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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why Kids May Be Getting Dumber By The Minute

In the past decade, the number of college grads who can interpret a food label has fallen from 40 percent to 30 percent. And not too long ago, a high school teacher out west handed out an assignment that required students to use a ruler. But she discovered not a single one of them knew how. Kids today seem way dumber than they used to be. That's because they spend all their time playing computer games and hanging out with one another on Myspace and Facebook.

They don't know the most basic stuff like who fought whom in World War II, how many pints are in a quart, and in some cases, even the months or the days of the week. The average kid spends nearly 9 hours  a day in front of computers, TV and  iPhones screens. Add in 8 hours of sleep and 7 hours in school, that just leaves 1/2 hour when their senses are not under siege while they take a shower. Technology was supposed to set us free, but it seems to be binding our youth to mundane, time-consuming tasks. Each day, kids send and receive more than 4,000 text messages each month or about 100 a day. Plus they have an average of 450 friends on Facebook.

Reading is highly unnatural in that it requires us to filter out distractions and focus on a  single task. But a study done at Stamford last year revealed that heavy users of multimedia have a very hard time filtering out distracting information. When the phone rings, their behavior is driven by that distraction. In fact, kids today are assailed by such a constant stream of input that they can't even remember what they see.

Here are some examples of how technology is effecting our brains.  Heavy computer users take longer than light users in moving between different tasks and have trouble tuning out irrelevant information. Computer  gaming can become literally addictive. Under the stress of playing, a part of the brain produces more endorphins, leading to euphoria. If a kid stops playing, the endorphin level drops and he has to play again.
Computer gaming over time also increases the level of stress, and releases stress hormones.

When kids multitask, their brains become wired for instant gratification. And that makes their attention span shorter. If you ask a kid a question, they get restless. That's because they're used to getting everything at a click. That's why they don't have conversations anymore. If they have something important to say, they text it.

On a final note, with Facebook, their cell phones and laptops,  kids don't ever have to be alone but they're always alone.  Research has shown that the more  they use the internet to connect, the more vulnerable they are to depression. Plus the incidence of depression has doubled among teens in the last decade. In addition, a quarter of all Americans report not having even one person they can confide in. More than half have no close friends outside their immediate family.         

Employers Are Spying On You At Facebook, Twitter And Linkedin

Remember that hazy trip to Cabo San Lucas with old friends a few years ago? Those margaritas were huge. You just had to post photos of them on Facebook, along with a few other Kodak moments. Then you mostly forgot about them.

Even if you don't recall all of the sordid details from that weekend of debauchery, your employer may know all about it. That's because a new company called Social Intelligence billing itself as a social media private eye will observe your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other online accounts on behalf of employers to make certain you're not a liability. Background checks involving criminal records and credit histories are typical and even expected of many major employers responsible for children, nursing homes or public safety.

But the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company takes this concept to a new level offering an automated tool that mines social media content for troubling signs. Search filters can be customized "to reflect corporate culture," and additional manual reviews are conducted by "social media experts."

A display tells the human resources manager in your workplace how many "negative" hits are uncovered, placing the names of both job applicants and active employees next to red flags like "drugs/drug lingo," "gangs," "poor judgment" and "demonstrating potentially violent behavior."

Social Intelligence is the latest in an ever-expanding movement by both corporations and government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to use new communications tools for surveillance
purposes. Some of the most provocative examples yet emerged only in recent weeks.

The trend raises fresh questions about how standards enforcing privacy online can withstand the rush of data about you and everyone else that courses through the Internet.

After finally landing a job, the information gathering has only just begun. From there, Social Intelligence will carry out near "real-time surveillance" of your behavior with screenshots and customizable reports used to document activity and keep the front office informed.

Its marketing materials play into larger fears every employer could have. According to the company's website: Once employees have been hired, their online behavior poses a possible threat to your company. Employees may criticize managers or coworkers on a social networking site, post questionable photos on a blog, or regularly update personal sites while on the clock. Consistent monitoring creates awareness and strict adherence among employees, thereby reducing 'cyber slacking,' fraud and negative company publicity.

Internet.com pointed out Sept. 29 that Social Intelligence doesn't actively "friend" users to surreptitiously access more private posts online. The goal is to shield companies from job seekers and employees who turn out to be dangerous or untrustworthy. Litigation following violent episodes in the workplace can hinge on warning signs an institution may have been aware of in advance. But clearly bloodshed isn't the only thing Social Intelligence is promising to help prevent.

Government investigators, meanwhile, will quietly friend you and more generally use social media to seek out evidence of possible security threats and spy on political organizations.New documents unearthed recently in Pennsylvania show that state homeland security officials used Twitter accounts to watch people who had not violated any laws, including elderly anti-war protesters linked to Quaker activism.

The news came shortly after Pennsylvania's homeland security director resigned amid revelations that the state paid a private contractor thousands of dollars to monitor gay and lesbian groups, environmentalists and even a nonprofit tied to the governor. Findings from the surveillance were compiled in intelligence reports ostensibly designed to inform authorities about potential terrorism. But the public reacted angrily. Gov. Ed Rendell apologized, calling the intel-gathering "ludicrous" and insisting he wasn't aware of it.

Then in October, the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit showing that the federal government created a special center prior to Barack Obama's
inauguration for analyzing oceans of data passing through Facebook, Twitter and other sites in an attempt to identify hazards.

Further records turned over to EFF revealed that federal investigators were taught how they could deceptively "friend" people applying to become citizens and snoop for relationship details meeting the
government's standard of a legitimate marriage. According to one internal memo:

Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages, and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know. Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities.

In documents made publicly available earlier this year by the Department of Homeland Security, officials described another new program for maintaining "situational awareness" that involved tracking social media sites and other online destinations.

Personnel at the department's National Operations Center scan the Web using dozens upon dozens of key search terms and phrases, among them "militia," "cops," "riot," "dirty bomb," "Mexican army,""decapitated," "Iraq," "radicals" and many more. The NOC stores and analyzes its results before determining what tips should be distributed to other government agencies and even private companies authorized to receive such information.

As for Social Intelligence, attempting to expose online criticism from employees could become its own liability. The National Labor Relations Board is arguing that condemnation of your boss on Facebook
doesn't justify termination. Lawyers for the labor board alleged in late October that an ambulance company violated the law when it fired an employee for disparaging remarks made on the Web. Observers are
calling the case ground-breaking.

You can check out the company snooping for employers at: http://www.socialintelligencehr.com/home

How To Make Venetian Rainbow Cookies For The Holidays

The holidays would not be the same without the almond sponge cake pastries known as rainbows or  tricolors which first originated in Venice.  For starters, you'll need:

12 Large Eggs, Separated
2 3/4 Cups Sugar
24 Oz Almond Paste
8 Sticks Butter Softened
5 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Red Food Coloring
2 Tsp Green Food Coloring
16 Oz Orange Preserves ( Smuckers will do fine)
heated and strained
8 OZ Bittersweet Chocolate, Chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Beat egg whites in electric mixer until they hold stiff peaks. Add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks, the refrigerate. Beat together almond paste and remaining sugar in mixer. Add butter gradually and beat until mixture is fluffy , about 3 minutes. Add yolks and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt and mix until combined. Fold in egg whites. Divide batter equally among 3 bowls; wearing gloves. (1) whisk red food coloring into one, and green into the other, leaving the third batch plain. Spread each batch separately and evenly, about 1/4" thick, onto 3 half-sheet  pans , each greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake until barely set, about 7 minutes. ( 2) When layers are cool, spread half the preserves onto the green layer. Invert plain layer over it and discard paper. Spread on remaining preserves , and invert red layer over it, discard paper. Wrap with plastic and top with a weighted baking pan. Refrigerate for several hours. Remove plastic and bring to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, and (3) spread thinly on top layer. Chill in freezer briefly until firm. Cover with wax paper, place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet pan and remove paper. Quickly spread remaining chocolate and return to freezer until firm. Trim edges, slice and serve.