The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

CONTROVERSIAL SILICON VALLEY VENTURE CAPITALIST SPEAKS AT CONFERENCE

Posted in Politics, Roosevelt Archives, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on September 26, 2016

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By Dominic Gwinn, Staff Reporter

Peter Thiel, co-founder of the internet payment system, Paypal, addressed an audience of students, faculty and alumni during Roosevelt University’s first ever American Dream: Reconsidered conference. The controversial businessman was joined by Roosevelt philosophy professor and director of the Montesquieu Forum for the Study of Civic Life, Stuart Warner, for a conversation about globalization, technology and progress sponsored by the Jack Miller Center.

Thiel expressed his views on a number of subjects ranging from globalization, the obsessive personalities prevalent in Silicon Valley, American exceptionalism, student debt, as well as a critique of collegiate institutions.

“Globalization tells people the lie that they will get to rule the world,” commented Thiel. “It’s this really big place, and it’s really exciting because you get to rule the world, you just have to live in New York and then you get to rule the world. Once you get to New York it turns out that a lot of people have been told that lie.”

Thiel lamented the concept of exceptionalism inherent within the American Dream, stating that the idea will more likely foster an attitude of laziness rather than one of successful innovation and progress.

“In the past there’s more opportunity and more freedom to do more things,” Thiel opined about the American Dream. “It can very easily flip to something where it becomes, we’re exceptional so we don’t need to do anything…[then] they’re exceptionally convinced that they’re exceptional, which may make them exceptionally unexceptional.”

In a brief comment to The Torch, Roosevelt President Ali Malekzadeh, stated that Thiel had, “interesting opinions,” and that, as a successful businessman, the university was, “glad to have him here.”

Nineteen year-old sophomore and computer science major, Drew Wilson, offered praise for Thiel’s criticisms.

“It was honestly amazing,” Wilson beamed. “He said a lot of things that I agreed with, a lot of things that I think needed to be said. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.”

During a lengthy statement on the state of colleges and student debt, Thiel likened the current state of higher education to insurance, insisting that college has become less of a investment in the future and more of purchased commodity that aids students in avoiding the pitfalls of society.

“So, even if it’s not a great investment it’s still important to our insurance,” stated Thiel. “It’s why parents take up so much money to send their kids on take up so much institutional debt. Whenever we’re spending this much on insurance I think we should be asking the underlying question, why have the cracks in our society gotten so big that the people are spending more and more on insurance? That would be a good question to ask, and it gets obscured by education.”

Thiel concluded that college, in his view, had become a club of exclusivity, and that most institutions maintain growth by purposefully keeping enrollment numbers low, thereby increasing demand at elite institutions.

“What they really are is like a Studio 54 nightclub with an enormous line of people outside waiting to get in,” Thiel joked. “That’s what a college looks like, and that’s where you get an insurance policy. It’s when you conflate a college with an insurance policy I think you end up with some really rash decisions.”

Sophomore Charlie Sell, a 19 year-old Psychology major, enjoyed the presentation. “I thought it was fantastic. I really thought that the way Professor Warner engaged the interview with Peter Thiel was very well done. I thought a lot of the topics discussed were really crucial to a lot of things going on in our country and the world today.”

Not everyone was entirely pleased with Thiel’s comments though. Psychology major Essyl Ghim, a 30 year-old senior, felt that Thiel’s beliefs about technology were ill informed from historical context.

“I think it’s always important to hear it from another angle because it broadens the way you think,” said Ghim upon reflection. “I’ll definitely have more things to talk about when people bring up globalism.”

Earlier this summer Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention where he expressed support for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, and called for a relaxation of government regulations to foster the growth of private industries, a sentiment echoed several times throughout the conversation.

City officials and community hope to create more immigrant friendly Chicago

Posted in Politics, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 27, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 27, 2015.

Alderman Carlos Rosa announced the establishment of an Immigration Policy Working Group which seeks to analyze and reform Chicago’s policy towards illegal residents.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

In an effort to create a more immigrant friendly city, Chicago Aldermen Carlos Rosa, Susan Sadlowski Garza and Ricardo Munoz announced Tuesday that they have begun working on a comprehensive immigration plan for some of Chicago’s most disenfranchised residents.

The Immigration Policy Working Group, composed of 14 different non-governmental and community organizations, will be working with the aldermen, as well as Mayor Emmanuel, to craft legislation around a six-point plan that will increase support for pro bono legal representation in Chicago’s immigration courts and to amend the city’s “Welcoming City” Ordinance so it applies to all residents.

The Chicago City Council approved the “Welcoming City” ordinance in 2012, which was designed to protect undocumented immigrants from being unfairly detained or deported and protects undocumented immigrants from being held for immigration authorities, unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or are being sought on a criminal warrant.

Rogers Park Ald. Joe Moore sponsored the original “Welcoming City” ordinance and said it was designed so immigrants will not be afraid of deportation when they report crimes to police.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance would ensure consistency between municipal and county policy, create more access to multi-lingual emergency services, establish a municipal ID for all Chicagoans, make deferred action relief programs more accessible and affordable to communities, and improve access to city services for immigrant victims of crimes and rights violations.

“Two years ago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated that he is committed to making Chicago the most immigration friendly city in the United States,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Rosa. As the Chicago Immigration Working Group, we share that commitment, and we’re excited to work alongside the mayor to fulfill that goal.”

Many aspects of the new plan, according to Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are modeled after similar efforts recently enacted in New York, such as a city ID that identifies individuals without necessarily requiring a fixed address. This can result in increased wages, and helping undocumented residents along the path to naturalization or simply purchasing medication.

“Chicago is a place that’s always understood itself to be a city of immigrants,” said Ana Guajardo, executive director of the south-side based Immigrant Worker’s Project / Centro de Trabajadores Unidos. “With a mayoral promise to make Chicago the most welcoming, a city council dedicated to equal treatment for all of our residents, and leadership from the community itself, we are ready to not just follow the examples of New York City and other places but to be a leader in best practices for immigrant integration at the local level.”

Chicago is currently designated as a sanctuary city, and does not allow local law enforcement or municipal authorities to ask about a resident’s current legal status. Sanctuary city policies have recently come under scrutiny from federal officials due to President Barack Obama Administration’s mandate that immigration authorities should not pursue non-violent undocumented immigrants.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby girls burn competition

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 20, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 30, 2015.

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The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

With fans, parents and local leaders cheering, and the Blue Angels roaring high above the city, this past Saturday, the second annual Icebox Derby Challenge was won by team Flaming Zing.

An academic and engineering competition for young girls with an interest in science, technology and mathematics careers, the race saw 30 girls ages 13 to 19 build and race electronically-powered cars made from recycled refrigerators around a pop-up track at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Sponsored by ComEd, and in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, the 30 girls were arranged in teams of six. Each team was paired with engineering mentors from ComEd, as well as local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

Instead of lounging around, the girls spent their summers learning how to work as a team while building their 48-volt derby car, complete with functioning lights, power indicators and gears.

“Each week, we found it easier to bond and goof around,” remembered Carissa Lehning. “The first week, we were kind of shy around each other; the third week we were caught dancing on video. It’s just about having fun.”

The race, comprised of three heats, required the girls to utilize the skills they learned throughout the build competition. After each lap, teams switched drivers after completing an academic exercise, such as assembling a bicycle, creating working circuit boards, inflating tires to their correct P.S.I., and calculating miles per hour based on gear ratios and links in bicycle chain.

Each girl was awarded $1,000 towards a scholarship, with the winning team receiving a trip to a technology and innovation camp at Chicago technology start-up incubator, 1871, as well as new MacBook Air laptops.

“The whole idea behind this is to raise awareness of STEM,” commented ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “Give the girls a hands-on experience project so that they can really take it out of the classroom and apply it. We hope that creates more excitement… There are no losers. They all walk away with a great experience and some scholarship money, and we hopefully sparked an interest in an opportunity in STEM.”

“At the end of the day, I get to say I built a race car out of a refrigerator,” said a gleeful RaMaya Johnson of the team Royal Burn. “Not every girl gets to do that, so I’m proud of that.”

Her mentor, Sabeen Admani, a student at Northwestern University majoring in Robotics, was drawn to the competition because of her own experiences growing up with her father and two brothers. “My Dad always tried to include me. Everything they were doing he let me do too, but I knew a lot of the girls didn’t have that same experience, so I wanted to give them that.”

“It’s been the most wonderful experience for all of us,” beamed Frances Lehning, the mother of Carissa Lehning. “It’s nice and wonderful what the kids have learned; they’ve had hands on experience… It’s not a bad way to spend the summer at all!”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby Girls set their marks

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on July 2, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on July 2, 2015.

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A packed house greeted this year’s contestants at the kickoff for the second annual Icebox Derby, an engineering and academic competition geared towards generating interest for young girls in science, technology and mathematics careers.In partnership with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, 30 girls ages 13 to 19 from across Chicagoland will be assigned to six teams, and compete for a number of prizes such as scholarships, and a grand prize trip to National Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. Each team of five girls will be assigned female mentors from COMED currently working in STEM careers, as well local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

“I think it’s important for the girls to learn that STEM is for everyone,” commented Haley Widel, a UIC student majoring in bioengineering, and mentor for the Spark Catchers. “There aren’t enough women who are in the STEM fields in general, and I think it’s important for them to be comfortable with it because it’s an intimidating field.”

The race will be held on Aug. 15 at the Field Museum of Natural History. Each team will complete five laps, pausing between each lap to solve a “STEM Stop” challenge question and switch drivers before finishing. Teams will be given bonuses for increased interest through social media sharing via the hashtag, #IceboxDerby.

“Building a regular soapbox derby car is already a challenge, but you give these girls power tools, like a Sawzall and ‘fridge, and it’s a whole other picture. I’m really proud of them!” beamed Jeremy Fountain, father of Samantha Fountain, a member of last year’s winning team, “Sonic Doom.”

A number of improvements over the previous years’ cars have been implemented, according to COMED Engineer Sam Torina. A longer, wider and more uniform chassis has been introduced, as well as hydraulic braking systems and roll cages for increased safety. MP3 players, lights, power indicators and a 1000w battery will also have to be installed before race day.

“We’ve expanded their challenges, so that as they build this year, they’ll also be faced with technical questions, STEM technical questions to earn points,” said Torina. “So, it’s not just the race, it’s what they’re going to learn as they’re building it.”

“I would say take it all in because this is a once in a lifetime experience,” Samantha Fountain, member of last year’s winning team, Sonic Boom, advised. “You really want to slow down. It feels like a long time even though it’s only a few hours, so it goes by real quick and then you’re done with it. I wish I could do it all over again. There’s no other time you can make a racing car out of a refrigerator.”

“Women represent about 24 percent of the STEM jobs, so we’d like to see more women in the area,” stated COMED President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “It’s a great area; there are a lot of great jobs, and we look at this as our workforce of the future. We’re really reaching out to these girls to get them engaged, to excite them about these technical careers to start to develop our workforce of the future early.

This post is also available in: Spanish

An Irritating Sound

Posted in Technology, Washington D.C. by Dominic Gwinn on November 12, 2008

Those new Sirens that the D.C. Police use, the ones that make your brain vibrate, and your bones rattle are truly a modern marvel. The Rumbler Sirens maker says, “[its] vibrating tones provide feel with emergency warning sound” is seems like an absurd statement until your walking down the street and see a cop flying towards you, making you actually feel the dread of police presence instead of just the standard emotional drawback.

It makes me wonder, What’s next? Is this new siren capable of weaponization? Could tomorrows cops and G.I.’s be carrying Sonic-Rifles that make you compulsively shit your pants or rattle your brain until your head explodes? The thought of a weaponized “Brown Noise” is both hilarious and terrifying (unless you work for Fruit-of-the-Loom or sell washing machines that is).

I can see the merit that the police have with installing this on some their cruisers, though. I myself have grown accustomed to the high-pitched whines of emergency-service crews racing through city streets. It’s just something you inevitably adapt to when living in an city ripe with urban sprawl (if not you’ll probably go insane and begin shouting at innocent people from some umpteenth-story apartment window). More over, as people today tend to become lost in an audio abyss as they carry out their commute listening to iPods and car radios with sub-woofers, it seems pertinent to gain the attention of distracted motorists and mildly-deaf pedestrians for the benefit of society as a whole by any means necessary. It’s an emergency, after all, so wake up and get the hell out of the way.

I mean, I’d be kind of upset if I were laying in the back of an ambulance, hemorrhaging enough blood to rival old-faithful, while some prick in a Mercedes was too busy rocking down to Electric Avenue on a one way street.

Despite this, however, I can close my eyes and imagine police in riot gear shooting sonic waves at protesters. The scene would horrible: hordes of political dissidents shitting themselves uncontrollably as riot police bring protesters literally to their knees in puddles of their own crap. The smell would spread with wind, entire city blocks would be forced indoors as an irradiated stench smothers the senses.

“What if someones rectum prolapses?”, I wonder, “What if some poor old lady is shot with a sound wave and she just shits herself so hard that her anus literally falls out of her body?” Technically speaking, you can live if your rectum prolapses, but you’d undeniably be in a considerable amount of pain. Does this make it cruel and unusual punishment or effective, non-lethal crowd control? Is something that makes you wish for really death non-lethal?

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