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.

We are all immigrants in the land of COVID

A masked American family in 1918

I think human souls are tied to the land that bore them, shaped by it, created to fit the terrain, the weather, the language, the culture of the motherland. When transplanted into a new land, forced or otherwise, souls need to conform. They get broken somehow, edges filed away, bones cracked, empty spaces are hidden or forgotten. That’s why it is easier for kids to abandon their old homelands and immigrate to a new homeland — their souls are still flexible. Adults never truly adapt, they are forever broken, torn away from their motherland. And people who leave their birthplaces when they are somewhere in the middle — not quite adults not really children — become strange misfits. On the outside, they look like they belong, but scratch below the surface and there are surprising gaps and unexpected breaks in their psyche. America is the land of broken souls. “First-generation” or “foreign-born” comprise as much as 13% of all Americans (per 2013 census), more than one in ten! Pamala Harris, our new Democratic VP pick is one of those — a child of two immigrants, raised by a single mom in a household with grandparents, also from very far lands.…

On the Magician Spectrum

Magic Made Here

There are two extremes on this spectrum: people who are externally motivated and those who only need what’s already inside them to get moving on a project. No one is always internally motivated and no person always needs an outside push to get started, but one thing for sure during this quarantine — those who are mostly internally driven do better. It is the same problem that people who are self-employed or who work from home face — not everyone is suited to that life. And for those who are now forced into it, depression looms. For those who can’t spin gold out of thin air or conjure dreamscapes or invent a new life and a new way of living, life becomes so dull that hours drag and days lay heavy while months and years slip away. Those who are able to make new things — artists and writers, housebuilders and gardeners, twiddlers and toymakers, composers and musicians, leather crafters and basket weavers, computer engineers and software designers, potters and jewelers, mathematicians and scientists, filmmakers and universe builders, gymnasts and mountain climbers…makers of all kinds — are never bored. There is never enough time to do all that’s inside our…

Celebrating my Birthday and the Birth of Our Nation by Publishing a Novella About Psychotic AI

Good Girl ebook cover

So today I let out another story into the world. I finished it last year, but birth takes time… Today seemed like the perfect day. Here’s a brief synopsis: Spaceflight AI Aide, SAIA, has one main job onboard a colony mission spaceship to Tau Ceti star system — to keep its crew alive and sane for the 24 lonely years it would take them to reach their destination. She can play games, read books, carry on conversations on almost any topic and in any language. Saia is a very good girl, but something keeps happening to her charges. Was there an accident? Did somebody die? Saia can’t remember. And there are all these people who are not in her roster of passengers that keep popping up and talking with her. “Good Girl” is a story about meanings and hidden context buried in words. As we teach our AIs to take on more and more difficult tasks, their learning algorithms become black boxes to us. What are they really learning? What are they thinking? Just take a peek. Please read the first few chapters here. If you would like a review copy, just ask!

Memories

Supermarket Science Boxes

It’s been a hard month… a few months. I have been working on SupermarketScience.com almost nonstop. I worry about the families with kids — what will they do come September? The choice of sending your children to school (and thus risking COVID exposure not only to the kids but to the whole families) and keeping them home (at the risk of jobs and emotional stability) is stark. I’ve proposed a few solutions, you can find them here. I hope this will help some families. I will continue to post more curriculum (but perhaps not at the breakneck rate I’ve done in the past months). I will also share some ideas and their implementations for families who will make the decision to rethink how they want to approach educating their kids. Everything is on the table now — at times of crisis and chaos, the most change is possible. I have put all writing and editing on hold for the moment but will get back to it this month. I will release my AI novella and start to push my next novel towards the finishing line. Given how everything, including the publishing industry, is in flux, I think I will stick…

On Writing and Reading and Learning and Teaching

Supermarket Science Home Page

Learning and Teaching I will start with learning. One of the tragic things about this pandemic is that our kids are missing out on education. This can’t be helped — schools are hotbeds for viruses. It is common wisdom that a new elementary school teacher needs to survive the first few years of being continuously ill — little ones love to share hugs and kisses and snot, all in equal measure. But after a few years of coming to school every day, teachers develop monster immune systems…parents not so much. So schools had to be closed — the world has no immunity to COVID 19. And the only way things get back to normal is when we ALL get immunity to this virus. We can get it by getting sick or by getting a vaccine. The vaccine is still a year away if we are lucky. Acquiring immunity through illness is like playing Russian Roulette — you might be one of the lucky ones or you might become a physical or cognitive cripple…and that’s forever! So schools will be closed for a very long time. And parents are stuck at home, homeschooling their children — not the job anyone really…

Vaguely Familiar

2020 Corona Heart

The oddness of invisible threat is very unsettling but oddly familiar. If we think back on our lives, we all had periods of time when we were forced into isolation. I can personally think of several. I will list them chronologically. I was five years old when I noticed a bunch of kids playing together in our neighborhood “dvor” — a Russian word of a shared public space created by an apartment building complex that surrounded a little square of green space including a playground. I wasn’t a particularly social kid, but I liked playing jumping rope games and wanted IN. I begged my parents to let me go to a local Kindergarten. Such institutions were set up after WWII all over Russia. The idea was to help single women work and have kids — there were very few men left after the war, “the state was the father.” In my family, we had grandparents living with us, and so it wasn’t necessary to send me away. But I wanted it, got to go…for about two weeks. It was horrible! I had to drink castor oil by a tablespoon and other atrocities. I promptly accused my parents of not loving…

Living with Anxiety

Gigs canceled

We are week two into isolation, living in a social distancing dystopia. Everything is strange. Our eating and sleeping habits, our daily routines, our physical workouts, and our work and school schedules and setups are all completely disrupted. It feels like we are living in wartime, and yet it’s Spring outside. The bombs are not dropping on our heads. The flowers are blooming… This disconnect between what we experienced based on our higher-function reasoning (as presented by newsmedia, social media, crazy conversations with friends and family) and what we sense directly through our eyes and ears is very difficult to reconcile. People are dying (they really are) and yet you can take an evening stroll outside and smell the flowers. Doctors are sharing horrific tales of shortages and insanity in their hospitals, and yet the birds are singing and the sun warms our skin. It feels crazy! This is emotional dissonance. Mammals like us humans are not built for prolonged stress — it destroys our systems. We are “designed” for short bursts of adrenaline as a lion stalks us down the savanna. Worrying day after day is very destructive to our health. For those who would like to read more…