave and a TV series providing classical music performers with visibility not seen since the days of Ed Sullivan.

‘A New Perk For Parents: Life-Work Coaches’ by Tara Siegel Bernard

“At a time when new parents may find themselves overwhelmed — even sobbing late at night as they deal with their new at-home responsibilities while trying to hold down a full-time job — a growing number of companies are making efforts to soften the blow. They are providing employees with coaching sessions, either in person, over the phone or through small group sessions that may be broadcast over the web. The services are often available to new fathers, too.”

‘Classical Stars Seek TV’s Elusive Spotlight’ by Michael Cooper

“It was after midnight on the Grand Canal here, and Plácido Domingo was standing on a floating stage slowly motoring toward the Accademia Bridge, singing the opening lines of a duet from “Don Giovanni.”

With this operatically over-the-top spectacle last week — which drew squeals and flurries of smartphone photos as people passed on a vaporetto, or water bus — Mr. Domingo became the latest classical star to shoot a cameo for “Mozart in the Jungle,” the Amazon comedy about a fictional New York orchestra.

Paul Weitz, who was directing the episode with Mr. Domingo and is an executive producer of the show with Roman Coppola and Mr. Schwartzman, said that the possibility of reaching those viewers was especially enticing to the musicians who have appeared.

“Obviously, it’s a huge issue, and it’s something that is dealt with in the show a lot, about whether classical music is going to be passed on to a new generation,” Mr. Weitz said between shots in his director’s chair. “And all these artists, the reasons that they’re doing this show is because they feel like it’s good for that aspect of the art — that it can bring the music to different people. And anecdotally, I think that’s actually the case.”

Stay cool this week@work with a favorite piece of classical music.