Who Reads This Stuff, Anyway?

By Ben Riggleman

Have you ever wondered who reads this paper besides you? It’s a riddle that has kept us Beacon staff up at night, too: Who reads us? Are students our main audience? Professors? Millennials, baby boomers? Liberals, libertarians? What do our readers get from The Beacon, and what more would they like to see? And then what about those faceless multitudes that don’t read us: What turns them off, keeps them away? Is it us or them?

Desperate for answers, I wrote up a survey and broadcasted it to everybody with an SMCC email address. I took a risk: It was finals prep time, and really, who ever has time to fill out a survey when there’s no chance to win a new jet-ski?

But in the end, the SMCC community pulled through, with a hearty 147 responses.

I’m taking Statistics with Professor Adrian Ayotte, and the first thing you learn in that class is that voluntary-response surveys are crap. They guarantee a biased sample, because respondents will tend to have an active interest in the topic. But since this isn’t Soviet Russia and forced participation wasn’t an option, I had to make do.

Aside from their presumed interest in The Beacon, we can make several more guesses about this sample group: Since they cared enough to spend time on a questionnaire of no direct benefit to them, they’re either conscientious or eager to vent (or procrastinate). Also, they use their SMCC email, which could mean they included a disproportionate number of faculty, staff and high-performing students.

The first question of the survey asked, “Before this survey, did you know about The Beacon?” About 12 percent said they did not.

The next question asked respondents’ connection to SMCC: student, faculty, employee or other. As expected, faculty were overrepresented: 28 faculty members responded, making up about 22 percent of the 129-person core sample. It’s worth noting, though, that an equal number of non-faculty employees also responded. Aside from two individuals who selected “Other,” the remaining 69 respondents were students.

The most common age groups were 18–22 and 58–62, into which 31 respondents and 20 respondents fell, respectively. The age distribution clustered around these groups and sagged in the middle, with only three respondents between ages 43 and 47. This tells us something important: We’ve got a generation gap. It appears that two discrete, very different populations — with different outlooks, life experiences and tastes — together make up the bulk of our readership.

The survey sorted responses in one other main way: It asked how often respondents read The Beacon. Based on their reply, each respondent was assigned to either the “Infrequent reader” or “Frequent reader” category. The groups were similar in size: 69 frequent readers and 60 infrequent readers.

Infrequent readers were asked why they don’t read the Beacon often. Fifteen picked “I don’t have time to read for pleasure,” nine each picked “I don’t read the news” and “The Beacon’s content doesn’t interest me,” seven picked “I don’t know where to find The Beacon,” and one lonesome soul picked “I don’t like the writing.”

Frequent readers were asked the question, “Why do you read The Beacon?” Responses included the following:

“I’m an older student and I like to see what is happening on campus. I feel as though that it’s part of being a student and staying connected. It’s like watching the news, I like to know what is going on while I’m working full time and being a student!”

“I like to know what’s going on from the student’s perspective as opposed from the faculty/administrative perspective.”

“The Beacon is one of the ways I can get a pulse of the SMCC community.”

The last two of these expressed common themes. Many respondents said they valued the student-directedness of The Beacon, and many others said they read it for the news — or, as one put it, “To see what’s happening!”

Oh, and then there was, “Just to see the cringe.” No comment.

Campus News was the best-liked section by a landslide, with almost 50 percent of respondents picking it as their favorite. Opinion and Editorial came in second with 16 votes. Sports seemed to be unpopular, picked as least favorite by 22 respondents.

When asked what kind of content The Beacon should run more of, the top choice was “News about SMCC events,” (44 votes) followed by “News about local events” (30 votes) and “Reviews of local food, art, music and culture” (23 votes). (Respondents could vote twice.)

There’s demand for more online content, too. While only 16 respondents said they read The Beacon online, 25 individuals said they “would.” We hear you, and we’ll definitely be building up our online side next year. “More live links in WordPress,” one student suggested; we can do that.

The last question got political. It simply asked respondents to pick a political party or designation that best matched their beliefs; 13 options were provided, plus “Other.” Over 24 percent identified themselves as “Independent (unaffiliated)” — 19 out of 78 responses collected for that question. The next most popular category, “Democrat (Sanders/Warren type),” was chosen by 10 respondents. “I’m not political” and the general Republican and Democrat designations were tied for third place.

Our readers are not as liberal as I would have guessed, if this survey is any indication. The Beacon’s alleged liberal bias was singled out for criticism by a handful of students. It’s something we’ll try to keep an eye on.

Thanks to everybody who responded!

Tech Talk: Understanding Cell Plans

 

By Andrew Constantine

It’s important when making a purchase in the technology sector — whether that be a phone, tablet, laptop or anything else with a chip in it, even service plans and packages for these devices (think cell plan) — to realize there is more to the item then just the price alone. This is what can be referred to as the overall value of the item. Overall value means that the amount of money and time you’ve put into making the device work the way you intend it to, in the end, is worth it.

This leads us to the most important aspect of any tech purchase: Who am I and what am I doing? What are your expectations for service and support of the product or service you are paying for?

Probably the most prominent example of this is cell phone service. I have used every national and regional carrier since I’ve had a phone: AT&T, US Cellular, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, which I currently use. This was where I got my first real lesson in overall value. The smaller carriers offer a lower price and more heavy-hitting promotional offers; however, what I was expecting was strong service in most of the state. I found that the discount carriers lacked this: while the price was lower, I failed to get the value I was expecting out of the service. After a switch to a different carrier and more per month, I am finally getting what I need for phone service.

The same thought process can be applied to probably the first thing that a new college student thinks of: the laptop. As laptops range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, the choice is not an easy one. It’s important here as well to determine what you will be using the device for and what you need to get out of it. For some programs a laptop may not be the best choice. For example, a drafting program most certainly would run better on a desktop with enhanced graphics capability. Whereas if the program you are working in has an abundance of writing assignments, an inexpensive Chromebook will most certainly fit the bill.

These are only a couple of examples, but the overarching point is simple: Resist the urge to impulse buy, buy what your friends have, buy what some article online says you need. Take a step back and evaluate what it is you’re trying to accomplish with whatever it is you’re purchasing. Appreciate the overall value of something that may be priced a bit higher but gets you so much more out of it. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Andrew Constantine is a member of the Information Technology senior seminar course and is planning on a career in intelligent traffic systems. You can view this article online at andrewconstantine.tech/beacon.

Tech Talk: Airline Uses Old Technology for New Purpose

RFID

By Crystal Shorey

If you’ve ever had your luggage lost during a trip, you know how frustrating it can be. I work in the baggage-service office at the Portland Jetport, and I’m the front line of customer service to help people recover their lost bags. These people are mad, and I get many “How does this happen?”s and “They promised my bag would make it!”s.

The moving of luggage to its correct destination involves a unique tag that associates the passenger with their bag and the routing of their trip. Up until recently, the process involved airline employees using hand scanners during the loading/unloading of the aircraft to scan each individual bag and verify and track it  in the system. This process requires the employees to be diligent with the scanners for an accurate count — and unfortunately, things often go wrong.

At the end of 2016, Delta Air Lines decided to make a change to this process in hopes of reducing the amount of lost baggage. The cost for this change totaled over $50 million. It uses a technology that has been around since the 1970s: RFID, or radio-frequency identification, which, as its name indicates, uses radio waves to allow for communication between two objects.

The way an RFID system works is that an object called a reader is used to capture the radio frequencies emitted by an RFID-tagged item. When it comes to the tagging of an item, there are a few ways it can be done. The tagging RFID chips can either be considered active or passive, depending on their power source. Active RFID chips come with a self-contained power source and are constantly emitting a signal to be picked up by a reader. This technology is commonly used in beacons or other tracking devices for things that need to be tracked at a longer range. Passive RFID chips have no internal power supply, and the signal is picked up when it passes by the reader. The reader itself is the power supply; therefore, it needs to be in fairly close proximity to the tag in order for it to work.

In Delta’s case, the new luggage tags were created with a passive RFID chip embedded inside. Delta has equipped its baggage-sorting and loading equipment with RFID readers, which pick up each bag’s unique signal as it passes by and forward the information on to an internal system. Now, when passengers are given a bag-tracking number and enter it into the tracking system, they can follow along with the location of their bag as it passes past any RFID reader. For some, this has given great peace of mind, when they are sitting onboard an aircraft and an app can confirm that their luggage has already been loaded as well.

The new RFID tracking system is not without fault. Human error still comes into play, as many workers are still involved in the moving of luggage to and from the planes and belts. Delta estimated that the new system would reduce lost baggage by about 5 percent. So far, RFID has only been implemented in a few stations, and only for a short period of time. So far it has shown an improvement of about .04 percent.

Whether the benefits outweigh the cost can be debated — $50 million for .04 percent less lost luggage. I personally find that passengers have been much more at ease having access to their bags’ tracking info, and more understanding when something does go wrong.

Crystal Shorey is a student in SMCC’s Information Technology program. You can read more of her writing online at http://crystalshorey.com/.

Tech Talk: Keep It Simple, Keep It Cheap

By Eric Mekkelsen

Have you ever had the need to buy a new laptop or computer because you feel like your system is just running so slow? Many people out there run into this problem, and in most instances, sure, it’s time to get a new computer! Realistically, though, what many of us in IT or help-desk situations find is that a person’s system is often bogged down by various unnecessary applications; the hard drive is too full or maybe on its last leg. Very easy-to-repair, easy-to-fix problems. Often it’s the case that people will just purchase a new system. Sure, if you can afford to just buy a new laptop every year, this is a possibility. However, for most people, it’s not that easy. What if I told you that a simple application, regular updates and just checking your hard-drive space every so often could resolve this. What if a quick trip to Best Buy to buy a new hard drive and a screwdriver could save you hundreds?

If you feel like your system is running far slower than normal, there are some simple supplied features you can use. The first thing you should do is restart the device (yes, that same thing every tech-support person asks you to do). Secondly, make sure your machine is up to date.  On Windows, this feature is right in your start menu under Settings. On a Mac, this feature is in your Apple icon under Updates. Another option is to check how much hard-drive space you have. On Windows, simply open up My Computer or File Explorer and click on your hard drive.  It will give you a summary of how much free space you have. On a Mac, right-click your HD and choose Properties. This will also give you a summary of free space. After trying any of these methods, if you find that the issue isn’t resolved by a restart, update or clearing up some space, then don’t fret: There are still some easy solutions.

A next step would be to run a third-party application. I swear by CCleaner (and so should you), an application that will help clean up your system for you. It’s easy to find online and extraordinarily simple to use. Download the application and install it. Once installed, start it up — press Analyze, then Run Cleaner. That’s it! Nothing to it at all, and many support specialists use this tool all the time! If still your system is running very slow, there is a bit more that can be done. Yes, it may cost you money, but still far less than buying a new computer.

Next is hardware replacement, and please understand this is generally as easy as plugging something in or turning a screw driver. If your hard drive needs to be replaced, it may seem daunting, but it’s honestly very simple for most non-Mac machines. Just unscrew your computer’s case, you’ll see a large square box or thin square box with some wires running into it.  The box will even say the size of the hard drive on it, so you know it’s a storage device.

All you need to do is unplug it, unscrew it from its case, take it to your nearest Best Buy and ask someone for a similar hard drive. Bring the new hard drive home, screw it in and plug it in. Yes, you’ll have to reinstall Windows on it. But that’s what those recovery disks that came with your computer are for. Installing Windows is no harder than any other application you’ve installed on your computer. Heck, if you get stuck, you can always just use Google. There are tons of how-tos. Lastly, there is memory. If you know your memory is bad or lacking, go buy some — it can be so cheap! Take a few old sticks out (just Google what memory looks like, you can’t miss it), bring them to Best Buy and get the same type but with a larger size. They simply unclip from your motherboard and re-clip it back in. Now of course, these hardware swaps should always be done with the device off and unplugged.

That’s it, there isn’t too much to most computer problems that you can’t do yourself. So stop paying for tech support for your slow system. Open up Google, do a little reading and use some of these ideas. Technology can seem scary. But really, with simple issues, it’s no harder than changing a light bulb or putting together a coffee table that you bought at Walmart.

Eric Mekkelsen is an IT / Information Security student at SMCC. You can view this article online at http://www.ericmekkelsen.com/home/beacon-article/.

Lost in Addiction, and Finding My Way Back

By Joel Congleton

In the throes of addiction, the mind can get so diseased and unsettled that to imagine a life of sobriety is akin to wishing upon a star. It just seems so incredibly far away. Yet some people manage it, and go on to live healthy, productive lives. The odds are stacked, certainly, but knowing that these people exist is enough to tuck away a little hope.

My addiction led me to prefer the company of junkies, but occasionally I’d emerge from my self-created fishbowl existence long enough to cross paths with a recovering person. If they’d been working a program, they’d probably greet me with a solid handshake, a warm smile and a slightly intrusive stare. If I knew them from their past lives as active addicts, the contrast would be staggering, and I’d puzzle over how they could radiate so much confidence and coolness without the aid of a mind-altering substance.

I wasn’t a stranger to detoxes and rehabs; I’d been force-fed plenty on the topic of recovery. But no matter how badly I wanted sobriety, I’d always revert to the familiarity and comfort of the drugs.

There’s a certain simplicity in being a junkie. You’re either high or you’re dope sick. You either have drugs or you’re looking for them. So many of the variables and skills involved with managing a balanced life are removed, and there’s a beauty in that. While everyone was frantically racing around from this birthday party to that doctor’s appointment, I was perfectly content sinking into the couch cushions, staring at the TV with a needle in my arm. Some might think that the social stigma attached to this type of lifestyle would act as a deterrent, but I didn’t care what people thought. I was too focused on getting high.

Of course getting wrecked didn’t pay the bills, and as my tolerance to the drugs went up, so did the cost of my habit. Trivial problems began to arise — failed college courses, loss of jobs, etc. But I’d let the people who loved me worry about that stuff. More importantly, the high stopped working, so I began to hunt for that perfect combination of narcotics — amphetamines to bring me up, benzodiazepines to bring me down and a steady stream of opiates to keep me from getting sick.

Combining benzos with opiates is possibly the quickest way to an accidental overdose, and one night in my apartment, I woke up from what I thought was a typical heroin-induced “nod” to find my roommate in the middle of calling 911. He said I’d been unresponsive for more than 10 minutes. My glasses hung bent and crooked on my face from him slapping me, my crotch was wet from the ice cubes he’d shoved down it, and I had an enormous burn in my nylon shorts from the cigarette between my fingers. After the initial shock of almost dying, we had a good laugh and got high.

It’s not that I wanted to continue living that way. I’d grown weary of it years ago, but lacked whatever it took to change my trajectory. A favorite tactic of mine was the “I’ll get clean tomorrow” mantra. It was the best of both worlds — the moment I’d swear it was my last hit and pump myself up for the epic battle between my demons and the real me (the one who wouldn’t steal cash from my folks). Those were invigorating moments because I really meant them. And of course I needed that last hit so the hero inside me could take one last breather before the dope sickness and depression took a grip. But this type of self-deception only took me so far. After a while, I knew the game I was playing, and played it anyway.

Years passed. Eventually I tried a methadone maintenance program, traveling over an hour each way to the clinic every morning for three years before my Medicare got cut and I could no longer pay for it. I immediately entered into an outpatient rehab for the sole purpose of being prescribed Suboxone, an alternative to methadone. After the counselors had deemed that I’d made little to no progress in the weeks that followed, they kicked me out of the program. I continued to buy drugs off the street for a while longer, but things began to feel different. The accumulation of years of living the same mundane, repetitive existence had reached a tipping point. Something had to change.

I started going to meetings again. I got a sponsor, and he suggested 90 meetings in the first 90 days, so that’s what I did. Every night I sat in plastic chairs hastily strewn into rows or semicircles or squares around tables, depending on what church basement we were occupying. I sipped cheap coffee out of comically small styrofoam cups, the caffeine only adding to my nerves as I wrestled with the terrifying notion of raising my hand and sharing my vulnerabilities with the room. But I kept showing up, and it got easier.

On the date that marked my one-year anniversary of sobriety, I chaired a meeting at my home group, as is custom. I told the room the things I’d done and places I’d gone to get high. Longer than some and mild compared to others, my story was just one out of millions that ultimately got us all to the same place: searching for a way to fill the hole in our soul. As I fumbled nervously with the medallion my sponsor had handed me minutes ago, I talked about the tools I’d been given over the past year. How I’d been practicing meditation, learning to set my diseased and unsettled mind aside entirely (if only for short bursts). How the desperation and selfish motivations that got me to those meetings were slowly shifting to something more closely resembling altruism. I was starting to see the value in being helpful.

The thing is, it always made sense to me that I’d get clean at some point in the distant future. But I’m guessing most addicts feel that way. No one anticipates that last fatal shot that leaves them blue and face down, drowned in their own vomit. But I think I expected I’d do it on my own, relying on the same broken mind that had sabotaged me for years. It wasn’t an epiphany, but a slow, dull bludgeoning over the head that made me realize it would take a room full of broken minds. A church basement full of hardened, desperate junkies, alchies and outcasts that wanted what I wanted. We weren’t all going to make it, but what mattered was that we shared the desire to get clean.

The path to a life of sobriety was right there, among my people, but it was invisible as long as I was confined to the walls of my own mind. To break out would take courage, strength, and a commitment to myself and the recovering addicts I’d surrounded myself with. It would take raising my hand and speaking in the meetings, despite the nearly crippling anxiety. It would mean asking for help, and forging a willingness to do the things that were suggested to me. And it would require that no matter how grim things look, I always cling to hope.

SMCC Out and About: The Portland Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven

 

By Yesenia Moguel

As college students at SMCC, there are so many fun resources at our fingertips, whether that is on campus with our awesome activities committee, on our beautiful Willard Beach, or in the culture-rich cities of Portland and South Portland.

Involvement in community has always been a major part of my own experience at college. It is fun to work hard and concentrate on my college education, but it is also good to go out and explore the neat places around us that we never notice.

My violin instructor is second stand in Portland Symphony Orchestra. I went to hear Beethoven’s Symphony No.9  at Merrill Auditorium on April 25, attending the second of two sold-out performances with my roommate.

The evening’s program started with Robert Moody, the orchestra’s music director, welcoming the audience to the evening’s performance He mentioned that that evening’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth would be the last in a series of Beethoven symphonies that the Portland Symphony Orchestra started three years ago.

It is interesting to note that while we call Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 as the “Ode to Joy” symphony, Beethoven referred to the piece as the “Chorale Symphony,” mainly because it is the only symphony in which Beethoven used a chorus. In the words of Robert Moody, the Ninth was “a groundbreaking moment at the time. A symphony with chorus as the finale.”

Beethoven’s Ninth has been used over the course of its 200-year history to celebrate the end of war. It was played extensively at the end of World War I and World War II, and Leonard Bernstein brought together East and West German orchestral performers to perform it after the Berlin wall fell.

The evening’s performance started off with the orchestra playing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” a solemn 11-minute piece that is “heart-achingly beautiful,” as described by Moody.

I was engulfed in the rich tones and emotional energy of the music, listened in awe to the soloists and enjoyed the expressions on the face of the concert-master. After the concert, we enjoyed a Q&A with the performers and listened to their thoughts and stories.

If you were not able to make the April 25 concert and want to hear the Ninth as performed by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Choral Arts Society and the Oratorio Chorale, tune into Maine Public Broadcasting (MPBN) on May 10 at 8 p.m.

I would recommend visiting Portland Symphony Orchestra to anyone. Expand your horizons and indulge in the enriching culture of music. The beautiful chords and melodies still resonate with me now.

Why Must the Human Race Be Destroyed?

By Oğuzhan Özkan

We, the human race, are the defilers of the earth. I have strongly believed this fact throughout my entire life, even when I was a little kid. What we do has been reprehensible to me from the beginning. Everything our species has done is a guarantee of our future deeds. The factual evaluation of the causes of our greed, lust, consumption, savagery, bloodthirstiness and so on must be done by someone who dares to say that his own kind is scum and expendable when it comes to the greater good of the universe. Our acts here, on Earth, do not only affect us, but also inhabitants of our warm blue planet, and maybe someday, they will affect other life forms in space. We must become extinct if we have the slightest dignity left.

Our earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Human life began only 6 million years ago, and the oldest signs of civilization go back no more than only 8,000 years. So to be specific, we have been destroying this planet only throughout 0.178% years of its age and we already made a huge progress toward total annihilation. That takes a special effort and a special gift of barbarism. The impact we cause on the extinction rate of species is 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, and, 0.1% of species are becoming extinct each year. There are nearly two million different species are out there, and it is painful to estimate the numbers and impending doom. We are hunting, we are killing, we are bombing and we mow down other species.

Animals are not the only example. We are also sharing our planet with trees. We have been cutting down the trees since the beginning of agriculture. We need to eat and satisfy our endless desire of consuming. We are obese, we are fat, we are insatiable and we eat more than we need. We need fat for our junk food, we need oil for our vehicles, we need wood for our furniture and our sense of aesthetics, we need plants to die in a few days for our girlfriends or for our ceremonies, we need cotton and silk for our clothing, we have to kill alligators for our purses or we need to kill furry animals just for our vanity and showing off. We need everything that nature does and does not offer. But we need to consume more than anything to maintain ourselves and pursue our goal of self-destruction.

We built palaces, houses, stone walls, fortresses, mansions, skyscrapers, farmhouses, statues, roads, highways, pavements, sewer systems, subways, churches, cathedrals, mosques, wells and even the world’s seven wonders while we were searching the meaning of life. And what we need on our road to destruction is more space. Space for ourselves and our descendants. Space for our tools, machines and facilities. Cutting down trees is not the only problem when it comes to creating spaces; biodiversity is what we’re also ruining. Deforestation causes the extinction of a vast number of species. Even reforesting is not ever enough: Once the biodiversity is gone, it is gone for good. Plant and animal species will go extinct or lose a great deal of their genetic diversity and variation. Rare animals or many potential medicines are lost because of deforestation.

In nature, everything is linked to one another. As a result of our consumption, we lose species and forests. Losing forests cost us our atmosphere, the very atmosphere we share with animals and plants. Losing the atmosphere impacts the water cycle. Species die because of lacking water. We try to ease our conscience by donating money or donating food for African kids, but as long as we keep consuming the way we consume now, it is nothing but just an endless circle of poverty.

The human race has a lot of disgusting qualities, but hypocrisy is the worst. World peace is what we seek, but on the other hand, we preserve nuclear weapons that have the capability to easily wipe off every single living creature from the face of the earth. Science, sociology, philosophy, folklore and cultural learning has brought us to a point where now we have our own self-made weapons for our doom. Everything we aggrandize, such as scientific research, is only an instrument to satisfy our endless greed. Our religions preach us good behaviours, but only again, in our own human terms. We still kill our own kind for some gods that have probably never existed in the first place. A phenomenon such as religion that is widely accepted and feared by people is still not enough intervene against our instincts.

Our instincts drive us to lunacy and we are desperate, helpless about it. It is the essence of our souls: We are unique killing machines. When we become a society, we are unstoppable. When we were kids, we were killing bugs just for fun. I have a recollection that I killed a hedgehog that was no threat to me when I was 10. It was fun, and I still recall that specific memory in shame. I rolled it down from the top our neighbourhood’s slope to the main road and it gave me a great pleasure to see it killed by the car tires again and again. I watched the dead hedgehog or what was left of it about an hour as the cars were running it over continually. Then I went home and watched cartoons like it never happened. That was only the effect of a 10-year-old boy on nature.

If time has taught me one or two things, one of them is definitely that I am, too, a unique killing machine myself deep down inside. I am not excluding myself while I am sticking the knife in my race — I must be destroyed for innocent species’ good. We will become extinct someday, happily, and recent studies show that it won’t be long. You may say, “What about the good people?” Exceptions make no rule; if you can’t stop it, you are a partner in crime. Every breath you take is blood on your hands.