Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dealing with factual corrections during live TV interviews

I've been an on on-air television expert discussing airline safety topics for over a decade, serving as one of those aviation safety experts who show up on camera whenever there is a major newsworthy event involving aircraft and danger.

On-air experts like myself are typically seen only in the studio, and photographed with a head-and-shoulder shot. The term for this kind of guest is a talking head, and I do my best to be the best talking head I can be. Like most talking heads, I've never had any formal training in how to be a talking head, and every time I get the chance to be on the air, there is something to learn, often because of unexpected issues that happen when I am on the air live.

Last week, I was a guest on CNN's HLN channel discussing an air traffic control situation that occurred 31 July 2012 over Washington, DC. It was a relatively minor incident that received significant media national media attention in the US primarily because it was reported by the Washington Post newspaper, and because the highest levels of the FAA had to respond publicly to the incident.

Typically, a show's producer wants me to provide the viewer with some context about the event, and my goal is to use the short amount of time I have to give at least one good bit of information.

In this particular interview, the HLN anchor Isha Sesay introduced me as a retired pilot. When that happened I faced a bit of a dilemma. While I am a pilot, I've never been a professional or military pilot of any kind, and I'm also not retired. I had two choices, ignore the mistaken introduction and go ahead with the interview, or take time to correct the anchor on-air.

Given that I would have less than 30 seconds of air time, I immediately decided to take the first option and go ahead with the interview. In the second or two that I had before I had to start talking, I concluded that calling me a retired pilot was incorrect, but it wasn't worth taking up limited air time with a correction and running the risk of not being able to provide the audience with useful information. Also, I wasn't introduced as a retired airline pilot or military pilot, which would have been very misleading to the audience. Had that happened, I would have immediately corrected that error.

In retrospect, one way to avoid this problem was to confer with the producer ahead of time about how I should be introduced by the anchor. However, even if I had done this, the same mistake may have happened. Live television is a very fluid situation, and everyone who is on the air has to do their bit to keep things moving. For all I know, the anchor knew the introduction was wrong the moment it passed by her lips, but like me, she had to keep the conversation moving.

The two things I work hard to avoid while on the air is silence and wasted words. The silence would have happened if I took too much time to think before I start talking, and the wasted words would have happened if I said things that were not relevant to the task at hand or got in the way of my goal of providing useful information.

While I always strive for on-air perfection, the two goals that I always have at the top of my mind are to encourage the audience to keep watching and to get invited back for future talking head opportunities.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How to keep technology from taking your job

In highly industrialized regions of the world such as the North America and the EU, one of the byproducts of rapid innovations in the worlds of high technology and online communication is that more and more tasks that used to be done by people are being outsourced either to technology or to lower wage workers.

While the trend is most pronounced in wealthy industrialized countries, as the cost of computer and Internet-related technology continues to decline, the trend will inevitably make its way into any country that has relatively easy access and low cost access to the Internet.

For many kinds of work, the Internet has allowed employers access to a much wider pool of potential employees, often in countries that have much lower wage scales. While hairdressers and gardeners and other kinds of workers who have to be physically present to do the job may be safe from low cost long distance workers, engineers, accountants, doctors, and others who have skills that can be effectively outsourced will likely see much more competition from workers willing to accept lower wages.

When it comes to high technology, which can take various forms such as artificial intelligence, cloud storage, or remote databases, many jobs can have some or all of their functions done with fewer people, people who don't have to be at a particular location, or without using people at all.

For example, 20 years ago if a company used a common database to keep track of clients, vendors, transactions, payroll, and other information vital to the operation of the business, it was typically located in a computer or a set of file cabinets that were physically located in the office if it were a small business, or in one or more dedicated location for larger businesses. It also meant that one or more employees were needed to manage the file cabinets, computers, software, and other resources needed to keep the database up and running.

Today, businesses large and small can pay relatively small amounts of money to a vendor to have all of their databases needs managed remotely, often eliminating the need for many of those employees that they would have used in the past.

The future is not completely bleak for those whose current jobs may be at risk. There are some things that are difficult or even impossible to do with technology or with remote employees. Workers who have the following kinds of skills will likely have no trouble finding gainful employment (though they may have to be a remote employee):

  • Mathematical reasoning: While even the simplest computer can crunch the numbers far better than any human, it takes the kind of intuition that comes from experience to understand what questions can be asked, how to ask those questions, how to interpret the results, and how to communicate both the questions and the answers to an audience.
  • Solving open ended problems: These kinds of problems by their very nature can be quite difficult address since the first big challenge is often to understand what the problems or issues may be, as well as framing the problems in ways that can be understood. This is a set of skills that often require a subtle and extensive understanding of the context of the situation and the people who are involved.
  • Managing people: While technology may eliminate the need for most managers by eliminating the need for most employees, the reality is that so long as there are at least two people involved, at least one person has to be engaged in managing that relationship. So far, no computer has come close to being able to do that, and in some situations it may be best to have the manager located in the same place as the people being managed.
  • Writing and communicating: While algorithms can work wonders with basic communication, more complex interactions, by spoken or written word, are still beyond the technologies that will likely be available in the next several decades.
  • Sales and marketing: While technology often provides vital tools for much of the process, the sales and marketing process often needs skilled practitioners to persuade the customer or client to make a particular decision or take a particular action.
  • Anything involving intimate human contact: There are wide range of activities, from child rearing to nursing to live entertainment, where even if the technology existed to perform those tasks more effectively than humans, the customer would accept it. Sometimes it would not have to involve direct physical contact. For example, it is possible to fly aircraft remotely, or to even program an airplane to fly autonomously, but few passengers would willingly choose to fly in aircraft that didn't have a highly trained pilot at the controls. Oddly enough, that same passenger would likely have no problem riding an automated train between airport terminals.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sharing ideas and resources from South by Southwest (SXSW)

If you have heard of South by Southwest (SXSW), you may have heard of it as a giant convention of musicians, movie makers, and technologists that takes place every March down in Austin, Texas.

There are in fact three very large conferences that overlap each other for 10 days in March. The only one that interested me was SXSW Interactive, a five-day conference that featured emerging online technologies. This was my second time there, and unlike many of those attending, the wild parities lasting until the wee hours and the free beer and wine available starting sometimes before noon were not a big attraction for me, but the chance to interact with thousands of Internet professionals of every stripe was well worth the visit.

A lot of the fun of SXSW is running into big ideas worth thinking about. There were many things to take away from SXSW, but four things that I think are worth sharing are an inspirational talk, a novel use of science fiction, my observation of what technology will have a lot of near term attention and development, and some recommended resources for budding technology entrepreneurs:

  • Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think: A talk by Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation spoke rather passionately about the role that technological development will play in overcoming many of the daunting problems facing the world, from clean water, to population growth, to medical care. Many of the ideas were also in his TED talk from early 2012. I also recommend his new book Abundance, which goes into much greater detail. While you are at it, check out what he is doing at Singularity University, an institution he founded with Ray Kurzweil.

  • Using science fiction to advance technology: Brian David Johnson, a writer and futurist at Intel, has been involved in bridging the gap between science fiction and science fact by promoting the use of science fiction writing by actual engineers and researchers in order to better understand the impact that an emerging technology may have on society. If this sounds at all interesting, I recommend visiting Intel's The Tomorrow Project where you can download an anthology of science fiction stories from the likes of Cory Doctorow ans You can also reading one of his technical papers on using science fiction to help computer science students understand computer security,

  • The role that smart phones will play: If I had to judge where the near term action will be by the number of presentations, the amount of exhibitor space, the level of hype, and apparent venture capital interest displayed at SXSW, it will be the role that smart phones will play both as tools that more people will use to go online and as places where much money will be invested and where many young minds will toil. I won't bore you with the numbers, but I will say that the number clearly show that where there is explosive growth of Internet access in the developing world, it has been through the spread of smartphones in areas where there were barely even telephones 10 years ago. In the rest of the world, when was the last time you saw consumers stood in line to buy something that was not a smartphone or a tablet?

  • Useful resources for a startup company: There were plenty of pitches from new companies looking for funding and other backing, and I saw many of them in the Startup America area of SXSW. It was very, very clear that smartphone apps that emphasized social media in a local context were all the rage. Startup America was also clearly funding by many tech heavyweights, and were quite generous at giving out freebies, from candy, coffee, and wine, to a rather interesting book from Steve Blank and Bob Dorf called The Startup Owners Manual. At SXSW, they were free and were practically thrown at people like Mardi Gras beads. However, if you are at all serious about starting an Internet related enterprise or working with a startup company, check out the book. It will be worth whatever Amazon is charging.

P.S. If you're thinking about going to SXSW next year, book your hotel early, and be prepared to have some very long and interesting days.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

LinkedIn answers coupled with Reader

Sunday, January 22, 2012

IRS changes for 2012 and your PayPal account

Do you get payments from PayPal? If you do, the IRS has your number. That number being the amount of money you received from PayPal. What does this mean for you? If you are not subject to US taxes, it doesn't mean anything. If you do have to fill out a US federal tax return, then this means that the US government knows how much you received from PayPal and may be upset if you don't pay your taxes.

Who has to pay US taxes?
For individuals, if you are not a US citizen and did not live or conduct business in the US, then you don't pay US taxes, even if you received income from the US (either directly or through a third party payment processor like PayPal). The situation is similar for companies. If your company has no presence in the US, it typically is not subject to US taxes. If you don't fit into these categories, then you have to pay attention to US tax laws and regulations.

What's changed for 2011?
Starting in 2011, third-party payment providers like PayPal (as well as credit and debit card payment processors) were required to report to the IRS payments made to individuals and businesses.

How is this different from before?
The only difference is in who reports payments to the IRS. For example, if you ran a web site and had some kind of affiliate or advertising relationship with some company, and that company paid you using PayPal, that company may have been required to send you an IRS form (typically a 1099-MISC form) that summarized your total received payments from the previous year. Now, that company doesn't have to send you any IRS summary form, PayPal would do that now.

In previous years, the company that sent you payment using PayPal was typically required to both report those payments to the IRS, and send you a 1099 form if the total payments in the previous year was more than $600. Now, that company is no longer required to send that information to you or to the IRS.

How does this affect you?
There will be no change if you or your business are not subject to US taxes. For everyone else, there will be no change if you have always followed appropriate IRS regulations for reporting income and expenses. If you are subject to US taxes, and have not reported income in the past, then the only change is that PayPal will tell the IRS how much you were sent, and it will be more likely that you will get penalized by the IRS for not reporting your income.

What do you have to do?
If you are subject to the new reporting requirements, your payment processor (PayPal, Google Checkout, etc.) will contact you and request information such as your name and tax identification number. If you don't provide this information, that processor may withhold some of your payment for tax purposes. If you do provided all the required information, you may be sent an IRS form 1099-K that summarizes your payments that you received from that processor.

How will this affect your taxes?
If you had done proper accounting and reporting of your income and expenses before, then this new reporting requirement won't change your taxes at all. If you have not been reporting your income in the past, then you may have to pay more taxes (or even fines for under reporting income). If you have not taken the time to treat your activity as a business, now would be a good time to start. If you are self employed or run a small business, you may want to check out some of the appropriate IRS resources. If you are in a large business and are responsible for dealing with accounting and tax issues, then you should review your procedures to make sure that this change in the IRS rules has been addressed.

Other Resources
IRS Third Party Reporting Information Center
IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about US tax laws and regulations and does not constitute legal, tax, or professional advice. If you have questions about these issues, please seek out the services of appropriate professionals or information from authoritative sources.

Monday, January 2, 2012

How to become an ebook publisher without spending money

Late last year, I published an article about how to read Kindle Books without buying a Kindle. The article was written with a larger goal in mind, to put you on a path to becoming an ebook publisher, creating books and other documents that can be read on Kindles, iPads, iPhones, personal computers, and just about any other ebook reader or personal computing device.

If one or more of the following applies to you, then this article has a lot to offer to you:
  • You have written a traditional book, and are thinking about publishing it as an ebook.

  • You are thinking about publishing a new book, and think that starting with an ebook would be quicker and cheaper.

  • You have a web site, blog, or podcast and you want to offer your audience downloadable documents.

  • Kindles and ebooks are the new hot thing and you want to get in on the action.
All of these things were true for me, and I certainly had the desire to get something out the door and into the hands of an audience. However, I had a couple of obstacles between me and an ebook:
  1. I barely knew anything about ebooks other than they existed.

  2. I didn't feel like spending a lot of time, or much money, learning how to publish an ebook
I'll spare you the middle of the story and go straight to the end. If you want to learn about the ebook production process, even if you don't want to write an ebook yourself, go to and sign up for their free service. They will take you by the hand and show you how to get your book properly formatted, and ready for sale.

If you take the next step and actually create a book (it doesn't have to be either very good or very long, so go ahead and put something together), give lots of copies to friends, relatives, or anyone else who will give you some feedback about it.

After you get some feedback and edit or even rewrite sections of the book, go ahead and put it on sale. If you use the Smashwords distribution system, you can even give it away for free, and have Smashwords track your downloads. The great thing about Smashwords is that they turn your book into a version suitable for every kind of ebook reader. They will even turn it into a PDF document.

At AirSafe Media, I took one previously published book and turned it into an ebook, and created two other ebooks in a matter of days. One was based on existing online articles, and a second based on a training manual I made for another purpose. All three are available for free download, and I made them available as a PDF file and in versions that could be read in a Kindle, iPad, or in an ereader or smartphone.

If you want to go a step further, after you become familiar with the Smashwords process for creating ebooks, check out the the free book Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing from Amazon. If you have something is good enough to sell, go ahead and try Amazon. The worst thing that could happen is that you will make some money.

Speaking of money, I paid nothing to use the Smashwords system, and nothing to use Amazon Direct Publishing. You have no excuses, go publish something.

Smashwords Author page for Todd Curtis Author page for Todd Curtis

Podcasting production book from

If you create or manage a web site, blog, Facebook page, or other online resource, if you are in the business of increasing traffic, enhancing search engine results, or serving a specific audience, one way to do so is by using podcasts. Whether it is the classic audio only podcast distributed on your web site, or a video podcast that you distribute on a video sharing site like YouTube, if you want the podcast to be successful, you have to be able to create many episodes over a long period of time. has produced the Conversation at podcast since 2006, and last year created an ebook ,The Podcasting Manual, that laid out a systematic production process that makes it easier for an individual or an organization to sustain a podcast over the long run.

What's in the book?
Below is the table of contents of the book:

CHAPTER 1: Introduction to Podcasting
CHAPTER 2: The Grand Plan for Your Podcast
CHAPTER 3: What's Your Mission?
CHAPTER 4: Who’s on Your Team?
CHAPTER 5: Leadership
CHAPTER 6: Money and Other Resources
CHAPTER 7: Communications
CHAPTER 8: Planning, Production, and Distribution Systems
CHAPTER 9: Legal Issues
CHAPTER 10: The Podcast
CHAPTER 11: The First Podcast
CHAPTER 12: The Video Version of the Podcast
CHAPTER 13: Example of a Podcast Plan for a School
APPENDIX 1: Downloading and Using Audacity
APPENDIX 2: Example Podcast Episode Script

If this looks interesting, check it out one of the free download options. Feel free to buy it on Amazon as well.

You can download a PDF file, or a version that is compatible with one of the popular ebook reading formats:

MOBI (Kindle)
EPUB (Nook, iPad, iPhone, and others)
Purchase Amazon Kindle edition