I talk a lot about politics on social media. I used to think it was unbecoming because I come from a background where you just don’t talk about that sort of thing. I would get fired up about something, retweet a bunch of stuff, and then feel guilty. What if I was offending others?

I don’t feel that same guilt anymore (more on this later). I feel a different guilt now: that my talk is cheap. After listening to several friends and working through my emotions after the gut punch of this election, I’m committed to more action. A lot of friends asking, “What do we do?” I was asking that myself. I talked to some folks and a read a ton of articles that were getting passed around. I realized that I have the capacity and responsibility to do something. I will likely be affected the least so I need to stand up and take action so those at risk can take care of themselves. So in the interest of accountability for myself and maybe some inspiration for others, here’s my personal plan:

1. Donate

I’ve set up a recurring donation of $50 to the ACLU each month. There’s plenty of organizations that are worthy of donations – Planned Parenthood, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, Sierra Club, and a lot more here (http://jezebel.com/a-list-of-pro-women-pro-immigrant-pro-earth-anti-big-1788752078) – but I chose the ACLU because they have a long history of fighting for individual rights and they show no fear. My partner will be donating to Planner Parenthood so we can support multiple causes.

2. Join and participate in Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) DC

I attended my first SURJ meeting this week. It’s an organization who mission is to empower white people to advocate for racial justice and the end to white supremacy in their own white communities. They work to engage and bring people into the movement, not call them out or shame them. Most important to me, they are a great resource to learn how to talk about race issues with other white people.

They also organize direct action and fundraising along with organizations like Black Lives Matter, Empower DC, ONE DC, and more. There’s a lot of opportunities to get involved in different ways and I’d encourage my white friends to find their local chapter if these issues resonate with them: http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/about

3. Listen and Engage

I will not cut off my family or friends who voted for Trump. Unfriending someone on Facebook isn’t an effective agent of change. I won’t hide or change the subject when race or issues colored by race come up. I will be curious, ask questions, and listen, but also stay strong in sharing my own beliefs without righteousness.

4. Get Uncomfortable

I’m going to put myself in positions and places that make me feel uncomfortable. I will take part in non-violent direction action. I will canvass and talk to people I don’t know about racism. I will make mistakes and put myself on the line for the POC that already have so much at stake. I will talk to my neighbors and be there for them.

5. Call Representatives to Keep Them Accountable

I will call Democrats and Republicans and ask them how they plan to keep the most vulnerable safe during the next four years. I don’t think our representatives here from us enough or only in really emotional times. I will call them now, but also when things are quieter.

6. Support Progressive Candidates Around the Country

Here in DC, we don’t have full representation in congress, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a say. I will identify candidates around the country and support them. We don’t have to wait for presidential conventions every four years to see who the rising stars are. We can identify those good people now and let leaders know who we think should rise up the ranks.

7. Educate Myself More on Politics, Race, Leadership, Government, and People.

I’m going to read a lot. I don’t have a solid list together yet so suggestions are welcome, but this was inspired by seeing President Obama’s reading list in Wired (https://www.wired.com/2016/10/president-obama-reading-list/). I want to read the thoughts of the people who have come before and who know this inside and out.

8. Support My Friends

Everybody has a different way of dealing with this. Some will be louder and angrier. Some will need time to heal and grieve. I will be here for them and I won’t tell them how to deal. They know what they need and I’ll be here to support them and champion them in any way I can.

9. Keep Posting

One thing we’ve learned from Trump’s candidacy that’s likely to carry over to the presidency is the non-spot gush of news. Eight different scandals every day. It can be exhausting which can then make it easier to let it get normalized. It’s not. Hate is never normal. Racism is never okay. Sexism is never okay. I will keep posting and keep calling this out. I will be outraged at everything that calls for outrage. I will not let this be normalized. I will continue to post about this until everyone is treated equally.

This is not an exhaustive list. It’s just the start. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

 

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This year, I took part in February’s Music Writer Exercise (#MWE) on Twitter. Created and hosted by Gary Suarez (@noyokono), who writes about music and culture writer for Forbes and The Quietus among others, #MWE has simple enough instructions: listen to one album you haven’t heard before and write a tweet about it every day for a month.

I saw Gary tweet about this and decided to participate for a number of reasons: I wanted to challenge myself to work on my writing and thinking now that I’m published in print and getting paid regularly, I wanted something to keep me engaged in a community as I adapted to a new city and work-from-home schedule, and – most of all – it just seemed like a bunch of fun.

The ultimate goal of #MWE for me was not to end up with 29 pithy tweets (you can read them here if you like) or even to fill in the gaping holes in my music knowledge. It was to better understand myself as a writer and as fan of music. To get in my head, dig around, and figure out what’s holding me back. In that spirit, #MWE wouldn’t be complete without reflecting on the last 29 days. This writing is for me to help me work through my thoughts; however, in line with the open nature of #MWE, I’m sharing it with the larger #MWE community. In looking back on the last month, I’ve thinking a lot about what writing is and how to be a better writer. It seems to come down to a few things:

  • Thinking
  • Writing
  • Courage

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been a year since the last update, but this blog was never meant to be an on-going thing. It’s just here when I need it and I have news to share.

I have left my job at Blogads and accepted a position with McKinney, a wonderful and creative agency in Durham where I interned in 2010. I will be an Analyst focusing on digital strategy and analytics. I’m excited for the chance to focus more of my time on research and analytics and I think this will be a great opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s possible this job may inspire me to blog some more in this space. No promises, but if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.

All the best,

Justin

Just a quick update: I accepted a position at Blogads in Durham, NC at the end of 2011 and have been working as their new Assistant Project Manager. I’m excited about the work I’m doing there and I encourage you to check them out.

What that means for this site: not much. You’ll still be able to find my selected work here and I’ll still post bits of critical thinking that I don’t have another outlet for.

Next up in February: I’ll reflect about my j0b search process now that I’m on the other side.

This post has to start with an admission: I work at a Chipotle. It’s something I’m reluctant to tell people as it feels embarrassing to follow up “Yes, I have my Master’s in Journalism” with “and I make burritos at a fast food place.” I am thankful the managers were willing to give me a chance when most other places I applied for part-time jobs scoffed at my advanced education. Chipotle is good, honest work and the my fellow crew members are bright and enjoyable to work with, but it wasn’t the goal I set for myself so it’s hard not to get down on myself at times.

I still have those larger goals, but I had to set my pride aside and do what I needed to help support my career search and my family. Every day in middle school, my principal would end announcements with “You can make it a great day or not. The choice is yours.” I do my best to make each day great in spite of my circumstances. I may make burritos, but at least I make burritos for a company from my home state, Colorado, that has great values.

One way I try to stay engaged is by observing interactions between customers and myself and the rest of the Chipotle staff. I look for patterns and see if I can predict how certain interactions will go. I’ve noticed that some of the ideas I researched in my thesis – the causes of choice overload and the benefits of transparency – apply not only in human-computer interaction (HCI), but also in these human-Chipotle interactions (HChI). (Note: The following anecdotes are purely observational and are limited to interactions in the Spartanburg West location of Chipotle.)

At least twice a shift, I run into a customer clearly suffering from choice overload. In my thesis, I tried to invoke choice overload by providing a large number of options – 25 – but the mental overload occuring at Chiptole seems to be invoked by several choices in quick successtion – What item do you want? Which type of rice do you want? What kind of beans? Meat choice? One woman was so overwhelmed she threw up her hands and exclaimed, “Too many choices! I don’t know. What do you like?”

“What do you like?” or “Put what you would on it” are common responses people use to mitigate choice overload. If I could hear their thoughts, I think I might hear, “I already made the decision to eat Mexican food. I don’t want to make many more.” Of course, few customers rarely follow through and allow me to make a burrito for them to my preferences. I’ll put a few items on and then they’ll jump in and tell me to throw some beans or something else on it. It seems people are willing fight through choice overload to get what they want.

This is when I began to connect it to my thesis further. People want to make as few decisions as possible, but still get what they want. The best tool to accomplish this is customization. Take Pandora, for instance. The only decision people have to make is “I want to listen to music that sounds like this.”

How can I use this information to the customer’s benefit at Chipotle? The simpliest way is to adjust the questions I ask to new customers. Instead of asking this or that questions, I can ask about the qualities they like in their food, i.e. “How spicy do you like your food?” or “Do you want a lot of food?” Answering these questions will help push them towards one choice or another.

For the fun of it, I thought about how Chipotle could eliminate the amount of choices customers have to make on the spot through technology. Imagine if the front of the line had an NFC sensor and people could open up their Chipotle smartphone app – with their favorite order pre-set – and scan it. The crew member working that spot could see the info on a screen and get started on the order right away. Instead of asking the questions needed to make a burrito, he or she could interact with the customer in a more natural way – “How are you doing today?”, “How about that Clemson game?”, “I’m a Carolina fan, too! Wait, you meant the Gamecocks? Nevermind. Go Tar Heels!”

Maybe the app could include a customization engine. The customer could put their preferences – spice level, juciness, etc. – when they first download the app and then every time they scanned in, it would order a random, customized item. People could still get some variety without having to make an excessive amount of choices.

Those are imaginitive solutions, but Chipotle already does something very simple that helps ease choice overload: they allow the customer to see everything. All of the options are right in front of them. In the afternoon, they can even see me frying chips and seasoning them. The customers can hear the sizzle and smell the delicious odors.

When people are having trouble deciding, often the first thing I observe them doing is leaning in closer for a good look. “That looks good. What’s in it?” Every Chipotle employee is able to answer that question because we’re the ones that make it each morning and each customer clearly appreciates that information being available to them.

This set up is particularly helpful when we get caught without an item. When I can say, “We have more chicken on the way,” and the customer can see the chicken grilling behind me, they’re more patient.

I compare it to the idea of informative feedback in HCI. When people see a loading bar, it gives them a sense that something is happening and that the computer hasn’t just frozen. It’s especially important for people who don’t know how computers work. The more feedback they can get from the system, the happier they will be.

In HChI, it’s similar except that nearly everybody that comes into Chipotle hasn’t worked there so it’s even more important that we be transparent and give the customers as much feedback as we can.

These observations didn’t suprise me. In fact, I expected as much, but as a quantitative researcher primarily, it’s been fun to be out in the field and seeing these things in person. I just didn’t expect to be making these observations while behing a sneeze guard. I won’t be making burritos forever, but I won’t be embarrassed about it anymore, either. There are opportunities to learn and to applied what I’ve learned in even the most unexpected places.

It’s been 2 weeks since Steve Jobs died – an eternity in internet time. Most people have long moved on because life requires that we do. Surely some moved on as soon as they realized their iPod still worked. The deluge of outpouring in social media has stopped (and there was a lot of it in many different languages), but official tributes are still being rolled out. Apple updated their official tribute (apple.com/stevejobs) with emails from well-wishers and I saw a tease for an hour special called “iGenius” on the Discovery channel the other day.

The early reaction to Jobs’ death was filled with warmth and a lot of love. There we’re clever tributes like Boing Boing re-skinning their website like a 90s Mac. Wired had an official and fawning obituary out so fast it was likely written ahead of time. Personal remembrances were shared such as this journalist’s perspective by Walt Mossberg.

As the calendar travels farther from October 5th, reaction becomes reflection and guttural feelings become cerebral thoughts. This leads to a more balanced examination of Jobs’ contributions. Ryan Tate offers a good overview of the bad in his piece “What Everyone was too Polite to say About Steve Jobs.” Jobs was authoritarian in pursuit of perfection. Censorship could be justified. He put excessive pressure on every every employee from his second-in-command to factory workers in China.

The most moving piece came after Jobs stepped down from Apple in August. Written by his neighbor, Lisen Stromberg, it humanizes Jobs in a way that few other columns have. It also makes me smile to know Jobs probably got to read it before his death. It reminds me of the living funeral in Tuesdays with Morrie. Jobs certainly did enough in life to deserve feeling loved before he died.

It’s hard to say how much those things will figure into how he will be remembered over time. It’s human to try and compare what we already know. Do a search for “Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison” and you’ll get 1.7 million results, many with titles like “Steve Jobs is like Thomas Edison.” There are faults in that comparison (Jobs and Apple more often polished existing technology than invented it), but there are parallels, too (both have had a significant impact on recorded music). Personally, I’d reserve the “Modern Edison” title for Tim Berners-Lee.

I’ll remember the good and the bad of Jobs because my uncle, a software programmer, always questioned my fascination for all things Apple. He liked to be able to tinker, to see how something worked. He always pointed this limitation in my iPods and Macbooks (particularly the lack of a removable battery in my iPod. This seemed to bug him more than anything).

I’ll also remember Jobs and Apple for changing the trajectory of my career long before I knew what it would be. Jobs’ focus on music as a gateway into new technology (and his success at it) was a catalyst for rapid growth of music consumption technology. When you have an 80 gigabyte iPod, there is a compulsion to fill it up to the brim. I think websites like Pandora and Spotify would not have been possible without iPods and iTunes priming an insatiable appetite for digital music in more of the population and, of course, without these providing substantial competition to radio, I wouldn’t have anything to study (or at least nothing as fun to study).

The South has a way of lulling me into thinking summer is going to last forever. If it weren’t for sudden appearance of college football car flags, I don’t think I would know when September begins. October is much different. It comes with chills, some created by the weather and another by the realization that yes, the season has changed.

For me this October is one year from when my thesis began to dominate my life. It’s been over two months since I finished it. Well, I shouldn’t say finished – research is never really done – so I’ll say turned in. Like many of my classmates, after I turned my thesis in I quarantined all parts of my brain relating to it. A mental vacation was needed.

When the calendar flipped to October, I couldn’t help but mark the anniversary. However, what came to mind wasn’t thoughts on my failures or successes in my analysis, methodology or lit review or what it taught me about human-computer interaction and media effects. What came to mind was what I learned about myself and about living life and being human.

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

About halfway into my first semester of grad school, I had a professor pull me aside and ask how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said, “I think I’m getting along well.”

“Okay. You’re an easy student and I just want to make sure you’re getting any help you need.”

You’re an easy student. Those words – and they way they were said to me in this instance – have stuck with me. I’ve always prided myself on being able to take care of myself academically. The way I saw things growing up, asking for help was a weakness. It was much better to learn what I could from lectures and readings, do my best on an assignment or test, and then learn from my mistakes. I was more impressive if I didn’t bother the teacher.

Yet here was something I hadn’t encountered before, a professor that didn’t equate easy students with impressive students. Seeking help wasn’t a sign of weakness. Over the next two years, I slowly began realize why I was wrong.

My thesis really hammered this lesson home. Without help from everyone around me, I wouldn’t have been able to turn it in.

I languished for months trying to build a web page that would be my stimulus material. I thought my HTML skills from 2007 would be enough of a foundation to teach myself what I needed to know. With every Google search, I thought progress was being made, but I was running in circles. I didn’t know enough to know I didn’t know enough.

I remember the moment I asked some old work acquaintances to help me build an application because the relief I felt afterwards was buoyant. No longer would I wade aimlessly; now I had a raft.

After that, my project moved along at the pace I thought it would originally. With the coding out of my hands, I could focus on making my experimental design better. I saw that asking for help on one part of my project didn’t just improve that part. It freed me up to improve every other section of my thesis.

There were many other instances where I got by with help from my friends – the one week I had to build all my custom stimuli, the editing process, defense prep, grad school formatting – but I’m not sure I would’ve asked for it if I hadn’t learned to that admitting my limits was not a weakness.

When people ask about my thesis and what I learned, this won’t be the first story I tell them. They’ll want to know the myriad of information I learned about custom radio, choice and experimental design. While those things will be important to me as a researcher, none of them affect me as a human as much as learning to ask for help.

Next in this series: Finding my limits.

Welcome to the relaunch of my personal blog and website.

For now you will just find pages with a bit about me and some selected works (as well as this initial post), but expect more blog posts in the future. I have no posting schedule for this site so the easier was to keep up with new content is to follow me on Twitter.

My writing here will examine ideas in music, technology, research, writing and the various combinations of each. The first post will be a reflection on my thesis and it’ll go up in the next day or two.

Until then, feel free to learn more about me over at the About page.