Sunday, November 29, 2015

The ‘Other’ Greek system


In a book titled ‘Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy’, Andrew Lohse, a former brother of Dartmouth’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) exposes his experiences both as a pledge and active member of the fraternity in an effort to abolish fraternities. Anti-Greek system activist when expressing their concern and demand for the abolishment of this American institution often references his book. SAE is the same fraternity that made headlines for a leaked video showing members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter chanting racial epitaphs on a fraternity chartered bus last March. Headlines such as these have placed the entire Greek system under the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The chant had references to lynching and indicated that the fraternity should never admit African-American students; the traditional Greek system has a foundation of racial and socioeconomic exclusivity. In the immediate aftermath issues of race and racism within the Greek system came to the forefront at OU as well as campuses across the country.

At the University of Oklahoma, President David L. Boren met with representatives of the Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council [historically the black Greek system] and the Multicultural Greek Council to have the necessary dialogue on the issues revolving around Greek life. Discussions and protests on issues of race in the Greek system took place on university and college campuses across the country. The reaction from the nation climaxed in the expulsion of the students seen leading the chant and the fraternity chapter had its university recognition revoked. This national attention has led some public figures to speak out in support of the abolishment of the Greek system as a whole. As Nicholas Syrett, author of The Company He Keeps, states “It is about power and prestige where fraternity men must rely upon their Whiteness, socio-economic status, masculinity, and heterosexuality to prove themselves to one another and women.”  Recently, the Greek system has been in the news more and more frequently in regards to rampant misogyny, sexual assault, deaths of pledges and members, and exposure of racist traditions. I found an article written by Joseph Rago, in which he reviews Lohse’s book. He makes claims that Andrew Lohse’s experience, as a member of SAE is severely dramatized and full of exaggeration.

More often than not, these issues surround organizations within the Interfraternity council. This is a council made up of organizations who, until very recently, maintained gender-segregated, racial and socioeconomic requirements in order to be considered for memberships. Leaks such as what happened in OU are becoming more frequent and the movement to abolish the Greek system is rapidly gaining momentum. With so much evidence, it is no wonder why people like Will Ferrell, a member of USC’s Delta Tau Delta Chapter, are speaking out in support of the abolishment of the Greek system on university campuses across the country. In an interview with New York Times, Ferrell stated “The incident in Oklahoma, that is a real argument for getting rid of the system altogether, in my opinion, even having been through a fraternity...because when you break it down, it really is about creating cliques and clubs and being exclusionary, Fraternities were started as academic societies that were supposed to have a philanthropic arm to them. And when it’s governed by those kinds of rules, then they’re still beneficial. But you’ve got to be careful.”
 As such, it is no surprise that institutionalized racism is embedded in the organizations’ founding; Greek organizations experienced explosive growth in the wake of the Civil War, partly as a response to increased racial and gender diversity on campuses. With the advent of social media and recording devices it was only a matter of time before these practices became exposed. The media has dedicated segments on informing the public about the issues surrounding Greek lettered fraternities. However when blanket statements are made about Greek organizations as a whole it severely damages organizations whose very creation was a response to the lack of access to traditional all white fraternities. Multicultural Greek organizations often serve critical roles in the community, yet they rarely receive the positive press that’s often reserved for ‘traditional’ Greeks and are subject to heavy criticism for branding themselves as fraternities or sororities. These organizations were created to provide brotherhood and sisterhood for underrepresented students who face barriers to attaining higher education. Members from these demographics are too often not welcomed in other Greek letter organizations, and as a result have formed their own organizations and councils as a means of empowerment in the pursuit of equity. Nontraditional Greeks serve a legitimate purpose to disenfranchised students on campus the broader university community by providing a pathway for development of future leaders that seek to break through the established mold.

Type in Greek Fraternity in a search engine and you will find an overwhelming amount of news articles reporting abuses of privilege by organizations such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon. With established footholds on university administrations, corporate boardrooms, and public offices across the country, these organizations have been able to enjoy years of protection from university standards and, occasionally, the rule of law. Buried behind all of this negative publicity are the other organizations whose only affiliation with traditional all white fraternities are the use of Greek letters and systems. Black and Latino Greeks have a long history of providing role models to undergraduate students; this connection provides first-generation students with the opportunity to learn from alumni in their community who have had to navigate college before them. These types of connections allow groups to pass down effective study and networking methods that have positive impacts on the professional and personal development of its members. In an article with the New Haven Register Donald McAulay, a member of the historically black fraternity Phi Beta Sigma, stated fraternities “also produce a good number of educated African-American and Latino men who understand the challenges facing the urban community with a desire and mission to make a difference.” These multicultural organizations have evolved by minorities that had minimal, if any, representation in the regular Greek councils. More focally, they aspire to increase awareness about their respective group’s presence on college campuses. If there was no such thing as a “multicultural fraternity”, I would not be a member of a Greek organization today. I say this because I have found that these organizations meet the unique needs I face as a first generation Latino college student.  When people think “fraternity” or “sorority” they picture big mansions on the green with an elite membership and some sort of high-class network with privileges and fun times handed to you in exchange for thousand-dollar dues. This fragmented stereotype is used in the argument to abolish Greek systems as a whole and ignores the evolution of the Greek system over the past century to now include a kaleidoscope of organizations. What Greek system abolitionist need to realize is that there are active organizations on these same campuses that operate effective community service and academic services using a fraction of the budgets available to traditional fraternities (and who often spend the lion’s share of said budgets on decadent social parties).


As the momentum to abolish Greek systems as a whole continues to grow, the future looks grim. Federal authorities have threatened to withhold federal university funding in order to evoke effective change from the administrative level and some campuses are phasing out Greek councils. This is a direct result of a national anti-Greek system petition. What is also at risk is the abolishment and marginalization of multicultural Greek organizations whose establishment was a direct response to the monolithic and exclusionary all white Greek system. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Good of a Deal is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the most ambitious trade deals the global economy has ever seen. Encompassing 40% of global GDP and a third of its trade, the 12 nations who are negotiating stand to see benefits resulting from the easing of trade restrictions amongst such a massive bloc. More importantly than lowering already historically low tariffs, the TPP hopes to create a set of coherent quasi-global labor, environmental, and intellectual property standards. Its intention is to “define the rules of the road” for Asian trade according to Michael Froman, America’s chief negotiator.

Despite the great benefits expected from greater trade related gains, these will not necessarily benefit all countries involved equally. The elimination of trade barriers will disproportionately benefit the most efficient countries and industries. While countries which had coddled their industries with generous protections will see declining market share due to increased competition. The TPP will not be helpful to all countries in the same way or for the same reasons.

 Vietnam provides an example of the uneven benefits that TPP’s members will see. Vietnam is a developing nation which is estimated by many experts to receive some of the biggest increases to GDP as a result of the TPP. It is expected to see an increase of 11% to its GDP by 2025. With its combination of a large and young workforce, high productivity and low wages, the country stands to see manufacturing industry expansion as everything from car parts, textiles and other manufactured goods can be exported tariff free to America and Japan. In addition the exclusion of China from this deal means that Vietnamese manufacturers will see a comparative advantage when exporting to rich countries compared to their Chinese competitors.

In addition there as of yet unaccounted benefits that will come to Vietnam as a result of a set of rules that it will have to adhere to that will steer it towards a more open economic environment. Restrictions on SOE’s which it protested but will likely free its private sector to become more efficient and innovative as its allowed to flourish. The state controlled behemoths will be forced to loosen their grip on the economy and may eventually fade away Vietnam could see the emergence of its own private enterprise titans, just as South Korea did after it opened up its trade. Due to the rule setting nature of the TPP, the benefits to developing countries will be twofold better labor and environmental standards will help all, and fair rules will help entrench Anglo-American capitalism which has proven to be a powerful force for growth when embraced by developing nations.

However, in reality there may be some “losers” in these deal, primarily developed nations with inefficient industries that currently benefit from some degree of exclusivity. Canada stands as a prime example the plight of developed countries that sign on to this agreement. It has a highly developed economy is tightly integrated with America’s benefitting greatly from its current free trade agreement NAFTA, encompassing the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Manufacturing in Canada is an important part of the supply chains of Americans manufacturers. As a result the availability of a new source of cheap parts from Asia will directly hurt Canadian industry. The auto sector has already been promised a billion dollar handout to help it cope. (Keenan) In addition dairy manufacturers and the agricultural sector in Canada which is less efficient than the American and Australian sectors, and kept profitable through heavy restrictions on imports and a system of tariffs and quotas will definitely lose in this deal. Ottawa responded with a series of measures to support agriculture worth five billion dollars. Ultimately the country and its consumers will benefit from lower priced goods and products allowing increased consumption, however for all its costs Canada is expected to receive a negligible change to GDP as a result of the TPP.

The challenge then is for industrialized countries to create a system within their country that equitably shares the gains from trade, while developing nations must cope with a significant upgrade to their labor/environmental laws. Better enforcement and information gathering would help both tremendously with this endeavor. Luckily the world has seen the need for a system to maintain the rule of law in the face of serious challenges and compromise seems possible on even the thorniest issues.


The TPP represents more than just a chance to boost GDP for developed nations, it is being pushed through despite its potential to hurt vested interests in certain nations due to its greatest strength. An encompassing and enforceable regulatory environment binding so much of the world economy will ultimately be far more beneficial to all nations, specially allowed to expand, as every country has a chance to benefit from more open trade and rules that follow the liberal consensus as opposed to an increasingly assertive China’s diktat.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Eating Healthy in disadvantages communities

       

On March 4, 2015, the City Council of Los Angeles announced the voting of an ordinance granting county residents the right to plant fruits and vegetables in the parkways directly in front of their homes. The parkways are defined as city owned land, usually covered with grass that separates the sidewalk from the street. Until now, the only greenery allowed, without a $400.00 permit or fine for non-compliance, were grasses and some shrubs. For years community groups such as activist and south central resident Ron Finley’s LA Green Grounds have pressed the city council that a solution to the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is to allow the community to utilize parkways and city land as gardens. Community groups argue that this change in policy can improve and empower the poorer neighborhoods by not only taking ownership of their own gardens but also their health. The community of south Los Angeles that surrounds the University of Southern California is made up of a large Latino and African American population. Both demographics are plagued with high numbers of preventable health diseases that are influenced by the quality of food and diets available to the community.  If this ordinance passes the Mayor’s office successfully in can have major implications on the neighborhoods of south Los Angeles including University Park.

The lack of access to food may not be apparent to the average freshman at the University of Southern California. In fact the University is surrounded by over fifty restaurants and cafes. Just take a northbound drive on Figueroa Street and by the time you cross Adams Boulevard you will have already encountered almost every fast food restaurant you can think of, most of which cater to the student body by operating 24 hours a day. There are also 2 grocery stores, for those looking to cook at home, both Ralph's and Fresh and Easy offer fresh produce at reasonable prices. That is 2 grocery stores per 50 plus fast food establishments. Ron Finley has been one of the leaders in the “Grow Your Own” movement. He along with other activist have long argued that residents can break away from the dependency on fast food restaurants to feed them and regain control of their health by initiating and maintaining community gardens. In a recent TED Talk, Finley states “Just like 26.5 million other Americans, I live in a fast food desert, south central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys. People are dying from curable diseases in south central Los Angeles.”

According to Los Angeles Department of Public Health records, the populations with the highest rates of diabetes are minorities. The Latino population at 13.5 percent and African Americans with 12.4 percent. Type two diabetes and other preventable diseases are heavily influenced by diet. A change in policy is a step in the right direction for the city of Los Angeles, who until now has allowed well-funded special interest groups control over space such as the controversial South Central Farms case of the early 2000's. 


The combination of education on the subjects of horticulture and sustainable health diets needs to start in local schools and practiced in the neighborhood. The financial savings and beautification of the streets can be communicated to residents who will thus be empowered to control their environment and health.  The ordinance currently sitting on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s desk has 4 days to be approved by his office. If he signs it, it could take effect before the upcoming carrot and cucumber planting season. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On the business of private prisons



Since 1980, the state of California built one university compared to 22 prisons. These prisons are filled with a majority of African Americans and Latinos. The conversation surrounding the privatization of prisons is closely linked to profiteering off the effects of policies such as immigration and drug abuse. An article by the Los Angeles Times discusses Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for an increase of 1oo million toward private prisons.

There are more American Citizens in prison today than in any country in the world. With the demographics of those incarcerated being largely people of color. Although Latinos make up 16 percent of the total population in the United States, they make up just under half of the population in prison.

To be transparent, the rise of Latinos incarcerated is not because they are committing more crimes. The rise has to do with what drives our world: Money. The private prison industry is making a great deal of profit by incarcerating innocent immigrants who left their country for a better future. And money aside, the fact that we are incarcerating people for trying to provide for their family is just morally impermissible. Liberty is embedded in the values for which the country was founded. Something has to be done.

Private prisons were officially introduced in the late eighties when the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded a contract to take over a facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee.  This constituted the first jail operated in full by a private company. It served as a good service model at the beginning which made the CCA very popular in the state ending in them trying to serve the whole state for a contract of 200 million dollars, and with that the rest is history.

Currently the US issues contracts to the CCA to jail more than 23,000 people in this country for a pretty big amount of money, 5 billion dollars. To put that in perspective, that is 25 times more in only no more than 3 decades. You may wonder, how did that happen? Active participation of the private prison industry during election times as well as lobbying. According to the Washington Post, this industry has spent more than 25 million dollars to court legislator to pass laws that benefit the cause. That cause seeks to impose larger stays in prison and harder punishment to potential “costumers” including immigrants with the end result on bigger contracts leading to corporate executives creating and maximizing the greatest amount of profit.

Michael Cohen, a journalist for Washington Post writes:

On its website, CCA states that the company doesn’t lobby on policies that affect “the basis for or duration of an individual’s incarceration or detention.” Still, several reports have documented instances when private-prison companies have indirectly supported policies that put more Americans and immigrants behind bars – such as California’s three-strikes rule and Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law – by donating to politicians who support them, attending meetings with officials who back them, and lobbying for funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Clearly it is a good market model (and highly immoral). Immigrants serve as the product, tax payers pick up the bill, and private prison industries rack up the profits.

It is tragic the way our current system operates. Just a couple of weeks ago I heard Gov. Sanders speaking about ending the statutory detention quotas. For those who don’t know what this quota means, it simply states that the quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold an average of 34,000 individuals in detention on a daily basis. Consequently, it is to expect that a great deal of individuals are incarcerated for immigration reasons which increases the profit for this industry.

On the contrary, the nation’s population of illegal immigrants has dropped over the last few years, so officials are forced to fill the spaces in order to meet quotas. Along with all the policies that lobbyist pushed it creates a balance for people to stay longer and keep meeting the quota for financial purposes.

Thus, officials have turned their interest from looking to apprehend individuals who pose a threat to public safety to low profile undocumented families in order to meet quotas more efficiently. It makes sense why Latinos are leading the chart, the odds of finding a Latino without proper documentation of citizenship is much greater than any other race and it serves as a sufficient reason to put people behind bars.

Private prisons are poisonous, degrading and hurtful to society. It is wrong, immoral and it needs to end. Thus, we should reevaluate the way we spend money in incarceration by using private prisons. Instead, we should channel those efforts into the main roots of the issue. By investing time and money on education in minorities the solution could seem less far fetched.



Monday, November 2, 2015

Are you from LA? You must like traffic

Lately I have been traveling to different states on weekly basis due to my work and interviews with other companies as I wrap up my college education. The traveling made me realize that each state has its pros and cons. From the beautiful Disneyworld in Florida to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado one thing became evident as I made conversations with locals, California is known for high taxes and traffic. The latter grabbed my attention as I often come across projects that seek ways to mitigate issues related to traffic. Currently I work in Santa Monica and my commute is perhaps one of the worst highlights of my job. The distance is only 11 miles however it takes me around 50 min to 1 hour to get to work (that’s an average speed of 12-13 mph). In addition, I am sure anyone living in Los Angeles can relate to the occasional heavy traffic at 1am on a normal weekend. The issue is a little complex and it goes beyond planning and traffic engineering. So what’s going on?

As a kid, I often wondered why the state build more lanes on the freeway or make double decker freeways (see picture below) to mitigate the demand of cars. But after some classes in traffic management, and transportation engineering I understood the concept that building more lanes only causes more traffic. In recent years traffic engineers understood that you can’t build your way out of congestion because studies show that the road themselves are what cause more traffic.


The economist Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania took a closer look at this phenomenon. The concept they used is called “induced demand” which is the way economist think when a product is delivered (in this case the roads) makes the end user to want to use it even more. Although research has been made before it was not until recent years that people collected enough data to make a plausible conclusion. This shows that the development of new roads are ineffective because the irrationality of the population when it comes to trying to avoid traffic in a highly congested city.
What the economist decided to do was to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.
“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.
The studies showed that if road capacities increased by X amount then the amount of driving also increased by X amount. Although the results are rather shocking the data is consistent along the whole study.
"As you add roads to a city those roads get filled up. There are people waiting to use that capacity. The result on transit is almost exactly the opposite of that." Turner added.
It could be that traffic engineers are building the roads based on the need of the community and their predicted traffic model fits perfectly with current traffic but Turner and Duranton thinks that it is highly unlikely. Their argument is based on the fact that the modern interstate network are closely related to the original plan developed by the federal government in 1947 and it is hard to believe that the engineers at the time could predict traffic behavior half a century in the future.

The study also took a look at public transportation and the results were alike. More trains, buses, troll systems, etc. created more users but that didn’t seem to relieve the traffic problem. I always thought of fluid dynamics as a model for traffics. In fluid dynamics you expect that by replacing a smaller pipe with a bigger pipe the pressure of the flow will drop causing a better flow. However, this is not the case for traffic, when you replace current roads with wider roads the traffic remains the same. It makes me wonder, where are this new drivers coming from? Were they included in the previous system before the widening of the roads?

According to a wired.com it has to do with what new roads allow people to do: to be able to move around. If you enable the possibility of driving more, they will do it more, causing to have more people willing to move farther away from work and therefore being forced to drive into town. It also means that if the widening of the streets causes an easier drive then it is more likely that drivers will jump in the car more often. Additionally, if there is more incoming traffic, businesses tend to develop faster which create extra traffic. The author argues that as long as the road remain cheap and accessible, people tend to overuse roads.

Interestingly, the study also showed that the phenomenon seems to work in reverse too. That is, when lanes are closed, population expects traffic to become much more chaotic. But the data shows that nothing too terrible occurs, that traffic readjust itself and congestion remains relatively constant.


So is this a never ending circle? Can we actually reduce traffic?  Turner thinks that traffic congestion could be solved if the right policies are formed and enforced. According to Turner we use our roads system ineffective because we have a central authority setting the standards and prices for our public transportation. In other worlds we all obtain what we want: roads, and we get charged next to nothing. So is he suggesting a privatization of all roads? What Turner and Duranton suggest is what they call congestion pricing.

That means raising fees when the traffic demand is high and lower fees or make it free when traffic is low. In Los Angeles there are many freeways that already include this systems but it would be interesting to see whether or not it would have a drastic effect when applied to all roads across Los Angeles. The challenge with that is that voters don’t tend to pass these plans because it is hard to accept to pay for something that used to be free.
They also think that if congestion pricing is not doable, then cities should look into mitigating that traffic by surcharging parking fees in order to make the community more cognizant of parking.

“Because it’s free, people will misuse it and it will be full all the time,” said Duranton. Drivers searching for parking contribute significantly to road congestion. “There are some estimates that say in the central part of cities up to 30 percent of driving is people just cruising around for parking,” Duranton said.
It seems to me that their studies pose solutions that are targeted to increasing prices and start charging for the usage of roads. Whether it works or not, I would like to think that there is a better way to mitigate traffic. After all that’s the job of engineers, to find and crea
te solutions to problems in a way that does not affect current conditions and that it’s also maximize the resources available.
The question is whether a small fee will make a big impact and If that’s the only option that mitigates traffic.

Next time you are sitting in traffic, don’t judge “the jerk” in front of you who just cut you off but the current conditions of our transportation system.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shortage of minorities in engineering





USA TODAY did an analysis a couple of months ago showing that engineering firms reject Hispanic and black applicants twice as much in comparison to the rest of applicants. Engineering firms claim that the pool of applicants lacks of diversity and that the issue is beyond their reach. As a recent engineering graduate, I witnessed clearly that the amount of minorities in engineering are somewhat limited. But these claims are not sufficient. According to Fox News Latino more Hispanics are graduating college with bachelor’s degrees than ever before. As of 2014, Latinos accounted for 15% of STEM jobs (also known as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), it doesn’t seem as much but just 4 years ago Latinos constituted 7% of the population.

It is evident that technology is increasing exponentially, and it will continue to grow as technology becomes one of the main engines that drive our current economic market. This will lead to more openings in tech firms and companies are being pressured to diversify their market. Thus, we need to look closely at the root of this phenomenon. First, a considerable amount of minorities do not continue their education due to the lack of information, resources or even motivation which eliminates a large amount of potential engineers, mathematicians, etc. Furthermore, a large amount of minorities attends college but fails to finish their education. To exemplify this, the graph bellow shows a bar graphs portraying the percent of the population that finish high school, attend and finish college. In light brown we see that out of 19% of 18-24 year olds that are enrolled in college only 9% actually finishes their career (that is a 47% drop out rate) which is daunting.

There are many factors that contribute to this big dropout rate. Many of the young minorities have to work full time to sustain themselves while they attend college by working on fast food restaurant, clothing stores etc. Others get demotivated due to their minimal mentoring and orientation in earlier stages of their educational career leading to picking up vices and activities that could hinder their development.  There are many other factors but we will leave that to another discussion.

On the STEM side, this gets even more filtered because even fewer choose to pursue a degree in a STEM related fields. A study by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. on U.S. engineering degrees found that African-Americans, American Indians, and Latinos account for 34 percent of the total U.S. population (ages 18 to 24), but earn only 12 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering. In fact, the share of engineering degrees earned by these three groups declines at higher educational levels: 12 percent bachelor's, 7 percent master's, and 3 percent doctorates. Meanwhile, women account for nearly half—46 percent—of the U.S. labor force but account for just 10.8 percent of U.S. engineers. This is a big issue because in order to remain competitive with the rest of the world we need to push for a progression of our education system and with that STEM related courses.

Consequently, one may argue that the shortage of engineers is due to the weak foundations that high schoolers receive as part of their basic education package. And yes, in part the government is responsible because of the lack of organization and the current curriculums in place despite the recent efforts of the commander in chief to include a higher load in STEM classes to prepare students in the near future. But also part of the problem could come from a lack of access. Data from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights showed African-American and Latino students are much less likely to have access to Advanced Placement courses in STEM fields. Many students also say they don't take AP courses due to a lack of confidence. 

The lack of diversity (and woman) in STEM jobs is evident but the complexity of the issue doesn’t end with the government being the solely faulty entity. The ratio of minorities STEM will not change unless we make a change from early stages. Perhaps there is a racial component linked to it, African-American and Hispanic STEM workers aren’t just lacking in the U.S., they also make up a relatively small portion of the foreign-born students and professionals in STEM in the United States. Currently, 63% of foreign-born STEM workers come from Asia, with most from India or China. But why? Perhaps a lot has to do with the culture itself. As a recent minority graduate in engineering I hope we make a change in the near future.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Elon Musk: the real life Tony Stark.

The South African inventor and CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX is unstoppable. Musk with degrees in Physics and a proven a electromechanical engineer is doing big things. He got introduced to computer programming at the age of 10 and at the age of 12 he sold his first code of a video game he created called Blastar for $500. After dropping out of the prestigious PhD physics program at Stanford he decides to go into the developing and changing the world with innovative ideas. The first one was called Zip2, a web software company providing business directories and maps to media companies and local e-commerce merchants that was sold to Compaq $307 million dollars in cash where Elon received $22 million from the sale. He then founded Paypal which was acquired by Ebay or US$1.5 billion in stock, of which US$165 million was given to Musk. Last but not least he founded SpaceX and Tesla motors, two companies that revolutionized the industry in their respective markets despite the initial years of losses on their financial statements.
Here are some of the stuff he is currently leading:

SpaceX

SpaceX has an end goal: to take people to space as soon as possible. With the recent funding cuts, government work and governmental companies like NASA are contracting companies like Space X and boy this work is lucrative. In May of 2005 SpaceX got a contract with NASA of over a billion dollar for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force. Regardless of the money Mr. Musk has a different end goal. In an interview he stated he wanted to reduce the cost of space travel by a factor of 10, with a project to colonize mars in the near future. Musk reveals that he wishes to establish a Mars colony by 2040, with a population of 80,000 and that we need to start looking at other planets outside of Earth as a method of survival:

"An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct."
Tesla

They are the new thing, and everyone is talking about it. It is evident that the market for Tesla is hot and they are trying to keep up with the demand. According to Tesla’s website they are producing 550 cars per week and they tend to sell every single car. In fact, when going to the website you encounter a page that lets you reserve a car with a wait time of up to 6 months. Not all has been success for Tesla motors, currently they are still fighting against automobile dealers in multiple states because of the direct-to-customer approach that Tesla uses. In my opinion, the fact that automobile companies are lobbying against Tesla also serves as a propaganda to make the brand a little more exclusive and desirable. Tesla may lose sales in 5 states but gains recognition worldwide. It also gains recognition in the sense that it keeps bringing new things to the table. A clear example, is the tesla Model X, the first SUV that tesla produces. With ample seating up to 7 adults and an estimated mileage of 250 miles per charge model X promises to change the market. The price for the Model X has not been officially released yet but researchers of the market estimate it at nearly 100K. Many argue that Tesla’s are the future but that they are overpriced and only the wealthiest can get a hold of them. But wait, Musk is already working on that issue.

The Tesla Model 3 usually starts at $35,000 before any government incentives and deliveries are expected to begin early 2017. According to the website www.plugincars.com as of March 2015, the Tesla Model X is basically sold out. New orders submitted in spring 2015 will be fulfilled in “early 2016.” So, considering the lower price point, the number of hand-raisers for the Model 3 could create a long backlog—a nice problem for Tesla to have.


SolarCity

SolarCity is currently the second largest provider of solar panels in the United States. Although Elon Musk is the only chairman (not so bad for being the CEO of multiple companies) he made a commitment to make this smooth process for whoever wants to try the project. According to Lyndon and Peter Rive the current CEO’s their goal is to make this process super easy and accessible. You first get a free solar consultation where you will get a quote and study to determine whether or not your location will surplus the initial cost in 20 years. If so, you can go ahead and sign your agreement for the next 20 years where the guarantee no hidden fees along the way. Next, a solar panel system designer along with a surveyor come to your household and gather more information of the geolocation of the property. After, they start the installation where they claim to finish in one day (quite impressive), and they also take care of your permits and inspections. It seems like a solid plan in place, as long you have the right resources upfront.

Hyperloop

The need of a better way to mitigate traffic and transportation is evident here in California, especially in Los Angeles, and that’s where Elon Musk came with the idea of implementing a high speed transportation system driven by air compression and a specialized type of induction motor. In his plan he claims a hypothetical subsonic air travel machine that stretches approximately 350 miles (560 km) from Sylmar (a northern district of Los Angeles) to Hayward (east of San Francisco) and would theoretically allow commuters to travel between the cities in 35 minutes or less. This is huge impact in the way we see transportation since this is already faster than actual airplanes. This technology is barely being developed and is currently in the being discussed from a economic perspective. According to his proposal this will cost around 6 billion dollars. More concerns were raised (like getting sick at high velocities, unpleasant rides etc) when the proposal came up but his information and theory of the Hyperloop remains unproven. Currently no plan of development has been issued.

Elonk Musk with 44 years has done remarkable changes to society, and I am sure there will be more to come.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Revolutionizing the cannabis industry

Lately the rise of Cannabis is evident. Cannabis serves the medicinal and recreational purposes. With more than 20 states having some kind of laws involving the decriminalization it is evident that the customer demand will continue to grow. More importantly, media has slowly merged the cannabis usage and the stigma is slowly disappearing. Until recently, marijuana and marijuana users were often associated with the word dangerous and negative. With all this, the business side of the cannabis looks promising because not only the demand of cannabis will increase as time progresses but also we will need to define and incorporate a social space for its consumption. In turn, this should lead to revolutionary entrepreneurs to incorporate this business into the defined social norms. Examples are bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, etc. and with the legalization of cannabis it would be plausible to incorporate cannabis into each industry. The end goal is for businesses to strengthen the cannabis industry and in doing so their own careers. Thus, I believe that the use of marijuana will be inevitable in the United States and there will be a need to incorporate new business models into already stablished businesses.

Why is it beneficial?

According to the PEW research center nearly 53% of Americans think that the drug should be legal in contrast with 44% who want it to be illegal. Interestingly only 4 states have legalized marijuana (Arizona, Colorado, Oregon & Alaska) and so far the implications of this motion looks promising when it comes to higher tax revenues. For example in Colorado, voters approved a 15% tax on the wholesaling of marijuana and 10% sales taxes on all recreational marijuana sales to the consumer. According to the Denver Business Journal, Colorado is expected to generate 60 to 70 million and that is just on the actual product not including other possible channels to make a revenue like marketing, distribution, supplemental products etc.

Those in favor suggest that those additional needs could be used for other basic needs in the community. Cris Miles, a journalist of mic.com in his blog he states:

“We've seen the economic power of legal pot. On January 1, when recreational weed became legally available to Colorado consumers, 24 pot shop owners across the state believe they collectively made more than $1 million in a single day of business. Residents can currently purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at one time for recreational purposes. Non-residents can purchase up to a quarter ounce. State officials expect up to $578,000,000 in first-year sales revenue, as well as $67 million in tax revenue, which will be used to build schools and fund regulatory efforts.”
So the question becomes, what are we waiting for?

Where is the entrepreneurship?  

Most of the numbers are solely based on the sale of the cannabis itself. A call to action is necessary for entrepreneurs to look closely at the way our society incorporates this product into their social settings. People looking into this business need to be able to forecast and innovate ways of incorporate cannabis into already stablished entertainment businesses as well as identifying their demographics of both current and future customers.

The once prohibited drug, Alcohol, can provide us with some business practices and history in regards to a newly introduced substance and more importantly how can this flourish under an excise tax. These new innovators need to look back and see what other industries did to remain open while living under times of crisis so they could get a better understanding in terms of maximizing resources and being innovative. A clear example was the national prohibition. National prohibition occurred January 1920 to December 1933, this law prohibited any beverage that contained 0.5 percent and higher alcohol content which killed about half the country’s distilleries and breweries, and perhaps 75 percent of the wineries according to John Ruch, a journalist from Georgia. So how did companies like Old Bushmills Distillery (also known as Jose Cuervo), Jack Daniels, Anheuser-Busch, amongst others survived. For once, they started to diversify their market, they started producing yeast and near-beer, but also ice cream, soft drinks, commercial refrigerators and car bodies. Only those companies with the capacity to develop sustainable business plans and the foresight into what the alcohol industry could be survived the prohibition era.


Even with the legalization of recreational marijuana, it is still illegal to consume in public space. For example, tourists visiting Colorado cannot consume marijuana in hotel rooms or similar settings. Regardless of this, entrepreneurs are looking into ways to create a safe place to participate in the activity. A different type of lounges have emerged around the globe. The website http://www.budpubs.com/ has a directory of locations where you can use the product and socialize. For example Space Lounge in Los Angeles California welcomes medical marijuana patients and offers a place to medicate. They have a dab bar and lounge with nice dab rigs, a good concentrate menu, 2 Big Screen TV and friendly atmosphere and offer free items to first time visitors. The Treehouse in LA found a way to comply with the law by making theirs establishment a “bring your own bud” business. They make profits by charging an entrance fee, supplying a variety of wraps, and rental fee for smoking apparatuses. This is where opportunity arises, entrepreneurs need to look at patterns and study where people chose to spend their free time. According to TIME magazines Americans average more than 3 hours watching TV and a portion of that is devoted to time spent in the movie theaters.  And this is where a group of young entrepreneurs are looking to incorporate cannabis.














Growing industry

At the University of Southern California Lloyd Grief Center for Entrepreneurship, a group of students is developing a business idea incorporating cannabis. The group is developing the first cannabis friendly movie theater. According to Johnny de La Cruz, a student majoring in entrepreneurship at USC, he stressed that the idea is innovative and with great chances of success. The group identified two important points about their idea. First, the movie theater industry in decline with a need of a boost and the need of a social place for cannabis consumption. This emergent business could solve some of the pains that each industry is facing. When asked about some of the challenges they spoke about licensing issues and some modification to the current buildings when it comes to movie theaters. They will venture this business in Colorado due to the current laws in California and they are already taking to mechanical engineers to modify the ventilation system to avoid irritability caused by smokers to non-smokers. Similar events have happened in Colorado. In May 2014, The Colorado Symphony Orchestra staged a marijuana-friendly concert where participants enjoyed a brass quintet and cannabis in one sitting.

What are the challenges?

Conversely many scholars argue that the process is not that simple, that legalizing cannabis won’t just bring the cash right in. Many economist believe that the expected amount of revenues are exaggerated. Oppositionist also argue that the legalization of the drug would cause many disparities in the social context because the easy availability would create new users instead of saving the current users despite the easiness to find the drug nowadays. But the bigger challenge is using the product in a somewhat restricted environment, people looking into this need to look at the techniques the alcohol companies used during the prohibition area and the cigarette industry for how to create a safe place for consumption. A clear example is Las Vegas, Nevada law allows for casinos that exceed 15 slot machines as well as nightclubs and bars that do not serve food to admit smoking and it seems to work well. This law also tied high tech ventilation system to avoid health concerns within the casinos and clubs.

The use of cigarettes is surely a big factor for lung damage, in fact many argue that smoking any kind of plant matter is responsible for pulmonary disease and lung cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. However, Dr. Mark Pletcher, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco and the lead author of a study trying find a linkage between marijuana and lung diseases stressed the following:

“Marijuana may have beneficial effects on pain control, appetite, mood, and management of other chronic symptoms. Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana for these or other purposes may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function. It is more difficult to estimate the potential effects of regular heavy use, because this pattern of use is relatively rare in our study sample; however, our findings do suggest an accelerated decline in pulmonary function with heavy use and a resulting need for caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered”

The study showed no pattern between lung diseases and marijuana but it did find a decline in the performance of the lungs. Something users and potential businesses need to consider.

The big picture

Colorado and Washington are currently leading this developing industries followed by Alaska, Oregon and Washington cannabis is slowly becoming a product for further development as well as an introduction to open spaces without the negative stigma many had in the past. With the right approach and productive plan cannabis will be socially acceptable just like alcohol and as available as cigarettes. At the moment, the market will be geared towards experienced users with high tolerances but as the industry progress entrepreneurs will look to diversify. Timing could not be better and the 21st century is ready and equipped to turn a vice into a profitable social norm.

Works Cited

Bronson, Po. "How We Spend Our Leisure Time." Time. Time Inc., 23 Oct. 2006. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
"Fast Facts." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
Motel, Seth. "6 Facts about Marijuana." 6 Facts about Marijuana. Pew Research Center, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Raghavan, Divya. "How Much Your State Could Make From Legalized Marijuana." NerdWallet Credit Card Blog. N.p., 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
Ruch, John. "Stupid Question (TM) Archives." : Whiskey Companies During Prohibition. N.p., 7 Mar. 2002. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
Szalavitz, Maia, and Maia Szalavitz. "Study: Smoking Marijuana Not Linked with Lung Damage | TIME.com." Time. Time, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.

Warner, Joel. "The Colorado Symphony Staged a Marijuana-Friendly Classical Concert. It Wasn’t Easy." Puff Puff Brass. N.p., 29 May 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 20

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Oculus Rift, the future of virtual reality?

The Oculus rift was developed by virtually reality Oculus VR. The brain of the Palmer Luckey and the extremely successful fundraiser Kickstarter of nearly $2.4 million gave birth to the development of this powerful device. Although the device was intended towards the game industry, it is evident that other industries have incorporated the oculus rift into their business model.

THE BASICS

The oculus rift is a head mounted device which displays 1080×1200 per eye, a 90 Hz refresh rate, and a wide field of view to the user. The device is extremely lightweight and wraps around the peripheral vision of the user. This allows for an extremely engaging 3D environment. By covering the user’s entire view all external stimulation is blocked allowing the user to experience a quasi-reality experience.

HOW IT WORKS?

The Oculus Rift resemble a pair of skiing google with a rectangular box attached to the front, this box serves as a house for a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The eye lenses are 2.5 inches apart from each other, allowing each eye to perceive objects in a more natural way.

In terms of motion, the oculus uses a custom-built sensor which includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer and magnetometer. Combining the three sensors the device gathers data to track the position and orientation of the user’s head in order to and synchronize the position of the user.
The control box has HDMI, DVI, and USB ports which can be to connect the computer to the box. Once a connection has been established, the control boxes transfer’s the images from the computer to the Oculus Rift’s display screen.

With all these technology backing the Oculus Rift it is easy to see why this device is the most popular in the current world of virtual reality. This powerful technology puts virtual simulation far ahead than any head mounted display. Oculus VR also considered the design and comfort of the device, previously any hardware developed was clunky and weighty. All that combined for 350$, it is clear that the intentions of Luckey is to give the community a taste of what’s coming next.

WHATS THE USE?

The applications of the Oculus Rift range across multiple industries. Major game developers jumped the fence the moment this was developed. To name a few, classic game studio Id Software, PC gaming giants Valve Software, and two of the companies behind the game industry’s most popular video game engines, Epic Games and Unity Technologies.
Id Software has already implemented this into one of their most famous games, Doom 3. The development kit can be connected and be played with Oculus as a technical demo. The fact that a respected gaming company is using the device speaks of the confidence that has been put under Oculus VR, more importantly it boost this industry for years to come.
The Oculus Rift is not only being used in the gaming industry. For example, Architecture has been using the Oculus Rift to gap the bridge of those who lack of construction knowledge by incorporating augmented reality into their 3D models. Jon Brouchoud the founder Arch Visual, a company that specializes in creating 3D environments specifically with virtual and augmented reality stated the following:
"You can almost conceptually imagine a time when the architecture is literally perfect, crystallized around exactly the way we're going to use the building," he adds. "Rather than this abstract blueprint realization process, the buildings will fit like a glove."
From manufacturing to education to post traumatic disorder treatments the usage of the Oculus seems promising. It is an exciting time to be a part of the technology industry and we should continue moving forward.

THE FUTURE

While the Oculus Rift was designed mainly for gaming purposes, that is certainly not the limit of the device. NASA Jet Propulsion Lab already started incorporating the Oculus into their scientific applications. Such experiments include using the device to remotely control a robotic arm, and feeding images from the Curiosity rover into the device to create a Virtual Reality simulation of the environment of Mars.

But not everything is perfect with the Oculus Rift. The device lacks the ability to track user positioning, meaning there is a required separate device to track your movement. Also the Oculus does not have any kind of sound system which makes virtual reality a little dry. Currently, applications of the device use separate headphones to make the experience a little more complete.

Although, it is evident that Oculus Rift falls short for our expectations in virtual reality, however one can only hope the popularity of the Oculus will allow developers to use it as milestone to create a more immersive experience.

WAY BEFORE OCULUS WE HAD AMIGA 3000

AMIGA 3000 VIRTUAL REALITY GAME

WHERE WE ARE NOW

THE VOID 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Immigration and Climate in the Words of Francis

The last couple of weeks have been a tornado of arguments around the Globe, especially for America, from the Republican Party presidential debate to teen Ahmed Mohamed going to Jail for showcasing his homemade clock. On Tuesday afternoon, Pope Francis landed on American Soil. This marks a historic moment for the United State because no other pope has visited the United States since 1965. Perhaps his timing is appropriate; though the US has given him the warmest welcome Pope Francis is ready to create uncomfortable moments (as he should) by bringing light to controversial modern day issues.
The pontiff received the media’s attention with his blunt comments - not only has he condemned capitalism and imposing inequalities for the poor but he also has blunt critiques for society, global economics, and other national topics.

Yesterday afternoon the pontiff directed a speech to the Senate and the House of Representatives and surprised many with his choice of topic. Francis is different from other popes; he introduces himself as a “son of inmigrants” from which America was built.

The pope started his speech with a controversial statement. He challenged congress to see immigration as a moral issue rather than a political issue, that instead of treating people as numbers they should be treated as people. "Do not be afraid to welcome them... I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its church" he stated in his speech by making the argument that America was once a country full of foreigners which made the Country we are today.  His thoughts on immigration come in an appropriate time, just very recently the republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made strong accusations in regards to immigration against Mexico by stating that if elected he will build an impenetrable wall across the border. But what  people say? 51-year-old Maria Lira made the journey to D.C. from Pennsylvania where she traveled to make a statement for the undocumented. She believes that the pope is the voice of the community because he addresses issues that everyone wants to raise.

Next, Pope Francis addressed climate change. He proclaimed that we need to take immediate action and we cannot pass this problem to the next general. Furthermore, he stressed that America has a duty to act now and advocated that we need to lead that movement. Similar issues have been brought up before but it seems like GOP is slightly more interested in what really matters in this country, the money, just recently they challenged president Obama in regards his plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants because it would hurt the economy and the improvement to the environment would be minimal. Would this plan be effective? I am not sure but what I do know is that it would immoral and illogical to forget to protect and maintain human life at any given time, and that includes our planet.

Francis also urged Cuba and the United States to reconnect after more than half a century of tension. He remained positive during his speech because “the dream continues to inspire us all” every day we wake up in America, although Pope Francis advocated many changes, I am quite unsure on how proactive we are with Cuba. Can we finally rebuild ties? Only time will tell.

The pope is charismatic and people agree with his ideas. Dolores Reyes, a community resident, waited hours to see him. Reyes stated “He is more humble, more connected with people, with everyone. He is a great Pope. I love his approach."


Though the pope has left, his arguments still ring. We should endeavor to practice individualism and self-reliance to see in order to move forward. Global Climate and immigration, the main issues he addressed will require everyone’s participation. Until next time Pope Francis.