Posts Tagged ‘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 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 ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], 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.


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., 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.

The weakest link in data safety is, well, you

Friday, January 31st, 2014

GeekWire logoPersonal data discussions make me cranky. Too often, people conflate elements that make up what we think of as “data privacy” or “data security” when in reality, it is the sum of several interlocking pieces with different parties responsible for each.

Over at GeekWire, I’ve unpacked the whole area of personal data safeguards into three elements: security (largely a technology issue), privacy (largely a policy issue), and practice (largely an all-too-human implementation issue). And as you work your way from the first to the last, the individual has an increasing amount of influence — and responsibility.


Startup PassQi’s approach to security (

It’s a helpful way to think of it, even if it’s been simplified for a column. And, as one reader commented, let’s not forget one uber-critical aspect of security too:

Just try achieving physical security when you’re targeted. Without physical security you don’t have security.

To which I add:

In most of the cases when individuals are thinking about data safeguards, they’re thinking about personal data that is stored with others, over which they don’t have any control (or perhaps even any concept) of the physical storage … That said, wandering away from laptops on a public work space without a cable lock, or smart phones on gym exercise equipment, is just a bad idea not just for the data, but for the value of the device itself.

Read, “The weakest link in data privacy is, well, you,” over at GeekWire.


Business cards reflect our tech

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

GeekWire logo

Q132Sometimes, business cards reflect more than contact information. A group of them, over time, can illustrate how communications technology has changed our lives by what we choose to put on the card — and what we choose to eliminate.

Over at GeekWire, I unearth seven of my cards spanning roughly four decades. (Yes, I started in my early teens. No, I don’t have a portrait in my attic.) The evolution becomes pretty apparent when you look at all the cards together, moving from adding area codes to Twitter handles. And even a few things dropping off.

It’s also kind of fun to see some old technology industry logos again, such as those from Egghead Discount Software (and Mark Brill’s great Professor illustration) and the Apple Programmers and Developers Association (and its stylized 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks).

By no means are these seven cards the only business cards that I’ve kept. My career began in broadcasting, moved to tech and then to consulting and analysis in tech and edtech. Plus, in addition to full-time roles, I’ve had cards for interim executive and part-time gigs.


So take those seven for Santa Barbara Life, KING, APDA, Egghead, McGraw-Hill Home Interactive, iCopyright and Intrinsic Strategy, and interject cardboard for (in rough chronological order): Syntactics Publications, Catalano Communications, KIST, KUHL, KIDO, WNFL, KTNT, KMPS, A.P.P.L.E. Co-op (various), Catalano Consulting (various), Apex, Q13, RavenFire, PC Data, Boxer Learning, Stokes Auction Group, Pearson and Professional Examination Service.


I expect a few of each are still floating out there, somewhere.

Catch up on communications tech history and read, “2″ x 3.5″ evolution: Business cards reflect our tech,” at GeekWire.

Four tech terms to forget in 2014

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

GeekWire logo“People judge you by the words you use.” That phrase isn’t just part of a once near-ubiquitous ad campaign, it also applies to tech industry terminology. And based on what’s happened to some once-meaningful phrases, many in media and marketing would be judged morons.


Over at GeekWire, I opine that if you use any of these four tech terms in 2014, your utterance may be judged meaningless due to how each was mangled by the end of 2013: “open,” “MOOC,” “cloud” and “high-definition.”

But thanks to reader comments both on the GeekWire site and Facebook, there were many more observations (and a few nominees that didn’t make my final list but might have). Such as:

Analytics, Curated, Engagement, Reach — reasons for all — ubiquitous application of these terms to virtually every product, service, or platform currently being sold. Add to this the term “Social Media” which jumped the shark back in 2011 or so.

Not a tech term, but “awesome” has been rendered utterly meaningless, thanks to techies.


Anyone remember hi-fidelity?

I’m a maker, and in 2014 I’m looking to disrupt the cloud. Who’s with me??

Read, “Four tech terms to forget in ’14,” over at GeekWire.

“Dogfooding” 2013 tech products

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

GeekWire logoJust in time for the holidays, I ate my own dog food.

Over at GeekWire, I detail tech products that I — as a reviewer of many tech products — thought well enough of to buy for my own use. And the three I list (along with pros, cons and what I’d do differently if I had to buy them again today) are products I literally use daily.

FitbitZipblackOkay, so I won’t maintain the suspense: Sonos, Fitbit Zip and the Google Nexus 5. But you’ll have to click over to read why.

These three join two other products I’ve purchased and about which I’ve written for GeekWire, Google Chromecast and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. But the Chromecast or HDX don’t get used nearly as often as the other three: Chromecast, primarily when I want to stream video or audio wirelessly and directly from my laptop to my TV (said smart television already has built-in WiFi and apps), and the HDX, mostly when I’m traveling.

Read, “Favorite tech things: 3 products this reviewer actually chose to buy,” over at GeekWire. And you can hear me discuss my choices with GeekWire’s John Cook and Todd Bishop in the weekly podcast, too.

Getting Amazon’s best customer service

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

GeekWire logoWhat does it take to get really good customer service from

Not the usual efficient service for resolving straightforward problems, like a missing delivery or wrong product. Amazon, from my experience and all reports, generally handles those well. No, I mean customer service for what should have been a simple situation that got increasingly complicated by Amazon’s own actions.

Screenshot_2013-11-27-12-41-11Over at GeekWire, I tackle the latter. My “fix” for the issue was unorthodox, but I expect will become more commonplace. Until that is, as one reader’s comment on the column noted, it becomes really popular:

Just like when companies first started paying attention to Twitter, customer service via that channel was very high, now try to get a company to care or even respond to a Twitter post and only a few do and not at the level previously seen. Soon enough, once the novelty wears off, Amazon will start eyeing the higher salaries for the [BLANK] folks and lower quality service will ensue.

Fill in the blank by reading, “The secret to getting Amazon’s best customer service,” at GeekWire.

Kindle Fire HDX: the road warrior’s frenemy

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

GeekWire logoConsidering a Kindle Fire HDX for business uses? It’ll be your best frenemy.

Over at GeekWire, I review Amazon’s latest entry in the tablet wars. And it’s safe to say the latest Kindle Fire is far more of what people expect of a “tablet” than its predecessors — including business people.

Fire OS 3.1's new VPN settings

Even when I’m writing, I’m a road warrior, logging more than 100,000 actual air miles (what frequent flyers charmingly refer to as “butt-in-seat” miles) in a typical year. So ideally, if I have a tablet, it’s not just an entertainment device, it allows me to do some actual work without having to resort to pulling out a full-fledged laptop and fight for armrest real estate.

The newest Kindle Fire does that. There are a few asterisks, mostly due to Amazon’s piling on the new features and rolling them out incrementally, such as a configurable VPN client in the latest Fire OS 3.1 update. But all in all, it’s a good, relatively inexpensive alternative to an iPad or other Android-derived tablet for the individual business person, if not quite yet for the corporate enterprise. There are some maddening decisions on things like keyboard options when I struggled to find a specific key (which a commenter kindly, I think, helped me out with):

LOL Its easy to find the % Key lol you hit ?123 Then above ABC you see ~|< hit that and book right above the space bar…Dude you need to just stick with your Ipad

Um, easy.

Read, “Kindle Fire HDX: The business person’s frenemy,” over at GeekWire.

Kill the password — before it kills us

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

GeekWire logoInconsistent rules. Multiple screens. Many accounts, apps and sites. And if you practice good personal password hygiene, you add confusing complexity. So it’s time to kill the password (as we know it).

Over at GeekWire, that’s my columnist’s take. And it struck a nerve.

Not just with readers, but with Rhapsody, the subscription music service whose Android app created the angst that fueled this commentator’s fire. It had a nicely tweeted (and unofficial, I presume) response, considering Rhapsody happened to be the canary in my password coal mine.


Other comments illustrated there is definitely enough password pain to go around.

Though I’m not eager for the day of retina/fingerprint/whatever log-ins, there MUST be a better way. Especially for services/sites you only need to use once a month, perhaps to pay a bill …


As a very basic starting point it would be helpful for each login screen to display the password rules for that site. That would give you a chance of remembering what specific password you had to create.


As someone that has just over 250 accounts between work and personal arenas, I would love a shortcut, believe me! Replacing a biometric print for the logins for all 250 would be brilliant in and of itself!

As to my experience that led to the above sharing, plus options being considered as fixes, read “It’s time to kill the password — before it kills us,” at GeekWire.

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.

Of geeks, nerds and definitions

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

GeekWire logoThick black glasses? Check. Long pants too short? Check. Obsessive intelligence? Check. Geek or nerd? Well, that depends.

My GeekWire column attempts to differentiate geeks from nerds (or, in my case, nerds from geeks) and has proven a tad contentious, as at one point I state, “Nerd is to tinker with tech; geek is to admire and acquire.”

However, as I note in the post, geek/nerd is a continuum with a lot of overlap. And a nerd can be a geek, too. And, uh, what about hipsters? From my further explanation in the great reader comments:


…While I think hipsters adopt some of the trappings of geeks and nerds, they lack either the obsessive interest or intelligence of one or the other (except in rare cases, which means they ARE geeks or nerds disguised as hipsters). Geeks can be geeks about anything; it’s just that consumer tech is the current bright shiny object of much geek desire, which is why I think geeks are so often confused with nerds today.

And I appreciate the kind effort to deliver me from nerdom. I suspect I’m a nerd-geek hybrid, with learned geek behavior having come as an adult. After all, the beauty of geek and nerd is you don’t have to be just one.

This column was a bit painful to write, not surprisingly, as I had to delve into the morass known as “junior high school” to come up with some personal examples without crossing the line into TMI. (Well. Perhaps I did. In the final line of my ending bio.)

Read, “The geek/nerd divide: This time, it’s personal” at GeekWire.

When tablets and schools don’t mix

Friday, October 11th, 2013

GeekWire logo

In education, beware the technology Dumbo Drop. For anyone who’s been around edtech for any time at all, that’s so obvious it’s become a cliche. But apparently it’s advice some school districts are ignoring because they seem to have been blinded by the bright shiny face of cool consumer devices.

Over at GeekWire, I explore and explain tablet troubles experienced at several districts so far this school year, including the high-profile, botched billion-dollar iPad adoption in Los Angeles schools (from which, I hope, it may still recover — I still strongly support intelligent use of technology in education, but as much or more attention needs to be paid to the implementation process as to the initial purchase).


We’ve seen this silicon-silver-bullet mentality before, with everything from interactive white boards to early desktop computers (not to mention classroom television sets). But LA, especially, should know better. It went through another expensive tech Dumbo Drop roughly a decade ago with early reading software and computers on which to run it. That software wasn’t used properly or enough, and hardware broke and wasn’t repaired — assuming it made it out of shrink wrap at all.

Today, companies that want a piece of the school tablet business, such as Microsoft, should view what’s happening in these schools as a cautionary tale. Never hurts to know what to advise school districts not to do, or to expect.

Read, “Tech happens: When tablets and schools don’t mix,” over at GeekWire. And be sure to scan the lively and informative comments, including pointers to other good analyses from other angles (I personally liked Audrey Watters’ in the Atlantic).

Twenty years of the graphical web browser

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

GeekWire logoThe journey of the undisputed killer app that made the Internet a daily resource for everyone was anything but smooth. And it began 20 years ago this month.

Over at GeekWire, I detail how the first popular graphical web browser, NCSA Mosaic, was released in September 1993 for Windows and Macintosh (and it was still a beta). Yet Mosaic’s marriage of hypertext and multimedia was challenged at the highest levels of the tech elite, as my handwritten notes from 1994′s European Conference on Hypermedia Technology attest.

EWorld_Main_ScreenAnd it’s not that Mosaic was without competitors for an online experience. A generation ago heralded the heyday of proprietary, closed, dial-up (yes, there was something called “dial-up”) online services such as CompuServe, America Online, GEnie, Prodigy and eWorld. This last was Apple’s futile entry into graphical online services. In the GeekWire comments, Rick LaFaivre, who was at Apple at the time and running the Advanced Technology Group, notes:

“… We weren’t great fans of eWorld. One of the many university research groups we funded was Larry Smarr’s NCSA group at Illinois. I remember them attending a university research open house we held each year, in (I think) the Spring or Summer of 1993, and demoing the early beta of Mosaic. We were perhaps a little blase (hey, we’d had HyperCard for years!), but Jim Clark saw it some months later and Netscape was born.”

What I recalled well about eWorld, as a beta tester, was that,

“There were great hopes for its success … based on the activity when it was a free beta. Then it tried to charge for access, and the connect fees were breathtakingly higher than many beta testers had expected. eWorld rapidly depopulated.”

For more on the struggles — and ultimate success — of NCSA Mosaic in this nascent online environment, read, “The Web: a generation old, a link unexpected,” at GeekWire.

Life’s a pitch: Why startups do competitions

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

GeekWire logoStartup pitch fests (or, more properly, pitch competitions), seem nearly ubiquitous. Not just in education technology, where I spend most of my time. They’re across all kinds of technology entrepreneurship. But there’s a reason startups put up with them — and it’s not just publicity.

Earlier I focused on seven tips experienced coaches offered edtech companies to hone their pitches at the entrepreneur- and startup-focused SXSW V2V conference, tips that could apply to any technology (not just education tech) startup.

TipbitTweetNow I’ve bookended that EdSurge piece with a column for GeekWire. I focus on four Seattle-area startups (in three different categories) to determine why they spend so much effort in the time suck and pressure cooker that is the modern-day pitch competition.

Turns out what happens on stage? It’s only the tip of an iceberg of reasons.

Read, “Life’s a pitch: The other reasons startups do competitions,” over at GeekWire.

Chromecast: Google and the Post-Nerd Era

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

GeekWire logoI’ve learned the hard way not to be among the first to buy a new device while bugs and compatibility issues are still being worked out. But I found myself contradicting my own advice when I ordered Google Chromecast, the new HDTV video and audio streaming device, immediately after it became available.

Chromecast5Part of it was a no-brainer price (a low $35 list, but for me a net $11 + tax after a limited time free Netflix promotion and free Amazon Prime shipping). Part of it, candidly, was increasing dissatisfaction with my Comcast cable television bill and exploring options to “cut the cord,” though at this point the alternatives are more of a choose-your-own-adventure model than a one-size-fits-all solution.

Over at GeekWire in my column, I review my Chromecast experience and what the device may represent (and potentially get into a geek vs. nerd terminology smackdown) for techies who used to have to tinker to make tech behave.

Also check out the plentiful comments, which delve more deeply into setup issues on iOS, music streaming availability, web browser ‘casting to the Chromecast, and why this is not — yet — a universal cord-cutting device.

Read, “Google Chromecast: Welcome to the Post-Nerd Era,” at GeekWire.

And if you missed it, listen to the GeekWire Radio podcast in which Todd Bishop and I exchange verbal reviews of Chromecast (me) and Xfinity X1 (he).

More audio at

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.