Notes on Getting Kids into STEM

High-paying STEM jobs can be the way out of poverty for students. In the past, students who lived in poverty may have taken jobs in manufacturing or other trades. Many of those jobs are disappearing, leaving workers back in poverty. STEM jobs, on the other hand, are everywhere, and the tech industry shows no signs of slowing down. Even as certain STEM trends come and go, we can expect to see the overall number of jobs in STEM fields increase.

So access is one thing, but inspiration is another. STEM, for all of it’s benefits, isn’t on every parent’s radar. One thing I give Elon Musk credit for – he’s made STEM cool again for all the people who wouldn’t care about STEM otherwise. Doesn’t mean he’s a good person and I have my own issues with the guy, but consider all the attention on STEM that’s happened since SpaceX started. It shows people DO think STEM is important, but it needed some rebranding. Musk and his efforts have gotten many members of the non-STEM-aligned portion of the population to pay attention.

Still, can’t leave STEM in Elon Musk’s, or any other rocket-owning billionaire’s, hands. Musk doesn’t care about STEM kids. Let’s face it, he’s a billionaire and his priority toward STEM kids is “how can I use you to make me rich?” We can and we should do better. How can we – the people who can’t afford to sponsor kids like Taylor Wilson and Jackson Oswalt – do better? How do we help kids get into STEM? It’s like Bon Jovi said, ‘you do what you can.’

How To Get Kids into STEM

Most articles about ‘getting kids into STEM’ recognize the value of 1:1 interaction and encouragement. Spending time. Modeling behavior. I don’t have kids of my own, but I still want to help. So as an author, I made a decision – I could write about anything but I want to do my part. I take inspiration from authors like Micheal Anderson. Like Anderson, I write stories the kids who were like me; smart, poor, no opportunities, and stuck in the mental poverty cycle. It’s not enough to write a STEM story and go “This is about STEM, you should love it!” You actually have to write STEM stories that kids think are cool. How do you do that?

The point is, that if you want to get kids into STEM, you have to make it work for kids. Not just silly science experiments – actual projects. Make cool stuff, blow something up, build something crazy!

Champion Your STEM Kids

Beneath those details, it’s important to recognize a truth: The most important thing you to do to get kids into STEM is to help them understand what STEM helps them become. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are powerful tools. Kids who come from no where, with no connections or help, can use them to change the world (Srinivasa Ramanujan, for example).

Think about it: One of the downsides of modern superhero movies is how the hero only emerges AFTER they get their powers. Peter Parker and the spider bite. TMNT before the secret ooze. Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit (honestly, could he have built it without Jarvis?). Hiroki from Big Hero 6 and Baymax. Over and over again – modern STEM-related movies say ‘you’re only a hero once some arbitrary event happens to you.’ That’s unfair to STEM kids. When you put them together, STEM kids change the world, but ONLY IF THEY KNOW THEY CAN AND THEY SHOULD.

Another limiting factor for STEM kids is how little nurturing they get, compared to kids in sports. America invested billions of dollars and generations of kids into playing sports. What have we gotten for our money? What if we fostered kids into STEM the way we do for kids sports? What kind of game changer would that be both for the country and humanity at large?

All of these points are why I told a story where those meek, mild STEM kids turn into geek warriors. Recruited into a technical academy the way you recruit kids to play football or basketball, they band together to take down their supersmart supervillain principal. The real message is ‘you don’t need special powers – you’re already powerful, the hero is inside of you.’ Take away the evil genius, Miramar Technical Academy is a powerful model toward building the next generation of titan technology.

And along the way, STEM forces you to develop a strong work ethic. You burn calories with your brain instead of your body in a STEM career. Blue-collar trades are hard work, and so is this – both career paths are important! Whatever a child decides they’re interested in, our job is to say ‘yes you can, and I believe in you!’

Do It For Them – Do It For Us – Do It For You

We’ve got many elder geeks who invested time in showing us how to do this, it falls to us to continue that legacy regardless of our circumstances. Now more than ever, we need to be the people we needed when we were younger.

We can help on a daily basis by keeping those kids in mind. Hear about a free computer? Tell them. Hear about a free STEM camp? Tell them. Internships? Opportunities? Resources? Tell them. Offer to help. “Do you know how to apply for a job? Let me show you.” “Do you know how to write a resume? Let me show you.” You can be that flashlight showing the way to a better future for that child and their entire family.

When it comes to STEM, some of those kids are going to get there regardless. Others are going to be barred at the gate through no fault of their own. We can open those gates in our own ways, enabling and encouraging them to use their innate talent to make the world a better place. It’s the modern version of ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.’

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk. Discuss This On Reddit

 

Cinderellavator – New Scifi Novel Draft

Cinderellavator - New Scifi Novel Draft

Rough night, but happy news. I got several hundred words so far into the new scifi novel draft of Cinderellavator. The first draft of anything is always exciting, and I’m glad I can share this news today.

Cinderellavator isn’t just a new novel, it’s the next step in my storycraft. With this project I used a character bible, story maps AND story cards. They help me build the overall structure of the narrative before I write the first word. Some of that work still needs to be done but it’s time to start. Like coding programs, you figure out enough of the design and then you let the design and work happen in parallel. This will help me end up with a better answer than I’d ever find on my own.

Meanwhile, had some interesting discussions over on Imgur about the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. I don’t have a 9/11 story to tell, but like everyone else it’s a pain on my heart and watching the old footage just brings it back. One tremendous missed opportunity from 9/11 was the answer to the question: “What does OK look like, and how do we get there?” Civilization never graduated from the hysterical ‘safety-at-any-cost’ mindset that allowed the powerful to harm the powerless and manipulate the ignorant.

What’s it like to write a novel where your protagonist is nothing like you? Stay tuned, I’ll have some thoughts about that later.

No Story to Tell

This happens every once in a while. Life, the universe, and everything else come together leaving me with no story to tell. I even went back into Google to find that one episode of Amazing Stories or The Outer Limits where the local soothsayer, required to give the king a new story every night, can’t do so. Fortunately for him, the journey to the story is the story itself, and his life is saved. Sadly, no weird, fantastical things are happening around the JA domicile. I’m experiencing the same grinding concerns and questions you are. COVID’s locked us all into a never-ending production of ‘Waiting for Godot.’ So while we’re waiting, let’s review what’s happened over this long holiday weekend.

– I got my Twitter account locked – yeah, that’s right: Twitter jail. I told the story over on Imgur and it turns out a lot of people were sympathetic to my dilemma.

– Got a COVID scare – turns out I was exposed to COVID, a vaccinated friend still got it, and exposed me to it, too. $130 later, I seem to be fine. I got my shot earlier this year and it seems to have worked. Get vaccinated, kids.

– Worked more on Cinderellavator’s story structure. I’ve spent weeks beating on the narrative structure with little Post-its until the plots all fit together. We’ll see how well this effort turns out

So as you can see, I’ve got no story to tell. I’m going to hang out over on /r/writingprompts – see if I see something that inspires me.

Write on!

PS – I did end up writing a small piece of microfiction – see what you think

‘All the Things I Could Not Say’ – Storytelling Power

I’m doing research on an upcoming blog post about storytelling tools but this video deserves a post of its own. Honolulu Civil Beat let a number of people share their story about personal relationships with mental illness. Mariko Chang is the Major Gifts Manager at Honolulu Civil Beat and shared her own story about her mother’s struggle with mental illness back in 2019. All she’s doing is telling what it felt like to have her mother robbed from her through schizophrenia. By sharing of herself, Chang is saying ‘All the Things I could not say’ and in this simple video clip you see the true power of storytelling. Watch:

The takeaway here for other storytellers and bardists is this: don’t overthink your writing, feel it. What are the things you couldn’t say? A storyteller’s power comes from saying ‘all the things I could not say.’ Everyone has a story inside them, struggling to get out. If you want to be a great storyteller, start by writing down those things you couldn’t say and finding a way to share them. That’s what I’m doing with my stories, and the rest of my life’s journey. I’ll talk more about this later, but wanted you to have access to this, too.

 

Sage Scifi 101A – Elevating Science Fiction

Sage Scifi 101A - Elevating Science Fiction

Beautiful sunny day in Eugene, so let’s not waste it on negativity even though there’s a million things to hate about Reminisence. Rather, let’s talk about elevating science fiction by embracing the concept of ‘sage scifi.’ If sages are the ‘wise fools’ of life, then surely science fiction is ready for some of that wise foolishness as well. Indeed, we’re in desperate need of some experience, judgment, and wisdom if this weekend’s latest SF ‘noir thriller’ is any indication.

Let’s break down what sage scifi means:

– When you refuse the ‘angry comic book nerd’ trope of scifi fans? That’s sage scifi

– When you see Disney is killing what Star Wars used to be, but you still support it for the new life it gives to thousands of actors and creators? That’s sage scifi

– When you boost the next generation of geeky kids diving into Dune or Asimov instead of gatekeeping them? That’s sage scifi

– When you see a movie that could have been better, but you know it’s still got solid scifi bones so you give it positive feedback? That’s sage scifi

– When you can be a scifi fan without being a scifi snob? That’s sage scifi

– When you see new scifi artists and authors’ work and you give them a boost because you want new stories told in new ways? That’s sage scifi

– If you know Battlestar Galactica got the science wrong, but you don’t care because it’s a decent show? That’s sage scifi

Yes, we need sage scifi. We need scifi culture that looks beyond the obvious, recognizes the emotional truths over academic truths. We need some science fiction sagacity.

Why? Simple. The old ways aren’t working for me anymore. Running around, hating on Star Wars? That’s old news. Burning calories over scifi minutiae with ardent ferocity, like we’re sommeliers and the fate of the world hinges on our opinion? Ridiculous. Cancelling SF actors, or hating the people that do? It hasn’t done much for me. If I had to encapsulate everything I’m trying to do, distill it down to a simple idea, it comes back to Sage Scifi. A genre, community, and universe full of expressive, thoughtful wit and verbal skill.

You can see it taking shape now. Think about Mark Hamill’s judgement when he talks scifi or anything else on Twitter. Or Chuck Wendig, Charlie Jane Anders, John Scalzi, Margaret Atwood, or Cory Doctorow. Yes, they use scifi to get through hard times, but they’re also the kind of people you want to get through hard times with. They think, they feel, they empathize, they ponder. I don’t agree with all of their opinions, but I can’t help but admire their spirit. I try to give back in the same way when I write.

Here’s what we get when we start moving toward sage scifi. Not only will this get us better science fiction, but think of the social benefits. Scifi as a community can begin lighting the way back from hysterical polarizing vitriol, modeling behavior for everyone else. Imagine what the world would be like if we approached important social topics with mature, reasoned consideration like Jordan Schlansky brought to Star Wars in a hilarious, improved bit for the Conan O’Brien show.

Look, I’m not saying to go full Spock on every aspect of scifi. Rather, we should spaces for intellectually-accurate scifi and other whimsical, playful stories without feeling like we’re betraying either. We’ve outgrown the 80s or 90s nerds who argued ‘I’m Team Star Wars,’ or ‘I’m Team Star Trek!’ Both franchises have gutted themselves to satisfy greedy, nihilistic studio execs and so have the MCU and DCEU. Well within their right, too. They reduced nerd loyalty to a simple cash transaction. What sage scifi is saying: Stop the insanity – start embracing a post-anger scifi universe where we don’t get fooled again.

When we become scifi sages, we can enjoy stories and say “that was cool, here’s what I would have done differently.” And then we can respond with “That’s awesome, write that story and let’s see how you do it.” Honest, iterative feedback to make a deep, textured universe like SCP has done for scifi horror. Wouldn’t that be a cool idea?

In the end, we wouldn’t have to run around saying “stop arguing” or “here’s what you’re wrong about.” Instead, we could appeal to our nerds’ better nature, diffusing the most scandalous scifi sparring session with a simple question: “What would a sage do?” We’d be back to jumping the hurdles of scifi, instead of being the barriers of each other.

Sound interesting so far? Join me over at Reddit – let’s come up with the rules of Sage Scifi together.

Are Space Elevators Real?

Are Space Elevators Real?

As I mentioned before in other posts about Cinderellavator, the story will take place around mankind’s first space elevator. You might be asking yourself ‘are space elevators real?’ Perfectly rational question, and fortunately for us, the geeks at New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology have actually looked into this. In a 2016 paper, they actually review the relevant physics, potential solutions, and future technologies that would have to exist in order for a space elevator to work.

First and foremost, a space elevator would do many things to help us on a global scale:

Everything that can be done with rockets can be done cheaper and with larger payloads using a space elevator [1]. Additionally, many missions that cannot be accomplished with rocket launches will become possible with the use of space elevators. The environmental impacts of launching rockets, including the fuel burned and the engines falling back to Earth, will disappear since space elevators can easily transport cargo and humans without major environmental concerns. Space-based solar panels can provide cheap, clean power to Earth’s surface. An increase in communications and research will arise due to the plethora of new satellites that can be launched from the elevator. In addition, space elevators will allow for relatively easy disposal of dangerous nuclear or toxic waste in the isolated vacuum of space. Moreover, the space elevator can lead to a realistic solution to space debris, a growing problem which poses a serious danger of collision for satellites and interference for future excursions into space.

Imagine a world without toxic waste, cheap solar energy, and easy access to the great space adventure. Total solarpunk, right?? But as cool as that sounds, there are some issues to consider:

“The greatest challenge of building a space elevator,” they say, “is the construction of the long cable required to support the climbers. There are few materials that offer even a possibility for practical use. Furthermore, a power system must be developed that will enable long-distance transfer of energy to the climbers. The deployment of the elevator will be a delicate procedure as well. Other complications include weather, atomic oxygen corrosion, space debris, satellites, radiation, and political regulation.”

What does that mean? It means that although space elevator technology would solve A LOT of space travel problems, they would also create a few more problems, requiring physical and people-oriented solutions.

I’m not going to quote the entire paper (It’s 20 pages long) but if cool, pollution-ending, geeky topics interest you, you’ll love to read the entire discussion. Who knows? You might be the one to come up with the answers yourself!

New Free Scifi Short Story – Last Message from Titan Six

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” is a quote incorrectly attributed to Einstein. But fish CAN climb trees – they just need to learn how! I spent my whole life feeling like that stupid fish, and writing scifi stories has forced helped me to learn how to become more than I am right now. Click here if you want to learn more about that journey. Happy to say I’ve taken another step on that path by releasing a new free scifi short story – Last Message from Titan Six.

This is a thrilling short story about the fateful consequences of alien contact. An Earth outpost sends one last message before it’s overrun completely: aliens. help. now. The ultimate question now becomes an unthinkable choice, to abandon the space station to prevent the aliens from spreading. How will they handle such a critical decision? The answer comes in this fun little short that you can now grab for free!

Get to it! Grab a Free Copy of this new free scifi short story – Last Message from Titan Six – by clicking on any of the icons below. It’s also in my Free Stuff catalog. Happy reading!

Apple  Barnes & Noble  Angus & Robertson

“Is Creativity Vital?” This TED Talk Answers So Many Questions

Do you believe in human creativity? Does art matter? A creative person would say ‘yes,’ but does anyone else care? I’ve struggled with those questions for a long time; perhaps you have, too. Happily, I found this TED talk by Ethan Hawk and it answers so many questions for me: Yes, creativity IS vital. Why is that true? Click play, and take notes. If you’re struggling to define yourself, find your voice, this ~9 soliloquy will make you feel seen:

As Hawke explains, through life is full of good times, heartbreak, ecstasy, sorrow, and victory. How do we process those emotions when they happen? Who do we go to to validate their existence and understanding what they mean? It’s not something you can find at the bottom of a whiskey bottle or in some pills. Believe me, I’ve tried. Run as far as you want, as fast as you can, life will bring you back to the lessons you refuse to learn.

But then it gets worse: Humanity as a species suffers from metacognition – we’re aware of being aware – and in that recognition, we need to know: Has anyone else ever felt this way? How did they get through it? What did they do with their experience? The answer to all of these world-changing, life-impacting questions is simple: This is why creativity is vital. We need a way to put those feelings, questions, and fears outside of ourselves. We can look at them, share them with others, and get answers we’d otherwise never get.

But creativity is more than art, as you’ll learn. Sometimes it’s being a leader, or a pioneer of discovery. Oftentimes it’s expressed in simple ways, like a web designer creating a logo or teachers making up a new lesson plan. Wherever your spark comes from, it’s important to recognize it and be willing to walk through that door. I started doing that several years ago when I started writing short stories and working on Mesh. While it hasn’t been easy to navigate the world inside that door, I’m infinitely better off because I did.

Yes, creativity is vital. I knew I knew that before, but this TED talk helps me put those feelings into words now. Very grateful I found this and I hope you enjoy it, too.

 

 

Don’t Be Yourself – Be Who You Want to Be

Want to hear something weird? It took me about two months to really figure out what the Cinderellavator story is about. As I’m following the story construction process, it became clear right away that I had a story concept, but not a story premise. More on the difference later. In a nutshell, though – the premise of Cinderellavator is going to be ‘Don’t Be Yourself – Be Who You Want to Be.’ Let’s talk about why that matters.

First – check out this GFY of a girl putting lemon (or lime) juice in her eye as part of an Internet video. Stupid, right? We line up to dunk on her for being ‘dumb’ but let’s be honest: how many of us HAVEN’T done something ridiculous for attention? The deeper issue here, and one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog post, is that young people worldwide are taught via social media: Attention = Success. Good attention, bad attention? Doesn’t matter. This girl has the attention of the world, and in a few years we might see her giving a TED talk entitled “What I learned by putting lemon juice in my eye” and the audience will applaud the lessons learned about ‘doing dumb things for attention.’

The message is loud and clear for millions of other teens like her – if you want to get ahead, you must stand out. How do you stand out when you haven’t grown up to be an Olympic athlete or child star, and your parents aren’t billionaires? Find ways to get attention. How do you get attention when you have no talent that can be turned into viral content? Do something stupid and film it! You see where I’m doing with this, right? The circular logic creates a culture that values outrageousness, and we’re making a generation of disposable clowns. If adults had any kind of ethical code, they’d be screaming to those kids: “This isn’t where your value is supposed to be found!”

Don't Be Yourself - Be Who You Want to Be

The problem is, most people stop at saying “Just be yourself.” That’s bad advice. Being yourself doesn’t help you ‘be valuable’ in life, and that’s what all those kids making viral videos are chasing after. You can’t make a career out of ‘being yourself.’ Or you can, but the Kardashians proved that you don’t want to be that kind of person. How can you ‘be yourself’ and ‘be successful?’

The answer lies in understanding the true equation of success: “Value:Attention::Success:Value.” When you find your value (your talent, your ‘why,’ the thing that makes you YOU) you’ll find attention. You’ll also find success, because you’re doing what no one else in the world can do! This doesn’t translate well to viral content, of course, but you don’t need to be viral to be valuable!

My next novel Cinderellavator is going to be about that journey for one young person. The larger point that I’m making to myself and to you, is that we should be working on being who we want to be. That’s how we’ll make it through the day, month, year, and life.

So this blog post isn’t just about Cinderellavator. The premise of the story is a message to myself, and also to you my reader: Don’t Be Yourself – Be Who You Want to Be. Failing to learn that lesson will sting worse than putting lemon juice in your eye.

Discuss or Argue About This on Reddit

Interesting Science Stuff: Empty Space is Not Empty

Nerds are lining up to dunk on this video, but I thought I’d share it. Interesting science stuff, like the fact that empty space is not empty, often germinates into interesting scifi stories. Watch the video, and then read the explanation below:

Here’s how it works, according to Professor Derek Leinweber: An atom is mostly empty space, but empty space is mostly not empty. The reason it looks empty is because electrons and photons don’t interact with the stuff that is there, quark and gluon field fluctuations. It actually takes energy to clear out space and make a true ’empty’ vacuum. This seems incredibly counter-intuitive but we can make an analogy to a permanent magnet. When at low energies, like at room temperature, there is a magnetic field around the magnet due to the alignment of all the magnetic moments of the atoms. But if you add some energy to it by heating it, the particles gain thermal energy, which above the Curie temperature makes their magnetic moments randomly oriented and hence destroying the magnetic field. So in this case energy is needed to clear out the field, just as in the quantum vacuum.

TL;DR – Empty space is actually filled with the energy it takes to make empty space. 

You could write some interesting stories in with these kinds of facts. Would aliens make use of this to attack Earth? Could those empty spaces contain portals to different dimensions? Would humans make use of this in their search for Faster-than-light (FTL) technology? The possibilities are endless, once you start thinking of them.

So yeah, it’s fun to learn interesting science stuff and I liked learning that empty space is not empty. I hope you did, too. Most of my science fiction stories start by reading about cool science discoveries. Take this opportunity to do the same, and let your mind soar!