Archive for the ‘Off Topic’ Category

There is no “I” in “impostor”

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

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

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

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.

AIDS to Ebola: Tech changes, rumors persist

Monday, October 27th, 2014

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:

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.

Sharing bad news on social media

Friday, September 26th, 2014

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.

Time ship’s first stop on 400-year journey

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

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

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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 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 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.

Facebook, you are dead to me

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

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.

It was 20 years ago (almost) today …

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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 (more…)

Lies my Fitbit tells me

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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.

A re-start, reflection and five recommendations

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

As 2014 begins, I’m re-entering familiar territory: independent, full-time consulting.

And by “familiar,” I mean really, really familiar. Consulting became my career (not a label I wore while looking for other full-time work) in 1992. I had been in marketing management at Egghead Discount Software, a national chain of some 200+ retail stores and a healthy (half of revenues) education, government and corporate direct sales business.

Egghead2-745183I had been in charge of product and sales promotion, so I had relationships with literally hundreds of technology vendors and had written and executed dozens of launch plans, strategic and tactical. So it was a natural move to consult more deeply some of the companies with which I’d worked at Egghead. A few consulting engagements became on-going or repeat relationships (Apple, Rick Steves’ Europe) or longer-term interim executive assignments (MetaMetrics, McGraw-Hill Home Interactive).

I’ve only left consulting thrice in the past 20+ years, each time to join a then-client in an executive role: iCopyright (briefly, during the dot-com days), Pearson Education (for four years last decade, primarily in the assessment businesses), and most recently for much of last year, Professional Examination Service.

I’ve now left ProExam’s staff because I recognized the work I’d begun as a consultant and joined them to complete as Chief Marketing Officer was fully implemented. And I realized that staff marketing needed to take a stronger sales support role. My “CMO” title was a distraction. So it has been retired, I’ve returned full-time to Intrinsic Strategy, and I’ll keep working with ProExam as a client to provide guidance (and continuity) as a strategic adviser.

KMPScatalanoI’m thinking three times is the charm. I plan to stay here, focused on consulting, analysis and writing. (Plus speaking. My much-earlier broadcasting background demands to be set free from time-to-time and I’m told I clean up well.)

But in more than twenty years of consulting, with deep dives into executive and interim-exec work, I can offer five recommendations for consultants, those who hire them, or those who want to apply consulting principles to their own staff work: (more…)

When tech and time overtake research

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

GeekWire logoDoing psychological research over time is a tricky task. And one long-term study has found it gets even trickier when you factor in the advances of technology, compounded by changes in education.

400px-RotarydialOver at GeekWire, I explore how these challenges have affected the pioneering Seattle Longitudinal Study on mental abilities and aging. The SLS — in which I’ve been a participant for nearly three decades — has slowly seen the relevance of some of its test questions erode as tech has outdated some of the scenarios. Such as calculating the cheapest time to phone someone long distance.

Of course, most of the SLS tests and their questions (or “instruments” and “items,” in “assessment” parlance) are unaffected, as is the overall validity of the research study.

And I’ve even discovered ways to benefit from the study beyond its formal findings.

For example, I think I did better on recalling an unrelated list of 20 words both immediately after seeing them and at various later times during individual testing. My technique?

Since short-term memory is only good at storing up to seven discrete items — think phone number length — I started to create mental images in three word clusters, so “star” “alcohol” “money” became a celebrity adorned with bling holding a bottle of champagne, and repeated as needed. It’s a trick I taught myself a couple of testing cycles ago and I could still remember all 20 words at the end of a multiple-hour testing session.

Keep that tip in mind the next time you forget your shopping list.

And read, “When technology — and time — overtake research,” over at GeekWire.

A week of Frank quotes

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Sometimes, your words wind up in others’ stories. And wind up telling the story better than you could have directly.

That’s been the case in the past week when I’ve seen thoughts I’ve shared on everything from science-fiction technology to education technology appear under the bylines of others. (And yes. It’s all the same Frank Catalano. I just haven’t made a big deal about my science-fiction writing to those who know me for education and other technology, as EdSurge perceptively observed.)

SuccessMagEdtech is at one end of the spectrum. Jennifer Chang, in Success Magazine, provided an overview of areas of entrepreneurial involvement currently under discussion and debate. I pointed out that there isn’t just one kind of education technology, but at least three: the digital curriculum materials and devices that students see, testing and assessment software teachers use, and the stuff students never see.

“The third bucket tends to be ignored a lot, but the third bucket is things like student information and data or portals for parents to look at grades,” explains longtime industry strategist and analyst Frank Catalano. “All three of those buckets are important, but when people think about technology in classrooms, they tend to think of stuff that generally faces the student, not the stuff that teachers use in lesson planning or that administrators use to run the school.”

There’s also the matter of people being really awful at predicting how unfamiliar tech can change lives, as was shown years ago when focus groups hated the idea of automated teller machines.

“ATMs transformed how we think about banking in ways that nobody could foresee at the time they were introduced. Technology could do the same thing for education with the right emphasis put in the right places,” Catalano explains.

And I come out in favor of making sure startups know enough about education — but not too much, so that knowledge can be used as the basis for true innovation.

“It’s important to talk to teachers and talk to students, but don’t let it completely constrict your thinking,” he warns. “If the music industry knew exactly what it [needed] and music consumers really knew exactly what they wanted, they would’ve been the ones who created iTunes. And they didn’t. It took somebody from the outside, who didn’t come from the industry but knew enough about it and was informed by the people in it and the customers to do something transformative. To me, that kind of plays against the concept that only teachers or education administrators can come up with good ideas. That’s not true. They have important input. But sometimes to do transformative thinking, you need somebody from the outside who can sort of internalize the issues from a new perspective.”

USATodayAt the other end of the spectrum? USA Today, where Jon Swartz did a well-researched and fun piece, “Today’s technology lives in sci-fi films of yesteryear.” Think Google Glass, drones and all that. My take:

“The best predictive movies are based on well-thought-out books or short fiction by some of the best minds of speculative fiction,” says science-fiction writer Frank Catalano, pointing to Philip K. Dick (whose stories inspired Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall and The Adjustment Bureau) and Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

More recent tech came up when I took part in the GeekWire Radio podcast, verbally reviewing Google Chromecast (in advance of my GeekWire column on the streaming video device for televisions).

And Getting Smart, an edtech blog, cited a white paper I’d written and quoted me a bit more in discussing digital Open Badges and how these smart web images, with embedded data, might fit into the future of professional credentials in, “Mozilla Open Badges to Show Career Readiness.”

It was an unusually busy week. To be Frank.

Geeky solidarity in Clarion West’s Write-a-thon

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

GeekWire logoPreparing to write is no more like actual writing than thinking about a hot date is sex.

That’s one conclusion I’ve drawn five weeks into the six-week Clarion West Writers Workshop Write-a-thon. I entered the Write-a-thon with what I thought were realistic plans and expectations: an hour a day carved out for fiction and some columns. And I went in with eyes wide open, as I’d written short fiction and had it published before.


But “before” was, I hesitate to admit, decades ago. And one tends to forget certain live-saving aspects of work habits until one dives back into the shark-infested waters.

Writing fiction is like that. Very much.

While the Write-a-thon has been beneficial generally — notably as a scholarship fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle — it also has benefited me specifically in ways I hadn’t expected, even if I haven’t met all of my writing goals. And one wonderful non-writing benefit was being able to hear author (and Clarion West instructor) Neil Gaiman answer questions and do a reading of his works, a spoken performance that made it clear how much you can miss if you scan well-written fiction too quickly.

My editors at GeekWire suggested I relay the writing lessons, as writing science fiction is about as geeky an avocation as one can have.

Read about my experience, as well as why it make sense to still have writers workshops for written science fiction, in my latest column, “Writing science fiction in a Write-a-thon of geeky solidarity,” over at GeekWire.

Saving a ThinkPad from drink

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

GeekWire logo

I had no idea my ThinkPad T430 keyboard craved Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout. But it did, in a hotel while I was traveling. Laptop was set up on the room’s desk. The beer was on the desk, close by. A little too close.


Over at GeekWire, I describe how I — or for that manner, any slightly nerdy traveler can — recover from a tech travel disaster. The techniques used to save the ThinkPad will work in lots of electronics-spill situations (though if the liquid is not sticky/sugary, immersing it in rice is a good alternative). Applying prayer liberally doesn’t hurt, either.

It also helps that this was a ThinkPad with a special “spill resistant” design, a fact Lenovo noted on Twitter when it saw my column.

It’s a good thing it worked, too. Though the laptop is less than a year old, I didn’t see “beer” as a warrantied hazard.

Read the column, “Saving a ThinkPad from drink: How to recover from a tech travel disaster,” over at GeekWire.

Why I’m writing for six weeks for Clarion West

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

writersilBetween June 23 and August 2, I’m doing something I haven’t done since I began writing professionally: write primarily fiction for at least an hour every day. And I’m doing it as part of the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

Why would I need to commit to this? After all, I’ve been a relatively successful freelance writer of columns, essays, Dummies books and (yes) even short fiction since my teen years. There are three good reasons:

A missed goal to be recaptured. When I turned 50, I set what a friend of mine playfully called five “Golden Jubilee” goals to be accomplished that year. Not a bucket list, this were objectives that were achievable — and fun. While I accomplished four of them (including mastering the yoga pose Crow and buying an annual pass to Disneyland to use several times), I missed only one: write a new long piece of fiction. This is my delayed opportunity to accomplish that.

ClarionWestTwitterA challenge by Clarion West. A couple of years ago I spoke at a science-fiction convention in Seattle, the first time in many years that I’d done so. While there I attended a session about the Clarion West Writers Workshop, its successful graduates and advice for new writers, because I knew some folks on the panel. One speaker, who organized the Workshop, mentioned offhand from stage that it was never too late to sign up for Clarion West as a writer student — and then mentioned me, by name. I fumbled a clever response about not being able to take six weeks off from work to attend. But I can do the Write-a-thon at the same time the Workshop is underway.

To raise money for a great Workshop. Clarion West is an incredible experience, by all reports. Top notch writer-instructors, a new one each week (this year, among them, Neil Gaiman and Samuel R. Delaney). A focus on speculative fiction. An emphasis to write-write-write relentlessly, which is the only way you get better at writing. I’ve been a donor for the past few years, but this is a great way to directly put some text in the game.

So I encourage you to support me with a donation at my Clarion West Write-a-thon page, which outlines my writing approach and goals. The latter, in brief:

Write an hour each day (no matter where I am) for the duration of the Write-a-thon to complete an outline and first chapters of my (first-ever) novel, plus three GeekWire columns.

Even a small PayPal donation is helpful. And if you don’t like my writing style or objectives? Not a problem. There are literally a couple of hundred other writers taking part you can support instead, each for the same good cause.

5 steps to prepare a geek kid for college

Monday, June 17th, 2013

GeekWire logoA “geek child” is defined as either the offspring of one or more geek parents, or any child who — no matter what the parentage — has inherent (if not inherited) nerd DNA.

And in both cases, decisions about college can be a challenge. Because sometimes the decision might turn out to be no college.

HMC_logoOver at GeekWire this graduation season, I’ve taken on preparing a geek kid for higher education with five tips that can be applied pretty much at any time in the teen and pre-teen years. These tips were honed from my own experience getting ready to attend Harvey Mudd College, and getting my son ready for his stint at the University of Washington.

And for those who wonder: no, I never did finish college. But my son did. From these two very different paths came two successful outcomes, and the handful of suggestions.

Consider it a column that could be read as a logical progression from my GeekWire post of a year ago, “7 steps to raise a geek child.”

So check out the sequel, “5 steps to prepare your geek child for college,” at GeekWire. (And afterwards, keep the below Haiku Deck handy for reference.)

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

10 questions for Existence author David Brin

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

GeekWire logoDavid Brin has lived at the intersection of science and science fiction for a long time as a best-selling writer, inventor and scientist. So when I found out he was coming to Seattle to both launch his latest novel, Existence, and speak at Westercon (the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference which, in 2012, is being held in Seattle), it seemed natural to interview him.

The result is over at GeekWire. And befitting the news site’s name, I draw parallels between geek and science fiction culture. And then pepper David with ten questions about the current status of science fiction in society, as a form of literature and about what it and its practitioners do that no one else can.

David is, as always, thoughtful and provocative. And very interesting.

Read, “10 questions: ‘Existence’ author David Brin on science fiction, science and geeks” over at GeekWire.

The geek guide to air travel

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

GeekWire logoI’ll never forget an interview I heard with some of the original designers of the Supersonic Transport (SST) jet on the occasion of its final flight in late 2003. “We thought the future of air travel would be like a jet,” one said. “It turned out to be more like a bus.”

It was toward surviving that increasingly Greyhound-like experience that I contribute, at GeekWire, my geek guide to air travel. These ten tips (not numbered, thankfully) include websites, services and gadgets that can make anyone travel a bit smarter with the help of technology.

And every single tip has been honed by my many hundreds-of-thousands (and probably at least a couple of million, if you include award tickets) of actual air miles traveled.

Enjoy. (Unless you’re one of those who wear Bose headphones to the airplane lavatory.) Read “The Geek’s Guide to Air Travel” at GeekWire.

Two GeekWire weeks, three startup lessons

Friday, May 25th, 2012

GeekWire logoOver at GeekWire, I tackle an atypical subject: GeekWire itself.

For two weeks over a one month period, I had an inside view of GeekWire in particular, and digital journalism in general. I filled in for each of the co-founders as they went on vacation. I didn’t do the longer enterprise pieces or edit guest posts, but I did write a lot of brief stores (plus two of my longer columns) and covered in the newsroom while the others were in the field.

It was something of a George Plimpton-esque experience (for those who recall Paper Lion and many of Plimpton’s other adventures, years ago).

Plus, it taught me a lot. Not just about digital journalism. About startups and entrepreneurship in general. And about how what one has done in the past can be reconfigured to be applicable in just about any situation, if one can clearly understand and separate the skill strands of one’s career.

I mean, who knew Tetris would be an appropriate metaphor for work at a tech news site?

Read, “Two GeekWire weeks, three entrepreneurial lessons,” over at GeekWire.

Sci-fi & asteroid mining: who inspired who?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

GeekWire logoOkay, I have to admit: this one was a lot more fun than usual. I mean, how often do I get a chance to interview six well-known science fiction writers for a tech analysis?

But that’s exactly what I did for my GeekWire column, following up on Seattle-area asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources’ launch by getting the take of a half-dozen established writers — who, it turns out, were as inspired by the news as the company says it was inspired by science fiction.

Read what Greg Bear, Vonda N. McIntyre, Kay Kenyon, William C. Dietz, Louise Marley and Brenda Cooper have to say in my latest GeekWire column, “Science fiction writers inspired as asteroid miners make fiction fact.”

And please, great SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), forgive me for using the once-abhorred abbreviation “sci-fi” in this blog headline. It was the only way to make it fit — and the term, even though now common, still makes me cringe.