Tag Archives: GeekWire

Edtech hits $2B investment record

There was so much money going into edtech from venture capital investors in 2014, it was almost as much as, uh, one Uber.

Investment Graphs_final-01That’s a comparison I draw at GeekWire. Three different sources — CB Insights, EdSurge, and Ambient Insight — all tallied record investment into education technology companies last year. Some were U.S. only, some were global. But all were records, breaking the previous 2013 investment number records.

Investment Graphs_final-02Sounds rainbow-pot-o’-gold amazing, doesn’t it? Not until you realize that Uber, by itself, raised more money in 2014 than every single edtech company tracked, combined. It’s still comparative baby steps.

It’s also worth noting none of the three tallies include merger and acquisition activity, a.k.a. “exits,” which also hit an apparent record for education and edtech firms in 2014. Grant activity from foundations to edtech companies may or may not be included, either, depending on how it’s structured and who’s counting.

Whatever. It’s still a record. For some analysis behind the numbers by the deal-counters themselves, read, “Can you count to $2 billion? Education technology investment hits new record,” at GeekWire.


Paper is back: Where eBooks come up short

BookshelfcropI appear to have hit a nerve. Or at least fueled some passion among lovers of the printed page.

To date, my GeekWire column, “Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound,” has garnered nearly 20,000 Facebook shares and more than 700 tweets. And all this for a column that doesn’t take sides in the paper book vs. eBook battles, but points out the two appear to have settled into a semblance of co-existence. Both sales numbers (units and dollars) for 2014 seem to bear this out.

About five years into the eBook boom, we now have a better idea of what eBooks are really good at, and what paper — for now — is somewhat better at, based on actual studies and experience: comprehension, note taking, and human factors.

There are special cases (I don’t address K-12 students in school, for example, who get other comprehension supports and aren’t allowed to take notes in most paper textbooks). And paper has a long way to go to dig itself out of the sales hole of the past few years, if it ever does. But it’s now showing a slight increase, in most measured formats and categories.

None of this will satisfy hardcore printed book or tech partisans, of course. But something in the middle rarely does.

Read, “Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound,” at GeekWire. And don’t miss the additional discussion in the comments thread.

Inside EMP Museum’s pop-culture artifact vault

From Waterworld shades to Klingon knives, preserving our visions of the future — for the actual future — isn’t easy. For GeekWire (and, quite honestly, to satisfy my own curiosity), I went inside the vault of Seattle’s EMP Museum. There, I found the challenges in conserving science-fiction, music and other pop culture artifacts are anything but easy.

My path to meeting EMP Museum Curator Brooks Peck and Collections Manager Melinda Simms was a bit indirect. Over the decades, I’ve collected a small amount of science-fiction memorabilia from films and literature. Not having a proper way to display it, almost all of it was kept packed away and carefully moved, unseen, from home to home.2001lobbycardcrop

In mid-2014 while cleaning up my home office, I decided at least someone should see it. Not expecting an answer, I sent an email to a general address for EMP Museum (formerly “Experience Music Project” but now “EMP Museum” since it absorbed the adjacent Science Fiction and Fantasy Museum and Hall of Fame):

Do you ever take donations of items for the collection itself? Specifically, for the science fiction and fantasy part of EMP? And if so, what’s the process for consideration?

I realize it’s also possible that you have so many artifacts already that you don’t accept external donations. These are a number of original movie stills, dating back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Phantom of the Paradise, Slaughterhouse Five and many more.

Turns out my mini-lobby cards (the actual collectors term) were of interest, even though EMP Museum’s Peck noted they don’t often take donations, mostly due to a lack of storage space. So over the next few months, I cataloged the 51 items, went in to donate them, and turned out to be fascinated about how difficult it is to conserve many “futuristic” props and materials.

A GeekWire column idea was born. I did the interview with Simms and was invited back to the workroom and vault to take the first-ever photos allowed inside, being careful not to photograph any items that were on loan from other collectors (for which photographic rights may not have been granted).IMG_20141218_100716

Fun fact: EMP Museum, like Seattle Art Museum and others, relies on private collectors to flesh out many an exhibition. Why? It could be that Seattle-area museums are newer and thus have thinner permanent collections. It could be that a philanthropic habit of donating to museums vs. keeping for personal use hasn’t yet become a Seattle collector mindset. That’s perhaps another column.

Meantime, enjoy both a look inside EMP Museum’s vault and an understanding of some of the conservation issues by reading, “Preserving the future: A rare glimpse inside the EMP Museum vault,” at Geekwire.

Amazon Echo: Hear the future, faintly

It’s the nerd equivalent of pulling out a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket: getting an invitation to buy a voice-activated, voice-response Amazon Echo. And get an invitation I did.


So I bought one of the limited-release cylinders, thanks to a generous offer of expense reimbursement by GeekWire’s editors. I’ve reviewed it, and made all the mistakes (so you don’t have to) for my GeekWire column.

To sum it up: Amazon Echo is a great single-room streaming Internet and Bluetooth speaker solution. It’s less successful — and more creepy — as a virtual audio assistant. I don’t want to underplay the creep factor, so I gave it an entire section of my review, along with sections about unboxing, setup and use.

And yet, in two-thousand words, I didn’t have room to cover how Echo integrates with the Kindle Fire HD and HDX. The answer? Pretty well, in that verbal commands to Echo can automatically wake the Fire from sleep, launch the related Echo app and display requested information.  Also, more than one Amazon account can be linked to Echo through the Amazon Household feature, giving each Echo user his/her own Echo profile and ability to access Amazon Music library uploads and purchases.

Sonos vs. Echo
Sonos vs. Echo

In the reader comments, someone asked me how I’d evaluate it in comparison to a full Sonos audio system (the Echo itself is similar in size to a Sonos Play:1 speaker). My take:

Sonos is better if you want more than one wireless Internet speaker in a household (all connected to each other and centrally controlled), and if you want built-in support for a large variety of non-Bluetooth streaming music services (Sonos also has Amazon Music library and TuneIn, but directly supports Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify and many more).

Sonos also has somewhat better sound quality than the Amazon Echo; each of the Play:1’s drivers has its own amplifier.

But if you’re only going to use one Sonos (a single Play:1), and Echo’s combo of Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music library and Bluetooth streaming from your own device for other audio services suffices, you might as well stick with the Echo. It sounds good enough to my ear.

Get the whole story by reading, “Amazon Echo in the house: Superior streaming speaker with so-so smarts,” at GeekWire.

Updated Jan 17, 2015: Alexa and I were guests on GeekWire Radio. Listen for Alexa being verbally challenged by co-hosts (and GeekWire founders/editors) John Cook and Todd Bishop, and my updated perceptions of using Amazon Echo after several weeks. The Echo segments begin at 9:25 into the podcast:

The geeky tech of Rudolph

Christmas ornaments. Porcelain figures. DVDs. All because of a single, red, reindeer nose.

In my holiday GeekWire column, I explore the nerd-tastic continuing popularity of a 50-year-old animated holiday television special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” There is actually a fair amount of what, at the time, was state-of-the-art tech behind Rudolph, from the “Animagic” process to sound recording.DreamWorks Animation Rudolph 50th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray

This particular column was something of a labor of love. About 15 years ago, shortly after we married, my wife Dee Dee and I discovered we shared an affection for the stop-motion annual tradition. It wasn’t long after that — when I had just wrapped up four years as a freelance tech columnist for Seattle Weekly and its sister paper — I began researching Rudolph’s animated life as a topic, and then pitched an idea to my editor at the time:

The Cult of Rudolph
After nearly 40 years, the 1964 animated TV show “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is undergoing a rebirth among young and not-so-young: a remastered DVD with original footage, a line of best-selling toys, a reissued soundtrack recording, even a direct-to-video sequel. Yet the perennial favorite (featuring the late, local Burl Ives), upon close watching, makes Rudolph a poor role model … especially when it comes to parenting, coaching and gender equality.

HermeyPorcelainTwo successive editors didn’t bite at the idea. I put the pitch aside. This year, on its 50th anniversary, nearly four years into my stint as a freelance GeekWire columnist, I re-tooled the approach. Part of what appealed to me was the cool stop-action animation. What if I deeply looked into, and focused on, the tech? This time, Todd Bishop and John Cook at GeekWire bit.

Sometimes, all a good idea needs is better timing. And a tweak.

Of course, in the meantime Dee Dee and I had casually collected so much fun Rudolph memorabilia (from action figures to Christmas tree ornaments to porcelain displays to various DVDs) that I had no trouble coming up with images for the column. With the exception of a screen from the actual television special, all the photos alongside the GeekWire piece are of items I own. And there’s a frightening amount more.

With that additional background, please enjoy my holiday GeekWire column, “The geeky tech behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Handling, not feeding, trolls

‘Tis the season. And “gifts” from trolls are everywhere. Not the fuzzy mythical kind, but the human kind that troll social media, online news sites and discussions boards with the intent of disrupting the conversations of others and drawing attention to their anonymous or, frequently, pseudonymous comments.

The advice used to be to just ignore them. However, research and ubiquity show it’s no longer safe to ignore all of them, or all of their ravings.

At GeekWire, I summarize the research (two fascinating studies) and provide five tips in how to respond, this or any season. They’re tips that have worked for me, but require great selectivity and self-restraint in application. They are:Internet_Troll_velu_ill_artlibre_jnl

1) Correct actual misstatements or falsehoods.

2) Maintain a neutral tone.

3) Be brief.

4) Respond promptly.

5) Don’t respond to everything.

To which a reader added:

6) Don’t cite dictionary definitions.

7) Don’t make comparisons with the Nazis. (cf. Godwin’s Law)

Get more detail, and perhaps think of your own additions, by reading “Happy Holidays, it’s the Christmas Troll!” at GeekWire.

All I want for Christmas is my 2.0

All those new tech toys? Forget it.

My wish list for Santa is far more straightforward: Make the products and services I rely on better.

Over at GeekWire, I eschew the latest gadgets and apps in my letter to Old Saint Tech. While I love my Sonos, Fitbit and Google Nexus 5, what I really want is small upgrades that make them even more useful.Santa's_Portrait_TNast_1881

And I share some wishes from friends, too. Both on what they want to receive, and what they wish to re-gift.

Read, “Santa, all I want for Christmas is my 2.0” at GeekWire.

STEM and fake scientific literacy

The prevalence of “science” in popular culture, STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) hype in education, and the trappings of tech obscure one important fact: As a society, we are still woefully not scientifically literate.

Over at GeekWire, I detail the disconnect between geek culture and scientific literacy. Being able to use an advanced piece of technology isn’t the same as understanding the processes and underlying scientific principles that went into creating it.

Or, as someone commented on Twitter, “Yes! there is a vast difference between CREATING Facebook and posting on Facebook how wasted you got last night.”StarWarsbookphoto2

It all comes down to thinking through and applying the scientific method in everyday life, something your iPhone 6 Plus will not do for you. And it also requires knowing that each of the four disciplines that make up STEM are not the same. If you get one, you don’t automatically get them all.

The original GeekWire post bore the headline, “Scientific literacy: Buried under tech’s trappings.”

But the education technology news site EdSurge re-posted it later (with permission, of course), and got even more to the point in its title: “STEM and the Era of Artificial Scientific Literacy.” EdSurge had a much better header graphic than the one I used at GeekWire, too. Other than that, the two posts are identical.

Now off to watch the Star Wars Episode VII trailer again to try and figure out how that new-style light saber works.

There is no “I” in “impostor”

On 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

Let 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.