PopTech Blog

Posts by Emily Spivack

Speakers announced for PopTech 2012!

How does a country in financial crisis rebound? How does a faltering company rally in the face of disaster? How does an individual spring back from personal tragedy?

In an age marked by volatility of every kind, how do we help people and systems persist, and even thrive, amid disruption? How do we foster greater resilience?

The answers could not be more pressing for companies, communities, individuals, leaders, and the planet as a whole. They’re the central ones we’ll be exploring at PopTech 2012: Toward Resilience, convening this October 17-20 in beautiful Camden, Maine.
We’ll explore the role of creativity, technology, and learning in building resilience, and what might it take to bolster America’s ability to rebound. We’ll explore what new science is revealing about building our personal and organizational resilience in the face of change.
This will be, without question, one of the strongest programs we’ve ever presented, and we're happy to unveil just a few of the remarkable speakers and performers you'll encounter, amid many other surprises and delights.

  • C.J. Huff, the superintendent of Joplin Schools since July 2008, led his district of 1,100 employees and 7,700 students through the recovery effort that has followed the devastating May 22, 2011 tornado that ripped through the heart of Joplin, Missouri.
  • Dean Karlan is President of Innovations for Poverty Action, a non-profit organization that creates and evaluates solutions to social and development problems, and works to scale-up successful ideas through implementation and dissemination to policymakers, practitioners, investors and donors. He is a Professor of Economics at Yale University.
  • Amy J.C. Cuddy is a social psychologist whose latest research illuminates how “faking” body postures that convey competence and power (“power posing”)— even for as little as two minutes—changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, and configures our brain to cope well in stressful situations.
  • David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with joint appointments in the departments of neuroscience and psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. His areas of research include time perception, vision, synesthesia, and the intersection of neuroscience with the legal system.
  • Bill Shore is the founder and chief executive officer of Share Our Strength®, a national nonprofit that is working to end childhood hunger in America.
  • Amanda Ripley is an investigative journalist who writes about human behavior and public policy. For Time Magazine and the Atlantic, she has chronicled the stories of American kids and teachers alongside groundbreaking new research into education reform.
  • Adrian Anantawan, born without a right hand, began the violin at nine, and has since established himself as "a rising star in classical music" (Globe and Mail). He also helped to create the Virtual Chamber Music Initiative at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre—a cross-collaborative project that develops adaptive musical instruments for use by young persons with disabilities within a chamber music setting.
  • Asenath Andrews founded and is currently the principal of Catherine Ferguson Academy, an alternative public high school for teen mothers that also provides early education services for the children of those high school moms.
  • David B. Agus is one of the world’s leading cancer doctors and an international leader in new technologies and approaches for personalized healthcare.
  • Sandro Galea is a physician and an epidemiologist whose research seeks to uncover how determinants at multiple levels of influence—including policies, features of the social environment, molecular, and genetic factors—jointly produce the health of urban populations.
  • David DeSteno is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University where he directs the Social Emotions Lab. At the broadest level, DeSteno’s lab examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape social behavior.
  • Margrét Pála is a renowned Icelandic educator and child care specialist, and the creator of the Hjalli pedagogy that employs such methods as sex-segregated classes, natural play instead of conventional toys and a belief in discipline as a way of training social skills.
  • Juan Enriquez is a senior research fellow and director of the Harvard Business School Life Science Project, and is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences.
  • David Bellwood, a marine biologist and an internationally recognized expert in coral reef fishes and systems, combines skills in such disparate fields as ecology, palaeontology, biomechanics and molecular systems to understand the nature of reefs.
  • John Doyle is a renowned systems scientist at CalTech and an expert in control and resilience in complex systems. As the John G Braun Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems, Electrical Engineer, and BioEngineering, he has focused his research on the theoretical foundations for complex networks in engineering and biology, and specifically on architecture, and for multiscale physics.

If ever there was a year to come to PopTech, this is it.  We hope you’ll join us!
Register here to secure your seat today – this event promises to sell out quickly.

Image-wise: Earth as art

Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River, the largest river system in North America. Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi. via

The U.S. Geologic Survey recently held a competition for their "Earth as Art" collection. Captured by the Landsat series of Earth-observing satellites, the land imagery provides a fresh perspective on the Earth's landscape by highlighting certain geographic features through color. As described by NASA:

During a span of 40 years, since 1972, the Landsat series of Earth observation satellites has become a vital reference worldwide for understanding scientific issues related to land use and natural resources.

Over 14,000 people voted on the images submitted to the competition and winners were recently announced. Two of the top five images can be seen here, but for all five picks, have a look at NASA's "Earth as Art" page.

What look like pale yellow paint streaks slashing through a mosaic of mottled colors are ridges of wind-blown sand that make up Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Erg Iguidi is one of several Saharan ergs, or sand seas, where individual dunes often surpass 500 meters (nearly a third of a mile) in both width and height. via

Images: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/USGS

HT Very Short List

Flashback: Dan Ariely on why we do what we do

Today on NPR's Morning Edition, host Ari Shapiro wondered how to interpret the influx of misleading presidential campaign ads, how to weed through quotes taken out of context, and if those ads were truly making an impact on voter opinions. He turned to behavioral economist Dan Ariely (PopTech 2010, 2009), who recently published The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves, for his expert opinion. 

Ariely had recently conducted a survey with a few hundred people online who were asked if they thought it was acceptable for their candidates to be dishonest if it furthered the candidate's overall agenda. His study found that both Democrats and Republicans were comfortable with the idea that their own candidates could be dishonest in order to get elected.

The NPR piece continues by describing how much this confirmation bias has pervaded our decision-making, and how that decision-making doesn't necessarily come from a rational place.

On the topic of what prompts our rational and irrational behavior, we're flashing back to Ariely's 2009 PopTech talk where he dissects the impulse to act irrationally. Perhaps it'll provide us with some insight this campaign season.

PopTech Editions II: The micro-everything revolution video playlist

Recently, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been highlighting pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution.

Today, we’re highlighting talks from the PopTech stage that look at micro-everything from, well, everything--from solar to design to insurance to computing and beyond. We've compiled these talks into one collection so they can be viewed all together or flipped through and watched individually.

PopTech Edition II: Micro-everything video playlist:

Check out the complete Edition .

Silja Ómarsdóttir on starting from scratch with Iceland's constitution

What better example of a country's democratic resiliency in the face of financial collapse than the move to toss its constitution and bring on a handful of citizens to rewrite it from scratch? University of Iceland political science professor Silja Ómarsdóttir was one of 25 people asked to revise Iceland’s most important document after the country’s financial meltdown in 2008.

In her PopTech Iceland talk, she explains how the citizens of Iceland reacted to the bank collapse (politely and when no action was taken, loudly) and the eventual response from the government, which included updating the country’s constitution. Ómarsdóttir details the constitution creation process and what it meant to overhaul the document, with considerable public input, in four months. She concluded her talk when she said wryly, “The next time I write a constitution, I would have a little bit of a break in between. By the time we finished, we were so saturated with our own ideas, we couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”

Joy Reidenberg: Neck-deep in whales

Joy Reidenberg, celebrated whale anatomist, often finds herself neck-deep inside a whale that's washed ashore, studying its innards to learn how it's evolved in the outside world. In the second talk we're highlighting from PopTech Iceland 2012, “Why Whales are Weird,” energetic, articulate anatomist Joy Reidenberg presents an unbelievable array of fact about the beloved mammal (Whales have a vestigial pelvis! They migrate the distance of half the planet)! They have mustaches!). She took us through the story of evolution using whales as a model, explaining that evolution is the process to mediate resilience and thus, survival.

Watch now: First stage talk from PopTech Iceland released—Tim Harford!

What does it take to rewrite a country’s constitution in four months? What can the triggers of oil rig disasters tell us about financial crises? Why do whales have moustaches? Here’s your chance to find out! We’re excited to announce that today, we’ll begin to debut talks from presenters who took the PopTech stage in Iceland last month. Our inaugural releases, over the course of this week, include presentations from a constitutionalist author, an undercover economist, and a celebrated whale anatomist.

First up, a talk from Tim Harford, the U.K.’s foremost undercover economist, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, columnist for the Financial Times, and a powerful storyteller about complex economic systems.

Enjoyed this talk and craving more? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to join us this fall at PopTech Camden. Satisfy your intellectual curiosity and register today.

Tomorrow, learn fascinating trivia about the world’s largest mammal. Stay tuned!

Image-wise: Chalk, extremely close-up

Chalk under a microscope looks pretty beautiful. Who knew? Robert Krulwich recently spent a lot of time thinking about chalk on his NPR blog, Krulwich Wonders. He breaks it down:

Chalk is composed of extremely small white globules. They look, up close, like snowballs made from brittle paper plates. Those plates, it turns out, are part of ancient skeletons that once belonged to roundish little critters that lived and floated in the sea, captured a little sunshine and carbon, then died and sank to the bottom.

Image: PLOS Biology via Wikipedia

via Explorer

PopTech Editions II: Sameer Kalwani on Sarvajal's clean water micro-infrastructure

Recently, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. Today, we’re excerpting a piece from  2011 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Sameer Kalwani who developed the technology platforms for Sarvajal.

From telecommunications to transportation, India has made rapid advances in its infrastructure. At Sarvajal, we hope to be on the forefront of India’s next technological evolution – basic services infrastructure — as we strive to meet our mission of providing high-quality drinking water to every denizen. Previous water distribution models relied on large-scale production and would often take years to implement, not to mention costly transportation system and high maintenance expenditures. On top of that, poor infrastructure would lead to severe product losses. For example, in New Delhi, up to 40% of the treated, clean water is lost through pilferage and cracked pipes. But Sarvajal has worked to alleviate some of these issues; a new decentralization of the filtration process allows us to distribute water for a fraction of the previous cost and get to every nook and cranny of a population.

Our micro-franchise solutions get high-quality, low-cost solutions to those who are marginalized by the lack of better infrastructure support that’s typically in urban slums and rural villages. Bottled water and other private solutions are usually available in these areas, but are often quite costly, keeping a necessary resource out of reach for the poor. Our micro-franchise solution in the town of Churu, in Rajasthan, brought the price of private drinking water down to less than one cent per liter. Now more people can afford clean water who didn't have access to it before. Over the course of the past year that Laxmangarh, Rajasthan has been an active franchise, we've seen the number of customers more than double, so people are actually adopting the solution and getting their friends to use it as well.

In many small rural villages there are no solutions for their contaminated water. For example, in Mundawar, villagers knew they had an issue with their water system, but without public or private sector attention they had no alternatives. With Sarvajal in their village, they have a solution, and it has encouraged more people to drink clean water. For example, a 43-year old woman named Laxmi had been bedridden for five years and was asked by her doctors to drink clean water, but she had no financial means to do so. In an effort to permeate previously unreached villages, Sarvajal partnered with a local entrepreneur in Mundawar to provide a solution to the villagers’ water-based health problems. A year after Sarvajal entered Mundawar, Laxmi and others can use and afford clean water, providing them with improved health both short- and long- term.

Read the full article and check out the complete Edition.

Image: Sarvajal

Peter Durand paints a picture of PopTech Iceland 2012

Graphic facilitator extraordinaire and long-time PopTech friend Peter Durand came to Iceland to do what he does best whenever PopTech hosts a conference: he sketched and sketched...and sketched some more. The outcome, portraits of each speaker and performer who took the stage, paints a captivating, colorful picture of the two-day event in Reykjavik. Have a look at our slideshow of his work: