Getting to Know the 2014-15 Knight Fellows

Getting to Know the 2014-15 Knight Fellows

Life isn’t a rehearsal for something else. If you don’t step onto the stage and play your part, you’ve missed your chance.

That’s what I kept telling myself this week. It was orientation week for the 2014-15 Fellows at Knight Science Journalism at MIT, where I’m the new acting director. This is a one-year gig for me: there will be no do-overs. So for me, the first orientation where I’m in charge is also the last. There will only be one first seminar, one first field trip. Remembering this makes everything a bit more poignant.

I’ve always been prone to what you might call pre-nostalgia.  When I look at my niece and nephew, who are 3 and 6, I sometimes think to myself “they’ll never be this cute and fun again.” I started to fret about what it would be like to live without my wonderful dog Rhody years before he actually died in 2013.

I try not to let this kind of kind of in-the-moment regret tip over into true sadness, but I think a small dose of it is useful. It helps me pay attention to what’s happening right now.

So this week’s flurry of Knight program orientation events will stay vivid in my memory. On Friday August 15, Bianca Sinausky, Patrick Wellever, Eric Strattman and I threw a wine-and-cheese reception where...

Back to the Future at MIT: My New Job at the Knight Science Journalism Program

Back to the Future at MIT: My New Job at the Knight Science Journalism Program

After seven years with Xconomy, the world's most intriguing media startup covering the business of innovation, I've left to pursue a new opportunity with the Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) program at MIT. In July I struck camp in San Francisco and moved back to the Boston area. I've just finished my second full week of work here on the MIT campus.

All of these changes unfolded at lightning speed in the last three months or so—so fast I've barely had time to digest it all myself. For the curious, here's a longer version of the story: 

For 32 years now, the Knight program has offered a prestigious nine-month fellowship at MIT to mid-career science and technology journalists. It's a unit of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, where I...

[Updated] Upworthy: Take Down That Autism Headline

[Updated] Upworthy: Take Down That Autism Headline

Today Upworthy writer Matt Orr posted an article with the headline: "Autism Has Increased (Like 373% In 14 Years), So Here Are Some Things You Need To Know About Vaccines." The editors of Upworthy should reconsider the headline on the Orr article. It's irresponsible and dangerous. Up to now, I've viewed the clickbait headline style at publications like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and Viralnova as a passing fad. At their best, the headlines are amusing, which is why The Onion is preparing a whole viral-headline parody site. At their worst, I used to think, they are manipulative, but in a harmless way: the only cost if you click on one of their headlines is a few minutes of lost productivity. But Upworthy has sunk to new lows with this autism headline....

Binge Listening, Sacramento Startups, and the 7-Year Technology Pause

Binge Listening, Sacramento Startups, and the 7-Year Technology Pause

Time for the monthly roundup of links to the articles I've been working at Xconomy. My big project this month was a two-part, 10,000-word series on innovation in the Sacramento-Davis corridor. We published Part 1, about efforts to make Sacramento more entrepreneur-friendly, on May 14. Part 2, which focused in UC Davis and efforts to make more room in the city of Davis for university-spawned startups, came out the next day. Our founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief Bob Buderi also wrote a nice intro to the series...In my most recent column, I observed that there seems to be a form of punctuated equilibrium at work in computing, with the really big jumps happening every 14 years or so. Given that it's been seven years since...

Bubble Fears: My Interview with El Punt Avui

Bubble Fears: My Interview with El Punt Avui

Well, this is a first for me. I was interviewed last week by Victor Sancho, U.S. correspondent for El Punt Avui, Barcelona's leading Catalan-language newspaper. The interview was published today--in Catalan. For the benefit of readers who don't speak Catalan (I certainly don't), I thought I'd post the original interview here. Sancho's questions are in italics.

In your vision, what’s the current situation of tech companies in Silicon Valley? After years of entrepreneurship and development, it is now a place for big consolidated enterprises or it is the same place it used to be?

Since the 1960s Silicon Valley has always been a place where there are large and small companies operating alongside one another. Today there are many big companies here – obviously Google, Apple, and Facebook are the ones people pay the most attention to, but there’s also Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, eBay, Yahoo, and others. But at the same time, there are also more small companies in Silicon Valley than ever before, mostly because...

Interviewing Novelist Gabriel Roth

Interviewing Novelist Gabriel Roth

This is a first for me...New York publisher Little Brown has included my interview with novelist Gabriel Roth in the new paperback edition of his 2013 novel The Unknowns. It's set shortly after the dot-com crash and 9/11, and it's about a young San Francisco software tycoon who falls in love with a local journalist and quickly finds out that he's got a lot to learn about relationships. I really liked the book, and Roth was so articulate about why and how he wrote it that doing interview was a lovely experience. I hope the paperback sells well; my interview is included in the reading group guide at the back.

Robo Madness, Online Universities, and a Changing of the Guard

Robo Madness, Online Universities, and a Changing of the Guard

It's been spring here in California for weeks and weeks now, but I gather that's not true for some of you: my parents tell me that the lake where they live in northern Michigan is still frozen over. May the nice weather come to your part of the world soon...My month has been mostly about robots. We kicked off Xconomy's third annual Silicon Valley robotics forum, Robo Madness, on April 10 at SRI International. Our longtime freelancer Elise Craig was there and wrote up this list of top takeaways. Speaking of Elise Craig, I have some exciting Xconomy personnel news to share: we've hired Elise to take over as the new Editor of Xconomy San Francisco, effective today. That frees me up to take a new role we're calling Editor at Large, in which I'll be able to focus on our Xperience consumer section and on...

The Medici Effect, the Jobs Crisis, and the WhatsApp Economy

The Medici Effect, the Jobs Crisis, and the WhatsApp Economy

I had a fantastic spring break in Florence, Italy, where my parents were renting an apartment. It was a huge treat to spend eight straight days in the city of Leonardo and Michelangelo and to have time to explore corners of the city tourists don't usually get to see. I had the opportunity to walk the Vasari Corridor, meet with Paolo Galluzzi, the director of the Museo Galileo, and travel to Vinci, the hill town where Leonardo was born. You can check out the Flick photoset from my trip here. Inspired by the Florence trip, and especially the Hall of Maps in the Palazzo Vecchio, I wrote a column about the Medici effect in modern-day Silicon Valley. There's no Duomo in Mountain View, but the money being spread around by today's super-rich technology companies and their CEOs will...

Conversations on Passion

Conversations on Passion

"Passion" and "passionate" are horribly overused words here in Silicon Valley. But they get at something real: if you're passionate about something, it means (ideally) that you've taken the time to figure out what you're good at, what you care about, and how to organize your energies around those things. I was flattered to be interviewed on these themes recently by Ryan Bonaparte, author of a great book called Crazy Enough to Try. The writeup is featured today on Ryan's blog.

Robots, Angels, and the Google Bus

Robots, Angels, and the Google Bus

My last update was back on October 12. My life got pretty busy right after that, with trips to Boston and San Diego and a couple of half-marathons. Then, sadly, my old pal Rhody fell ill and died on Nov. 25. He was 16 1/2 years old, and had been with me since he was a 12-week-old pup. He is desperately missed; I posted his obituary on my Facebook page. Writing was a useful respite from all that, so the wheels kept turning at Xconomy San Francisco. Here's a rundown of the most interesting stuff I've been working on these last few months: I visited Anki, the robotics company behind the smartphone-driven robotic racing cars that made such a splash at...

No Back Taxes, Inside Quora, and I Heart San Francisco

No Back Taxes, Inside Quora, and I Heart San Francisco

The days are getting shorter and colder, and it's been a few weeks since my last update. That means it's time for a roundup of my recent Xconomy and Xperience posts. First off: I am thrilled to report that startup investors in California will not be getting bills for $120 million in retroactive taxes, thanks largely to a citizen tax revolt that got its start in the pages of Xconomy. Back in January, in an Xconomy op-ed, Bay Area entrepreneur Brian Overstreet was the first to raise the alarm about the California Franchise Tax Board's plan to issue the retroactive income-tax assessments, which came as...

New iPhones, Damming the Golden Gate, and Living Longer

New iPhones, Damming the Golden Gate, and Living Longer

Hope your fall is off to a good start. Here's what I've been writing about since my August 25 update: The big buzz in the mobile-computing world this month is about the arrival of the iPhone 5C and 5S and the release of iOS 7. But Apple's iPhone announcement on September 10 was greeted by an unusual amount of carping and complaining---almost all of it wrong-headed, in my opinion. To quote Louis CK, everything is amazing and nobody is happy...

Hyperloops, Fitness Trackers, and Santa Cruz

Hyperloops, Fitness Trackers, and Santa Cruz

The whole summer has zoomed by since my last update. In an unusual (for me) change of pace, I've been taking Fridays off lately, so I'm been writing a bit less. But here's a sampling of the stories I've published lately. My June 14 column, Don't Panic, But We've Passed Peak Apple. And Google. And Facebook, riled up quite a few readers with its argument that we shouldn't look to these three companies for the next big wave of innovation in consumer technology. It's now become one of the most widely read pieces I've ever written for Xconomy. After the piece got shared at sites like Reddit, Slashdot, Hacker News, the Huffington Post, and AllThingsD, so many people wrote in that we decided to...

Driving, Texting, Storytelling, and Robots

Driving, Texting, Storytelling, and Robots

It's been about six weeks since I last updated you, so here's the rundown on my writing life at Xconomy and its new consumer sister site, XperienceOn May 2, I was thrilled to give an invited talk at PARC about storytelling and my personal and professional fascination with the evolving technologies of storytelling. PARC has posted a video of the hour-long talk, and I also recorded a shorter 30-minute screencast version (along with links to all the tools mentioned in the talk). To create the audiovisual materials for my PARC talk, I used the Web-based presentation tool Prezi. In the process, I got so interested in the technology that I decided to write a full profile of Prezi and its fascinating founders, who hail from...

Introducing Xperience, The New Consumer Section of Xconomy

Introducing Xperience, The New Consumer Section of Xconomy

Hello friends! I hope you've been well -- I know we're all breathing a little easier now that the drama in Boston, Xconomy's home city, is over. My heart goes out to all of the victims of the week's senseless attacks. In my last update in late March, I hinted that something big was on the way. Now I can tell you all about it. It's called Xperience, and it's the new consumer section of Xconomy. It's a place where we'll bring readers stories about the users of today's latest technologies, rather than just the creators. Xperience will feature the same kinds of thoughtful, in-depth stories that have always been Xconomy's hallmark. But in contrast to our usual focus on the nuts and bolts of high-tech entrepreneurship, the goal is to help orient readers to the changes going on in the world of consumer technology and...

Retiring World Wide Wade

Retiring World Wide Wade

It's been a busy month at Xconomy San Francisco. Some of my favorite stories included: An in-depth profile of Menlo Ventures and its decision to start investing more aggressively in consumer startups; a visit with John Tayman, founder of the innovative long-form digital publishing company Byliner; an update on California's crazy retroactive tax on investors (the short version: it's on hold); a video report from the debut of the amazing Bay Lights LED installation on the Bay Bridge; a look at HealthTap's vision for helping doctors and hospitals cope with Obamacare; a detailed analysis of a Craiglist app that sets a new standard in iOS design; a profile of Gracenote, the company you probably know for...

Robots in the Workplace & Facebook's Ginormous Data

Robots in the Workplace & Facebook's Ginormous Data

Time for a summary of the latest stories from Xconomy San Francisco. My big feature story for February was a look at Facebook's big data analytics infrastructure and how the company uses it to support innovation. See Facebook Doesn't Have Big Data. It Has Ginormous Data. (Alongside that feature, we also published a glossary of Big Data projects at Facebook.) My other big job this month has been organizing our upcoming April 11 forum, Robots Remake the Workplace, to be held at SRI International in Menlo Park. There's a relentless media meme arguing that...

(Flickr photo: Peyri Herrera)

Graph Search, the Future of Radio, and California's Retroactive Startup Tax

Graph Search, the Future of Radio, and California's Retroactive Startup Tax

Welcome to 2013. It's been a busy six weeks since my last update, although I was down with the flu for part of it. If you got the same virus, my sympathies! The highlights: This week I published a long explanatory piece about the messy, mind-blowing history of California's new retroactive tax on small business investors. A previous commentary on the tax change, from guest writer Brian Overstreet, has turned into one of our most-viewed stories ever. I also wrote about Facebook's new Graph Search feature, which lets you...

Google's Second Brain and How to Succeed on Kickstarter

Google's Second Brain and How to Succeed on Kickstarter

Time for the final update of 2012 about the stuff I've been covering here at Xconomy San Francisco. Google gave me access to three of their top search engineers, who filled me in on the Knowledge Graph, the "second brain" that promises to change everything about search. Technically, it's a semantic graph containing information about more than 570 million entities and the relationships between them. In practical terms, it means Google now knows a lot more about the world and the things in it -- which means that it's getting a lot better at answering your search queries on the first try...