Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs

Speaker

Mike Rowe was the host of Dirty Jobs, a program on the Discovery Channelin, where he is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees.

Summary

For one episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike went to work on a sheep ranch in the western US. He found out the day before filming that castration was going to be part of the work. So he thought some research might be in order and called the Humane Society and ASPCA to find out the “proper” way to castrate sheep. He learned that a  rubberband was put on the sheep’s tail and testicles to stop blood circulation and after about a week, they fell off. So with image in his mind, he went to the farm expecting Albert, the rancher, to do the same. But instead of pulling a rubberband from his pocket, Albert pulled a knife. And in a matter of seconds he snipped off the tail, tossed in to a bucket and then split open the scrotum. Then he reached forward with his mouth, and to Mike’s shock, bit off the testicles before throwing them in the bucket as well. Mike adds, that before this incident, he had never stopped filming or done a second take for Dirty Jobs. But he stepped in and had to say, “stop, this is crazy”. Mike said to Albert, “that’s not you’re supposed to do it”, and Albert replied, “well that’s how we do it”. Mike wanted to do it like the humane society, so Albert consented and got his bag of rubberbands. After putting the rubber bands on the second lamb, Albert put it back down, and let it walk away. It took about two steps before falling over, until it eventually huddled up in a corner, clearly in a lot of pain. The first lamb had now stopped bleeding and was frolicking as thought nothing happened. Mike realized how wrong was then, and the experience gave him a bigger realization about how wrong he was all the time.

After that episode, Mike started thinking and speaking about the show in different ways and about topics that were sacrosanct. He questioned whether “follow your passion” is actually good career advice. He says he’s met dozens of people who are happy but definitely did not end up where they were by following their passions. He gives one example of a dairy in farmer in Connecticut who started making millions when he realized the poop from his cows was worth more than the milk if he used it to make biodegradable flower pots. Instead of prioritizing safety first, what if we should be prioritizing it third? What if people who have “dirty jobs” live more balanced lives than white collar workers?

Mike developed a theory from his experience: we’ve declared a war on work. Policy in Washington, telelvison from Hollywood, and advertisements from NY are devaluing manual labor. Mike wants a P.R. campaign to teach people about the forgotten benefits of skilled work. To him, clean and dirty are not opposites, they are the two sides of the same coin.

My Thoughts

Mike Rowe has collected some amazing experiences from his work and his storytelling ability allows him to fulfill his responsibility of sharing them. At the end of the talk I had a hard time following his points, however, and wish his message was a little more clear. But this talk is certainly worth the watch and I recommend you check it out when you want to hear about sheep castration, manual labor, or the job market.

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Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?

Speaker

Paul Piff studies how social hierarchy, inequality and emotion shape relations between individuals and groups.

Summary

Paul shows us footage of a psychological experiment – a rigged 2 player monopoly game where they randomly pick one player to be more wealthy. The wealthy player starts with more money, gets double the income for passing GO, and moves more often. As they inevitably started winning, they’d act more aggressive, eat more snacks, mock their opponent, keep talking about their money. After the game they were asked why they won – and they’d talk about their own actions & strategy, rather than reflecting on the advantages given at the start.

The results from this can be extended to society as a whole – wealthier people are often less compassionate or empathetic, and more self interested. They also believe more in the ‘greed is good’ mentality. Some other experiments looked at this

  • Inviting people with high and low incomes and giving them $10 with the option to donate some of it to a stranger. The Poor (<$20k/yr) donated 44% more of their money than the rich (earn more than $150k/yr).
  • They also played dice games, and saw the wealthy were more likely to cheat to win a prize.
  • Another study had a jar of candy, specifically reserved for children, and monitored how much was stolen. Again, wealthy people took double the candy of the poor.
  • Study on traffic – a pedestrian approaches an intersection and cars are legally required to stop to let him cross. They looked at who stopped and who didn’t, finding that more expensive cars were more likely to break the law – with nearly half of the most expensive cars not stopping, and all of the cheaper cars stopping for the pedestrian.

These studies are not saying the only wealthy people are self-interested, or that they are like that all the time. Everyone at moments in life will need to put someone else’s  interests below their own, but wealthy people seem more comfortable with advancing themselves to the detriment of others.

Economic inequality has widened over the past 20 years. This should be a concern for everyone, not just those at the bottom. As inequality gets worse, social mobility, life expectancy, physical health, education all get worse too.

How do we combat these pernicious feelings of the wealthy? Small nudges can change a person’s values to be more egalitarian – to remind them of the importance of cooperation. A short video could make someone more willing to donate their time.

However, there are a number of movements and pledges among the wealthy – to donate their own money to those less fortunate. For example Bill Gates’ pledge to donate half his money, or ‘We are the 1%’ and other grassroots movements to donate their money to advocate social values. It may diminish their own interests but restore society.

My Thoughts

Interesting studies and results. It’s a talk that I’d usually be wary of, in being overly political, but the first half is about experiments proving the hypothesis that wealthy people are more self-interested. Makes me think that we should never get ungrateful for what we have – a stroke of luck may have turned your life into the rigged monopoly game, so we should stay respectful of those around us.

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

Speaker

Diana Laufenberg teaches 11th-grade American History at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Summary

Diana Laufenberg is a teacher who shares a few things she’s learned about how most school’s teach and how most children learn. In the 1930’s, when Diana’s grandmother was in gradeschool, the purpose of going to class was to get information.  Students got all of their information from teachers and stored it all in their brains. When Diana was in school, information became more readily accessible in the form of encyclopedia’s and textbooks.

At the same time the internet became popular, she started teaching in Kansas. After the first year of teaching, she decided she needed to change her approach to teaching. Instead of she posed a challenge to her students: put on an election for your own community. They took ownership of the challenge, exceeded all expectations, and were able to learn while they created something useful and impactful. As her career progressed she was also witness to how meaningful and authentic students were when they were given a chance to speak freely. The final point she makes is about the culture of failure that exists in school. Students are taught that there is one right answer, a way of thinking abetted by the multiple choice tests at the front of academic assessment. Diana says it doesn’t make sense to tell kids to never be wrong when so much can be learned from failure. Kids need to be allowed to fail, process, and learn from their experiences in school.

TL;DR

Diana wants people to let go of the paradigms of the past. Information is no longer scarce and we should realize that education is not about coming to school to learn facts. It is about the student voice, experiential learning, and embracing failure.

My Thoughts

Even though I agree with the points Diana made in her talk, I didn’t find her stories from her teaching experience that compelling.  But her passion and energy is clearly visible and helps make this talk enganging.

Drew Curtis: How I beat a patent troll

Speaker

Drew Curtis is creator of Fark.com – an internet news aggregator.

Summary

In January 2011, Fark was sued along with MSN, reddit, yahoo for violation of a patent. The patent was for “creation and distibution of news releases via email”. This happens all the time, where a simple thing that is already happening can be patented, especially for a new emergent technology. These ‘Patent Trolls’ often sue major companies, ending in out of court settlements allowing them to claim they won the case.

The flaw in the case against Fark was that news release has a specific meaning in media – a press release by a company. Drew believed this meant he was not in violation, but a quirk in patent law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove they have not violated the patent. Best case is that this can cost $2million and take 18 months to prove if they win. Most of the other companies in this case opted to settle out of court despite none of them violating the patent.

When Drew demanded screenshots showing where Fark had violated the patent, his troll was very quick to want a settlement: immediately demanding Drew’s “Best and final offer”. He offered nothing and no non disclosure agreement, and they accepted. This allowed him to talk about his experience in a way most other companies could not.

What Drew learnt about this case

  • Don’t fight the patent, fight the infringement – it’s a lot easier to prove that you haven’t infringed.
  • Either say you have no money, or that you’d rather spend money fighting the troll instead of giving it to them. Patent trolls need to recover their money, and if they’re less convinced they’ll get anything they are no longer interested in pursuing the case.
  • Tell them you will make this process as annoying and painful and difficult for them. These are the strategies a patent troll will use on you, but they need a quick return so it works really well when you reverse it.

“Do not negotiate with terrorists” – lawsuits from patent trolls have cost the US economy more every year than the all time cost of terrorists on US soil. Patent law is big, and driven by the needs of industries that want to protect inventors (healthcare industry) versus producers. These forces are on opposite ends of the patent spectrum, and patent trolls manage to exist in the gaps between them.

My Thoughts

Good summary of the dangers of patent law, and how to fight a frivolous lawsuit. Drew presents well and has a lot to tell us in such a short talk.