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On Spec Work

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Speculative (spec) work, as defined by the No!Spec campaign, is any kind of creative work made and submitted by a designer to a prospective client/employer before securing a means of compensation. Common examples include contests for a company logo where thousands of designers submit their entries, but only one person or a small percentage will win any kind of prize. At first glance, this seems to be a win-win situation for both parties because designers publicly showcase their portfolio while clients pay the minimum to see numerous designs.

Campaigns such as No!Spec and AntiSpec argue spec work is unethical because designers who submit their entries to such contests usually lose all the rights to their work and not get paid at all. However these designers have a choice. They are aware they may not be compensated for their work and no one is forcing them to participate. If people choose to work without compensation, that is up to them and there is nothing wrong with exercising that freedom. As Nick wrote, spec work exists because people choose to participate in it.

Spec work forces designers to undercharge themselves to try and stay ahead of the competition, thus devaluing the profession. Again there is nothing wrong with this as it’s simply the reality things are valued differently. For example if I was hungry, I could choose to eat at McDonald’s for five dollars or spend fifty dollars at a more elaborate restaurant such as The Keg. If everyone didn’t value the nutritional quality a steak provides and started going to McDonald’s for food, The Keg might go out of business. We wouldn’t say it’s unethical to choose cheap food over a gourmet meal. Saying that, it’s up to the clients if they want to pay for a cheap design through spec work.

Although I agree many times it’s not in the designer’s or even the client’s best interest to participate in spec work, I do not see anything unethical about this practice. The success of sites such as Crowdspring and 99designs suggests spec work will be around and designers should find a way to adapt to the system.

Categories: Global, Life

On Celebrities as Role Models

June 26, 2013 Leave a comment

A role model is someone who by his or her actions sets an example for others to follow. One reason we look up to other people is that modeling our behaviour after others is common. There is an evolutionary advantage to it. It is important for infants to adapt to the environment by mimicking the behaviour of others in the same setting. Furthermore psychology studies have shown we mimic others to increase the chances of their liking us and hence facilitate smoother social interactions.

Usually society looks up to celebrities as role models because they’re famous. We want to be as rich and successful as these people so it’s only natural for us to want to emulate their behaviours. They make all their money and achieve celebrity status because the public willingly pays to see them perform so they owe something back to their fans. As a consequence society demands these people to constantly behave perfectly.

Saying that, I believe celebrities don’t have any obligation to be positive role models for society. They are humans with their own shortcomings too and they have the right to pursue what makes them happy. In 2009, Chris Brown assaulted his then girlfriend Rihanna. However today, they are back together. Since then she has received a lot of criticism from the public because the message Rihanna is sending to young women (many of whom look up to her) is domestic violence is ok and it’s ok to continue dating someone who physically assaulted you. Rihanna is an autonomous individual with her own needs, desires and emotions and they should be respected as such.

Secondly their lives are very different from ordinary people since only a handful of the world’s population will become rich and famous. It would be unrealistic to expect to live the glamourous lifestyle we see celebrities enjoy today. One problem is many celebrities receive more lenient sentences (relative to the rest of society) when they break the law. This suggests to the public the consequences for committing misdemeanours are minimal. However that is a different problem involving the legal system, irrelevant to whether those people are celebrities or role models.

There is also the issue of personal responsibility where people should be taught how to think for themselves and accept the consequences of their actions. Even though celebrities have a strong influence on society, they can’t be held accountable for the actions of others. If Megan Fox wants to continue smoking marijuana or Mel Gibson continues making homophobic comments, that’s their choice. I can’t blame them if I do the same thing and find myself in trouble with other people.

Lastly for celebrities, it’s not their job to be positive role models for society. Sidney Crosby’s job is to play hockey, Brad Pitt’s job is to act and Selena Gomez’s job is to sing. They make all their money and achieve celebrity status because the public willingly pays to see them perform. When I buy a ticket to an Eminem concert, I understand I am going to listen to him rap about sex, drugs and shoving a gerbil up his own ass, not hear him give a sixty minute anti-bullying speech.

I agree with Brande Victorian not everyone is suitable to be a role model. For many people, their role models also include family members and friends. It’s not a title we automatically give simply because they share a close personal relationship with us or are constantly in the media. Being a role model is a distinction one has to earn, not forced to accept due to certain lifestyle choices and celebrities are not any different.

Categories: Global, Life

Start With Why

May 30, 2013 Leave a comment

One thing my dad keeps telling me is to put a question mark. Many times when he does something a certain way or has something set up, he’ll ask me why I think he did it that way. His goal is to get me to exercise my brain more since there is always a logical answer. One question he asked me was if you look underneath any bathroom or kitchen sink, you will notice the shape of the pipes are curved like this:

Intuitively it makes more sense if the pipe just went vertically through (simpler pipe design and minimizes the amount of material required) so why are these pipes curved? Even though knowing the answer to the plumbing question may have little significance, I’ve found the habit of asking why has helped a lot with my everyday life.

Understanding

The primary reason I ask why is to better understand how people think. Many times I am much more interested in why people behave the way they do than what they do. For example if I told you I was going into the office to get some work done on a Saturday morning, that doesn’t say much about myself as a person unless you know the reason. The reason could be I want to boast about finishing my project before my coworker who I dislike or I didn’t manage my time well the previous week or my boss asked me a favour and I want to improve the company’s welfare. Depending on the reason, you would have a different, but more accurate impression of me. When you take the time to understand the people around you, you will be able to practice compassion and make their lives better, which in turn increases your sense of well-being.

Solving Problems

Asking why helps you solve problems because you get to the root cause of them. My friend recently lamented chewing gum while cutting onions didn’t prevent tears. In short, when you cut an onion, you damage its cells causing chemicals that were initially separate from one another to react and produce propanethiol S-oxide, a gaseous compound. The gas diffuses in the air and irritates your eyes, causing you to tear up in the body’s attempt to remove the compound. Once you understand why cutting onions causes one to tear up, you will see it is ridiculous to think chewing gum will solve that problem. Therefore possible solutions include freezing the onion (slows down the reaction rate) or cutting it underwater since both minimizes the amount of gas released or wearing goggles (not contacts) to prevent the gas from reaching your eyes.

*Btw cutting onions underwater solves the problem for the same reason why bathroom and kitchen pipes are curved in the earlier plumbing question.

Giving Meaning

I believe one should always be aware of the reason why he or she pursues a certain behaviour or goal. It gives your life meaning, a purpose. One of my goals in a personal development workshop I am participating in is to improve my public speaking skills because I value effective communication. Knowing the reason behind the goal motivates me to work towards it because it provides the destination I can envision. It keeps me on the right path so I don’t lose focus or direction. Otherwise my attitude towards the goal would be what’s the point? This applies to more important things such as career choice and relationships too. Life is long and you are going to have to endure through countless things. As a popular Internet saying goes, when you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long.

Here is Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk he gave several years ago (where the title of this blog entry comes from):

 

He explains why some companies are unsuccessful even when they had all the resources one assume would lead to success and how leaders inspire other people to follow their cause. To summarize his talk in one sentence, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Categories: Life, Personal

The Only Lottery Advice You’ll Need

April 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Lotto 6-49 is the most popular lottery in Canada (I think). In short, one picks six numbers between 1 to 49 and if all six numbers match the draw, then he or she wins the jackpot.

The estimated jackpot for this Saturday’s draw is 55 million which is why I’m going to go buy a ticket for the very first time. The probability of winning the jackpot is 1 in 14 million and each set of 6 numbers costs $2. Therefore it makes mathematical sense to buy a ticket only if you can take home 28 million after taxes and everything else. Here the math is simple, but boring and it won’t tell you how to pick the numbers.

However the psychology aspect is more interesting and can help maximize your winnings. The only advice that works is to pick numbers that no one else will pick. Let’s say you pick 1-2-3-4-5-6 and the draw is also 1-2-3-4-5-6. Congratulations you just won the jackpot! However how many other people do you think picked the same set of numbers as you did? Probably a lot which means you would have to split the winnings among everyone else. The set of numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6 has the same chance of being drawn as a random set such as 3-14-24-28-39-47 so if the latter set was drawn, chances are you won’t have to share the jackpot with anyone else.

An incident like this happened in the March 19, 2008 draw (you can view previous winnings numbers here). The winning numbers for that draw were 23-40-41-42-44-45 with bonus 43. As it turns out 239 people picked 40-41-42-43-44-45 meaning they matched 5 plus the bonus number which would normally win a prize of at least $100 000. However due to the number of winners, each person took home only $1193.70. Furthermore the people who matched only 5 of the numbers (without the bonus) won $2223.40, nearly double the 5/6+ prize (thanks Tim for the find). Just imagine matching 5/6+ numbers (the odds are over 1 in 2 million) then finding out you have to share the prize with 238 other people.

Also make sure you have at least two numbers above 31 and at least four numbers above 12. Many people pick dates and months (eg birthdays, anniversaries etc…) when choosing their numbers. Furthermore don’t pick sequences like 5-10-15-20-25-30 or even 1-6-11-16-21-26 because some people find these numbers attractive and will also pick them. Other sequences such as 2-3-5-7-11-13 (prime numbers) and 3-5-8-13-21-34 (Fibonacci numbers) are probably chosen a lot too.

Lotto 6-49 has a chart of the frequency of each number drawn. This data is public and even though each draw is an independent event, many people refuse to believe that fact and will choose the six most frequent winning numbers or six least frequent winning numbers or a combination of both. This is also the same reason why you shouldn’t choose the previous set of winnings numbers. There’s bound to be some people who will try that. I recommend you take the time to make sure no more than three of your numbers fall within any of the sets I mentioned above. It may be inconvenient, but that extra five minutes could be the difference between a $1 000 000 prize and a $10 000 prize.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Categories: Bulletin, Life

On Password Recovery Questions

April 3, 2013 2 comments

Email (and bank) accounts are probably the most important accounts one has. If one’s email is hacked, then all other accounts (eg Facebook, Twitter, WordPress etc…) associated with that email are compromised since all a hacker has to do next is to go to any site then request a link via email to reset the password and he or she will have access to those accounts too.

Password recovery questions provide users a convenient way to access their account in the event they forget their password. All people have to do is to correctly answer the question and they will be prompted to enter a new password. However many security questions used to recover passwords are terrible and provide anyone with a back-door way to hack an account. After all why would a hacker bother guessing the password when it’s easier to guess the answer to the security question? Let’s look at some…

What high-school did you attend?
Anyone browsing through my blog will realize that I’m from Vancouver. A two-minute google search will tell you that there are only twenty high-schools in Vancouver.

What is your favourite pet’s name?
Here is a list of the most popular names for dogs and cats if you need help guessing…

What is the first musical instrument you ever played?
This is one of five options as a password recovery question for my UBC Student account. For one, I’m asian so take a wild guess as to what instrument I first played at a young age…

Where did you meet your spouse?
I don’t like this question for a different reason. Imagine yourself several years from now looking back at this question. Will you remember the exact answer you put? You could have put Starbucks, cafe, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada etc...

What is your mother’s maiden/middle name?
This also applies to the names of grandparents, fathers, siblings etc…Children are usually given family-related middle names (at least in my experience when I discuss this with friends). That’s not hard to find on Facebook.

What is your favourite sports team?
If you’re from Chicago, the answer is probably Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls or Chicago White Sox. If not then it might be New York Yankees, LA Lakers, Manchester United etc…

Interestingly enough, the only sites I’ve seen use password recovery questions are email and bank accounts. As such I recommend removing that feature unless mandatory. Also here’s a website for you to check how secure your passwords are.

 

Categories: Bulletin, Life

Baselining in Mafia

February 25, 2013 1 comment

You can’t generalize certain cues such as lack of eye contact (or prolonged eye contact), fidgeting or restating the question with lying. Many people simply avoid eye contact or fidget when they interact with people. Instead you compare a person’s behaviour to a baseline, how he or she normally acts when telling the truth in a casual environment. In the context of Mafia, this means making a mental note of people’s verbal mannerisms when they are on civilian team (ie innocence baseline) and comparing to that when he or she is mafia (ie guilty). Here are examples of two people I have formed a baseline from conversing with them during the game:

Daphne when she is civilian (baseline):

Me: Who do you want to lynch?
Her: Let’s lynch Jon because he’s avoiding other people’s questions.

Daphne when she is mafia:

Me: Who do you want to lynch?
Her: I don’t care, let’s just lynch anyone.

In the first case, Daphne’s intentions are clear and she gives specific reasons for them. It doesn’t matter what those exact intentions are, it’s the fact they’re well-defined. Furthermore I noticed her tone of voice conveys confidence which suggests she firmly believes what she is saying (ie not lying) under normal circumstances. However in the second case, her intentions aren’t specific and her voice doesn’t convey the same level of confidence. Therefore that triggered a red flag, hinting she is probably lying or trying to hide something potentially incriminating.

Dominique when he is civilian (baseline):

Me: Are you mafia?
Him: No

Dominique when he is mafia:

Me: Are you mafia?
Him: I am not the mafia.

In the first scenario, Dom’s response to my question was short, but in the second case, his response was a complete sentence. As a guilty person, he feels the need to convince other people to believe his statements so he tries to emphasize his point by answering my question in a complete sentence. Innocent people (with no motive to lie) have nothing to be afraid of. That’s why Dom was comfortable with giving a curt answer to my question when he knows he is innocent. Also notice how he answered with I am not… instead of I’m not… Most people normally use contractions in their speech (I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t use them) so when Dom didn’t use a contraction, that triggered a red flag.

I should mention yes/no questions are terrible at establishing a baseline. Instead of asking are you the mafia, ask an open-ended question such as why do you think that person is suspicious. This forces the person to give a more elaborate response than a yes or no. The more words a person speaks, the more information he or she gives away. The above question has somehow worked for me although I don’t expect it to work for much longer.

Of course the dialogue I mentioned earlier alone isn’t enough to conclude if a player is lying. I use other cues (mostly verbal mannerisms) in combination to determine whether a person is guilty of being mafia. I listen to how players present information (specificity and level of detail), how they react to accusations (whether they deny, give counterexamples or change topics) and how they lynch other players (quietly go with the group, voice their opinions or hesitate). A person’s behaviour in itself won’t reliably tell you whether or not he or she is lying. You have to compare to a baseline. Deviations from the baseline are red flags indicative of deception.

One last thing I’d like to share is this article which details a study finding trusting people are better at detecting lies than people low in trust. Although not mentioned, I think part of the reason is when you don’t trust someone, you physically and/or emotionally distance yourself from him or her so you miss the subtle cues that hint when someone is lying or telling the truth.

Categories: Life

Personal Mission Statement Draft

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

This is an initial draft of my personal mission statement. I wanted this entry up asap and will go into further detail later…

I will think before speaking and acting.

I will not procrastinate.

I will be reliable.

I will be humble.

I will solve problems with careful consideration and thought, not with emotions.

I will fix my mistakes and learn from them.

I will not be afraid to try new things and go out of my comfort zone.

I will keep an open mind, but critically analyze new ideas as I encounter them.

I will give my best effort in everything I do and strive to improve in all areas that I value.

I will follow my values and keep my self-respect.

I will demonstrate compassion and integrity to myself and to others.

I will pay attention and respect the feelings of others.

I will support my family, maintain my relationships and keep communications open.

I will take initiative yet work cooperatively with others.

I will do little things for others without expecting anything in return.

I will give others the benefit of the doubt unless it has been removed.

I will remember favours that others have done for me and seek to return them.

I will share my principles with others and inspire them to become better people.

I will make meaningful contributions to society.

I will be sustainable.

Categories: Life, Personal, Philosophy