Tony Hey, in charge of external research for Microsoft, is interested in the impact of digital data across all fields – not just science, but the humanities as well. Thousands of years ago, he tells us, people were looking at the stars to understand celestial mechanics – they wrote down and shared their observations. This was the beginning of experimental science. Not until the 1600s did we see the emergence of theoretical structures to predict scientific behavior in the work of Kepler and Newton – they introduced a second paradigm forcus on generalization and theory.
We’re now moving towards a third paradigm: computational science. This is the only ways we can look at problems like climate change and galaxy formation, Hey tells us. And there’s a fourth paradigm – data-intensive science, where we examine massive data sets to make new kinds of discoveries.
Hey believes that scientists need to think about and explain how scientific discovery happens in this new, fourth paradigm. He’s asked scientists to share essays on the topic, and they’ve been published in a creative commons, downloadable book called “”research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/fourthparadigm/ “>The Fourth Paradigm”.
Tony Hey. photo by Kris Krüg
To fully embrace this fourth paradigm of data-intensive science, we need lots of scientists. Hey references his colleague Curtis Wong, who’s pioneered the WorldWide Telescope, a program that turns your computer into a telescope using data collected from the best telescopes around the world. WorldWide Telescope powers Galaxy Zoo, a site that lets “citizen scientists” classify galaxies by their shape. Citizens can do real science – Hey points us to the Hanny van Arkle’s object, the bluest galaxy we’ve ever seen. The galaxy was discovered by a Dutch schoolteacher, and it’s now a target for exploration with the Hubble telescope.
Other citizen science projects include"Fold It, a computer game about protein folding which actually forward research on genetics, proteins and molecular structure. Another project invites students to run scenarios about global warming on their home and classroom computers based on a wide range of starting parameters – by running these simulations, schoolkids can discover that global warming may evolve very differently based on minor changes in starting parameters.
For these models of citizen science to work, Hey recommends a model: engage the viewer, build mental models, and access reference material to validate. You need to draw viewers in, help them understand what they’re seeing through a scientific model and then confirm those models with data and through authoritative sources.
Trying to open science to a larger audience, Hey tells us about Project Tuva. This is an unpacking of seven physics lectures by Richard Feynmann. Bill Gates was so fascinated by the lectures, he personally negotiated the ability to stream the videos. They’ve been enhanced with hyperlinks to Wikipeda and other supporting media, and full text search that indexes the video.
So what about the humanities? Hey shows us a video of the eHeritage project launched by Microsoft Asia. The goal is “preserving cultural heritage through advanced computing research.” One project reconstructs objects before they went through the weathering process. Another creates rotatable models of jade objects and one animates traditional Chinese paintings.
The example that’s most compelling to the Pop!Tech audience is the remarkable Photosynth. It’s a program that sews together images into moveable three-D models. Using photos posted online of the Camden Opera House, Hey and his team have assembled a beautiful model of the inside of the Pop!Tech venue. It’s a very impressive demonstration of a technology that could be very powerful for visualizing ancient historical and archeological sites.
Zoë Keating is a cellist who’s more than a cellist. Formerly of rock cello band Rasputina, she’s now an innovative classical composer and performer. Using her instrument and a small pile of electronics – and heavy doses of creativity – she creates rich, layered textures that some have termed “avant-cello”. She opens the conference alone on stage, adding deep, lovely layers to a piece that resolves itself into “Amazing Grace”. Mac laptop at her side, tapping floor pedals as she goes, she draws themes from the cello, which repeat then recede into a shimmering background. It’s a meditative, slightly solelm and deeply beautiful start to the second day of the conference.
Zoë Keating, photo by Kris Krüg
(Watching the video feed from the lounge, the cameras capture her heavily taped left fingers on the fretboard. For a moment, her hands look like those of a boxer or an offensive lineman, a reminder, with her fraying bow, of the rigors of making music.)
Andrew Zolli, our host, mentions that he had initially invited Zoë to be part of the Pop!Tech audience, but that she’d been so moved by his idea of opening each day with American music that she volunteered to perform.
Pop!Tech social innovation fellow Nigel Waller is CEO of movirtu, a socially-responsible company dedicated to providing “mobile for the next billion”. He promises that on this morning’s session on “mind shifts” that he’s going to change how we think about the mobile phone. He asks us to imagine sharing a mobile phone in a family – a family in Kibera, Nairobi, where a phone is shared by a father (a carpenter), a mother and a daughter (who’s boyfriend the father doesn’t like.)
There’s 3.5 billion people with mobile phones today, and an additional billion sharing phones. The people who don’t own phones spend an astonishing amount of money – 5-30% of their income – on phones. Waller suggests that you can reduce costs to an individual of $6 per person per month with a phone and increase their income by $5. We could get more mobile phones out there if we could reduce handset costs. To a very poor person, a $25 handset is as inaccesable as a $5000 handset would be to us. There’s disincentives for mobile operators to bring these people online as they’re low revenue users.
Waller’s big idea is to put mobile phone functionality into a cloud. Users who share a mobile phone can have independent lines, but access that account from everywhere. This model might actually make significant money for mobile phone operators. Working with NGOs, universities and testing in labs in South Africa, the system is ready to go, and Waller believes that the model could serve a million African customers this year.
“The theme of the session this morning is thinking differently, about shifting our mindsets, about big shifts in how we relate to technology, how we think about science, how we think about the natural world,” says our host Andrew Zolli, welcoming psychologist Daniel Goleman to the stage.
Goleman (here’s his Pop!Tech bio, and here’s his blog) wrote the 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. His latest work tends more toward the political than the psychological per se; he’s author of Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, which challenges readers to confront the real consequences of our purchasing decisions. He speaks this morning as part of the Mindshifts session.
“I want to do some mindshifting,” he says, which will change our relationship to some of the environmental tragedies we heard about yesterday. He notes though a cautionary tale about believing everything you read on the web: his bio here says that he co-founded the Yale Child Studies center, but “I was about ten when that got going,” though had he walked over there at the time perhaps he would have been the first kid they studied!
“How many folks here recycle? Everybody recycles. How many print on both sides of the paper? Those who can, compost? Print-on-demand business cards — if you want my contact information, I write it out for you…?”
Imagine you have a morning yogurt, and recycle the lid in a plastics bin. What’s the impact on global warming — how much do you remediate via recycling that lid? People call out 0%, 23%, and 5%. The answer is five percent. Most of the global impacts from your morning yogurt come from the cows, the farming, the transportation — “there’s an enormous amount of invisible impact from everything we buy and consume, everything we don’t see but are about to.” The new discipline of industrial ecology allows physicists, chemists, and engineers to study the hiden impacts of everything. A glass jar, like you might buy your pasta in, goes through more than 1000 steps from manufacture to disposal, and each one of those steps can be examined for social and environmental impacts. Emissions into air, soil, and water. “We have a new lens on everything we buy.”
This lens will tell you, he says, about a local tomato grown in Montreal: the seeds were developed in France, grown in China, shipped back in France to be treated, flown to Ontario to be sprouted, and trucked to Montreal where they became “local!” “It’s a new way of seeing behind the fact that what we see now as ‘green’ is largely a marketing mirage.” If there are 999 steps and you change one or two things, what about the rest? “It raises the bar for what we need to do.” We’re going to be able to do this with greater efficiency because of Good Guide, a free iPhone app. He tells us about a nine-year-old named Joey who downloaded Good Guide onto his iPhone and saw that one of his favorite Webkinz gets a 3.9 rating there, which is very bad. Alas for the Webkins fans in our audience — the Pink Pony, for instance, is full of toxins.
Good Guide also instantly compares any product to its competitors, ranking them according to their virtues and vices. (Fortunately, the other Webkinz — aside from the Pink Pony — score 8s, 9s and 10s. Much better.) The app also scores foods. Playing around with this was an eye-opener for young Joey, and that’s a microcosm of what can happen for all of us. We might discover that the sunscreen we put on our five-year-old daughter has a carcinogen in it, for instance. “At that moment, you’ve elicited what psychologists call the contrast effect…which occurs in the brain when you’re comparing two things, you see one that all of a sudden is unappealing, and then you look at the other and the other looks many times better because of the contrast.” This is the moment in which brands are made and ruined, he says. “This is part of the game change I want to describe to you.”
If each of us, as we shop, does three things, we’ll have an enormous impact on how things are made and how Congress operates. If we 1) bother to know the impacts of what we buy (via GoodGuide); 2) favor improvement, and 3) tell everyone we know. Twitter about it, tell your friends, email the manufacturer. “Chatter about it, let it go viral; the more it spreads, the more market share will shift.” Hannaford Brothers supermarkets here in Maine went to some nutritionists at Yale and Dartmouth a few years back, asking them to rank every product on the shelves with simple star ratings, and market share shifted toward the more nutritional foods. “That is the mechanism that we want to have operate, because that will ripple through everything that’s made.”
The big accelerator turns out to be Walmart, surprisingly. A few months back, Walmart said they’re going to develop a sustainabiity index based on this methodology of industrial ecology; they’re going to rate products and put the ratings on the price tag just like Hannaford did. This “introduces information symmetry about the ecological costs of goods.” The goods we buy every day may be toxic; information symmetry means we can know what sellers know. It’s a game-changer because it can create a moveement towards a perpetual upgrade — an ecological diagnostic.
Earthster is a similar product for the supply chain, so they can see where their worst impacts are. Proctor and Gamble studied that, and saw that their worst impact on global warming was that we have to heat our water to use their detergents, so they went to R&D and designed some detergents that work well with cold water. Anyone who manages a product or brand can see where they stand on ecological impacts, where they need to improve in order to score better. “This creates a perpetual upgrade.” In order to stay competitive, you have to keep looking for new solutions, new ways to do old things — for instance, biodegradable plastic and styrofoam. That kind of thing is highly sought-after.
Walmart’s looking at resource use, climate change impacts, ecosystem impacts throughout the supply chain. “A potentially diminished fraction of an ecosystem” — that’s the metric they’re using. Imagine thinking in those terms! The last one is “a disability-adjusted life year.” This comes from public health, and means the years of your life you lose to some disability because of, e.g., a chemical exposure. Greg Norris, the developer of Earthster, did a study of the power grid in the Netherlands, and weighed the negative impacts from exposure to pollutants for people there vs. the impact on the 10% of the supply chain for their power grid which was from the poorest parts of the world. He found that positive benefits in the poorest parts of the world, such as improved health and education, were orders of magnitude greater than the negative impacts for the people in the Netherlands. “This gives us an entirely new way to think about the true impacts of what we do and what we buy and how to do it better.”
Pollution seems to be an external cost — “someone else will pay for it” — but over time this becomes a reputation cost. “Investors are starting to talk about minimizing sustainability risk from reputation cost.”
Goleman was talking with a guy at Greenpeace who was investigating the largest paper product company in America, trying to get them to stop sourcing from virgin forests. And the guy from the paper company said, “‘We did a lifecycle assessment, we have very little chlorine, we use alternative energies, we look pretty good! We don’t have to stop sourcing virgin wood.’ That is old think. You can say that as long as your competitors do the same. But to win in this new game, you have to find ways to do better ecologically.” This means there’s an enormous business opportunity… and we each have to look at our own business operations through that same lens.
“This resolves the conflict between corporate social responsibility, people who say ‘we need to do the environmentally right thing because it’s the moral thing to do,’ and those who argue that we have to do right by our shareholders… Now those two things are aligned. Or they will be, as this system goes to scale.”
“Joey is nine. Millennials on down have a unique collective experience which is going to determine their mindset for life.” How many people here learned to protect themselves from a nuclear blast by climbing under a school desk? That was the Cold War generation’s major trauma. But this generation grows up on a constant media diet of disappearing species, global warming, “one litany after another of coming disaster and meltdown.” The human brain, he says, has evolved a danger warning system that has a whole range of alarms — from the prehistoric “Tiger!” to “honey, we need to talk.” But what it doesn’t see is the connection between what we buy at the grocery store and a pelican dying in the Pacific. But today we can have that kind of information. And kids today are going to grow up wanting that information.
Even the idea that we’ve begun a geological epoch where human activity is going to create disasters — even if that comes to pass, life will adapt, he says. “The earth doesn’t need healing: we do.”
Highlights from today included Erica Williams’s passionate call to see her generation and their political interest as it really is, Zee Avi’s bright lyrics, Chris Jordan’s stunning photos of plastic inside albatross at Midway Atoll, John Fetterman on what his town isn’t, and Reuben Margolin on waves, beads, and the movement of light:
Please feel free to use and embed the above video; images from today from official photographers (and you!) are here: http://flickr.com/groups/poptech2009/pool
See you tomorrow when we begin with Zoe Keating at 9 am EST in the Camden Opera House and streaming live at http://poptech.org/live.
Aviva Presser Aiden & Hugo Van Vuuren
2009 Poptech Fellows Aviva Presser Aiden and Hugo Van Vuuren are the creators of Lebone, a dirt-powered battery. The battery, which was created for the base of the pyramid population, uses microbial fuel cells to generate energy. The batteries can currently power an LED light, and the goal is to soon be able to also power radios and cell phones.
The pilot program launched in Tanzania and they are looking at doing another round of testing in Africa. Rather than curse the darkness and light a candle, the founders of Lebone want to instead power an LED.
Eben Bayer, a 2009 Poptech Fellow, is the CEO of Ecovative Design, which seeks to address the issue of how to reduce the usage of styrofoam (or as Beyer calls it, “toxic white stuff”). Styrofoam takes up more landfill space than other other waste product and its by-product, styrene, is seeping into our environment through landfills and polluted waterways.
New materials need to be created that have less environmental impact and take less energy to produce. Bayer’s vision is to use the naturally-occuring mycelium (from the roots of mushrooms) and replace styrofoam with 100% compostable material. With this material, 10 times less CO2 is emitted in the atmosphere.
Bayer invites everyone to send pictures of unnecessary use of styrofoam to firstname.lastname@example.org in an effort to raise awareness about this issue.
The third Fellow to present in this series, Jason Aramburu, is the founder of re:char, which is developing solutions to fight climate change. Current efforts all have their limitations, says Aramburu. Aramburu was working on “clean coal”, when he realized that that term was really an oxymoron. This lead him to create a substance called Biochar, a substance that is a by-product of agriculture (husks, stems, etc.): basically charcoal made from natural waste products.
Biochar also acts as a great soil amendment and helps reduce the amount of CO2 in the air. He invites interested parties to contact him to help scale this potentially global solution.
Laura Kurgan heads up the Spatial Information Design Lab, which is they call a Think and Action Tank. Kurgan states that there are no neutral maps and no neutral data. She introduced the PopTech audience to their project “Architecture and Justice” and explained how they are looking at a city’s infrastructure. This, she says, includes prisons, which are generally not discussed when talking about cities.
The Architecture and Justice project views data in a geographical context; in this case mapping where inmates say they last lived before they were incarcerated against maps of where crime is committed within a city. The maps reveal that crime is more widespread than the “prison geographies”. The maps also display the cost of incarcaration, which is significant.
They’ve also used data points and mapping to track population migration. To illustrate, Kurgan played a video of a giant globe that scrolls across a curved screen, leaving a swath of data in its path and sending representative pixels flying across the screen to re-convene like a flock of tiny, well-informed birds.
Other areas of interest for the Design Lab are tracking remittances (money from people who have moved to other countries that’s sent back home) and forced migration.
Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been translated into data. How we chose to interpret data and what we do with it are the important question.
Assaf Biderman, who runs the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT, opened with reminding us that people used to think virtual connectivity was going to reduce urban density. This proved not to be true: the Internet did not introduce the death of the city. Cities are instead a concentrated focal point of looking at new ways to be sustainable.
The SENSEable City Laboratory partners with cities around the world to develop test case implementations. Biderman showed a few examples of their work in action. In Rome, they tracked cell phone activity during a soccer game. This creates an emotional map of what’s happening in a city. They also mapped bus routes and overlaid it, providing two real-time data sets. By examining patterns in this data, different types of land use can be planned.
The New York Talk Exchange project studied communications traffic with the city of New York and the rest of the world. The data already exists to track the use of land lines in and out. Data in cities is ubiquitous.
Finally, the Trash|Track project, done in partnership with Waste Management, looks at the “removal-chain”. Supply chain has become increasingly efficient (and well-documented), but waste managment is not. Wanting to track the reverse of a supply chain, the invited members of the Seattle community to tag their garbage and the researchers than tracked its movement. Different materials are being used to tags different types of trash (foam vs. rubber). They created a “wedding wish list” of trash to create a truly representative picture of average household waste. Everything from teddy bears to tires was tagged. Currently have ~2,000 objects tagged and expect to tag another 1,000. The early results are now on display as a show at the Seattle Public Library.
An awareness of where your garbage actually ends up could have great impact on changing behavior. With this type of data, there’s also the possibility of improving infrastructure (and other services like cell phone usage and bus routes).
Chris Jordan is a photographer whose work documents consumerism and its aftermath. When he heard about the “giant garbage patch”, a section of the ocean twice the size of Texas that is filled with tiny bits of plastic, he was compelled to try and document it. In this area, there are six times the amount of plastic than there are plankton. Jordan wanted to do a piece on this ecological wasteland so that people would have an emotional connection to it, make it real.
First, Jordan used actual trash from the giant garbage patch to create a massive-scale recreation of a portrait of the ocean. The making of this piece used 2.4 million pieces of oceanic plastic retrieved from the ocean. The plastic in the ocean is destroying habitat and killing wildlifein one of the most remote regions of the world.
Jordan’s work on this project introduced him to the Midway Atoll, an extremely remote island. Yet somehow, birds on the island are ingesting plastic and it’s killing them in droves. This, says Jordan, is major. This is basically like telling us that the world has cancer. For two weeks, Jordan went to the Midway Atoll to document this oceanic plastic pollution and, for the first time ever, he shared these photos. An emotional Jordan asked the audience not to applaud, as he said what he was showing was not worth applauding. Instead, he asked us to take with us whatever would compel us to clap and use it to do something about the unimaginable, overwhelming, but very real problem of plastics in the ocean.
Lorrie Vogel works for Nike’s Considered team. As General Manager, she’s leading Nike’s research in sustainable product design. We are moving to a new economy, a “green economy”, which has no roadmap. So how does a big company like Nike do it?
Nike’s first area of focus was reducing their footprint and the amount of waste. They’ve reduced their waste 50% in the past ten years. They’ve also focused on energy use and removing toxics from their products. Reducing your footprint, says Vogel, will never get you to a “green economy”. That needs to be done at the product level: they were at first inspired to try and create a shoe that you could plant in the ground and it would biodegrade. Their second thought was to try and make a product that would last forever. But from a human nature standpoint, that wouldn’t work and the products would ultimately end up in a landfill.
The answer seems to be creating a closed loop product, one that would keep the materials in play. Vogel describes this as “designing for disassembly”. The two main materials they currently use are polyester and cotton, neither of which is sustainable due to their environmental impact. Vogel’s team is working on creating better materials, even with the challenges presented by cost, accessibility and a broken recycling pipeline. Vogel believes we need a sort of materials DNA so that tagged materials can be easily identified. Recycling must happen in a world of diminishing sources and ever-increasing population.
As the video she showed us demonstrating the closed loop paradigm stated, “a shoe can’t change the world, but an ethos can.”
Read the entire press release, excerpts below:
Camden, ME & New York, NY – October 22, 2009 – PopTech (www.poptech.org), the renowned thought leadership and social innovation network, today announced a new signature offering: PopTech Labs (www.poptech.org/labs).
Each Lab will bring together a select group of leading scientific researchers, engineers, designers, corporate leaders, policymakers and other key stakeholders around a single topic of research in areas of vital importance to business, society, and the planet. Using open models of collaboration and knowledge sharing, this group will map the landscape around a high-potential idea, and design new incentives – from prizes to research programs – to propel continued efforts.
PopTech will convene its first Lab to help foster the search for new deep green materials, which are benign and low-impact, and which can exist in new large-scale “closed loop” ecosystems wherein the materials in finished products can be used as inputs for new products. Nike, the world’s leading designer of athletic shoes and apparel and already a leader in sustainable innovation via its Considered Design program, is the first partner in this initial Lab exploration.
Kenyan-born 2009 PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu is the founder of Wildlife Direct. (I attended her Wednesday session with PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu and biodiversity researcher Healy Hamilton) She’s working to mobilize people to care about more about animal conservation, largely by using technology to better connect people to affected animals. A special area of interest for Wildlife Direct is protecting lions, which are often poisoned using cheap pesticides.
She recounted the story of Anthony Kasanga, a young Maasai who decided that he wanted to save lions rather than kill them. Kasanga began blogging for Wildlife Direct and soon received international attention. His group, the Lion Guardians, saved 50 lions last year, which, considering their numbers, is a very high number. Wildlife Direct continues to work to get the word out about the importance of saving African wildlife by using modern tools of engagement.
Katy Payne, author of “Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants” and founder of the Listening Project is a “bioacoustician”. Earlier in her career, her work brought her to a zoo, where she sat for a week observing how an unrelated group of elephants formed social bonds. She became aware of a low throbbing sound that she didn’t hear in any other part of the zoo, and deduced that it was a low frequency that the elephants were using to communicating with each other. She returned to the zoo with equipment to test her theory. Payne played the PopTech audience a recording from the zoo, where we heard ears flapping and the exaltation of air whistling through elephant trunks. Sped up, the tape reveals a cacophony of sound otherwise inaudible to to human ears. Clicks and whistles similar to whales, but also different: deeper, more like a series of grunts than song.
Payne spent the next fifteen years in South and East Africa researching elephant communication. That area has between 16,000-82,000 elephants. As Payne says, “Nothing was really known about these elephants.” She found a station that overlooked a popular clearing where hundreds of elephants congregated. Working with a team, she set up digital recorders to listen in to these elephantine conversations. They spent months in the platform observing the elephants and compiling the data, bringing back video and audio that they were able to link together. With this data, they created sheets (like tablature) that documents these sounds in writing, creating a sort of elephant dictionary. Understanding how elephants use sound to communicate, Payne says, provides a previously unseen glimpse into the vibrant, complex and ultimately very social world of elephants.
Willie Smits, founder and Chief Science Officer of Tapergy is interested in looking at the big picture to bring together learnings from different disciplines. He’s studied orangutans, climate change and indigenous people and especially, where these all intersect. Smits’ homeland of Indonesia, he states, is the third-worst offender in the creation of greenhouse gases. This lead him to seek the answer to the question: How can we power the earth in a truly sustainable way?
Smits believes one crucial way is to save the forests. We need to imitate nature in our agricultural practices. We should look at raising sugar palm trees, which can generate a form of usable oil with harming the plant or limiting it to one growing season (unlike other crops like corn). Sugar palms also have very deep roots, which help to bring nutrients far into the soil and reduce erosion.
Tapergy promotes the planting of sugar palms, which are still used in Indonesia as a form of currency, to create a efficient crop that provides a year-round resource and source of income for local people. Other solutions include using technology to encourage children to log plant and animal life around them, providing useful snapshots of real climate data and using available and emerging technologies to better inform our decisions about agriculture and how we are living our lives in general.
Australian choreographer Gideon Obarzanek of Chunky Move showed a brief sequence of his choreography, which included dances that looked like giant spiders scuttling across the stage, the illusion of rose petals blowing across prone dancers and intertwined bodies bathed in pulsating, monochromatic shards and shafts of light.
Obarzanek has become increasingly interested in using projectors as part of his pieces. He realized that he didn’t like the confines of using pre-rendered images (which forced dancers to be in specific places at specifics times), so he worked with a software engineer to create a program that takes information from a moving body and use algorithms to create new images based on their movements. Obarzanek would then project that back onto the dancers, allowing for a more organic form of expression, illustrating what Obarzanek describes as their “creature part”.
In this way, light because its own entity in the show. It’s as if, Obarzanek said, he is choreographing with light. This, combined with noise and feedback, allows his team to create something truly unique.
Photo credit: Kris Krug
John Fetterman is the hulking, tattooed and impassioned mayor of Braddock, PA, a tiny town ten miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
Braddock was built around the steel industry: vintage pictures show a thriving downtown area boasting 30 tailors, 5 banks, 51 barbers in their community. Over the last few decades, the town has imploded and now none a single one of those businesses remain. The town is incredibly depressed: the median price of a home is $5200 and the average annual salary is $17,500.
What can be done to stabilize a community that’s lost 90% of its population and rebuild successful community? Fetterman chose to focus on the community that remains. Under his leadership, the town has focused its efforts on youth employment, opening playgrounds, and bringing green spaces and arts back into the area. Urban agriculture is helping to green up public spaces and his team has worked to introduce neighborhood artwork and re-purpose abandoned homes into foster care facilities.
Regular Braddock Block Parties have a strong community flavor; often bringing families together for holidays since so many can’t afford to celebrate at home. One popular event is arm-wrestling: if you can beat the Mayor, you win his paycheck! And new businesses have opened in town, such as the Transformazium, a collective art show and Fossil Free Fuel, which converts cars to biodiesel and offers a training program in how to do so.
Fetterman states that when he took over in 2006, 5-6 homicides a year were being committed in a community of less than 3,000 people. There’s been no murders in the past 18 months and crime overall is going down.
Fetterman was shocked to learn just days ago that he was on the cover of the Atlantic; that same week he learned that Braddock’s biggest employer was shutting down, which is going to devastate the town on many levels. An emotional Feteterman said he was not sure what the future of Braddock holds. Something tells me he will continue to fight to make it brighter for the people who live there and in doing so, set an example for many similarly decimated towns across the country.
Erica Williams is a Washington DC-based activist who works to get under-represented communities to take part in the political process. She asked the PopTech crowd to put aside any pre-conceived notions about her generation (the Millennials, born in 1978-2000). Williams was raised by two pastors and defines her childhood by two things:faith and church. When she was sixteen, her father was delivering a sermon entitled “New Life”, suffered a heart attack and died in an instant. This guided her decision find her personal calling and become involved with politics (even though she confesses she doesn’t really like what America calls “politics”).
The Millennials, says Williams, in fact don’t relate to traditional politics. However, despite a lack of trust in political leaders, they are one of the most civically-active generations. Williams is interested in redefining politics to include more than a bumper sticker, a yard sign, or even voting. She’s helping to figure out what politics should look like in an ideal, collaborative, “post-racist” society. This generation is using the tools available to them (e.g. Internet, blogs, web forms) to research and organize. This is more powerful, explains Williams, and better addresses her generations unique needs and demographic.
22 million voters unders under the age of 30 voted in the Presidential campaign — this is how he got elected. The Milliennials supported Barack Obama because he supported them and their vision for what they want to achieve. Williams’ vision for America is about honesty, connectivity and collaboration. These shared ideals should be timeless and ageless.
Sculptor Reuben Margolin works in the medium of motion. As a child, he started playing with stilts and was enamored with math. After going in a few different directions in school, he set out with a typewriter strapped to the back of a motorcycle to write poetry as he traveled across the country. This resulted in the creation of a mobile, which he drove for five months in order to have deep, meaningful conversations with people he met along the way.
Soon after, on a hike, he saw a transparent caterpillar that inspired him to try and replicate it as a machine. Although the finished product didn’t move as elegantly as a caterpillar in nature, it fueled his interest in examining movement in the natural world. Still seeking a way to perfectly capture the wave of a caterpillar’s motion, he demonstrated on the PopTech stage a much sleeker machine made of wood, thin rope and metal that did indeed undulate like caterpillar creeping. He’s now exploring applying this principal to giant circles, wooden frames and other forms.
Margolin ended his presentation by revealing a gorgeous, sparkling sculpture suspended from the Opera House Ceiling, which swung gently above the crowd as though wind was blowing through a giant, gilded glass net.
Margolin noted that there are two ways of looking at things: one is at the sparkle and the dawns and the beauty of the world, and one is at the structure and the meat and the math. His art brings both of these elements together in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually interesting.
PopTech Fellows: Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert
2009 PopTech Fellow Taylor Stuckert, co-founder and Mark Rembert of Energize Clinton County founded their program when their hometown was impacted by massive layoffs. After living away for several years, they both returned to their town with “fresh eyes”; wanting to help the town rediscover its place in the world. They wrote a letter to the editor (which is what, they joke, people do in small towns) about going green that instilled the town with a sense of purpose. Now over 90 businesses are participating in ways to buy local, helping to weatherize homes and solving for themselves problems that are putting them at the forefront of green efforts.
Energize Clinton County is looking to form partnerships that will allow them to bring their vision of self-sufficient, greener communities nationwide.
Photo credit: Kris Krug
The PopTech 2009 Social Innovation Fellows just finished an intense week together learning how to talk about their social innovation work and the PopTech audience met them with this video this morning:
More images on 2009 Teaching Fellows Erik Hersman’s PopTech 2009 Fellows Flickr set.
Look for more about the Fellows during the year; each will present during PopTech 2009 (schedule).
Here’s the video we just watched at PopTech 2009 on the FLAP bag; participants received a bag that they can upgrade to a FLAP bag that has a solar panel and a USB port and an LED light.
Below is the introductory video for a web series we’ll be posting in coming weeks about our field tests in Arizona with the bag; as PopTech Executive Director said on the PopTech stage this morning, “we need to start at the bottom of our [U.S.] pyramid too.”
Let us know in the comments if you’d like to be involved with the FLAP project—