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.

The Self Published Science Fiction Competition 2023

2023 SPSFC books Collage

So it is the end of another summer, and that means it is the start of another writing competition — SPSFC or The Self Published Science Fiction Competition. This is 3rd year this competition is being held and it is my third year participating (with 3 different books). I got to quarter finals the first year, but last year, my story was completely overlooked. I think it makes sense — I don’t write easy to characterize books. My books defy genres. They are strange, twisted, and hard to pin down. What book shelf does one assign to a story about environmental collapse that uses demons as personification of nature? If a judge is expecting a space opera, they are in for a disappointment. That said, there are really amazing stories that are submitted into this competition, stories that deserve a wide readership and because of the label “self published” don’t get it. So consider reading a few and always leave a review for those that you liked. A kind word is what indie authors live for (it’s certainly not the money). Here is this year’s book covers in all their glory! See if you can spot mine… And if you…

Neanderthal in The Back Yard


I was around ten when I had a recurrent dream. Back then, I was good at lucid dreaming — I could make myself dream the same story for weeks on end and remember all of it. It was similar to writing in that it was like watching a story unfold in my imagination. I dreamt many stories this way; although most are lost, there was one that stuck with me about a Neanderthal buried in the permafrost next to the mini merry-go-round in our apartment building’s back yard. We lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was cold and snowy in the winter even if there was no actual permafrost in the courtyard. I must have read something about the marvelous preservation of mammoths, and that gave me the idea. I figured that if those ancient pachyderms could be found in permafrost, so too could early humans. In my dream, I dig under the snow, in the bushes located a few feet from the merry-go-round, and discover a bit of old animal skin. Brushing away a few more layers of snow and dirt, I find what looks like a mummified arm, dressed in clothing made of fur. I know right away…

The Eliminati

Secret Society

We live in a society where people acquire vast amounts of stuff and then run out of space to store it all. Some respond by adopting minimalism; true believers embrace the clean aesthetics of clear floors, empty shelves, and bare closets. Of course, in our disposable consumer culture, these same people can buy replacements for what they have discarded. The zen state of declutter is but a momentary illusion. Marie Kondo, apostle The Gospel of Decluttering and an advocate for minimalism, built her career encouraging people to discard items that failed to “spark joy.” Upon having her third child, however, she came to the conclusion that minimalism and kids were not compatible and confesses to now having a messy home. Apostate! The urge to acquire stuff is probably pre-programmed into us by evolution, just like the extra layers of fat we accumulate when food is plenty. Because good times don’t last, humans hoard resources for a rainy day; those with a cushion fare better during a downturn. But, as with many traits driven by evolution, the accumulation of stuff can become pathological. Hoarding can be a detriment to survival, and the line between prepping and hoarding is thin. Some manage…

Different Kinds of Stories

The Orchard Window by Daniel Garber, oil on canvas 1918

I believe we can distill the plethora of story types into two main categories: feverish cliff hangers that compel their readers to read on through the night, and the more tranquil tales that follow a structure of “this happened, and then this, and then this.” Of course, many stories offer a fusion of both types. Thrillers often drive the narrative to the very last word, while other stories might resemble meandering rivers that gently float the reader to their conclusion. I appreciate both, but I find the more mellow stories can be more compatible with a busy schedule. Kids, for example, don’t care if a novel is impossible to put down when demanding attention. The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom, a new game released just before Mother’s Day, is a case in point. My son predicted that on its release date, people would take the day off to indulge in the game. He was right, resulting in what could be called a national Zelda fever day. We saw a similar scenario during the release of the Star Wars sequels, with fans playing hooky to go see the movies. The only literary equivalent that comes to mind is the…

Developing a Story

Vars signs books

How does one choose a story? Or does a story choose its teller? For me, random triggers in my subconscious coalesce and spark inspiration that is not yet a story but rather the embryo of one. That seed, with time, might ripen enough to be worth planting. But the seed of a story doesn’t contain a compelling narrative that grabs and doesn’t let go until the very last word and beyond. A good story stays with its reader long after the last word is seen or heard. It rises unbidden in the middle of the night to infiltrate the reader’s dreams and deliver something new — a melding of what the author was trying to tell and what the reader took away. What does it take to develop a good story? A spark of imagination is one. Persistence is another — it takes time and perseverance to get words down on a page. But there’s more. I believe that good stories, like all good products, are constructed following a design process. There are always constraints on how the story needs to be told for a specific audience. There are industry demands on authors. There is a ton of background research.…

Playing with ChatGPT

Julia set fractal gif

I am a bit late to the ChatGPT bandwagon — people all over the internet are pointing out badly written prose. But I did want to give it a try. I have hundreds of story ideas that I have jotted down over the years. Most won’t ever be written into an actual story. So it seemed like a fun exercise to give ChatGPT an assignment of writing a short story using some of my notes as prompts. I tried three, iterating on one of those multiple times to see what differences my suggested changes made to the AI-generated story. The results are at the end of this post. The first thing I noticed is that all of the ChatGPT stories were flat — there were no unexpected twists or turns; and the endings sounded the same, each with a strange bit of morality embedded for good measure. The AI had a bit of literary echolalia — some phrases were repeated over and over again. It’s like it liked saying “like” as a verbal tic. I didn’t expect that. Stories tended to start with “In the world…” and conclusions began “In the end…”. The strangest response I got out of ChatGPT…