Daily Archives: January 2, 2014

Obama’s Half-Brother ‘Floored’ About President’s Lying About Meeting Him


 

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Mark Obama Ndesandjo said he was surprised to hear his half-brother President Barack Obama say they had only recently met for the first time.

“I was floored by it — I don’t know why he said it,” Ndesandjo said to Laura Ingraham, adding that he had met the president several times over the years and still isn’t sure what his motivation was for making the claim. “I think he was being president and was not being my brother,” Ndesandjo said.

From their first meeting, which took place in the 1980s in Kenya, where he lived as an American ex-pat, Ndesandjo​ said both he and the president had different views: Ndesandjo was trying to distance himself from his father and his father’s name, while Obama was looking to further embrace his father’s roots.

When Ingraham pointed out that Obama doesn’t spend very much time with his extended family and seems to prefer the company of celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Ndesandjo said she “had a point.” Ndesandjo, who has a book coming out in February, said ultimately that he isn’t very political and tends to focus on “the art side.”

http://nationalreview.com/corner/367435/obamas-half-brother-floored-about-presidents-lying-about-meeting-him-andrew-johnson

NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption


By and Barton Gellman, Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2:00 PM

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-seeks-to-build-quantum-computer-that-could-crack-most-types-of-encryption/2014/01/02/8fff297e-7195-11e3-8def-a33011492df2_print.html

In room-size metal boxes, secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.

According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” — a machine exponentially faster than classical computers — is part of a $79.7 million research program titled, “Penetrating Hard Targets.” Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park.

[Read an annotated description of the Penetrating Hard Targets project]

The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, with revolutionary implications for fields like medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission. With such technology, all forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure Web sites as well as the type used to protect state secrets.

Physicists and computer scientists have long speculated whether the NSA’s efforts are more advanced than those of the best civilian labs. Although the full extent of the agency’s research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community.

“It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” said Scott Aaronson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough.

“The geographic scope has narrowed from a global effort to a discrete focus on the European Union and Switzerland,” one NSA document states.

Seth Lloyd, professor of quantum mechanical engineering at MIT, said the NSA’s focus is not misplaced. “The E.U. and Switzerland have made significant advances over the last decade and have caught up to the U.S. in quantum computing technology,” he said.

The NSA declined to comment for this story.

The documents, however, indicate that the agency carries out some of its research in large, shielded rooms known as Faraday cages, which are designed to prevent electromagnetic energy from coming in or out. Those, according to one brief description, are required “to keep delicate quantum computing experiments running.”

[Read a document describing classification levels related to quantum computing efforts]

The basic principle underlying quantum computing is known as “quantum superposition,” the idea that an object simultaneously exists in all states. A classical computer uses binary bits, which are either zeroes or ones. A quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits, which are simultaneously zero and one.

This seeming impossibility is part of the mystery that lies at the heart of quantum theory, which even theoretical physicists say no one completely understands.

“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics,” said the late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, who is widely regarded as the pioneer in quantum computing.

Here’s how it works, in theory: While a classical computer, however fast, must do one calculation at a time, a quantum computer can sometimes avoid having to make calculations that are unnecessary to solving a problem. That allows it to home in on the correct answer much more quickly and efficiently.

Quantum computing is so difficult to attain because of the fragile nature of such computers. In theory, the building blocks of such a computer might include individual atoms, photons or electrons. To maintain the quantum nature of the computer, these particles would need to be carefully isolated from their external environments.

“Quantum computers are extremely delicate, so if you don’t protect them from their environment, then the computation will be useless,” said Daniel Lidar, a professor of electrical engineering and the director of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California.

A working quantum computer would open the door to easily breaking the strongest encryption tools in use today, including a standard known as RSA, named for the initials of its creators. RSA scrambles communications, making them unreadable to anyone but the intended recipient, without requiring the use of a shared password. It is commonly used in Web browsers to secure financial transactions and in encrypted e-mails. RSA is used because of the difficulty of factoring the product of two large prime numbers. Breaking the encryption involves finding those two numbers. This cannot be done in a reasonable amount of time on a classical computer.

In 2009, computer scientists using classical methods were able to discover the primes within a 768-bit number, but it took almost two years and hundreds of computers to factor it. The scientists estimated that it would take 1,000 times longer to break a 1,024-bit encryption key, which is commonly used for online transactions.

A large-scale quantum computer, however, could theoretically break a 1,024-bit encryption much faster. Some leading Internet companies are moving to 2,048-bit keys, but even those are thought to be vulnerable to rapid decryption with a quantum computer.

Quantum computers have many applications for today’s scientific community, including the creation of artificial intelligence. But the NSA fears the implications for national security.

“The application of quantum technologies to encryption algorithms threatens to dramatically impact the US government’s ability to both protect its communications and eavesdrop on the communications of foreign governments,” according to an internal document provided by Snowden.

Experts are not sure how feasible a quantum computer is in the near future. A decade ago, some experts said that developing a large quantum computer was likely 10 to 100 years in the future. Five years ago, Lloyd said the goal was at least 10 years away.

Last year, Jeff Forshaw, a professor at the University of Manchester, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “It is probably too soon to speculate on when the first full-scale quantum computer will be built but recent progress indicates that there is every reason to be optimistic.”

“I don’t think we’re likely to have the type of quantum computer the NSA wants within at least five years, in the absence of a significant breakthrough maybe much longer,” Lloyd told the Post in a recent interview.

However, some companies claim to already be producing small quantum computers. A Canadian company, D-Wave Systems , says it has been making quantum computers since 2009. In 2012, it sold a $10 million version to Google, NASA and the Universities Space Research Association, according to news reports.

That quantum computer, however, would never be useful for breaking public key encryption like RSA.

“Even if everything they’re claiming is correct, that computer, by its design, cannot run Shor’s algorithm,” said Matthew Green, a research professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, referring to the algorithm that could be used to break encryption like RSA.

Experts believe that one of the largest hurdles to breaking encryption with a quantum computer is building a computer with enough qubits, which is difficult given the very fragile state of quantum computers. By the end of September, the NSA expected to be able to have some basic building blocks, which it described in a document as “dynamical decoupling and complete quantum control on two semiconductor qubits.”

“That’s a great step, but it’s a pretty small step on the road to building a large-scale quantum computer,” Lloyd said.

A quantum computer capable of breaking cryptography would need hundreds or thousands more qubits than that.

The budget for the National Intelligence Program, commonly referred to as the “black budget,” details the “Penetrating Hard Targets” project and noted that this step “will enable initial scaling towards large systems in related and follow-on efforts.”

Another project, called the “Owning the Net,” is using quantum research to support the creation of new quantum-based attacks on encryptions like RSA, documents show.

“The irony of quantum computing is that if you can imagine someone building a quantum computer that can break encryption a few decades into the future, then you need to be worried right now,” Lidar said.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-seeks-to-build-quantum-computer-that-could-crack-most-types-of-encryption/2014/01/02/8fff297e-7195-11e3-8def-a33011492df2_print.html

Legalized Marijuana Sales Rock the Rockies


By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) It was all the buzz in Colorado in the days leading up to the New Year: legalized recreational marijuana sales would begin January 1. Giddy local retailers were preparing for the crush of customers; head shops were suddenly legit and on the local news — and the fresh-faced bakery owner proudly displayed her cannabis cupcakes.

The media was on high alert. The Denver Post even hired two pot “critics” and a marijuana editor while simultaneously launching a new website to cover the blossoming legal industry.

International news outlets began interviewing selected members from the hundreds of customers-in-waiting as lines snaked around smoke shops. The demographics of the crowds were such that potential shoppers looked like a ticket line for a Doobie Brothers reunion concert.

With the opening of recreational pot retail sales, Colorado is the only state in the nation where it is legal for people 21 and over to purchase and possess an ounce of marijuana “for any purpose.”

With limited initial supplies, demand has driven prices to a premium. Going rates for the first day’s business were reported to average about $45 for an eighth of an ounce. And that doesn’t include taxes, which can add as much as 29% to the cost. Half of the buyers were reported to be from out of state, though it is illegal to transport the grass across state lines.

In fact, consumers may find it easier to buy pot than to find a place to smoke it. Colorado law prohibits the public consumption of marijuana in high country. You can’t smoke in the shop where you bought it, or take a toke in a park, bar, ski slope or anywhere else cigarette smoking is banned.

Even Smokey the Bear can’t get a Rocky Mountain high: national parks and forests are off-limits to pot smoking.

Denver has recently considered making even the sight and smell of pot smoking illegal. That would mean taking your recreational use off the front porch of your own house and moving it to a discreet, breeze-restricted area of your back yard.

The Colorado Legislative Council has projected annual sales of retail marijuana for the coming year will total nearly $400 million. Most of that will be in cash. Marijuana retailers usually don’t accept credit cards.

Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

 http://www.thestreet.com/story/12199072/1/legalized-marijuana-sales-rock-the-rockies.html

Written in Code


Why not recognize that I always loved coding and HTML? Time to learn everything I have left behind!

I’ve started learning how to properly code last week. Only for web by now, I must say. I love and (I think) always loved HTML, CSS, Javascript and so on since I first knew of the existence of such things, more than 10 years ago. It was the first time I tried to get into the DIY of the internet. And I tried to create something “made by code” only off the top of my head, with a little bit of feeling and intuition.

Let me “rewind” my thoughts to be more clear. First of all, I am not an English native speaker, so, if you find any mistakes (~fatal errors!~) here, please, go ahead and let me know. I have to admit it because is part of my “web background” the idea, the planning and the development of the first (if not, one of them) website dedicated to teaching Spanish to Brazilians — ‘Habla’, circa August 2000. This website was created as a mix of Hispanic-related topics, from grammar to culture, with some other things, like a searchable Yahoo-like website directory and a paid service in which I could clear up some Spanish language questions. It sounds weird until today, but I did it using the website’s own chat…(LOL).

So, I built the entire ‘Habla’ website on my own, just learning alone with some books, swapping messages on specialized communities and snooping in someone else’s source code. Thus, I had an initial version (the 1.0?) of the website in less than a month. Of course, it was a raw one, with poor GIFs and unmatched colors, in the worst meaning — I didn’t know what the PNG files was and I neither had any design composition notion. Some weeks more and I achieved an acceptable and (at least for me) finalized version to put online. But this wasn’t the most important for me. What I really enjoyed was the simply act of coding in HTML, in the simplest way I could: using a famous MS application (yet hated by serious coders around the world), FrontPage. Remember, that time, when Windows was everywhere? That’s it! Since I barely could read a single line of code and much less I could write something to build a page, my only choice to get things done was using this tool in the WYSIWYG mode, so that I would see what I was creating. It was very, very funny, I myself recognize, though, sometimes, I had spent all night long trying to “code” something or solve an issue on a page. The final result was a “reward” for my personal efforts: a teacher, someone with a degree in Language and Literature, building a website in HTML (with snippets of code in Perl and PHP, wow!) completely on his own.

That was only the beginning, but even being sort of a sudden thing, I loved that I had discovered the “whole new world” of coding and the web development. I really love the way things work on the internet, but I didn’t have the theory nor the expertise to build digital things up. I was like a foreigner (though delighted) traveler on an unknown land, trying to find a nice spot to stop by. But the same way, I loved the HTML language (I was introduced to CSS and Javascript only some time later) since day one and I knew I would try another things with it. After all, years later, I left my teacher career and followed through another one, in which all the “superficial” knowledge of HTML (and some code tricks learnt from the web) helped me to accomplish a lot of tasks and works on my everyday job. Since then, I survived with less than I needed related to web coding and it’s been great, even so. From today onward, now that I decided to face all my particular demons, recognizing for myself that I like to “write in code”, that I don’t mind to keep my eyes on the screen typing some unspoken words and that I have/need to learn correctly to code, mostly because I like it, I bet the future will be very exciting. Day by day, here I go. <@>

Learn how to code properly using the great resources below.

Further Reading

Learn to code

 — Codecademy is the easiest way to learn how to code. It’s interactive, fun, and you can do it with your friends.

Learn by Doing – Code School

 — Learn to code in the comfort of your browser with video tutorials, programming challenges, and screencasts.

The Hour of Code is here

 — Bring Hour of Code to your classroom in December. Get Involved Bring full Computer Science classes to your classroom or district. See Opt…

Written by

Geek, writer, tech addict and carioca. Interests: technology, gadgets, ebooks, writing, pop, apps, code and design. (Follow me on Twitter: @alxdbbd)

Reclaiming Your Childlike Wonder.


We’re all creative until we learn — or are taught — how not to be.

A teacher holds up a stick to a room of adults and asks, “What do you see?” As everyone peers from person to person with perplexed looks and raised eyebrows, someone finally shouts out, “A stick!”

A teacher holds this same stick up to a room of six-year-olds and asks, “What do you see?” Without hesitation, children start shouting, “Sword!”, “Lightsaber!”, “Magic wand!”

The children are able to see so much more possibility — so much more potential — in what really is just a boring old stick. Why? Because no one’s told them (yet) to “Be realistic”. There is no “realistic” to a six-year-old and that’s a pretty remarkable thing.

Our creativity is stifled because we don’t allow ourselves to wonder. We don’t allow our mind to wander — removing ourselves from what “makes sense” and instead, focusing on “what may be”.

“Creativity is part of everyone’s childhood until they learn—or are taught—how to not be creative.”— Jeffrey Veen

Me? I was a Lego guy. As a child I’d sit in my room for hours and hours building these epic castle/spaceship/pirate/cowboy setups — creating an incredible, imaginative story about how it all came together, ending with an epic battle of aliens vs. pirates vs. cowboys with the hero riding off into the sunset on his flying, jet-pack-powered horse. In my head, this insanity all made perfect sense.

Imagine if, as adults, we could tap back into that creative imagination that didn’t hold back and couldn’t be stifled by “reality”. What could you create if you had no limits? Where would you be if no one was telling you to “be realistic”. What if you stopped over-thinking and just DID.

As adults, we’ve been groomed to tame our imagination in favor of reality. The real challenge then, is reclaiming that childlike wonder. Tapping back into the younger version of yourself that looks past the stick and sees something much, much more.

The first step in the creative process is simply getting out of your own way.

Over-thinking the pursuit of perfection will forever hold you back from getting things done. We all have a pile of Legos in front of us dying to be played with. The beauty isn’t in the planning of what’s going to be built, but in the building.

We may not be building castles and spaceships, but we are building our relationships, our careers, our companies, our books, our blogs, our art, and our ideas.

Think. Tinker. Scribble. Ask. Wonder. Write. Explore. Love.

The pieces are in front of you — now is the time to start building.

Written by

Entrepreneur. Writer. Thinker. Craft Beer Drinker. Marathoner. Spoon Bender. Saved by the Bell Aficionado. Say hello: @mattchevy. http://proofbranding.com

10 Ways Your Startup Lawyer is Overcharging You


So you have a startup and you just signed on with a lawyer that offers deferred payment for a certain amount of legal services until you raise a round. You think this is great, and you happily sign their legal service agreement specifying how they’ll charge you. You don’t have to worry about paying the bill until you’re a funded startup so you don’t pay much attention to it.

A little bit of time passes and you haven’t used your lawyers too much, but it seems they’ve already hit their free services cap. How did that happen so fast? Now you’re having mini heart attacks each time you open their bills.

I recently caught up with a lawyer friend who provides a service of reviewing legal bills. He totally opened my eyes and I felt that this information was vital to be shared with the rest of the startup community.

Firstly, let’s go back to that services agreement you signed. If you think about it, if your lawyer isn’t giving you a services contract that benefits them, they’re probably not very good lawyers. It likely has all sorts of clauses in there for how they can take their pound of flesh. But that doesn’t mean you can’t push back and negotiate these terms. Just make sure they don’t charge you for negotiating the contract!

Here are some things you should watch out for:

  1. Rounding.
    Lawyers have hourly rates. But they usually bill you in six minute increments. So let’s say a lawyer’s fee is $600 per hour (which is $10 per minute). He speaks to you on the phone for 2 minutes. That just cost you $60. Not $20. That’s a $40 rounding charge. Wow. Another way to think of it is a 200% markup.
    You can push back on this. If the firm says they technically can’t bill in lower increments, then politely ask for them to round down rather than round up or request a flat fee discount (such as 10%) for rounded time.
  2. Hourly Rates are variable.
    Can you imagine saying to your customers that your rates are variable and it depends on who does the work, and then not publishing that schedule of fees? No? Well, lawyers do this all the time.
    Ask them to explicitly state the rates of the lawyers who will likely be working on your account and push for their floor rates. You can ask for this: you’re a startup.
  3. Hourly Rates are subject to increase.
    There’s likely a clause that essentially says they can increase rates at their own discretion and the new rate will show up in the bill after it has been incurred. Again, imagine telling your customers that you’re going to increase the rates and bill them without giving them notice!
    Make sure they seek approval for these increases in advance.
  4. Charging for law students.
    Make sure that you don’t get billed $200 per hour for a law student. It’s not your responsibility to pay for their education. You might be thinking, “Of course, no law firm would charge me for a student!” Think again.
  5. Third Party Expenses.
    There’s a clause in your agreement that talks about incurring expenses in connection with your representation and they can bill you for these up to a certain amount without prior approval.
    Tell them you require them to get your approval before incurring such expenses. And list out the expenses you will not pay for. It’s likely they will have a clause detailing the types of third party expenses they can incur on your behalf. Push back on this list and exclude items like mileage, travel, food, phone charges, copying and research expenses such as Lexis-Nexis, storage and data management services.
  6. Travel Time.
    Let’s say they need to fly across the country for a meeting. They will charge you for their travel time. They may be doing work for someone else while they travel, but they’ll charge you as well. And they may combine their trip with a meeting they need to take for another client, so they could charge them for travel time as well.
    Push back on this and say you won’t pay for travel time.
  7. Resource double-up.
    You’ll have a conference call scheduled and they’ll invite additional attorneys to sit in. And they’ll charge you for it, even though they may not say a word during the meeting.
    Add a clause to your contract that says, “We agree not to bill you for any more than one attorney on any conference call with you.“
  8. Vague line items.
    If you receive a bill that just says “Legal Services”, then it’s going to be pretty hard to dispute. Make sure you ask for detailed descriptions and that they don’t charge you for any time they spend detailing their time.
  9. Value Billing.
    Let’s say your lawyer wrote a legal brief for another client and it took him 8 hours. If you have a similar case, he may be able to simply tweak the brief he wrote in the first case and use it in your case. Let’s say he spent 1 hour tweaking the old brief to fit into your case. He should only bill 1 hour for that, but some attorneys will bill the full 8 hours for the second brief as if they had created it from scratch.
  10. Routine Services.
    There are a bunch of legal services you just don’t need a top shelf Silicon Valley lawyer for. If you use your lawyer, you’ll get charged way more than if you used a regular lawyer or even an online legal service. For example, I recently used MyUSACorporation.com to change my company’s name. It was simple and painless and a couple hundred dollars.

I hope this list was helpful to you, and if it was please share it so others can benefit from this wisdom. It’s time we disrupted Legal Bills!

The vitality of long-form journalism


Print is a dying medium. Long-form is a style, and it will live forever.

I am not the first to write about the state of long-form journalism — which encompasses in-depth, stylized reporting built around an evocative narrative—nor will I be the last. Indeed, two weeks ago, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, James Bennet, argued that we should do away with the term “long-form” altogether.

I think Mr. Bennet is probably right. However, before we eliminate “long-form” from the writing community’s vernacular it’s important to take a hard look at how the term became widely used, the recent evolution of in-depth reporting, and the future of long-form (or whatever we’ll call it in the future).

What follows is my modest contribution to the Great Long-form Debate.

A red flag in an unlikely place

It was May of last year, and two huge news stories had just flashed across the ever droning big screen TV at my office. The IRS was found to have acted with bias against conservative political organizations that applied for tax-exempt status, and Congressional hearings were being held to investigate whether a cover up had been mounted in the aftermath of the attacks on the US embassy in Benghazi.

These were big stories! My interest piqued, I clicked the WSJ icon in my Bookmarks Bar expectantly and prepared to read the Journal’s headlines. However, when the home page had fully rendered, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

On this major news day in May 2013, almost all of the above-the-fold real estate on the WSJ home page was occupied by a huge photo of David Beckham and an accompanying headline announcing his retirement. Worse still, most of the pixels that remained were dedicated to a click-bait piece entitled “What’s a CEO worth?” Links to coverage of the IRS and Benghazi scandals were barely visible.

This is it, I thought, If the WSJ is swinging toward Buzzfeed, then good, solid journalism really is dying.

A recent history of the Great Long-Form Debate

A lot of ink, both real and digital, has been spilled on either side of the Great Long-form Debate in recent years.

The pessimistic perspective: a funeral in the making

The pessimists write eulogies for an art form that they believe to be on its death bed. To them, declining word counts of news articles and the simultaneous rise of “viral news” (which, they would have us know, is NOT news) signify society’s ever slackening appetite for in-depth, heavily analytical reporting.

In their view, long-form journalism is a star burning rapidly through the final phase in its life, it’s recent past a series of forceful and fiery transitions:

  • Hot like the sun (industrial revolution — early ‘90s): the golden age of newspapers and magazines — a stack of magazines in every mailbox and waiting room—crescendoed through most of the twentieth century up to the early nineties.
  • A bloated red giant (early 90s — early 00s): a fleeting moment when traditional written media touched more viewers than ever before during the adolescence of the Internet thanks to the proliferation of websites, WiFi, and Amazon books.
  • An ever-dimming dwarf (present): Ousted by newsfeeds, aggregators, and, my two favorites, listicles (articles made up of lists) and charticles (infographics accompanied by a few paragraphs of commentary), long-form is careening into an academia-like state characterized by very limited readership and increasingly esoteric writing.
The revenue picture for the largest American magazine publishers isn’t pretty.

The changing-media-industry storyline is way too complex to tackle here, but I will do my best to outline the developments that seemed to have pushed long-form into a bit of a corner (readers are encouraged to contribute to their own insights; I’ve surely missed some):

  • Social media: In the early days of social, time spent on social networks meant time not spent consuming traditional written content (email and AIM were also precursors in this way). Perhaps more important, the growth of social also conditioned people to consume the short bursts of information, which were proliferated by Twitter and Facebook’s News Feed.
  • Aggregators: Aggregators put themselves between readers and journalists. First, news aggregators linked to content created by other media outlets (a la Drudge Report). Then aggregators began to digest and summarize reporting done by major publishers. Because busy people naturally gravitated to summarized content, many readers ceased visiting “The Source” (i.e. traditional news and journalistic outlets).
Forbes used to be a stodgy business publication. Look at its trending articles from Tuesday, 12/3/13!
  • Viral “news” and listicles: Taking aggregated content to its logical extreme, the BuzzFeeds and Thought Catalogs of the world realized that many people would rather read literal lists of facts or thoughts oriented around a theme, and they began to attract A LOT of viewers. Worse still for long-form, traditional news outlets like Forbes and the Washington Post (as if to shout, We’re still here!) began to mimic the “popular kids” with listicles and salacious (and often misleading) article titles of their own.
  • Mobile: Many publishers were slow to follow readers as they moved to digital devices. As a result, the downright ugly rendering of text and images on news and magazine websites made them a pain to read, and publishers were unable to monetize their newly-digital readers until they invested in digital platforms that both attract readers and serve ads.

According to the pessimists, these forces (and more that I probably missed) signal the impending death of long-form written content.

The optimistic view: long-form has evolved, and a Golden Age is in the making

Optimists agree that new media has forced long-form, like other forms of traditional media, to evolve. In their view, however, this evolution has not jeopardized long-form writing; it has made long-form more vibrant and widely distributed than ever.

It’s hard to argue with the optimists on this point. New platforms make it simple to combine fantastic written stories with enriching images and videos; the onscreen reading experience, re-imagined on tablets and e-readers, is more engaging than ever before; and new online portals dedicated to long-form writing enable readers to discover and share great writing with a few keystrokes. These trends can be summarized as platforms, devices, and portals:

  • Platforms: In addition to stalwart blogging platforms like TypePad and WordPress, upstarts like Medium and Atavist are making it, in the words of Medium founder Ev Williams, “dead simple to write and present a beautiful story without having to be a designer or programmer.” Medium has given amateur writers an insanely easy to use platform for creating and sharing, and Atavist is enabling publishers (see this stunning piece from the New York Times Magazine) and amateurs (with Creativist) to weave rich visual context into written narrative by integrating images and video.
  • Devices: iPads, Kindle Fires, and other tablets are the yin to new platforms’ yang. Beautiful digital articles with picture and video would be lost on readers without the ever-growing menu of handheld devices with surreally high resolution screens. Adoption of these new technologies is rising, and new content formats geared toward tablets and e-readers are revitalizing the onscreen reading experience.
  • Portals for discovery and sharing: More than ever, great writing is only a few keystrokes away. Leading the way in long-form content discovery for the last few years have been sites dedicated to collecting the best long-form writing on the web—of these, Longform.org, Longreads, Byliner, and The Big Roundtable are on my shortlist. More recently, leading members of the new media establishment—like The Verge and BuzzFeed (via BuzzReads)—have followed suit by creating separate digital real estate for in-depth reporting.

All of these developments have made creating and finding great writing easier in a growingly complex digital world.

Who’s right, and what does the future hold for long-form?

I was quick to join the pessimistic camp at first. After all, if you focus only on the negative data, the storyline is obvious. Print media advertising revenue has taken a nosedive over the last ten to fifteen years; many languishing regional newspapers and magazines have gone 100% digital or closed their doors completely to combat shrinking revenue; and, as a result, layoffs have put many journalists out of work in a time when well-compensated writing jobs are becoming increasingly elusive.

However, while bite-sized articles were the hot new girl in glass over the last year or two, long-form is making an I’m-back-and-sexier-than-ever comeback like Sandy in Grease. As noted above, publishers, like the NY Times with last year’s “Snow Fall”, are buying in—even BuzzFeed, as noted above. Google, too, is getting in on the act. Fed up with the crap being pumped onto the internet by content farms and regurgi-bloggers (the journalistic equivalent of the village busybody), the brains at the Googleplex launched a feature earlier this year that highlights relevant in-depth content in search results.

Overall, things seem to be looking up for long-form.

Don’t get me wrong—its place in the media world will continue to evolve. Listicles, charticles, tweets, and crappy photo slide shows aren’t going away. However, Lewis Dvorkin of Forbes bids us to remember that short, snappy content and in-depth reporting can actually coexist quite nicely.

There is also no denying that traditional business models will continue to be challenged—no reminder of the print media business model’s ongoing decay is starker than the move by the New Yorker to cut its number of printed issues in half. But to dwell on the move from print to digital misses the point: Print and long-form, while inextricably linked by a shared history, are not equivalent.

Print is a dying medium. Sometime in the not so distant future, all written content—long-form and otherwise—may be digital, and words like “magazine” may fade into antiquity (like “phonograph”).

Long-form, however, is a style. And it will never be outdated.

Is School going extinct?


Well, it’s certainly out of date.

With its decades old methodology, snail-paced processes, an inflexible system and not to mention, its boring lectures (and sometimes lecturers) — it can be easy to declare the school out of fashion. And therefore, the phrase — old school!
Bad puns aside, free content being available outside of school and in public domain is the other more serious reason some folks are declaring school out of fashion and close to dying.

Here’s the deal though — schools are not going away. If having content out there for free educated a child magically, libraries would have put schools out of business a long time ago. Having free courses online is just a faster, easier and more organized way to get the same information that libraries have been providing. We are not in the midst of an educational revolution. Internet and computing is yet another piece of technology (very akin to written word or books or VCRs) that is inevitably going to play a part in the education system’s evolution.

Here’s the other reason why schools are probably not going to go away. Parents need schools to get their children off their hands. Personally, I don’t know if this is really true, that said, I am not a parent. I have had parents tell me how the school is not just for education but also the reason they are able to get anything done — especially with younger children. So, even though the traditional classroom might go away, there will still be students gathered to learn, perhaps not as often as everyday.


The ICT revolution myth

“School Reformers have repeatedly tried to bash the system and confront it head-on. A major lesson from our studies of innovations that disruptive innovation does not take root through a direct attack on the existing system. Instead it must go around and underneath the system. This is how disruption drives affordability, accessibility, capability and responsiveness”
-An excerpt from the book Disrupting Class by Christensen, Horn and Johnson.

It is easy to think of the ICT as the school reformer’s (or is it rebel’s?) most powerful tool that will topple the system over. However, and I should add fortunately, not the truth. ICT is inevitable and therefore has to be made an integral part of the system. Using ICT to threaten teachers and administrators about their jobs will only bring about resistance.

If I had a penny for each time I saw an article with a headline questioning whether the computer is going to replace the teacher — well, I most certainly will be able to afford this. Seriously though, we really need to stop asking this question. Technology is not a new phenomenon — it has been around for over half a century now and has been in the process of becoming an integral part of our learning. If designed and implemented to impact learning objectives, the EdTech product’s claim will not be to replace the teacher but will be to augment the teacher OR to raise the bar for her. So here’s a simple flowchart AKA Dummy’s Guide to good EdTech:

Dummy’s guide to finding good EdTech

A note for the folks in the EdTech market: Please know that schools or teachers are not the enemy. Granted they haven’t evolved at a pace that is expected of an institution that is a crucial part of the economy. However, this may have to do with the fact that most of the times they are not involved in the decision to put a piece of technology in their classroom.

So while EdTech is certainly not going to replace a good teacher, it is going to make a bad one get better or get out. EdTech is also going to raise the standards for schools and address the issue of providing quality education at scale.

So to answer the question if schools are going to go extinct. It really depends on your definition of a school. If its the shape and form of a school — the walls, the rows of benches and chairs and one teacher standing in front of the class while the children mindlessly write everything down, Yes — that will and should go away and it is something that the Ed reformers are working towards.
However, if your definition of school is the act of students coming together everyday at a pre-ordained place or time to learn things, then no. We may not call these gathering schools (especially because a few have developed a certain hatred towards the word) but the act of coming together will continue to happen since learning is a social act.

Side note: Let us however recognize the outliers such as home-schoolers. Parents who aren’t fans of the school system and can afford the time and resources to teach their kids on their own are rare and therefore the outliers. While EdTech can augment these parents — their number will continue to remain small.

Further Reading

The first School in the Cloud opens in the UK

 — Sugata Mitra has opened the doors of the world’s first School in the Cloud. Located inside George Stephenson High School in Killingworth,…

Written by

EdTech gal. Chases dreams. http://about.me/mydhili

Baby, I make my living from my blog.


Look, this is not a super-glamorous sort of living that we’re talking about here.

I do not sun myself on the glittering sands of the French Riviera while my adoring man-servant feeds me succulent grapes.

Instead, I stamp around through the gritty slush of Pittsburgh winter, spend much time squinting at WordPress, and eat a lot of kale. I live with two housemates and an angry cat. But I pay my bills and my taxes, damn it, and I often have enough cash left over to visit friends around the continental United States.

And I do it all through my blog and social media presence. I do not have a boss. I do not go to a job. I nap and shower and talk on the phone to my mom whenever the hell I goddamn please. As every American should be free to do.

I knew I had attained success when one of my aforementioned housemates exclaimed to me with no small degree of wonder, “Carolyn, you just sit there on the couch and produce money out of nowhere!”

Yes. It’s true. Money simply flies to me through the aetheric vacuum tubes of the Information Super Highway. I do not even put on pants, most days.

Also! I get to tell people that I’m a professional coach for creative and magical people. And I’m not even lying!

So: winning.

I don’t mention this for the sole purpose of congratulating myself, though it does rather lift my spirits in the midst of all this wintry grit and slush and kale and squinting. I mention it because I want you to know that it’s possible. Because when I was first starting out, I really, really needed people to just keep telling me that it was possible, for the love of God.

It’s possible, my dear. You can do it.

I don’t recommend the life of online self-employment to all and sundry. But I do recommend it to folks who love to write and play on social media and who have something they want to offer forth to the world, even if they don’t quite precisely yet know what it is.

Now. Here are my three top suggestions for getting started on your own path towards a dare-devil, thrilling life of sleeping in until 11 am and talking to your mom from 2 — 3 pm all while still paying your rent and occasionally eating at restaurants!

  1. Just begin. Really. Like, now. The idea first occurred to me to start writing a blog in 2005. I put it off until 2010. Do you have any idea how rich I could be now if I had tossed my velvet top hat into the personal development blogging ring in 2005? I could be diving into swimming pools full of gold dubloons just like my hero, Scrooge McDuck. I could be sunning myself on the French Riviera next to Havi Brooks and Steve Pavlina and wooing their man-servants for my own. But noooooooooooooooo. I put off getting started just because I didn’t know what I had to say. Pffffffffffffffffffffffffft. That’s the lousiest reason in the world. What I didn’t realize then is that you only discover what you have to say by beginning to say it and being completely willing to sound like a jack-ass along the way. But in 2010 I got hip to this secret and started writing. It worked so well that I even turned my blog into a book on how to wake up your genius, a book that Random House published this fall! Once again — it’s possible. You can do it.
  2. Solve your best friend’s problems. If you intend to eventually make a living from your blog, it stands to reason that your blog will have to offer something that other people value. People tend to value having their problems solved. But here’s the tricksy part: you don’t know “people.” You only know individuals. That’s also the good part. Because people are individuals. See? And if you single out just one special individual’s problems to solve with your posts, then you’ll be writing in a style that’s direct and relevant and fun. I recommend that you start by solving your best friend’s problems on your blog. Why? Because you probably already do, but she just doesn’t listen and instead always goes back to that slob who listens to the Dave Matthews Band and smells like rancid patchouli. Well, that there is what makes your eventual blog readers and clients and customers even better than your best friend! They’ll read your advice. And sometimes they’ll even take it.
  3. Get connected with other enterprising folks. I didn’t have any readers for my blog (and thus no clients for my business and no money coming to me effortlessly through the aetheric vacuum tubes of the Information Super Highway) until I joined a group of other bad-asses who were also working on creating lives for themselves outside the conventional mold. The reason for this is that once I joined such a group, I now had the attention of other people with developed online presences. These kind and wondrous people read my writing, liked it, and shared it. Then other kind and wondrous people started reading my writing, until my whole life became enveloped in a silken cocoon of wondrousness and I became a caterpillar. A caterpillar who blogs. (Like you do.) Now I’m very proud to run my own group of magical bad-asses, many of whom run thriving businesses of their own with astounding blogs and social media networks. Also they’re very loving and very brilliant and magic, which is how I generally prefer people to be. If you are also loving, brilliant, and magic you may want to join us for support and good times. We’re called the Outlaw Court. You know, as in a renegade forest government of anarchic entrepreneurial fairies. It all makes sense if you don’t think too hard about it.

In Conclusion

Life these days is pretty screwy. Most every conventional job description I can think of sounds to me like a circle of Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps it does to you also. If this is the case, I recommend that you get started on the project of carving a life for yourself based around an offering that comes from your own innate genius.

It’s okay if at first you don’t have a “business plan.” I don’t think I ever had one of those, unless we wish to count the journal entries that say “Priority #1: this month — make money. Do not starve.”

I like blogging as a means towards figuring out exactly what your creative entrepreneurial offering is because what really is a blog but a collection of essays? And the verb “essay” means just “to try.” An essay is a piece of writing that works towards discovering something not already known. So get started with your essaying. And let me know how it goes.

A bit about me, Carolyn Elliott

As you may have gathered from this article, I coach magical, creative people to live turned-on, ecstatic lives full of genius and challenge. I’m the author of Awaken Your Genius: A Seven-Step Path to Feeing Your Creativity and Manifesting You Dreams (North Atlantic / Random House). I also lead the Outlaw Court, a secret group where magical people are hugely supported in bringing their Things into the world — if you’re magic and you know it, you’re welcome to apply to join the Outlaw Court.

Written by

Coach for Magic People, author of Awaken Your Genius

How to dominate at blogging


I was curious today what the “big guns” of Internet marketing tell their audience to do, in order to be successful. I’ve been accused of being an “Internet marketer” before, so I needed to know more about what I was supposedly peddling.

I visited their websites. I was inundated with pop-ups telling me to subscribe to get free content. Free content!

(Let’s ignore the fact that I was actually trying to read free content on their site when I was interrupted with their offer to receive MORE free content.) So I took the bait and subscribed. I didn’t even bother finishing whatever I was reading on their site, because I was hot on the trail of MORE!

Once I was signed up for these FREE mailing lists, I was “personally thanked” via autoresponder (which assumes I either don’t understand the word “personal” or what the “auto” in auto-responder means).

I skimmed each of the free books I received for signing up. I put my snark aside as I waded through, “GROW YOUR LIST LIKE ME” or “I MADE TEN BILLION DOLLARS WITH AFFILIATE MARKETING AND YOU CAN TOO!”.

I learned exactly what to do to have an online empire like they do. These stories were all told quite humbly (with lots of name dropping and accomplishments listed).

I think Internet marketing has taken the place of “Get rich quick” travelling seminars.

Remember Tom Cruise in Magnolia? Respect… The Cock. It’s a derivation of that, except with ebooks, videos and infographics. Less overhead! No need to invest in those costly but tiny microphones that attach to your head!

The rub is that these people actually do well. They have huge stats, massive mailing lists, and are easily making a “decent” (I could have probably chosen a more appropriate word) living. They have captive audiences, eager to eat up what they’re peddling. Someone out there (a lot of someone’s in fact) eat this up like pudding—universally recognized by Internet marketers as the most widely consumed and enjoyed treat.

To follow in their enormous footsteps, since I’m an Internet marketer too, I am going to share what I’ve learned about how to be successful on the Internet, because I personally want you to to be successful, too.

(This will turn into a FREE ebook later for new mailing list subscribers.)

  • Write lots of guest posts. Worry about where they’ll be posted later. Worry about what you’ll actually write later, too. Just keep “write more guest posts” on your to-do list.
  • Break posts up with headings, bullets, photos. This rewards the people who don’t actually care about what you write with distractions and annoys the people who just want to read what you have to say.
  • Don’t write more than 500 words per article. See the above point about rewarding people who don’t care about what you’ve wrote.
  • Interact with every commenter. Do this until you’re too big to deal with those annoying peons who write comments. This also applies to email: reply to everyone who writes to you until you’re too big too listen or care what they have to say.
  • Affiliate programs. Join ALL OF THEM and promote them tirelessly. The universe rewards those who don’t do actual work but meticulously promote someone else’s work instead.
  • Write incredible content. You don’t need to learn how to write well or even have valuable expertise in a subject area you’ve spent decades working in or researching. Just copy popular blog posts and change up the words a little. Write about whatever’s popular and just embed tweets or quote others to fill in the gaps. The Internet is too big for most plagiarists to get caught. Oh, and here’s another blogging must-do: Make sure every blog post starts with, “How to…” and then lists a number. Examples: “How to crush your competition with 7 simple steps” or “How to do open-heart surgery over Facebook in 3 steps” or “How to seem like you’re offering value to your audience but really you’re just selling at them… in 16 steps”.
  • SEO is important. Tell your web developer you want ALL OF THE SEO. Tell them to install SEO immediately and if they refuse or tell you that doesn’t make sense, fire them and hire a developer that just says yes to everything you say. Dancing hamsters are back en vogue.
  • Create a Facebook fan page for your blog. Then create a separate Twitter account, Google+ page and Pinterest business page. Promote them on your blog and add at least 10 links to social sharing before, after and to the side of each blog post. The more social media buttons to share content on your site, the more people share. So fill ‘er up! Then promote each social network on all the other social networks. Because it’s easier to get likes/follows than it is to get readers.
  • Dominate conversions to gain passive income. If this doesn’t even make sense, stop trying to make sense of it. Just do it. Dominate.

The world is a richer and more fulfilling place when all the sleazy salespeople are thinly masked as content creators.

Let’s all win at blogging together!*


(*Occasionally, I write entire blog posts that don’t contain the words ‘dominate’ or ‘SEO’. Here’s one on the rules of business.)

Further Reading

What You Should Blog About

 — Hey. Hopefully you’ve quit your job by now and you’re ready to start to think about what you should start thinking about blogging about. …

Written by

Web designer & best selling author. Latest book, Everything I Know—http://bit.ly/eikbook