Blotter

What chicken buses and your MicroBus have in common

Have you ever wondered what happened to those Blue Bird school buses we grew up riding? One by one, individual Latin Americans bought more than 1 million of the retired kid haulers over the past 20 years, rebuilding their engines in makeshift garages and painting them vivid colors to attract a new type of customer – the working class tracking to the super highways of Central and South America to make business. Before having kids I traveled through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua via these "chicken buses". Outfitted with rooftop luggage rails to boost their utility, each bus had a driver and ayudante, or helper, who conduct transit routes from one large city to another, stopping frequently between towns and villages. The ayudante hangs out the door waving and shouting destinations, making change and helping each...

How to write a good story

When people ask me about my favorite writer I tell them about an eBay Listing for a Subaru. The seller was down on his luck, uneducated and unemployed, his car selling on eBay to make mortgage payments on his house. His motorcycle would be his only transportation thereafter. The listing he wrote on eBay remains one of the best pieces of writing I've read, beginning with his first sentence, "... I bought this car brand new in Oct. 2002, and have driven it carefully, though sometimes quickly, ever since." His story goes on like a memoir about a lost lover from times gone by: "I've driven this thing through absolutely ridiculous amounts of snow, no problem. Snow to the headlights? Plow it with the front bumper. Plowed into a parking space? Select reverse, engage...

Improving your communications with Indian developers

The South Asian head bobble has its roots in British colonialism when subjects were too afraid a "yes" or "no" answer would contradict the one asking a question. Today's South Asians are more than willing to contradict you without fear of reprisal, but their cordial manners often hide their true feelings. Innuendo, after all, is where cultural divide wedges itself. Where westerners perceive apathy in an Indian, the conversation should proceed until a firm "yes" can be established. "We'll try" or "maybe" probably means "no". And when communicating with anyone from a different culture, one should always avoid sarcasm or implying something. For instance, "Let's get that project done Friday" will likely delay your project. Instead, "The deadline is Friday for that project" makes it happen. Business conversations between westerners and Asians often break down because...

Why newyorktimes.com upvotes themselves

Who knew a simple comment tab implemented in 2013 would be a new way for pundits to accuse websites of bias? nytimes.com is stuffing the comments box under each article, their staff upvoting favorites different than what readers choose. They do this under the comment tabs called Readers' Picks versus New York Times' Picks. The explanation offered at nytimes.com is vague: "NYT Picks are a selection of comments that represent a range of views and are judged the most interesting and thoughtful. In some cases, NYT Picks may be selected to highlight comments from a particular region, or readers with first-hand knowledge of an issue." But blogger doomvas at the Daily Kos made a subjective discovery, at least in regard to a Paul Krugman article where the NYT Picks were "all lengthy conservative spin...

Academia still doesn’t get the social media revolution

An assistant college professor named Zeynep Tufekci published an OpEd in the New York Times with the theory that social media is as helpful for organizing protests as it is hurtful to them. Because her understanding of social media is more Snapchat than Reddit, she offers that the Occupy Wall Street rally and the Tahrir Square protests failed to keep our attention because they were not organized in a fashion similar to the good old days of paper pamphlets and phone calls. New media, in her view, does not build infrastructure for "sustaining momentum." In fact, building new types of media infrastructure to support social causes has taken on a new urgency in places like Turkey, where the citizens' access to Twitter has been limited. Business Insider reports people are getting around the ban...