5 Thoughts for the New Year

Question the rules. You don’t know if they are really the rules. Someone made them up for some reason, or someone interpreted what they think the rules are. Those rules may not even exist, other than by urban legend. Ask before you follow.


Find your joy. Even in the bleakest circumstances, you can find something to smile about – IF you look for it. And, even if you don’t feel it, others around you need it. Give yourself and others a reason to smile.


Celebrate the small things. The little things in life give us a reason to get through the day: an awesome cup of coffee, and up-close parking space, a sprinkle of hope with a new work assignment. Each little thing in your day offers a new opportunity to have a party (vs. a pity party).


Be exceptional. Make a choice to add your unique perspective to each new undertaking. Only you can bring yourself, the incredible you, to every opportunity presented you. Even if others don’t appreciate you, you can bring value.


Be the light. It can be as easy as thanking someone. What a incredible gift to give thanks, unsolicited. How many times does someone say thank you to you? If your answer is rarely, then you can break the cycle. Make it a habit to change your world by giving thanks for the unnoticed actions of others at least once a day – someone opening a door, or moving to give you a place at the counter, or for smiling when others are self-absorbed.


As we ring in the New Year, I wish for you that your dreams take flight in 2017, and go BEYOND the moon and back.


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Red-White-Blue Space-y Stars and Stripes

American Flag in Space

Crew of Space Station Expedition 44 observed Flag Day in space.

Here are a few red, white, and blue space’y images to celebrate Independence Day in the United States.

Feel free to break into song as you look at some celestial stars and stripes!

Abell 2597 is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth.

Abell 2597 is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth.

Crew members of Expedition 43 captured sunset in space

Crew members of Expedition 43 captured sunset in space

NASA's ASTER instrument captured Wolf Volcano on Galapagos Islands

NASA’s ASTER instrument captured Wolf Volcano on Galapagos Islands

Space Station sunrise during Expedition 43

Space Station sunrise during Expedition 43

GK Persei as an example of a “classical nova,” an outburst produced by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star, the dense remnant of a Sun-like star.

GK Persei as an example of a classical nova.

Expedition 44 crew captured Earth from space.

Expedition 44 crew captured Earth from space.

SGR 1745-2900 Magnetar is a dense neutron star.

SGR 1745-2900 Magnetar is a dense neutron star.

NGC 1333 Star Cluster

NGC 1333 Star Cluster

Golden Aurora over Earth photographs by ESA's Sam Cristoforetti on Space Station

Golden Aurora over Earth photographs by ESA’s Sam Cristoforetti on Space Station

Centaurus A Galaxy is 12 million light years from Earth

Centaurus A Galaxy is 12 million light years from Earth.

And if you need the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner, here’s the first verse:

Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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Words Make a Difference

I’ve been thinking about the power of words, spoken and written. Spoken words can uplift and tear down, they can burrow deeply inside to flourish or fester. I’m so thankful for parents who encouraged me to be me — even when the world disagreed. Daddy gave me song, laughter, and a wild imagination. Mother gave me music in written word — which evoked colors and smells and images and emotions that stretched and shaped me.

Every time I smell the cheerful brightness of a freshly peeled orange, I picture myself as a 3rd grader sick in bed with something horrible. Mother brought me orange slices, sat by my bed, and read the adventures of Hitty and the girls who loved her for a hundred years.

"Hitty Her First Hundred Years" by Rachel Fields, Adapted by Rosemary Wells and Illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

“Hitty: Her First Hundred Years” by Rachel Fields, adapted by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

I have some of the books from my childhood, though not my original Hitty. I picked up this adapted and updated version at a SCBWI conference a few years back. After attending the SCBWI winter conference, I dug up some of the books that influenced my childhood. I have a few to share with you.

Pretty Penny — I loved this book for it’s vibrant colors. I have a guest bedroom this color. Funny to trace the roots of my love for color back to books from childhood.

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Here’s a book called Books. The illustrations are wacky and colorful — opening the possibilities of what words can create.

"Books" by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

“Books” by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a book in rhyme inspired by color. Each page has a color theme. Each room in my house is painted a different color: my living room is yellow, my office is lime green, my bedroom is blue, the guest room is pink, my bathroom is green/yellow/pink/blue to match the Mackensie-Childs sink and tiles.

"Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color" by Mary O'Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

“Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color” by Mary O’Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

I loved poetry, as a kid. I have many dog-eared pages from the Treasure Chest of Poetry. So many dreams of mine, sketched out in rhyme. 😉

"A Treasure Chest of Poetry"

“A Treasure Chest of Poetry”

“Little Things” by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

LIttle drops of water,

Little grains of sand, 

Make the mighty ocean

and the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,

Humble though they be,

Make the mighty ages

Of eternity.

Lona is one of my favorite books from Mother. I still love Lona. I trace back my fascination with pinhole photography to this book by photographer Dare Wright. I still have the original with my sister’s drawings on the pages. We’re twelve years apart. She and I fought over this book a few years back. I won.

"Lona: A Fairy Tale" by Dare Wright

“Lona: A Fairy Tale” by Dare Wright

When Sara Smiled is about a girl with violet eyes who is too shy to talk to boys, but feels totally comfortable talking to horses. She spoke to me when I was younger. I SO wanted her violet eyes to go with my blond hair. I also wanted the horse and the boy in the book…. I don’t know how many times I read this book and dreamed of violet-eyed romance.

"When Sara Smiled" by Kathleen Robinson

“When Sara Smiled” by Kathleen Robinson

What’s missing in my collection? Little Women! I’m pretty sure I still have my original…tucked away somewhere. I just can’t put my hands on it. Beth dies [spoiler alert] which I hated, since we share the same name. But Jo was my hero. I composed my own newspapers and stories, like Jo. Also, Wuthering Heights. My Senior year in high school, I loved it. Re-reading it now, I’m horrified by the dysfunction. But at that time in my life, I was reeling from the loss of my best friend. I think the tale of dark, obsessive love appealed to what was broken in me. The Bible, my lifetime favorite book, healed the brokenness, so I’m back to the my happy world of butterflies, flowers, and rainbows.

Thank you Mother for sharing the written word with me. You always made me feel special. You awoke stories and colors in me. Or perhaps they were already there, and you helped me find them.

Handwritten Note inside "Books" by Murray McCain

Note inside “Books” by Murray McCain

What books influenced you growing up? Do you have them still?



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SCBWI 2015: Character-Building Experience

My blogposts are few and far between over the last few years. Ah, the life of a PhD candidate. Work and school have kept me hopping. Now that I’m on the final leg of the PhD marathon, the stories in my head are getting louder. After completing a crazy December with my qualifying exam, prelim exam, and oral defense, I decided to treat myself with the New York Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference. It’s been awhile. My last SCBWI conference was Bologna 2010.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

The 16th annual Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference brought together over 1000 writers and illustrators from around the world. I attended the World Building workshop on Friday. Author Henry Neff shared his world building techniques, then applied what we learned to our own stories. We spent much of the morning and afternoon in small critiques sessions of seven or eight writers per table.

Literary agent Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency headed up our critique table. We took turns sharing stories about cheating game board characters and talking pencils, Romeo and Juliet with a sea-witch twist, Afghani book guardians of the mouse-kind, and girl vs. the volcano in a National Park. Thanks Brooks for being so gracious and thoughtful in your critique. I truly enjoyed learning from others as we refined our plots and characters together. Side note: I happened to sit next to a fellow bureaucrat who works for the State Department and knows one of my NASA colleagues. What are the odds in a conference with over 1000 attendees?

We kicked off the afternoon with a dialogue between James Dashner, author of Maze Runner, and his editor Krista Marino, Executive Editor of Delacorte Press. They described the Maze Runner journey from manuscript to book to movie, as well as the process to develop his newest series, the Mortality Doctrine. They have a collaborative co-creation process, which is born of a deeply trusting relationship. Quite inspiring.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

We wrapped up Friday with an Editor and Agent Panel: “The Past, Present, and Future of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Children’s Books” with Toni Markiet, Senior Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books; Brooks Sherman of Bent; Ari Lewin, Executive Editor, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group; and Krista Marino, James Dashner’s editor.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

The full conference kicked off on Saturday with keynote speaker Anthony Horowitz, author of the best selling teen spy series, Alex Rider, the writer and creator of BBC’s Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. The character of Sam in Foyle’s War is fashioned after his nanny who told him stories of the war growing up. I SO love Sam! He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write new Sherlock Holmes novels: House of Silk and Moriarty (which he autographed for me — image below). He’s in the process of writing a new official James Bond novel. Super cool.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

I attended a workshop with Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor at Scholastic and author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She talked about her journey from editor to author, and shared her passion for books. She wrote her first book at age five and consumed all the Baby-Sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin. I was more into mystery as a kid. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Actually, my daughters and I STILL read Nancy Drew…out loud…usually in the back yard patio…with a glass or two of wine. We take turns reading the chapters — adding our own dialogue and dialects as we go. Silly, yes, but oh so much fun.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, led a workshop on how to work with an editor. She stressed the importance of good writing and good characters. A weak plot is fixable. Poor writing, not so much.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

The best part of the conference is meeting awesome writers and hearing their imaginative stories. Each of us brings fresh perspectives to the topics we care about. We build relationships over our common passion — writing. I ran into a writer buddy from the Bologna 2010 conference today as I stood in line for autographs: Angela Cerrito. She has another book coming out in September. Congrats Angela!!

I stayed for the autograph session, as you can see from the fruits of my labor. So cool to get a chance to chat for just a tiny bit with both James Dashner and Anthony Horowitz. 🙂

Anthony Horowitz autograph on his Moriarty book NY15SCBWIDashnerMazeRunnerautograph

On the drive home from New York, new stories and characters invaded my head. I documented their presence, but they’ll have to wait a little longer to come to life. Right now, I have a louder voice in my head — the one telling me to get cracking on my dissertation!

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2014 Global Innovation Forum

“If you can’t move at the speed of culture, you’re in trouble.”

– Jeremy Abbett, Creative Evangelist at Google

The 2014 Global Innovation Forum gathered a stellar group of of innovative disruptors from organizations such as Google, Facebook, Pixar, IBM, eBay, Skype, Lego, Microsoft Ventures, Amazon Web Services, Pepsico, NASA, and so many more. With interesting speakers and workshops, the forum participants buzzed with idea sharing and best practices about how to break down barriers to change. A consistent theme among the speakers: find the “crazies” in your organization to lead change, by infusing disruptive thinking at all levels. Let’s call it: innovation insurrection, characterized by underground networks of colleagues poised to make change happen when opportunities present themselves for action – like (positive change) sleeper cells.

Tom Ellis of Brand Genetics @ Global Innovation Forum Chair of the forum, Tom Ellis of Brand Genetics, provided pithy insight on innovation trends, as well as trends offered by the speakers, such as “forward thinking requires disruption,” “change happens at the edges,” and “to move forward, we must let go of the past,” echoed later by Google’s Jeremy Abbett with this quote: 

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

– L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)

Trevor Davis of IBM talked about the profound effect of urbanization on innovation in the future, serving as a creative catalyst for new thinking. He showed a model for an innovation ecosystem supported by crowd funding, hacking/making, sharing/exploiting, and co-design; with for-profits trickling innovation up and not-for-profit trickling across. The future in his eyes is one of service composition – composition in the sense of music rather than the coding. He predicts the future as “libraries of things” that can be reconstituted into something new by anyone – with or without resources.

Highlight for me: learning about IBM’s Chef Watson (cognitive cooking) in a food truck at SxSW last March. Brilliant idea!!


The Watson computer first gobbled up domain knowledge of recipes, break through science in food pairing, and chef-brain algorithms, then took requests from hungry SxSW-ers. Super inventive way to explore (computer) culinary creativity by serving exotic cuisine on demand to delight the crowd. The image gallery makes me hungry.

Caleb's Kola

Another crazy creative idea: Caleb’s Kola. Manos Spanos from PepsiCo shared how they developed a craft beer-like product to reach the more health-conscious young adult market, created from sparkling water, fair trade cane sugar, and kola nut. The marketing focuses on the kola nut as the natural ingredient well-spring. Caleb, by the way, is the founder of PepsiCo. They’re rolling out the drink in selected restaurants in New York City to create the buzz. You can follow @CalebsKola on Twitter. Clever. Very clever!

Caleb's Kola: 2014 Global Innovation Forum

Manos shared that their small innovation team had to give up the Pepsi trademark in order to inspire a new generation of “kola” drinkers. His keys to making change happen: 1) finding the right internal sponsor, 2) recruiting crazy, passionate people, 3) convincing everyone that change takes time, and 4) stubborn persistence. It paid off, internally. Now, let’s watch Caleb’s Kola become a new brand – a bring within the brand.

Be Googley: 2014 Global Innovation Forum

Jeremy Abbett brought a fresh perspective to how we embrace tomorrow’s creativity and innovation. Forget selfies. “Dronies” [selfies via drone camera] is the next meme on the horizon. Now I want my own drone! He made a distinction between creativity and innovation: “Creativity is doing something new. Innovation is scaling something new.” He urged us to “be Googley” with Moon-shot (10x) thinking to accomplish bold goals for the future. “Technology comes and goes. It’s how we use it that’s so interesting.”  His advice: look at the future through the eyes of children…and iconic films.

“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Google talk by Chris Shipton:  2014 Global Innovation Forum

Tony Christov shared the creative campus culture at Pixar – where employees receive allowances to decorate their offices. My want list keeps growing! Without an official decorating budget, my office decoration [quirky assortment of colorful inflatable aliens, retro robots, and homemade spaceship art] will have to keep me inspired. Tony talked about managing the artistic ego – a delicate balance of hubris and insecurity, as well as the need to provide an environment for creative play 24/7. My favorite quote from Tony echoes Ursula Le Guin [above]: “We never get old, we just get grey.” My version: I may be aging, but I’ll never EVER grow up.

Chris Shipton Visual Summary: 2014 Global Innovation Forum

Rob Newland of Facebook talked about reductive thinking and how all future products should be designed for mobile formats. For Facebook, the internet has unleashed a “meritocratic” environment, when anyone can make a name, or make a dollar, such as “Gangnam Style” video, which has received 2B views, 3 million new views each day – more than 15 years of video viewing for a single individual, and more time in viewing that it took to create wikipedia. Simple build-a-computer products coming out on the market, like Kano, will democratize coding and engineering.

Rob encouraged us to learn lessons from “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve provided the link to the transcript from her Ted Talk. Very thought-provoking, and so true: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Though he didn’t say this, I think Rob’s point is to know your audience. Many stories exist, and often we innovate for our own stories, because we think our story is every story.

I’ll wrap this up with advice for the future from Rick Eagar of Arthur D. Little:

  1. Exploit open source tools,
  2. Be part of the innovation community, and
  3. Make knowledge consumption a regular habit.

Chris Shipton Visual Summary: 2014 Global Innovation Forum

Thanks Global Innovation Forum 2014 for allowing me to join your innovation community. I met so many fellow disrupters. I look forward to what we disrupt together in the future! Here’s Chris Shipton‘s visual summary of my presentation.

Chris Shipton Visual Summary: 2014 Global Innovation Forum

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Chytrid Hack

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal

Yesterday, I spent the day outside the city at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, located on a 3,200 acre campus in Front Royal, Virginia.  What a lovely drive (against DC traffic) to engage in an all-day Chytrid Hack Design Session, co-hosted by Alex Dehgan’s new Conservation X Labs and the Smithsonian folks. What a gorgeous campus.
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal
Frog image from Amphibian Ark websiteWhy a Chytrid Hack? Chytridiomycosis is a unique and deadly disease, wiping out over 100 amphibian species in the last few years, threatening up to a third to half of all remaining amphibian species. The chytrid fungi infects the skin and leads to cardiac arrest. Amphibian chytrid has only been recently discovered, and in now in more than in 36 U.S. states and 40 countries. Fungal pathogens, such as chytrid, represent an increasing threat to wildlife. Conservation X Labs brought us all together Friday to talk about open innovation opportunities to crowd source solutions through citizen science, hackathons, or prizes and challenge competitions.

Chytrid Hack: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Chytrid Hack: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Representatives came from around the US: USAID, EPA, Gates Foundation, Global Green Growth Initiative, Arpa-E, Woodrow Wilson International Center, Archipelago Consulting, Singularity University, James Madison University, University of South Florida, Ampibian Survival Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Penn State, University of Colorado, and more. We spent the day sorting through issues and barriers, then worked in teams to craft a set of options for going forward.


I learned more than I ever thought I needed to know about frogs in one day. I have a new appreciation for the complexity of the issues around biodiversity and conservation. The Smithsonian Institute is committed to conservation of endangered species. We even had an opportunity to see species that are extinct in the wild, including the Micronesian Kingfisher, Guam Rail, and two mating Bali Mynah.

Micronesian Kingfisher

Micronesian Kingfisher: extinct in the wild.

Bali Mynah

Mating Bali Mynah: extinct in the wild

What an awesome day to engage with leaders in the field who are looking for open source solutions. Thanks Alex for inviting me!


Collins, J.P. 2013. History, novelty, and emergence of an infectious amphibian disease. PNAS 110 (23): 9193-9194

Rosenblum, E. et al. 2013. Complex history of the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus revealed with genome resequencing data. PNAS 110 (23): 9385-9390

Rosenblum, E. et. al. 2010. The Deadly Chytrid Fungus: A Story of an Emerging Pathogen. PLOS Pathogens 6:1 (e1000550).

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NYC Data Hive

Last week, a team from my office ventured to the bustling tech incubator, otherwise known as New York City, to meet with leading female thinkers in the data/tech space. We want to better understand what might draw more women to the  space data table. Among others, we met with Dawn Barber, co-founder of NY Tech Meetup; Hilary Mason, founder of Fast Forward Labs; Sasha Laundy, founder of Women Who Code; Vanessa Hurst, co-founder of Girl Develop It and Write Speak Code; and Rachel Sklar, media darling and mover shaker behind TheLi.st and #ChangeTheRatio.

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline at 53rd and Broadway

While we were chatting with Sasha, she mentioned the work she’s doing with Max Shron at Polynumeral, their new data strategy consultancy. Now here’s the cool thing. I had just ordered Max Shron’s book, “Thinking with Data: How to Turn Information into Insights” for my dissertation research. I’m in the data analytics phase, and I’ve been looking at different methods and platforms for teasing insights from a mountain of data I’ve assembled on my topic. I love it when work and research collide like this.

I haven’t finished his book yet, but I offer a few tidbits. Before treasure hunting with data, scope out what you want. Most of us do the reverse. We throw analytic tools and processes at the data and wonder what we’ll find. “Starting with data, without first doing a lot of thinking, …is a short road to simple questions and unsurprising results. We don’t want unsurprising — we want knowledge” (Shron 2014: 1). I totally agree. My dissertation is all about knowledge creation. In fact, I’m looking at “Knowledge Alchemy through Collaborative Chaos.” Max states that our search for knowledge is sometimes filtered through a mental model of our own creation, while other times an algorithm can put the puzzle pieces together for us. “What concerns us in working with data is how to get as good a connection as possible between the observations we collect and the processes that shape our world (Shron 2014: 31).

While Big Data is the buzzword of choice these days in the IT world, I learned on my trip to NYC what a truly small data world we live in. The connections between us shape our observations of the world around us. So great to make new connections with awesome and inspiring leaders, and plug into the vibrant NYC data hive.

Source: Shron, Max. Thinking with Data: How to Turn Information into Insights.  Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2014.

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