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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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!!

IBMChefWatsonFoodTruckSxSW

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

Leave a comment

Filed under collaboration, innovation, NASA, technology

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.

IMG_6637

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!

Resources:

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under conservation, Open Source

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under collaboration, data, OpenNASA, space, technology

Holy Meteor Smokes! Electric-Blue Sky Invasion

Noctilucent Clouds in Sandbukta, Norway. Photo: Morten Ross

Bright Noctilucent Clouds in Sandbukta, Norway. Photo: Morten Ross

This gorgeous image of noctilucent clouds, captured on July 4th by Morten Ross of Norway, is a result of “meteor smoke” — tiny ice crystals seeded into Earth’s highest clouds that form 50 miles above Earth’s surface at the very edge of space. When sunlight hits these clouds, according to SpaceWeather.com, the ice crystals glow electric blue…as you can see in the image above.

Scientists are learning more about noctilucent clouds in recent years. Space dust, or meteor smoke, is comprised of microscopic specks of dust caused by meteoroids (think:  inner solar system litter) that hit Earth’s surface and burn up — leaving a haze of tiny particles around Earth’s outer edges. Specks of meteor smoke serve as the office water cooler — attracting water molecules to gather together and assemble themselves into ice crystals, in a process called nucleation.

These electric blue clouds are visible not only from Earth’s surface, but also from above. The crew of Space Station’s Expedition 31 captured the top down image of noctilucent clouds on July 13, 2012.

Noctilucent Clouds from Space Station. Image: NASA Expedition 31

Noctilucent Clouds from Space Station. Image: NASA Expedition 31

These clouds normally live in the Arctic Circle, but have migrated south due to the spread of green house gases, according to James Russell of Hampton University, principal investigator of NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission.

"Geophysical Light Bulb" over Arctic. Credit: AIM

“Geophysical Light Bulb” over Arctic. Credit: AIM

If you happen to see an invasion of electric-blue and white tendrils taking over the sky, you may want to send them back home — but get out your camera first. You can upload your images to SpaceWeather’s cloud gallery.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Earth, Fragile Oasis, NASA

Happy Birthday USA!

White House image with Barbara Jordan quote: "What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise."Barbara Jordan was one of my professors at the LBJ School at the University of Texas. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate and the first southern black female elected to the US House of Representatives, where she served on the House Judiciary Committee.

Barbara Jordan was a commanding presence.

She filled any room she entered. She chose each word thoughtfully, offering insight and wisdom. She was an early role model for me, and I felt fortunate to spend time with her both inside and outside the classroom. I was both terrified and in awe of her, which I think she found quite amusing. I’ll share one extremely embarrassing story. On one occasion, she asked me take her to the restroom, which required maneuvering her wheelchair into narrow stalls — this was in the 1980’s before ADA-compliant standards. Horror upon horrors, I wedged her in the restroom and had to get help to free her. I was mortified. She just shook her head, and said, “Oh, Beth, Beth, Beck…” which only works if you can hear the authoritative enunciation with which she spoke. She actually used my name as a phrase quite often. I believe I was comic diversion for her. Thankfully, she was willing to put up with my knack for making a mess of things — perhaps because of my  insatiable curiosity and inability to accept traditional thinking. She saw promise in me, and invested her time and talent into a spunky 20-something who fervently believed in the American political system — flaws and all.

Note:  The following week after the wheelchair incident, the women’s restroom at LBJ School was remodeled for wheelchair access. I guess you could say its my LBJ School legacy….

As we head into the 4th of July, I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve our country for almost three decades in the federal government. Even today, I still believe my job is to provide public good — a uniquely public sector responsibility.  Open government, which may be a trendy phrase, is what I’ve always believed our government exists for —  much to the credit of LJB School professor Barbara Jordan and her contribution to public service. Even after leaving office, she poured into future change-makers, like me. How many other public servants are paying it forward because she invested in us….

“What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.” ~Barbara Jordan

She’s right. What people want IS an America as good as it’s promise. We’re working to make that happen every day at NASA through open innovation programs like Space Apps and LAUNCH. I’m fortunate to play a role in Open NASA movement. We have much to celebrate.

Thank you Barbara Jordan. Thank you USA.

Happy Birthday!!

USA Flags

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under federal government, NASA

Happy May Day!

Spring Flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized