PopTech Blog

Robert Fabricant's graphic doodles

PopTech friend and 2008 presenter Robert Fabricant of frog design shared his signature graphic doodles with us from PopTech 2011. He describes the reasoning behind his notetaking:

What makes a meeting, a conversation, or a PopTech talk memorable? Why bother to write down anything these days when it all ends up recorded in the cloud? A few years ago I realized that all it took were a few simple things – a particular turn of phrase, quote, story or image – to capture the essence of these moments.

One day I was passing through Terminal 5 at JFK on my way to a conference in Austin and I stumbled upon these peculiar notebooks in the Muji store. They had little boxes that were meant for storyboarding. Just like the 140 characters in a tweet, these boxes have provided the frame for condensing discussions to their essential bits. Since then it has become a bit of an obsession for me in meetings as I try to get the most out of each square. And it has spread to friends and co-workers, one of whom bought them for her son who was having trouble focusing in school.

In the digital age, when every interaction is captured in a steady stream of 1s and 0s, it is critical that we pay extra attention to the human and personal qualities of each situation. It is too easy to retreat into the ether. Thats what these notebooks do for me.

--Robert Fabricant, frog design

Click on the doodle below to view Fabricant's renderings in all their wondrous, magnified glory.

This week in PopTech: Wonder women

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects, and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • Collaboration alert: Our friends at Hot Studio conducted a facilitated workshop for PopTech 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Megan White Mukuria's organization, ZanaAfrica. In their structured brainstorming session, Hot Studio and Zana developed a framework for designing the web components of Zana's services.
  • Congratulations to PopTech Fellow Hayat Sindi who was named 1 of the 100 most influential Arab women of 2012 by Arabian Business.com! A leader in both science and social innovation, Sindi launched i2, the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity at PopTech 2011. Sindi created the Institute to bridge the gap between education and opportunity in the Middle East.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Zana Africa and Hot Studio

International Women's Day 2012

Today is the 40th anniversary of International Women's Day. Intended as a celebration and recognition of women's achievements and advancement, the day boasts special events, discussions and projects related to women's issues from around the globe.

Here are just a few of the events taking place today in honor of International Women's Day (check IWD's site for a more complete list). You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter at #IWD or #Women'sDay:

  • Care.org: Care is sponsoring an online screening and discussion about the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell", which tells the story of Liberian women who took on warlords to win back peace for their country. 
  • Iran180: Iran180, which describes itself as "a diverse coalition of people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a '180' by the Iranian government on its treatment of its citizens and its illicit nuclear program" is hosting a breakfast and panel in NYC in honor of International Women's Day. The panel, moderated by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, focuses on women's issues in Iran. Footage from the discussion will be available on their site post-event.
  • Makers: Makers is a video initiative by PBS and AOL that features stories of trailblazing women (a trailer from the video project is at the head of this post.) Past PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Heather Fleming of Catapult Design is featured in one of the videos talking about how she was inspired to design and build products that provide solutions for impoverished communities. Read more...

The business of human trafficking

One-time investment banker turned author and human trafficking expert, Siddharth Kara began his quick but compelling talk at Harvard’s Social Enterprise Conference with a rather obvious point: slavery and human trafficking are illegal. The fact that there are currently twenty nine million people in slavery worldwide is a clear indication of an enormous failing of our contemporary culture.

Though Kara approaches the incredibly difficult topic of human trafficking from the business and economic side of the story, he is quick to point out that “it is not intended to lose sight of the human side of these crimes.” In fact, his approach makes the urgency around abolition even more compelling, since often the personal stories evoked in the rhetoric around these atrocities are too overwhelming to comprehend.


Powering up at the Energy Innovation Summit, part II: Quick takes

In our ongoing conversation about the future of energy - and a follow-up to our post last week - we captured some great stories from energy disruptors on the ground at ARPA-E's Energy Innovation Summit.

OPX Biotechnologies, Inc.

Makani Power


Steve Blank


Energy shop talk: Johanna Wellington on clean energy technologies

Johanna Wellington was inspired to go into a technology career because she loves math like other people enjoy doing crossword puzzles. She started off at GE as an intern, went on to be a Combustion Design Engineer, and held several other positions before joining the Research Center in her current role as Advanced Technology Leader for Sustainable Energy where she is an expert in clean energy technologies. In our ongoing conversation about energy, here's our latest edition to our series of shorts on energy disruptors.

Bioremediation: Bacteria and fungi FTW

PopTech Science Fellow Shaily Mahendra’s first science experiment began at five years old when her parents commanded that she drink her milk. She negotiated by adding soda into the mix, gradually increasing the soda to milk proportions stopping just short of the point where the milk curdled. Fast forward through college at IIT, Delhi, graduate school at U.C. Berkeley to her present teaching post as an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

These days her science experiments focus on bacteria that clean up pollution. Through a process called bioremediation, bacteria and fungi detoxify groundwater and soil contaminated with pollutants such as carcinogens. Ultimately, bioremediation gradually restores the environment to a state of pollution-free healthy regional biodiversity.

Mahendra considers herself equal parts scientist and engineer, asking tough questions and working to solve tough problems. Bioremediation brings together her interests and education in engineering, chemistry, math, biology and nanotechnology in support of her goal to help create clean water and clean energy. "I can be proud when I tell somebody, I discover bacteria that eats pollution. Every time I say those words I feel really good about it." Read more...

This week in PopTech: Cerebral matters, education toolkits and sports racers

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects, and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • Sports Racers rejoice! Ze Frank (PopTech 2004, 2005) of videoblogging fame is bringing back "The Show,” a webseries that's a continuation of an experiment with interactive storytelling he began six years ago. As he says, "...the core of the original show was never really about what I did. It was about what you did. And I have no idea what is going to happen there. It's risky, unknown and awesome." 
  • Graphic designer Nicholas Felton (PopTech 2009) is obsessed with data. He knows how many songs he’s listened to and how much it costs him per mile to fly. Felton visualized these numerous details in personal “Annual Reports.” This week Felton released The 2010/2011 Feltron Biennial Report.
  • At PopTech 2011, author Robert Neuwirth talked about life in the informal economy. Neuwirth contributed to the Mobility Issue of Makeshift, revealing the world of shadow goods, legal items that are sold around the world in quasi-legal ways. He described how these interactions can cause unexpected feedback loops. 
  • Adrian Owen (PopTech 2010) and his collaborators have utilized their own game-changing technology – previously developed for use with patients in a vegetative state – to assess a more prevalent group of brain-injured patients, those in the minimally conscious state (MCS). Their findings were released earlier this week in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
  • Yasser Ansari’s (Social Innovation Fellow 2010) Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats), strives to be what he calls “a field guide for every organism.” Today Project Noah released an education toolkit with tools and resources to help teachers and students harness the powert of Project Noah in the classroom. 

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Ze Frank

New grocery cart Kinects shopper and purchases

Earlier this week at its Seattle headquarters, Microsoft debuted a new use of its popular gaming technology. A company called Chaotic Moon demoed a shopping cart that had been outfitted with Microsoft's Kinect sensor for Windows. The carts, which will be tested later this year by Whole Foods, follow shoppers around a store keeping track of grocery lists and tallying items along the way. The tricked-out carts will even let you know if you've selected the wrong item (say, pasta with gluten versus gluten-free), and check out your purchases when your list has been completed.

Microsoft says that over 300 companies are working on commercial applications for the Kinect technology. 

Video via and hat tip to Geekwire

Powering up at the Energy Innovation Summit

ARPA-E recently wrapped up its Energy Innovation Summit, which took place just outside Washington D.C. from February 27-29. The third conference brought together leaders from academia, business, and government in order to advance energy technology innovation. Heavy-hitters like Bill Gates and Nancy Pelosi presented along with ARPA-E award recipients who’re on the ground creating new technologies that are transforming the way we consume, generate, and store energy.

On Tuesday, Arun Majumdar (Energy Salon 2011), director of ARPA-E, framed the conversation by showing the audience a punch card from the 1970s used to input data into computers and an iPhone. In the information revolution that’s taken place over the last 40 years, “we didn’t make better punch cards,” explained Majumdar. “We enabled the future and built a better world.”

Looking across U.S. history from Norman Borlaug, who initiated the Green Revolution, to Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, to Nikola Tesla, who created the AC electricity grid, begs the question - who will be this century’s greatest scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs? And the area that’s ripe for innovation is the energy space. “Energy offers the biggest challenges and opportunities,” Majumdar stated. And when we’re spending one billion dollars per day to import oil into the United States, it’s a massive drain on our economy and a national security challenge, but also it’s a huge economic opportunity to develop affordable and sustainable energy.