Category Archives: Unexpected

Seattle Symphony: Stepping boldly (& carefully) into digital

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets rehearsal. (Seattle Symphony photo)

How do you bring a venerated arts organization into the digital world? Often in non-public-facing ways. And with the support of audiences and leadership.

The Seattle Symphony is considered one of the top orchestras for doing “multi-sensory” performances — everything from accompanying films live, on-stage, to playing alongside “kinetic instruments” while the conductor uses a Microsoft Kinect.

I take a look behind the scenes at both (including what happened during a rehearsal for a live orchestra-enhanced performance of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) in both my podcast and related article for GeekWire.

But a few details about digital risk-taking didn’t make it into the GeekWire story.

Seattle Symphony’s Joe Kaufman and Kelly Woodhouse Boston. (Frank Catalano photo)

One is the role of leadership. Director of Operations Kelly Woodhouse Boston credits Music Director Ludovic Morlot and President and CEO Simon Woods with being, “key to the experimentation we’ve been able to do in the last five or six years,” she says. “Both Ludovic and Simon are very open to new ideas, experimenting, openness, innovation, and they have really set us up so that when their departure occurs we’re in a really strong position to move forward.”

Departure? Yes. Morlot and Woods, who have both been with the Symphony since 2011, are leaving (for different reasons and opportunities).  That means a transition.

Joseph Kaufman, the Symphony’s assistant principal bass, is also optimistic: “They were such strong leaders (and that) has set the tone for us as we search for a new executive director, to find someone who’s going to fit that mold, who’s going to continue that trend.” Woodhouse Boston also notes that Thomas Dausgaard, the incoming music director, “will be continuing that tradition.”

Seattle Symphony post-concert kinetic instruments installation. (Frank Catalano photo)

The acceptance of digital and multi-sensory experiences also relies largely on the audience. Seattle, Woodhouse Boston notes, has audiences that are “sophisticated and adventurous.” It also doesn’t hurt that the greater Seattle area is a technology hub.

Is there anything new that the Symphony hasn’t done, but would like to try? Kaufman would like to go beyond accompanying well-known films, to doing a live score with the premiere of a brand new movie. “I think it could be something that people would clamor to see especially if it was in partnership with the film festival or some other institution,” he says.

To find out more about how the Seattle Symphony earned its reputation for taking risks with technology, both overtly and subtly, read, “From Harry Potter to Star Trek Beyond, behind the scenes with Seattle Symphony’s multi-sensory tech” at GeekWire, or listen to the podcast.

Awards don’t matter, until you get one

SJPAwardsI will openly admit that yes, I’ve won two awards for my recent writing in GeekWire from the Society of Professional Journalists. And I’m delighted to have done so.

This weekend, at the SPJ Gala held in Seattle for the Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest, I was honored with second place in Editorial & Commentary for a selection of three GeekWire contributions, and third place in Critique & Review for my piece, “As science fiction ascends, its popular award – the Hugo – threatens to nosedive.” (Both were in the Small Daily Print and Online division for work appearing in 2015. Size does matter in award competitions.)80100_spjlogo-for-header.png.300x300_q85_autocrop

There is a type of bashful condescension about awards in the creative arts. “My work speaks for itself.” “I’m not competing with others.” “Money will get you though times of no Hugos.” (Anyone with a long memory of awards in science fiction will be able to attribute that last reference.)

But the reality is awards can serve useful purposes: to draw audience attention to good work that isn’t wildly popular, or to give artists (including writers) a rough benchmark of whether their peers think they’re hitting the mark.

Flanked at the reception by KPLU's Ashley Gross and first reader Dee Dee Catalano.
Flanked at the reception by KPLU’s Ashley Gross and first reader Dee Dee Catalano. (Photo: Sara Lerner)

I’m pleased to note that two great online-only news outlets, Crosscut and Seattle Globalist, took the first place awards in the two categories in which I placed. But coming in right after them makes me happy, since they do such good and broad-based work.

The last time I placed in an SPJ competition was in 2013 for columns I wrote in 2012, a third place in Commentary when there was a different Online-only category. This year is better. (I don’t enter every year, though I’ve been writing for GeekWire since 2011.)

If you’d like to see the three pieces that added up to this year’s Editorial & Commentary honor, they are:

And yes, for those counting — the last one actually won twice. Writing about Hugos apparently will get you other awards, if not a Hugo itself.

Science fiction and the future

What’s the future going to look like? That simple question has fueled the work of philosophers, theologians, scientists, stock pickers, and, of course, science-fiction writers. So naturally it was the focus of my session at the 2015 GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

Joining me for the lively, 40-minute, and mercifully PowerPoint-free discussion were Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Nancy Kress, futurist and writer Ramez Naam, and former astronaut Ed Lu.

20151002_GeekWire_Summit_2015_8391-620x414

One of my favorite parts of the session was a utopia/dystopia lightning round, in which I asked for quick assessments of which direction seven developments might take us, including:

  • Uber
  • Self-driving cars
  • Internet of Things
  • Robots overcoming the “uncanny valley”
  • iPhone 17S
  • All knowledge only digital in form
  • President Donald Trump

You can read a partial transcript (including the lightning round) on GeekWire. And, there’s a full video of the session on YouTube.

 

Lu also had some choice words on the current state of NASA. And the three all expressed both concern and delight when asked what keeps them up at night. I was simultaneously entertained and learned a lot from my guests. I trust you will be, too.

Five steps to deal with your geek child’s adulthood

geekwiretoasteditIn 2012, I wrote what is arguably the GeekWire column of which I’m most fond: “7 steps to raise a geek child.” It was borne out of my experiences raising my son and — not surprisingly — had echoes of my own upbringing, all with the intent of sharing what I’d learned with colleagues and friends who were then new parents.

I followed it up a year later with “5 steps to prepare your geek child for college.” (In my mind, it was less successful — a bit too long of a personal intro to get to the steps — but still had some good advice.)

Now I’ve completed the informal trilogy for GeekWire with “5 steps to deal with your geek child’s adulthood.” It’s a reflection on what geek parents need to do, not just to handle a relationship with a now-adult geek kid, but to remain relevant in a hugely geeky world. The column is also a nod to my son, now an industrial engineer at Boeing, and my father, a one-time civil engineer. (Yup. I’m the only non-engineer in that three-generational line. But I own drafting tools and a protractor.)

The piece as well marks my fourth anniversary as an at-large columnist for GeekWire, which began with a post about Alaska Airlines and technology in 2011. I do indeed provide much of GeekWire’s “historical perspective.”

Read my tips for parents and adult geeks everywhere, on GeekWire.

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.

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.”

AIDS to Ebola: Tech changes, rumors persist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has is how we’re responding to it.

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

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

CatalanoKING1980ssmallYou 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

In 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.

It was 20 years ago (almost) today …

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 Continue reading It was 20 years ago (almost) today …

A re-start, reflection and five recommendations

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.KMPScatalano

I’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: Continue reading A re-start, reflection and five recommendations