I’m writing a children’s book about the First Spaceman!

A few weeks back, 12 April to be precise, I was riding back on the N.E. Regional train from teaching my classes at Drexel University and had a great idea for a childrens’s book. I’ve worked with the Yuri’s Night organization, which honors the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961, by promoting celebration parties around the world. I began to wonder what good children’s books there were about Yuri and his magnificent flight. Searching the Web, I found nothing. This most important of human adventures was not something very small children would learn about.

I decided I needed to tell the story of Yuri’s flight, to show the excitment of space travel for children still new to their home planet. So, I sat down the next day and wrote about 15 three line pages, and another five the next day. I asked my wonderful wife, Tara, to edit it and give me feedback; shared that version with a few other trusted collegues; and by Tuesday had finished my third, and for now, final draft.

The title is Yuri: The First Spaceman, and I’m writing it for the 2–4 year old age range.

I’m conceiving it as a 40 page book with illustrations that cover both pages.

But how to illustrate it? I thought of doing it myself. Here’s a simple cover with no figures that I started:


I’m still looking at maybe getting someone with a bit more depth to their illustration style. In the meantime, I’ve found a potential publisher, and I’m looking at doing a kick-starter campaign.

More news in the next few weeks!

Quitting Facebook is a lot like quitting smoking

I’m trying to quit Facebook, but it’s not easy.

I regularly get that craving to see how people reacted to something I posted. I surf over to facebook.com for that little endorphin rush I get when I see that somebody has liked a post, laughed at a post, gotten angered by a post, or (best of all) commented on a post. I miss hanging out with my facebook friends shooting the breeze back forth while we refreshed our screens waiting for that next rush of acceptance, of confirmation that our ideas matter and that people are interested in us.

Quitting Facebook must be a lot like quitting smoking in the 1960s: We’ve been warned, but everyone else is still doing it, we can’t really see the full extent of the harm, and, besides, it’s enjoyable. And also like smoking, it’s almost impossible to quit if your significant other is still doing it. When your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner is on FaceBook, asking them “how was your day” seems redundant. They’ve posted that online. They’ve shared photos of their lunch. They’ve shared the articles they think are most interesting. They’ve shared their happiness and outrage. You should already be briefed and ready to discuss, not have them rehash it all again.

Of course that can happen, but because those messages are not personalized to you, supposedly their most intimate confidant, but instead to a general audience of “friends,” the conversations are never the same than if they have to explain everything to you personally.

My wife and I now use Flipboard to share interesting articles, and, if we come across one we think the other will be particularly interested in, we send it through SMS or, even more intimately, read it to each other. We laugh together, discuss together, and experience together.

I am no Luddite. I have been a tech trailblazer since the 1980s when I was one of the first students to take computer programming classes. I was also one of the earliest non-college students to get onto FaceBook over ten years ago, and have rekindled friendships long forgotten.

But my knowledge of technology has made me credulous, not naive. I have never wanted a “smart watch”, for example, because it can’t do anything my phone or iPad can do, and are actually less convenient than a simple watch and the disadvantages (expense, battery life, information overload, etc…) all outweighed any advnatages.

Facebook long ago reached the point of disadvantages outweighing advantages, but, still I persisted. Fortunately, both my wife and I have been gradually drifting away from the social media behemoth. She has now left completely, while i still check in a couple of times a week. I’ll give the occasional comment or thumbs up, check and see if anyone has left messages, but, quite frankly, I no longer know why.

One huge problem is that I have no idea why I see what I see. A process that should be transparent is opaque. As we have learned since the last election, Facebook is easily gamed. Another thing I have noticed is that as I interact less and less with Facebook, it interacts less and less with me. I still have posts automatically sent to Facebook from this blog and using a service called Buffer—which I can send an article I’m reading to and have it cross posted on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. Yet, as much as a I post, fewer and fewer people interact with those posts. My suspicion is that, as I interact less with others on Facebook, Facebook surfaces my public posts less. I can’t prove that, of course, but the positive is I check less and less.

And now, I won’t be checking in at all. Instead, I’ll share my thoughts with my own personal blog (jason.cranfordteague.org), which I’ll still have posted on Facebook —as well as Google+ and Twitter— automatically, with with the invitation to come and respond directly on the blog article page if you want to say something to me.

I wish all of my friends the best, and hope to stay in contact through other means. But for me, I’ll now go silent on Facebook.

jason@cranfordteague.org | jason.cranfordteague.org

DON’T “do unto others”. Just be kind

Far be it from me, a mere mortal, to question the teachings of a messiah and son of god, but something has always struck me as fundamentally flawed with the golden rule.

Several verses in the Christian report of Jesus of Nazareth claim he said something along the lines of Mathew 7:12:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This is commonly paraphrased as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I think the assumption we make when we read this is that how I want to be treated is how others want to be treated. There’s a huge problem here, and I hope I’m not the first to notice it: some people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated.

Putting aside the masochists and other perverts who want to be actively abused, if you don’t think a behavior is appropriate, then you have no problem persecuting that behavior. For example, if you are homophobic, even if you follow “the golden rule,” then you don’t see any problem with hating homosexuals, because if you were gay, you would hate yourself. On the flip side, there’s a lot of behavior that we might want from others, that they would find abhorrent. For example, Harvey Weinstein would have probably really liked for any of the Woman he harassed and attacked to masterbate or shower in front of him. He was just doing unto them as he would want done unto himself.

As I approach my half–centenary, I have placed a lot of effort into studying my own short comings as a person, and I admit to many. I realized that treating other people the way I want to be treated is amazingly narcissistic. It’s not about me. How I want to be treated may be nothing like how others might want to be treated.

So, after careful consideration, talking to my amazingly empathic partner, and watching a lot of Doctor Who, I realized that the answer was right in front of me all the time: Just be kind. That’s it. Just kind.

Kindness means recognizing the needs of the people around me and trying to meet their needs, not forcing my needs upon them. I fail at this constantly, but, again, IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. I have to keep trying, keep thinking about the people around me, think about how I can show them kindness.

This is utopia thinking, I know. It’s completely unrealistic and might even be against human nature. But it is the very definition of what we call humanitarian. It means that in order to understand why homosexuality is not a crime to be persecuted DOES NOT require that I personally know anyone who is gay and empathize with them, it simply means that I be kind to everyone.

But be warned, although the answer is obvious, the solution is difficult. Kindness is not something that is as easy as all that. Being kind for most of us takes a lot of effort to put aside our own needs, biases, and pre-conceptions. It means that we have to not just put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, but it means letting down our guard, listening to them, and stepping outside our own perceptions.

There is, of course, a limit to this. I need to preserve myself, and not do things to others that I don’t want done to me. However, I’m finding the rewards for kindness are great. I am calmer, less anxious, and I like me more. So, this winter solstice time, when the shadows are longest, I invite you to start practicing kindness to others and see how they treat you back.

Pax Vobiscum

Winter Solstice is here: Pax Saturnalia!

Pax Saturnalia
Loose translation from Latin: Peace of Saturn

Despite what some may say, the mythological story of Christ is not “the reason for the season.” Europeans have had celebrations around the time of the Winter Solstice (20th or 21st December; this year 21st) since before recorded history. It is the time of the longest nights, when people cling together. It is also the time when food—recently harvested—needs to be eaten, stored, or thrown out. It is a natural time for a festival of caring and feasting in advance of the approaching winter.

My favorite such observances of the winter solstice is the Roman Saturnalia. It  starts today (17th December) and lasts for the next seven days. In ancient times it was celebrated with public banquets, gift-giving, parties and carnivals all over the empire. Around 50 BC, the poet Catullus called it “the best of days”, which Andy Williams would echo almost exactly 2000 years later, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

My favorite part is how the holiday overturned Roman social norms where masters provided table service for their slaves. It was a time of great joy and frivolity. Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth. This renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun”, on 23rd December.

The holiday remained popularity  into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, many of its customs were recast into or at least influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year.

So this year, I wish you a bright and cheerful winter solstice and hope for a better 2018.

Pax Saturnalia

How maps work: A primer for Trump supporters

TL;DR: Maps represent land area, not population density. Therefore the amount of red vs. blue on a Presidential election result map is misleading unless the map accounts for population density in some way.

Over the past year, I have engaged in debate with several Trump supporters who, when confronted with the fact that Donald Trump did not win the popular vote, and in fact received 3 million fewer votes than Hilary Clinton, immediately point to a map like this one, claiming that the immense amount of red on the map proves how popular Trump is.

There’s only one problem with this argument:
Land doesn’t vote, people vote.

Maps represent land area, not population density, so it wouldn’t matter if there was only one tiny blue dot on the map. What matters is how many people live within that area and how they voted.

A fairer representation of the voting distribution would be something like this map, where the state’s size in the map is shown relative to the number of votes cast.

notice the big circle between Virginia and Maryland. That’s Washington D.C. which, despite being a tiny speck on the first map, has a population larger than Alaska.

However, even this map is deceptive since:

a) The red is mostly concentrated in the center, making it look larger than it actually is.

b) As a color, red tends to be more visually prominent than blue, also making it look larger than the blue.

c) This map doesn’t show how close the races are in each state, only showing the “winner take all” electoral college tally. So, Trump might have only carried a state by a few votes, while Clinton carried her’s by thousands, and this map wouldn’t indicate that.

One way to account for these issues is to use shades of red and blue to indicate the strength of the support in a given area, as with this map.

However, the best way to present the popular vote, is an old-fashioned bar or pie graph, where you can clearly see the actual amount of votes each candidate received.

This chart also shows the number of people ineligible to vote and who simply didn’t vote, which gives us an even more honest—and depressing—view of U.S. Voting in 2016.

Unfortunately, with a straight graph like a bar or pie, we lose all geographic perspective to help us understand were people where voting for a particular candidate. To overcome that, the map shows the county-by-county vote, but with population indicated using height. Although there is still a lot of red, it is at least in some part set off by the fact that the red counties are rarely very tall.

The important thing to remember here isn’t that maps are best suited to show location, not population, so arguing popularity based on the amount of land area the people who voted for Trump happen to occupy makes about as much sense as electing a realty TV star to the most important office in a democracy: none at all.

Halloween 2017 Reading: “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

I try to read a great work of horror or the Macabre every October. This year I selected Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which, like so many books with a reputation, is much more deep than the elevator pitch most people know about it.

I am always surprised by the books when I read them, and better for it. Frankenstein was much more moving and meaningful, and Dracula much more farcical.

Fortunately, Gray has much more in common with Frankenstein than Dracula. It is not a simple, shallow tale of a vain man retaining his youthful beauty, but of a young man learning about the vanity of youth.

Although Wilde’s portrayal of women is painfully Victorian, this can be viewed in light of the truth he brings to light about the pomposity of the men of that age and privileged place they felt they held, whether that was his intention or not. They treat woman as either super or sub human, but never just human.

For Dorian, he moves from the super to the sub-human view as parable of how many men treat woman from youth to supposed maturity without finding the honesty of woman as fully actualized people.

In the end, this lack of introspection about relationships is what really ages his Portrait into the wretched state it ends up in. The cruelty and degradation reflected in the image comes about as he hurts those around him, but his own face is spared those marks, becoming the symbol of his conscience.

Do our bodies reflect our past transgressions? That may be too simplistic an explanation, but makes for an intriguing premise for Oscar Wilde to play around with.

Help me talk about Ageism in the Tech Industry @SXSW

TL;DR: Vote for and support my session on Ageism in the tech industry for SXSW 2018.
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Despite setbacks, we hear a lot about diversity in the work place, often with positive examples like LGBTQ inclusivity or the outing of libertine attitudes in tech start-ups like Uber. It would seem that a lot of effort is being put forward to root out the many harmful “–isms” of the past century.

Yet, at the very heart of the tech industry is a worm in the bud: old people are not allowed. It’s not that anyone would say that out-loud; well almost nobody. Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying , ”Young people are just smarter”, but that was in 2007 when he was 23. One wonders how he feels about now that he is 33?

It seems the obvious solution is that experienced professionals become managers; once you reach a certain level of experience, your only career path is to take on the responsibility of managing other professionals. But that’s not the career path everyone wants or should follow.

Management is not a skill everyone has, and being a good designer or developer does not automatically make you a good manager of other developers and designers. We have to seek other solutions beyond management to make better use of the experience these people can bring to the profession.

To do that, we have to ask the right questions. Instead of asking “How can we hire more older employees?”, we need to ask the question “What is the best role experienced employees can play in our organization?” This will take a rethinking of roles, and possibly even creating new roles that allow the sharing of experience without the need to enter management.

One of the most important venues where thsi topic should be discussed is the premiere tech industry event, SXSW. This mammoth conference draws thinkers from around the globe to discuss cutting edge topics in the tech industry, and I would like to bring my thoughts on ageism to them, but I need your help to let them know that this is a significant topic.

A major consideration is how many people vote for a session, share it thorugh social media, and leave comments in support. Please use the links below to vote my session up, as well as add a comment at the bottom of that page and share the page on social media.

In addition, if you have any stories about your own experiences with agiesm in the tech industry (young or old, positive or negative) please contact me.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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The Conspiracy Theory Principles

2016: The Year of the Bully

Over the years I’ve watched how conspiracy theories grow and go viral. I’ve noticed a few things:

  1. If you believe a conspiracy, then you have to consider that the person telling you about the conspiracy is in on the conspiracy and is misinforming you about it.
  2. The best way to cover up a conspiracy is to invent a similar but more outlandish conspiracy and spread that story.
  3. The amount of evidence you accept to prove your conspiracy theory is equal to the amount of evidence you must accept from other conspiracy theories present in order to take them seriously.
  4. Someone who protests without provocation that a conspiracy does not exist is almost certainly a part of that conspiracy.
  5. A conspiracy between more than two people can either be assumed to be false or will be discovered within a year or less.
  6. If no one cares whether you conspired with another person, it’s not a conspiracy, it’s just a secret.
  7. You only need a conspiracy where there is a system to conspire against.