PopTech Blog

PopTech interview: Data visualizing Malcolm Gladwell, NASA's Kepler project and color with Jer Thorp

Jer Thorp is a Brooklyn-based, Vancouver-bred artist and educator who builds software and utilizes data visualization to explore the intersection between art and science. He is currently the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times and a visiting professor at New York University’s ITP program where he takes an interdisciplinary approach to the aestheticization of data. PopTech spoke with Thorp about information overload, Malcolm Gladwell vs. Jean Marie Laskis, David Foster Wallace’s predictions for the future and NASA’s Kepler project.

PopTech: You’ve been the Data Artist in residence at The New York Times since October. What have you been working on?
Jer Thorp: The project has a code name, Cascade, and it’s a visualization tool that lets us look at how people are sharing New York Times content over social spaces. We’re looking at Twitter specifically, but it could be applied to any network that grows over time. So we built this tool that shows that in real time and it’s 3-D.

When it’s released, which should be happening very soon, it’ll be an internal use tool. We have some opportunities to get it into the newsroom so that people at the Times can track how the stories they’re writing are being shared. It’s more of a diagnostic tool than anything – it’s kind of like a medical tool for social networks.

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Tweezers and surgical tools: Brian Dettmer's book art

Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time. Nothing inside the out-of-date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books, or dictionaries is relocated or implanted, only removed.

Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms.

(via My Modern Metropolis)

Could this be the future of the book? We'll be exploring that topic - and more - at PopTech 2011.

Images: Brian Dettmer

PopTech 2011 conference theme announced!


A global shift is under way. The world is rebalancing.
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Look out! It's DARPA's robot cheetahs!

So the Marines roll up in their crowd-sourced Local Motors troop transport and out jumps a bunch of robotic cheetahs with lasers for eyes!  Warfare in the 21st century is gonna look like a James Cameron movie.

Image: Boston Dynamics

Twitter + theater: Reorbit launches today

Reorbit, an experiment in social media theater, has launched today. What does that mean exactly? The project hopes to enliven an audience excited by theater and literature by utilizing new media technology.

Writing in real-time, the characters use Twitter as a channel for interacting with a wider audience online. What would Kafka say in 140 characters? What would a modern-day Sylvia Plath tweet about? Social media will play a role in an actual real-time written performance of a character.

Get started by following Samuel Beckett, the Big Friendly Giant (from Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG), and Behemoth, the black cat from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita on Twitter.

Ecomaterials Lab: EcoATM makes recycling used gadgets easier

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

E-waste is a huge problem. More than 80% of the 2.25 million pounds of electronics discarded every year in the U.S. end up in landfills. Filled with toxic waste - arsenic, cadmium, mercury – these items poison the ground and can easily contaminate water supplies. Add to this the economic and human costs of mining rare earth metals such as coltan, often referred to as 'blood minerals' because of the conflict zones from which they come; AND the vicious cycle of buy-discard-upgrade that is the hallmark of our gadget-obsessed culture and you have an extraordinary environmental problem.

The EcoATM is definitely a step in the right direction. Simply insert your old phone (or other device) and the EcoATM erases its memory, assigns a value to the item, and spits out a reward in the form of coupons, gift certificates, cash, etc. The company also takes care of all collection and recycling, including complete compliance with all e-waste laws. A step in the right direction, EcoATM bows to the notion that consumers will do the right thing if it’s convenient enough. And now that the company has new financing from Coinstar and the National Science Foundation, there's hope that we'll see EcoATMs popping up across the country.

A YouTube orchestra at your fingertips

Melodic, transfixing and just plain fun, In Bb 2.0 embedded 20 YouTube videos of musicians singing or playing an instrument onto one page. Play as many videos at whatever volume you like for a beautiful cacophony of sound.

In Bb 2.0 is a collaborative music and spoken word project conceived by Darren Solomon from Science for Girls, and developed with contributions from users.

The videos can be played simultaneously — the soundtracks will work together, and the mix can be adjusted with the individual volume sliders.

Image: In Bb 2.0

Ecomaterials Lab: Mapping our way out of a mess

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

As a society, we use too much…stuff. Stuff that is manufactured in increasingly dangerous ways. When we’re done with these (mostly) unneeded and toxic items, we throw them in landfills or they end up in our oceans. Not exactly a news flash, but still worth repeating. Like energy and climate change, the issue of materials sustainability is real and immediate. In 2010, PopTech initiated the Ecomaterials Innovation Lab, an all-star network of stakeholders focused on ways to bring next-generation sustainable materials innovation to scale. Below are some of our findings from the first meeting of the Lab last July (read the full report in "PDF form) as well as recommendations for how we might go forward toward a brighter materials future:

  • There’s a surprising lack of consensus about how to ‘get there’ – including where ‘there’ is. Unlike, say, the '350' goal: among climate change advocates (stabilizing carbon dioxide at 350 parts per million in the atmosphere), there is no equivalent “grand vision” for materials sustainability. There are no agreed upon definitions for the most basic terms (see “eco” and “green.”) A huge part of the problem is that success, like the terms used to describe it, is in the eye of the beholder.
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This week in PopTech: Fellows Friday

Ory Okolloh

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.

  • Kiwanja.net founder, Ken Banks (Social Innovation Fellow 2008) is rethinking social entrepreneurship with the rise of the “reluctant innovator.” Banks works to empower local, national and international non-profit organizations to make better use of information and communications technology in their work.

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: Fast Company

Our Christmas with Glenn Beck

Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert, 2009 Social Innovation Fellows, founded Energize Clinton County (ECC) in an attempt to save their hometown, Wilmington, Ohio, from economic ruin. Wilmington was home to the largest DHL hub in the world until it closed operations there in 2008, resulting in the loss of 7,000 jobs in a town of 12,000 people. Inspired by Obama, they both quit their jobs in the Peace Corps in 2008 and returned home to devote their lives to revitalizing the city they love.

Last year, Glenn Beck discovered Wilmington and decided he was going to help. On December 15, 2010, Beck hosted his show live from Wilmington where he proceeded to glamorize the town (“It’s a Wonderful Life” was a recurring theme). Stuckert and Rembert met Beck, and Beck decided he liked them in spite of their left leaning political views. He has since made Wilmington a regular talking point on his show and featured Wilmington again on January 21, 2011.

Stuckert and Rembert were recently in New York to meet with Beck. Despite their skepticism (he has promised never to politicize Wilmington again), he continues to remain committed to helping the town and the ECC initiative. Beck’s commitment is a double-edged sword; he’s an incredibly divisive public figure but also the only nationally recognized one to make a long-term commitment to their project. And apparently, Beck’s fans have made Wilmington a must-see destination so the town is actually benefiting financially from this attention.

We asked Stuckert and Rembert to share their thoughts on PopTech’s blog about Beck’s dedication to their work and their hometown.

By Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert

Last fall, Glenn Beck was arguably at an all-time high for coverage on blogs, websites, talk shows, and in newspapers. He was a focal point of controversy and his bursts of emotion and contentious zingers were a constant centerpiece on the Daily Show with John Stewart. So we definitely had mixed feelings when we heard the rumor that Glenn Beck was coming to Wilmington to do an event at the Historic Murphy Theatre.

Glenn Beck promised to us, though, that he would not make this a political event. His desire was to share the story of our community’s resilience, innovativeness, and leadership. He said that he saw our community as an inspiration and a model for the rest of the country. How could we disagree with his view of our community? Our work is premised on that view—that many of the solutions to the country’s most pressing challenges are rooted in local communities.

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