PopTech Blog

A look back at Haiti and Mission 4636 with Josh Nesbit and Patrick Meier

On the first anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti, we are highlighting one of the most successful collaborative efforts that emerged from the devastation. Patrick Meier, director of crisis mapping at Ushahidi and Josh Nesbit, executive director of Medic Mobile (formerly FrontlineSMS: Medic) took to the PopTech stage to describe how the various moving parts of Mission 4636 came together, a short code emergency response communication system that enabled Haitian earthquake victims to receive aid by sending a free text message to 4636.

Using Ushahidi’s free open source mapping platform customized for the disaster, a text message short code initiated by Medic Mobile and dependent on the country’s cellular technology – which remained operational – and a cadre of volunteers and translators, the system was set in motion to respond to emergencies. Thus, this coordinated response was able to meet affected Haitians’ urgent needs for medical care, food, water, security, and shelter in real time – and filter those requests (80,000 text messages were sent in the first month) by geographic area or type of need. In addition to Ushahidi and Medic Mobile, the complex effort drew upon the resources of many for-profit and non-profit entities to bring the project to life including Crowdflower, Samasource, inSTEDD, DigiCel, local radio stations, and on-the-ground relief organizations.


Neuroscientist Adrian Owen on the consequences of traumatic brain injury

The long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury, such as the one sustained by U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot through the skull at a shopping center in Tucson, Arizona this weekend, are at the center of PopTech 2010 speaker Dr. Adrian Owen’s research. Owen, a neuroscientist who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario, has been working since the 1990s to determine levels of consciousness in vegetative patients.

Patients sometimes emerge from a coma, like the one medically induced by Giffords’ doctors, without ever becoming aware. That is, they cannot follow commands and show no sign of consciousness, though their lips might move or eyelids might open. What Owen and his colleagues have discovered, though, is that some patients are conscious despite being unable to move their limbs or communicate verbally.

“We have a logical problem here,” Owen told the PopTech audience in October. “If a patient was conscious but incapable of generating responses, which is the hallmark of vegetative state, we would logically have no way of knowing if that person was conscious.”


This week in PopTech: Unplugging, mobile mapping and affordable drugs prevailing


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.

  • An Ushahidi mobile app is now available for the iPhone and iPad. Mapping on the go has many benefits. GPS-enabled devices gather exact latitude and longitude, camera-phones offer photo capability, and 3G enabled devices can upload incident reports in real time. Additionally, when an internet connection is not available, multiple reports can still be collected and uploaded at a later time when the device is connected.

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.

New books out today from PopTech 2010 presenters Kathryn Schulz and Stephanie Coontz

A couple of PopTech 2010 presenters are making moves in the publishing world today. We’re celebrating their accomplishments with the release of these authors’ talks.

The paperback version of Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong just came out as a follow-up to the bestseller published in 2010. Through anecdotes and studies, which Schulz also shares during her PopTech talk, Being Wrong examines why it’s human nature to make mistakes, trust our gut reactions, and turn a blind eye to the error of our ways.

Stephanie Coontz’s latest book, A Strange Stirring, takes a historical look at Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, and examines how married women in the early 1960s came to the realization that their domestic life dissatisfaction was rooted in political and social inequality. In her PopTech talk, Coontz touches on that topic when she discusses the historical evolution of love and marriage from separate phenomena to intertwined conventions.

Lastly, 2010 Science Fellow and attention researcher Amishi Jha studies how we can train our brains to pay attention to the present even when we’re compelled to rewind and fast forward to thoughts of the past and future. Jha studies how using mindfulness techniques to remain in the moment functions as a significant stress reducer.

Staff picks: The PopTech team's holiday reading list

As we head full tilt into the holidays, we surveyed the PopTech team to see what books they’ll be diving into between catching up with family and friends.

  • Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit (Andy Dayton, Web Designer)
  • Food Rules by Michael Pollan (Deanna Lafond, Executive Assistant)
  • Trick or Treatment by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh (Louis Juska, Director of Technology)
  • Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Colleen Kaman, Consultant)

Now that we’ve shared our picks, we’d love to hear about the page turners you’ve got on your night stands. Let us know in the comments.

Images: Babasteve

This week in PopTech: Superheroes, rock stars, and Mobile Medic

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.

  • Ben Dubin-Thaler transforms from 2009 Science Fellow to Superhero, cartooned by Rockefeller University’s magazine-style blog, The Incubator. Ben is featured with his repurposed transit bus outfitted with a high-tech science lab that serves as a mobile laboratory to get kids interested in science.
  • The New Rock-Star Paradigm is broken down for the Wall Street Journal by OK Go’s Damian Kulash. Kulash explains why succeeding in the music business isn’t just about selling albums anymore.
  • FrontlineSMS:Medic is now known as Medic Mobile. Co-founded by 2009 Social Innovation Fellow Josh Nesbit, Medic Mobile makes innovative use of mobile phones for healthcare in the developing world.

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.

Photo: Kris Krug

Spark: Great things come in SMALLabs

In continuation of PopTech’s engagement with youth and innovation, high school students and Spark Connectors Anthony Norris and Keziah Green joined game designer and Spark Innovator Katie Salen for an afternoon of hands on, mixed-reality learning at SMALLab (Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab) in New York City this past Thursday.

SMALLab-New York is housed within Quest to Learn, a school designed with the digital world in mind, encouraging strategic thinking not only through playing games but also through designing them.


Goldacre, Smith, and Abramson school us on science fails, short form storytelling and conflict resolution

As we head into the new year, we’ve just released talks from a motley assortment of folks who spoke at PopTech in 2010. Although they cover an array of topics from science to storytelling to conflict resolution, the talks’ overarching theme centers on a willingness to tilt our heads, squint our eyes, and reframe our assumptions about the way we engage in the world.

In his rapid fire talk, Ben Goldacre gives us the low down on debunking fuzzy science. From fishy studies about a fish oil remedy to improve children’s behavior to false claims about the healing power of vitamins to cure HIV, Goldacre digs deep into scientific claims to uncover the truth.

With his Six-Word Memoir Project, Larry Smith captures the “the chicken’s eye view – the little guy pecking at the world trying to make sense of it.” Stories of a mere six words from religious groups, veterans associations, suicide prevention organizations, schools, speed-dating events, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine are submitted to and published on Smith Magazine. This framework gives anyone an opportunity to voice quite a bit with not too much.

Check out the video compilation of six-word tidbits that Smith collected at the PopTech conference.

Lauren Abramson, PopTech 2010 Social Innovation Fellow, introduced her work with the Community Conferencing Center by sharing an anecdote about how a car theft in Baltimore was resolved. By shifting the emphasis from punishment to learning and accountability, Abramson believes society can reframe how it deals with crime and conflict.

Steve Johnson on how good ideas really emerge

Where do good ideas come from? What kinds of environments make them more likely, and how can we use this knowledge to generate more innovation?

PopTech 2005 speaker Steven Johnson tackles these questions in his latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation., which explores interesting stories about scientific, technological, and cultural breakthroughs. They include how Darwin’s “eureka moment” about natural selection was actually the slow evolution of ideas that eventually crystallized into an articulate theory; how Gutenberg borrowed a crucial idea from the wine industry to invent modern printing; and why GPS was accidentally developed by a pair of twenty-somethings messing around with a microwave receiver.

His most ambitious work to date, Johnson integrates many of his earlier ideas from Everything Bad is Good for You and The Invention of Air. into a kind of how-to book. With this latest work, Johnson has crafted a “natural history” of innovation by exploring the unusually successful spaces of innovation across cultural and natural systems. This “long zoom” approach moves from the complexity of the coral reef and the chemical soups from which life emerged to the architecture of successful science labs and the information networks of the Web.


Spark: Green Power's powerful simplicity

Growing Power (left) and Spark Connector Sarina Chawla (right).

About a week ago, high school senior Sarina Chawla immersed herself in the world of innovative agriculture when she visited Growing Power, an urban farm and community food center located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Chawla had attended PopTech 2010 as part of the PopTech Spark initiative, designed to inspire and encourage science, technology, engineering and math- (STEM) related endeavors—and Growing Power provided a look at how STEM is used in all aspects of the organization, from the science of composting to engineering stormwater systems. Founded by PopTech 2009 presenter and Spark Innovator, Will Allen, Growing Power utilizes urban spaces that farms typically don’t use to grow food and community. Allen explains his motivation, “I realized people didn’t have access to healthy food and I thought I could bring farms into the city.”