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Tech Q&A

Tom McNichol

Describe your latest project.
I'm currently writing a humor blog for Time Warner and researching a book project. I'm also writing articles for the New York Times, Wired, and others.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
Having a good story to tell. Forging a connection with a reader. Reading and enjoying a good story and wanting to bring that experience to a reader.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
My high school history teacher Mr. Santoro was a real eye-opener. He'd read selections from the approved textbook about, say, the U.S. role in World War II, and then ask questions that definitely weren't in the textbook, such as "Why did we inter Japanese civilians but not German civilians during the war?" He made me realize that learning wasn't about absorbing facts; it was more about questioning the pat answers.

Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
Nope, never took it. I'm not very geeky; I'm guessing I'd rate in the 10th percentile of geekdom.

Chess or video games?
Video games.

What do you do for relaxation?
I like to write and record music in my garage recording studio (I play guitar, bass, drums, and sing). I also like to hike and bike. And read.

What's your favorite blog right now?
Probably because it combines so many different subjects and points of view in one blog.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
Douglas Adams. Or better yet, Charles Addams, the cartoonist who inspired the Addams Family.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
Lord of the Flies. I think I loved the idea of a world where the kids are in charge.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
I think solar power technology could be absolutely transformative in our lifetime, taking the world from a dirty, fossil fuel-based economy to a clean, renewable energy economy. It would change everything from foreign policy to the national economy.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
For writer, I'd choose George Orwell because he lived in such interesting times and was able to reflect that in his writing in a way that resonates with readers many decades after his death. For scientist, I think I'd choose Thomas Edison because he was a true genius involved in dozens of inventions and projects. If I could be Edison for a day, I think I'd spend it in the Menlo Park lab, puttering around with all of my inventions-in-progress.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best was science and history; worst was art/drawing.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
I'd like to be able to turn off my computer on the weekend.

Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
My two favorites are the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. What makes both of them great is that they present science with a sense of play and fun. As a kid, we would always visit the Franklin Institute and run through its room-sized model of the human heart and have the best time. I can still remember shouting to one of my friends, "Hey, I'm in the aorta!"

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
I hope we'll have better solutions to fundamental human problems like depression and cancer. I fear we'll simply have more gadgets to divert us from what really matters.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
I think the U.S. currently leads but the 21st century is certain to see the rise of India and China as scientific powers. I wouldn't be surprised if China was the global leader in science in the 22nd century.

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