Posts Tagged ‘GeekWire’

Google, Apple, Microsoft: Platform perceptions

Monday, October 13th, 2014

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

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.

Microsoft’s Minecraft education opportunity

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

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

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

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

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

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

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 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

Monday, August 11th, 2014

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.

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.

I see dead words: terms tech has left behind

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

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.

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.

Microsoft’s newest education strategy

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

GeekWirenewMicrosoft and education have an inconsistent and varied history. But Microsoft has waded into the education pool anew with its “Office Mix” add-in for PowerPoint.

Over at GeekWire, I took an advance look at the new — and free — tool. Essentially, it adds a ribbon to PowerPoint (the Office 2013 or Office 365 version is required) that allows educators to integrate tests, exercises, video, narration, and animation (for simulations, for example) within a PowerPoint file, then distribute the link to students so they can interact with the lesson on the web.

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Couldn’t this also be used by NON-educators?”

Indeed. It’s free, and freely available. But in my interview with a Microsoft exec, he made it clear that education and instructors were the “North Star” for Office Mix as a key, and primary, audience.

Office Mix also marked Microsoft’s partnerships with two education content non-profits, CK-12 Foundation and Khan Academy. From a brief on EdSurge:

James Tynan of Khan Academy told EdSurge columnist Frank Catalano it’s not every Khan video or interactive exercise, but Mixers will have direct access to “pretty much all of the videos we have created” and a “significant chunk” of the exercises, numbering respectively in the thousands and hundreds.

Read, “Microsoft wades into education again with ‘Office Mix’ tool for PowerPoint,” at GeekWire. And check out the additional detail at Edsurge.

Edtech entrepreneur wannabe? It’s crowded

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

GeekWirenewYes, I’ve been in education technology for two decades. Yes, it occasionally exasperates as much as it delights. And yes, all of that was front-and-center at last month’s ASU+GSV Education Innovation Summit.

Over at GeekWire, I provide my take on the conference held in the Phoenix area. And offer three observations for would-be education entrepreneurs which might be summed up as:GSVslide

  • prepare for the bubble,
  • all “education” markets are not alike, and
  • learn at least a little bit of the decades of edtech history so you can ground yourself in customer expectations.

Not that anyone will actually listen.

Read, “An open letter to wannabe edtech entrepreneurs: Welcome to the crowd, ” over at GeekWire.

 

Phished, caught and embarassed

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

GeekWirenewNSA. Target. Heartbleed. All are potential breaches of our personal data that are beyond our control.

Then there’s individual stupidity. My stupidity, with my smartphone, and my personal data.

Over at GeekWire, I detail how I got reeled in by an automated survey smartphone phishing scam, one of the latest tricks in a never-ending game of bait-and-catch that evolves as rapidly as technology. And to think I got stung by this, even I avoided even the notorious “Windows tech support” phone scam earlier.

TMobilelocksmall

Learn from my public disclosure, details and dismay. Don’t fall for it. (For the record, T-Mobile was spectacularly helpful and polite in assisting me in securing my account with a verbal password and listening to me self-berate over my lapse.)

Read, “Phished! Lessons learned from my smartphone stumble,” at GeekWire.

Amazon: Edtech’s passive lurker arises

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

EdSurgelogoTwitterIf you want to understand Amazon’s strategy in education with the Kindle, remember what Amazon is good at: delivering paid digital content. And then you might forget about who makes the tablet that displays the content. Instead, focus on the Kindle Reading App.

71MP0iAoVpL._AA160_Over at EdSurge (and in a slightly edited re-post at GeekWire), I pull together the various moves Amazon has made in K-12 education over the past year or so, and tie them up with a bow that is Amazon’s announcement it is distributing hundreds of textbook titles digitally to teachers in Brazil, delivered not necessarily on Kindle tablets, but on the Kindle Reading App on government-issued Android tablets.

This isn’t necessarily Amazon’s only education technology strategy. But it’s one that makes sense, especially in markets where the objective is to deliver digital content more than to sell low-margin tablet hardware.

Read, “Amazon’s Rising Edtech Play” at EdSurge, and “Amazon: Education’s passive lurker gets aggressive” at GeekWire, if for no other reason than to compare and contrast reader comments.

First, we kill all the futurists

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

GeekWirenewBorne out of frustration from too many lame conference keynotes: It’s time to kill ‘futurists.’ Not individuals. The title.

Over at GeekWire, I take on the frequently vapid job title of ‘futurist.’ While there may be some who wear this label and have actual supporting credentials, too often it seems to be used by the puffed up who are promoting a self-published book or conference keynote business. They are only futurists because they claim to be.

More interesting are those who are envisioning the future and working to create it, not just talk about it. And, as I note in several column examples, they use different, more meaningful titles. I draw a distinction between the title and the activity.

By Valueyou at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurism_(art)Of course, not everyone agrees. And it is a continuum. For example, there is a carve-out for paid, published science-fiction writers who occasionally call themselves ‘futurists’ too (David Brin and Brenda Cooper come to mind). But they have strong scientific or technical backgrounds and do far more than serve up warmed-over popular tech.

Readers of my column also had carve-outs of their own. Two notable comments on the continuum:

“There is an automatic framing of expectations for an audience when the term futurist is used. That’s what makes the term useful. And that also makes it incumbent upon the person claiming that moniker to then deliver something new, challenging confronting about the futures that are possible. To do it well means relevant for the specific audience.”

“There is such a thing as a credentialed futurist. And there are, in fact, graduate schools in the US and around the world that offer graduate degrees in futures studies. (In the US, it’s the University of Houston and the University of Hawaii.) There’s also a small professional organization — the Association of Professional Futurists — that’s attempting to set some benchmarks and standards on what a futurist is and does.”

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that ‘futurist’ used to mean something else entirely. In the early part of the 20th century, there was an art and social movement, begun in Italy, called futurism whose adherents were known as ‘futurists.’ But even though it was very different (and ultimately wound up leading to support of political fascism),  at least the best members of the artistic movement created something new, not an inflated amalgamation of what already existed.

Read, “First, we kill all the ‘futurists‘,” at GeekWire.

Is sexism in tech forever?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

GeekWirenewGenerational blindness: Is sexism in tech forever?” was a very hard column to write, literally months in the making. But it turned into something more thoughtful than had I rushed into ranting about it, as I’d originally planned.

Over at GeekWire, I’ve taken a look at the frustrating issue in the tech industry of continuing sexism, and the fitful progress that’s been made over two decades.

To peel back the pixels a little bit: Last fall, I got increasingly pissed off about continued, clueless “brogrammer” behavior, and parallels ran through my mind about similar issues in the mid-1990s during the start of the dot-com boom. I figured there had to be other parallels for other topics, so I drafted an email to several long-time tech reporters and columnists I knew:

By Wuyouyuan (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Wuyouyuan [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I keep seeing issues come up that I thought were on their way to being settled nearly two decades ago in tech. Troublesome issues, like overt sexism in the industry, using technology not to assist but to replace teachers, and the rise of tech hype or investment bubbles.

So I’m posing a question to a handful of long-time tech observers/ journalists I know well:

What tech industry issue that is hot or divisive now did you think we had solved two decades ago? And WHY didn’t it STAY solved?

The email went out. With one exception (“passwords”), the response was crickets.

Hmmm.

Maybe sexism was the right primary focus. And maybe I simply didn’t feel my observations alone were sufficient. I started by reaching out to journalist and education technology rabble-rouser Audrey Watters, who (on the record) described to me how the current climate had affected her:

I had to close comments on my blog because of this. And it wasn’t my coverage of education or even ed-tech that prompted it. It was my post on Codecademy.

I didn’t just get comments that said my criticisms of Codecademy were wrong or unfounded. I was called names. I was threatened. All of this incredibly gendered, incredibly violent.

It was so interesting to me because part of my argument was that Codecademy wasn’t going to be the solution to opening up programming to new groups — those currently excluded from the sector — because the startup failed so miserably at pedagogy. But the comments made it pretty clear that no matter the pedagogy, women aren’t welcome in tech.

SexismTechtweetSo I carefully went through all my LinkedIn contacts, looking for women I knew who had been in tech at least two decades. I put a call out on Twitter and Facebook. As a result, I posed the following four questions to a dozen women who’d been in the industry long enough to see how the XX/XY situation had developed:

1) What have your experiences been, generally? (Examples are optional.)
2) Can you draw any comparisons of how sexism in the tech industry has changed over the past two decades?
3) Are there any areas of the tech industry that seem better or worse than others when it comes to sexism (e.g., startups, geographically, industry vertical, anything else)?
4) Some of us in tech thought this was on its way to being addressed two decades ago. Why wasn’t it? What went wrong?

The result, thanks to their candor and insights, is what ultimately appeared as, “Generational blindness: Is sexism in tech forever?” over at GeekWire. And yes, there was a lot I didn’t publish, too.

A digital business trip, without paper

Friday, March 7th, 2014

GeekWirenewCall it The Geek’s Guide to Paperless Business Travel. And, uh, snowstorm recovery.

Over at GeekWire, I chronicle my attempt to take an entire business trip without touching paper. At all. And — spoiler alert — I almost completely succeeded. I didn’t even touch paper money. A heavy 11.5 inches of Manhattan snow that extended my trip unexpectedly didn’t break my stride.

NJTransitappI also learned, in the comments, that one app I’d given up on a year ago to help with digital travel has very much improved since then. So I’ve reinstalled TripIt and now do appreciate it (though I wish its corporate parent, Concur, would create a version of its flagship receipt-capturing app and expense management service that would work for sole proprietors, not just companies, and integrate with invoicing software like Quicken Home & Business — any digital approach should always be less work than the paper process it replaces).

Also in the comments, this exchange, in the interests of full disclosure:

[Reader] I hope there was an exclusion granted for personal hygiene?

[Me] Um, yes, one particular aspect. I did have to purchase additional underwear, but it was because I was stuck in NYC an extra two days. No other reason.

So walk through what became a week (almost completely) without paper with me. Read, “Challenge accepted: My attempt to take an entire business trip without touching paper,” at GeekWire.

Coding is not a foreign language

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

GeekWirenewCoding for kids is cool and useful, but the movement promoting it threatens to go sideways when programming is equated with learning a foreign (human) language.

Yet that’s what has happened in several state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives — with one going so far as to propose formally classifying computer programming languages as “critical foreign languages.”

Over at GeekWire, I humbly submit that this is a Really Bad Idea and shows an ignorance of either computer languages, world languages, or both. (For one, human languages are also a long-standing life skill … and don’t change as often.)

CodeDayfulllogoSince the column appeared and was re-posted on EdSurge, it’s led to some spirited (and thoughtful) debate in the reader comments on GeekWire and also on the education technology site.

Others have weighed in. Code.org, which pushes an important learn-to-code agenda, similarly flatly states, “Computer coding is not a foreign language.” Meanwhile, on Twitter a researcher pointed to a small-scale study that suggests that “young computer programmers have ‘bilingual brains,‘” an interesting implication of the cognitive benefits of coding.

Bottom line: understanding computer programming is important, both as a window into computer science and how our technological world works. But well-meaning efforts at the policy level should have it counting toward math and science graduation requirements (as it does in Washington and at least nine other states) and not toward world human languages, especially if it means sacrificing a student’s foreign language exposure.

Read the full argument, “Learn to code? No: Learn a real language,” over at GeekWire.