Deej (feature documentary)

I did additional cinematography for this documentary about an autism self-advocate, and helped outfit him with a GoPro rig to capture video from his point of view. My shots (at the subject’s home in Oberlin, Ohio) open both the film and the trailer. Broadcast premiere on PBS’ “America ReFramed” series.

In praise of business travel

Travel ennobles, emboldens, and improves.

Business travel is expensive, exhausting — and often irreplaceable. Yes, virtual reality is getting better, and I’ve wasted many an evening “touring” distant places on Google Maps Street View, like the cafe that was my “office” for years. So with the cost of meals, travel, business hotels, and lost office time, how do you justify it?

I outline five purposes for business travel in the new LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com course, Traveling for Business. Three of them — Events, Scouting, and Sales trips — produce measurable results, such as resumés collected or leads gathered. Metrics like these are the food of ROI calculations, but it’s short-sighted to look only at the numbers.

(Want to know the other two travel purposes? Watch this free video from the course.)

So here are three other, unmeasurable benefits you miss by staying

  • You discover subtleties of place. I’ve been shopping for a condo in my adopted city in The Netherlands. There’s one development that looks really good on paper, well-located and cheap. But walking up to the unit I felt the loose railing, and saw the chipped stairs and flickering lights. Smells, ambient noise, aggressive neighbors… none of these come through a computer screen. Nor does the mood in the office of a prospective partner, or the way a prospective employee shakes your hand.
  • Serendipity leads you to opportunities. I’ve come to believe that the best parts of conferences happen in the hallways — so much so that I’ll sometimes skip a low-priority session just to hang out and see what happens. Certainly you should do what you came for. But don’t be surprised if your most-profitable meetings happen on the hotel shuttle. (Remember to carry business cards everywhere!)
  • You grow. Travel ennobles, emboldens, and improves. It provides context for the little tasks we do in our offices; it shows how others accomplish in environments different from our own. Its slow times force the individual to look inwards, while surmounting its challenges imparts confidence for the next trip. People who travel learn something about themselves and their place in the world, regardless of the trip’s ostensible purpose. A smarter person makes smarter decisions, and the whole organization benefits.

Besides all of this: Business travel, done with adequate preparation and resources, is just plain fun. The same plane that takes you to a sales meeting is also taking families to their vacation. And while you’ll be obliged to perform for eight (or ten, or even twelve) hours a day, that leaves plenty of time to absorb and enjoy the joy of the new.

So certainly: Have videoconferences. Outsource remote services. And explore the world in Google Maps. But don’t forget to someday walk into that cafe, smell the fresh cookies, and shake the barista’s hand.

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Tom Geller is the author/presenter of several video courses available through Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning, including Freelancing Foundations and Writing Formal Business Letters and Emails. He’s at tomgeller.com and tgprods.com, and on Twitter as tgeller.

 

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/praise-business-travel-tom-geller

Twitter, 140 characters, and effective writing

Twitter’s 140-character limit puts the burden of clarity on the writer, where it belongs.

Why is Twitter so influential among the famous and powerful?

It’s the platform of choice not only for politicians and celebrities, but for us ordinary schmos trying to reach them. And we succeed: Bill Gates and Lady Gaga regularly answer, retweet, and give shouts-out. (Hey, I even got a response from BoJack Horseman!)

Twitter’s popularity certainly plays a part, as the world’s 13th most-visited website. But that can’t be the only reason. Reddit and Facebook rank higher, yet they rarely enjoy the same kind of engagement. Why?

To understand, change your perspective. Pretend you’re the star (or the star’s staff), getting up in the morning and scrolling through your social media. How long does it take to read and understand each message? Now multiply that by thousands (or tens of thousands) and you see the problem. Messages on Facebook et al. can be any length, so writers don’t exercise discipline. More, they wrongly think, is better.

Twitter’s 140-character limit puts the burden of clarity on the writer, where it belongs. It’s a form of what writing students call constrained writing, and it’s an incredibly effective technique for sparking both creativity and precision. So not only are tweets faster to read than Facebook posts — they’re easier to read, too.

Concise messages win on other platforms, too. It’s a point I make in my just-released LinkedIn Learning / Lynda.com course, Writing Formal Business Letters and Emails. Brief messages appeal not only to busy people, but also to those with visual impairments, and those who don’t read your language well. (I know this as an American living in The Netherlands: I can read Dutch, but skip long social-media posts in the language. Who needs the struggle?)

Twitter is now testing double-length tweets, through which it hopes to relieve “a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English”. I think this is a mistake: As with highways and prisons, people will find excuses to fill available space. And all those famous and powerful people you want to reach will stop reading.

In its announcement, Twitter nailed it by saying that “Twitter is about brevity. … Tweets get right to the point with the information or thoughts that matter.” But then: “That is something we will never change.” I’m sorry, Twitter, you can’t have it both ways. If you make the change to 280 characters, the point will get delayed and buried.

For proof, here are the latest (as I write this) two tweets from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. First, 105 characters:

https://twitter.com/jack/status/930640144155099136

Now, 273 characters:

https://twitter.com/jack/status/928658511311097856

Which did you actually read? Which did you understand?

As for me, I’ve taken the #140pledge to keep my tweets under the old limit. Follow suit if you want your tweets to get seen, read, and understood. Brevity pays off.

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Bonus for reading this far: Here’s a free, unlocked video from my new course. 🙂

Tom Geller is the author/presenter of several video courses available through Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning, including Writing Articles and Writing Formal Business Letters and Emails. He’s at tomgeller.com and tgprods.com, and on Twitter as tgeller.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/twitter-140-characters-effective-writing-tom-geller

Documentary “Almost a Brain” to explore how computers are nearing human thought

Artificial intelligence and supercomputers provide the power. What happens next?

ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS, May 12, 2017 — 100 billion neurons. 100,000 billion connections. A billion billion operations per second. The numbers are incomprehensible. This is your brain. And soon, computers will be able to mimic its operations on the most fundamental levels.

What happens then? Will these new brains understand themselves as we do? Will they feel? What aspects of human thought will remain the province of humans alone? How will we revise our ideas of humanity?

These are questions the documentary “Almost a Brain” will explore through archival research and original interviews with neurologists, computer scientists, and leaders in philosophy. The project is led by Tom Geller, a technology journalist who has produced videos and articles on related topics for The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Nature.com, and others.

“Computer models of the human brain are already sophisticated enough to help figure out and treat disorders such as epilepsy,” Geller said. “Now, projects like the Human Brain Project in Europe and the BRAIN Initiative in the United States are filling in the gaps. I believe it’s only a matter of time before something resembling ‘thought’ emerges from such models, whether unexpectedly or through concerted efforts. How it differs from that of biological humans, and how we react to it, will fundamentally change how we see ourselves.”

With bases in The Netherlands (Rotterdam) and the U.S. (Oberlin, Ohio), Tom Geller Productions has secured interview commitments with experts including AI pioneer Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Technical Fellow and Director of Microsoft Research Labs; and Professor Jack Dongarra, who tracks the world’s fastest computers through the semi-annual TOP500 reports.

To participate or learn more, visit almostabrain.com.

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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/documentary-almost-brain-explore-how-computers-nearing-tom-geller

Why “killer robots” don’t worry me

And why they won’t be featured in “Almost a Brain”

Last Friday I announced my upcoming documentary about computers that model the human brain, “Almost a Brain“. And I’ve started talking about it to everyone I can. I practice my pitch on them while watching their faces for signs of interest, skepticism, and outrage. This is market research; it’ll affect what the documentary covers, and how.

But there’s one reaction that I’m basically going to ignore: “When computers are smarter than us, won’t they take over?” It’s an old fear that’s gotten a lot of attention in the last few years because of advances in artificial intelligence (AI) — and the concerns of famous “smart people” including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. It’s a tale perfect for the anxiety-addicted U.S. media, featuring celebrities, strong opinions, and imminent danger.

And I don’t care.

Well, that’s not completely true. I care in the sense that I believe that any new, powerful tool demands caution and respect. We can expect a period of unbounded possibility and lawlessness, followed by a settling down as society decides what costs are worth the rewards. This consensus is never pretty: Consider the million-plus deaths per year we accept in exchange for the benefits we get from driving cars, for example. It’s wise to start the discussion now.

For the purposes of my documentary, though, the apocalypse argument isn’t interesting. First, because it’s unlikely, at least in the general sense described in the media. Second, it’s already well-covered: I have nothing new to add. Third, and most importantly, it’s a technological discussion of something that’s ultimately a human matter. The doomsday scenarios require human cooperation to build, spread, and apply the technology, in the face of (human) opposition. That’s a much bigger nut to crack than the technical ones.

These human matters also lead to more interesting questions. Such as: What is human thought? Will we recognize it when we see it? How will we then differentiate ourselves from our creations?

These questions are at least as old as biblical stories of golems. They have new importance now, as supercomputers approach the raw processing power of the human brain; neurologists can map and better understand the relationship between brain and thought; and artificial intelligence opens new windows into how we learn, and ultimately create. So the stimulus to make this documentary now is technological; its motivation, however, is human.

That’s why I’m actively pursuing sources in the areas of philosophy and human neurology for the documentary — areas outside my own field of computer science. As Wavy Gravy often says, “It’s all done with people.” So Almost a Brain is ultimately about people — old and new.

 

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-killer-robots-dont-worry-me-tom-geller

Computing’s Narrow Focus May Hinder Women’s Participation

Article as it appeared on the web

I was afraid to work on this article about the gender gap in computing because it’s a topic surrounded by dogma, strong feelings, and poorly conceived statistics. As a result, most coverage on it is timid and shallow. But I think the hours of interviewing and research paid off. I’m happy with how it turned out. Online-only.

It’s gotten lots of coverage:

Keynote from DrupalCamp Western NY

Still frame from Buffalo presentation

Keynote presentation from the inaugural two-day event, “DrupalCamp Western NY” in Buffalo, 14 October 2011. The event’s theme was “Hello, Universe”, so I riffed on how the Drupal community is growing (beyond the more common “Hello, World”), and how its culture will inevitably change as a result. Video by Stephen Rosenthal, http://caramaxstudio.com. Appearance sponsored by Acquia; at the time I was that company’s Content and Communications Director.

Shrinking cities, Part 1: Why cities shrink… and grow

Article as it appeared on the web

The first part in a series of three articles about the death (and rebirth) of cities, particularly in the U.S. Rust Belt. (Note: As of August 2013, these articles are incorrectly attributed to another author in the byline, but are correct in the footer.)