PopTech Blog

This week in PopTech: Cloud forests, think tanks and live performances


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.

  • In last week's T MagazineAnthony Doerr (PopTech 2009) ventures to Ecuador to explore a cloud forest. For a ten minute vacation, click on through

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Image: Lifeboat

It's Follow-Up Friday at PopTech!

You attended PopTech (this year, last year, or years ago!). You sat next to an incredible person at the opera house (or likely, quite a few) and were exhilarated by your conversation. You exchanged business cards, email addresses, Twitter handles. You meant to reach out, catch up, drop a note or grab a coffee, but days passed, things got hectic, and it just never happened. As that stack of business cards peers back at you from the corner of your desk, you feel like it might be a little awkward to contact to that person out of the blue.

Now we're giving you a free pass. December 2, 2011 is officially Follow-Up Friday at PopTech! Send that email you've been meaning to send. Meet up for coffee. Find him or her on Facebook. We'd be thrilled if you did, especially since part of what it means to attend PopTech is having an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with all the folks in our network.

And let us know in the comments some of the PopTech connections you've made since you attended the conference.

Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech

The David Wax Museum plays on

PopTech 2011 performers David Wax Museum have two shows coming up this weekend in Boston and New York. To get your feet tapping and your hands clapping in anticipation of these shows, enjoy a few of their songs from the PopTech stage.

Hear them play this Saturday, December 3, in Boston at the Arlington Street Church. Or, on Sunday, December 4, head to their show in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge.

Flashback: World AIDS Day special

On World AIDS Day, we're highlighting a few people and projects from within the PopTech community that are making inroads in the prevention of HIV/AIDS by building awareness, promoting HIV testing, and supporting people living with the disease.

2009 Social Innovation Fellow Deb Levine founded her organization, ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Services), in 2001 to build better tools to promote sexual health and prevent disease. ISIS gives people private and convenient access to information on critical health issues like HIV prevention and unplanned pregnancies.

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Kel Sheppey and his organization, Wild4Life, are focused on leveraging preexisting organizations, and especially wildlife conservation NGOs, to promote HIV testing and awareness-building campaigns in remote communities.

“Sinikithemba” is Zulu for “give us hope” or “we give hope.” The Sinikithemba Choir is a group of HIV-positive Zulu men and women, who performed at PopTech 2006, that provide support to persons with HIV/AIDS at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa.

Unlocking the autism mystery with Alysson Muotri

2011 Science Fellow Alysson Muotri spends his days using stem cells to understand autism, a disorder that affects 1% of all U.S. children. By examining the brain cells of adult patients with Rett syndrome specifically, he's trying to determine if Autism Spectrum Disorder is permanent or if it's possible to treat those cells with chemicals, inducing them to revert back to normal conditions.

Shorts: eL Seed works his calligraffiti magic

On the Village Green in Camden, Maine, eL Seed took spray can to stretched canvas and worked his calligraffiti magic.  His goal while producing this piece at PopTech 2011 -- and the aim of his work in general -- has been to combine Arabic calligraphy and graffiti in order to break down stereotypes about the Arab world, and in light of the Arab Spring, to comment on a changing world order.

Check out this video to see him in action and watch his PopTech stage talk for more insight into his work.

For an in-person dose of eL Seed’s work, along with that of five other international multimedia artists, take a trip to Montreal, Canada for Arab Winter: Weathering the Storm After the Spring at Under Pressure’s Fresh Paint Gallery, which opens this Friday, December 2. In a press release describing the show, eL Seed explains, “This is not a regular exhibit. You will leave Montreal and be transported to the streets of Tunis, Damascus, Iraq and Cairo.”

6 questions with...Tyler Gage

An entrepreneurship class at Brown University focused on using international markets to promote social change drew a handful of classmates together to begin brainstorming a project. A few years later, the outcome of that brainstorm, Runa, is the world’s only dedicated supplier of Ecuadorian guayusa tea, which is sold throughout the U.S. Guayusa, a naturally caffeinated tea leaf, is native to Ecuadorian indigenous communities and is known for providing energy without the jittery drawbacks of coffee.

Runa’s business model is such that it works closely with the hundreds of farmers who cultivate the guayusa so that they -- and their families -- can benefit from their native crop. Additionally, Runa has created the world’s first guayusa factory and is working to build a market for guayusa in the United States.

What makes Runa particularly unique is how the company focuses its efforts on protecting the Amazonian rainforest through the cultivation of guayusa, working closely with the farmers throughout the process. To learn more, we checked in with one of Runa’s co-founder’s, Tyler Gage, via our 6 questions with…series.

If I had been a fly on the wall of your office/studio, what would I have seen you doing yesterday?
On calls with FairTrade USA to coordinate the certification of our supply chain, translating a Good Standing Certificate for our Ecuadorian company from Spanish to English in order to obtain a U.S. bank account for the company, processing POs and shipments, drinking a new guayusa blend that our client, The Art of Tea, just launched using our ingredient, planning for upcoming events, and shooting blowdarts at jaguar stuffed animals with our interns.

What’s the mark you’re hoping to leave on the world? Why is your work with Runa relevant at this point in time?
Proving that ancient indigenous traditions have relevancy in the globalized world and potential to evolve and continue supporting native peoples in new ways is our shtick.  While the word Runa means “fully living human being” and is a symbol of power for the indigenous Kichwa people, in most parts of Ecuador it is used to mean “worthless” or “stray dog” (aka “not of pure Spanish heritage), representing the incredible racism and disrespect shown to indigenous families. We have to find a way for the wisdom of all people to contribute to our collective well- being as a global community.

What do you wish you had known when you began working on Runa?
How absolutely important it is to manage expectation. It’s my job. Especially working in Ecuador where the idea of communicating openly and transparently about issues and conflicts is as rare as a good Internet connection. We’ve had to learn that setting clear goals, reviewing those goals, reviewing the strategy to achieve those goals, and reviewing both the positive and negative consequences of achieving or not achieving those goals is instrumental in our success. Getting buy-in from all stakeholders, and communicating the rapid changes and evolutions of our organization with them, gives us an ability to grow quickly and cohesively.


Image-wise: The many modes of moss graffiti

Image via Inhabit

Take a few clumps of moss, de-dirted. Stir together with a couple cups of buttermilk (or a can of beer works, too) and a pinch of sugar. In the blender, mix into a paint-like consistency. Grab your paintbrush and find a damp or shady wall because with this concoction, you’ve got what you need to make some moss graffiti masterpieces.

More eco-friendly than the toxic chemicals used in spray paint, moss ‘paint’ has been embraced of late as a green alternative. A spin off of gorilla gardening, this living, breathing art form takes tagging to a whole new level. A few of our favorites:

Image via wndrng


Do you smell what I smell? Robot scents your social networks

smellable internet

Imagine you get an email from a long-lost relative and the sweet smell of roses permeates the air. Or that cute grad student you met at the bookstore tweets about you and for a second you smell cinnamon and leather - swoon. That electronics-meets-olfactory moment is just what a little white robot named Olly is out to create.

A simple white cube that connects to your computer, the USB-powered Olly has a removable compartment that holds your favorite scent, whether it be whiskey or lemondrops. Designed as a short-term project by Mint Digital's research team Foundry, the cubes are stackable and customizable. And the services Olly integrates with are potentially endless (he comes ready to program) so you're really only limited by how many scents you can tolerate at a sitting. Ready to Olly up? You can pre-order the finished model or use a 3-D printer and step-by-step instructions to build one yourself.     

The Foundry team was originally tasked to explore making something connected to the Internet that didn't live on the screen. Olly and his integration of scent and social networking is one giant sniff forward for the Internet of Things.

Image via Olly's website

Wunderkind Aidan Dwyer reimagines solar panels

While hiking through the woods, 13-year old Aidan Dwyer looked up and noted something we might not all ordinarily be predisposed to see: he noticed a pattern that resembled the Fibonacci sequence in the tree branches around him. And he wondered why that might be. He reasoned, “Since the main job of leaves is to process sunlight for photosynthesis, then it had something to do with gathering sunlight.”

And thus the wunderkind, following that reasoning to one of its logical conclusions, began experiments to build more effective solar panel models that follow the Fibonacci sequence he first noticed among the branches of an oak tree. No big deal, right?

The spiral design yielded what Dwyer deemed surprisingly positive results. In particular, his model collected 2.5 more hours of sunlight during the day than typical flat-panel designs. And this new design proved effective in a multitude of other ways. It has the ability to collect sunlight when the sun is lower in the sky. It takes up less room in urban areas where space is tight, its effectiveness isn’t reduced by shadows and it doesn’t collect the rain, dirt or snow that flat panels tend to do.

Check out the video of Dwyer’s talk to learn more about these reimagined solar panels. And take a look at the recent coverage he received on CNN.