PopTech Blog

Pine Point knows how to tell a story

Pine Point started off as a book but quickly morphed into something that could only exist online: a scrapbook (of sorts) that uses films, old photos, and audio recordings to tell the true story of a small Canadian town that simply disappeared one day. (via VSL)

Created by The Goggles (Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons) and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, this "interactive documentary," as they call it, is pitch perfect. Poignant, nostalgic, historical, entertaining and interactive in a completely intuitive way, could Pine Point be the future of the book? Watch it over lunch - it's best consumed when you've got 20+ minutes to spare.

You make plastic out of what? Ryan Smith tells all.

Someday soon we may all be drinking water out of biodegradable plastic bottles made from raw sewage. Yes, raw sewage. That is, if Micromidas has anything to do with it. Founded by 2010 Social Innovation Fellow Ryan Smith, Micromidas feeds raw sewage to bacteria that, in turn, turns it into plastic. It's an elegant solution that solves two problems simultaneously: it reduces the use of harmful petroleum-based plastics and uses sewage instead of resources like oil and coal.

Recently, PopTech asked Smith about the potential long-term impact of Micromidas.

Micromidas can play a critical role in transitioning the chemicals industry from petroleum-based feedstocks towards low-cost renewably-sourced feedstocks. There has been a great deal of discussion over the last few years about developing a biorefinery platform within the fuels and chemicals industries. I believe that Micromidas has found a pathway to achieving this ideal by efficiently taking wastewater bio-solids and converting them to commodities materials and chemicals such as plastics. We're also very proud of the fact that our bio-plastic is marine biodegradable and can help prevent further pollution of our oceans.

So those plastic islands floating in the middle of the ocean that amount to the size of Texas? Micromidas won't be contributing to that problem. Its plastics break down within one year.

Ecomaterials Labs: Bouncing back with Comet's soy-based skateboards

(NOTE: This is a corrected version of yesterday’s post. We incorrectly reported that Comet was currently producing skateboards using a degradable, soy-based polymer resin. This is currently being prototyped.)

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

With a freak dump truck accident and a fire in its new production facility, 2010 was a rough year for Comet Skateboards. These setbacks, however, could not crush the Comet team’s collective spirit:

"Like an interstellar Comet, we rolled with all the cosmic forces only to return full force." Totally.

The Ithaca, NY-based Comet prides itself on its sustainable ethos.  The team makes its boards from FSC certified maple with formaldehyde-free glue, and water-based inks and clear coat.  The team uses about 20 or so 5-gallon plastic buckets worth of glue every month. Rather than being sent to landfill, the used buckets are re-purposed by sustainable entrepreneur Tom Shelley for his Sustainable Chicken Project.

Shelley gives the buckets to Ithaca residents to collect compostable kitchen scraps that he then brings to his farm. The compost helps generate food for his chickens that lay eggs, which he then resells to the community.

Comet also has a deal with designer L.L. Hammond who takes the off-cuts from the Comet CNC production process for use as heating fuel for their shared production facility and as raw materials for his high-end furniture.

In addition, Comet has plans this summer to prototype a skateboard made from a degradable, plant-based polymer resin developed by Ecomaterials Lab participant Anil Netravali's team at Cornell University.

As Comet co-founder Jason Salfi put it: “It is not just one novel solution that makes us tick but an ever evolving symphony of intelligent moves.”

Since last October, Comet has rolled out the Grease Shark and the Ethos, and they recently announced new graphics from artists Arlo Chapple and Kadie Salfi. After 2010, here's hoping 2011 is all downhill.

Meet the Comet team this Friday, March 11 at the Longboard Expo NYC.

Emily Pilloton is a character

Tomorrow, March 8, at 11/10 CT, USA Network will feature 12 cultural influencers in its Character Approved Awards, including 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow and Project H founder Emily Pilloton along with Foursquare founders, Naveen Selvadurai and Dennis Crowley, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and architect Walter Hood among others.  From technology to design to film, social good and more, the special will highlight the work of people who are changing the face of American culture.  For a preview, check out this trailer featuring Pilloton describing her work with Project H.

Pieter Hugo's Permanent Error

These images are of people and landscapes at an expansive dump of obsolete technology in Ghana. The area, on the outskirts of a slum known as Agbogbloshie, is referred to by local inhabitants as Sodom and Gomorrah, a vivid acknowledgment of the profound inhumanity of the place. When Hugo asked the inhabitants what they called the pit where the burning takes place, they repeatedly responded: 'For this place, we have no name'.

E-waste is a massive, and massively overlooked, problem. Pieter Hugo's stark photography forces us to confront the discrepancy between society's desire for the newest, flashiest gadgets and electronics and the lack of care and accountability about where they go to die.

As part of PopTech's ongoing effort to be a part of the solution and address this imbalance, we'll continue to bring these issues to the forefront through our Ecomaterials Labs.

Images: Pieter Hugo

This week in PopTech: Medical miracles, synthetic biology and making mobile count

A Human Heart Beats

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.

  • Regenerative medicine expert Dr. Stephen Badylak (PopTech 2008) shocked the medical world when two of his patients re-grew severed fingertips in just six weeks. Badylak was recently featured on National Geographic’s Explorer series, in the episode “How to Build a Beating Heart,” where he and his colleagues applied breakthrough solutions to help Iraqi war veterans re-grow tissue and body parts lost in battle. For more on regenerative human cells and tissue through the use of 3D organ printing see our related interview with Dr. Gabor Forgacs.

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: National Geographic

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.

Read more...

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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today for PopTech 2011!

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