30 March 2012

"¡Ciencia Boricua!" Rocks

Thanks to Dr. Daniel Colón-Ramos, a Yale researcher of nematodes and founder of CienciaPR.org, I received a copy of the outstanding science essays collection titled ¡Ciencia Boricua! And the best part? It was personally dedicated to Me!

Okay, to Mrs. Jenius and Jenius, Jr, too.

The purpose of the collection was to present Puerto Rican scientists and sciences in a Puerto Rican context. Now some of you gringos and other-than-Puerto-Ricans out there might think this is silly, "sciences in a Puerto Rican context." But let Me ask you this: how many plant species do you know from Brazil? How many insects can you name that are common to Japan? Can you name 3 scientists who have no direct links to the U.S. of part of A.? Go ahead: name three.

"But Jenius, who cares about Brazilian plants, Japanese bugs and scientists not from the proto-fascist U.S. of part of A.?!"

Brazilians, the Japanese and every nation that takes pride in the achievements of its people.

You see, an interest in science is developed by observation and thought, by observing the world We live in and are surrounded by, linked to a questioning, probing thought process. But if the science you are exposed to is from "somewhere else," if it doesn't connect directly with your experiences and help you answer the questions you encounter in your own environment, then you develop a sense that science is not for you, that it has nothing to say to you, and you look for other things to occupy your mind.

And that's where ¡Ciencia Boricua! comes in: it gives sciences a Puerto Rican look and feel. Every author is Puerto Rican and every essay--each about 2-4 pages long, making it a breezy read--is about an aspect of science explained with local geology, flora, fauna and examples.

The essays range from microscopic life forms to a time when the Earth was almost constantly heaving lava, from the need for improved science education to a personal exploration of what science means. The essays explain their topics simply, not in the offensive "dumbing down" way favored by modern media, but directly, almost conversationally. There's something for everyone, and better than that, it's all important.

I was so enthused by ¡Ciencia Boricua! that I offered to help turn it into an e-book. I know Dr. Colón and CienciaPR are trying to create a broader range of science-based channels to bring the wonders of science directly to the masses, from school-age children to curious adults. In this arena of creating connections, Dr. Colón received a prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.

The goal would be to create a series of textbooks for all grades, covering all major sciences, with a Puerto Rican-centric context. We certainly don't lack the scientists, and to those who say that "science is not cultural," My response is "Explain any science without a cultural context." Why can't you do it? Because you'd need to use a language...and where does language (word usage and terminology) come from if not a cultural context? We understand sciences better because We internalize them according to Our cultural norms and mores.

¡Ciencia Boricua! is a small book as many science texts go, but it is a giant leap for Our educational system and cultural context. It might seem odd that the the juxtaposition of "small step, giant leap" made popular by Neil Armstrong on the Moon--placed there by NASA and a huge national effort--is used in this context, but when you realize that NASA is literally jammed with Puerto Rican engineers and scientists, you see why I used it.

There's plenty of Puerto Rican presence in the sciences; the time has come to make that fact known to a wider audience and to encourage a new generation of Our scientists to discover the wonder of the Universe We live in...no matter where We choose to look for it.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

28 March 2012

Is The Tech Industry Racist?

So I'm glancing through My e-mail and I notice one from Jen Rhee.

Don't know who that is. Clicked it open.

Hi Gil,

While searching for resources about tech and social media, I came across your site and saw that you had talked about the current digital divide. I wanted to reach out with a graphic about the absence of minorities in today's booming tech industry, which I think would be a great fit for your site. Would you be interested in taking a look?

Thanks in advance,


Quick Google search satisfied My low-key "Is this spam?" filter. But I took an unconscionably long time to respond to her. Happily, she replied:

Hi Gil,

Thanks for getting back to me. The graphic I was referring to lives here: http://www.onlineitdegree.net/is-tech-racist/

I think your readers will enjoy it, so feel free to share it and let me know if you do! I’d love to get your thoughts as well.

Thanks again,


The infographic is very large, but here are two facts that are quite stunning:

Population of the U.S of part of A.: Black, 12.8%; Hispanic, 15.4%, Other, 71.8%
Silicon Valley Employment Population: Black, 1.5%; Hispanic, 4.7%, Other, 93.8%

Internet Company Founders, Nationwide: White: 87%; Asian: 12%; Black: 1%

And lest you look at these numbers and think they are merely part of the past, the infographic also reveals that although employment in the 10 largest companies of the tech industry has risen 16%, the number of Hispanics employed in those companies has dropped 11% and the number of Blacks has dropped 16%.


Let's start with labeling. In the Silicon Valley Employment Population stat, Asians are classified as "Other," and yet they are 12% of the Internet company founders. By that measure, 99% of all Internet companies are founded by "Whites/Asians" and only 1% by Blacks. And that 99% would ostensibly include Hispanics, lumped with Whites out of carelessness, bias, negligence or because their numbers are too small to separate (in which case they should have been listed to contrast with the size of the Hispanic population.)

In short: the way the data is presented obscures or obfuscates the conclusions...but only to a certain extent. When 28.2% of a nation's population equals barely 6.2% of a major industry's workforce and barely more than 1% of its entrepreneurial founders, there has got to be more than an "oops factor" involved.

So what could they be?

1) Education: The numbers for Hispanics and Blacks are far below Whites and Asians when it comes to college degrees, even in technology-related fields. They have been for a long time.

But isn't Silicon Valley the proud poster child of the college dropout who built a company and changed the world? In fact, isn't the image of the industry one that often eschews "book learning" or "theory" in favor of "just doing it"? Since when did "doing it" have a skin color?

2) Economics: The Silicon Valley scene is rife with venture capital money, in the same way some parts of Colombia are built on cocaine. From a 2011 survey on venture capitalists comes this conclusion: "When looking at race, 86% of investors identify themselves as Caucasian, 10% as Asian and 1% as African American." [Jenius Note: Apparently 4% don't care what they are or don't want to be scrutinized too closely.]

Let Me save you the trouble of scrolling back up for the comparison:

Venture Capital Racial breakdown: White, 86%; Asian, 10%; Black, 1%.

Internet Company Founders, Nationwide: White: 87%; Asian: 12%; Black: 1%

See that? You could make a case that Whites fund Whites, Asians fund Asians (and a little more beyond that) and Blacks fund Blacks, only that Whites and Asians (but especially Whites) seem to have way more money than Blacks.

And if that has been going on for a long time--and it has, because venture capital is about investing in people more than technology or business models--then the more Whites fund Whites, the more Whites there are to fund Whites.

But. If Whites-only VC funds only funded White start-ups, We'd have a clear case of racism. I don't know if We do. If Asians-only VCs only funded Asian start-ups or Blacks-only VCs funded only Black start-ups, would it be racist of them? Couldn't they state that their investments are made to "Offset the limited opportunity (translation: racist policies) offered by Whites-only VC firms"? And would that make it right? [For the record: Exclusion of others because of skin color is racism, no matter who does it to whom. Period.]

And yet, successful VC firms, like most companies, thrive on having a variety of peoples with a variety of skills and outlooks. Racism that seeks to limit the potential of a team, group or company to "Only those that look like Me" run the very real risk of getting their asses handed back to them waxed and pounded flat by companies who know that talent, skill and energy come in all skin colors.

However, that leads to a third possible factor:

3) Social inequality: Not that Asians, Hispanics or Blacks are less capable, only that their opportunity set is smaller because society has barriers for them that don't exist for Whites.* Asians are expected to do well in school, particularly math and technology. Given their relatively small percentage of the population (4.4%), they account for a significant amount of college degrees (2008-2009): Bachelor's: 7%; Master's: 6.1%; Doctoral, 5.7%, and an impressive 10.4% of First Professional degrees. In every case, they exceed their population percentage, whereas Hispanics and Blacks are below their population percentage at every degree level.

Is that racist? I don't think so; it's merely a series of factual data points. But is the opportunity set the same? Here's a litmus test: Jeremy Lin. Apple Store Genius you want fixing your MacBook Pro or last man chosen at a pick-up basketball game...and only because he brought the ball? Most likely both, though he's really a key component of the Knicks in their run to the playoffs, a major story because he is Asian-American. And why is that? Because Asians are not really supposed to be major basketball stars, or athletes in general. Mathletes, sure. Feisty-gutsy point guards with skillz? Not so much.

The opportunity set, the potential pathways to growth in a society, are not truly equal. Never have been, anywhere. In the U.S. of part of A., Whites have advantages over Non-Whites, mainly in that they go to jail far less often though Whites commit as many crimes as Non-Whites. Education is highly-praised and touted by all races, but Asians are perceived to be tigerish about it, while Blacks and Hispanics are perceived to be trapped by a system and Whites are perceived to be gliding through it in pursuit of high grades that don't entail effort.

Those are perceptions. The realities are that Whites have more college degrees, more money and more access to both than Asians, Blacks and Hispanics. What the IT industry reflects in Silicon Valley is most likely a snapshot of nearly all other "knowledge economy" industries in the nation. I dare say that others are worse; Wall Street, for example. And beyond private enterprise, the disparity is similar, as a glance at the justice system or Homeland Security will reveal.

What the infographic doesn't touch is the male/female breakdown of Silicon Valley, the Top 10 tech companies and VC firms with their investments. Racism and sexism often go hand -in-hand, so maybe that data would help clear up the picture, though clarity may have already been achieved.

Again, does all of the above mean that the IT industry is racist? Yes, it does. There is definitely a racial component to the huge disparities, a consciously chosen set of decisions that produced these results. Just like the conscious decisions of a nation have led to the following results, a horrendously damning indictment of the entire society Silicon Valley is ultimately part of:

Notice how in this "industry," Hispanics and Blacks have truly higher percentages than Whites...which is how Whites want it.

Racist? From Silicon Valley to Wall Street and everywhere in between in this once-great "Land of the Free"?

Definitely racist.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

* If you don't think there are barriers for Non-Whites in the U.S. of part of A., you have obviously never heard of Arizona, Alabama or Georgia, don't understand the true target of "the Drug War" (hint: it has NOTHING to do with any drug) and are completely delusional. Which means you vote Republican. But I repeat Myself.

27 March 2012

My Day, Today

Drank My breakfast this morning. Had "Boost" (Cool Strawberry),  a 5-hour energy drink, coffee and orange juice, in some order. Then I ate a Sloppy Joe. Breakfast of champions.

Dove headfirst into My daily infodump, a 14-website tour. Opened tabs like only an Opera user can, by the dozens, with the abandon of a carefree child hyped on sugar. Or caffeine. Slashed through the tab deck in uncharacteristic fashion, bookmarking and closing left and right. And left and right. And then again. Good. Only 16 tabs left. For now.

Sometime yesterday I passed 10,000 bookmarks. All Mine. Been collecting them since 1992, but really, the oldest one I have now is from April 9, 2001. An essay on classic board games. Typical.

Had to leave to deal with government bureaucracy, but this time it was relatively painless. The woman at the semi-empty office wore a huge green-glassed ring on her left index finger. No other rings. I wondered if the ring was advertising or camouflage. Didn't ask.

Ate too much for lunch, probably because the 5-hour energy drink barely pushed My needle up at all. Doesn't usually. Maybe I need to drink two of the little bottles, if I could somehow get past the taste of rancid donkey piss. Which reminds Me, I only had a half cup of coffee before lunch. Maybe that's why I ate too much. And no, My coffee doesn't taste like rancid donkey piss, it's just that My mind works in strange ways.

Here's a song I came up with this morning, while showering. Took all of about 15 seconds. To the tune of "Yankee Doodle":

My mother said I was a punk, and just like Yankee Doodle,
So I shot my mom again and farted on a poodle.

For the record, I love My mom. She's been wonderful to Me. And Mrs. Jenius and I don't have a poodle. Yet.

Got a phone call from a woman in Utuado who wants help in developing a day care center with community outreach services. She found Me because she downloaded a free copy of My book on getting federal grant funds. I hear it's being used as a textbook in two local university systems now, so being free, I make nothing off the book. Except phone calls. I'd forgo the phone calls if people just used the book more.

Noticed for the 58th time that I haven't posted anything here for over 2 weeks, thanks for noticing. Liquid breakfast with a Sloppy Joe chaser, oddball songs, too much lunch, random phone calls I stretch out to amuse Myself...

It's time to get back here. I don't need to draw Myself a picture...well, maybe one. Involving the poodle.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

06 March 2012

Whitewashing Racism, Sexism, Ugliness...And Incompetence

The Mayoress of Cabo Rojo is a black woman. Her name is Perza Rodríguez. Formerly the Vice-Mayor, she "ascended" to the Mayor's seat after the death of Santos Padilla.

Perza, as I said, is a black woman. She mentions that fact often, in her husky-hollow voice that makes her sound like she's talking through an empty Clorox jug. She's black. And a woman. And in her words--oft-repeated--those two facts are used to attack her.

Perza claims her critics "accuse" her of being black. She has a radio show and TV show and a local """newspaper""" (El Faro) that might as well be hers for the prostrated-at-her-feet coverage it provides. Funny, but despite a weeks-long search, I found no comment anywhere that ever referred to her race...that wasn't her own.  From what I can see, it is those sources that mention her race, when she plays that card to attack "her critics."

In these pseudo-modern times, to attack a person for the color of their skin is idiotic or Republican, which are synonyms at heart. The fact is, We are sensitive to racism, and though many utter racist comments in private, in public, We are pseudo-colorblind.

Now maybe Perza is referring to attacks she receives in person, with folks coming up to her and saying racist things to her. Or maybe trying to put her down because she's not a man. If that's the case--and I doubt it from here to Uranus--then shouldn't she be turning that crass negativity into a positive, standing up for her race and gender, rather than essentially whining about how she's being attacked? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said "I have a dream," not "Stop it, you meanies." And I'm sure he faced more racism that Perza.

But I don't think that's it, either. Maybe I'm judging y'all by My standards (S.O.P., really), but I'd be very surprised if people frequently said anything racist to Perza or any other black person in elected office, because (a) We tend to avoid seeming racist and (b) My Brethren tend to be fearful of those in power. Now that doesn't mean that they won't say hideously racist things behind Perza's back, but if she isn't really hearing the remarks, why is she making such a fuss about it? Why give any sort of credence to voices you haven't heard, unless you're nuts?

As for sexism, she might be on the receiving end of the typical male condescension Our machista society has, but Let's be real here: Perza isn't the only woman going through that. Claiming it repeatedly is a bad strategy for it appeals to "pity" rather than ability. True, elections are decided by emotions, not intellect, but does it really help a candidate's image to be seen as pitiful rather than capable? If that were the case, The Larva would be governor-for-life.

No, I don't think Perza harps on race and gender for any good reason...except that it takes away some of the attention from the fact that she is fat and unattractive. And unhealthy.

Some of you are tut-tutting Me now. Indulge. Google pics of Perza (or click the link above) and you will see she is fat, to the point of morbid obesity. And yes, you will note she is unattractive. To describe her and leave out these two facts is to engage in "false" honesty, to not mention the--pun intended--elephant in the room.

Is Perza the only fat public official? Heavens no; check out Jenniffer "Gluttonny" González, pseudo-president of the (out)house of representatives. Is Perza the only ugly public official? Again, hell no. But without a doubt, the standards are different for mena and women, with women being gauged more strictly.

One theory, dumb as shit but that's why it might be right, claims that Pedro Stupid Rosselló was voted into the governor's mansion because women found him attractive, especially his legs. In what passes for Our media, which compares to true journalism the way pus compares to custard, a candidate's "physical appeal," if s/he has it, is relevant. How many times has pseudo-senator Evelyn Acevedo, a woman so stupid and slippery she makes dead monkish weep with shame, been described as "a former beauty queen," though rumor has it she won the title by spreading her legs? (Go ahead: tut-tut again. That is the rumor. And I'd hate to see the losers in that contest, if you know what I mean...and I think you don't.)

Good-looking candidates have an advantage; studies by the dozens have shown that to be a fact. Perza might be the victim of a double standard, holding women to some "higher level of physical beauty" than men are, but aside from feminist growlings that are often nothing more than veiled threats, "Gluttonny" doesn't "hide" behind her gender. Then again, she's white...

...As Perza is trying to be. For you see, in billboards now mucking up the scenery in Cabo Rojo, Perza appears...whitewashed. Her skin tone, a rich mahogany, has changed to some yellowish-ivory cast that resembles no race on Earth. The change is so startling that people are commenting on how much the picture doesn't look like her.

Now maybe the problem is with the printing company. They may have screwed up and processed the picture file badly, changing a black woman to a shiny-cheeked yellow-tinted paler cartoon. Even if important items such as party colors and tones are accurate--and they are--I would expect Perza to notice the marked difference in her appearance and have the billboards reprinted.

But no, that hasn't happened and it won't happen. Not because of cost, or timing or some other valid reason: it won't happen because Perza likes the look. Her frequent rants about racism are not about "them," but about herself and her own self-image. She might be happier with the billboard's look, and some proof about that will emerge as We'll see how her rants change in the coming weeks. (My guess: she tones them down...a lot.)

And there's another advantage: while the dumb masses discuss her skin tone, they'll have little time to discuss and dissect her public record, from extensive fiscal malfeasance to rampant cronyism to undermining local businesses. Or her obviously-failing health, as she waddles (don't tut: she waddles) slowly, pausing for breath after several steps or sentences. Or her family's "public" profile, suspiciously close to being related to drugs and theft.

There is racism and sexism in Puerto Rico. Perza is not being victimized all that much by either idiocy. She's whitewashing her fat mug and using racism/sexism to keep Us from uncovering truths she can't properly deal with. I don't reject her for being black or a woman; those aren't and never have been faults. I could, but don't reject her for being fat and ugly; she can (and should) fix "fat" and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so My opinion on her physicality is either moot or worthless.

To Me it's much simpler than that, for I reject her for being the lowest life form around: a politician.

And NO amount of whitewashing will fix that.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

02 March 2012

TEDx San Juan: Daniel Colón-Ramos

Daniel is a scientist, which means he is a lover of knowledge which means he is a devotée of learning. Currently a researcher at Yale, studying neurological development in nematodes, his research may have enormous implications for genetic-based treatment of Alzheimer's or cancer. Or it may not; it might actually lead to improved nanocomputers or to properly identifying life on Mars.

We don't know. And that's where the joy, glory, challenge and fun of Science begins.

Daniel's point that the enormous increase in Our life spans--and the unprecedented explosion in scientific advancement of the 20th century--are due to the public support of science. This has to be underlined as of extreme importance, because when major corporations, organizations and governments started financing scientific research, the benefits of that research became the public's patrimony, a widespread wave of progress that We could see come to an end in the next few decades.

The problem has two evil roots. One is an increased level of attacks against science, resulting in a less-favorable funding environment, not to mention an outright rejection of scientific inquiry (stem cells, NASA, etc.) But more insidious, more dangerous to the future of science is the appalling (My word) deficiencies in the educational system.

As Daniel outlined, part of the problem is the image science has, a combination of the educational system and the media making it seem that scientific discovery occurs in isolated fashion. The focus is on the end result (polio vaccine, the Sun as the center of the Universe) rather than on the process. Science, Daniel reminds Us, is an accumulation of knowledge, an accretion, not an explosion. To oversimplify discoveries to merely a result is to lose the power and value of the process.

It also creates two more negatives: the sense that sciences are isolated from each and the notion that "everything is known". Focusing solely on a discovery, without context, makes all science (for people see so little they think they see it all) seem disconnected, when in fact, as Daniel emphasizes, everything is connected. Furthermore, the "big news of discovery" coverage, when merged with how little science We actually know about, gives the impression that "everything is known," that "there is nothing left to discover or learn."

Daniel Colón Ramos
As a scientist, Daniel knows that there are far more questions now than ever before.

That's where Our educational system is a failing badly, for the process and environment is directly opposed to asking questions and using curiosity to explore learning. It focuses on memory over questioning, on isolated facts rather than context and on subdividing topics rather than integrating them. In addition, the educational system doesn't teach critical thinking skills, creating an environment of "rushing ahead to meet standards" that don't allow Our students time to think more deeply about what they are learning.

The educational system, then, focuses on storing "knowledge" in arbitrary chunks, never teaching how to learn and generate new knowledge. Science is about asking questions, taking time to observe methodically, follow data, sift the significant from the insignificant and come to conclusions that must bear up to further experimentation. It calls for imagination and reasoning, not memorization.

A problem Science raises, part and parcel of its very existence, is that scientific advances force Us to redefine Ourselves. We once thought We were the center of the Universe; then it was the Sun, now it's any point in the Universe. We once thought We were above animals; now We know We are an animal less than 1% different from a chimp at the genetic level. The challenges that Science tosses at Us come from every direction and in huge numbers, forcing Us to re-evaluate and face often-uncomfortable truths.

A corollary issue from this complexity is that most teachers are ill-prepared for sciences, so curricula have become "dumbed down." "Dumbed down science," is an oxymoron, but then again, so is Our educational system. (My comment, not Daniel's.)

Another aspect that hurts appreciating science, at least in Puerto Rico, is that like with any body of learning, a sociocultural context is very important. As Daniel recounted, when he was a kid his textbook featured an interesting bit about maple trees. There are no maple trees in Puerto Rico, but there are plenty of other trees here that are equally or more interesting.

For those who pooh-pooh this as "rationalization" or "excuses," note this: curiosity and discovery are natural parts of a child's life. They have to be for the child to learn about the world. But even the most recalcitrant amongst you would acknowledge that not receiving the right incentives is the most common way to discourage a child from pursuing an interest or path of action, intentionally or unintentionally. You know that's true, so being unable to "connect" to sciences because the material used means little or nothing to the person is evidently far more discouraging than encouraging.

To address this issue, Daniel and many other local scientists have developed a textbook titled Ciencia Boricua. Every chapter and essay was written by a Puerto Rican scientist and the examples used, from biology to geology, are based directly on and in Puerto Rico. Already in use local schools, Ciencia Boricua is going into a second printing and it is being evaluated for island-wide use.

[Unpaid advocate here: Buy this book. Not just for your kids, but for yourself, My Brethren. You have no idea how much you'll learn and how much will astonish you. Two words, people: Sierra Bermeja. Buy the book to find out how astonishing those two words are.]

Daniel's effort for Ciencia Boricua is part of his seminal work in CienciaPR, the largest organization of Puerto Rican and Puerto Rico-based scientists in the world. With over 5,400 members, CienciaPR is seeking to develop, support and expand interest in sciences as career choices and as part of the public patrimony Daniel addresses so well. (Full disclosure: I will be joining CienciaPR in a support capacity in the coming weeks. This interview was in no way part of that process.)

Daniel points the finger in his own profession's direction when he indicates that scientists need to be more communicative about their work to and for the general public. Unfortunately, the characteristics that make a good scientist are pretty much what makes a poor communicator, so only a handful (Sagan, De Grasse, Feynmann) become iconic science proselytizers. But Daniel says that all scientists can become better communicators, not to "pander to the less capable," but to create a community that values and supports science in a more consistent way.

Daniel told Me he'd just gotten back from an event organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), that focused on this issue of "getting the public involved" in sciences. The goal is to bridge the gap between scientific research and "pop science," the "dumbing down for headlines" trend. In that process, the Internet is a key channel, allowing for the development of "translators," people who understand the science and use their communication skills to make the science known. An example of this "translator" role can be seen here, at Download the Universe, a science writing review site.

The AAAS focus is recognition of what Daniel said, that "We are all part of the scientific dialogue." It is up to Us to define how We are going to participate. And for those of Us with school-age or pre-school age children (Daniel is the proud father of triplets, all girls), the dialogue is not theoretical: it is as practical as deciding what groceries We'll buy for them to eat.

Sadly, what We have with sciences is more theory and talk than practice. We don't do science anymore, the classroom-level exploration that led Us to look at the microscopic, mix the chemicals, watch the physics or dissect the once-living. And yet, We "do" Science every day, to deal with and understand the world. As Daniel said in closing: "We are all born scientists. We observe, experiment, ask, learn--We never lose that and it crosses all barriers, for it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, you will do these things."

Daniel is right, for not only are We scientists-at-large, public support--Our support--of sciences, from research to education to reporting to commercialization, are at the very foundation of Our modern level of progress. We shouldn't forget that, despite the rising tide of what can only be called ignorance. If We really want the world to solve its pressing problems--some of which were created through sciences--then Our only hope, Our only proven tool for large-scale solutions, remains scientific research.

And the better the tool, the better the craftsman needs to be. Daniel is seeking ways to improve both.

The Jenius Has Spoken.