Olga Werby

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master's degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. She conceived, designed, and illustrated the award-winning "Field Trips" series of programs distributed by Sunburst Communications. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. Olga currently teaches interaction design and cognitive theory at the American University in Paris and the University of California at Berkeley Extension Program. She was part of the faculty of San Francisco State University's Multimedia Studies Program, the Bay Area Video Coalition, and the campus of Apple Computers. Olga is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. She also holds a California teaching credential and is part of the San Francisco Unified School District where she often tests science-related curriculum materials in public elementary and middle schools.

Jew-ish Sci-Fi

Jew-ish Universe

This month, I’ve jumped in head first into dark and cold waters of book marketing. I’ve learned a lot that was new to me but was probably obvious to any salesperson — other people (unlike me) like to read very specific genres of books. For example, if you are into a billionaire werewolf romances, you are NOT into werebear billionaire romances. Yes, people like what they like and there are many authors who are happy to write for very niche audiences. But I read lots of different things, fiction AND non-fiction. I read WWII spy novels AND science fiction. I like action adventure AND historical fantasy. My taste in books is as broad as the stories I like to write. But apparently, that’s not good for marketing. My books are all so different that I’ve been having a hard time zeroing in on a unifying theme for my stories. And then it hit me — I write Jewish Science Fiction…or Jew-ish Sci-Fi. So what’s Jew-ish Sci-Fi? It’s a hero journey to save the world, where the hero belongs to a tight group of outsiders forced to make their way in the world by their talents and smarts and who are…

Time Travel Suicide Therapy

Cleopatra's Death

“Can I help you?” Dax stood up and quickly covered the screen with his body. It was five minutes to closing time and he wasn’t interested in helping on yet another bored teenager, or house partner, or grandpa, or history student, or whatever to fulfill their sick time travel dream. He had his own problems, thank you very much. “Dr. Ooren sent me,” the girl said, walking into the lab, keeping her eyes on the floor. She looked like she was still in her teens, perhaps a first-year college student. She was fidgeting and pulling down the sleeves of her oversized gray sweater over her hands and fingertips. She was thin, with dark circles under her eyes, and she didn’t look like she wanted to be in his lab any more than Dax wanted her there. Which was not at all. “We close at five.” Dax pointedly glanced at the time displays on the wall. It was just about five in the afternoon. He had already loaded the jump for his own time visit — he allowed himself several exquisite minutes of suffering every Friday evening, after closing hours. He was treasuring his chosen suicide, taking his time, enjoying every…

Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands

The wind howled northward, as normal for this time of the year. The angle of planetary spin resulted in a decreased amount of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere during this portion of the orbit cycle. The atmosphere precipitated onto the surface as ammonia and water snow, lowering the air pressure, creating a stable gale south to north. The sands shifted and shifted again. A tip of a stone structure, worried by years of drifting particles, poked slightly above the surrounding dunes. “There!” The man called to his companion over the radio built into his environment suit and pointed at the tip of a hexagon. The atmosphere of this planet wasn’t breathable…yet. “It could be just another freak of nature,” the woman, similarly dressed, said. “There are stones all over this plateau. This one is perhaps a bit more regular…” “I know. I know,” he interrupted yet another pointless discussion on how his obsession with finding the remains of some long lost civilization was just a corny fantasy, all evidence just a fluke of the abrasive nature of the endless shifting sands. He lifted his hand to his chest, where underneath several layers of protective clothing hang a small intricately carved…

Forty Years of Cultural Dissonance

Pastrami Sandwich

This May was the fortieth anniversary of my family’s arrival in America. We came as refugees. My husband and I celebrated this momentous event (this marks over two-thirds of my life here) by visiting the Tenement Museum in downtown New York City. The biggest takeaway was the strong sense of “strangers in a strange land” mentality. People arrived not knowing the language or customs, not having a place to sleep or an ability to source work. It was scary. It took a very strong impetus to leave all that one knew and understood behind, to leave family and friends, to leave familiar food and places…to leave behind the mother tongue. (Did you know that the word “cow” is not under K in a dictionary? How are people supposed to find words when they don’t even start with the letter that they sound? Back then, I ended up drawing a cow in the middle of a sentence to finish my homework.) Without a language in common, it is very difficult to forge social ties. It is the main reason people “bunch up” by their cultural heritage into neighborhoods like “Little Italy,” “China Town,” “Little Russia,” “Jewishberg,” “Japantown,” “La Pequeña Habana,” “Little…

The Wheel of Culture

Finding treasure in the sea of content

Societies continuously try to recreate themselves — shared holidays, shared news, shared traditions, shared language, shared music, shared myths, shared victories, and shared griefs. Shared origins… So by telling each other stories, we recreate ourselves over and over again. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are our heroes? Who are the villains? These stories pass our values as a society from one generation to the next. It’s how we understand each other. “Rosebud.” There was a time where everyone in America knew exactly what that reference was. Now? Nope. “Remember the Alamo!” People still know the phrase, but its meaning — the short cut to meaning that this phrase used to represent — is no longer widely available. Cultural propagation used to be easy when everyone knew everyone else in the small village they all lived. Strangers were either killed or assimilated. People easily recognized “their own.” Sometimes, it was as simple as the way you’d pronounce a word. Such cultural distinctions to divide between “us” and them” are called Shibboleth. Do you drop your p’s or roll your r’s? Do you wear “snickers” or “runners” or “trainers”? Is it “herbs” with an “h” or without?…

First Lines

unreal reality

There are readers (and book-writing gurus) who want the first few words of the story to grab them so hard that they can’t let go until the end. I thought I felt a little this way too, so I started to pay attention to the first sentences of the books I read. Strangely, most were quite plain. It took time to get into the story, to fall in love with it. Some books, which I absolutely adore, required my attention for at least the first few chapters before love blossomed. That felt contrary to every writing advice I’ve read. But I did notice that while falling in love with the story might take a bit of time, strong dislike can be achieved in just a few sentences! We might relate to stories the way we relate to people. There is a ton of research that points to the human ability to judge one another — we can tell if the teacher is any good in the first 30 seconds! And our opinions don’t change, staying quite stable after an hour, a day, a week, and even after a year’s worth of instruction. That’s an evolutionary advantage — it’s good to…