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Robo-pocalypse begins with fast food industry

December 7, 2012


The fast-food industry has been a standard for go to option for the low wage worker. These days may be quickly coming to an end.  A company called Momentum Machines has designed a robotic burger maker called Burgeon designed to replace short order cooks in fast food restaurants.

This news comes at a bad time since New York’s fast-food workers began demonstration rallies and walkouts at dozens of Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants in New York City. The drive to unionize is sponsored by several civil rights groups. Campaign organizers have stated their goal is to raise wages to $15 an hour.

But the Burgeon may eliminate the need for fast-food companies to even have to begin the negotiation process. Momentum Machines have created a robotic Rube Goldberg device that they hope “will change the face of the American burger joint, one patty at a time.”


The machine is a sensible evolution of the fast-food industry. McDonalds actually championed the assembly line for their food products to decrease the wait time. The only thing that slows this process down is the human element.


Momentum Machines posts on their website: “Our alpha machine replaces all of the hamburger line cooks in a restaurant. It does everything employees can do except better.”

Currently the alpha version of the Burgeon grinds the meat, stamps out the patty, sends it along a conveyor-belt grill, toasts the buns, squirts on the condiments, slices and drops in pickles and tomatoes and lettuce, then pops the finished burger into a bag, all in under five minutes.

Currently it can crank out a burger every 16 seconds. The company’s goal is to get that time down to 10 seconds.

The federal and State minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. For someone who works a part-time shift (20 hours a week) this is an annual income of about $8000.

These workers deserve more than the minimum wage. I would not consider that amount to be a living wage even without children to feed. But if there is a machine that can do the same job for longer and faster, then I don’t see how there would be any security in the industry for these grill slingers.

Of course a robot will never have human skills required to create a “tasty” burger. But if machines start to take jobs that have been traditionally designed for humans, which industry could be the next under threat?

My hope is that Foxcon doesn’t get an assembly bot to start creating iDevices. Because from there it is only matter of time before we have machines building machines and weall become batteries plugged into the Matrix.


Orc Assassin Elected to State Senate Seat

November 9, 2012

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week (or somewhere outside of the United States) you have heard some of the coverage of the general elections. I am decidedly happy that the incumbent was reelected to the White House despite the fact that I live in a decidedly red state (TX). But, my political alliances aren’t up for debate in this article. In fact, who I voted for is irrelevant.

Today’s bit of nerdery comes from the Maine State Senate race, specifically the race for the 25th district seat. Colleen Lachowicz ran against the Republican incumbent Sen. Tom Martin and won.

Mostly thanks to the Republican Party’s help. In early Oct., the state GOP sent out a press release that outed Lachowicz for a ‘bizarre a double life’ where she is an avid player of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. In the game, she’s “Santiaga,” an “orc assassination rogue” with green skin, fangs, a Mohawk and pointy ears.

There is nothing in that last sentence that would not automatically secure my vote. The GOP went on to create the website Colleen’s World to further detail the exploits of Lachowicz online. A few mailers were even sent out to further attach the candidate.

This mailer was sent out as an attack on Lachowicz

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee declared Lachowicz one of their “2012 Essential Races: Grassroots Nominees”, stating that she had received the second-largest number of nominations from grassroots activists. Referencing the WoW attack, the DLCC claimed that the controversy had made hers “perhaps the most nationally-watched legislative race in the country right now”

The entire about page on the Colleen’s World seems relatively tame:

Colleen Lachowicz, AKA Santiaga, is a gamer in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft (WoW), which takes place in the make-believe land Azeroth. Today, Colleen/Santiaga is an orc assassination rogue playing at level 85–the highest level one can attain.  She and the members of her “Wreck List Guild”—Colleen/Santiaga’s WoW online alliance—post comments to each other on liberal online forums including the Daily Kos, where they discuss politics, military policies, and WoW battle tactics.

Looking at this language purely on a public relations level is like watching an ACME product misfire on Wile E. Coyote.

Here’s a breakdown on some of the language:

“… level 85–the highest level one can attain”: The intent here was to point out the fact that she is some part of a cult that spends way too much time within the fictional game world and it is implied that she is completely disconnected with reality. To any WoW player, or really any gamer, that shows dedication. Actually, Lachowicz’s husband also has an account and they play together. I firmly believe a family that games together; stays together.

“She and the members of her [guild] post comments to each other on liberal online forums including the Daily Kos, where they discuss politics, military policies, and WoW battle tactics.”: So let’s get this straight. We are associating her guild with liberal forums and military policy and battle tactics. I guess this means that in mind of Santiaga, aka Lachowicz, there is no difference between the real world and the fantasy gaming world.

So why point these things out at all and waste the time to create a website to point out what she does in her free time? The simplest answer is to point her out as a nerd. Nerds are bad. Nerds cannot be capable human beings.

Obviously (by the name of this blog alone) this is not a political platform that I can support. But maybe I am misinterpreting the message the attach website is trying to convey.

Maybe they want to say that she is part of this cult phenomenon and she believes in fictional worlds where she kills lots of victims, making her unfit to make decisions about the world that we live in. It seems to echo the fears about Dungeons & Dragons in the 80s
or Magic: the Gathering in the 90s.

They seem to want to shame her for spending so much time within a game. There is a fundamental flaw with this. Lachowicz earned a Master of Social Work from Boston College. She has spent 25 years as a social worker. She has worked for Kennebec Behavioral Health since 1997 and has been their Program Director of School-Based Services since 2005. She has a husband and 2 children. Both she and her husband are licensed foster parents. It doesn’t sound much like the shut-in stereotype they expected to make her out to be.


Who wouldn’t vote for a face like this?

The attack ads, if you can call them that, caused a small local election to gain national attention. Blizzard reported that World of Warcraft subscriptions were at 10 million as of Oct. Lachowicz story was picked up by many gaming websites. Stephen Colbert tweeted, “Colleen Lachowicz has plenty of other hobbies besides video games. She’s also a Level 57 Dark Mage Nightmare Knitter.”    

For a little clarification, Lachowicz published an op-ed piece in the Kennebec Journal that stated that WoW and knitting were her hobbies.

“But during the last year, I’ve spent little time doing either. These are my hobbies, and they have absolutely nothing to do with where I stand on the issues or why I’m running for office.”

Her article concludes with, “Now, let’s get back to the issues that Maine people care about.”

That is what any sane candidate would say. But I think her online alter ego gives her what is the nerd equivalent of street cred. The attack ads feel like what would happen if a gamer group got together to form a PAC. Maybe someone in the GOP was angry because she jacked their loot in a raid.

The end results seem to speak for themselves. Lachowicz was the winner in the general election, unseating Martin with 8,666 votes to his 7,753.


Keywords: World of Warcraft, Senate, Election, GOP, Democrat, Maine, Lachowicz

NYC averts PR marathon crisis after Hurricane Sandy

November 2, 2012

Just hours after announcing the The New York City Marathon was still scheduled, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office announced late Friday afternoon it had been canceled. This is the first time the race has not been run since it began in 1970. This includes the 2001 race in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy.

Bloomberg had said as recently as early Friday afternoon that the marathon, scheduled to start Sunday morning, would go on and serve as a demonstration that the city was recovering from the storm and moving forward. The marathon had been rebranded the “Race to Recover.”

But other elected officials from around the city said holding it so soon after a major storm and holding the race Sunday could drain resources from the city’s recovery efforts.Several city officials also said it was insult to hard-hit residents still cleaning up and worried that it would get in the way of recovering from a storm that killed at least 41 people in New York City alone.

This front page of the New York Post further highlighted the misuse of power:

“Those generators could power 400 homes on Staten Island or the Rockaways or any storm-racked neighborhood in the city certain to be suffering the after-affects of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday morning,” the Post thundered in a Friday editorial. 

This image has been circulated media outlets this week:


In addition, the leader of the Police Benevolent Association said the department was stretched too thin to facilitate what he called “essentially a citywide party.”

It is unfortunate that there have been many runners who have flown internationally to compete in this famous race only to have it canceled on them, but it truly would cause more negative feelings than positive.

The marathon, Bloomberg said, would “give people something to cheer about in a week that’s been pretty dismal.”

This sentiment has received overwhelming backlash from critics in the media as well as local lawmakers.

“Score one for sanity. Let’s continue to focus on rescue, relief, repair efforts,” tweeted New York State Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents Manhattan’s East Side, after the announcement to cancel the race.

On the lighter side of this matter, I think that it is a good thing for one less than obvious reason. During the day of the race, participants in the New York Marathon ride the subway for free (a fact that I learned from watching How I Met Your Mother). Since full service to the subway hasn’t been restored yet, think about all of the awesome places you are missing out on.

The current plan is for the race to be held in the spring. Race organizers have said that anyone who signed up to race Sunday will be registered for the next one.

Gearbox Software pushes Shift Codes like smack

October 26, 2012

My new favorite use of social media has to be Shift Codes from Gearbox Software. Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software has been recently releasing shift codes through his Twitter Account, @DuvalMagic. These codes can be used in Borderlands 2 to unlock better loot for the game.

There have been several times when I have run home from an even to punch the codes into my Xbox 360. I must admit that this is the first twitter feed that I have actively stalked/followed. According to the feed, these codes are helping the company track network traffic. Frankly, I feel a little hurt that I am being used as a cog in the machine to track statistics. But I somehow manage to get over it as soon as the company dangles a shiny new gun in front of me. They are doing a fantastic job of having me hooked to their social media feeds at all hours.

To be honest, I simply do not have enough time in my day to play the game but I have made sure to run home and log into the game for a few minutes just to make sure that I get my loot.

Shit Codes are a code that can be entered into the PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of Borderlands 2. The code will give the player a golden key that will unlock a golden treasure chest that carries rare items that can be used in the game.

Being able to enter in special codes that are only valid for a limited time window ignites the retro gamer in me. I like being able to enter in Shift Codes, which in my mind equate to cheat codes. There aren’t many games that will allow you to enter cheat codes anymore.

Gearbox has also been posting Shft Codes on their Facebook page. Tip to anyone playing Borderlands 2: the codes they are posting on Facebook are not the same as the ones on their Twitter Feed. Be sure to check both.

Gearbox released Borderlands 2 earlier this month and this sequel to` the original game makes vast improvements to the predecessor. It has made it more accessible to play with friends. My favorite feature is that you can jump into and out of a friends game without having to host restarting the game. It has made the social experience much more enjoyable.

If you are playing Borderlands 2, I highly suggest that you follow @DuvalMagic and @GearboxSoftware. Be sure to also check out their Facebook page.



Potential Employers may ask for your Facebook Password

October 8, 2012


Facebook announced last week that it now has one billion active users. To say that it might be popular is like suggesting bacon might be from pigs. As a future social media professional, it is important to know what rights protect a future university graduate who is looking for a job.

One of the hottest topics in employment right now is the use of social media in the hiring process. Many employers are asking potential employees passwords for their social media accounts. It has sparked action from legislatures on a state and federal level.

This may seem like a grey area for students fresh out of an undergraduate ethics class. It is important to know what laws apply to social media.

Maryland was the first state to ban employers from asking for employees’ and applicants’ social media site passwords. This particular bill also prevents employers from retaliating against employees or applicants who refuse to disclose that information. This law takes effect on October 12, 2012.

There are currently 10 other states who are proposing similar laws at this time (CA, DE, MI, MN, NJ, NY, SC, WA, OH). It is important to note that Texas is not on this list.

The Texas legislature is not scheduled to meet again until 2013. Next year would be earliest that any changes to password protection laws would change.

Here are the two proposed federal laws:

  • The social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), introduced in the House of Representatives, would prohibit employers, schools and universities from requiring such information or to deny employment or penalize candidates, employees or students for refusing to give up information.
  • The Password Protection Act of 2012, introduced in the Senate on May 9, 2012, which would prohibit employers from forcing prospective or current employees to provide access to their own private, personal data systems as a condition of employment, but retain employers’ rights to govern access t0o social networking sites within office hours and set policies for employer-operated computer systems and accounts.

It should be noted that Facebook has actually taken a stance on the issue. In a blog post by Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan she wrote requests for access to employees’ Facebook profiles or private information “undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and user’s friends,” and may expose the employer to liability.

Egan went on to say that Facebook plans to “take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policy makers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action.” At this time it is unclear what Facebook may have in mind.  It will be important to see what developments happen in the next few months.

Source: The Advocate – State Bar Litigation Section Report (Fall 2012)

Flash Mobs – Not in Public Relations/Marketing

September 28, 2012

On Saturday, Sept. 22, hundreds of police confronted rioters in a small Dutch town where a girl’s 16th birthday party invitation on Facebook spawned a gathering of an estimated 3,000 person turnout for the event. At least 36 people were injured, including one police officer.

According to CNN, the mayor had persuaded the girl’s family not to hold the party and unsuccessfully urged revelers not to attend.

Tom Scott actually predicted a similar scenario to this incident back in March 2010 in his Excite presentation (Similar to TED Talks). His two-year-old video predicts the worst case scenario of a riot that can spawn from a viral video, but the scenario is too similar to ignore.

I once attempted to organize a flash mob with astudent organization on campus. The invites were sent on Facebook and we had about 45 people confirm they were going to attend the event.  Everything was planned for a quick five minute pillow fight club/flash mob.

Unfortunately, only 15 people showed up. Five of those were people who planned the event and the camera we brought didn’t take any decent shots. The plan was to used branded pillow cases to get our name out there or at least get a decent shot to submit to the school newspaper and put up on websites. It didn’t work and everyone involved lost interest.

Flash mobs do not work in a public relations setting. There is no way to predict what people will do. The larger the group of people, the harder it is to predict. Plus, there is no way to guarantee that people will actually attend. It is an easy way to set yourself up for a lawsuit.

There are too many variables. Even if everything comes together, there is no guarantee that you will get any press for it.

This is not to say  staged events can’t work. On the contrary, the American Airlines Center did one recently to set the world record for the Largest Shaving Cream Pie fight  to promote the Ringling Brothers Circus coming to town. It was fun. People showed up and everyone was as safe as a pie to the face can be.

Last week I wrote about Cain’s Arcade. At the heart of it was a flash mob gone right. There was no way to predict the magnitude that a cardboard arcade could grow into. A little bit of heart, a lot of social media and one filmmaker’s dedication developed one child’s idea into inspiration and learning for other children.

Not all flash mobs are bad. At the best of times they spread goodwill and put smiles on peoples faces.  The incident last weekend was the culmination of a worst-case scenario and a few ring leaders inciting problems. Some truly are benevolent… or at least bring some smiles.

One of my favorite groups is Improv Everywhere. They describe themselves as a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Check out the video where Improv Everywhere turned a little league baseball game into a professional quality production.

Caine’s Cardboard Arcade Creates Cavalcade of Creativity

September 21, 2012

The Imagination Foundation is hosting the beta  Global Cardboard Challenge on Oct. 6.  The Global Cardboard Challenge invites the world to “build anything awesome out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. There are currently over 100 events planned in over 25 countries.

This was all inspired by Caine Monroy, a 9-year old boy who spent last summer building an elaborate DIY cardboard arcade in his father’s used auto parts store.


Nirvan Mullick was one of the first customers to Caine’s Arcade. His short film tells the story of Caine’s Arcade and the flash mob that made Caine’s day. The film viewed over 7 million times. It is motivational and I highly recommend watching. it.

The film was posted to the Internet with the goal of raising $25,000 for a scholarship fund for Caine. Within the first day, more than $60,000 was raised. A week later the Goldhirsh Foundation offered a funding grant of $250,000 matching dollar-for-dollar to help start the Caine’s Arcade Imagination Foundation to help more innovative kids.

Caine’s Arcade was trending all over Twitter. It was picked up by celebrities. It hit the front page or Reddit. People came from around the world to visit Caine’s Arcade.  Hollywood actor Jack Black even came by with his kids to play. You can find out more in the follow video, Caine’s Arcade 2. This Oct. 6, he Imagination Foundation is inviting you for a global day of play. “Just imagine what we can build.”

After the Foundation was established, a school pilot program began. Within the first two months, over 100 schools in 9 countries participated using project based learning teaching kids math and science.

“The idea is to not only give kids the tools to build the things they can imagine, but to also to imagine the world they can build.” Mullick said in his second film.

The Lab at Lakewood in Dallas, TX is hosting an afternoon of free play inspired by Caine’s Arcade on Oct. 6 at 2:00 pm. You can also find a local event.

Progressive Insurance overwhelmed by Twitter backlash.

September 10, 2012


On August 13, Matt Fisher released a blog post titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court.” Fisher wrote the article in response to his sister Kate’s death by a reckless driver. In the post, Fisher claims that the insurance company paid for a lawyer to come to the defense of the negligent drive in the case. The Fisher family originally tried to sue Progressive in hopes of alleviating  Kaitlynn’s student loans. However, the State of Maryland does not allow claimants to sue an insurance company. One must first sue the person who did not have sufficient insurance to establish negligence.

Progressive’s next day response denied the claim all together.  The negative comments on the site go on for pages. Fisher responded to Progressives clams. Official court documents appear to back up his claims. Progressive provided the defendant of the civil trial with an additional lawyer. There were nearly 16,000 negative tweets about Progressive by day after Fishers original post. That’s up nearly 50,000 percent from the previous week, according to General Sentiment, a firm which tracks social media chatter.

Progressive’s Twitter responses kept saying the same message:


Progressive for the most part appeared to be giving non-responses or non-apologies.

The link on the tweet goes to the Facebook page of their spokesperson, Flo, on a flying horse with a rainbow.

As a future public relations specialist (and graduating undergraduate), here’s my advice to Progressive:

  • Progressive is going to have to say they are sorry. The standard line of “our thoughts and prayers go out…” is not going to work in this case.
  • “We are sorry” is not the same thing as “our sympathies.” What Progressive is doing is a non-apology-apology. This is a common practice in both politics and public relations. Progressive is going to have to own up to the fact that the company tried to keep from paying out the defendants claim and your statements were not factual. (From my understanding, this isn’t an uncommon practice, but the company got caught.)
  • It would make sense to say something to the effect that sometimes large corporations do not know what the other hand is doing. It may not be completely true, but it is better than what you are doing now.
  • Then, the insurance company is going to have to pay the settlement. The jury awarded the family $760,000 in damages after the driver was found to be negligent. This is what should have been happening in the first place.
  • Progressive also needs to put a professional social media manager on your Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/LinkedIn accounts and pull of any interns if you haven’t already. You are in crisis mode and you need to make sure that you have someone to deliver an understanding tone to your customers and general public.

Today’s Progressive Tweet seems to be the exact opposite, “Have you daydreamed today?” The link on the tweet takes you to a Facebook page of their spokesperson, Flo, on a flying horse with a rainbow. They seem to be off message, or ignoring the situation all together.

Now the problem has gone viral and Progressive has a cacophony of tweets in their direction. The insurance company is going to need some good will to smooth over the feathers of this angry horde.

Start with a scholarship fund in Kaitlynn Fisher’s name to her alma mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Then make a public announcement that you are reviewing any policy procedures that could cause this situation to happen. YouTube a public apology and don’t use Flo. This public relations crisis is no place for humor.


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Journalism + Nerdery = Awesomeness


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