PopTech Blog

PopTech interview: An obsession with the past projects Friends of the Pleistocene into the future

In our hectic lives, days pass into weeks into years. But how often are we confronted with evidence of a world from thousands of years prior, when glaciers covered the earth and we were evolving into what we’ve become today? Actually, much more often than we think. Evidence of the most recent geologic epoch preceding the current era we’re in – from 2,588,000 to 12,000 years BP and known as the Pleistocene – is all around us. Its omnipresence forces us to reconsider how we move through time and space.

Organizations such as the Long Now Foundation, which fosters long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10 thousand years, and The Mannahatta Project, which illustrates the original ecology of Manhattan prior to its metamorphosis by European settlers, help widen our purview. And a project called Friends of the Pleistocene (FOP), run by artists and graphic designers Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth, aims to bring greater awareness of the materials and landscapes that originated during the Pleistocene, which we encounter every day. In addition to helping us rethink how we travel through the world and evoking a sense of mystery to our often overlooked environment, their projects move us to consider the evidence we’ll be leaving behind for the next epoch.

PopTech: The FOP website states that the project explores the “conjuncture between landscape and contemporary human activity at sites shaped by the geologic epoch of the Pleistocene.” Could you elaborate further?
Jamie Kruse: We’re interested in how humans have evolved in response to landscape over the past ten thousand years. We started thinking about the Pleistocene during research trips as artists in the American West. We were encountering landscapes where you could still see the effects of the geologic era of the Pleistocene on the surface of the earth primarily in the form of ancient lake beds, which have been used a lot for runways and bombing ranges. We started to realize that geologic landscapes have been put to use in very different ways by contemporary humans than they were used in the past so that’s where we started with FOP.


Alex Godin: High school in the age of the hacker

Seventeen year old high school junior Alex Godin was a crowd-pleaser when he presented his 5-minute, 20-slide, no-nonsense talk at Ignite NYC last week, Highschool in the Age of the Hacker: What’s Wrong and What’s Right with the High School System. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, John D. Rockefeller and referencing the movie Office Space, Godin expressed emphatically that, “Hackers don’t care what the rest of the world thinks….They build something great.” Coming on the heels of winning the grand prize at NY Tech Meetup’s Startup weekend, this kid is worth keeping an eye on.

Body browsing by Google

Your anatomy and physiology lesson for the day:

Google Body is a detailed 3D model of the human body. You can peel back anatomical layers, zoom in, click to identify anatomy, or search for muscles, organs, bones and more. You can also share the exact scene you are viewing by copying and pasting the URL.

Orlagh O’Brien helps us get in touch with our emotions

We’re usually not at a loss for words to describe how we feel – as many of us experienced yesterday with expressions of love aplenty for Valentine’s Day. But what if we try to visually represent the emotions that are running through our body? That’s the question graphic designer Orlagh O’Brien was looking to answer with Emotionally}Vague, a project named “in honor of the people who don’t know how they feel.”

In a survey, O’Brien asked 250 people to represent five emotions – anger, joy, fear, sadness, and love – through words, color, and drawings of dots, lines and arrows on a human silhouette. She planned to gather the data and then figure out how to visually represent the responses. As the results trickled in, O’Brien realized, as she explained at PopTech, “there was enough data from what people were drawing to suggest patterns of feelings.”

To show those patterns, O’Brien layered the drawn responses over one another with enough transparency to obtain the collective essence of the each emotion. On love, Orlagh recently elaborated:

Love is spread evenly around the body, similar to the whole body sensation of joy. It has the widest range outside the boundary of the body, far more so than the other emotions, suggesting the greatest reach to the world around.

Hack a Kinect to make a music video: Echo Lake's Young Silence

Reminiscent of the 2008 lidar-driven video Aaron Koblin produced for Radiohead, Dan Nixon and Dom Jones used a hacked Microsoft Kinect to film this haunting and ethereal music video for the band Echo Lake. The band’s debut EP, “Young Silence,” was released today on No Pain in Pop:

The neuroscience behind your romantic attachments

Jerry, George, and all the main characters from the 1990s sitcom, Seinfeld, had attachment issues when it came to relationships. More specifically, they were characterized by what Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller call an avoidant attachment style. They tended to shy away from intimacy or closeness, sent mixed signals, refused to commit, and had difficulty communicating with their partners.

At last night’s The Neuroscience of Romantic Attachment event at The New York Academy of Sciences and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Levine and Heller, authors of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love, laid out the three attachment styles that can predict the long-term success of romantic relationships. Avoidant attachment, like Jerry and the Seinfeld gang; anxious attachment where a person is constantly worried about the state of his relationship; and secure attachment where a person has little trouble expressing her needs or wants, is comfortable with closeness, and is an excellent communicator.

A handful of noteworthy morsels came out of the session. According to Levine and Heller’s research:

  • 25% of people change their attachment style every four years.
  • Looking at a picture of your partner during a stressful or painful situation is almost as good as taking a Tylenol.
  • People in good relationships actually heal better.
  • Attachment styles affect one’s perception; people actually read words or interpret facial expressions, like when someone is about to cry, based on their attachment style.

Yet when all was said and done, a certain complexity seemed to be lacking from their analysis, which perhaps is resolved in their book. Romantic attachment isn’t as cut and dry as falling into three categories, right? It’s more of a continuum for most people rather than an either/or scenario. Also, Levine and Heller kept returning to the consensus that most relationship issues are resolved or bonds are strengthened if one partner has a secure attachment style. Well, okay…easier said than done.

This week in PopTech: Visual tributes and social solutions


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.

  • Graphic designer and 2009 PopTech presenter Nicholas Felton has released The 2010 Felton Annual Report, an infographic homage to the life of his father. Felton has published his Annual Report every year since 2005, collating countless measurements into a rich assortment of graphs and maps reflecting his life.
  • Activate the Future, a beautifully shot BMW-sponsored documentary series about the future of mobility features a numbers of noteable changemakers, including 2010 speaker and Treehugger founder, Graham Hill.

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: Nicholas Felton

Map warping at the New York Public Library

The NYPL Map Rectifier is a tool for digitally aligning (“rectifying”) historical maps from the NYPL’s collections to match today’s precise maps. Visitors can browse already rectified maps or assist the NYPL by aligning a map. Play the video to tour the site and learn how to rectify a map yourself.

At Tuesday’s Social Media Week event, Future Library: Socializing History with Maps, the New York Public Library’s Geospatial Librarian, Matt Knutzen, explained how the Library has undertaken a project to align its collection of 10,000+ digitized historical maps of New York City to current, more accurate maps. What’s particularly exciting is that the project is open to the public; anyone can help match old with new. With its Map Rectifier, “we can turn historical maps into spatial data,” Knutzen explained. Users plot a few points on an older map that correspond with the latitude and longitude of a current day map. Using geo-rectification, a.k.a. map warping, old NYC streets, buildings, transportation, and landmarks come into focus within a contemporary framework.

This New York Public Library video provides a detailed tutorial on how to rectify a map’s data.

Image: New York Public Library

Nasal attraction: How your nose can help you find a suitable partner

Recent scientific discoveries have shown that a woman’s partner choice depends on personal chemistry. More specifically, the data demonstrates that information about genetic similarities is hidden within body odor and that this information can help in the selection of a partner. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this talk will reveal how this mechanism was discovered, how it works, and how it may impact our everyday lives.

Today at the Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia:
Nasal Attraction: How Your Nose Can Help You Find a Suitable Partner:
An illustrated presentation by Dr. Johan Lundström, Monell Chemical Senses Center

Thursday, February 10, 2011, 4:00 pm
Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia, PA

Reminds us a bit of The Pheromone Party that took place in Brooklyn this past November.

Image: indiagarcia_photography

PopTech interview: Eduardo Porter on pricing education in India, fertilizer in Kenya and human life in Zimbabwe

Eduardo Porter is the author of The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do, in which he investigates the critical role prices play in shaping our lives, from having a baby to buying a car. To illustrate, his recent blog posts have included “The price of cheap food,” “The price of a sleeping bag,” “The price of a longer life” and “The price of a beer.” PopTech spoke with Porter about determining a price tag for social change.

PopTech: What’s your take on the sea-change in thinking about social innovation that’s taken place over the past decade – a shift from traditional nonprofit approaches (Donor A pays for Service B for Constituent C, who is assumed to be incapable of paying for it themselves) to more market-friendly approaches, like microfinance and social entrepreneurship?
Eduardo Porter: There have been two extremely beneficial innovations in the way non-profits go about trying to effect social change. One is the use of market mechanisms and incentives to deliver valuable services to marginalized communities. Another is the use of field-testing to evaluate projects and determine how best to accomplish program goals.

Take education in rural India. A local NGO, Seva Mandir runs several schools in the region of Udaipur, reaching students that are not served by regular government schools. The NGO’s schools suffered enormous absenteeism [by teachers]. On any given day, 44% of teachers wouldn’t show up. Absenteeism has traditionally been combated by administrators keeping score of attendance and punishing slackers. But Seva Mandir addressed the problem in an innovative way: offering teachers an incentive to show up and introducing an impersonal instrument to monitor their presence: a camera with a time stamp.

What it did was replace the standard teacher wage of Rs. 1,000 rupees per month (about $22) for 21 days of teaching, with a base salary of Rs. 500 plus an extra Rs. 50 for each day they actually taught. That meant teachers’ wages would range from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1300, depending on their attendance. To monitor their presence, a student was asked to photograph teachers with their students at the beginning and end of each school day.