There is no “I” in “impostor”

November 9th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewOn the web, there is no “I” in “impostor.” It appears it’s easier than ever to co-opt parts of, or mimic entire, identities of others thanks to social networks and websites that encourages individual profiles. I should know.

Over at GeekWire, I outline my experience of being impersonated or having elements of my identity stolen on Facebook and Twitter. But my experience is nothing compared to that of Alec Couros.

Couros, whom I quote in my column, figures that at any one time, there are at least three fake “Alec Couros” accounts on Twitter or Facebook. He’s been playing Whac-A-Mole with them for several years, with varying levels of success. (I, atFacebookPhilipGrahamphoto3 least, was able to get Twitter and Facebook to take down my impersonators within a week of reporting them.)

Couros also, in the column comments, notes what appears to be a disturbing new turn in impersonator profiles:

A more recent problem I’ve had is with these scammers also setting up Facebook accounts of my children that are connected to the fake profiles of my identity. I can usually get the fake profiles (that are of me) taken down within a week. However, there is no real mechanism that allows you to report a fake account of someone else (such as my children). The reporting system tries to get you to alert the real person (e.g., my children), but if my children do not have Facebook accounts (which they don’t), there is no real way to get these taken down. You can report them from being underage, but that doesn’t guarantee that they are taken down because then Facebook contacts the account holder and asks the scammer. It’s frustrating. Facebook account reporting is broken.

We now may have no choice but to come to terms with the fact that digital social media has finally leapfrogged analog biological science. Human cloning has arrived. Like it or not.

Read, “How online scammers created a fake identity using little more than my picture,” at GeekWire.

Interstellar: Not quite a great science-fiction film

November 8th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewLet me start by saying I plan to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar a second time. In IMAX. It’s visually stunning. There’s lot of solid science, making it a smarter movie than most I’ve seen on screen in recent years. But is its combination of science and story great science fiction?

Interstellar_film_posterAfter one viewing, my take is no, not quite. I go into detail (without spoilers) in my GeekWire column. (In a second post about Interstellar in which Team GeekWire members share reactions immediately after a group viewing, I give it a grade of B-.) I’d almost say Nolan’s Inception has a better, more absorbing science-fiction story than Interstellar, even though there’s very little overt science in the former.

Not everyone agrees, of course, and the comments on my column lead to some over-my-head equations that debate the current-day scientific accuracy of Interstellar‘s plot drivers. To which, I’d only remind folks, this is fiction, not a documentary. Yet it is science fiction so the two elements need to be in some kind of speculative, believable alignment.

Watch me put on my nerdy, science-fiction writer beanie and read “Interstellar: Dramatic awe, with a science fiction flaw,” at GeekWire.

EdNET 2014, in words and video

November 5th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdNET logoFor almost two decades, I made it a habit to take notes at industry conferences, then distribute them by email to colleagues. With the subsequent advent of blogs and YouTube, I stopped that quaint practice three years ago.

But people still want to know what happened at the conferences, or the conference sessions, they couldn’t attend.

MDR recently summed up takeaways from its long-standing EdNET education industry conference on its site. As a consulting senior analyst for the EdNET Insight market research service, I was asked for some unvarnished takeaways, and came up with the following:

  • A recurring theme was that time is of the essence in making sure education technology actually lives up to its promise. Richard Culatta of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology noted, “Let’s be clear: there is a (limited time) window” for using edtech to help transform education. David Sample of itslearning said for certain types of edtech to prove its worth, “That hourglass is running out of sand.” And a startup said when the “froth” of the edtech market might end keeps her up at night.
  • Robert Lytle of the Parthenon Group hit one school pain point directly: Edtech companies still do an awful job of describing what products and services actually DO. Getting beyond marketing buzzwords — to clarity — is critical.
  • Lytle also had the sobering observation that even though K-12 education funding is recovering to pre-recession levels, almost all of the dollars represented by that recovery will be eaten up by pension and health care obligations — making spending on products and services a zero-sum game.
  • In the View from the Catbird Seat analyst session, an update on digital Open Badges from last year noted that there has been little traction inside commercial education products, even though individual K-12 teachers have jumped on the opportunity to define and issue their own badges for student motivation and accomplishments. One exception has been in professional development, where there are a number of efforts to recognize teachers with micro-credentials (issued and displayed as Open Badges) that will be accepted by districts and institutions.

You can read the full set of EdNET Insight analyst takeaways here, in context, on the EdNET Insight News Alerts site.

And if that View from the Catbird Seat discussion sounded enticing, you can re-live the entire session on YouTube (if you’re curious, fast-forward to 10:45 to get to my observations on the state of Open Educational Resources, or OER, in the industry):

Other EdNET 2014 sessions had presentations, videos or both, and they’re available on the EdNET conference site by clicking on the links embedded in each session or speaker name for Monday September 29 or Tuesday September 30.

 Yup. We’ve come a long way from emailed conference notes.

AIDS to Ebola: Tech changes, rumors persist

October 27th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewAs our communications technology has improved, what have we learned about avoiding the spread of medical misinformation and rumor in the three decades between AIDS and Ebola? Apparently, not enough.

Over at GeekWire, I draw comparisons and share lessons gleaned from my experience as a one-time health/science reporter, someone who began covering AIDS 30 years ago and before it received a lot of mainstream attention. I also add a perspective on how public health professionals today are using social media and the web — tools that didn’t exist three decades back — to propel good info and play Whac-A-Mole with the bad.

HIV-infected H9 T-cellBut as part of the research for the GeekWire column, I dug up an ancient digital file (probably written on an Apple IIe or early Mac) that summed up the advice I offered other broadcast news reporters at the time, in 1986. It was one of a series of columns I contributed to a newsletter of the Associated Press, AP Broadcaster.

A lot of this advice still holds true with Ebola. Let’s fire up the WABAC machine:

ON THE HEALTH/SCIENCE BEAT
AIDS: A Reporter’s Postscript
by Frank Catalano, Health/Science Reporter, KING-AM Seattle

The ambulance-chasing crowd probably isn’t going to like this at all. With AIDS, information is as important as news.

Let me explain. In my first column for AP Broadcaster, well over a year ago, I summed up what basics a reporter should know about AIDS: why there’s no reason to fear casual contact, emotion versus facts, what the AIDS blood test tests for, and how to choose an expert.

The column appeared mere weeks before the most celebrated AIDS patient died: Rock Hudson. And even though research on the actual virus and treatments continues at a break-neck pace, the basic information presented in that column hasn’t changed.

What has is how we’re responding to it.

AIDS is not just a “news” story, one based on events, or one to pull out on a slow day. While those of us in the business have been exposed to information on AIDS for at least a year, our listeners/viewers have probably not had a chance to assimilate all the information. Indeed, the constant “breakthrough/disaster about AIDS” headlines seem to be desensitizing the public, rather than calmly informing them.

But the basics are still there, about casual contact, about the blood test, about fear of AIDS. And they are not news. So what to do?

You might try a series of PSA’s. At KING-AM, we produced a series of a dozen 30-second “AIDS Updates.” For the series, we interviewed a variety of health officials. Then, in each PSA, we tackled a basic topic — casual contact, mosquito transmission, who should get the blood test, public pools and hot tubs, knowing your partner (gay or straight) beforehand, quarantine, where to call for AIDS information and five others. The officials’ explanations were bracketed by an open and close, with the question posed in-between. Each PSA opened with “This is AIDS Update,” and closed with “AIDS UPDATE is a public service of KING 1090.”

We ran them in public service rotation 40 times each week, and each week, the message would change. The entire series ran twice, for a total run of 24 weeks. Eventually, we’ll produce a new series relating to the current fears/questions.

And how do we find out about those fears and questions? In November of 1985, we produced a live, two-hour call-in show on AIDS. In studio were three experts: one from the Health Department, one from the local gay clinic, and a psychologist who deals with AIDS patients. All five lines never stopped ringing for the entire show, probably because the memory of Rock Hudson’s death was still fresh. A similar one-hour program aired this Spring, to lesser, but still good, response.

But some of the guidelines I mentioned in the Summer of ’85 still apply now. We still know AIDS is caused by a virus, and not everyone infected or exposed comes down with full-blown AIDS; that it has an incubation period of years in some cases; it’s transmitted by semen or blood (saliva, an open question in the previous column, appears not to carry enough of the virus to matter); and the greater number of sexual contacts you have, hetero- or homo-, the greater your risk.

We found if you have to be explicit to get the point across, grit your teeth and do it as tastefully as possible. Two reasons, both listeners, come to mind.

One, a middle-aged woman who called and wanted to know, exactly, what “intimate sexual contact” — a euphemism she’d heard a lot — was. Heavy petting? French kissing? What was safe? The other, a man who was asked by an on-air guest if he practiced “safe sex.” “Of course,” the man replied. “I lock my door before going to bed each night.”

Even though newsroom interest in AIDS may be linked primarily to events, our audiences’ need for the basics is still there. By focusing on solid information instead of the latest headline, not only do we help put the headline in perspective, but avoid needlessly alarming the public. And, we build a reputation as a news operation that can be trusted — a reputation no headline can buy.

For something a bit more current, read “From AIDS to Ebola: In rumor control, only the tech changes,” at GeekWire.

Alaska Airlines’ biometric boarding pass

October 24th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewWhat’s more convenient: Preparing, carrying and whipping out an airline boarding pass (paper or smartphone), or scanning a fingerprint? And which is more private?

For air travel, concern about the latter may be more perception than reality. Over at GeekWire, I detail how Alaska Airlines is floating the concept of replacing the boarding pass with a fingerprint sensor as a voluntary option. It’s a technology the airline has already introduced in its airport clubs. But it has a whole bunch of hurdles to overcome before it can replace what’s seen, rightly or wrongly, as a security document.Elements_of_a_fingerprint

Early reaction has been somewhat predictable, most notably on the privacy front (well, plus the occasional tin-foil-hat-crowd comment). So I decided to tackle the privacy matter head-on.

Spoiler alert: When it comes to modern air travel, I suspect you already have no real personal identification information privacy. Especially if you’re a frequent flier, and even more so if you have opted-in to PreCheck or any government “trusted traveler” program.

So the question becomes, do time-savings and convenience trump fear and legitimate concerns, if all the right safeguards are used?

Read the column, “Alaska Airlines’ biometric boarding pass: Lifting, or giving, a finger?” at GeekWire.

Google, Apple, Microsoft: Platform perceptions

October 13th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewAs any good marketer will tell you, a strong brand is a double-edged sword. It gives you power in the market, but it also may limit what customers perceive — or willingly believe. That’s true in tech, too, as Apple, Microsoft and Google can now attest.

At GeekWire, I explore customer perceptions — pros and cons — for each device computing platform at a high level. On purpose. There is only so much mind share people give any product or service, and high-level perceptions can initially count for a lot more than technical specifications and features.

This distillation also came about as a result of a very typical consumer pressure: time. The column is based on a nearly ad-hoc presentation I gave in a talk at Microsoft’s Redmond campus on short notice. Tell about three or four hundred of our staff who work with hardware partners how Windows devices shape up against the competition from your perspective, I was asked on a Thursday. Sure, I said, when? Next Tuesday over lunch, I was told.

Nothing so focuses the mind, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, as roughly three working days of advance notice for a 45-minute time slot. So I said yes, buckled down, came up with some fun slide images, and went to work.

Analyst View of Devices: Microsoft BYTE FY15 from Frank Catalano

Read a slightly less rambling and time-slammed version of the result, “Google, Apple, Microsoft: Propelled, and trapped, by their brands,” over at GeekWire.

(Oh, and Microsoft is not now, and never has been, a client of mine. After this talk, I suspect that perfect record will persist.)

Sharing bad news on social media

September 26th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewIn some respects, what our parents and grandparents thought of as the “Big C” is now the “little c.” Cancer survival rates, for a variety of reasons, have improved overall. The earlier detection of many common types of cancer still comes as a emotional shock, but there is much more public information. And thanks to technology, more choices.

Such as how you share the news with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances in a culture of social media over-sharing.

Over at GeekWire, I explore how to find a good way to share bad medical news on social media. I know, because the case study is one close to me: This summer, my wife Dee Dee was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We’re past the immediate treatment stage (surgery and radiation; no chemo was required) and hormone therapy will continue for five years. But early on we had to figure out the best way to communicate the diagnosis and ongoing steps to those used to getting updates of our personal lives on Facebook and other social networks.Janos_Kugler_(attr)_Schlechte_Nachrichten

So we came up with seven questions we asked ourselves, and could apply to sharing any really bad news, medical or otherwise, in a tech-communicative society. Plus Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative chimed in with three cautions, based on its social media manager’s experiences.

Social media, of course, is more than a communications mechanism. It also provides and points to many resources for those dealing with breast cancer. I didn’t delve into that aspect. But one column reader asked:

You don’t mention #bcsm and whether Dee Dee enjoyed reading the posts of others in the breast cancer social media community. I’m interested because some research suggests a benefit to patients.

Dee Dee responded, in part:

I haven’t been active in the breast cancer social media community — after diagnosis I spent a lot of time reading Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and doing other research on breast cancer. Perhaps due to a quirk in my personality I didn’t feel the need to participate in conversations online (or offline), but focused on my own recovery. However, I know those resources are very valuable and helpful to many … Now that I’m past the treatment phase I’m very interested in breast cancer research and prevention, so I think I’ll be checking out more of these forums.

For more, read “Finding a good way to share really bad news on social media,” on GeekWire.

Microsoft’s Minecraft education opportunity

September 18th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewSure, $2.5 billion is a lot to pay for the maker of Minecraft. But what might it mean for Microsoft’s education strategy?

Over at GeekWire, I do a quick back-of-the-envelope analysis of this week’s announcement that Microsoft plans to buy Minecraft maker Mojang. Missing in the initial announcements — by Microsoft, by the head of Xbox, and by Mojang — was any acknowledgement of Minecraft’s huge popularity in K-12 schools as an instructional tool for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

ClippyMinecraftAlso missing was any reaction from TeacherGaming, which is Mojang’s officially supported licensee for selling an education-specific version of Minecraft — MinecraftEdu — to schools, libraries and museums. That, in itself, isn’t surprising, as the effect on TeacherGaming of the Microsoft announcement will likely not be known until Mojang passes the ownership baton. (An email from TeacherGaming pretty much confirmed that there was no substantive news to share yet.) The sale should close, Microsoft’s news release says, later this year.

Microsoft’s lack of initial edu-comment was rectified when CEO Satya Nadella made a lunchtime appearance at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and boasted of Minecraft, “It’s the one game parents want their kids to play.”

But neither Nadella, nor official Microsoft public relations, would go into any specifics. So I, uh, helpfully have made some suggestions. Especially in light of Microsoft’s often opaque education strategy, which I noted as far back as 2011.

Read, “How Microsoft can use Minecraft to build its education strategy,” over at GeekWire. (Or, if you prefer, on EdSurge.)

And a tip of the hat to @PoweredRedstone for sharing a brilliant Clippy-Minecraft graphic mashup on Twitter.

Why I won’t fully buy into Apple’s ecosystem

September 14th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewiPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apply Pay or Apple Watch? None of the above, thank you. 

I once fully bought into Apple’s ecosystem. Never again. And there are several good reasons a tech-savvy consumer should think twice before doing so, as I explain over at GeekWire in the wake of another week of Apple hype. Vendor lock-in. Use trumps device. Tech is not steady state. (And, implied, history may repeat itself.)

Not every reader agrees:

If Apple created the ecosystem that did everything you wanted it to, at a reasonable price, would you still not use it just for the sake that it was putting all of your “eggs in one basket”? As much as I hear you, if they did that – or Microsoft even – I would switch.

Applelogos1croppostor

Buying into an eco-system makes sense if it works for right now. No amount of diversification will future proof your products. If they work now they’ll work 5 years from now. But in reality you’ll probably have upgraded to something else by then.

and

The beauty and fun of technology is replacing it when new things come out. That’s a big part of what this is all about. People don’t upgrade to a new iPhone because their SMS messages stopped going through on their old phone. Upgrading to the newest tech thing is what most consumers really love to do.

Or, as I call it, the lure of “fad and fashion.” I’m a more practical nerd than that. YMMV (Your Mileage — or Mac — May Vary).

Read, “Why I’ll never again fully buy into Apple’s ecosystem,” at GeekWire.

Scandinavia vs. Seattle on everyday tech

September 10th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewOver ten days in three countries, I saw several slick technologies generally not seen in the States. There’s a lot Seattle, and the U.S., can learn from the tech used in Scandinavia and its implementation. And it doesn’t require eating lutefisk.

These are subtle tweaks to everyday tech. Escalators. Audio guides. Subways. Credit cards. And literally cool food.

Many of these technologies, while used in Scandinavia, didn’t necessarily originate in Denmark, Norway or Sweden (the three countries I visited on vacation). While several of the five are common in Europe and other parts of the world, they aren’t in Seattle and most of the U.S.LEGO_Logos

That’s a key point missed by many of the readers who commented on my GeekWire column, claiming — correctly or not — that “[Fill in country name here] has had these for years.” And it seems to point to a high level of willful ignorance or bias about technology in other countries, no matter in which country one is based. (Or, just as likely, the prevalence of fact-twisting comment trolling. But that’s another column.)

Personally, I find it delightful that we can discover even commonplace tech differences when we travel to other countries. It’s not a game of one-upmanship. It’s learning from how others do things differently, even using some of the same tools.

Not to mention it can be about finding the only official LEGO store in Copenhagen, in LEGO’s home of Denmark.

Read, “Stealth escalators, driverless subways and more Scandinavian technologies that we need now,” over at GeekWire.

Nuking Facebook: one month later, the fallout

August 31st, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewI honestly had no idea so many had followed in my footsteps, even before I took my own first step.

I dumped Facebook a month ago in utter frustration with the time waste its news feed had become. I was missing important updates from friends, and the algorithm that “helpfully” arranges what one sees in the news feed would revert to most popular from most recent unpredictably. 

FacebookAndroidOver at GeekWire, I explore what I’ve learned after 30 days of uncoupling the umbilical cord. Part of it is advice to others of what they should do if they stay with Facebook (archive content, and understand a fascinating study from Harvard’s Berkman Center on how few truly realize Facebook is messing with the news feed). Part of it what to expect if you decide to leave (resisting overt guilting and important checkboxes to notice in the process).

And, sadly, a major part of it is my realization that, a few days after I left Facebook, Twitter began to algorithmically mess with its timeline display, continuing social networking services’ move away from user control of what they see.

That “footsteps” observation? Just scan the comments. The reasons vary, but there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the time suck Facebook has become, which may not surprise those who have followed reports of Facebook’s declining reach and heavy filtering (neither of these are in my GeekWire column, but both are interesting views of the algorithmic impact on advertisers and news consumers). Formal deletion or deactivation of a Facebook profile is just one step individuals can take. Perhaps more common is simply not showing up as often — or at all.

Read, “Nuking Facebook: 30 days later, the fallout,” at GeekWire.

Time ship’s first stop on 400-year journey

August 30th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewA 400-year “generation ship” is preparing to make its first stop to take on new artifacts … in Washington State.

Over at GeekWire, I describe an unusual effort to preserve tech (and other) history in convenient capsule form. Time capsule form.

The Washington Centennial Time Capsule, sealed in 1989, is about to be re-opened and re-stuffed. That’s because this particular initiative isn’t a single “capsule,” it’s a vault with 16 capsules — one for each 25-year period between 1989 and 2389. The second capsule, marking the 25 years up to 2014, is about to be populated.KOTC_Logo_Vert_700x1000

What should go into it? That’s still being debated and decided. But here’s a sampling of what’s in the first capsule:

Items that were placed in the first box include over 10,000 microfilmed messages to the future written by Washington state residents; sealed messages from the state’s Congressional delegation, Governor, other state officials, and science fiction writers; Microsoft Bookshelf on CD-ROM; a Centennial banner carried into space in 1990 by Washington State astronaut Bonnie Dunbar; a handwoven Indian basket; Centennial reports and commemorative items; a 1989 Frederick & Nelson Christmas catalogue; and assorted coins, medals, buttons, and medallions.

Running in parallel with the artifact update is an unusual human effort, in which a second group of ten-year-olds is being recruited to maintain the Centennial Time Capsule until the next update two-and-a-half decades hence. That’s an effort overseen by 1989’s original Capsule Keepers, now all 35 years old.

Read, “We are the Keepers: Time Capsule makes 1st stop on 400-year journey,” at GeekWire.

Digitally inept: Why I canceled the Seattle Times

August 19th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewMemo to newspapers aspiring to be “new media:” It’s not just cutting-and-pasting your journalism into a digital format. It’s the entire mobile-plus-digital subscriber experience.

Over at GeekWire, I explain that’s the reason why I finally canceled my Seattle Times subscription. Bad e-mail and online billing experience. Bad Android app experience. And a mystifying vacation stop policy that itself just … stopped. If a paying customer wants to have an equivalent subscriber digital experience with a newspaper as they do by going full-paper (for bills and news access), they aren’t going to get it at the Seattle Times.

So, in frustration, after seven years of paying, I canceled. And it led to a flurry of comments, including a couple directly from the Seattle Times. For one, Editor Kathy Best:

“… I agree completely that our mobile experience needs to be miles better than it is today. That’s why we teamed up with Ratio to produce a seattletimes.com app for Windows 8.1-enabled tablets and phones that launched a few weeks ago. Although that’s a small segment of the market, the project allowed us to develop skills that are helping us with the much bigger, much more complicated and much-needed conversion of st.com to a responsive site complete with search capability that will allow readers to quickly and easily surface stories, listings and visual content. No one wants that to happen more quickly than our newsroom. We are producing compelling photos, videos and interactive graphics to complement our enterprise, features and investigative reporting. We want to give readers an immersive reading experience that combines all those elements. And we can’t wait for a responsive design that will seamlessly lead people through the multiple layers of our site on every screen size.”

While I didn’t criticize the digital or print content (I thought it was clear it was acceptable, since I was actually paying to read it for seven years), Best went on to defend the content, accurately pointing out there’s much more on the web than in print. As there should be. But Seattle Times Customer Relations Manager Dayne Turgeon did address one of my other key points:

“Regarding our e-billing solution, you are 100% correct – it is less than customers deserve and expect from us. As a result of our recently having simplified our sign-in process, our prior, better solution for billing was lost. While the sign-in change drove significant customer improvements, we lost some functionality in this one area. We are currently working to provide an e-bill solution that will better serve customers and expect it to be in place within the next few months.”

Other readers pointed to revenue, news content and other issues (none of which I addressed, because hell, it’s my column, and my personal newspaper subscriber perspective here). But they made for a vigorous back-and-forth with 35 comments so far. My favorite non-specific one? “I am Groot!”Newspapersurvey2

An unexpected coda to my column arrived in my e-mail inbox three days after my commentary posted. It was an invitation to take part in a detailed web survey about online versus print news preferences … which, based on the questions, was at the behest of the Seattle Times.

So perhaps I’m not the only one frustrated, and the digital subscriber experience isn’t the only trigger for more needed changes at this major metropolitan news organization.

Read, “Digitally clueless: Why I finally canceled the Seattle Times,” at GeekWire.

Libraries tackle the Internet’s big lie

August 11th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewCall it the myth of the level playing field. Just put something on the web, and billions of [fill in the blank] will have access to it.

Access, yes. But you won’t necessarily have their attention.

Over at GeekWire, I examine one effort to surmount this hurdle. The Seattle Public Library has launched a unique program to encourage more local authors to self-publish eBooks with a new partner, Smashwords. That, by itself, is of interest. But what makes it fascinating is that the library has turned it into a contest, with plans to select three of the self-published works to feature in its library-wide eBook circulation catalog.SeattleWriteslogosmall

The result, once the contest results are announced November 15, will likely be something far more valuable to a writer than access. It will be readers.

And it’s a model for author+library driven publishing and distribution that can be replicated by libraries nationally and, potentially, worldwide. (There’s clearly some interest; my GeekWire column on the topic has been recommended nearly 500 times on Facebook and tweeted more than 250 times so far, often by other libraries and by author’s groups).

Read, “How the Seattle Public Library is helping authors overcome the Internet’s big lie,” at GeekWire.

OER and paid content learn to play nicely

July 28th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterThe digital materials school playground is one of uneasiness, as traditional paid resources and Open Educational Resources (OER) figure out how to play nicely together. But they keep encountering three hazards: platforms, sustainability, even definitions.

Over at EdSurge, I examine each of these issues with experts who have current roles or backgrounds in traditional publishing, OER advocacy and edtech software. The upshot: the two forms of digital instructional content are getting closer to cooperating in schools, but in the near term playtime may be a bit unruly.

This column has its roots in the opening keynote session I led at the 2014 Content in Context conference, an annual industry event hosted by the Association of American Publishers preK-12 Learning Group (formerly the Association of Educational Publishers). 500px-OER_Logo.svgAs with most sessions I moderate, I eschew PowerPoint. It makes for a much livelier session, but also means I have to record — and transcribe — the proceedings if I plan to do anything with the results later. (I recommend the Tascam DR-40 digital audio recorder, by the way: adjustable microphones, rugged and hand-held.)

So is OER a threat or an opportunity for traditional education companies? A few transcribed quotes that didn’t make it into the finished post:

Dan Caton, former president of Pearson Learning Group and McGraw-Hill School Education, and now president of Wittel/Morris Strategic Consulting: “For core curriculum, if the Open Educational Resources community gets its act together, it’s a tremendous threat” to traditional publishers.“It’s surprisingly good content … sometimes.” And in its current state, as “supplemental content, it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design for DreamBox Learning and a former math teacher:  Companies need to ask themselves, “What do you bring to your classroom that teachers can’t get for free on the Internet? … When we piece together either print resources or digital resources, we wrongly think about learning as incrementally just going through a series of activities.”

Tom Woodward, former director of instructional technology with Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, now at Virginia Commonwealth University:  With OER and traditional publisher content, “There’s a large continuum with lots of gray in between.” For companies looking at integrating the two, “There’s lots of opportunity, because this is a very difficult thing to do.”

And one closing note: This post marks my final regular column for EdSurge. Matters of both time and focus require me to step back from my writing sideline somewhat. But there’s an EdSurge archive of my contributions to date.

Read, “The unruly playground: free OER and paid digital materials,” at EdSurge.

Facebook, you are dead to me

July 26th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewIt’s done. After eight years, I’m off Facebook.

It’s not a move I made lightly. It has nothing to do with Facebook’s ongoing privacy challenges, or a recently reported (and admitted) psychological experiment that toyed with what Facebook users see to determine if the display could affect emotions. None of that.

I dropped Facebook, as I explain on GeekWire, because it simply ceased keeping a core promise: that it would let me easily and quickly see what my friends and family were doing in my News Feed, in a straightforward, full, reverse chronological way.

FacebookDeactivate3I actually waited 24 hours after the column appeared before deactivating my Facebook account. The process was simple, and I made sure I took a step that’s a good idea for anyone to take (whether you leave Facebook or not): archiving all my Facebook uploads. You can find how to do that under Settings: General on your Facebook profile; it’s “Download a copy of your Facebook data” on the bottom of the main screen.

Facebook may be making boatloads of money. But if reaction to my column on Twitter and GeekWire is any indication, it’s not because people are ecstatically happy with what Facebook has to offer. It’s because they don’t think they have a choice because of Facebook’s extreme “network effect” reach and lock on that network of family and friends.

Read, “Facebook, you are dead to me … for now,” at GeekWire.

I see dead words: terms tech has left behind

June 14th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewZombies walk among us. And you may encounter one when you open your mouth, if your talk references dated tech.

Over at GeekWire, I take to task some common terminology by examining its linguistic and technological origins. And, of course, I offer helpful alternatives for “cc:,” “dial a number,” “next slide” and two other terms.

However, there was a sixth “outdated” term that I had to dump before the column was submitted, because when I did further research, I discovered I (and others who had suggested it) were, well, wrong.

The original unedited text?

“Ditto” to something. We’ve all typed it or said it in utter shorthanded agreement: “ditto.” As in to duplicate. As in a Ditto (yes, proper noun) master.

Because Dittos were a 20th century technology for making – again, pre- cheap photocopy or computer – copies. They required typing or writing on a special Ditto master, with a dense waxy layer, often purple, on its reverse side. When the protective sheet was removed from the back of the master and the master was attached to a rotating drum, remarkably clear spirit fluid transferred whatever what was imprinted on the master to multiple sheets of paper, until the waxy substance was depleted and you only got faded duplicates.

I only say the spirit fluid was remarkable because it had certain properties I suspected that, if inhaled, would explain the behavior of those teachers I recall who hung around the machine much of the school day. And it was legal.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APerthGazette_1833_06_01_1_ditto.jpgThe only problem with this entire section? “Ditto” and the typographical mark which sports the same name date back to 1625 in English usage. It was not a term based on 20th century technology, but on centuries-older language and typography.

Of course, I only discovered this pesky reality after I’d drafted the column and was doing a final fact-check.

Facts: those double-edged swords that either provide the foundation, or the undoing, of a columnist’s work. Despite their annoying nature in this case, I still prefer relying on them.

Read, “I see dead words: Terminology that technology has left behind” over at GeekWire.

It was 20 years ago (almost) today …

June 9th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

I recently realized I have passed a milestone: It has been 20 years since my first regular tech column.

PapersBack then, it was for Eastsideweek, one-time sister paper to Seattle Weekly (and my editor was the irrepressibly intelligent Knute “Skip” Berger). Turns out even then I was writing on a personal computer, likely my Apple II — and I still have the text file on my current laptop.

Since that four-year-long weekly adventure, I’ve been a regular contributor or columnist, in roughly sequential order, to Seattle Weekly, Puget Sound Business Journal, KCPQ-TV Seattle, TechFlash, MindShift, GeekWire and EdSurge (the last two are my current regular columnist digs). My writing for GeekWire probably is the most direct successor to the approach and tone I set two decades ago, to GeekWire’s benefit or otherwise.

So here it is: the very first Byte Me column from May 11, 1994. Yes. The Internet has improved since then. Except for the “hot burner” part.

Byte Me
or, Dispatches from the Digital Frontier

The Internet as Goat Trail Read the rest of this entry »

The “believability barrier” to tech adoption

June 8th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterCustomers aware of product? Check. Product works as advertised? Check. Customers believe the product works as advertised? Uh oh.

The believability barrier is where edtech (and other tech) products can get stuck.

Over at EdSurge, I look at this ongoing challenge for any new technology through the lens of two technologies that have been turned into education products or services: online proctoring in higher ed, which has recently surmounted the barrier, and automated essay scoring in K-12, which is still scaling it.

By English: Cpl. Patrick Fleischman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg"><img width="512" alt="USMC-090507-M-3035F-562" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/90/USMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg/512px-USMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg

(Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Even if/when a technology product or service hurdles the barrier, it doesn’t mean that tech is appropriate for every use in every situation. Actually, often what makes it possible to make it around that third obstacle is creators and users of a new tech figure out where it will work the best, neither over-promising nor over-criticizing what it can or cannot do.

Automated essay scoring, for example, appears to be settling into a position that requires a human touch, both so machine and human scorer backstop each other, and so humans provide deep feedback when the technology is used to encourage student writing practice. (The human part delights me, of course, as a one-time fiction and current column writer.)

Read, “The believability barrier: automated essay scoring,” at EdSurge.

Lies my Fitbit tells me

May 27th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewThose little tickles in the back of your mind that tell you a relationship may not be quite what you expected? I can no longer ignore them. They’re the lies my Fitbit tells me.

Over at GeekWire, I analyze my “relationship” with my Fitbit Zip (after I lost 25 pounds using the MyFitnessPal app), and find it lacking based on battery life, accuracy and, well, expectations.

In the lively comments, I’m taken to task about one flaw I cited:FitbitZip

“You’re getting too popular?” – Honestly? What sort of hipster crap is this? If a product works, it works, you’re not some special snowflake that deserves a unique fitness monitoring device. If you really want to feel unique, go back to doing it by hand.

To which I responded:

The problem is that Fitbit Zip’s actual battery life is half of what’s claimed, that questionable accuracy of fitness trackers is well-documented (even with regular step walking), and the popularity of many fitness trackers may be unearned based on realistic (or unrealistic) buyer expectations, and that’s why they’re “too popular.” Hipster suspicions aside.

I’ve got to be more careful with that “too popular” line in the future. Really, it’s “too popular based on expectations” or “too popular for perhaps the wrong reasons.”

Oh. And I’m not breaking up with my Fitbit. I think a little honesty is good in a relationship.

Read, “Lies my Fitbit tells me,” over at GeekWire.