My Holiday Gift to You: The Birth of the Dawn

Tis the season, and I for one am ready to celebrate. It’s raining in Northern California and supposedly we might get snow up here in the beautiful mountain that I call home. It’s been years since that happened, but in a year where I managed to write not one, but three novels, the Cubs won the World Series, and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I think anything is now possible.

I wanted to give you a gift--so I posted this picture of my cat. However, after some consideration, I felt that perhaps all of you out there on the interwebs deserved something a bit more exciting.

I’ve recently received a few messages from readers asking when the next eHuman novel will be ready. Again, I apologize for the delay, I got caught in Egypt 200 B.C. for about fourteen months, but work has begun on the eHuman Deliverance and I hope to get it out soon. One of my readers suggested that until I release the last book, I should consider sharing short eHuman stories. I love that idea and after thinking about it, I decided that for this holiday season, that’s exactly what I’ll do—give you the gift of Dawn.

Thus, I’ve posted a short story on Medium, originally published in Visions of the Future, a book by the Lifeboat Foundation.  It is titled, “The Birth of the Dawn” and is the backstory to her original Jump into an eHuman body. I wrote it years ago, then modified it for Visions of the Future and then modified it yet again for you.

Consider it my Holiday gift for those who have taken an interest. Whether you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Medium, are a regular on my Blog, have read the eHuman novels, or are just friends who follow me to help me out, every reader brings my writer’s life meaning. Like the dancer who makes the musician’s notes visual, readers make the characters in my head come to life. I appreciate you always and every day.

And I hope to bring you not just eHuman Deliverance in 2017, but also many more novels to come. In the meantime, here’s the link to, The Birth of the Dawn.”

I hope you enjoy it.

Protecting Your Neural Network in the Age of Hack and Blame

A few years ago, I found myself in the horrible position of having to tell a mother that her 12 y.o. daughter was posting pictures of herself in only a thong on Instagram. I knew this because I saw them, even though I wasn’t a follower of said child. The mother’s response was to accuse me of hacking her daughter’s account because there was no way the child would have set it to public.


The news of the past few weeks about the Russians hacking our election sounds eerily similar. From the left calling for the Electoral College to postpone their voting until an investigation is done to the right claiming Obama was the one who hacked the DNC server, few are talking about the real issues here — that few Americans truly understand how their behaviors on the network really function and that individuals are the ones responsible for their personal online content.

Thus there are two networks that need securing here. First are the computer networks, which requires an understanding of the technology in order to take the measures appropriate to secure the machines as well as the messages, and second your own neural network, living inside of your head, that needs to actually think first before it posts, sends that email, or communicates in any way on the internet.

“But hacking is illegal…” Of course it is, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Speeding is illegal too and until every message sent over the network is capable of being monitored by an AI of vast computational magnitude, one should assume that hacking will happen. There’s tons of information out there about how to secure your networks, and both Hillary Clinton and the DNC are perfect examples of how not to do it. The SOS should NOT use a personal email server to send work related emails and honestly, neither should you. Work emails should be done on your work computer that ideally resides on a highly secured network behind a firewall. Personal emails can rely on the security of Google, Yahoo, etc. if you wish, but trust me, everyone is watching you there, from the service provider to the NSA (who can ask for your data without a subpoena) to the bored high school hacker who’s out to have a good time proving how stupid you are, to yes, other governments. The internet is global, so anyone can tap in. Listen, unless you’re encrypting everything on your computer using Tor, (for those of you who are inclined see: you should assume that what you put out there and store on your devices is for all to see.

So yes, the SOS and the DNC should have protected their servers to the max, and they didn’t. Other servers that need the highest of security in the political process are all computers that count votes and store voter registration information. Conducting an investigation to see if any of those nodes were hacked is important, but I don’t see that being called for.

Hmm, I wonder why not?

Conspiracies aside, I suggest that everyone pick up a copy of, “Networking for Dummies” and read up on it. NOW. Basically your computer/smartphone sends and receives packets of information. This packet has a header that identifies who you are, and some data, like an email message or a picture, as well as something to identify who the message should go to. Hackers do two key things to mess with the process; they intercept that message and read/copy it, or they insert data into messages, like viruses, and send it to you, often to gain access to what is stored on the device, like your nude photos or plans to take over the world. Regardless, they can crack most encryption, thus read your data, and they can also mess with the addressing mechanisms to hide their identity.

Sometimes you just can’t play online. For example, many famous authors aren’t allowed to write their manuscripts on networked computers. No wireless cards are even installed. They print off the final copy and hand deliver it to their editors who then scan it in to edit on a non-networked computer. Their printing computers are on a closed network. This is all necessary because hacking the next J.K. Rowling screenplay is a great coup if you can pull it off.

Thus, hackers are jerks and yet like STD’s, you need to protect your computer networks if you want to play online and if you don’t, it’s your own damn fault.

Which leads me to the second network that needs securing: YOUR BRAIN! This remarkable organ, just like a device on the network, both sends and receives data. You don’t have to put anything on the internet, nor do you have to believe anything you read, but you are responsible for both what you offer up and what you do with the information you absorb. This is your responsibility and yours alone. Complaining that Russia was responsible for the way voters reacted to the revelations from the DNC servers is like complaining that a college admissions officer had no right to revoke his/her offer to you after seeing your racial Tweets or a picture of you peeing on an unconscious person in your public Instagram feed.

Did Russia hack the poorly protected DNC servers? Perhaps. Did they force DNC staffers to email each other about their plans to use media outlets friendly to HRC to publish articles to discredit Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate, in order to manipulate the thoughts of the primary voters? No. Did the hackers write the emails that suggested they use those same contacts in the media to prop up “pied piper” candidates like Trump and Cruz in order to influence the Republican primary voters to select a weaker candidate? No. The hackers sent those emails to WikiLeaks who made them public. From there it was up to the public to decide whether or not to let this revelation determine their vote.

Thus, in this age of hacking as well as blaming others for any fallout that you might have caused online, I think we all need to take a step back and protect the most important neural network — our minds. We can do this in two important ways. First, we can protect what we send out onto the internet by thinking first and behaving well. Not sure what that is anymore? Check out the 10 Commandments, or the 8 Fold Path, or even the Golden Rule. If you post unto others what you’d like done to you, then you’re already in a good place. If you write an email about how weak your boss is at his job and he finds out, well, then, I told you so.

Second, we can protect our neural network from the data it receives on the internet by sharpening our logic and discernment. If what we read scares us or incites anger, lust or other such passionate responses, then we should be wary and set the article, email, or post aside. Take a breath. Take a bath. Then read it with a critical mind. Doubt it even more if it resonates strongly with those negative emotions. Research it further before you accept it as valid information for you to use to make a decision. 

For example, perhaps the revelations that the DNC effectively manipulated both the Democratic and Republican primaries via their friendly media contacts leads you to vote for someone other than the Democratic candidate. That’s your choice. You might think this is just how the game is played and they played to win and not be bothered at all. That’s also your choice. Perhaps you read on Reddit that the Podesta emails are the smoking gun proof of a Hillary Clinton child-abuse ring and you’re going to arm yourself and take matters into your own hands and investigate it. Or maybe you read that and decide it's crap. It’s your choice on how to act and no censorship law will protect you from your own behavior.

You’re the one responsible for what you do with all the data you send and receive online and it’s up to you to protect your brain, the original neural network, from being hacked.

The Fake News Cycle: The Real Bubble We Should Be Talking About

Oh #Pizzagate, what a perfect storm you are. So many people are surprised, yet many others have seen you coming for months. Unlike a hurricane, which announces its arrival quite obviously on any radar, #Pizzagate, as well as the violence that has erupted against minority groups since The Donald’s Election, has been coming at us quietly, shifting and changing shape, making it hard to predict exactly how online trolls would materialize and strike, but knowing all the long it was storming towards us.

It is now clear to most Facebook users, and the MSM in general, that the online fake news is the seed that starts the cycle. I’ve been blogging now for three years and since the beginning I’ve tried to establish valid online news sources from which to base my writing upon. This isn’t easy, but it is worth the time. There are many ways to do this, and since The Donald’s election, various authors have written guidelines to help us discern real news, such as these suggestions from NPR. This is great and it will help those of us who are seeking to communicate our ideas with one another do so without embarrassing ourselves by passing along an article that claims the Pope has endorsed Hillary Clinton when in reality, he merely suggested that those who build walls to keep others out aren’t the Good Samaritans Jesus was talking about in the Gospels. But normal people validating their news before sharing it on Facebook will NOT keep crazy men with guns from showing up on our doorsteps if God forbid, we’re ever a part of that fake news article.

There is a cycle to this madness. Call it the Fake News Life Cycle. Call it the Cycle of Virtual Anger Bubbling Forth unto Reality. Call it whatever you will, but it is time that everyone begins talking about it and understands that what starts as click bait is only the beginning. When I first began blogging, finding real news wasn’t hard, but in the past 18 months the amount of crap I’ve had to sift through on Facebook and Twitter has tripled. I’m not kidding. There’s a reason for this and it’s called anger. Anger that has been trolling the internet for years and now is having its day. Fake News providers have given this anger the justification it has been waiting for.

Most of those who procure Fake News online are hacks or writers who just want to make a quick buck. They buy fancy URLs that sound real, like the American Freedom Project or Democracy in Action. Then these folks search the internet for the latest WikiLeaks, conspiracy theory or other such exciting news item. They often search Reddit and 4chan, fantastic places where anger and fear dance daily whipping up the flames of righteousness. But these Fake News hacks will take any story and turn it into click bait. A perfect example is to create the headline that the Pope has endorsed Hillary, then write a little ditty about it, use one quote out of context and not even give a link to the actual speech made by the Pope that they’re quoting. This leaves it to you and me to find that speech and read it, only to find Hillary’s name isn’t even mentioned in it. Is there truth that the Pope was most likely suggesting that his flock NOT vote for The Donald? Yes there is. And that’s the kicker, these Fake News stories are almost always based on some strange fact** that the Fake News owner twists to make into a story with a headline that sends people a clicking and sharing.

But here’s the thing, most of these guys are just that, guys and gals just making money from our stupidity. They’ll even admit it. Take these two, Paris Wade and Ben Goldman who created an empire built on Facebook shares by the time of the vote, influencing millions with rumors, exaggeration, conspiracy theories and lies. Are they actual conservatives who give a damn about any of this? No, they’ll readily admit that they write the stories that get the most hits and in their experience, it’s the angry headlines that do this best. Conservatives and liberals alike will share the shocking piece, one side to give justification for their anger against the liberal movement, the other side to give justification to their belief that all conservatives are idiots. Thus time and again a Fake News creator will tell you that the conservative sites they host get WAY more clicks than the liberal ones and that’s the reason they focus there.

Hence stage one, the Fake News website owner writes some sort of conspiracy theory in a click bait story, puts it online, gets paid and sits back all smug. Now we begin stage two of the Fake News Life Cycle—sharing. It’s one thing to click and read, but if the article is well written while also striking a chord with our deepest insecurities, it will be shared on Facebook and Twitter. This is the beginning of discussion, but if it remained on these two platforms exclusively, it probably wouldn’t gain steam. The Fake News needs to be digested, discussed and internalized in order to grow into a real conspiracy worth following. In spite of all its failing when it comes to dealing with Fake News, Facebook has long had moderators who remove posts for all sorts of reasons, like because a woman’s nipple is showing while she nurses her newborn. Thus a story like #Pizzagate does get discussed on Facebook, but not with the deep venom needed for an armed man to confront the story head on. Twitter has failed to moderate content as well as Facebook, but with the 140 character limitation on tweets, feelings can ignite, but deep discussions that build the conspiracy are difficult.

Enter stage three of the Fake News Life Cycle—Reddit and 4chan. I myself hang out on Reddit, but there’s no way in hell I’ll go near 4chan. Call me a wimp, I don’t care, the place is a virtual empire of destitution and degradation. My eldest son once remarked over dinner that the darkest minds of the internet rule 4chan and I don’t doubt that. Reddit however, sort of reminds me of iVillage, where long ago, at the turn of the century, I met other mothers to discuss nursing, cloth diapers and entered the battle of SAHM vs. Working Moms. At least that’s what it’s like on /r/rad-decentralization, or /r/futuristparty or even /r/BasicIncome. Those are the places I hang out, but /r/the_donald is where #Pizzagate festered and grew into the nightmare you’re now hearing about in the news.

There are many ways to describe the Trump Trolls who have created, moderated and supported /r/the_donald, but I’ll just let Mashable writer, Damon Beres tell the story.

“If you haven't heard, #Pizzagate is the hashtag used by trolls spreading the unhinged, bogus claim that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring running out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. Several employees of that pizza parlor received death threats as a result. It's exactly the sort of steaming pile of trash that Reddit's uniquely positioned to cultivate—it's just surprising it took so long to get here… 

“…All of these concerns fold into the catastrophe we're dealing with now. As Gizmodo reported Tuesday, the site has now been overrun by Trump-loving trolls who've successfully turned the system against itself, so they can now occupy prime real estate on Reddit's r/all page—the page which displays the most popular topics from across the site. And that's where the real problems begin.”

One subreddit, taking over the entire site. These are the Trump fans that have come out since the election to abuse those they’ve been hating together in the safety of the virtual world for years. On Reddit and 4chan they virtually stroke one another’s egos and play a game of telephone with every conspiracy they can find online. And the rise of Fake News gives them the “facts” they need to justify their rage, their hysteria and their mania. Reddit CEO, Steve Huffman tried to intervene, first by banning /r/Pizzagate and then by modifying user comments, creating yet “gate” controversy, called #spezgate. (what the hell was he thinking???) Regardless, the banning just helped #Pizzagate grow in size as it moved over to, you guessed it, 4chan. But in the end, what exactly can Huffman do at this point? Anger is nothing new and the entire Reddit system enables the worst in us.

I do think liberals need to think beyond their bubble to understand why the Rust Belt voted the way they did in Election 2016, but with #Pizzagate exploding onto the streets the way it has, the time for shaming the Ivory Tower elites is over. The increase in hate crimes, the appearance of an armed man at a pizza joint to personally investigate Hillary Clinton's child sex ring, and any other arrogant, angry outburst by the winning team has nothing to do with job loss or the failure of the Democratic Party to see the pain in the white middle class. Those may have cost Hillary the election, but the Fake News Life Cycle, from the hack writer to the angry anonymous man behind the computer screen discussing #Pizzagate on Reddit with other very angry people, is why America is witnessing irrational, xenophobic violence on the streets. Years of internet trolls taking their anger out on women, minorities, immigrants and anyone else that pisses them off has created a world where violent virtual reality trolling now roams our very streets. This is the real bubble that has exploded.

All of this is the perfect storm that has led to the culmination of the "Age of the Internet Troll" with the election of the first Twitter Troll for President of the United States. 

Isn’t that swell?

**as for the grain of truth in #Pizzagate, google Bill Clinton and the Lolita Express... yet how this led to the Podesta/Clinton/Comet Ping Pong Pizzaria/child sex traffic ring story is just the mere brilliance of the vitriol so loving tended on Reddit and 4chan. 

A Thanksgiving Trinity

I love the number three, which also includes the various multiples of three. Six is the number of the honeybee. Nine is three times three, what could be better? Stories come to me as trilogies, trinities, trifold, triplets…

This year I celebrate my third anniversary as a published writer. On November 26, 2013, eHuman Dawn was published in Kindle form by Story Merchant Books. This was also when I wrote my first blog on technology and consciousness titled, "Somebody's Watching Me." It appears that while everything has changed in the world, some important issues remain the same, and the American civilian surveillance/Snowden saga is still unresolved. 

But my life as a writer started six years ago, when I decided to leave my job and use the time I had been gifted to pursue my lifelong dream of writing. Since then I have written and published a sequel, eHuman Deception and both are now available in paperback, Kindle and in book stores! In addition, I re-edited eHuman Dawn to remove all the various typos as well as began work on the screenplay adaption. Lastly, I just completed a brand new trilogy, traveling back in time to the Great Egyptian Revolt of 200 B.C. to tell a story that Greek historians literally chiseled from history, one monument at a time, in order to hide the fact that native Egypt almost ripped control from the Ptolemy Empire. Researching and writing this saga was one of the best experiences of my life.

2016 was quite a year for unexpected plot twists. It began with the passing of David Bowie, saw the Cubs win the World Series and ended with Donald Trump as our president-elect. It feels like all the rules of life have vanished and now anything is possible. I’m filled with both horror and elation in such a world. Perhaps writers are well suited to the destiny of uncertainty. For six years I’ve been chasing a dream that most would call impossible. But is it? Six years ago I had an idea about a dystopian world where everything is a device on the network, including humanity, yet I had no concept yet of Ankhmakis, the last native Pharaoh of Egypt, nor his story. I stumbled upon it while researching something else and suddenly I found myself in a whole new world. The imagination works that way—you never really know where the muse will take you next.

There are many people who will try to sell you a straight path to publication, to writing that best-selling novel. My journey has told me otherwise. From the plotline to the acquisitions editor, and every step in between, the path of storytelling is one of twists and turns, moments of inspiration, and weeks of nothing. Several rejections followed by a chance meeting at a conference or a friend who mentions your work to a colleague who happens to have a list of editors seeking historical fiction. Hell, last September, I sat down at the computer with every intention of writing the final eHuman book when Pharaoh Ankhmakis demanded I tell his story instead. What followed was a year of work totally unplanned, but wholly worthwhile.

Nothing in life is linear and in a world where the Cubs can win the World Series and a Twitter troll can win the presidency, honestly, I think anything goes. That said, I do have a plan for the next year, and of course it is threefold. First, I hope to finish the screenplay for eHuman Dawn and actively pursue selling it. Second I will finish eHuman Deliverance, the last in that Trilogy. And lastly, I will to sell the Egyptian Trilogy to a major publishing house. If you know any agents or acquisitions editors looking for historical fantasy/fiction/romance, send them my way. I’d be eternally grateful.

Mostly I’m thankful for the life I’ve been given. Living as a storyteller is vulnerable but it is also perfect. I wouldn’t want to spend my days any other way. To those of you who have helped me on my journey, especially my cheerleaders (specifically my dear friend Regan and my husband), editor (the great Stephanie Diaz who helped me shape the Egyptian Revolt into three solid novels) and of course every single reader, I send you thanks and gratitude. Without you, my stories would just be for me. You’re the reason I’ve been a published author for three years and I’m looking forward to sharing my stories with you for at least thirty more. 

Moving Past the 2016 Election and into the FUTURE...

I voted today and in spite of all the cynicism of my fellow citizens, I enjoyed it. I love going to my local polling place. I live in the mountains and have the luxury of knowing the people who work there, bumping into neighbors and never, ever having to wait in line. We may be the middle of nowhere, but our polling place rocks. Every vote of mine felt good, even the presidency. Those of you who follow my blog know I’m pro third party, so yes, I voted my conscience today, but more over I also got to vote for a US Senator, US Congressperson, State Assembly and TONS of ballot measures (I live in Cali—we had over 17 propositions!)

Voting is always enjoyable. It’s only my attachment to what others choose to do with their votes that cause any pain. So today I’m doing something different—rather than stress about who YOU voted for, I’m celebrating my votes, because they’re mine and I have that freedom.

Truth is, this has been a horrible election not only because our politics are broken, but so is our press. The anxiety that has been drummed up by the media is in my opinion, reaching a critical mass. It’s also incredibly dangerous. What are they thinking? In a world of Twitter and FB, it has never been easier to get people angry and afraid. This makes us incredibly vulnerable as a group. It also makes it very clear that our democracy is in danger. We no longer have a free press, instead we have a fake press, where every FB article needs to be verified and checked. I’ve been blogging now for three years and I use FB to gather articles both for research and to share with my followers. This used to be easier, but during this past election cycle something crucial has become very clear—the amount of fake news websites has grown dramatically. So have the fake memes. Anyone can Photoshop a quote over a picture and most people don’t cross reference. Finding the truth in a pile of lies is only getting harder, and to me this is a huge threat to our democracy.

We can’t get around this without censorship and that’s not going to solve the problem. There are however some deeper changes that we can begin to demand in order to protect ourselves from the predatory media and the politicians whom it serves.

1)      Overturn Citizen’s United.
Get the money out of politics and half these fake news websites that have popped up this cycle will be unfunded. They’re mouthpieces for SuperPACs and they need to go.

2)      Build the Third Party movement.
We need new parties focused on the environment, workers and technology. I’ve begged Libertarians and Progressives to step up and take the lead here (See this blog and this one) and it’s still up to us. We can no longer afford to spend another election cycle arguing about abortion, gays and guns. Religion must be removed from politics and only the Libertarians can force the GOP’s hand. We can’t waste our time anymore focusing on private sexual choices. Let women own their bodies, let people sleep with whomever they want and let families organize themselves on their own beliefs. The time has come to instead address advanced technology and how it affects the economy, environment, infrastructure and our educational system. We must also reduce the military presence overseas. Democrats, you’re not off the hook here. I see little or nothing in the Democratic Party Platform that solves the climate crisis, technological unemployment, genetic advancements, or reducing the military. Both Red and Blue have made it clear they can only focus on guns, abortion and gays in order to manipulate our fears to get us to the ballot box, thus the time has come for new parties to step up and be the adults at this very important time in history.

3)      Streamline the Primaries
We’d take the power from the media if only our election cycle were shortened. Other first world countries can manage this, why can’t we? All parties should follow the same rules and cut the cycle down to 8 weeks for the primaries and 8 weeks for the general election. Here’s an example proposal: No one can declare or promote themselves as a candidate until March of the election year. Every party takes 8 weeks to hold debates, media events, etc and then all voting must take place at the end of May and all on the same day. Conventions can be held in June, each party can have their own week and spotlight in the media. And then the General Election cycle can begin. Why not? Only the media wins in the current situation, where the process often starts 2 years in advance. In an age of social media and the internet, all the current primary system does is sow the seeds of hate, distrust and partisanship. It’s time to stop the nonsense.

4)      Allow Third Party candidates at the General Debates
If we can handle 13+ people on the stage during the GOP Primary season, we can have four candidates, or more, in the general election debates. I realize we don’t want to crowd the national stage with untested candidates at this point in the election, but that’s what the primaries are for. Any candidate who has gone through an official primary and come out the nominee for their party should be allowed to debate. If we do number 3 above, then the process is even easier.

5)      Remove the Electoral College and institute run-off voting.
This would allow your second choice to matter and remove the issue of the “wasted third party vote.” Again, many other first world countries can handle this, and so can we. For a great tutorial on run-off voting and how it works, see here.

It’s obvious that our system for electing officials needs an overhaul. The time is now, as we’re developing new technologies in communications that are disrupting the media. Our electoral system needs to meet us in this new world of instant news and information sharing.

After today let’s not argue about who is president. It’s already old news. Instead, let’s join forces and get involved in changing the system. Together, we can do it.

Hiring an Editor is the Best Thing I've Ever Done

I just completed my sixth novel in six years.

Yes, you read that correctly. Six years ago I quit my job and began in earnest to tackle my lifelong dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've penned six novels and a screenplay. I've sold and published two of those novels, eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception, and am currently polishing and preparing my historical fantasy trilogy for submission to publishing houses. Over the years I've read a lot about best practices for authors just starting out and while I still have a long way to go before I consider myself an expert at this writer's life, the one thing I've learned above all things is the importance of new authors to hire an editor before submitting any manuscript for consideration.

Many people ask me why I would spend the money. Shouldn't I just write the novel and then have the publisher worry about editing? Absolutely not. The most obvious reason that an editor helps find all those grammatical errors we just can't see ourselves while reading our story for the thousandth time. Too many typos turn an agent off. Then why not just have a friend do it for you? There are many reasons why this isn't the best idea, even if the friend is an editor themselves, but the most important one is that friends have a hard time telling you that your writing might suck. They make the best readers and cheerleaders, but when it comes to getting down to the nitty-gritty and looking for the places where your plot fails, or dialogue that is too cheesy, or those aspects of the world you've built that are unclear, nothing is better than a professional editor whom you've paid to become your partner on your journey towards publication.

I used a writing service for my first novels but this time around I found my editor on Upwork and it has been the best experience on so many levels. Here's a quick list of why I will ALWAYS pay for an editor for this stage of project, even when I'm totally famous and have publishing houses knocking at my door (insert winking emoji here).

1. An editor finds those errors you can't see. I already mentioned this, but it's true. During my editing phase I  found hundreds of errors. My editor found hundreds more. I'm a world builder and I love to research, plot and tell a story, but have several grammatical deficiencies. Commas and verb tenses being two of my weakest links. Rather than take yet another English class and hope that somehow I turn into my Auntie Susan, (the greatest grammar queen I know) I find having an editor on my team much more practical. A book may have just one name on it as the author, but in reality a team of people bring us our stories. My team consists of myself, my cheerleader friend, and now, a wonderful editor.

2. An editor asks the hard why? My cheerleader friend who read my novels first asked questions as well, but the editor has the freedom to go deeper and address the lesser aspects of the story. Which scenes are weak? Why did I write what I did? Was that conversation really important? She let me know when plot points seemed out of character or unnecessary to the story arc. My latest trilogy is historical fantasy and my editor found dates and events that weren't consistent throughout the story line as well as names for historical sites that differed from book to book. Did I mean "The Valley of the Kings", or "The Valley of Kings?" She provided clarification of the system of magic I've created and verified that indeed it was consistent, sweeping and believable.

3. An editor can also be a cheerleader. I knew my best friend liked it, but really, would anyone else? The editor was the second person to read the trilogy and while her critical feedback was fantastic, her praise is what gives me the courage to continue. A long time ago I went to a pitch workshop and a man presented his story to the audience. It started off with a great western plot and I was totally into it, until the last line, where he mentioned a child born inside of a pumpkin who would save the day. What? How did he get from the wild west to a savior born inside a pumpkin? Since then, I've used the term "pumpkin child" for any of those plot points that really don't belong. I had a lot of them in my early days as a writer. Being a work of historical fantasy, there was a great possibility that these novels would contain a passel of "pumpkin children." Hiring an editor to give me honest feedback was critical. When she read the trilogy and loved every aspect of it, I knew it was "pumpkin child" free, which now gives me the courage to go forward and submit it to agents. As matter of fact, her final words for the project were exactly the ones I needed--she said I hit it out of the ballpark. When a friend says that, I glow. When a total stranger with editorial experience who reads hundreds of novels in a year says that, I know I'm on the right track.

4. An editor teaches you. In the end, each time I have a novel professionally edited, it is like a basic grammar class. I do learn what my weaknesses are and I try to improve them. The first novel I wrote had over 1000 errors in it. This time, each novel had about 100. Next time, it'll be even better because when an editor makes a correction over and over, it becomes obvious and I make sure I don't repeat the error in the next novel. For example, in this trilogy I used the word sigh so much, it's actually unbelievable. I'd had no idea until she pointed it out, over and over again. Why so much sighing? Perhaps because the voice inside of my head sighs constantly in bewilderment at the state of the world around me. But my characters certainly didn't need to sigh six times in a conversation. How did I not see that? Who knows, but my editor did and in the process of correcting it, I discovered all sorts of new ways to show disdain. I'll never be an editor myself, but I'm a much better writer than I was six years ago, and my work with professional editors has been key to the learning experience.

So if you've written a novel and are gearing up to submit it to agents, please, please, please spend the time and money with an editor first. Going to self-publish on Amazon you say? Then please, please, please spend the time and money with an editor first. Trust me, they are the partner every storyteller needs to bring more magic into the world.

Calling All Parents: Don’t Let Calculus I Be the End!!!!

In a recent article published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), author Maggie Kuo wrote,

“Female college students are 1.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to leave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) after taking the first course in the calculus series, new research finds. The study, published last week in PLOS ONE, supports what many educators have observed and earlier studies have documented: A lack of confidence in mathematical ability, not mathematical capability itself, is a major factor in dissuading female students from pursuing STEM.”

Even though I’ve been fairly busy coding a conversational AI and trying to figure out just what it means to be a CTO in a Silicon Valley startup, I’ve honestly thought about this almost every day. Just how can it be that one class, one simple yet important class, would drive any students from a career in science, technology, engineering or math? And why would females be more likely than men to do this?

The article went on to explain the study behind this theory and it has the data to back it up. Since then, I’ve read many different articles and opinions, all offering up solutions to academia, while also trying to figure out the female brain. After spending a bit of time mulling it over, I realized something very important: I’m a female, I struggled with the first calculus course in college, and NEVER once did I think it meant that Computer Science wasn’t for me.

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to pursue Computer Science and applied to three Big Ten schools (I grew up in the Midwest and loved football, so Big Ten it was.) I ended up at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN merely because they sent me my acceptance letter first. That was the extent of my college application cycle. I also had a bad case of senioritis and despite my father telling me I was being a fool, I dropped pre-calculus and went math free my last year of high school. I loved writing software, but didn’t like math. You see how already my narrative is different?

Fast forward to the next fall and I failed the entrance exam for Calculus I. Failed it. I had to take a remedial math class for computer science majors, which was basically the pre-calc class I should have taken in high school. Worse, because I wasn’t in Calculus I, I couldn’t take the first computer science course in the sequence, CS 180, and instead had to take a FORTRAN class with the IT students. Better yet, NEITHER of these classes counted towards my computer science degree. Basically, I was already a semester behind and I hadn’t even started college.

Yet never once did I think I should quit or change majors. Why in the world would I give up a career in software just because I wasn’t a genius at calculus? The thought never occurred to me. Instead, I took the remedial semester and entered Calculus I, as well as CS 180 in the spring and aced them. The remediation set me up for success. It enabled me to become a stronger student. Four years later, I graduated on time and headed out to work for Motorola. I’d forgotten about the whole thing until I read Kuo’s article. Now I’m wondering why I was so blessed, not because I chose CS as a degree, nor even for the chance of remediation, but blessed because I didn’t consider it a failure. Was I embarrassed?  A bit. But walk away from my CS degree? Never.

Now, I don’t consider myself special, but obviously the idea that anyone would quit a STEM degree simply because Calculus I is a pain in the ass doesn’t equate in my mind. And I don’t think this is a result of academia coming to the rescue, but a direct result of my upbringing.

The state of your mind is what paints the reality around you. Something is boring, hard, interesting, easy, or logical based on your viewpoint. Somewhere along the line, our kids are being taught that math is hard. Or only for special people. It also appears that males are better able to overcome this idea and push through, even if they’re not that great at it themselves, yet females take it personally. As if a lack of skill in calculus means you won’t be a good scientist. That’s absolute nonsense.

The issue probably lies somewhere between societal bias and poor math instruction in our schools. There are plenty of articles that make suggestions for improvements in these areas, but in my experience both society and the academia are slow to change. There’s really only one place where girls, and boys for that matter, can be taught that math is for everyone and that a love of science isn’t determined by one’s ease with higher mathematics—the home.

Yes, home is where the heart is, and home is where the future scientists of this world are born. It matters to me that more women enter computer science, not because I love it, but because this is the career of disruption. We’re in the middle of the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the end result will be what our children make of it. If most of our women, and many of our males, avoid technology because they see Calculus I as a deterrent, then I see a much bleaker view of the future.

The current crop of Silicon Valley hotshots isn’t too impressive when it comes to using technology to improve human lives, but that topic is for next week’s blog. Right now I want to share a few things that parents can do to help their daughters get past the Calculus I gate and into the rich and rewarding world of science and technology.

1.       Starting 5th grade, get your girls to play hacker/math minded video games.

The first time kids start to hate math is 5/6th grade. I call this Wall Number 1. Honestly, this is completely reasonable because who really enjoys converting mixed fractions to improper fractions and then subtracting them with denominators as different as night and day? Oh, and include borrowing in that, will you? Yuck. Everyone, except those in love with numbers, hates it. Yes, schools could improve the process, but this is the time where parents need to encourage their kids to not judge math as horrible and instead to see it as the practice of teaching the mind to solve puzzles. Puzzle and logic are the keys to science careers, not irregular fractions.   How to help them believe in themselves? Get them to play video games that use math in a not so obvious way. This is the perfect age to do so. Games like Minecraft, Portal Two and “else Heart.Break().” Many girls like these games, so encourage them to play! This is the age when my dad gave me my first computer and I taught myself how to code in Basic. But today’s children can use beautifully written software to play with mathematical concepts in a real way, in addition to the horrible decimal to fraction lessons. Yes, they still need to learn math in school, but now is the time for parents to help them understand that math is not boring, rather it can also be filled with story, drama and problem solving. Click here for a list of hacker/programming types of games.

2.       Starting middle school, teach them to code

You may have done this sooner, but for those parents who have a girl who’s interested in science, get her to code by eight grade. Why? Because this is just before Wall Number 2: Algebra II—the second mathematical course where many kids fall out of the system. Algebra II isn’t easy, but if you’ve had them playing Minecraft since they were ten, the abstract math course might not feel so horrible. But more importantly, now is the time to teach them that good programming is independent of being super smart at math. Should you study math if you wish to be a part of the scientific community? Yes. But do you have to love it or be a genius to code well? No. When I was in 8th grade, Apple donated several Mac II’s to my school as well as the money to hire a teacher. As a decent math student, I was invited to take part in the afterschool program and I loved it! I continued coding in Basic all the way through High School, until I took a Pascal class from Sr. Mary Newhart, the sister of the one and only Bob Newhart. (Yes, this is sadly the closest brush of fame I’ve ever had.) It was an all girl’s class, and even though I didn’t even take pre-calc because math bored me so much, I aced programming.

Puberty is the time to let girls know, that success in programming doesn’t mean you have to ace math. Instead it means you must be able to see connections within systems, to follow the problem down the rabbit hole to its solution, and put the pieces of the puzzle back together. Is this mathematical thinking? Yes. Is it Algebra II? No.

Encourage your science-minded daughter to take a programming class by age 12. If there aren’t any at school, send her to the Alexa CafĂ© summer camp program, then send her to the other ID Tech camps, or anything similar. Girls Who Code is also a great resource. Use summer to be a time of exploring her mind. Take it into your own hands and show her that programming is more than Algebra II.

3.       Encourage them to take AP Calculus as seniors, but don’t make the grade that important

I know this is hard. College is so difficult to get into and many are tempted to just avoid any classes that might make the GPA go down. It’s too bad you can’t take an AP class as pass/fail. If your high school has that option, then go for it. If not, then encourage your daughter to take the class her senior year, even if it risks lowering her GPA. If she’s applying for a STEM related degree, the college will want to see it in her course schedule anyway.

Have her take it, but don’t force her to sit for the AP exam, unless she’s really gung ho. Do whatever you can to support her. Teach her now that her grade in this class, unless it’s a complete failure, doesn’t reflect how great she’ll be as an engineer, or a food scientist, or a neurobiologist. Taking it now will help prepare her for Calculus I in college, there’s no way around it. Every science degree demands it and for good reason. The study of higher mathematics shouldn’t be reserved only for the brightest among us. Everyone deserves to study it, if not to understand the fundamentals of matter and nature. Furthermore, scientists need the mind training—but you don’t need to get an A in it. Probably not even a B. Again, grades seem to make a millennial tremble with fear and our current generation of females tends to be more perfectionist than in the past, but don’t give in. A “B-“ in AP Calculus will be the thing that enables your daughter to go into her first year of college prepared and ready to study. She can get through that Calculus I requirement with ease and then blow on by to the good stuff. There’s no reason she can’t.

So don’t give into the fear. Encourage her to go for it. Get her tutoring if she needs it. Do whatever it takes to show your daughter that she’s more than that grade, that instead she’s a critical thinker, and has every right to pursue a career in science and technology, even if she doesn’t love math.

SapientX Auto: A New Demo!

I haven't written a blog in a long time. That's because I've been busy on three important fronts. First, I've been editing the screenplay adaption for eHuman Dawn and I'm happy to say that my agent says it's getting closer with each edit!

Second, I've been editing my latest novel, Song of the King's Heart. Nope, it's not the last eHuman novel, I'm sorry. I had to go back in time, to 200 BC, in Egypt during the Great Egyptian Revolt against the Greeks to document the rise and fall of the last native Egyptian kings before I Jump forward to write eHuman Deliverance, the final installment of my scifi trilogy.

But the third thing I've been busy with is my new job as CTO for SapientX, a startup looking to create truly conversational AIs that will bring the human-machine interaction to the next level. Here's a demo to show what that might look like. I can't wait until my car can talk to me, can you? I'm combining my love of technology with my skills in creative writing to create an AI that will dialogue with you in a whole new way. In the absence of true consciousness, back story and authoring will take the stage alongside clever engineering. If you're interested, check out the SapientX website.

Here's to being busy creating new and interesting stories, whether for your machines or your movie screen!

The Future of User Experience Is Conversational

“We have to understand how to break the gap of the language of the machine, which is intelligent, and the human, which is also intelligent. It's almost that we have to be able to speak the same language or to try to understand each other.”

We are developing some seriously powerful algorithms. Daily, our machines march up and along the intelligence curve, figuring out patterns within large amounts of data, telling us the best routes to take to avoid traffic and managing our health files. The future is already here—we are swimming in artificial intelligence.

Yet our user experience doesn’t seem to be keeping up. The human-machine relationship is still awkward and screen based. Yes, UX development has enabled our internet experience to go from a text based burden to a virtual wonderland, however the recent improvements in AI require a different approach. It has become very clear that in order for us to take the next leap in our technological age, our machines need to learn how to talk—and talk well.

Siri is an early prototype and she improves with each release. Alexa is also a step forward. However, while each of these AIs can take commands and give a pleasant, even sometimes quirky response, they’re not truly conversational. What our machines need are personalities that not only speak to us, but give humans a sense of well-being. We don’t truly trust our machines, they feel like black boxes filled with strange magic that could destroy us if only they wanted to, and this is because our user experience is lacking in the conversation department.

If we ever want to truly integrate AI with human life, we’re going to need to look at the user experience in a whole new way. Rather than have a web portal to show people around, machines will need to have a personality that leads us through dialogue.

Enter Chatbots.

Chatbots currently exist primarily as fun toys and gadgets floating around the web, but soon, every product will need one as its user interface. Take the truly hands-free automotive experience. Right now the onboard software for most cars includes a navigation system, stereo and Bluetooth to access the mobile device of the driver. While we can give verbal commands to each of these applications, we still have to manually select buttons in order to operate them. Want to hear your voice mail? You need to be in the correct mode, which usually means looking down at your device or a screen! This can only lead to distraction.

What if instead, when the car powers up, a Chatbot begins the experience, asking you how you are and where you’d like to go? The Chatbot would then give you the navigation towards your destination as well as road conditions and could even let you know if any of your friends have checked in on FB in locations near your route. The next step is telling the bot to play your voicemail and then what radio station you want, or even launch a playlist in Spotify.

This seem too futuristic? It shouldn’t. This technology exists, it simply requires us to think of the user experience as conversational. Voice and speech recognition software have made leaps and bounds the past few years with regards to quality. The next step is creating conversational AIs that can handle commands as well as converse with us, providing a satisfying human-machine interaction.

The need to rethink our user experience as conversational became clear to me when I was researching conversational AIs while writing my second novel, eHuman Deception, in which a main character, the AMMA, is an AI. I wanted the human characters in my story to have satisfying dialogue with her, not only because that’s what my readers would want, but also to showcase that the human-machine relationship doesn’t have to be dreadful. It can actually be quite satisfying. As my research progressed, I realized that while Siri and Alexa are quite wondrous, they’re not worthy of being characters in a novel, which to me means they haven’t yet passed the true conversational test.

The next generation of conversational AIs need to be novel worthy characters that lead humans to believe that they’re trustworthy. Not so they can take over the world, but so that we can truly partner with our machines to remake the world of the 21st century.

And good conversation is key.

Good thing I'm so naturally chatty :-)

Protecting the Cultural Commons: From Open Lands to Open Internet

"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I absolutely love backpacking, from the backcountry of the Klamath National Forest, located just west of Mt. Shasta, to the Black Sands beach in Kings Range National Forest. California is full of wild places and spaces to explore in freedom and privacy. To be out in nature, free from all civilization, is a gift.

Long ago, this was the way of the world. All our land was open and free. Cultures moved from one place to another, following the herds of bison, or the warmth of the sun. Like birds, humans were able to explore, hunt and move with the seasons. All land was shared and the idea of owning a tree or a lake was absurd.

Until approximately 12,000 years ago, when farming began. Soon land became someone’s domain to care for and till. A tribe would share a plot of land, but not with other tribes. This gave way in time to kings owning lands and soon hunting was prohibited to commoners. Only the royals, and their court, could roam the land freely and enjoy its wonders. Where land once was sustenance, killing the animals now became sport. Fast forward to today, where virtually every single piece of land is plotted, owned and private. Walking across the nation without the use of roads is impossible without trespassing in some way. Indeed, what was once considered insane is now our reality: every tree is owned. Every part of nature is a commodity.

None of this is lost on me as I hike the Pacific Crest Trail with my husband, or scale the Nevada Falls in Yosemite. I know that this part of land is mine to cross because legislation made it so. I have Theodore Roosevelt to thank for this opportunity to explore the valleys, mountains and rivers of this beautiful country. In 1883, Roosevelt arrived in the badlands looking for some game to hunt. Unfortunately for him, he was too late. The last herds of bison were gone, having been decimated by hide hunters and disease. As he spent time in the region, he was alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land and it’s wildlife. He also knew that it was only due to privilege that he had access to the most beautiful places in our country. Thus, when he became president in 1901, he used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land.

Thanks Teddy, I needed that.

In our day, these commons are important. They are places where we can be free with nature and ourselves. They provide a space where all are on common ground and wealth and politics mean nothing. But these are not the only commons worth protecting.

The digital world is also a cultural commons. We’re at the beginning of this age, creating and making a virtual world where at the moment, the playing field is open. All who can gain access to this commons are welcome to express themselves and share their content. The internet is a virtual commons similar to the national forest system, which is our natural commons. At the moment, we’re like natives, roaming freely within the digital world we’re creating.

But our freedom within the digital commons is threatened. Miners, farmers, kings and elites all want a share. They want to own the hardware that provides the broadband, control it, and give it rules and fees that they can make their own. What is now open and accessible to all is slowly being eroded by business interests, not unlike the business interests that cordoned off the land, rendering it unavailable to those who once used it for food and solitude.

The time has come once again for a president to step up and use his power to protect a most glorious heritage. The internet, and all the technology springing forth from it, is an inheritance and we must act to show we’re worthy of it as a nation. Like Roosevelt, President Barack Obama could create legislation that keeps net neutrality in tact. He could protect it from pure economics and instead see the use of the internet as more than yet another aspect of our world to turn into a commodity.

Like nature, the internet surrounds us and provides us with an opportunity to share ourselves with others. It’s a cultural commons, a place where stories live and news is reported. Allowing businesses to own it and turn it into only commerce is like logging a virgin forest—we can do it, but we loose a bit of ourselves in the process. If we had no free, open land, we’d be nothing more than caged animals.

If we have no free, open internet, we’ll loose yet another frontier for human expression. Roosevelt saw businesses in his day ruining the land he so loved, changing its landscape and virtually destroying entire species of animals. I don’t think it’s a leap to say that something similar could happen with the digital landscape if economic needs are the only ones we cater to.

If Roosevelt protected 230,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency, how many gigabytes of public bandwidth could Obama protect?

For the good fortune of our nation, and the cultural commons we need in order to share in our humanity, I think it’s time our leaders stepped up conservation efforts in the digital landscape. For if they don’t, business will claim every byte, and soon trespassing wil

In Anticipation of the California Primary--Why Bernie Sanders is a Great Choice for Futurists!!!

Senator Bernie Sanders in Santa Cruz, CA 5/31/16. Photo cred Jillian Chelson

This week I had the honor of attending a small and intimate Bernie Sanders rally in Santa Cruz, California. I was impressed to say the least. Bernie is every bit as inspiring in person as he appears in his advertisements. And while his nomination from the Democratic Party still seems like a longshot, given the super delegate phenomenon, winning California is key to the longevity of his progressive movement.

“As goes California, so goes the nation.” We’re the western edge of civilization. I’ve lived here now for nine years and I must say, there’s no place else like it in the entire country. California is leading the way on environmental stewardship, health care, film, music, entertainment and of course, technology. Silicon Valley is where the future is born. With the California Primary in only a few days, I thought it was important to re-print an article I wrote a few weeks ago about why futurists should consider Bernie Sanders for president.

Futurists are often seen as Libertarian or Republican, but many of those I’ve met here in California seem to also be quite progressive. They care about technology as well as the health of the planet. They want to automate our lives, but are concerned about technological unemployment and seek alternative monetary systems such as universal basic income.

California is filled with people with an eye to the future, and it’s to them that I now write my plea—next week you’ll have a choice, Hillary or Bernie. Which will you choose?

Government’s job is to protect the people. Most think that only means foreign policy. But to this I’d add investing in the infrastructure that enables our society to thrive and navigate the huge economic changes of the Information Age. For make no mistake, what domestic policies we chose to implement right now will determine what type of digital world we live in. One in which all of our society benefits from the technological advancements, or one in which only a few hold all the keys and the rest are left to fend for themselves. Because like it or not, while the rest of America is fighting about gays, abortion, guns and nationalism, technology is progressing and trust me, none of those things will matter one bit in the next evolution of humanity.

After looking at all the candidates, I came to a surprising conclusion—that an old socialist from Vermont is actually the best candidate at this point in time when it comes to furthering our advancement as a technological society. He might not even understand half of what’s happening in Silicon Valley or NASA, but his platform contains some important things for all futurists to consider. And yes, many futurists do make more than $250,000 a year, so they might not like to hear what Bernie has to say. But before you vote merely to keep your taxes lower, please, if you care at all about the technological advancement of our world, consider Bernie for the following three reasons.

1.      Bernie is against nuclear war and for reduced military spending

We are now at the point that technically, we could annihilate this planet. That we haven’t yet is miraculous. We are officially our own greatest threat. Nuclear disarmament is more important than ever, as well as the reigning in of military spending and investment in artificially intelligent drones and soldier-robots. In his article in Politico Magazine, Lawrence Hobbs says this about Bernie, “Twenty-five years after the Cold War, there is…no need to spend a trillion dollars to modernize our nuclear arsenal, and Sanders has even pledged to cut $100 billion in nuclear spending over the next decade. Instead the United States should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Sanders told me he would push for, in order to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, for both military and civilian purposes.”

Read more:

As a very practical man reminded me on FB thread, “Avoiding nuclear war is the most important thing we can vote for.” I’d also add that reducing the amount of money spent by our government on all technologies of destruction is a part of that. Bernie is absolutely for both of these things.

2.       Bernie is for universal health care, inexpensive higher education and has even said that a universal basic income is something to consider

If all our citizens have access to health care and education as well as a basic income for food and shelter, then our technology is freed from the economic constraints that currently hold it back. Why are we still using dirty coal? Because of jobs. Those in the industry won’t let go because they can’t care for their families without their income. This is but one example. But imagine if they didn’t have to fear. If instead when one technology makes an older one obsolete, the worker won’t starve or end up on the street, but instead will continue to live and have care and be able to afford to go back to school and retrain to the new technology? What a different world it would be if when a life-saving technology is invented, all can have access to it because our health care system works in our favor, not for profits. Any technically advanced society would use its ingenuity to solve the problems of homelessness, hunger and health, and Bernie’s policies can be seen as a path in this direction. It will take a lot of hard work for us to move from our profit-driven economics to one where technology is used to provide the most basic needs to all of us at the least cost, but the time to start is now and Bernie’s campaign is forcing us to begin the discussion.

Why would a futurist care at all that everyone is provided for? Because technology is intimately linked to a work-less future—one in which automation will eliminate millions of jobs, with nothing new to replace them. This means an unemployment rate never seen before. To me, it’s a matter of national security that we ensure ALL our citizens are cared for and that our humanity is sacred and worthy of such an investment. Too many unemployed and impoverished people, and America spirals into third world status. Bob Marley put it so well, “A hungry man is an angry man.” Within thirty years we will either have a plethora of hungry, angry men, or we’ll have the infrastructure in place to ensure health care, food, housing and education for all. I’d rather remain a first world country than resist helping one another.

3.       Bernie is not affiliated with religion

This is pretty huge. There’s never been a real contender for the American presidency who wasn’t affiliated with Christianity. I want to be clear, I’m not an atheist and do have a spiritual practice, but I also believe that organized religion is behind many of the dire issues we face in our world. Most wars are fought with a belief that we are agents of God cleaning up civilization. Apocalypse politics are practiced both within US foreign policy as well as within terrorist groups such as ISIS.

In addition, religious fundamentalism is generally against technology. Scientists throughout the centuries have been silenced by those whose Gods don’t approve of their findings. This is a problem that we can no longer afford to tolerate. Humanity can and will destroy the planet if it continues to operate under the concept of Divine Manifestation. The separation of church and state ensures liberty for all. The freedom to practice a religious devotion of your choice without fear of being burned at the stake. The freedom to practice family planning and birth control (if you’re a woman). The freedom to pursue science, not with wild evil abandonment, but with rational, moral and logical eyes and without the fear of oh, yes, being burned at the stake. That our leaders still have to pass some Christian God litmus test should no longer be happening in the 21st century.

A technically advanced society hasn’t lost their wonder and awe with nature, the cosmos or even the divine, but they have lost their need for religious dogma that controls their lives and tells them how to live.

I know, Bernie isn’t perfect and I wish he would have run as a third party and not within the corrupt binary primary system. But for futurists, he’s actually a very good choice. He’s the only candidate who has respect for the harm and destruction of the military industrial complex as well as organized religion in our world. Combined with his desire to use our technology to wisely care for all of us with regards to education and health care, I think he’s the one to help us take the next steps in excellence. This is not creating a nanny state—rather Bernie’s policies help us prepare for that time when our technology takes us into the post-work future. If we ignore these very important issues, we do so at our own peril.

Learning From Nature to Shape the Future

At a Transhumanist conference in the Bay Area, one of the attendees stopped by to chat with me. During the conversation, he noted that my biography was very strange.

          “Spinning, raising goats and chickens, homesteading, these things don’t sound very Transhumanist or futuristic to me," he said.

          “Understanding nature and the way it works is the most powerful way a Transhumanist can shape the future,” I replied.

I then went on to explain that while we can learn a lot from our technology, in reality, most technology directly interacts with nature and by understanding the way the world works, we can become better designers and inventors. We humans are known to try and force our hand upon nature in an attempt to bring order to what appears to be chaos in our minds, but this impulse isn’t logical. This way of thinking is what leads a scientist to invent plastic bags without ever understanding the environmental impact they would eventually have on our marine life. Thinking that we’re above nature and don’t need to understand it, gives us the false sense that we know better, yet when the hurricanes come and destroy the levees, we’re left wondering why.

I took up my homesteading hobbies as a direct compliment to my technical education. I knew how a radio system worked, but I didn’t fully understand how life itself worked. Learning how to knit a sweater from animal to end product taught me so much—how goats behave, what they need to eat, how to shear them, card the fiber, spin it using a rather elegant, yet ancient technology, and finally knit it. By the end I truly understood why we invented the machines we did to make this process so much easier. Spending time with nature in this case gave me a fuller appreciation of our technology.

By spending time in nature and learning to do things for ourselves, we learn the necessity behind the invention and we grasp and appreciate our technology in entirely new ways.

Yet there’s another reason to become intimate with nature—it can show us solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve. Nature has certain cycles and systems within it that we as humans can mimic. After all, we are a part of nature ourselves.

Some people believe nature is chaos. Others believe its order. I’m of the camp that nature fluctuates between the two. There is chaos and then it tends to order. Then back to chaos. Then back to order. Take a bee hive. When it swarms, the bees go flying out of the hive in a messy bunch, loudly buzzing and scaring most humans away. They flood the sky in complete chaos. And then, something amazing happens as they begin to swirl around one another and what was once frantic becomes an organized funnel, similar to a tornado, as they follow their queen to a tree and form a perfect ball around her. Then they wait, as quiet as can be, until their scouts find a home and they fly off once more.

Chaos to order. Order to chaos.

We fear change and this is often what holds us back technologically. Our imaginations are capable of seeing what needs to be done, what new technology or process could be developed, and how we can bring solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But we fear change and chaos so much, we often march at a snail’s pace when it comes to implementing our big changes. Yet we managed the agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution.  We can navigate change as a group.

We’re now entering the technological revolution. At the beginning of each of these stages, we live in chaos. Roles, work, family structure, governments, everything is in play. The type of leaders needed to bring about the true information age are very different than the leaders we’ve had. Yet we keep electing people with a 19th century mindset because we fear the change that’s happening around us. Why the 19th century? Because that’s when the industrial revolution truly hit its high point. Society had fully integrated the factory based economy and life was good. But guess what, like nature, we’ve moved past that stage.

Society now is falling apart precisely because it must in order to integrate the information age economy. Until we get there, we’ll experience pain. But when we’ve made the change, things will settle into order and a whole new way of living will become natural to us.

This is what living in nature has taught me—that it’s useless to turn away from chaos. It’s going to happen, structures must break down. Yet there’s the promise of order right around the corner. Everything in nature works this way. The redwood was once a little seed that underwent extreme chaos to form a root and eventually become a tree. Yet for two thousand years after that chaotic event, the redwood is still standing in an orderly, peaceful manner.

We will transition to the information age and with it will come many new opportunities. The changes on the way won’t be easy, and many will go kicking and screaming. However there’s a more logical approach—accept the change that is part of evolution, imagine solutions, technologies and opportunities, and turn to nature to show the way to order once more.

Capital Lust, Not Capitalism, is Destroying the Earth and the Economy

I don’t like the word capitalism, but not because I’m against the free market. Open trade and markets provide wealth and raise the standard of living for the majority of people in democratic societies. Free markets also allow the exchange of ideas and innovations without the meddling of governments or religion.

No, the reason I don’t like the term capitalism to describe free enterprise is because the term itself narrows the focus of free enterprise on capital, which is both the money needed to launch a business, as well as the money generated by the endeavor. Capital is of course important, without it, there would be no enterprise. But business doesn’t run on capital alone, no matter what modern Wall Street tells you.

For a free market to truly work, there are two more areas to consider: Labor and Land.

No business functions without labor. Whether machines or people, the free enterprise system needs workers. These are the folks who take the big idea and make it real. No invention has ever seen the light of day without labor, and often large amounts of it.

In addition, most businesses need raw materials, which come from the land. They also need a place to house their business and that too requires land.

Therefore the free market needs three things to thrive: Capital, labor and land.

The news is full of examples of how capitalism is failing us and the environment. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example of this. Why would Shell let this happen? Will the reason for the spill be similar to the BP debacle where it was shown that they’d skimped on maintenance to enhance the bottom line? Then there’s the famous Foxconn manufacturing in China, where all of our iPhones are made and workers make$1.85/hour yet Americans spend $399 to own the phone the workers so painstakingly make shiny and beautiful at the cost of their health, lives and dignity. Or the 1,100 workers who died in Bangladesh in 2013 making clothes that sell here in America for hundreds of dollars, but for which they received less than $2 an hour and in the end lost their lives.

I can go on and on with examples. Steel mills shutting down. The loss of the middle class. Shipping jobs overseas. Technological unemployment. All of these point to a failure on the part of our economy, but is capitalism to blame?

What if Capital Lust was to blame?

Capital Lust is the obsession within the business community to focus solely on the profits at all costs, to the detriment of labor and land. Capital Lust is what drives a company to reduce benefits, or cut back on safety measures, or lower wages, or dump toxic chemicals into the water rather than clean up their waste, so that they experience continuous profit increases. Capital Lust is the worship of capital over all else.

And unfortunately, Capital Lust is what rules the global economy.

How did we get here? Business owners have always been greedy. Money has a way of bringing out the worst in us. However I think a more modern form of raising capital might be the issue today—The Stock Market.

“Stock is a term used to symbolize an investor's ownership in a company. Those who own stock are commonly called stockholders or shareholders. As a shareholder, an investor theoretically owns a percentage of everything the company owns or owes. The company's profitability, or lack thereof, determines whether its stock is traded at a higher or lower price. While trading of debt and commodities has its origins in the Middle Ages, the modern concept of a stock market began in the late 16th century.” 

Stocks literally paved the way to the new world and financed almost all of the trade ventures of that time. Eventually, traders in London in 1773 took over a coffeehouse as a means to physically trade stocks between the companies, founding the London Stock Exchange. In 1770 traders in Philadelphia would do the same.

Stocks as a means to raise large sums of capital gave us the Industrial Revolution. With this form of investment much technological and social progress has been made. There is no doubt that as a means to supply cash into the free market, stocks are truly important assets.

But what about shareholders? With time, shareholders have demanded more and more profits from companies. Stocks are assumed to always increase in value, exponentially. No one wants to be the one who says, “Well, we’ve hit the limit. Profits can’t rise anymore so stock prices will remain steady.” No one. Every company has to continue to increase in value. There are a few ways to do this—increase productivity, increase price, increase market share or decrease expenses. In a world with finite resources when it comes to labor and land, eventually the opportunities to increase diminish and the only way forward is to decrease expenses.

Shareholders now govern the actions now of the company. Since most CEOs are paid via stock, they too want to see the share values rise. So do the traders. So they manipulate markets. They lobby for laws to allow them to take on shadier investments, they work with bankers to increase credit within the market place to give the impression that increased consumerism is occurring, even though wages have been stagnant for decades. And finally, they create hype and bubbles to give them a momentary abundance of capital, and then cash out just before the bubble bursts.

Stocks have encouraged new forms of Capital Lust within our modern market. Stocks are longer pieces of paper that you can exchange with another person, and instead are traded in microseconds by artificial intelligence programs called algorithmic trading systems written by brilliant software engineers affectionately nicknamed quants. Thus stocks are more virtual reality than anything else, yet stock prices govern the lives of many.

By ignoring labor and land, modern capitalism isn’t really a free market. Companies are deemed too big to fail in this situation and thus, true competition is vanishing. In addition, workers are losing rights daily while the environment is polluted in new and more elaborate ways as we mine and harvest the Earth for our precious metals, oil and gas to run our industry.

What to do? Here’s a strange idea, how about we make some rules about what sort of company can be traded publicly on the NYSE? This law would state that only those companies who have fair and safe labor practices and that follow all EPA guidelines for land use, NO MATTER WHERE THEY OPERATE IN THE WORLD, can seek capital in the form of stocks in any publicly traded stock exchange. Imagine it.

These sorts of companies already exist. We call them socially responsible companies and many investment firms have offered Socially Responsible Investments for decades. I myself rolled my 401K into a SRI seventeen years ago. Do I make 10% each year? No. But they do get returns around 6% and I haven’t lost a dime either. Even during the 2008 crash, my funds increased in steady value because none of the companies in the fund participated in the subprime derivative mess. When my husband saw how much better my SRI funds performed than his regular funds filled with polluters and abusers of workers, he also switched.

In reality, companies that care for land and labor are safer bets in the long run. Their growth might be more realistic and the returns lower on average, but they’re still able to make money while also caring for land and labor. SRI companies are balanced free market enterprises.

In a world where all sorts of laws are passed to make the acquisition, manipulation and hoarding of capital easier, why not demand that companies treat labor and land with dignity if they wish to play the capital game? Show us a business plan that cares for labor and land while still making a profit, and you can use the stock market for access to capital. Too hard to do? Hogwash. Use those impressive MBA degrees to figure out this puzzle.

And if a company is found using Chinese slave labor, or one of their factories crashes on their employees’ heads, or a pipeline spills methane into the air for months, their stock can be frozen until they’ve remedied the problem, not only in the now, but also in their business plan going forward. Oh, won’t the shareholders hate that?

I love the free market and hate to see it abused by Capital Lust in this way. Greed will always exist, which is why we need government to protect us at some level. By restricting access to the stock market to only those companies with a balance between honoring labor, land and capital, we just might see a whole different future.