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August 25, 2013

Peak car

city, state and federal policies that for more than half a century encouraged suburbanization and car use -- from mortgage lending to road building -- are gradually being diluted or reversed. "They created what I call a culture of 'automobility,' and arguably in the last 5 to 10 years that is dying out," Ms. Sheller said.

New York's new bike-sharing program and its skyrocketing bridge and tunnel tolls reflect those new priorities, as do a proliferation of car-sharing programs across the nation.

A study last year found that driving by young people decreased 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The millennials don't value cars and car ownership, they value technology -- they care about what kinds of devices you own, Ms. Sheller said. The percentage of young drivers is inversely related to the availability of the Internet, Mr. Sivak's research has found. Why spend an hour driving to work when you could take the bus or train and be online?

From 2007 to 2011, the age group most likely to buy a car shifted from the 35 to 44 group to the 55 to 64 group, he found.

"Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift," said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.

The prejudiced computer

The prejudiced computer

For one British university, what began as a time-saving exercise ended in disgrace when a computer model set up to streamline its admissions process exposed - and then exacerbated - gender and racial discrimination.

As detailed here in the British Medical Journal, staff at St George's Hospital Medical School decided to write an algorithm that would automate the first round of its admissions process. The formulae used historical patterns in the characteristics of candidates whose applications were traditionally rejected to filter out new candidates whose profiles matched those of the least successful applicants.

By 1979 the list of candidates selected by the algorithms was a 90-95% match for those chosen by the selection panel, and in 1982 it was decided that the whole initial stage of the admissions process would be handled by the model. Candidates were assigned a score without their applications having passed a single human pair of eyes, and this score was used to determine whether or not they would be interviewed.

Quite aside from the obvious concerns that a student would have upon finding out a computer was rejecting their application, a more disturbing discovery was made. The admissions data that was used to define the model's outputs showed bias against females and people with non-European-looking names.

The truth was discovered by two professors at St George's, and the university co-operated fully with an inquiry by the Commission for Racial Equality, both taking steps to ensure the same would not happen again and contacting applicants who had been unfairly screened out, in some cases even offering them a place.

Nevertheless, the story is just one well documented case of what could be thousands. At the time, St George's actually admitted a higher proportion of ethnic minority students than the average across London, although whether the bias shown by other medical schools was the result of human or machine prejudice is not clear.

August 19, 2013

Walker wlks: Denis the dentist part 10

Few in Los Angeles get more joy from walking than the walking activist Alissa Walker (I kid you not). A journalist by trade, she has lived car-free by choice since 2007 and is on the steering committee of Los Angeles Walks, a volunteer organization dedicated to repairing the city's image as a walker's wasteland. "The basic goal is to make people realize you can walk in L.A.," she said. Better sidewalks, signage and city policies are all part of their mission.

Ms. Walker for years through the writing community but the jubilant images she posts to Instagram (@awalkerinLA) and her blog (AWalkerinLA.com) -- mostly of her glamorously adorned feet on some oddly alluring stairway or crosswalk -- made me want to get out there with her.

I met her one warm, clear day in the Silver Lake neighborhood, and from her two-story royal blue house with white trim we walked along some of her favorite routes. She was wearing a billowy pink dress and neon coral sandals, and she had teal toenails that matched her sunglasses. At the bottom of her hill are the Music Box Steps, made famous in Laurel and Hardy's 1932 Academy Award-winning short film, "The Music Box," and now one of more than 100 vintage stairways hidden around the city.

Ms. Walker showed me the nearly completed bike lanes under construction as part of a "road diet" that's turning four lanes of car traffic to one on Rowena Avenue. And we walked around the Silver Lake Reservoir and on up Swan's Way, one of the city's steepest staircases, with views to the lake, downtown and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. "If you squint you can imagine women in petticoats walking here a hundred years ago," Ms. Walker said. "But you can also see the near future, when you'll be able to walk Los Angeles without people asking 'What are you walking for?' "

August 5, 2013

Fine line between being a creative, honest workaholic and turning into a scatterbrained procrastinator with a big mouth

Workaholic I work hard; I always have. That helps on the job. Unfortunately, since ADD/ADHD makes some things -- such as being prompt, focused, and respectful -- that are simple for others, challenging for me, this work ethic doesn't apply to all tasks. I can tackle assignments that require these skills, but doing so costs me far more time and energy than average person.

My vain attempts to try and pass off or over this kind of unrewarding and mundane work have led me to waste many days arguing with my bosses. My point? They were asking me to do something inane. Theirs? The work needed to be done regardless. Naturally, I always lost. And at what cost?

I wouldn't dare to generalize my personal experience -- work circumstances and ADD/ADHD behaviors are simply too diverse -- but I will offer the following observation: There's a fine line between being a creative, honest workaholic and turning into a scatterbrained procrastinator with a big mouth. Even when I couldn't tell the difference, my soon-to-be-former employers always could. You need to make sure you're on the right side.

Inner executive

Poor time management, difficulty setting priorities, and other job-related difficulties bedevil workers with ADD. These problems all have to do with executive functioning, a set of cognitive abilities arising within the brain's prefrontal lobe.

"This is the part of the brain that does self-monitoring," says Nadeau. "Your executive functioning tells you whether you're on time or not, whether you're doing what you're supposed to be doing and doing it in an efficient way - basically, the skills that we expect most adults to have. In people with ADD, the prefrontal lobe is chronically under-aroused, and so the ability to monitor behavior is impaired."

Poor executive functioning explains why a person with ADD can waste hours on a minor task or get distracted by the slightest interruption. It's why papers never get filed and the office is always a mess.

To their colleagues, workers with ADD may appear to be irresponsible, disorganized, or downright lazy. In fact, people with ADD often work harder than their colleagues in a desperate attempt to keep up. "Often, the patients I see are smart enough and capable enough to do their jobs, but they find they're not working up to their potential, and that their attention span seems to fluctuate," says Novotni. "Sometimes they'll do brilliant and amazing things, but other times they're just not there. Everything seems to come harder for them. They're like ducks, appearing to swim effortlessly, but paddling furiously under the surface."