PopTech Blog

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


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.


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


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."

Image-wise: Technicolor ice castles

The International Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is a three-month event held in Harbin, in China’s northern Heilongjiang province, which opened Friday, January 5.

via L.A. Times

Photo: Diego Azubel/EPA

Twine: Teaching your objects to speak

by Chris DeLuca

With its user-friendly interface, Twine is a small box that empowers non-programmers and those with limited coding knowledge to create their own DIY electronics projects.  Working out of the MIT Media Lab, John Carr and David Kestner designed the device to respond to a change in its environment and trigger a response or relay that information via text, Twitter, or email.

Twine is connected to a web application where users can input their desired variables. The simplified web app is a rules-based interface, which lets you quickly set up your notifications in real-time and take action once the variable has been met. The basic formula is: if something happens, then tell Twine to perform an action.  For example, if you set up Twine to notify you when the temperature in your house drops below a certain point, Twine can then be programmed to turn on your heating. Read more...

This week in PopTech: Reality based games, science critics, and reforestation opportunities

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.

  • Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an article on solar wunderkind Aidan Dwyer. The 12-year-old Dwyer talks about his critics, his solar panel discovery, and his latest research. Watch his PopTech 2011 talk here.
  • This week in The GuardianKen Banks (PopTech Social Innovation Faculty) outlines his hopes for the information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) community over the next 12 months.
  • Finally, we've been following Pieter Hoff's efforts to combat desertification since his 2010 appearance on the PopTech stage. Most recently, Hoff's endeavors were explored in a recent New Yorker feature. If you missed our post earlier this week, here's the scoop.  

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

Image: Spore

Collaboration alert: Sarah Fortune and Lukas Biewald

In 2010, Sarah Fortune came to PopTech looking for a solution. The 2010 PopTech Science Fellow and researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health had hit a wall in her research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. She needed a way to analyze streams of images of the bacteria -- as quickly and cheaply as possible -- or one line of her research would stall.

“I thought maybe we could crowdsource it,” she recalled in front of a packed house at PopTech 2011. “So I asked onstage, ‘Is there an app for that?’ Unbelievably, someone in the audience called out and then made it happen.”

That someone was Josh Nesbit, a 2009 Social Innovation Fellow, who connected Fortune to Lukas Biewald, co-founder of CrowdFlower, an Internet-based crowdsourcing company. The rest, as they say, is history.

To learn more about their collaboration, watch their PopTech 2011 talk or read the rest of this post from the conference.

Erik Hersman makes the case for Africa's upswing

In asking us to shed outdated notions of Africa as a place wracked by poverty and war, during his PopTech 2011 talk Erik Hersman (PopTech 2008 Social Innovation Fellow) lays out numerous examples of entrepreneurship and innovation streaming out of that continent, and specifically, out of Kenya. As you watch his talk, use this guide with accompanying links, to cross-reference some of the examples he's provided:

  • iHub: Open space for technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in Nairobi.
  • Akira Chicks: All-girl coding group in Nairobi responsible for M-Farm.
  • M-Farm: A transparency tool for Kenyan farmers to get information about the retail price of their products, buy their farm inputs directly from manufacturers, and find buyers for their produce.
  • Frances Kere: An architect from Burkina Faso who builds schools using sustainable materials.
  • Maker Faire Africa: A community of makers and handcrafters in Africa focused on origin, ingenuity, and innovation.
  • Pivot 25: Mobile apps and developers conference and competition focused in East Africa.
  • AfriLabs: Established African tech incubators and open collaboration spaces banding together to further promote the growth and development of the African technology sector.
  • M-PESA: A peer-to-peer mobile transfer solution that enables customers to transfer money.
  • Ushahidi: A non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping.
  • MXit: A social networking site and instant messenger platform.

Snowflakes made to order

When Kenneth Libbrecht utters the words “let it snow,” the universe obliges — even in southern California, even in the summer. Libbrecht is a physicist at Caltech, but he’s also a snowflake designer, manipulating water and air in his laboratory to produce the exquisite ice crystals we love to sing about —and to play about in — each winter.

But why? What secrets can a tiny, elemental snowflake yield to science today? As Libbrecht recently told the journal Nature (subscription required):

We see these beautiful structures falling from the sky, and we still cannot explain how they came to be. When you ask how snowflakes form, you are really asking about how molecules go from a disordered gaseous state to an ordered crystalline lattice. Unexpected phenomena can emerge — snowflakes are one fascinating example.

So his interest boils down to wanting to understand how crystals grow, the physics of which may find application in materials science. More specifically, Libbrecht is trying to understand why temperature has such a dramatic impact on the shape of snow crystals, producing simple, needle-like crystals at one temperature and extraordinarily complex, star-like ones at another. It's hard to believe, but the physics responsible for this transformation is still a mystery.

It should be said that Libbrecht’s interest in snowflakes isn’t purely academic. He’s an accomplished snowflake photographer, an author of several books on the icy crystals, and a pilgrim of sorts, who travels to snowflake “hot spots” – in Canada and Japan, for example – in search of the world’s best snow crystals. (Visit his website, SnowCrystals.com, for a flurry of facts and images about snowflakes including whether any two are the same.)