Monday, October 28, 2013

Nerd Alert: Why We All Are Geeks

"Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one," Bill Gates once famously said. Gone are the days when nerds are stereotyped as someone incredibly intelligent, fashionably challenged and social inept. Now, we live in a society where everyone is fascinated by technology and googling information faster than you can look up the word "dweeb" in your Webster's Dictionary.  You don't even have to speak Klingon or understand the key terms of quantum physics to be considered a nerd anymore.

Still not convinced? Maybe you are worried that being a nerd opens the door to ridicule or a negative image. I do cringe sometimes when I hear kids talk about being techy as dorky.  I definitely have been called a geek before because of my career interests. However,  I tend to think of being a nerd in a positive way. 

One of my favorite definitions of a nerd: 
An 'individual', i.e. a person,  who does not conform to society's beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject, usually computers. 

Why are we all nerds? We all love our technology, we are a society who honestly loves to learn more about things we are interested in. We enjoy gaming. We are curious, we seek out ways to grow and also enjoy sharing what we already know. We've learned that having opinions which may not be popular expresses individuality and we are passing that onto our kids and/or supporting our friends. 

Perhaps acknowledging a nerd you are familiar with will prove my point. Here's a list of 10 famous nerds (in no particular order and a wide variety), which I guarantee you will find cool.

  • Ross from Friends-paleontologist who dated Rachel!
  • Mary Katherine Gallagher from SNL-what a Superstar!
  • Data from The Goonies-he made a belt that shot a suction cup and without him Mouth would still be in Pirate's Cove with Sloth.
  • Bill Gates-enough said.
  • Tina Fey-smart, funny, chic geek
  • Steve Jobs-where would we all be without an Apple product?
  • Mark Zuckerberg-invented social media.
  • Napoleon Dynamite-huge nerd, wildly entertaining who inspired us to Vote for Pedro.
  • Dwight from The Office--most annoying guy as a co-worker, but funniest guy to watch on TV.
  • Clark Kent- a shy reporter with the geeky glasses who just happens to be Superman.
Embrace your inner geekness and pay it forward as we progress through this 21st century of digital learning. Keep inquiring more about others who may or may not be like you, you'll end up learning more about yourself. Being technology savy and digitally determined will increase your chances of being successful. Accepting those who are different and being who you are takes an incredible amount of confidence.  

So, put your glasses on. You may see that nerds are the new heroes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Give Me a Break: Digital Detox

This week is Fall Break at Rockhurst University. A time for students and faculty to take some time away from campus, academics (and even each other)!  Many campus departments are closed and Midterm grades are reported the day before RU Fall Break even begins. Senior Clare Pickel, explained she likes to take a break from studies and her phone and hang out with friends and family. are addicted to your digital device.  Students may or may not go home, with no classes they are most likely to engage in texting and social media to keep in touch if they are out of town. If in town, some say they watch movies, game and/or check their social media apps to see what everyone is doing. There were a few that shared they will veg out and spend some time outdoors if weather permits.

Are any going to completely unplug?  Probably not.

Unplug. What really does that mean? Why is unplugging important and why should we take advantage to do so? I actually tried to unplug yesterday: Left my phone at home when I ran errands, went running without my iTunes fav playlist (which is huge because I rely on my boys The SamplesBeastie Boys and Deadmau5 to get me through those rugged workouts), then turned my phone off completely from dinner through bedtime. I am happy to report, I survived! I actually enjoyed the Trolley Trail scene, cleared my head a little, and felt relaxed with my friends and family. 

Unplugging is a term, defined by the Urban Dictionary as, "To be separated from the borg-like creation of being constantly connected through digital communication tools." It is so significant that there is a National Day of Unplugging which started four years ago. There is even a pledge you can sign to unplug for 24 hours on March 7-8.  Why? according to the website,

 "We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create." 

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Dr.Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

A recent study, "Always Connected", shared these staggering statistics after surveying almost 7,500 iPhone and Android users 18-44 years old on which activities they use their phone the most:

Here are some more stats Forbes shared:

  • 50 percent of Americans prefer to communicate digitally rather than in person (Pew)
  • 81 person browse the Internet, 77 percent use search, 68 percent use an app, and 48 percent watch videos on their smartphone (Google)
  • 72 percent use their smartphones while consuming other media, and one-third are on their smartphones while watching TV (Google)
  • 93 percent of smartphone owners use their smartphones while at home (Google)
We know we need to unplug, and why, so how?

Here are some tips to help you take a break and digital detox:
  • Obsessed with Instagram or Candy Crush? Delete the app from your phone before you leave, and don’t reinstall it until after you get back. Having to take the one extra step of re-installing the app will likely prevent you from doing it.
  • Read a REAL book. Yes...Paper. (remember what that is?)  Did you know that reading a book or article from your phone decreases your chances of comprehension, according to Jakob Nielsen, a digital visibility expert at Nielsen Norman Group "The bigger the screen, the more people can remember and the smaller, the less they can remember,” he says. “The most dramatic example is reading from mobile phones. [You] lose almost all context."
  • Put down your phone and walk away, for a set amount of time and go somewhere without it. This may require some anti-anxiety remedy, but I promise you will feel liberated.
  • Start a revolution. What to be a trend setter, make a statement, or how about be a role model for someone around you? Who's in charge-you or your phone?
  • Remember that hobby or favorite pastime you use to have or haven't had time to engage in lately? If you spend the same amount of time on that special interest of yours instead of checking email, playing that addicting app or checking that constant social media outlet, I bet you would be able to bring back that 'me' time.
  • Ask a friend for help, that's what friends are for! You don't have to have an intervention, but create a buddy system. This could help  keep you unplugged so you can focus on sharing those good times you want to have with those you enjoy being around the most.

So, won't get shocked.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm Going to Kansas City...Kansas City Here I Come

I thought the image would get your attention, but this blog is not about the Chiefs.  I know, a little misleading, but we are 6-0! GO CHIEFS!

Now onto other important information you should know about this amazing city.

Here are 5 ways technology has improved our lives in KC. So next time you are irritated because you cannot connect wifi on some random area in the City of Fountains, you can refer to this blog. Also, this a great list to remember when boasting or recruiting talent to our midwestern gold mine.

I like Letterman, so we'll count down from 5...(Top 10 list is too long for this blog, sorry).

5. Wifi Access
Our digital domain has many options for free wifi access. See where all these hot spots are close to you.

4. We Share Our Stuff
Why buy when you can borrow for a very small fee or free? Click to find out more through the variety of examples around town with easy access to information and services digitally.
3. App Development
Rarewire (mentioned in a previous blog) is just one example of a our local app development companies. Other developers are around and creating apps which are changing lives across the country. A few apps generated right here in KC are: TapTeach Baseball, LavaCat,  Boulevard Brewing Company and be on the lookout for a new one being launched soon: EDmatch. There is a local group which meets regularly for networking and increasing your knowledge about app development. The Kansas City Mobile App Developers Group meets the last Thursday of every month. App development in our area is certainly on the rise!
2. iPads and Tablets in our schools
From Grandview to the Northland down to the city and out south, our Kansas City Metro Area is exposing our young minds to 21st century learning. The digital divide may be an issue for many, but schools such as Cristo Rey High School (who has a population of close to 90% of their students on free or reduced lunch) have found ways to bypass that issue. All students, grades 9-12, received an iPad the last two years with 24/7 access for educational purposes. Their retention of student enrollment has increased, standardized tests have improved and positive improvements in the areas of parent communication and involvement have been observed. I presented an iPad parent workshop two weeks ago at Cristo Rey and the cafeteria was filled with parents eager to learn more about the iPad and how to support their children to be successful in school. Technology can bring us together in many ways.

1. Drum Roll, please...Google Fiber
Hopefully you have an incredible appreciation to what this means to our close knit community. It's GOOGLE FIBER. Author Boyd Cohen states, “As the first city in the world to adopt Google Fiber Internet, Kansas City is now on the bleeding edge of the next frontier of ultra-high-speed access.” We now are considered a Smart City. KC citizens should feel more intelligent just from that term, right?  A smart city is considered a  developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas; economy, mobility, environment, people, living, and government. Excelling in these key areas can be done so through strong human capital, social capital, and/or ICT infrastructure. Google FIber is offering us an Internet connection speed 100 times faster than today's average broadband. Instant downloads. Crystal clear high definition TV. Endless possibilities.

As you can see, there are many other reasons to come to Kansas City, other than the undefeated Chiefs.

Enjoy the famous song by Fats Domino: "Kansas City".

Other Resources:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Skills to Pay the Bills? Addressing the Skills Gap

We all realize there is a rhyme and reason to everything. I'm not just talking about the Beastie Boys song, "Skills to Pay the Bills," although it does have a great beat. I'm addressing the skills gap. What is the skills gap? We have heard of the achievement gap and the digital divide, are they related?

In an article from the New York Times today, it gave some startling statistics from a recent study: "The United States ranked near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in skill with numbers and technology. In number skills, just 9 percent of Americans scored in the top two of five proficiency levels, compared with a 23-country average of 12 percent, and 19 percent in Finland, Japan and Sweden."

The skills gap is not the only gap out there. Here are some new gaps to be aware of. Each possessing their own definition and issue to the work force.

Skills Gap:  the divide between the skills employers want to find in a ready workforce and the know-how that unemployed workers have to offer from previous jobs and education.
Generation Gap: Those that are nearing retirement who lack the skills for the 21st century workplace.
Soft Skills Gap:  Workers (mainly those unemployed) who are challenged in these areas: Work Habits, Communication Skills, Workplace Effectiveness, Business Etiquette, Creativity and Collaboration

The manufacturing arena seems to be hit the hardest with the skills gap epidemic. In a recent research, University of Michigan economists have predicted the manufacturing sector in the county will add more than 4,000 jobs by 2015.

No reason to play the blame game, we are past that point. Blaming school systems and teachers for allegedly the lack of preparation needed for our current job market is not going to fix the problem at hand. In my opinion, we need to focus on improving the skill levels of the unemployed, or soon to unemployed by;  offering direct training solutions to those who need jobs as we strive to make technical and manufacturing careers more attractive as we explain how imperative they are to our whole economy.

We must develop training programs which cater to recent high school graduates and help them increase their skill levels for the specific job needed. I spoke with Ted Parker, Partner at Centriq Training,  who is doing just that here in Kansas City. This is what he had to share:

A skills gap exists because the education system today is not aligned with our rapidly changing economy. But what’s worse is that these institutions don’t seem to understand that.  Almost three-fourths of education providers believe they prepare their students for entry level jobs while less than fifty percent of employers and students believe it.  (McKinsey Survey Sept 2012.)

Academia has been too slow to respond to the effects of technology in relation to job skills.  As a result, education providers that can more quickly adapt to business needs are starting to appear. At Centriq Training, we work closely with area I.T. departments to continually modify our programs. By training on current technologies, we are able to place over 90% of our students in I.T. jobs.  

Educational institutions continue to look at technology as a tool rather than a subject. It needs to be both. Technology should be a core part of any curriculum. It’s just as important as math and English in preparing students to succeed in today’s world.

Another expert on this topic, Bob Jacobi, Executive Director, Labor-Management Council of Greater Kansas City said:

While unemployment and underemployment plague millions we have many jobs begging to be filled that can provide a middle-class living and satisfying if hard work. At the Labor-Management Council, we see our member employers and unions in construction, manufacturing and utilities looking hard for workers with math, physical dexterity and teamwork skills. Demographics are opening up positions and the demand for such workers will grow. Our economy is being limited because we haven't generated enough workers with the interest and skills to fill these jobs. If we can develop the needed workforce, we can help rebuild the middle class and grow our companies.
We need skilled manufacturers to build the materials and systems which make our world run. Every piece of equipment we use has a part which needs to be correctly assembled to work. There's a process and detailed method to everything around us. From your hobbies to traveling, every "thing" has it's place in this world.

As far as fixing the problem at hand through education, let's inspire kids to learn and be excited about the areas of science, technology, math and engineering. Let them explore, be creative, talk through their problems as they try to solve them. Supporting teachers and curriculum changes to enlighten kids on more discovery instead of standards testing is a constant challenge. In the end, it is the collaborative effect of our society constantly addressing this issue and finding solutions so hard working citizens can pay their bills with the skills they are very capable of possessing.

To learn more about what Chicago is doing, listen to Marie Trzupek Lynch, President and CEO, Skills for Chicagoland's Future.