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Close to Home October 16, 2013

Posted by Karen E. Lund in Ignorance, Learning.
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The post I was preparing for Blog Action Day has been scrapped. It was too academic, too impersonal, and now much too irrelevant.

This past weekend I was reminded that even in the most developed nations, where rule of law and respect for human rights are the norm, there are those who act out of hate. They single out targets based on irrational fear and bigotry. Yes, even here in one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities on Earth.

Sadly, there have always been isolated incidents of hate in New York City. The flip side of our wonderful diversity is that it isn’t always easy for people of different cultures, religions, languages and opinions to live side-by-side in close quarters. Usually this creates a stimulating environment of contrasts.nOccasionally there are flare-ups.

Saturday morning, for the second time, the Catholic high school I attended years ago was damaged by vandals. The first time a new building just nearing completion on campus was vandalized; this time a fire was set in the old convent, now mostly replaced by the newer building, that was housing a few visiting nuns. Police describe it as a “hate crime,” and it surprised me how that label hurts. There was no theft, no motive of personal gain for the criminals. The damage was purely a crime of hate and destruction.

One nun was seriously injured when she jumped out a window to escape the fire. According to news reports she is hospitalized but expected to recover. The point, of course, is that she ought not to have been injured at all: she ought to have slept peacefully through the night, without need to escape out a window. The arsonists’ disdain for those who were inside the building in the early morning is obscene.

As bias crimes go, this one is unusual. Almost half (46.9%) of hate crimes in the United States are racially motivated; only about one in five (18.2%) are religiously motivated, and of those only 5.2% of those are against Catholic persons or institutions. (By far the largest percentage of religious hate crimes are against Jewish targets, 62.2%, with Muslim targets a distant second, 13.3%.) Roughly two thirds of bias crimes are directed at people; only 36.0% are against property or institutions, and fewer than 1% are arson. 10.7% of religious bias crimes occurred at educational institutions.

(All the data above is from the FBI’s report for 2011, the most recent available on their website: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2011)

In one way, we are fortunate. In the United States, bias attacks on people and institutions are considered wrong. While a few bigots may condone certain attacks, the concept is both legally and socially prohibited. Law enforcement and government officials generally take action against hate crimes. Communities sympathize with the victims, not the perpetrators. (It wasn’t always so, of course, but this is called progress.) It is significant that the FBI compiles annual statistics on hate crimes, and that criminals can be prosecuted for hate crimes and civil rights abuse on top of their other crimes.

New York City, with all its diversity, has its own Commission on Human Rights. It usually handles more subtle instances of discrimination, not outright attacks

I expect there will be many Blog Action Day posts about Malala Yousafzai and her effort to promote education for girls, and deservedly so. We face no such danger here, and yet I can’t quite avoid the comparison to attacks of vandalism and arson on a girls’ Catholic high school in New York City. We are safer, certainly, but we are occasionally reminded of the dark stain of hatred in the world.

There are times I truly despair for the future of humanity. It bothers me that I am reluctant to name my alma mater publicly, for fear of inciting a flame war. But there’s a bright side in Blog Action Day. Bloggers and netizens from around the world join forces to think about a theme each year. The diversity of writers serves up many viewpoints and insights. That we are considering human rights in 2013, as my alma mater recovers from a hate crime, gives me some hope.

It is our thoughts,  our beliefs, our hopes and aspirations that define who we are. The right to express them, to speak out, and to come together with those who share our thoughts must be protected. The need is never really over and it is often closer to home than we realize.

My American Red Cross Anniversary October 8, 2013

Posted by Karen E. Lund in Circle, Emergency Preparedness, Volunteer.
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This past Saturday, October 5, was my 12-year anniversary with the American Red Cross. How did this happen?  Where did the time go?

When I tried to write about it, words failed. Or, rather, words poured out of my pen in an endless, meandering stream: lots of words, not much sense.

So I got ambitious and turned the past twelve years into a simple infographic. (Click on the graphic to get a better view.) There are the long-term projects that lasted weeks, months or years, and the one-off emergency responses that lasted only a few days–often just one day.

ARC Infographic 2

That first day, volunteering for the World Trade Center disaster response, I had no idea what to expect. I told the woman in Staffing who was placing me in a Local Disaster Volunteer role that “I’ve never done anything like this before. Why don’t I try it for three days and see how it goes?”

It must have gone well, because here I am. The work I’m proudest of, in the long run, is my first three years as part of the September 11 response. I’m a native New Yorker and my Dad worked in the World Trade Center for several years. (He was, fortunately for us, retired before 2001.)

Among the shorter responses, this was my proudest moment. Serving hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge during the 2005 transit strike was the most fun. I was ther the third–and what turned out to be the last–day of the strike. Word had just gone out that there would be service the next morning and our ERV became the hub of a party atmosphere. When a young woman walking off the Bridge squealed with excitement into her cell phone, “It’s the Red Cross! And they have hot chocolate!” that was the best reward a volunteer could have.

I’ve recently taken on a new project within my work with the Volunteer Resources Department: I’m following up with existing Greater New York chapter volunteers who expressed interest in new roles with the Red Cross. Whether they are taking on additional responsibilities or changing roles to accomodate changes in their personal interests or schedules, it resonates with my diverse experience. The main reason I’ve stayed on this long is that there was always something else I could do when my work schedule changed, or my interests took a detour–and even once when a project I was working on was discontinued. It’s the advantage of volunteering with a large and diverse organization like the American Red Cross (of which Greater New York is the busiest chapter). Express an interest, perhaps take some training, and I’m on my way to new opportunities.

By the way, if you’re interested in volunteering, here’s the link for all American Red Cross volunteers to get started. I can’t promise you’ll have twelve exciting and satisfying years… but, then, I have.

Poached! October 13, 2012

Posted by Karen E. Lund in Humanizing Technology, Learning.
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My return to blogging experienced a rude shock when I discovered that The Buddy System for Job Seekers had been copied in its entirety on half  a dozen other sites.

When I mentioned this to a friend who has sometimes earned her living as a writer, she immediately responded that it would almost be a compliment, if it wasn’t plagiarism.

Indeed, it was a little creepy.

My first clue came when WordPress’s Dashboard informed me of a “pingback.” After seeing two blogs that had lifted my entire post, I did a Google search and turned up more.

They were amazingly efficient, if flagrant in their disregard for the effort I put into writing. They simply copied my entire post to their sites and adding a few tags (of which more later). A quick look at some of the sites made me suspect that all their posts were like that: copied directly from another blog. There was no rhyme nor reason to the topics of these posts, no consistency in writing style. And, yes, there were these weird tags added, which had nothing to do with my post—or, that I could see, with the other posts.

I mean, NASCAR?? Not only did my post have nothing to do with NASCAR, I don’t even know how to drive!

After sputting indignantly to myself for a few minutes, I did a little research. Three of the plagiarized posts were on Blogger (owned by Google) and two on Typepad. I poked around their main websites to find contact information to report the plagiarism. It wasn’t particularly difficult; I merely provided the URLs of the offending posts and the URL to my original post.

To their credit, both Typepad and Google removed the posts and notified me in less than 48 hours. Google removed my posts from the offending blogs. Typepad went further and deleted the entire blog. (That’s no small thing because Typepad blogs—unlike Blogger and WordPress.com—are not free.)

Which leads me to the bigger question: Why steal my post? I happen to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I’m not that good. (Am I?) And I’m not a big name. Circle of Ignorance is my personal blog, not some top-ranked site.

As far as I could tell—although I didn’t linger; it felt like being in a dirty restroom in a dive bar in a bad neighborhood late at night—the plagiarizing sites werern’t selling anything. They weren’t likely to make money by publishing (in this case stealing) my post. And none of them seemed to have big audience: neither my post nor any of the others I looked at had received any comments.

So I am left scratching my head. Steal my post, tag it with completely unrelated tags, don’t try to make money. Violate Terms of Service (not to mention copyright laws) and get taken down. Yeah, that’s a plan.

So for my sins I have a new temp gig… researching copyright permissions for a publisher. I’m up to my ears in copyright notices, requesting permissions where needed, and learning more about the subject than I ever expected. But, darn, I believe in copyright—and also in “fair use.” Writers, musicians and artists are entitled to ownership of their work. People should be able to read, listen to or view it, and to share limited quotes for reasonable purposes, but that doesn’t extend to lifting someone’s whole blog post, article or chapter without even asking. And without even a discernable motive.

PS: If you’d like to quote a couple of sentence, fine. Give me credit and link back to my post. Keep it relevant and polite, and don’t try to make a buck off it because I don’t. I’ll be thinking about this a good deal and you’ll see more thoughts on copyright, fair use, open source, and Creative Commons in future posts.

The Buddy System for Job Seekers August 21, 2012

Posted by Karen E. Lund in Career, JobSearch, Knowledge.
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When I was in Girl Scouts many years ago, we practiced what we called the “Buddy System.” It was simple: you never went anywhere away from the main group without a buddy. Whether it was a regular meeting, a day trip, or a weekend at camp, you took a buddy along for safety.

Now comes evidence the same thing works for job seekers. If you want to get a job, it helps to have a job—but if you don’t, you definitely need to have friends who are employed.

The first evidence came from Italy, but now American researchers have reached the same conclusion. (There’s a $5 fee for that article, so I haven’t read it.) Naturally, there’s a certain advantage to having employed friends when you’re looking for a new job: they might know of a position with their own employers and recommend you. But I suspect there’s a bit more to it.

If you’ve been out of work any time in the past four years (and many of us have), you’ve probably been to at least one so-called “networking” event for the unemployed. I went to two, then called it quits. I still go to networking events, and to events with networking potential that don’t advertise themselves as such. But networking for the unemployed? I’m done with that.

Both events I attended turned into gripe sessions, with a side order of can-you-top-this. “How badly were you treated by a recruiter? Oh, sure, but let me tell you what happened to me!” If you hadn’t been humiliated or hit on in an interview, you hadn’t had the full experience. It wasn’t networking, it was group therapy. Maybe that worked for some, but I’d already vented my frustrations (to an employed friend) over a few beers and was ready to move on.

The Italian researchers acknowledge this.

Mr Rosalia and Mr Cingano control for this by examining employees with equal qualification levels, made redundant by the same company at the same time. Those with more employed friends still tend to find new employment faster, apparently due to the informational advantages of having friends in jobs who learn about vacancies.

It wasn’t about qualifications, it was about having friends who work. It might be about referrals, but even on that they are fuzzy. What it comes down to is that if your friends work, you have a greater chance of finding work. Maybe it’s connections, but maybe it’s mind-set. Maybe it’s acquaintances who have the right attitude and can give you a shoulder to cry on or a kick in the rump, whichever is appropriate at that moment to make you send out one more resume or go to one more networking event.

In an online article, the Italian researchers offer an interesting possibility:

Contacts’ employment status plays a stronger role if they recently searched for a job, and thus collected useful and up-to-date information, and if their current employer is closer (spatially and technologically) to the unemployed. We rule out that this evidence reflects a referral mechanism… [emphasis mine]

So it’s not just their current job that friends are drawing on; it’s the whole network that working friends built to find their current position that they might share with a friend who’s looking for work, and possibly some up-to-the-minute job search techniques.

Last week I tried an experiment. I’ve been looking for a job for a while, but in the meantime I’ve been doing temporary and contract work. That’s given me connection to quite a few recruiters and staffing agencies—especially as some of those recruiters have change agencies over time. So when a friend who is currently working told me she wants to make a change, I e-mailed contacts at five agencies (seven contacts in total) and mentioned it.

Within ten minutes three of those contacts e-mailed me back and asked for my friend’s resume. Ten minutes! Even though one recruiter admitted he doesn’t have a lot of direct hire openings right now, he wanted to see my friend’s resume in case anything came along. That’s pretty powerful.

Two employed women. Seven recruiters in five agencies. Three requests. Ten minutes.

We’re magnets. Even I was amazed.

It’s early yet. I don’t know if any of these connections will lead to a job for my friend (or, for that matter, if my current temp gig will lead to a permanent position for me). But it’s encouraging. Maybe that’s the real secret: get just enough response to make you send out the next resume, dress up for the next interview… and keep on going until you land that better job. It only takes one “yes” to make the whole process worthwhile.

Bring a Buddy/Be a Buddy

Here are some lessons based on my recent experience:

  • If you’re unemployed or underemployed, spend time with friends who are working and go to some events about fields that interest you in your job search (even if they’re not specifically advertised as “networking” events). Don’t spend all your time with other people who are unemployed—and especially be wary of frustrated job seekers who complain a lot. On the other hand, if you can find a job search buddy for mutual support and encouragement during your searches, that might be a good idea.
  • If you’re employed, buddy up with an unemployed friend (or two). Be alert for openings that your buddy might be a good fit for—with your employer or another—and introduce them to professional acquaintances who might be helpful. If appropriate, give your buddy a recommendation on LinkedIn or help your buddy improve his/her profile and online presence.
  • If you recently got a job, stay in touch with your job search contacts. Update them on how you’re doing. Recommend an unemployed or underemployed buddy. And if anyone directly helped you find your new job, treat your job search buddy to lunch, or at least a cup of coffee, and be sure to connect on LinkedIn so you can stay in touch professionally.

As for my experiment in recommending a buddy, I’ll keep you posted if and when anything happens. And good luck!

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