Phone tracking: ‘They are listening.’ Maybe

The Springs
A Sunday morning adult class at The Springs Church of Christ in Edmond

First off, let me say up front that I am NOT wearing an aluminum helmet as I write this. And our windows are not covered with foil to keep mind-controlling radio waves out.

But sometimes weird coincidences happen, especially with our cell phones.

Hope RisingI was sitting in a Sunday morning class on the topic of ‘hope’ at our church a few weeks ago, listening to a lesson presented by Chad Hellman, Ph.D., a University of Oklahoma professor and co-author of the excellent book “Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life.”

Dr. Hellman discussed subjects like how childhood trauma impacts the future lives of children, and how pursuing “hope” as he defined it can help people — young and old — set goals and achieve them as they pursue a better life.

My wife, Paula, was seated next to me, and near the end of Dr. Hellman’s presentation she got a text alert from Apple news on her phone. It promoted an article on the order of “12 steps you can take for a happier life.”

Paula showed me the alert on her phone’s screen and whispered “they’re listening.”

We both smiled at the irony.

But it’s happened before. We’ve been in the car on trips having conversations on some topic when ads served up by Facebook on our phones eerily matched the subject.

Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

If you search “is my phone tracking my conversation” online, dozens of articles will pop up on the subject, including this one from the Washington Post that seeks to quell our fear.

Here’s the bottom line based on interviews with experts:

“It’s an old wives’ tale,” said Eric Seufert, who founded the marketing consultancy Heracles Media and runs a popular blog for app developers. “It’s this kind of mythical, horrific, but ultimately untrue, fear.’

‘The short answer is: No, your phone isn’t listening. But why is this rumor so hard to shake?’

Other articles take the possibility more seriously that conversations are being tracked by our phones, including this one from Fox News headlined: “You are not paranoid: your phone really is listening in.”

So, it’s a mixed bag of believers and skeptics. I only know from my own experience like the one during Dr. Hellman’s presentation on a Sunday morning.

Excuse me while I go look for some aluminum foil.

Educational consortium designs intern program to help turn Tulsa into bioscience ‘hub’

Editor’s note:  My friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology invited me to this week’s Bioscience Networking Luncheon in Tulsa, where I heard an interesting presentation on internship opportunities in the Tulsa area.  This is what I wrote about the event.

Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., addresses audience at OCAST-sponsored Bioscience Networking Luncheon at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – The eight member organizations of the Tulsa Area Bioscience Education and Research Consortium (TABERC) have aspirations to make Tulsa a “hub” of bioscience education and research, Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., told a recent bioscience networking luncheon here.

Curtis was among speakers at the 2nd Annual Bioscience Networking Luncheon on the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS) campus. The event was presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) for about 60 Tulsa area bioscience professionals.

Curtis is a professor of physiology and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at OSU-CHS and chair of the Tulsa area research consortium.

TABERC has developed a vibrant internship program to help bioscience research flourish in Tulsa, Curtis said. Student interns gain hands-on skills by working on real world research projects in participating laboratories

“I was just sitting here counting on my fingers about the number of interns we have placed over the last 13 years,” Curtis said during her presentation. “I’m thinking it’s somewhere between 60 and 70 research interns in just 13 years that we’ve provided hands-on bench experience with bioscience research.”

Educational institutions that compose TABERC are Northeastern State University, OSU-Center for Health Sciences, Oral Roberts University, Rogers State University, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, and the University of Tulsa.

“All of these internships are completely funded by dues paid by our member organizations,” Curtis said.

Internships are also a key element of OCAST’s mission to grow and diversify Oklahoma’s economy through technology development. Its Intern Partnership Program is a cost-share initiative that places Oklahoma college students in laboratories and business across the state.

For instance, the Oklahoma Life Science Fund, an early stage venture capital fund that focuses on biotech opportunities, has been awarded three past grants to employ interns through the OCAST program.

Fund manager William Paiva, Ph.D., was in the audience as Curtis pitched the TABERC program. Internships provide students with experiences that they can’t gain on campus, he said.

“Our interns spent 50 percent of their time looking at new deals, new investment opportunities doing the due diligence, doing the valuations, structuring the deals, helping raise the co-investors into the deals,” Paiva said. “The other half of their time I would actually loan them out to the CEOs of our portfolio companies to work on specific projects for the companies.”

“It wasn’t stuff you learn in the classroom,” Paiva said. “It was real world experience.”

Paiva said he recently submitted an application for a fourth OCAST Intern Partnership grant.

Meanwhile, TABERC’s Curtis wrapped up her presentation with an appeal to the networking luncheon audience.

“If you know of opportunities to place students or money to fund students, please talk to us,” she said. “We’ll put it to good use to train students and advance the research that will help make Tulsa a hub for bioscience.”

Other speakers at the bioscience luncheon included Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences and Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation; Carol Curtis, Ph.D., with i2E, Inc.; Bill Murphy with the Tulsa Regional Chamber; and Paul Gignac, Ph.D., associate professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at OSU-CHS.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).