Cat, New

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Ponty, a cat

Meet my new cat, Jose Pierpont (“Ponty”). I got him a few weeks ago from the MSPCA and he’s somewhere in that adolescent cat phase between 10 months and a year old. He’s pretty awesome, though he has a strong penchant for pipe cleaners. more pictures

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Brompt is a blog reminder

Brompt.com logo

Two weeks ago I launched a new website at Brompt.com. It’s a web-based service for unreliable bloggers (like myself) that sends you an email if you haven’t posted to your blog in a while. It’s sort’ve like HassleMe except Brompt actively scans your blogs RSS feed to only send reminders when you’re lax (as opposed to just sending you a reminder every so often).

It’s very practical, but I also think Brompt is really interesting conceptually too. Everyone talks about RSS as just a means to aggregating content, but there is so much other interesting metadata in an RSS feed too.

Right now the site is just the barebones service, but I’m planning on adding some statistics and such so you can track your unreliability. It’s a fun project with a lot of possibilities.


Progressive Terminology for Discussing Poverty

Because of constructive criticism of some of my organization’s archaic language, I asked the Mission Based Massachusetts Listserv, a nonprofit discussion list, what terms they use in place of “poor people”. Below are all of the responses I got, which were awesome!

Some terminology…

  • low-income
  • under-resourced
  • under-served ( Barbara humorously notes that “overserved” is a euphemism for intoxicated)
  • people living in poverty
  • historically and persistently marginalized groups

(thanks Michelle, Felicia, and others who are quoted below)

Some general strategies…

  • Use a preposition: Instead of “poor children” the phrase “children from low income households”. Therefore, it’s not the subject themselves, but rather their circumstances. (thanks Barbara!)
  • Use a specific measure, like “125% of the federal poverty threshold” or “50% of area median income,” whatever’s most appropriate in the context.
  • For a grant proposal, look at the language the grantmaker is using and follow their lead. (thanks Dennis!)
  • Think of the program as asset based rather than deficit based: people who benefit end up being associated with the problem and not the solution (thanks Alan!).
  • “Describing the populations we want to serve as ‘marginalized’ or ‘most vulnerable’ makes our donors feel good about themselves, but at the risk of objectifying people, using a dominant culture’s description of them as somehow Other. We try to incorporate this awareness into our outreach materials by assuming that the people we serve will be reading the materials. How would they feel about this description? How would they describe themselves? Does a description assume that the people have brought their situation on themselves? Does it assume that the people are simply victims and not actors in their lives? Does the language carry implicit judgment? Calling an activity ‘drug abuse’ carries many more judgments and assumptions than calling it ‘drug use.’ (thanks Kathy!)

“‘Working poor is a helpful phrase for those who are working, which reminds people that we aren’t talking about ‘welfare queens’, a term I fear may still have resonance….I like to remind people what the actual Federal Poverty Guidelines are. We know, but many people outside our profession don’t actually know how low it is, and if you take a minute and ask people to think about how it compares to their own household income, you can see people digest what that means.” (thanks Michelle!)

To note, from the 2008 Federal Poverty Guidelines, an individual making less than $10,400 is in poverty, while for a household of 4 poverty is earning less than $21,200 (in the lower 48 states, slightly more in Hawaii and Alaska). As of 2006 there were 36.5 million Americans in poverty (according to the US Census Bureau).

Some said that the terminology wasn’t the issue…

  • “I’m poor. It doesn’t upset me when people say I’m poor. It does upset me when the thought police waste everyone’s time talking about language issues instead of actually fighting poverty.” (thanks Pat!)
  • “There’s nothing degrading about saying someone is poor. It’s an insult only if you believe their poverty indicates their own moral failing, and THAT’s an antiquated attitude.” (thanks Dennis!)

And a related example…

“This is interesting to me because I work at a prison education organization. We have lots of materials that talk about ‘prisoners’. An ex-prisoner recently called that word into question, saying that it was dehumanizing and he preferred to be referred to as a person (perhaps incarcerated person?). However, I work with a group of folks who deliberately call themselves Ex-Prisoners. So there’s no easy answer.” (thanks Mea!)

External Resources:

Michael pointed me to two great resources:

  • Two Penny Project: To build public support for human services in Massachusetts: “…The problem with the Sympathy/Poverty frame is that it reinforces the idea that poverty is the result of bad individual choice rather than a condition that requires systemic reform. This message also recreates the sense that people will think nothing can be done that doesn’t make matters worse….The Ford Foundation recommends that advocates frame their messages in terms of responsible planning and economic vision, with a strong secondary or reinforcing message about community planning….” (page 3)
  • For An Economy That Works: There are a lot of resources and studies here on language. Their goal is creating effective frames of reference for poverty issues to effect policy, which may or may not be applicable to grantwriting or appeals.

Transitivity Fallacy

Interesting article entitled Trust Isn’t Transitive (or, “Someone fired a gun in an airplane cockpit, and it was probably the pilot”) about a recent accidental/negligent discharge in a 747 by a pilot’s gun:

Let’s look at this quote from the article in question, attributed to Mike Boyd: “if somebody who has the ability to fly a 747 across the Pacific wants a gun, you give it to them.” This is a horribly flawed assumption, because it assumes that trust is transitive, when clearly it isn’t.

The reason trust isn’t transitive is because trust is most often based on data regarding the past which allows us to make assumptions about specific competence, quality of performance, and behaviors in the future.

We can assume that a trained pilot, when facing piloty thingies, will act like a trained pilot. WE CANNOT ASSUME THAT A TRAINED PILOT WILL ACT LIKE A TRAINED LION-TAMER WHEN FACING A WILD LION.

Skills from one domain cannot simply be moved from that domain to another

And the great example:

…many pilots will tell you that jet pilots are much more like to die on a motorcycle than they are on a plane, because they act stupid on motorcycles.


Nonprofit Job Misconceptions

Brief article on getting a nonprofit job from the NY Times

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about switching from the corporate world to the nonprofit world?

A. Many people are surprised to find the hours longer and stress greater than in the corporate world. Brian Olson, who left the private sector for a nonprofit in 2006, found the decision-making process to be unfocused.

“No matter how good a volunteer board is, it’s not the same as a corporate board, because everyone has a different agenda,” said Mr. Olson, who returned to the private sector a year later to be vice president for public affairs at Video Professor Inc., a company in Lakewood, Colo., that sells self-tutorial programs. “There was a purity to corporate life I missed,” he said.

There is value, he said, to “a company just getting the job done based on the needs of the marketplace.”

Makes me think of my friend’s snarky t-shirt idea: “Get a Nonprofit Career: Make a difference in someone’s life. Your own.” or simply “Nonprofit jobs let you feel good about yourself”.



Why I like Apple Computers

Ran across a Slashdot comment that neatly summarizes my evolution of computer preference:

I used to hate Apple for the same reasons that you prefer non-Apple products: I like to feel like I have control and figure out how things work, etc. However I got a Macbook Pro for school to go with my PC I’ve had for ages. The fact is, I don’t use my PC anymore because as much as like messing with things, I’d rather they work 99% of the time and I’m willing to sacrifice the nerdiness and wasted time getting things to work in order to successfully use my comp when I need to. Of course, I was running XP but I cannot deal with it any more. I was trying to use it again yesterday, I don’t know how I used Windows for my whole life until now. Nothing works! Everything crashes, games just choke to the point of hard shutdowns being a requirement despite having enough processing power, RAM, video card power etc (I invested a lot into my system). I just can’t deal with it anymore because I feel like kicking the thing everytime I turn it on. Ideally, I’d move over to Linux and although I’ve tried a few times, it’s always delegated to a secondary OS because it still can’t support everything 100% without tons of excess effort. However Linux at least combines stability with the nerdiness factor, after using Windows for years thinking getting things to work proved my 1337ness, I realized it was just that Windows couldn’t handle shit and I was proving my 1337ness but for no real reason.. getting things to run that a normal user may have trouble with is good, but it’s also pointless. I know this probably reads like a troll but it’s the absolute truth from my perspective and I’m only saying it in response to the parent who has similar views to my old self.

Also to add, I do think Macs, and especially their applications are less likely to crap out than Windows apps—or at least Mac apps are built with much more care and forethought. And when Mac apps do fail, it’s more likely to be a critical flaw than a Windows application where spending 30 minutes mucking about in .dll files or the registry might fix. And at this point in my life, I prefer a soft sigh and moving on rather than than mucking about with what in the end is only a 25% success rate and never involves something mission critical.)


A millenial idea

A New York Times article on paying kids based on their standardized test scores:

…a seventh-grade English class was asked one morning if there were too many standardized tests. Every hand in the room shot up to answer with a defiant yes. But at the same time, the students all agreed that receiving money for doing well on a test was a good idea, saying it made school more exciting, and made doing well more socially acceptable.

Sounds an awful lot like the standard beef with millenials: entitlement and “everyone gets a trophy”. Of course, 7th graders are too young to be millenials, so maybe millenials are already in school administrative positions. The eldest (born 1981) would be 27.


Writing my Congress Critter

I got one of those “write your congress-critter right now!” emails and tried to do so. But apparently Free Press’s anti-telecom immunity form didn’t like me: We’re sorry, but based on your address, you are not eligible to take this alert. This may be because the alert is restricted to particular states or to constituents of particular representatives. Guess I’ll try emailing him direct.

Update:Just got an email saying that Free Press was having some technical issues that are now fixed (PS they use Convio to route representative messages).

Dear Michael Capuano,

Please do not grant legal immunity to telephone companies for turning over our private phone records to the government. This is not an issue of national security but of one of the upholding due process and the rule of law in our great country.

As a patriotic and freedom loving American, I understand that extraordinary measures must be taken when those freedoms are in peril. But such measures must take place legally and through the time-tested methods our forefathers established within the Constitution and our system of laws.

Please do not reward the White House for seeking to overturn the checks and balances of the Constitution and our rule of law. Please do not excuse the unlawful actions of telecom companies in turning over private information without legal cause.

Thank you, Ben Sheldon


Breakfast Cereals, oh my

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Read a fun article about Breakfast Cereals via a comment on breakfast cupcakes, err, muffins.

Mostly I like the article because of all the industry definitions:

RTEC: Ready to Eat Cereal

inclusions: the industry term for all that extra junk like raisins, marshmallows and honey-coated granola clusters.

and random facts, like this one:

a serving of Cheerios has 10 milligrams more sodium than a serving of Doritos.