What We Are Reading

PD James Murder
by Liz Bury, The Guardian
Liz Bury: Crime writer declares 'absolute conviction' that she has identified real-life killer.

 
The Real Lesson of the NSA
by Zeynep Tufekci, Medium
It seems that, depending on the constituency, the never-ending trickle of NSA revelations should be either seen as either boring or shocking.

 
Does anger follow the laws of thermodynamics?
by Seth Godin, Seth's Blog
Anger can be contagious.

 
The Erroneous Map of the World
by Kai Krause, Dynamic Diagrams
We Have Been Misled By An Erroneous Map Of The World For 500 Years.

 

F.D.A. Ruling Would All but Eliminate Trans Fats
by Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed measures that would all but eliminate artificial trans fats, the artery clogging substance that is a major contributor to heart disease.

 

Why Tea Is So Healthy for You (and How to Get the Most from Every Cup)
by Melanie Pinola, Lifehacker
Here are all the ways drinking tea can lead to a healthier, longer life--and how to maximize both the enjoyment of the drink and its health benefits.


A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.

Uber Car Service Controversy

"Make easy money just by driving with Uber!" That was a Facebook post I saw that was made by one of my friends. Of course, it grabbed my attention. How could you make money by driving? More importantly, who is Uber? My curiosity started kicking in, and I decided to do my research. According to their website, Uber is a service created in 2009 that connects its users to its drivers through a mobile app. Basically, Uber contracts a set of licensed drivers. An Uber user can request taxi-like services by pulling the app up on their phone and contacting an Uber driver that's closest to them. The user can then rate the driver based on their experience, and they pay the driver by linking their credit card information to their account so their fare is automatically deducted. Drivers for Uber can create their own schedule, though the site suggests being available during peak hours to make more money. I assume "peak hours" are when bars are closing or after a concert or sporting event.

The service itself seems pretty innovative. For the driver, they have the freedom to set their own hours and don't have to deal with cash. For the user, they are able to hand-pick their drivers that are close to them and/or are highly rated. You can't quite do that by calling a traditional taxi service.

Although it has gained popularity with the public, many city officials are not too happy with the tech company. In Los Angeles, Uber received a cease-and-desist letter this last June telling the company that they are "operating an unlicensed, for-profit commercial transportation service..." Uber has also had to deal with battles in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and most recently Dallas. The City of Dallas initiated an investigation that ended up with 61 citations being issued to 31 Uber drivers as of August 28, 2013.

Since Uber came to Dallas in 2012, members of the City Council have tried to regulate its transportation-for-hire services. More recently, city staff members had placed an unscheduled item into the Dallas City Council meeting agenda. When agenda items are scheduled, a committee will study the issue and get the public’s input before it would ever reach City Council. However, a memo  was placed into the August 28, 2013 agenda to propose changes to the current Chapter 10A of the Dallas City Code bypassing the usual procedure.

Along with city officials, taxi and transportation companies are not too fond of the service either. A representative from LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) said that these drivers for Uber "...are not required to pass background checks or have their vehicles inspected for safety." Arthur Hollingsworth, an investor for Yellow Cab also argues that "Uber drivers don't have to pay the same taxes, insurance fees and licensing fees that taxi drivers do." Both are pretty good points if the primary concern about the whole issue is fairness and public safety.

It seems that after the August 28th City Council meeting, the issue has simmered down a little in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reported on October 23, 2013 that the 61 citations have all been dropped and the City of Dallas is backing off Uber as the interim Dallas city manager, A.C. Gonzales, has been getting a lot of heat for not handling the issue appropriately. So, the question still begs to be answered. Should Uber be treated like a taxi company and pay the same fees or follow the same regulations that taxi drivers are subjected to? Or are they merely a middleman for the for-hire transportation driver and the Uber user?

David Byrd thinks, "Uber is a new service that wasn't possible before cell phones. Now, you are getting customers from a market that didn't exist. So, is it really competition to taxi services?  I don't think so since I would be willing to use Uber when I wouldn't consider a taxi. I don't see Uber eating into taxi business for people at the airport, or at hotels. So, I don't think they should be restricted by the same rules."

I think as long as the Uber drivers have the necessary background checks done (they don’t have any warrants, are not reckless drivers, and are properly insured) then they should be allowed to offer their services. The transportation market is changing as it should with technology. I think it’s great that Uber users are able to see their driver’s ratings and can hail them quicker than they can get a cab. It’s just a different way of doing business.

The Real Value of Flu Shots - Updated 2013

It's that time of year again. We recently had our flu vaccinations at the office. Have you had yours? Are you concerned about getting the vaccine? To add to our information below I'm including a link to an article on Gizmodo that talks about 25 myths of the flu vaccine.

2013 Update: Gizmodo posted 25 myths of getting the flu vaccine.

Three of the myths I hear most often that Gizmodo tackles are:
Myth #1: The flu vaccine gives you the flu or makes you sick.
Myth #2: The flu shot contains dangerous ingredients, such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze.
Myth #6: Flu vaccines don’t work.

Every year we provide voluntary flu shots for the company. We feel like if we can keep one person from getting the flu, then it was a success.

There are those who disagree with the value of flu shots. I've met people who swear they have actually gotten the flu after receiving a flu shot. In addition, there is a Dr. Robert Rowen who states that:

  1. flu shots contain mercury
  2. 97.3% of adults don't even need flu shots because research shows only about 2.7% of adults get the flu (is this per year?)

Ok, so now I'm curious and I have decided to do some research on my own (especially since the doctor who quotes the research provides no links to said studies).

As a general practitioner and the owner of a hospice company in Fort Worth my brother, Dr. Brian Byrd, deals with the elderly and sick a lot.

So, what is his take on flu shots?

"It probably won't help you individually, since you most likely won't get the flu. The example I use is this: If 3,000 people in a community are vaccinated vs. 3,000 who aren't, at the end of the flu season, there are a lot more flu cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the non-vaccinated group."

Ok, so I take the flu shot for the communal effect, not personal effect. I'm ok with that. But others aren't.

Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?

"About 5% of people who get the flu shot feel crummy after. The vaccine uses a killed virus, so it's impossible to get the flu from the vaccine. It is a foreign substance, so it might make you feel like you are sick."

What are his thoughts on the 97.3% study?

97.3% is a mild season.

Other thoughts?

"Vaccinations have eliminated polio and smallpox. If we had stopped vaccinations back then, we would still be living with the threat of those as well as flu. It's a process. I just treated a one year old who had a bad case of whooping cough. His parents would not vaccinate him. Now, he will probably have a lifetime of asthma as a result."

Thank you Dr. Byrd.

Here are some other things I found:

Some (not all) flu shots contain thimerosal. Thimerosal is a preservative containing ethyl mercury. So far I have not been able to find anything concrete regarding the toxicity or safety of using thimerosal as a preservative in flu vaccines since 1999. Most of the articles I found related to multiple vaccines in infants can be dangerous because the amount of ethyl mercury can accumulate in children who have difficulty metabolizing the ethyl mercury. I have yet to find any studies/articles pertaining to ethyl mercury and danger to adults.

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/26/flu-vaccine-exposed.aspx

The CDC states that "on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related conditions." These numbers contradict Robert Rowan's numbers of 2.7%. I guess he is going off a mild season.

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/disease.htm

This is from the American Lung Association:

"The flu shot. The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated, which means that someone receiving the vaccine cannot get influenza from the flu shot. The exposure to the inactivated influenza virus helps our bodies develop protection by producing antibodies. The amount of antibodies in the body is greatest one to two months after vaccination and then gradually decline. After receiving the flu shot it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop immunity to influenza."

http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/influenza/preventing-influenza.html

So, will we still be giving out voluntary flu shots this year? Absolutely. Do you have to receive one as an employee here? Absolutely not. You are a free American and can chose. Thank you to the men and women who have died to give us that freedom.

Do you get a flu shot each year? Do you believe in vaccinations for adults? What about for children?

What We Have Read

A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.


Could reading 'Crime and Punishment' make you better at reading people?

by Adi Robertson, The Verge
This article from the Verge questions what do the arts mean to our lives? To at least some researchers, they're a way that we learn how the people around us think. 

 

Pinterest Is Seriously Valuable
by Lauren Bacon, Medium
Men in the male-dominated tech sector are blown away that Pinterest has become A Thing (and that they didn't see that coming).

 

Doing Your Job Right: Captain Mike and Lt. Norm
GeekoLogie
This is the online chat interaction between Netflix customer service representative Cap't Mike and Netflix streaming user Lt. Norm. Obviously, Cap't Mike really went the extra mile.

 

Reasons to Drink Coffee Everyday
by Renee Jacques, Huffington Post
There really can't be any adult in this great big world that has never tried coffee. It's consumed everywhere, and judging by the amount of Starbucks locations in the United States alone, we love coffee.

 

What Makes Us Happy?
by JOSHUA WOLF SHENK,The Atlantic
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life?

 

Why 30 is not the new 20
by Meg Jay Video on TED.com
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade.

 

Canadian Family Lives Like It's the 80s
Blair McMillan  CBC.CA
A family of four from Guelph, Ont., has banished cell phones and computers, donned cut-off jeans and combed out their mullets, vowing to live the low-tech life for a year.

 

Lost to the Ages
by: Emily Yoshida  Grantland
Lost to the Ages Myst was supposed to change the face of gaming. What is its legacy 20 years later?

(Emily's post inspired our own debate on Myst and what happened to gaming.)

Did Myst Change Gaming?

Emily Yoshinda from Grantland wrote an amazing piece on looking back at Myst and reading the work sparked an interesting debate between Maranda and me.

Did Myst open a door for the games that we know today? Or did human nature slam the door in the face of adventure games in the 2000s?

Maranda disagrees with the implication that Myst and games like it went "kaput" after 93.

"Myst brought the entire adventure genre to life and a lot of really amazing games came after it - like the entire series of Lucas Arts adventure games. Somewhere along the line, we stopped wanting to 'thin' to play. We wanted games to be a 'release' and for most of the buying public that meant taking out aggression on alien life forms or unsuspecting 'ladies of the night'."

"What changed? We did. 'Gamer' was a term suddenly applied to teenagers in their basement hopped up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew. It is no longer about "escaping" into a world. Gaming is different now, because we are."

I see the doors that Myst opened, rather than the ones that were closed as these kinds of adventure games faded in popularity.

How many LucasArts games were there after 1993? I agree that Lucas Arts had some great games up until it’s demise this past year. But, the Myst genre pretty much fizzled out. However, I think it was a needed stepping stone for the open world games today.

Games like Halo and Call of Duty allow you to tackle specific challenges in your own way. This is not just a ‘release’ and you have to think, and think quickly. Although there are some games that don’t require thinking, most popular games require more than just button mashing. Add in the open world games like Assassin’s Creed, and you have quite a bit of thinking going on. Games like Myst have pushed creators to make better games that alter the gameplay as well as the graphics performance.

After a spirited debate, it was realized that while the games might have changed, one thing remains the same: We look at games in the perspective of the games we like to play.

Check out this Kickstarter project for Obduction - a new game from the creators of Myst

Learning Success Through Failure

It’s October which brings about the winds of change. The air is turning cooler, the leaves will begin to change color, and budding authors around the globe are about to change into energy drink consuming plunderers of the keyboard.

That’s right novelists, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time. I’ve partaken in the grueling marathon of 50,000 words in thirty days since 2009 - but I’ve only won once. That’s almost 1400 words a day at the minimum in order to succeed and get your shiny badge and bragging rights.

Success is not guaranteed though. In fact, it feels like failure is.  NaNo seems easy for anyone who considers themselves able to string a couple of stories together, but when the euphoria of “It’s time for NaNo!” wears off and you’re left with the idea of actually having 45K more to go, it’s pretty easy to turn around and run away. In fact, I admit that in 2011 I completely imploded. About four days in, I threw my hands up and walked away.

This article from Psychology Today suggests that failures might actually shape us in a more definite way than success does. The assertion actually makes a lot of sense. Think about your latest success - what did you learn from that specific success. 2011 NaNoWriMo showed me all of the things I needed to do in order to have a better chance in 2012.

When I won in 2012, I knew it was because of two very big changes I made in light of the previous year - I outlined the entire novel and did word games with friends to give big boosts to my word count in a short time. In 2011, I took a very solo approach to NaNoWriMo despite that my friends we were working hard on theirs as well.

I can't do it alone. 

Getting a 500 word boost in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes puts a huge dent in your daily goal. The task was less daunting when I had someone to work with.

Creating an outline meant I wasn’t going to get bogged down in the direction of plot or “what happened then” questions. I had every move that each character was going to make down on the page, so all I had to do was create the story around it.

I honestly think that without my utter and complete NaNo meltdown in 2011, I would not have been able to “win” 2012 NaNo. I learned a lot in 2011 and I applied all of those “well, I’m not going to do that this year” thoughts, which I think helped me succeed. One might even say that my failure was the reason I succeeded.

What’s going to be most interesting to me is competing again in 2013. Will the same drive push me to finish, or will I feel more complacent in succeeding? I wonder how much is to be said for being a back to back NaNoWriMo winner.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Five Ways Working Out Can Make You Feel Better

A couple months ago I won free personal training sessions. Well, my husband was actually the winner, but he graciously gave the personal training package to me because I’ve been wanting to get back in shape. Before I could even start my sessions, I had an initial interview with the personal trainer as well as a fitness assessment test. Talk about an eye opener. One part of the test was to jump rope for a minute. Seems easy enough, right? Well, if it’s been a few years since you’ve really done any exercise, it’s not as easy as you might think. I could only go 45 seconds before I had to stop. My heart was racing, my legs were burning, and I thought I was going to pass out. The fitness assessment gave me a reality check. I was really out of shape.

After the test, my personal trainer drew up my work out schedule and food management program. He likes to call it a "food management program" because "diet" sounds too restrictive to him. Now I’m about a month and a half into my personal training, and I can honestly say that I feel so much better in so many ways.

I’m Sleeping Better – Before I started working out, getting a good night’s sleep was nearly impossible unless I took a sleeping aid like Unisom. But if I did that, I usually woke up groggy and tired. It was always a struggle to get out of bed. Now, I find myself not needing a sleep aid as often as I used to. Working out helps me burn the energy I get from the food I eat during the day. In turn, that helps me sleep much better than before.

I’m Stronger – Even after just 6 weeks, my strength has significantly improved. Just the other day I was lifting several 30 pound boxes and didn’t feel too winded. If it was 6 weeks ago, that would have been a different story.

I’m Smarter – Ok, maybe my IQ didn’t rocket to genius level, but I can tell that my thoughts are more clear and concise and I’m able to problem solve more efficiently. I’m sure it goes along with being able to sleep better, too.

I’m Eating Better – Yes, every now and then I’ll cheat and have a slice of pizza or a reasonably sized bowl of fettuccine Alfredo. But for the most part, I’m eating more salads and veggies and have cut the carbs back as much as I can. Of course, I’m also a Type 1 Diabetic so I can’t cut back too much.

I’m Losing Weight and Inches – So far I haven’t dropped a lot of pounds, but I have lost a lot of inches. This means one thing. I’m gaining more muscle and becoming more toned. It’s true when experts say you can’t rely just on how much you weigh. If you’re losing inches around your waist, your hips, and your arms then you are on the right path to becoming more fit.

Of course, not everyone likes going to the gym. Some may see it as a trivial routine or a chore. But there are different ways to get your exercise in. Maranda Gibson kills two birds with one stone. “Getting exercise doesn’t always mean you have to leave the house. You can easily get your heart rate up by putting on your favorite songs and dancing around. As someone who is a neat freak at home, you can burn a good amount of calories by tackling those chores you’ve been putting off.”

David Byrd takes a different approach with his personal fitness that keeps it interesting. “Since starting ballroom dance, I have lost 20 pounds and had to buy all new pants (my old ones were too big). In addition, I sleep better and think better. The nice thing about dance is that it's not like going to the gym and having to do repetitive exercises for an hour. It keeps me interested, especially since I get bored quickly.”

Whether you’re on the elliptical, vigorously cleaning house, or perfecting your dance moves, the most important thing is that you’re being active. Find an activity that you enjoy and run with it (pun intended). Most likely you’ll feel better, have more energy, and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

Facts About Aggressive Driving

Last week, while sitting at a red light beside a gas station, I noticed an ambulance turn on lights and sirens, then exit from the opposite side of the gas station. During rush hour traffic, the EMTs needed to get through a busy intersection - the one I was waiting to cross. As the light turned green, the ambulance weaved into the turn lane to go through the intersection, so I waited. The guy behind me did not appreciate my adherence to the law and proceeded to lay on his horn to rush me from the light, and then once we could cross he tailgated me and… well, lets just say he made a number of gestures at me.

Since I live in the second worst commute in the country, I’m used to aggressive drivers. After DFW was named the third worst area in the nation to drive in, I did some research and found some interesting tidbits about aggressive driving / "road rage".

  1. In 2008, there were 61,954 serious accidents on Texas highways.
  2. Aggressive driving is a traffic violation, and becomes a criminal offense once the drivers yell or gesture at each other.
  3. Ten states consider aggressive driving a class 2 misdemeanor.
  4. For every ten MPH you drive over 50 MPH, your risk of death or serious injury doubles.
  5. 60% of all accidents in 2009 were caused by aggressive driving.
  6. Three out of every four fatal accidents involving an 18-wheeler are not the fault of the 18-wheeler driver.
  7. Think twice before cutting in front of a big truck to get through traffic. A semi moving at 55 MPH can take up to a football field to come to a stop.

David Byrd had a similar experience, but with a different outcome, while waiting on an ambulance. "An anxious driver honked a few times at me, and then I pointed to the ambulance. The driver, after seeing the ambulance, put up his hand in apology. So what made the guy behind me react in anger and the guy behind him take a breath? When does the every day driver become the jerk flipping you off?"

There is research showing that the way someone drives is a direct correlation to their personality. While there is no formal profile on someone who is an aggressive driver, research shows a correlation between aggressive driving habits and following personality traits:

  • Found to have more judgmental and disbelieving thoughts about others.
  • Tend to express their anger and other emotions outwardly while also acting impulsively.
  • Aggressive drivers are more likely to inaccurately access risks on a cognitive level.
  • Have more competitive personalities or are even considered “egotistic”.

Curbing aggressive driving isn’t just about the other people who are on the highways with you. You can make some changes to the way you drive to lower the chance that you encounter an aggressive driver.

  • The left lane is for passing only, not cruising along at the posted speed limit.
  • Don’t react to aggressive drivers (even if the temptation is usually there to lay on the horn to some idiot in a white Prius who barely missed you while trying to merge across six lanes of traffic at the last minute).

Although, when following these precautions you can still run into that one driver that makes their aggression apparent to everyone on the roads. Mary Williams recalls one encounter she witnessed not too long ago. "I was driving into work one morning when I ran into a pretty bad accident involving a construction truck. Traffic was at a standstill. This woman driving what looked like a Land Rover decides to move from the center lane to the right lane. Without turning on her blinker to give any courtesy, she just scoots on over. I don’t think she checked to see if she was clear because she ended up forcing a driver of a compact car onto the shoulder to avoid a collision. The driver of the compact car took this offensively. They drove on the shoulder and then cut off the driver of the SUV. I then hear horns blaring and see obscene gestures being thrown out. In my opinion, both parties were being aggressive. Luckily, neither of them caused another accident."

So when you encounter an aggressive driver, remember that maybe they just a had really bad day. Leave them alone and don't provoke them. They probably aren't thinking 100% logically. Things can get out of hand very quickly on the road. 

And remember - if you wouldn’t act like that in public, why are you acting like that on the highway? (Thanks MNDot)

Slow down folks, drive carefully, because we’re all in this together.

Here are some links to some interesting research and findings about aggressive driving and road rage:

http://www.nhtsa.gov/Aggressive

http://dmv.dc.gov/page/behaviors-aggressive-driving

http://www.progressive.com/vehicle-resources/deal-with-road-rage/

http://home.trafficresourcecenter.org/Traffic/Aggressive-Driving.aspx

http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/anger.aspx

Censorship or Just Doing Business?

Book review site GoodReads has caused a stir recently in issuing their new enforcement of comments and reviews on their site. If you read their official statement, it’s clear that these are the policies they have had for a long time, but the announcement of what is tantamount to a crackdown sent cries of censorship into the air.

So the question becomes "is it censorship?"

If I don't like the way a certain business is acting, especially if it is "Corporate Policy", I just take my business elsewhere. With GoodReads, I see it as no different.

What I think GoodReads did wrong was to remove the reviews without warning. GoodReads should have informed the owners of the offending reviews that they would need to be changed or the review would be deleted by a certain date (say, 30 days). On a side note, I don't mind the GoodReads policy of removing reviews that just attack the author.

Show me the content that relates directly to the book. I don't care if the author is a jerk. I want GoodReads to be a place where I find out about books, not author personalities.

Maranda Gibson agrees that it’s the approach that is the problem, not the rules. "You can’t unring a bell and while I support their decision to enforce their rules, a part of managing a community is doing that from the beginning. Goodreads didn’t and now they are getting backlash from trying to clean up a mess they made."

Mary Williams adds, "GoodReads has been around since 2007, so they probably still have things to learn when it comes to community action. The resentment from some of their members about the way they handled removing reviews can be used by the company as a source of what not to do. Giving a fair notice to their members, and allowing their members to correct their reviews, would have been a better way to handle the situation. Hopefully, they will use this experience as a lesson learned and will give their members more notice the next time they make changes to their policy."

Bottom line, this is not a case of censorship. GoodReads, as a business, can create and enforce their policies as they see fit as long as no laws are being broken. It’s the same concept as if someone was walking around a mall with an offensive T-shirt on and asked to either turn the shirt inside-out or leave. It seems this is more of an issue with the way they have handled their policy enforcement. Those who don’t agree with their policy, well they can always go elsewhere.

Kindle Matchbook and AccuConference

This week, Amazon announced Kindle Matchbook. Of announcements that don’t involve an update to the popular Kindle e-Book reader, this is one of the more exciting. So what is Matchbook and what does it do?

In 1995, when Amazon started to sell books in their online store, things like e-readers weren't selling like corn dogs at the county fair. If you wanted to read a book, you had to buy it, wait for it to mail, and then turn pages. Amazon Matchbook will go back into your history of orders and offer you a discounted Kindle price, or in some cases a free copy, of the electronic version of a previously purchased book. The only caveat is that the publishers provide the discounts on a book-by-book basis. Hopefully they will do that, but if they choose not to enroll in the program, your book will not have the discount. The program will extend all the way back to when they first began to sell books through the marketplace.

This program is really cool because not only can you get reunited with a book you might have forgotten that you read (and loved) but it’s also a great way to help us all "upgrade" and use our Kindle’s more. It is a great move for consumers and a really smart move for Amazon – people who might have lost books along the way might be encouraged to buy an e-reader now.

AccuConference published a book last year and a lot of you went and ordered a copy of the physical book. (Thanks!) We signed up to offer our book, Lessons from the Bored Room, as part of the Kindle Matchbook program. If you've purchased a copy of our book, when Amazon rolls out the program in October, you’ll be able to add our conferencing, webinar, and video conference book directly to your Kindle – for free.

If you haven’t purchased a copy – you can grab a discounted copy from Amazon.com and receive the Kindle version in October.