Category: Interviewing

On Being A Social Media Ninja: Tips From Mark Schaefer

We live in the future. While I’m still waiting for my hover car, there are many other examples I could give you about the amazing technical advances that make me feel like we have tremendous opportunities at our finger tips, if we just know how to harness their power. One of the ways I think we are already living in the future is with the power of social media, particularly Twitter and blogging. While I’m relatively active on Twitter and try to keep this blog up to date and interesting, my skills in this arena are far from the super stealth ninja moves of many of the people who have seized the opportunities to network and build an audience through social media.

taotwitterThis semester I am taking a life sciences communication class on social media. I recently had an opportunity to learn from one such social media ninja, when my class interviewed Mark Schaefer (@markwshaefer) over Skype. Schaefer, who was recently named by Forbes to a list of the top 50 social media influencers and named by Tweetsmarter as Twitter user of the year for 2011, is a successful marketing consultant, professor and author. For my class we read his book, the Tao of Twitter, and then got to ask him questions about how to make the most of the Internet, and get our foot in the door in social media.

The main thing I took away from talking with Schaefer is the importance of having substantial content that supports the online persona you build for yourself. It is one thing to just be active on Twitter and networking, but if you don’t have content to support what you claim to stand for, you aren’t going to reach a significant level of interaction. He said people that really have the power on the Internet are the ones that have content that they are creating and moving through the system, which I feel like I’ve definitely witnessed in the science writing community on Twitter. The core of my Twitter experience thus far has been reading blogs, and sharing links to interesting blog posts written by others.

Another thing Schaefer shared that I found interesting was that there is value in blogging even if you don’t have a high number of followers (that you know about at least, because as I’ve said over and over again I don’t know where the hits on this blog come from). I am winding down my time here at UW, and am starting to look for a job. I thought he really made a great point when he said that a good blog can be a great selling point in an interview, and can make an interview last much longer so a potential employer gets a better sense of your skills and ability. He said that even if you don’t have many people reading your blog, you can still show a potential employer or colleagues what you can do, what you can write, how you think, and what you are passionate about. I knew that employers would see my blog, but I hadn’t really considered what a great opportunity (or shortcoming, depending on how you see it) the blog could be.

A few other tips I took away from Shaefer include:

  • You have to figure out what you offer, then you can figure out how best to try to communicate and network online.
  • Show your whole social media footprint in one place, link to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn so employers can easily see what you do.
  • Twitter is a global experience so you should be culturally sensitive, and remember that even on an individual level customers may consume social media in different ways.
  • Find your own originality and your own voice, don’t try to just mimic what you see other people doing online.
  • Show critical interest in things that are important to you, be a part of something you actually care about.
  • Commenting on other people’s blogs is one of the best ways to get involved in a community online.
  • The best Twitter profiles will tell what a person wants to gain. You have to put up what you are after so that people can offer genuine helpfulness (I already made this change!)
  • Personal connections turn into business connections, so including some personal tweets can be seriously useful.

I started this post by talking about how we are already living in the future. I can’t think of a better example of that then the fact that I got to discuss how to improve my involvement in social media by Skyping with one of the most effective Twitter users out there right now. This is the way of the future, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to someone like Schaefer. My goal for this semester (aside from being a ninja) is to comment on other blogs which is something I never do, and really know that I should in an attempt to improve commenting and interaction here on Science Decoded and on Twitter. I need to start talking to people, rather than just talking AT the Internet. It would also be nice to, you know, find a job. Think I can do it?

My First Video Shoot

I am working on my last project for my integrated media and storytelling class, which is going to be an iMovie, with some added pictures and audio. Today I went and shot the video and pictures, and I just wanted to share a few of the things I learned along the way. I’ll be posting the finished project once I get it all edited (I promised my subjects I’d put it up here) so stay tuned, but in the meantime:

  • It is harder than you’d think to make sure you aren’t cutting off a subject’s head in your shot
  • I drink too much coffee to hold a camera steady
  • Sometimes the B Roll contains the real gems
  • People are comfortable in a group, but get them alone and they can freeze up
  • Fluorescent lighting is no one’s friend
  • A rolling desk chair can be a fun, and useful prop
  • I still hate how my voice sounds when it is being recorded
  • The smaller the camera, the less people realize you are shooting them
  • Sometimes getting the shot means getting down on the floor, or up on a table
  • I’m really tall, I’m really nice, I give good hugs, and I’m like totally old enough to have a husband by now. (My subjects might have been more interested in me than the science, but the interviews were great!)

Now here’s a little hint about what shooting my last project entailed, and what my topic will be:

I love my blogging buddies!

Covering The Wisconsin Science Festival

In my integrated media and storytelling class this semester our first project was to cover an event using pictures and audio, and combine it into a slideshow. I chose the first Wisconsin Science Festival at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

I had some upload problems trying to convert from a SoundSlides project into something uploadable but I finally got there. I edited the pictures in Photoshop and iPhoto, and edited the audio using Audacity. I lost a lot of photo quality in the conversion, but please watch and let me know what you think. This was my first foray into multi-media so any feedback would be much appreciated.

Robby the Robot & The Power of Movies

Working on an article about robotics and biomimetic design, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is about robots that can be so enthralling. Due to the portrayal of robots in the entertainment industry I think that many of us view robots more like the humanoid servant than a tool that humans can use to accomplish a task. But what is it that has ingrained in us the idea that the “robot of the future” will serve our every whim?

The portrayal of robots in movies and television is one of the most persuasive and widespread mediums for disseminating the idea of the robot servant. While I was interviewing robot researchers and connoisseurs, Robby the Robot from the movie Forbidden Planet kept coming up as the prime example of this ideal mechanical man. But, I had never heard of Robby. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had heard of Forbidden Planet – but I decided to look into just what is so special (for so many people) about this one movie robot.

Robby the Robot was developed in the late 1950’s, more my parents era than mine (which is firmly rooted in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.) Designed for the 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet, Robby wasn’t the star, but he certainly stole the screen. He is one of the first examples of a robot that broke into mainstream recognition – and had lasting effects on how the public viewed robots.

The movie’s human star is Leslie Nielsen, playing commander J.J. Adams – sent to a strange planet to check up on a colony of scientists that have stopped communicating with earth. The plot is kind of twisted. I mean, it involves monsters that are completely powered by the human brain, given that a race of aliens figured out how to enhance the capabilities of the human brain so that it could hold the monsters. Twisted.

Robby is the servant of Dr. Morbius, the only scientist from the original expedition that wasn’t killed under “mysterious” circumstances. As a character in the film, Robby is actually very important – he is the first being on the planet to meet Adams’ expedition, and comes in throughout the film demonstrating his domestic abilities and his loyalty to his masters. He provides comic relief (learning how to make bourbon) and ultimately ends up a hero, short circuiting rather than following his master’s orders to murderous ends.

In searching YouTube for footage of Robby, I found this great history of his role in the film and how he became a cultural icon – even making it into the robot hall of fame (yes, there is such a thing!)

What I find most interesting about Robby the Robot is the anthropomorphic nature with which he was designed. Anthropomorphism is giving non-humans, human traits. For example, when we say that our dog feels guilty – guilt is a complex human emotion, and even if dogs do experience certain emotions they probably don’t experience “guilt” as we humans would define it. Another example (and probably my favorite) is the 1987 classic movie the Brave Little Toaster. The title says it all – talking toaster. Toasters don’t talk, let alone go on adventures that require bravery. Yet, by putting human characteristics onto a metal box, we end up with quite the heroic toaster.

The idea that Robby is part vacuum cleaner (the head) part washing machine (the body) but with arms and legs that can clearly be defined as parts of the body helps explain why Robby is so appealing. Because he “looks” like humans we understand how to gage his movements or gestures and what they mean. It makes the robot seem more real.

The fact that the robot was really a suit worn by a human shows just how human-like Robby was, despite being so complex in design and engineering. I think the comment made in the video clip – that finding out that Robby wasn’t really a working robot was like finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real – says it all. Robby set a standard of expectation for a generation of children/teens about what robots could and should be.

I think that this image of the robotic man has continued to permeate pop culture, so that even today more than 50 years since Robby was designed, we all still want a robot butler. It can be hard to accept that even though Robby seemed so real, it was really just a suit worn by an actor. We still don’t have robots so human-like that they can think for themselves or act the way that Robby does – and we probably won’t in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that today’s robots aren’t still useful and cool in their own right. We just have to be realistic about the capabilities of engineering – and learn to accept that a robot like Robby still exists only in the movies.

Not Who You Say You Are: Is "Ambush Journalism" A Good Tactic?

From NPR CEO Ron Schiller to Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker these days no public figure is safe from so called Ambush Journalism. The LA Times recently ran an article on what seems to be an emerging trend – the gathering of information by pretending to be someone else. Essentially, misleading the target of your investigation by not disclosing who you are, or what information you are after and then publishing the video or audio recording.

In the case of Ron Schiller and Scott Walker the public devoured these recordings, causing if nothing else embarrassment and a lot of hoopla. But is this method of trapping people when they think they are off the record effective? The LA Times’ James Rainey argues that it isn’t, because even though the recordings aren’t exactly flattering they are A. easily manipulated and B. don’t always produce the intended result.

Rainey calls ambush journalism, “secret recordings and ham acting designed to draw out the worst in others.” In the case of Ron Schiller, Rainey (and NPR itself) argues that the tape show the NPR fundraiser towing the line between the organization’s journalistic activities and their fundraising activities by insisting that that NPR doesn’t bend its coverage to suit financial donors. According to Rainey, the tape succeeded in taking down Schiller because he also made statements about liberals being more intelligent and the Republican party being full of gun-loving extremists.

But not all ambush journalism is successful in taking down a target. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been a media target due to his attack on union bargaining rights and the subsequent protests at the capitol for the last month. Blogger Ian Murphy called Walker in February and claimed to be Republican campaign donor David Koch. Murphy was able to get Walker to admit that he considered planting trouble makers into the crowd of protestors, but they never actually did.

Really all Murphy accomplished was making Walker look arrogant, the phone call hoax just served to get the already over exposed governor into the media even more. All this makes me wonder if trying to trap targets by pretending to be a friend or ally when really you are trying to get them on record saying something incriminating is a good direction for investigative journalism to be heading.

Journalism is supposed to be about transparency. I believe journalists need to admit who they are and their affiliation. Even citizen journalists who intend to gather information and disseminate what they find out need to be honest about who they are. I don’t think there is a clear sense of right and wrong when a lie is exposed by a lie. But is there still room for morality and right vs. wrong in journalism these days?

Is the only way to get the “real” story to lie about who you are? I don’t think so. I think good investigative journalism, reporting, and writing can turn up the facts and paint a clear picture of a person or issue without having to trick them into saying something incriminating.

Maybe I’m idealistic but I don’t think you have to tell lies to get to the truth. I think if there is something incriminating to be found, hitting the books, checking the paper trail and following through with as many sources of possible will turn up the same information you might get out of trapping a target with an audio or video recording. I think ambush journalism is only necessary when we stop putting in the time it takes to be real reporters. If you have to trick people into talking to you – you just aren’t creating good journalism.