PopTech Blog

This week in PopTech: Sounds of science and extinction

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.

  •  (PopTech 2010, PopTech 2011) contributed to the Los Angeles Times this week to address the question, is marriage going the way of the electric typewriter and the VHS tape? "Not exactly," says Coontz.
  • Alan Rabinowitz (PopTech 2010), defender of big cats, appeared on TreeHugger Radio this week. In the interview, Rabinowitz explained why the key to fighting extinction is for humans and predators to share land in peace.
  • Congratulations to PopTech 2012 Social Innovation Fellow Bryan Doerries, whose Outside the Wire and E-Line Media have received a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Award for the development of Online Graphic Novel/Sequential Art Authoring Tools for Use by Service Members and Veterans.

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: Nite_Owl

Interview: Social Innovation Fellow Chris Marianetti on Found Sound Nation's new initiative with the State Department

Found Sound Nation, 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Chris Marianetti’s organization that unites people through collaborative music projects, recently announced some exciting news. It’s partnering with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on a new initiative, OneBeat. This project, which kicks off in September 2012, will bring together over 50 musicians to the U.S. from around the world, ages 19-35, for a month-long exchange to connect with American musicians and audiences, and especially those in underserved communities. We checked in with Marianetti to see how the project came to fruition with the State Department and what he’s most excited to see from the partnership.

PopTech: How did the collaboration between Found Sound and the State Department come to fruition?
Chris Marianetti: Buckminster Fuller talks about the "coincidental nature of discovery" as a wave that rolls across the environment of exploration and invention.  It was a wave like this that rolled across our organization, Found Sound Nation, most recently.

About a year ago we held a strategic planning meeting about the future of our organization.  We dreamed up something that, to our surprise, shared a lot of similarities with the ideas that some people in the State Department were thinking about at the same time. 

We envisioned creating a music exchange project that, in a sense, disrupts how a traditional music "festival" operates.  We imagined that the focus of this musical happening would be not only performance, but on the creation of original music via an intensive people-to-people exchange of ideas and creativity.  We also felt that these collaborative exchanges had to be shared with an ever-widening circle of folks who are culturally, geographically, and technologically connected to this happening.  We imagined that great artists would come together not only to create amazing new music, but also to share these music-making experiences with youth and communities. 

Read more...

Bird brains, chattering elephants, savvy cephalopods: What defines animal intelligence?

Dog looking at a parrot

What if brain size, the yardstick by which intelligence has primarily been measured, actually had little to do with how "smart" one is? What if animals, long thought humans' intellectual inferiors, actually have their own systems for communicating, problem-solving, and navigating their respective worlds -- systems we may only be beginning to understand or even recognize?

In a recently published article in Orion magazine about an octopus named Athena, writer Sy Montgomery posits that octopuses and other creatures are actually much more clever than we give them credit for. Like us, they enjoy solving puzzles, playing with toys, and even have distinct personalities (from aggressive to methodical and even impetuous). The observed intelligence in these cephalods has inspired at least one blog: The Octopus Chronicles. 

Animal communication expert Katy Payne spoke at PopTech 2009 on her work with elephants. Careful observation of captive elephants lead her to realize that they were communicating with each other at sub-sonic levels: below the level at which humans can hear. This breakthrough enabled her to found the Elephant Listening Project, which "seeks to learn about [elephants'] lives and the unique threats they face, and to directly aid in their conservation." Read more...

Image-wise: Bruce Munro's field of light

by Chris DeLuca

British artist Bruce Munro's 'Field of Light' installation was recently exhibited at the Holburne Museum in Bath, England.

The field encircles the building, infusing the exterior space with an expanse of color and light in the dark. The Holburne Installation consists of over 5,000 bulbs planted throughout the grounds of the museum. An intricate network of fiber optic cables connects each acrylic stem crowned by a frosted sphere to the collective sculptural piece.

via DesignBoom

Image: Mark Pickthall

Jan Chipchase on design methodologies and imperialistic inclinations

When Jan Chipchase, head of research for frog Design, spoke at PopTech 2011 he described how his team spends weeks on the ground, living with participants around the globe and observing the activities and rules of their daily lives in order to design products, services, and technologies based on their findings. His talk provoked a series of questions from the audience about the ethics and integrity of his work and this past Friday he responded, at length, in an essay on his blog entitled Imperialist Tendencies. He introduces the piece by setting forth the following framework:

I enjoyed going to the recent Pop!Tech conference – the combination of bright minds, warm hearts and the Maine autumn is highly conducive to reflecting on what has been and imagining on what will be next.

During the event, I gave a talk to the audience about my research work, and in the panel session at the end of my talk I took two questions from a member of the audience relating to personal motivations of doing this kind of research and whether anyone has the moral right to extract knowledge from a community for corporate gain. Given the asker’s frustrated-politeness I’ll paraphrase what I (and a bunch of folks that came up to me after the talk) took as the intent of his questions:

  • What is it like working for BigCorps pillaging the intellect of people around the world for commercial gain?
  • How do you sleep at night as the corporations you work for pump their worthless products into the world?

Short answer is that I sleep just fine*.

Those with a desire to go beyond the 110 character headlines should draw a fresh mug of their favourite brew, find a comfy armchair and read on.

After you watch his PopTech talk, continue reading Chipchase's full response to some tough questions around design methodology, globalization, and social good.

This week in PopTech: Design scholarships, material engineering, and saving the American Dream

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.

  • Architect Neri Oxman (PopTech 2009) is the founder of MATERIALECOLOGY, an interdisciplinary design initiative expanding the boundaries of computational form-generation and material engineering. Yesterday, Oxman's recent work creating 3D prints inspired by nature was featured on Mashable. 

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: MIT Media Lab

Craftivism: Getting crafty for social causes

Valentine in the city

There was an interesting post on Treehugger earlier this week, highlighting a movement calling itself "Craftivism". The folks involved define themselves as doing "projects to make people think about global injustice, poverty and human rights through the seeds planted by public [craftivism] art."

In 2009, crafter Sarah Corbett started a blog looking to combine her activism and crafting to forge a new way to raise awareness of social issues. That blog eventually became the London-based Craftivist Collective, with members now all over the world helping each other complete projects, providing crafting kits, connecting and running events and installations. In the collective spirit of the craft community, Corbett credits knitter, writer and activist Betsy Greer with originally coining the term craftivism and lending a guiding hand as the movement has gained momentum. 

Projects have ranged from making and handing out hand-stitched handkerchiefs with the message "Don't blow it" to local politicians, to hacking Barbie dolls to promote awareness for maternal health issues

Read more...

Shima'a Helmy rises up, on film and beyond

Egyptian activist Shima’a Helmy joined filmmakers Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton onstage at PopTech 2011 to talk about their collaboration on the upcoming documentary film, If, which explores what it’s like being a young revolutionary through the eyes of four different Egyptian women, including Helmy.

Following their talk, we had an opportunity to sit down with Helmy one-on-one in Camden to get her thoughts on where the revolution is headed. We've excerpted the interview here:

If the iconic image of protest in the 60's is a hippie slipping a flower into a gun barrel, the image for this generation's protest may be a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab and holding up a cell phone.

Shima'a Helmy is one of the young Egyptians who led that country's uprising in January of 2011. Using social media, street canvassing and her own steely determination to change her country for the better, 21-year old Helmy forewent her studies to help galvanize a revolution. The rest is quite literally history. 

PopTech: Can you speak to the dichotomy between being a devout Muslim and being an agent for change? How do these things influence each other, guide each other?
Shima'a Helmy: I think if you look deep inside the real essence of Islam, you'll see that it revolves around the fact that the Muslim is supposed to be a positive person in his or her society. They should help others, they should be cooperative, and they should try to be as positive as they can.

Read more...

Password protected? 1,000 most frequently used passwords

You wouldn’t leave your door unlocked when you’re not at home. Yet, you probably do the online equivalent every day, exposing your bank account, inbox, social network – even your very identity - to the prying eyes of hackers.

After all, in this digital age, protecting our privacy comes down to those simple strings of characters that cause no end of grief: passwords. So we routinely commit the deadly sins of password protection—picking passwords that are easy to guess, using the same ones for multiple purposes, and never bothering to change them—even though we know better.

I recently stumbled across Top 1000 Passwords—a simple visualization of the one thousand most popular passwords extracted from a few leaked databases—that drives this point home. The folks at Dazzlepod, a web development company, created the Wordle to remind us just how easy it is for a hacker to take a leaked database and extract from it pairs of e-mail addresses and passwords. It's constructed from data on more than 400,000 users.

(They detail how to crack passwords here.) 

The top 5 passwords?

  1. 123456 (appearing more than 5,000 times)
  2. password
  3. 123456789
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345678

Read more...

Dominic Muren on why makers matter

2011 Social Innovation Fellow Dominic Muren is looking out for the makers of the world, the people "that are creating things that the market can't create for them because it won't or can't." His organization, Humblefactory, develops tools and design approaches which assist these folks where mainstream manufacturing can't because of the large-scale capital, space, or scope that tends to be required.

During Muren's PopTech talk, he walks through a number of examples of makers that are carving their own path -- and those who have been helped along by Humblefactory. Follow along with links to these makers, craftspeople, and DIY-ers as you watch Muren's PopTech talk.

  • Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories and their Eggbot, an open-source art robot that can draw on spherical or egg-shaped objects from the size of a ping pong ball to that of a small grapefruit
  • The DODO iPad case, the "Rolls Royce of iPad cases"
  • Suzanne Lee and the bacteria cellulose fabric she uses to create clothing
  • RepRap, the 3-D desktop printer and community project focused on making self-replicating machines
  • The Skin-Skeleton-Guts manufacturing framework, which allows hardware to be repaired, upgraded, or customized much more easily than existing devices

As Muren concludes, these project matter because, "someday a maker might make you smile, someday a maker might save your job, someday a maker might save your city. Maybe someday you'll be a maker."