Curiosities in Photos


People whose faces are perceived to look more “competent” are more likely to be CEOs of large, successful companies. Having a face that people deem “dominant” is a predictor of rank advancement in the military. People are more likely to invest money with people who look “trustworthy.” These sorts of findings go on and on in recent studies that claim people can accurately guess a variety of personality traits and behavioral tendencies from portraits alone. The findings seem to elucidate either canny human intuition or absurd, misguided bias.

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There has been a recent boom in research on how people attribute social characteristics to others based on the appearance of faces—independent of cues about age, gender, race, or ethnicity. (At least, as independent as possible.) The results seem to offer some intriguing insight, claiming that people are generally pretty good at predicting who is, for example, trustworthy, competent, introverted or extroverted, based entirely on facial structure. There is strong agreement across studies as to what facial attributes mean what to people, as illustrated in renderings throughout this article. But it’s, predictably, not at all so simple.

Christopher Olivola, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, makes the case against face-ism today, in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. In light of many recent articles touting people’s judgmental abilities, Olivola and Princeton University’s Friederike Funk and Alexander Todorov say that a careful look at the data really doesn’t support these claims. And “instead of applauding our ability to make inferences about social characteristics from facial appearances,” Olivola said, “the focus should be on the dangers.”

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“When we see someone’s face, we can make a lot of useful judgments,” he said, “like about age, emotional state, gender, et cetera. For this, the face is pretty useful. But there’s a pretty rich literature showing that we don’t just stop there.”
By systematically altering or selecting the faces that participants are presented with, researchers have been able to examine how variations in facial appearance bias human decisions. These studies have shown not just correlations, but causal evidence that facial appearances influence voting, economic exchanges, and legal judgments. People tend to draw inferences about personality characteristics, above and beyond what we might assume based on things like gender, ethnicity, or expression. Social attributions from faces alone tend to be constructed from how common facial features are within a culture, cross-cultural norms (e.g., inferences on masculinity/femininity), and idiosyncrasies like resemblance to friends, colleagues, loved ones, and, importantly, ourselves. Olivola’s research has shown that these facial attributions people make have serious implications for how people are treated, and their outcomes in life. The especially unfortunate part of these inferences is how heavily they factor into critical decisions, in lieu of actual facts.

“The fact that social decisions are influenced by facial morphology would be less troubling if it were a strong and reliable indicator of people’s underlying traits,” the researchers write in today’s article. “Unfortunately, careful consideration of the evidence suggests that it is not.”

The primary problem is that people feel they have this sense, and they ignore other relevant information, Olivola said. Politics is a great example. His research has shown that politicians whose facial structure is deemed to look more competent are more likely to win elections. (They use actual politicians in these studies. Fortunately for researchers, Olivola noted, most Americans don’t know who most congressional candidates are.) But that sense of competence in a face amounts to nothing. “We really can’t make a statement on that,” he said. “What’s an objective measure of competence?”

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In the case of CEOs, if you control for how the company was doing before they came on board versus after, there is really no relationship between their “facial competence” and the company’s subsequent success. “People are convinced that more competent-looking businesspeople are more valuable, and they get higher salaries,” Olivola explained, even though the companies don’t perform any better under their leadership. “It’s not accuracy in prediction; it’s bias, actually.”

Olivola has also done studies that show in conservative-leaning states, finding that the more “traditionally Republican” a person’s face is deemed to look, the more votes he/she gets. Even if they’re a Democrat. And the correlation between facial competence and vote share is strongest among voters who are lacking in political knowledge.

This suggests two solutions: Either make sure people don’t see the candidates, an amazing but obviously impossible idea, or make sure people are educated—that they know what the candidates are about. That significantly reduces the biasing effect of facial competence.

Personality traits are also fraught, in that most studies rely on self-reported personality tests. “If I rate myself as extroverted and I try to look it in my pictures, you might rate me that way, but it doesn’t mean I am.” If there was some actual measure, like that when a person goes to parties, they make X number of friends, then we could start to talk about accuracy. But really, these studies just affirm that people see themselves the same way others see them.

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In online dating, Olivola said, people are selecting pictures because they want to convey something. “You might think, ‘Wow, this person looks really fun and outgoing.’ Well, yeah, they’re not going to post a picture of themselves where they’re deep inside their books at the library. (Unless they’re trying to attract a certain kind of person.) But if you ask an acquaintance, they may say, no, that person’s not that fun. They think they are, but they’re not.”

All that these studies really tell us, Olivola said, is “‘I’ve managed to fool you into thinking I’m extroverted, because that’s how I like to be seen.’ Of course I want everyone to think I’m intelligent and fun, and I like to think I am—”

“I’m sure you are,” I said.

“So this is kind of dangerous,” he continued after a beat. “I mean, is it wise for us to tell people, ‘Oh, yeah, people are great at telling political orientation on the basis of faces.’ If someone looks like they’re conservative, or if they look like they’re gay or whatever, it’s totally okay for you to think you’re probably right? We need to be more careful about that. It makes for great articles and everything, but when you look at the data critically, it paints a much less generous picture of the human ability to draw accurate inferences from faces. We need a lot of strong evidence before putting that message out there.”

So this interesting research walks a thin line between relevant psychology and physiognomy. In the 1883 textbook Types of Insanity: An illustrated guide to the physical diagnosis of mental disease, Dr. Allan Hamilton wrote of a time when psychiatric practice was largely based on appearances. “When one walks through the wards of any asylum for the insane,” Hamilton wrote, “he will be immediately impressed with the repulsiveness of the faces about him.” The doctor includes characteristic sketches of people with melancholia, idiocy, imbecility, and mania—recognizable in a patient with “brows being corrugated, teeth covered by compressed lips, [and] eyes widely open.”

In an article in Annual Review of Psychology earlier this year, Olivola and a separate group of Princeton colleagues made a similar point about the treacherous grounds on which this research treads. They address that countless papers have recently been written claiming that people can reliably judge a variety of traits and characteristics from facial morphology alone, arguing that a critical reexamination of the methods and findings in many of these studies paint a much less favorable picture. Though in that review, the team concedes that some of these structural cues “could have a kernel of truth,” they are largely a judgmental illusion. They note that in criminal cases, facial appearances often predict sentencing decisions, judgments of guilt, and punishment severity. The most interesting, but also troubling, aspects of human judgment and decision making is how fallible and inconsistent it can be. The researchers also offer the additional caveat: “In real-life situations, people do not interact with disembodied faces.”

Don’t we?

By JAMES HAMBLIN (OCT. 2014)

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Though he was best known as the hyper-rational Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease last week at 83, enjoyed a thriving second act outside of Hollywood. Specifically, the Star Trek icon became a notable photographer, producing several collections of provocative images that highlighted subjects who are often marginalized by society due to characteristics such as weight, sexuality, and religion. Not surprisingly, Nimoy’s exploration of that last subject sparked controversy — controversy that did not go unremarked when he died.

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Titled Shekhina, it consisted of (semi) erotic photos of Jewish women in various states of undress, partially clad in male religious garb. The pictures proved to be polarizing even within the Jewish community that Nimoy loved so much. While some took issue with the women being naked or depicted in men’s clothing (or both), others praised Nimoy’s creative vision.

One staunch supporter of the Shekhina series was Rabbi John Rosove, who happened to be Nimoy’s rabbi and close family friend. Speaking at the late star’s funeral on Sunday, Rosove touched on some of Nimoy’s personal attributes that may have helped fuel his photography.

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“Leonard was nurtured in the Yiddish-speaking culture of his childhood on the West End of Boston, yet he transcended the particular categories with which he was raised,” Rosove began. “Because he grew up as a minority in his neighborhood, even sensing at times that he was an outcast living on the margins [which is what his Spock character was all about], Leonard adventured out from the conservative home and culture of his youth, courageously at a very young age, into the world where he sought greater truth and understanding. He was curious about everything and was a life-long learner.” Rosove then turned his attention to the Shekhinaseries in particular.

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“Most recently, Leonard created magnificent mystical images of feminine Godliness in hisShechinah photographs,” the rabbi noted before adding, “One of which he gave to me as a gift graces my synagogue study and adds a spiritual dimension for me of everything I do in my life as a rabbi.”

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Richard Michelson, owner of R. Michelson Galleries (where Nimoy’s works were displayed) echoed these sentiments to Yahoo, stating that Nimoy “wanted to celebrate Jewish women and expand the view of religion to include a healthy embrace of sexuality.” According to Michelson, Nimoy’s photographs command prices anywhere from $2,000 up to $25,000 per piece.

Not everyone appreciates these images, however. As reported by the Chicago Tribune after the release of his Shekhina photography book in 2002, many of Nimoy’s appearances in cities such as Seattle and Detroit were canceled. Nimoy rolled with the objections, explaining, “It’s all about territory. The book has been seen as elevating women in the hierarchy. In Judaism, certain males are not comfortable with that.”

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom of Minnesota echoed that in his review of the book on Amazon. “I found it offensive. No religious Jew, man or woman, would pray in a tallis and tefillin while so scantily clad. These may be the fantasies of an old man going through his second puberty, but they are not the kinds of images that I would want in my kosher home. … I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Nimoy fell for the neo-pagan myth of the Shekhinah as a personified ‘goddess.’ … In real Judaism, the Shekhinah is not a goddess, it is the indwelling presence of God.”

Asked about it again in 2007, Nimoy defended his decision to show women in male garb. “There are historical writings of famous Jewish women, daughters of rabbis, who have done that,” henoted.

But Nimoy didn’t just dismiss criticism of his work; he was inspired by it.

“Leonard enjoyed talking about his work, and he responded to critiques by expanding his vision,” Michelson told Yahoo. “For instance, when queried about why he always used more ‘traditionally beautiful’ women in Shekhina, he responded by creating his Full Body Project.”

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This series depicted nude, plus-sized women and, naturally, elicited more objections. “One formerly obese woman said the photos terrified her; she said they recalled a picture she kept in her wallet as a reminder of her former self,” The New York Times noted when the collection debuted.

“We do overhear some reductive ‘Is Nimoy into fat chicks’ comments when the gallery room is first entered,” Michelson revealed at the time. “I’ve had a few crank e-mails with snide remarks,” he admitted before adding, “but not a one from gallery visitors.” In a way, Michelson seems to feel that visitors’ seemingly low expectations ultimately worked to Nimoy’s advantage.

“Many people think that because of his celebrity it was easy for him to get exhibitions, etc., but I was wary of adding his work because of that celebrity, and many museums also shied away at first,” Michelson revealed to Yahoo. “Folks often came to the exhibits out of curiosity and with great skepticism, talking about Nimoy the actor.”

That changed, he argued, once they actually saw the photos. “The effect on viewing the photographs was always profound. They would leave talking about the artwork, the quality of his vision, and the social issues he raised.”

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For his part, however, it wasn’t Nimoy’s most controversial exhibit that proved closest to his heart. In 2008, the actor spent two days taking portraits of total strangers who had answered a public invitation to share a glimpse of their hidden selves. Subjects who answered the call included a war veteran photographer who declared that he was a pacifist, an overweight woman who outed herself as a “shy whore,” and a rabbi who publicly announced he was gay for the first time.

“This is the one that came the closest to the bone to the things that interest me,” Nimoy told the Los Angeles Times upon release of the collection, called Secret Selves.

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“What I love about the project is that anyone who sees it immediately asks themselves, ‘What would my secret self be? What could I show — what would I show?’ I know people ask me what my secret self is and I have to laugh. I have no secrets left. I revealed it all a long time ago.”

People will take selfies just about anywhere nowadays – even at concentration camps.

Mitchell tweeted “Selfie in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp” with a picture of herself smiling at the largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

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The photo was posted on June 20, but it gained national attention on Sunday when it became a trending topic on Twitter.

Within the past 24 hours, there have been 2,175 tweets mentioning the photo, according to Topsy, a social media analytics firm. Overall, Mitchell’s original tweet has drawn more than 2,500 retweets and 1,400 favorites. 

Originally, Mitchell said she wished people would stop tweeting about the photo.

“Omg I wish people would quit tweeting to, quoting, retweeting, and favoriting my picture of my smiling in Auschwitz Concentration Camp,” Mitchell tweeted. “Like apparently is such a big deal that I smiled. Good Lord.”

But shortly after, she seemed to be enjoying the Internet fame. She has retweeted more than 150 people who supported her decision to take the selfie. 

The picture wasn’t supposed to get this much attention, Mitchell explained to her Twitter followers on Sunday.

However, she doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m famous yall,” Mitchell tweeted, referencing an article on Business Insider about the viral tweet.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum’s website, visitors are allowed to take pictures on the grounds – with the exception of a hall that contains the hair of victims, the basements of Block 11 and the gas chamber.

Mitchell claims she took the photo after studying the Holocaust for years with her dad, who died a year ago.

“That trip actually meant something to me and I was happy about it,” she tweeted, explaining the reasoning behind the smiling selfie.

* Jenny Earl,Newsday,  July20, 2014

Boston has a rich history of markets. In 1634 the town voted to establish a market at the site of the Old State House. According to Governor John Winthrop’s journal, the market was located there because it was the center of all that was important — the church, the meeting house, the public pillory, and the whipping post. — Thea Breite and Lisa Tuite

July 20 1933 / fromthearchive / Boston Globe Archive photo / Buyers with their horse teams and trucks waited for the whistle indicating the big terminal market was open. The big terminal market by the train tracks in South Boston opened at 6 a.m. . A blackboard chart told buyers just what was available, how many cars of cucumbers, how many of beans, were on hand.<br /><br />

July 20, 1933: Buyers with their horse teams and trucks waited for the whistle indicating that the big terminal market was open. The big terminal market by the train tracks in South Boston opened at 6 a.m. A blackboard chart told buyers just what was available, how many cars of cucumbers, how many of beans, were on hand.

October 5 1933 / fromthearchive / Globe Archive photo / Commerce at the farmer's market scene at the foot of State street. Farmers could sell their produce in the public market place from midnight until 11 a.m. under a law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1859.<br /><br />

Oct. 5, 1933: Commerce at the farmer’s market scene at the foot of State Street. Farmers could sell their produce in the public marketplace from midnight until 11 a.m. under a law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1859.

1936 / fromthearchive / Globe Archive photo / North End pushcart vendors could sell you ten different varieties of bologna, as well as a wide selection of cheeses and vegetables.<br /><br />

1936: North End pushcart vendors could sell you 10 different varieties of bologna, as well as a wide selection of cheeses and vegetables.

1953 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Harry Holbrook / A crowded market district. While most of the advertising was for businesses long gone from the Boston scene, a Union Oyster House truck be seen in the middle left. Opened in 1826, it is Boston's oldest restaurant still in business today.<br /><br />

1953: A crowded market district. While most of the advertising was for businesses long gone from the Boston scene, a Union Oyster House truck can be seen in the middle left. Opened in 1826, the Union Oyster House is Boston’s oldest restaurant still in business today.

May 21 1963 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Paul J. Connell / Men whiled away the time playing cards between customers at a North End market on Salem street.<br /><br />

May 21, 1963: Men whiled away the time playing cards between customers at a North End market on Salem Street.

November 10 1967 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Joyce Dopkeen / Lots of choices at the Haymarket Square meat market for Mrs. Olive DeClements of Roxbury with her daughter, Kim Marie, 15 months old.<br /><br />

Nov. 10, 1967: Lots of choices at the Haymarket Square meat market for Olive DeClements of Roxbury with her daughter, Kim Marie, 15 months old.

May 23 1967 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Ted Dully / A long view of the activity at Quincy Market. The wholesalers who had set up shop around Faneuil Hall for generations, were closing up and moving into new wholesale and distributing facilities in Chelsea and Everett. Meat and poultry businesses were relocated to South Bay.<br /><br />

May 23, 1967: A long view of the activity at Quincy Market. The wholesalers who had set up shop around Faneuil Hall for generations were closing and moving into new wholesale and distributing facilities in Chelsea and Everett. Meat and poultry businesses were relocated to South Bay.

May 18 1973 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Charles Dixon / While one of his customers put an oyster to the taste test, vendor Joe Judge (wearing beret) sold some boiled crabs to another on a busy afternoon in Boston's Faneuil Hall market district.<br /><br />

May 18, 1973: While one of his customers put an oyster to the taste test, vendor Joe Judge (wearing beret) sold some boiled crabs to another on a busy afternoon in Boston’s Faneuil Hall market district.

 August 7 1973 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Ted Dully / It was a hot day - the kind of day one would expect to sell lots of watermelon - but vendor Cosmos Neridella and his young assistant, Randy Ulness, 9, both of Somerville, managed to sneak in a little shuteye at their watermelon stand at the Faneuil Hall market.<br /><br />

Aug. 7, 1973: It was a hot day — the kind of day one would expect to sell lots of watermelon — but vendor Cosmos Neridella and his young assistant, Randy Ulness, 9, both of Somerville, managed to sneak in a little shuteye at their watermelon stand at the Faneuil Hall market.

 

* BOSTON GLOBE ARCHIVE, July 2014

Dana and Michael Arnold’s post-wedding reception celebration in 2011 included fireworks and treats (pictured) from an ice cream truck.

It’s a basic truism of weddings: There’s no part that can’t be made more complicated if people put their minds to it.

Take the after party. Once an impromptu gathering at the closest hotel or restaurant bar, it has now blossomed into its own official event in some circles, another opportunity to create plans and themes — for those who can afford it.

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“It’s not about putting up an 8-foot table and a DJ. It’s a reveal,” said Boston event planner Bryan Rafanelli, who has seen the after party mature into its own affair in the past year or two. “They’ve become as standard as throwing the bouquet or cutting the cake.”

The kind of after parties that Rafanelli plans for his well-heeled clients are often held in a space that’s separate from the wedding reception, a financial investment that translates to about 10 percent of the wedding budget. Think unique lighting and different decor, nitrogen ice cream bars, and late-night comfort food.

“One couple loved marshmallows. We hung hundreds over the dance floor and they could eat them,” said Rafanelli. “We wouldn’t do them at a wedding [but] an after party can be a whole lot more relaxing. Everyone takes their shoes off.”

Jen Pretz and Oliver Tassinari went with a nightclub theme for their wedding after party, held last September at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Event planner Amy Kimball redecorated the room where cocktails had been enjoyed earlier with new table linens, lounge lighting, and a menu of sliders, mini pizzas, and french fries. Pretz, a 34-year-old doctoral medical resident, said they splurged on keeping the bar open an extra hour, but saved the DJ expense by using a friend’s iPod playlist.

“We didn’t want to make it so elaborate. Using the same spaces made it more economical,” she said, estimating the after party was about 5 to 10 percent of her total wedding budget. “For us, the night never ended when the wedding was over. It was definitely worth it.”

The economic rebound has helped after parties emerge as a new line item in the wedding budget. The average wedding hit an all-time high of $29,858 last year, according to TheKnot.com’s 2013 Real Weddings Study of 13,000 brides and grooms. Guest entertainment is an ever-increasing expense as brides spent $220 per guest last year, up from $194 in 2009, the report read.

Locally, Linda Matzkin, president of Hopple Popple, an events company in Newton, has planned after parties for all budgets. One of the most extravagant was held last fall at the Four Seasons Hotel where the young couple, who had met during high school, let loose post-reception with a high school-themed party that celebrated their combined love of sports.

“We brought in lockers, sports jackets, and team memorabilia. We had a wall the kids signed,” Matzkin recalled. “We put down a dance floor with the football team logo on it. It meant as much to the kids as any piece of the wedding did.”

Of course, most young couples can’t manage that kind of extra wedding expense. Saving for a down payment on a house or paying down student loans usually trumps the dream of an additional open bar and late-night party decor.

Still, while after parties can mean big bucks, some can cost as little as a round of drinks. Liz Simon estimated she spent about $50 for her wedding after party — a cozy bonfire that followed a tented reception on the beach at Kalmar Village in Truro last September. When the reception ended at 11:30 p.m., guests returned to their cabins to change into sweat pants, then plopped themselves in Adirondack chairs around the fire while friends played folk tunes on guitars. Simon and her husband, Michael, passed around beers and the makings for s’mores.

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Liz and Michael Simon’s $50 wedding after party last September featured a bonfire, beers, and some guitar playing.

“You take the dress off. You take the heels off. You put on the flip-flops. It was very low-key,” said Simon. “For us, that was the goal.”

The New York lawyer, who grew up summering on Cape Cod, said town noise ordinances prohibited loud music (hence the guitars). But the campfire sing-along vibe meant everyone felt welcome to stay up until the wee hours.

“My parents’ generation stuck around. Older guests joined us — pretty much everyone did,” she recalled.

The Simons’ inclusive after party isn’t the standard. Though everyone is always invited, older guests and friends of the bride and groom’s parents usually skip the late-night action, said Christine Altieri of AE Events, who herself has a hard time keeping her eyes open after midnight.

“We just did a wedding in the Dominican Republic. Their idea of an after party goes until 5 a.m. when the sun is rising,” she said. “I have to be honest. I didn’t make it through that one.”

Altieri said a 5 a.m. stop time would never fly in Boston — if only because of noise ordinances and drinking laws.

“The best after party location is your parents’ backyard,” agreed Rafanelli. “You can serve what you want to serve.”

Which was the case for Dana and Michael Arnold, who celebrated their wedding at her family’s former home in Norwich, Vt., over July Fourth weekend in 2011. She was one of Rafanelli’s first brides to embrace the concept of after party as planned event.

“I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, but it was what I always pictured,” said Arnold, who capped off the night by wowing guests with a 20-minute fireworks show.

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The fireworks at Dana and Michael Arnold’s post-wedding reception.

For their wedding reception, the couple had built a raised wood structure with glass windows, then brought guests outside onto the deck for the elaborate sparklers and late-night food offerings including treats from an ice cream truck.

“It was very much a summer night celebration,” she said. “I felt like I got to talk to people more outside and spend more time with the people who had traveled to be with us.”

Though she’s now attended several “official” wedding after-parties, the 27-year-old Arnold, who lives in Dallas, said the casual one at the hotel bar usually means a smaller crowd.

“The bride and groom aren’t in attendance anymore,” she said.

 

* Jill Radsken , The Boston Globe, July 16, 2014

Two teachers have harnessed the power of the sun — and provided an insanely cool science lesson in the process.

Charles Dazzo and Gerard D’Ambrosio serve as the mentors of the Green Tech Team at Staten Island’s Tottenville High School, which built a solar-powered car that scored second place in a national competition last year.

“I’m a firm believer that education — hands-on education — really works very well,” said Dazzo, 64, a social studies teacher.

That’s especially true when the hands-on lesson involves building a futuristic ride that looks like a speedboat on wheels.

Last year, they came close to winning it all at the Solar Car Challenge in Texas. This year, the team of eight kids will enter again, with what they hope is an even faster and more efficient car — one that looks like it came straight out of “The Jetsons.”

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While last year’s solar speedster was just a frame, the new one has a sleek, carbon-fiber body, complete with “Solar Pirates” emblazoned on the front bumper. It can travel more than 300 miles on a single charge and reach speeds above 70 mph.

Watch video:  http://nydn.us/1kug0Cm

“It’s a beautiful looking machine,” Dazzo said.

D’Ambrosio, 47, an automotive technology teacher, said seeing the students’ finished product on the racetrack is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

“The competition for me, is one of the greatest things,” said D’Ambrosio, of New Jersey. “And working with all the kids has been a pleasure.”

Dazzo, who handles fundraising for the after-school program that has about 20 participants, added that Tottenville High is the only city school represented at the elite competition.

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“We’re very proud to represent New York City,” said Dazzo, who lives in the Prince’s Bay neighborhood of Staten Island.

For teaching students mechanical, environmental and engineering skills, along with the joy of competition, D’Ambrosio and Dazzo have been nominated for Daily News Hometown Hero in Education awards.

D’Ambrosio, who provides guidance on how to build the car, said several former students have pursued degrees in environmental engineering.

 

* BY  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More than 90 world leaders were present at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, which had its fair share of faux pas. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, and the Obama, Cameron, Schmidt were booed after being caught taking a ‘selfie’ at the service. Then there was the fake sign-language interpreter!

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Yes, Thamsanqa Jantjie, the Mandela memorial interpreter was fake. He was not using any recognizable sign language. Writing on Limping Chicken, a deaf news blog, Professor Graham Turner, Chair of Translation & Interpreting Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh pointed out that:

He didn’t use South African Sign Language. In fact, he didn’t use any language. What he produced there was 100% authentic gibberish.Lost 

Thamsanqa Jantjie has claimed to have suffered from a schizophrenic episode that made him see angels and hear voices.

And then allegations surfaced that the ‘interpreter’ who stood a few meters away from world’s leaders faced a murder charge in 2003.

The South African government has apologised for any offense caused by the sign-language interpreter.

Blogging on Thought Leader, South Africa writer Sarah Bitten pointed out that the fake interpreter showed the world that in South Africa you do not have to have any ability whatsoever to get a job:

In South Africa, the signing man told the world, you don’t actually have to know what you are doing in order to get a job. You don’t have to have any ability whatsoever, as long as it looks, to most, as though you can go through the motions — whether you are a teacher, a police officer, a bureaucrat, a government official or (as some have suggested) a state president.

There are those who see through you and complain, but they are ignored. Ours is not a culture of accountability. So one gig leads to the next. You’ve done it before so you get to do it again, because everyone in a position of power agrees that the emperor’s new threads are stylish. You stand there and tell us that the appearance of something becomes more important than the substance of it.

Many people wonder what he was saying. Several interpreters have emerged online to interpret him. YouTube user This is Genius posted humorous video below to show what the fake interpreter actually said:

Professor Graham listed 10 lessons from the fake interpreter saga.

1. Using a sign language fluently is not something one can do just by waving one’s hands around. Sign languages are grammatically-structured, rule-governed systems like all other natural human languages. You can’t produce meaningful signing off the cuff and – equally importantly – you can’t understand it spontaneously just by looking.

2. If you can’t sign, but require interpreting, you need reliable processes to help you identify effective provision. Interpreting isn’t a game: it should be run on a professional basis. This time, we saw a spectacular insult to the world’s Deaf people: but no-one died. Worldwide, every day, the result of inadequate interpreting leads to poor schooling, imprisonment, unemployment and health disparities. This must stop.

3. Without proper training, screening and regulation, people can and will take advantage. Even in countries like the UK, where sign language interpreting has become increasingly professionalised since the 1980s, smooth operators (who can talk the talk but not sign the sign) are legion. If you can’t sign, they may appear wholly plausible and be wholly bogus. Don’t guess and you won’t be fooled.

 

On Twitter, shocked users used the hashtag #fakeinterpreter to share their reactions to the revelation:

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* Global Voices, December 15, 2013

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