The Tragic Tale Of Thomas Selfridge

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Thomas Selfridge (left) with Alexander Graham Bell, who recruited the military aviator for his Aerial Experiment Association that was competing with the Wright Brothers to be the first in flight (Photo: Air National Guard)

Most pioneer aviators are known for their famous flights, but one of them is best remembered for a fatal flight. Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a motorized aircraft accident 109 years ago this September. He was 26 years old.

The tragedy occurred at a key point in aviation history, as the U.S. Army considered a contract to buy airplanes from the Wright brothers. Orville Wright was at the controls of the Wright Flyer that day, nearly five years after he and his brother, Wilbur, made history with flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Selfridge, an Army lieutenant with an aviation background, was his passenger — a concession that Orville Wright made reluctantly to try to win the contract.

The two were in the air above Fort Myer, Va., for just a few minutes when a propeller malfunction triggered a chain of events that sent the aircraft plummeting to the ground. Wright survived the accident with severe injuries, but Selfridge never recovered from a fractured skull.

A storied history of Selfridge success
The Selfridge surname was well established in military circles before Thomas Etholen Selfridge was born in 1882. His grandfather and uncle, who shared the name Thomas O., had distinguished Navy careers. Both rose to the rank of rear admiral, and the uncle led an expedition related to the Panama Canal.

Thomas E. Selfridge’s brother, Edward, also was part of an important event in U.S. history. He was part of an infantry regiment that supported future President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. “They were a pretty prominent family,” said Dan Heaton, who wrote a book about Thomas E. Selfridge while serving at the Air National Guard base in Michigan that bears the family name.

Selfridge (Photo: Air National Guard)

Like his grandfather and uncle, Thomas E. Selfridge excelled in the military, and he did it at a young age. He was chosen as an alternate to the U.S. Naval Academy while he was still underage, and a year later, he won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He graduated in 1903, the year of the Wright brothers’ first motorized flights.

A native of San Francisco, Selfridge headed back home for his first assignment. He was at the Presidio during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the City by the Bay in 1906, a tragedy that prompted a declaration of martial law. As a young lieutenant, he did such a remarkable job during search-and-rescue and cleanup operations that the Army gave him the choice of his next assignment. He opted to teach at West Point for a year and think about it.

While Selfridge was at the academy, Heaton said he wrote a letter to ask the Wright brothers if he could help in their workshop. But they didn’t want someone from the federal government watching them work on an innovative machine the government might want to buy.

Rebuffed by the Wright Brothers, Selfridge instead went to work for Alexander Graham Bell, who turned his attention to aviation and other interests after inventing the telephone. At Bell’s request, President Roosevelt assigned Selfridge to the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps in 1907. The corps assigned him to the Bell-funded Aerial Experiment Association for a year of research into an aircraft meant to compete with the Wright brothers’ work. Selfridge eventually piloted — and crashed into the water — an unpowered, tetrahedral kite called Cygnet.
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The Aviatrix Whose Name Lives In Infamy

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls might well have been one of those rare children capable of being whatever she wanted to be.

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls earned fame as a daredevil, speed and distance pilot in the 1930s but ruined her reputation by aligning with Nazis. (Photo: Monash University in Australia)

Born to the heirs of a tea fortune, she led a privileged life that included New York private schools and time studying music and language in Paris and Vienna. In an era where women had limited options outside the home, she worked not only as a secretary and nurse, but also as a pianist and vaudeville dancer. Then Ingalls found her calling in a relatively new field — aviation.

That choice initially made her a celebrity among the likes of Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder. Ingalls set numerous records as a stunt pilot and achieved multiple firsts as an aviatrix. Eighty-seven years ago this month, she set a record of 714 consecutive barrel rolls, and a few years later she earned an international award for a solo flight around South America.

But as war with Germany loomed in the late 1930s, Ingalls made some choices that sent her aviation career into a nosedive from which she never recovered. She ended up in trouble with the Civil Aeronautics Authority and eventually spent time in jail for ties to the Nazis. For the rest of her life, Ingalls lobbied unsuccessfully for a presidential pardon.

A ‘darling of aviation’ soars
It is perhaps fitting that controversy surrounds the birthdate of a figure as controversial as Ingalls. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., sometime between 1893 (the date on her headstone) and a decade later, according to conflicting documents and her own vague court testimony in 1942. Ingalls was the daughter of Francis Ingalls and Martha Houghtaling, whose father was a wealthy tea merchant. The Ingalls family later gained another connection to affluence when Laura Ingalls’ brother married a granddaughter of powerful banker J.P. Morgan.

Laura Ingalls (left) descends from a TWA “Sky Chief” with Amelia Earhart in 1935. (Photo: Kansas Memory)

Although no known historical accounts explain why, Ingalls turned her attention to aviation in 1928. On Dec. 23, she flew solo for the first time over Roosevelt Island in New York and then went to the Universal Flying School in St. Louis. She was one of the first women to earn a federal commercial transport license from the Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch, a classification that authorized her to fly any airplane on approved transport routes.

Less than a year after enrolling in the flying school, Ingalls set her first record in women’s aviation — 344 consecutive loops over Lambert-St. Louis Field. Although she bested the previous record of 46 loops by nearly 300, she told reporters she was “terribly disappointed” that a pause to pump gas from a reserve tank meant another 66 loops didn’t count.

She overcame her disappointment like the overachiever she was — by shattering her own record less than a month later. Ingalls flew 980 consecutive loops over nearly four hours in the air at Hatbox-Municipal Airport in Oklahoma, a feat that won her hundreds of dollars. “I was offered a dollar apiece for every loop I made over my record of 344,” she told one reporter.

That was just the beginning of a years-long stretch of records and firsts for Ingalls. The record for consecutive barrel rolls came next. Ingalls did 714 of them, besting the women’s record by 647 and the men’s mark by 297.

She shifted her aviation focus to speed and distance records after that milestone. Over the next several weeks, she finished third in the Women’s Dixie Derby from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and then set the women’s transcontinental round-trip record — 30 hours and 25 minutes to get from New York to California, and 25 hours and 20 minutes to return. In that age of daredevils, Jessie Maude Keith-Miller and later Amelia Earhart quickly broke Ingalls’ record, but Ingalls reclaimed the west-east transcontinental record in 1935.
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The Myth Of The Impala Mama

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Finnish photographer Alison Buttigieg loves cats. The Internet loves cats. But these days Buttigieg hates the Internet because it’s lying about one of her cat photos.

It all started Feb. 11. Someone who knows her work as a wildlife photographer recognized a cheetah picture of hers online. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise — Buttigieg published the “remarkable” photo on her blog, Facebook and Instagram last November after it won an international award. But the flood of messages that started pouring in from strangers that day stunned her.

Titled “The Stranglehold,” this award-winning photo by Alison Buttigieg spawned a feel-good but phony Internet meme about a self-sacrificial impala. (Reprinted with permission)

An intellectual property thief had stolen her photo, invented a feel-good back-story for it, and engineered a viral sensation — one that wasn’t exactly flattering to Buttigieg. The tall tale portrayed the three cheetahs in the photo as heartless killers, their impala prey as a self-sacrificial mother and Buttigieg as a fragile soul who sank into depression after documenting a feline feast.

“In the beginning I thought it was absolutely hilarious, even the trolling,” she told me in an email interview six days after the hoax spread. “But then it was suddenly really overwhelming when I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”

A passion for wild animals and wild places
Buttigieg is an information technology consultant whose passion for animals and for wild places inspired a foray into photography. She has carried a camera on wildlife journeys around the world for 13 years and started taking the photographic aspect of her observations more seriously about four years ago.

“I see my photos as a means to spread awareness about wildlife and the need to protect them and their habitat,” she said.

Buttigieg has shot pictures on three continents — Africa, Asia and South America. Her favorite places include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, and the Massai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. In September 2013, she was near the latter location, at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, when she saw a family of cheetahs trap a lone impala.

Cats of all kinds fascinate Buttigieg because of their beauty and expressive faces. Cheetahs stand out in the felidae species for their speed, quirks and sounds. The guides at the conservancy knew she loved cheetahs, and a mother and two adolescents were near the camp during her visit.

This is how the scene unfolded as soon as her party spotted the family:

The mother cheetah spotted the impala from a distance and practically walked straight up to it. The impala didn’t even try to run away, and it did not put up a fight. Impalas are social creatures, and this one was completely alone, so I suspect it was already sick or somewhat injured.

The mother cheetah held the poor impala by the neck to let her youngsters practice their hunting skills. The impala went into shock and stood motionless like a statue while the young cheetahs proceeded to play with it. They seemed to be quite clueless as to what their mother wanted them to do. After a few minutes the mother cheetah put the impala out of its misery, and all the family enjoyed a good meal.

This kind of training exercise is actually quite common, although usually the mother teaches the youngsters by bringing live antelope fawns for them, not adults. It is crucial for the young cats to hone their skills.

Read the rest of the article at Medium.

How Air Force One Got Its Name

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Piecing together history can be as difficult as solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes you never can fill all the slots. So it is with determining the exact role the FAA played in naming the president’s airplane — but the agency definitely was part of the discussion back in 1954.

The origin of the call sign Air Force One became newsworthy this past March when a restored Lockheed Constellation took flight for the first time in more than a decade. The aircraft’s given name is Columbine II, but it was also the first presidential aircraft to be called Air Force One. Now the plane’s new owner, Karl Stoltzfus of Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Va., wants everyone to know the true story behind the name, not the myths floating around the Internet.

“I’m not interested in a ‘better’ story,” said Stoltzfus, who has contacted presidential and Air Force historians and the former personal secretary of Air Force One pilot William Draper. “I’m interested in accurate history.”

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

The history of Columbine II began at a Lockheed factory in Burbank, Calif., in 1948. It left the plant with the tail number 48–610, a designation that would become important six years later. Lockheed Air Service used the plane for shuttle flights between New York and Iceland for a few months in 1949, but it was converted from military transport to a VIP aircraft in 1950.

This particular Constellation served the U.S. Air Force secretary until Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952. The plane’s first mission for the president-elect fulfilled his campaign promise to personally visit Korea in an effort to end the Korean War. Weeks later the plane officially became Eisenhower’s aircraft, and he named it Columbine II after the flower of wife Mamie Eisenhower’s adopted home state, Colorado.

The transfer of the plane to presidential service set the stage for a momentous air traffic control encounter involving Columbine II and a commercial flight with a similar call sign. But nailing down the details of that incident is a herculean research task.

“There are about six different urban legends out there on the Internet,” said Air Force historian Robert Spiers, who started the legwork in 2007 after numerous queries about how Air Force One got its name. Some stories, like the fanciful tale of a mid-air collision that damaged the undercarriage of Columbine II with Eisenhower on board, are far-fetched.

“If that had actually happened,” Spiers said, “it would have been all over the media.”

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A School Official Who Homeschools?

Originally published at PJ Media
By K. Daniel Glover

Bonnie Henthorn and her husband spent their formative years in Tyler County public schools. Between them, their two children spent at least 15 years in that school system. The family has paid taxes that support the schools for decades.

bonnie_henthorn_twitterWith deep roots and a historical perspective like that, Henthorn is an ideal choice for president of the Tyler County school board, a role she has filled since 2014. But none of that matters now because in January she committed the unpardonable sin of public education: She started homeschooling.

Henthorn announced the family decision at the Jan. 4 school board meeting, citing two reasons that had nothing to do with Tyler County schools. “One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education,” she said. “… Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the students at heart.”

That very personal decision, designed to benefit Henthorn’s sophomore son and seventh-grade daughter, quickly became the topic of a very hostile public debate.

At the meeting, board member Linda Hoover peppered Henthorn with questions. She implied that Henthorn couldn’t lead an education system if her children weren’t part of it and that pulling them from it is “a slap in the teachers’ faces.” Another board member, Jimmy Wyatt, called it a “questionable decision” that might show a lack of faith in the county school system.

The outrage escalated over the next few weeks. A Tyler County native created a Facebook group and a Change.org petition demanding Henthorn’s resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial decrying the “sad mess” in Tyler County and calling Henthorn “unsuited for public school leadership.”

At the next school board meeting, the union that represents Tyler County teachers expressed its lack of confidence in Henthorn. Even State Board of Education president Michael Green, whom Henthorn specifically mentioned when criticizing state leadership, felt compelled to issue a statement.

Read the rest of the article at PJ Media.

There’s A Cougar In Them Thar Hills

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

There are no cougars in Wayne County, W.Va. By official accounts, there are no cougars anywhere in wild, wonderful West Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar is no longer endangered because it is extinct.

But for a few days last month, a Prichard, W.Va., man named J.R. Hundley deceived a whole bunch of gullible people on Facebook into thinking he had seen one near his house. “I think he killed my [pit bull]! Something tore him up pretty bad,” Hundley wrote Dec. 16.

When asked by Facebook readers, Hundley divulged phony details about the origins of the picture. He implied that he took the photo on “my driveway up the hill to my house” on Lower Gragston Creek Road. When one reader voiced concern about a free-roaming mountain lion killing pets and livestock, Hundley even offered this reassurance about the one he never actually saw: “I was gone, came home and found him. He wasn’t mean at all!”

Nearly 1,600 people shared his warning about a puma on the prowl in the hills, and another 600 liked it. You could tell from the comments that locals wanted to believe it was true, if only to justify their unfounded fears that mountain lions are in the area. Some people spread rumors of their own.

“We saw one cross the road in Prichard a few years ago in front of us, but it was black,” Carrie Ann Bragg wrote. Kathy Baker Rice shared this tale: “I saw one on Bear Creek a few years ago, just about three miles from Buchanan, Ky., which is across the Big Sandy River from Prichard. Huge.”

Cara Nelson-Hall suggested that the mountain lion Hundley imagined was not alone. “They’re on Davis branch. We hear them,” she said. And Jim Reed cried conspiracy by state game officials. “I bet DNR released him out there, lol,” he said half-jokingly. “I would call them and ask them if they did and tell them to pay [you] for your pit bull.”

Appalachian Magazine bought into Hundley’s story, touting it and other alleged sightings of mountain lions in Appalachia under the headline “Mountain Lion Sighted in West Virginia.” Several readers told their own cougar tales in the comments of the magazine’s Facebook page and ridiculed the doubters.

“Anyone that thinks there are no panthers in West Virginia is a fool,” Opal Marcum said. “They are in Wayne County, Mingo County and Logan County for sure. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see you.”

But discerning readers quickly pegged Hundley as a hoaxer. “Also look out for the notorious Sasquatch,” Travis Boone mocked. “He’s around too!!”

Some critics assumed that the picture was real and that Hundley edited a mountain lion into it. But as it turns out, the entire photo is real (along with a second one like it). Hundley just didn’t take it.

The photos were published on three Facebook pages, Hunting Trophy Trips, Oregon Outdoor Hunters and Oregon Outdoor Council. Oregon State University forestry student Hayden England saw the cougar March 10 while working in the field near Vida, Ore., and the McKenzie River.
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Where Babies Come From

Father, daughters and son -- the story of three Guatemalan adoptions. (Photos: K. Daniel Glover)

Father, daughters and son — the story of three Guatemalan adoptions. (Photos: K. Daniel Glover)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Sixteen years ago this month, my wife and I entered that new phase of life called parenthood. Some young adults dread the responsibility — the sleepless nights of infancy, the terribleness of toddlers, the drama of middle childhood, the rebellion of teenagers and the costs of college. But with our glass half full back then, we dreamed instead of the rewards of nurturing children.

For five long years we dreamed. Then one evening, in the back of a car in Guatemala City, our dream came true. That’s where Kimberly and I met our son, Anthony. Two years later we went back to “The Land of the Eternal Spring” to add our first daughter, Elli, to the family mix. And in 2005 we made one more trip to bring home the baby of the family, Catie.

Our lives have been a blur of (mostly) precious memories ever since, and along the way, we embraced another culture as part of our heritage and developed a passion for adoption.

Adoption has been part of my life since childhood. One of my aunts took several foster children into her home and eventually adopted two of my cousins that way. So when infertility temporarily dashed the parenting hopes Kimberly and I shared, we decided to adopt.

We quickly learned that adoption is more than one simple decision. Foster-to-adopt or outright adoption? Agency or private lawyer? Open or closed adoption? Domestic or international? Infant, toddler or older child? Special needs? Sibling group? Transracial adoption? We knew we wanted a baby, but the options seemed overwhelming as we reeled from reproductive loss. Even after we settled on international adoption, we had to pick a country.

A providential trip to the airport made that choice an easy one. We met a couple with a young girl from Guatemala. Her Hebrew name was Eliana, which means “God answered me.” We knew right then that not only would we adopt from Guatemala but that one day we would have a daughter named Eliana.

guatemala-adoption3Big brother came first, though. Anthony’s foster mother placed him in Kimberly’s arms almost nine months to the day after we turned our adoption focus toward Guatemala. He was eight weeks old when we brought him home hours before Thanksgiving, the perfect holiday gift. We had some fun with our adoption announcement, which proclaimed, “We finally figured out where babies come from … Guatemala.”

Anthony had our full attention for the next year — but that wasn’t always to his benefit. To this day, Kimberly calls him our “practice child,” the one subjected to the idiocy of bumbling, first-time parents. Here are just two of the embarrassing lessons we learned: 1) Don’t hold a baby in your lap while shaking Tabasco sauce onto your gumbo or you may blind him; and 2) when your son cries the first time you feed him refried beans at Taco Bell, it’s because they’re stuck to the roof of his mouth and burning his palate.

Despite such mishaps, we felt confident enough as parents by Anthony’s first birthday to try again. Guatemala had changed its rules, so Elli’s adoption took longer. We didn’t get to bring her home until she was 3 1/2 months old.

The upside is that we had changed, too. Two years earlier, we rarely left our hotel with Anthony for fear of how Guatemalans might react to our mixed family. By the time we adopted Elli, we invited a globe-trotting friend to Guatemala with us, stayed there longer, and spent as much time as possible shopping, sightseeing and talking to Guatemalans. We spent several days in Antigua and toured both a coffee finca and a macadamia plantation.

Our two years with Anthony made all the difference in our attitude. We didn’t just fall in love with him; we fell in love with his heritage. Latinos in our community also loved meeting Anthony. We once passed him through the window of a Checker’s when he was a baby so all the ladies inside could cuddle him and get a closer look.
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Danny’s Nightmare Aboard Betty’s Dream

Co-pilot Bill Miller (left) and pilot Alan Miller pose in front of Betty’s Dream in May 2015 after a practice run for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Co-pilot Bill Miller (left) and pilot Alan Miller pose in front of Betty’s Dream in May 2015 after a practice run for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

If one slogan could capture my thoughts at lunchtime on May 7, this would be it: “I flew in the belly of a B-25 bomber, and all I got was this lousy motion sickness bag.” That’s how I felt as I exited the floor hatch of Betty’s Dream, stepped onto the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport in Virginia and inhaled a much-needed breath of fresh air after a rough flight.

But if a pilot in the Commemorative Air Force had asked me later that day whether I’d ever want to fly in a World War II aircraft again, I probably would have said, “When do we take off?” I don’t think I could resist an adventure like that — even though I get anxious about flying in general and even after having endured the worst flight of my life.

I am a writer for the Federal Aviation Administration and talked my way onto Betty’s Dream while reporting an advance story on the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover for the agency’s internal website. With several high-profile media outlets covering the event, I figured my chances of getting a seat were slim but made my pitch anyway for a flight with good video potential.

Two months and many pestering emails later, I finally heard from Leah Block at CAF: “I will put you on one of the trainers, so you should be able to take some great shots. … You will fly from Culpeper. In the air about an hour.”

The writer originally was scheduled to fly in this Stearman trainer. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

The writer originally was scheduled to fly in this
Stearman trainer. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

And that’s the point at which my nerves began to fray. The journalist who practically begged for a seat in a 70-year-old warbird suddenly remembered he used to drive up to 10 hours one way for assignments in order to avoid flying in modern aircraft.

When I asked to fly along, I thought I’d be in the air a half-hour max. Fifteen minutes would have been plenty. Now I was looking at an hour in a “trainer”? I didn’t even know what that meant until I clicked to the Arsenal of Democracy website again.

Then I started asking frantic questions. “Do you know yet what type of trainer I will be flying in? And just to prepare myself mentally for the experience, what maneuvers can I expect in the air? My co-worker who is a pilot said I probably want to avoid being turned upside down.”

That was an understatement. I definitely did not want to be part of any acrobatic maneuvers, but I couldn’t bring myself to openly admit that.

Leah reassured me that the flight — later confirmed to be on this Stearman biplane so I could get the best GoPro footage — should be relatively calm and that the pilots had been told not to subject us newbies to any “funny business.” But I was on edge for the next 10 days.

By the morning of the flight, I was more excited than nervous — at least for a few hours. I stopped at a 7–11 on the way to Culpeper to check for Dramamine, but the store did not have the non-drowsy formula. I opted for alertness over peace of stomach, a bad choice in hindsight.

World War II aircraft filled the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport earlier this month in preparation for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

World War II aircraft filled the tarmac at Culpeper Regional Airport earlier this month in preparation for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

I was in awe as I drove past the airfield and saw the array of aircraft on the tarmac. My favorites were the P-51 Mustangs and F4U Corsairs, the latter of which I remembered best from the short-lived 1970s television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

I went to work after registering at the press office. I snapped a few photos of the warbirds from a distance, listened to part of the pre-flight safety briefing for all pilots and attended a short press conference.

Andrew McKenna, who owns and flies a P-51 Mustang and a North American T-6 Texan, talks with a colleague during a pre-flight safety briefing. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Andrew McKenna, who owns and flies a P-51 Mustang and a North American T-6 Texan, talks with a colleague during a pre-flight safety briefing. (Photo: K. Daniel Glover)

Soon after the press conference, a guide pointed a few of us toward the Stearman planes. We found our designated rides by using the tail numbers on our press badges.

“I’m now at my assigned plane — and pretty well terrified,” I posted to Facebook at 10:07 a.m. My hands were shaking uncontrollably, and my legs were wobbly. I couldn’t even picture myself maintaining enough composure to climb (or fall) into a plane that small, let alone fly in it for an hour without having a panic attack.

Fortunately I only had to ponder that potentially embarrassing fate for a few minutes. When owner/co-pilot John Weyrich arrived, he said he hadn’t realized the ride-along was part of a practice run for the flyover the next day. That being the case, he didn’t have a spare seat for me — but the event organizers found me another spot on a B-25 Mitchell.

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The Elements Of Social Media Style

Nearly a century ago, William Strunk Jr. penned a treatise on writing that has defined the craft for generations. As recently as 2011, Time magazine ranked the revised and expanded version of “The Elements of Style,” co-authored by E.B. White, among the 100 best and most influential nonfiction books.

But in the past decade, the expectations of readers have changed as technology has advanced. The art of writing has evolved to fulfill their expectations. To excel in this online era, communicators must learn to write for the platforms that readers use today. They must practice “The Elements of Social Media Style.”

ElementsOfSocialMediaStyle
Through my company Tabula Rasa Media, I explored this intersection between traditional and modern communications in a presentation to a global communications consultancy in Washington, D.C. A mix of lectures and interactive exercises, the class covered three broad aspects of writing — composition, creativity and courtesy (online etiquette).

Participants learned how to turn existing content into fresh online material, how to cater their writing toward different social media platforms, and how to coordinate content across those platforms. They also discussed real examples of social media successes and flops that illustrated both effective and flawed writing.

TRM offers this training to corporations, trade associations, nonprofit groups and other organizations. If you are interested, please email me at tabrasamedia@gmail.com.

Mobile Payments: A Developer’s Guide To Processing Money

This is an excerpt of a white paper I wrote for The Application Developers Alliance.

Earlier this year, Forbes.com contributor Gene Marks asked a question that gets to the heart of commercial transactions in the digital age: “With all the advances in technology, and all the things our smartphones do, why aren’t we paying for everything using a mobile app?”

Mobile PaymentsMarks posed the question in the context of his prediction that Starbucks will be the “kingmaker” in the world of mobile payments, but until there is a king, app makers and companies that wish to leverage mobile devices to sell their products and services face many choices. They have to decide how to collect money, which operating systems to use, and which payment providers have the friendliest fee structures, best support and most security.

Xconomy Deputy Editor Gregory Huang captured the essence of the challenge. “There are so many players coming in from different angles and at different levels of the value chain,” he wrote. “Besides all the techies with apps and software platforms, you’ve got retailers, brands, banks, credit card companies, payment-processing firms, and a slew of loyalty and rewards programs, all vying for a piece of the pie.”

This guide will define the current state of the mobile payments landscape, which continues to evolve rapidly, and help players in the app industry explore their options.

The methods to mobile payment prosperity
The term mobile payments has many different meanings, from consumers using smartphones or tablets instead of their laptops to make purchases from their homes to merchants swiping credit cards on tablets or smartphones. But none of them are mainstream yet by any stretch.

The third annual Global Mobile Payments Index released in January found that such payments comprise only about 20 percent of global transactions. But that figure was up from 13 percent of transactions the previous year, a growth rate of 55 percent. The index is based on data for transactions made through Ayden, which processes payments for more than 3,500 medium, large and enterprise-sized organizations mainly operating multi-national businesses.

The realities of modern culture are certainly favorable toward even greater adoption of mobile payments. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 90 percent of Americans have cell phones, 58 percent have smartphones, 42 percent own tablet computers and 32 percent own e-readers. Research by BI Intelligence tells a similar global story, noting that consumers around the world have purchased 1.3 billion smartphones in just four years — and the penetration of tablet devices into the market is double what it has been for smartphones.

Read the full paper in PDF format.