PopTech Blog

6 questions with...Jonathan Harris

PopTech’s series, 6 questions with… gives us a chance to get into the heads of social innovators, technologists, artists, designers, and scientists to see what makes them tick.

Artist, computer scientist and Internet anthropologist, Jonathan Harris (PopTech 2007) explores the intersection between human emotion, technology, and storytelling. He's known for insightful and inventive projects including We Feel Fine and Universe among many others. Last week Harris released a striking new video about one of his most recent projects, Today, a follow-up to a year-long project in which he posted one photo online each day for a year. In describing that highly personal project, he says, “I wanted to find a way to be more in the moment, to be more in every day. To understand time more. To understand my own life more. To have more memories. Basically, to live more richly as a human life, not just as a work life.”  To learn more about his current mindset and approach, we checked in with Harris.

If I'd been a fly on the wall of your office/studio, what would I have seen you doing yesterday?
Up until last week, I was living and working in an old church, built in 1903 by Norwegian missionaries, in a small Icelandic fishing village, way up north.  I've been there for most of the last year, hiding away from the world to finish up a big new project, which I'll be releasing later this spring. Today, I'm sitting at a friend's kitchen table in Brooklyn.  I'm not sure what the next step will be for me, geographically.  I'm just taking one day at a time, looking for signs, and waiting to see where they point.


Staff picks: What PopTech is reading now

Here at PopTech, we've always got our collective noses stuck in a magazine, online or print. What follows is a compilation of articles that have left the greatest impression on the PopTech team in the past few weeks. 

  • On Chernobyl by Keith Gessen and Svetlana Alexievich, N+1 (Andy Dayton, Web Designer)
  • Impact Market Failure by Kevin Starr, Stanford Social Innovation Review (Ollie Wilder, Program Manager, PopTech Accelerator)
  • Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker (Assistant, Sarah Graalman)
  • Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, The Paris Review (Keryn Gottshalk, Participant Facilitator)
  • Social Animal by David Brooks, The New Yorker (Emily Qualey, Online Producer)

Stay tuned: more Staff picks coming soon!

Image: blinkofaneye via N+1

Collaboration alert: Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck (presented by Spike Jonze)

Here's an entertaining collaboration for your viewing pleasure - cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Lil Buck caught on tape by Spike Jonze. Jonze explains:

The other day, I was lucky enough to be at an event to bring the arts back into schools and got to see an amazing collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma and a young dancer in LA, Lil Buck. Someone who knows Yo-Yo Ma had seen Lil Buck on YouTube and put them together. The dancing is Lil Buck's own creation and unlike anything I've seen. Hope you enjoy.

This week in PopTech: Concerts, community health and college

Zoe Intel

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.

  • Live 4 Sendai, a live concert and fundraising event for Japan, boasted many familiar faces from the PopTech stage. The event was hosted by Ze Frank (PopTech 2004, 2005) and featured musical entertainment by Imogen Heap (PopTech 2004, 2005), Amos Lee (2008), Zoe Keating (PopTech 2007, 2009) among others. 
  • SwiftRiver, a product that brings structure to crowdsourced information projects built by Ushahidi (PopTech 2008, 2009) was profiled in the New York Times last week. 
  • Abby Falik (Social Innovation Fellow 2008), founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year (GCY), which aims to institutionalize a global service “gap year” for young Americans between high school and college has been featured in the Christian Science Monitor to talk about how GCY is fundamentally transforming how young people understand and act on their responsibilities as global citizens. 

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: Intel

Watch Jonathan Harris' 'Today' today

When Jonathan Harris (PopTech 2007) turned 30, he began a simple ritual of taking one photo per day and posting it, along with a short story, to his website before going to sleep. He called the project, "Today".

Harris, along with his friend Scott Thrift of m ss in p eces, made a video about his year-long project after the 365th photo had been posted. It's worth watching all eight captivating minutes.

Interview: Emily Pilloton on chicken coops, farmers markets and sustainable design

High school students designing chicken coop models

Project H
Founder Emily Pilloton (Social Innovation Fellow 2009) has her hands full in Bertie County, North Carolina. She’s educating high school students about design and sustainability, prototyping chicken coops and planning a farmers market in a neighboring town. We caught up with her for an update.  

PopTech: What’s Project H up to in North Carolina?
Emily Pilloton: We have been working in Bertie County, the poorest and most rural county in the state, for two years now. Last year, we wrote a curriculum for high school education and became high school teachers. The Studio H curriculum draws from many of the design/build curricula you see in college-level architecture programs, like Auburn's Rural Studio, but does it at a high school level. The motto is "Design. Build. Transform." We teach design as a creative process, within a shop class environment, and put those skills towards solutions that Bertie County is asking for and desperately needs.

PT: How is Studio H different from other forms of design education in public schools?
EP: It is full-scale architecture - each year our students design and physically build one contextually responsive and socially transformative piece of architecture to house new innovative programming in Bertie County (this year, a farmers market pavilion for the town of Windsor).

Over the course of one year, our junior-year students earn 17 college credits and high school elective credit, plus summer wages to build the structure. My partner Matthew Miller and I are the instructors, teaching every day, three hours a day, within the school schedule. We have raised money to self-fund the entire program and offer it to the school district at absolutely no cost.

From San Francisco to Paris in 2 minutes

Beep Show made a time-lapse video of a flight between San Francisco and Paris taking a photo about every two minutes through the duration of the flight. All take-off and landing images are computer model renderings since the FAA prohibits the use of cameras at the beginning and end of flights. Spoiler alert! Around 1:10, the plane flies through the aurora borealis resulting in some gorgeous, otherworldly images.

Collaboration alert: Gideon Obarzanek and Reuben Margolin connect

The story of Gideon Obarzanek and Reuben Margolin began at the Camden Opera House during PopTech 2009.  Choreographer Obarzanek presented about the work Chunky Move, his Australian-based modern dance company that’s known for immersing dancers in a world of motion tracking and projection technology. Reuben Margolin, a California-based artist showed off his kinetic sculptures, objects that mimic nature that are mainly constructed from wood, pulley and motors. They saw each other’s presentations and knew there was an opportunity to create something together.

A year and a half later, Connected, the collaboration between Margolin and Obarzanek was first performed at Australia's Malthouse Theater in March. It will be performed again from May 10-14 at the Sydney Theater. 

In the following video, which includes voiceover from Margolin’s PopTech talk, Obarzanek provides a preview of the performance.

Additional images of Obarzanek and Margolin’s performance can be seen on Chunky Moves’ website.

And stay tuned as PopTech will continue to follow the story of their unfolding collaboration.

Image-wise: BrightSource Energy's mega wattage

BrightSource Energy is on its way to building the world's largest solar themal energy project with recently secured funds from Google and the U.S. Department of Energy. The company will generate enough energy in the Mojave Desert to power 140,000 California homes by the time it reaches capacity in 2013.

This won't be a set of photovoltaic panels like you might see on you're neighbor's roof; the solar themal system consists of thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto a water-filled boiler, creating steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity. It's cheaper than conventional solar panels, but just as reliable. The Ivanpah system goes one step further by converting steam back into water, allowing it to use 95% less water than other solar thermal systems.

via Fast Company

Image: BrightSource Energy

One year later: Michael Blum on the state of the Gulf coast

Almost a year since the Gulf oil spill, Michael Blum believes we’ve still got a long way to go until we recover from the damage wrought on the coast’s shoreline, ecology, and community. Blum, a Tulane University ecology and evolutionary biology professor, has become an expert on the oil spill’s clean up efforts and the long-term environmental and health implications. We checked in with him to hear his take on what’s transpired since he spoke about the oil spill at PopTech this past fall.

PopTech: In your PopTech talk you’d said, "We're left with the question: How do we go from where we are now to where we need to be going?" How far do you think we've come since the oil spill last year? Have your thoughts shifted on where we need to be going?
Michael Blum: My instinctual response is to say that we haven't come far enough over the past year. There are a number of key milestones that might have been reached, but weren't. These include critical aspects of recovery, such as removing all oil from affected shorelines; the enactment of a comprehensive research and monitoring program by BP; and issuance of a long term vision for restoring the Gulf coast, focusing on areas of the Mississippi River Delta that were among the most impacted by the spill. Granted, such things take time, so we need to continue making forward progress, day by day, until we reach these milestones. Doing anything less would jeopardize the long-term health and well-being of the Gulf coast.