Sunday, December 12, 2010


A few months ago, a colleague sent an e-mail to several people discussing the problem of people tweeting during presentations.

First, the Incident
The issue is a timely one in light of a live interview with Steve Martin at New York’s 92nd Street Y.  The interview by New York Times writer Deborah Solomon focused on Martin’s new novel, and she picked up on a number of points in the book when asking him questions.

But the audience wanted a “star” interview, asking him about his career as a comedian, not his recent work as a novelist focusing on the art world.  The increasingly frustrated audience (located not only onsite, but also through simulcast in locations around the country) tweeted up a storm and one of the events’ producers eventually informed the interviewer that the audience was losing patience with her line of questions.

The Y eventually sent an apology and a $50 gift certificate to all who attended, claiming that the interview didn’t live up to its “standard of excellence.” (For those  who aren’t familiar with it, this series of lectures is one of the best known in New York City and, simulcasts started in response to people in other cities wishing to join the experience.)

The Arts Beat blog of the New York Times reports on the incident (  Some people agree with the gesture.

But others question it, pointing out that people who attend other disappointing lectures, movies, and similar performances rarely receive apologies, much less refunds.

More significantly, some people question whether the role of the audience in this situation, noting that the success of the Y lectures is that they do not pander to audience wishes.

The Bigger Picture
Edu-blogger Steve Wheeler puts this individual incident into a broader perspective in his blog entry, Weapon of Mass Detraction ( from December 2009.

Wheeler describes a few incidents in which impatient audiences tweet their frustration with a speaker.  In some instances, the speaker is admittedly off-the-mark in targeting the presentation.

But in other instances, the problems plaguing the speaker are beyond his or her control, such as non-functioning audio and restrictions placed on the speaker by the conference producer.

Wheeler labels this phenomenon as tweckling.

Wheeler focuses on the rudeness of the behavior. And it is.

But, more fundamentally, this seems to be a question of publicly vocalizing their conclusions before the speaker has reached his or hers.

That does not excuse speakers from the responsibility for engaging their audiences or conference producers from providing the pre-presentation guidance and on-site audiovisual support that speakers need to successfully do so.

But it would be nice if audiences were to meet speakers half way, and give them a bit of a benefit of the doubt before tweeting their dissatisfaction.

Realistically, though, as long as conference producers increasingly promote tweeting during their events, tweckling is an additional reality that all speakers need to face.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Reality Check on Giving

On the one hand, nonprofits succeed because kind volunteers donate time and kind patrons donate money.  But two recent news reports show how some organizations take advantage of the good intentions of kind people.

In “Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering” (, New York Times reporter Hilary Stout reports the stories of several mothers who burned themselves out as volunteers for their childrens’ schools.  One even continued volunteering at the school after her children transferred to another school.  Two common threads in these stories: mothers felt a heightened sense of responsibility for their volunteer jobs and schools often took advantage of their willingness to volunteer. 

In “When Donations Go Astray” (, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof warns that not all charities use kind donations for the purposes that donors intended, including some well-known charities like Feed the Children, which is embroiled in a number of lawsuits and investigations over inappropriate use of funds. 

As both Stout and Kristof advise, most organizations treat their volunteers well and use donations for the purposes for which they’re intended.  But even the best organizations can go off-course so volunteers and donors should always make sure their gifts are being used appropriately.  

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Career Challenges Faced by Highly Skilled Professionals

Here are some recent news about challenges that some highly skilled professionals face in maintaining their employability.

  • In Sondage AQIII 2010 : La formation continue negligee (Survey 2010—Training continues to be neglected) (, Direction Informatique editor Denis Lalonde reports that a recent survey by a professional association serving independent Information Technology (IT) professionals shows that, in this fast-changing field, 51 percent have had no training in the past year and another 5 percent have spent less than $500 on training (well below the Canadian average for all workers, much less the average of all those working in IT).  
The article attributes the drop in training to the Internet; people are learning on their own.  That may be true, but I’m a bit more skeptical given that IT professionals who are employed in full-time jobs continue to receive significant amounts of training, perhaps more than other categories of workers.  So I can hypothesize several explanations for the findings. One is that independent  professionals don’t value training.  Another is that many are un- or under-employed and cannot afford training. A third is that, without a regular employer to cover training costs, professionals are not investing in their long-term skill development.   
  • The Montreal Gazette editorial, Foreign-trained doctors get a taste of justice ( supports the finding of a recent report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission that medical schools in the province have unfairly prevented doctors trained outside of Canada from entering the residencies they must serve to earn their local medical licenses.  The editorial notes that although many of these foreign-trained doctors passed the qualifying exam, the medical schools found reasons to deny them placement in residency programs.  What’s worse, the editorial reported that these medical schools are rejecting these findings. 

Monday, December 06, 2010

Battle of the e-Book Readers

In the past few weeks, the Toronto Star ran a pair of articles on e-readers.

Consumer columnist Ellen Roseman sings the virtues of her iPad in  “An eReader is good, but an iPad is better” (

In response, Star editor Sarah Millar’s wrote “iPad vs. Kindle, which would you prefer?” ( Despite its non-commital title, Millar decidedly chooses the single-purpose e-book reader in general, and the Kindle in particular. 

For what it’s worth, in my opinion, Millar makes the stronger case.  She points out that the Kindle costs about one-third the price of an iPad, and is lighter and its battery lasts longer.  I’m not sure that the additional features that Roseman highlights are really worth all the extra money. 

That said, I own an iPad and love it.