PopTech Blog

Posts by Emily Spivack

Collaboration alert: Gideon Obarzanek and Reuben Margolin connect

The story of Gideon Obarzanek and Reuben Margolin began at the Camden Opera House during PopTech 2009.  Choreographer Obarzanek presented about the work Chunky Move, his Australian-based modern dance company that’s known for immersing dancers in a world of motion tracking and projection technology. Reuben Margolin, a California-based artist showed off his kinetic sculptures, objects that mimic nature that are mainly constructed from wood, pulley and motors. They saw each other’s presentations and knew there was an opportunity to create something together.

A year and a half later, Connected, the collaboration between Margolin and Obarzanek was first performed at Australia's Malthouse Theater in March. It will be performed again from May 10-14 at the Sydney Theater. 

In the following video, which includes voiceover from Margolin’s PopTech talk, Obarzanek provides a preview of the performance.

Additional images of Obarzanek and Margolin’s performance can be seen on Chunky Moves’ website.

And stay tuned as PopTech will continue to follow the story of their unfolding collaboration.

Image-wise: BrightSource Energy's mega wattage

BrightSource Energy is on its way to building the world's largest solar themal energy project with recently secured funds from Google and the U.S. Department of Energy. The company will generate enough energy in the Mojave Desert to power 140,000 California homes by the time it reaches capacity in 2013.

This won't be a set of photovoltaic panels like you might see on you're neighbor's roof; the solar themal system consists of thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto a water-filled boiler, creating steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity. It's cheaper than conventional solar panels, but just as reliable. The Ivanpah system goes one step further by converting steam back into water, allowing it to use 95% less water than other solar thermal systems.

via Fast Company

Image: BrightSource Energy

One year later: Michael Blum on the state of the Gulf coast

Almost a year since the Gulf oil spill, Michael Blum believes we’ve still got a long way to go until we recover from the damage wrought on the coast’s shoreline, ecology, and community. Blum, a Tulane University ecology and evolutionary biology professor, has become an expert on the oil spill’s clean up efforts and the long-term environmental and health implications. We checked in with him to hear his take on what’s transpired since he spoke about the oil spill at PopTech this past fall.

PopTech: In your PopTech talk you’d said, "We're left with the question: How do we go from where we are now to where we need to be going?" How far do you think we've come since the oil spill last year? Have your thoughts shifted on where we need to be going?
Michael Blum: My instinctual response is to say that we haven't come far enough over the past year. There are a number of key milestones that might have been reached, but weren't. These include critical aspects of recovery, such as removing all oil from affected shorelines; the enactment of a comprehensive research and monitoring program by BP; and issuance of a long term vision for restoring the Gulf coast, focusing on areas of the Mississippi River Delta that were among the most impacted by the spill. Granted, such things take time, so we need to continue making forward progress, day by day, until we reach these milestones. Doing anything less would jeopardize the long-term health and well-being of the Gulf coast. 


Thinking ahead: The Hybrid Age

“We are living in a hybrid age,” explained Ayesha Khanna, Principal at the Hybrid Reality Institute, at the PSFK conference yesterday in New York City.   From the Stone Age to the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age, we’ve now entered into this Hybrid Age. Taking place over the next few decades, this time period will be defined by a handful of specific factors, Khanna elaborated:

  • Technological proliferation where we’ll see an increase of objects – including ourselves -  embedded with technology.
  • Technological intelligence where machines will become smarter, will respond to our needs and as a result, will become social.
  • Technological innovation that'll be constant and disruptive.

OK, so perhaps the fact that we’re heading in this direction is no surprise, but the essence of what Khanna was insinuating during PSFK’s “What’s Next? A Panel on the Future” session yesterday was that we’re currently evolving and adapting into a new hybrid reality as our everyday lives become more entrenched with technology.


Image-wise: The Earth is lumpy...and made of clay?

A model of Earth's gravity field made with data from ESA's GOCE satellite.

It may look like a mangled lump of Play-Doh, but this colorful object is actually the most accurate digital model yet of Earth's gravity field, scientists say.

via National Geographic


6 questions with...Jonathan Zawada

PopTech’s series, 6 questions with… gives us a chance to get into the heads of social innovators, technologists, artists, designers, and scientists to see what makes them tick.

Over Time, the solo show of Australian-based artist Jonathan Zawada, recently closed at Prism Gallery in Los Angeles. A recent post on Triangulation described Zawada’s surprising process to create the large-scale landscape topographies he exhibited:

Zawada collected and compared a variety of data series that extrapolate information over time, such as “Marijuana usage among year 12 students vs. CD and Vinyl record sales between 1975 and 2000” or “Value of land per square meter in Second Life vs. Value of land per square foot in Dubai between 2007 and 2009.” The data is then manipulated through a 3D fractal program and the resulting environment becomes a virtual abstraction that mimics a mountainous landscape.

PopTech highlighted a piece from the show on our Tumblr recently, but we were interested to hear more about what informs Zawada's work. 

What’s the mark you’re hoping to leave on the world? Why is your work with Over Time relevant at this point in time?
I hope to at least be able to contribute to the artistic reflection of the impact that new technologies are having on how we construct our reality in our day-to-day lives. Over Time is really a part of my continued exploration of how to be able to create artifacts from my transient and ephemeral digital experiences. It feels relevant now precisely because of how unnoticeably this technology has ingrained itself in our lives.

Where is Ai Weiwei?

Ai Weiwei interviewed by "Never Sorry" director Alison Klayman
After a series of public clashes with the Chinese government, China's art superstar Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing airport on April 3 and has gone missing since. Alison Klayman, a documentary filmmaker who's followed Ai Weiwei from 2008-2010 for the upcoming film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, expressed her concern about his whereabouts. She shared her thoughts about his detainment, his role in promoting free speech, the intersection between his art and social media, and the recently accelerated crackdown by the Chinese government on dissidents in a Huffington Post article this past Monday.

The speed and efficiency of the information network that came together around Ai Weiwei's detention and studio raid is a testament to how Ai and his followers have created an online space for free speech in their society. Transparency is a deeply personal value for Weiwei, and he and his staff have meticulously recorded the past several years of his life on film, in audio files, and on his Twitter feed (@aiww). The record is there for anyone who is interested.

Ai Weiwei is not a criminal. He is an outspoken proponent of free speech, human rights, and transparency in China's government and judicial system. Ai has violated no law. On the contrary, he has been scrupulous about working through and in accord with the Chinese legal system. His detention, then, seems to be without cause -- a violation of Weiwei's human rights and the rights guaranteed him by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, especially Articles 35 and 37.

This highly coordinated crackdown on Ai Weiwei is just one in a rash of dissident detentions in the wake of the "jasmine revolution." Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, recently told the Washington Post: "This is not a crackdown in the classic cycle of tightening and loosening. This is an effort by the government to redraw the lines of permissible expression in China, to restrict the most outspoken advocates of global values."


Tom Darden: Making it right after everything’s gone wrong

Rebuilding efforts are underway after the 9.0 earthquake the rocked Japan in March caused tremendous damage.  But as we’ve learned by now, the destruction and loss of life could have been far greater without Japan’s stringent building codes. There’s a lot to be learned from its approach.

Especially because, in our own backyard, we’re still rebuilding from the catastrophic damage that Hurricane Katrina ravaged in New Orleans over five years ago.  But we are making strides. 

One indicator of that progress is the Make It Right Foundation, founded by Brad Pitt and led by Executive Director Tom Darden. Building houses in the Ninth Ward that are generally smarter and better - i.e., that can withstand another flood, that are built with sustainable materials, and that are cost-effective to construct and maintain - are the primary goals of Make It Right.  Or as Tom Darden put it:

We had to build houses that were safe, affordable, green, adaptive, durable, designed by award-winning architects, designed around the residents’ needs…did I mention affordable?…and with absolutely no compromises.


Flashback: Ivan Marovic

With the ongoing uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Bahrain on our minds, here's one way to process the tumult: using nonviolent strategies through video games. PopTech 2005 presenter and Serbian activist Ivan Marovic shared his story, which is one that still resonates six years later, of his involvement with the uprising that overthrew Slobodan Milosovic and the video game that followed. Entitled A Force More Powerful, players can practice scenarios like battling corruption, fighting discrimination against women, or overthrowing dictators.

Festo's fantastic flying feats

If you happen to be in Hanover, Germany at the Hanover Messe industrial fair through April 8, you might want to swing by the booth of PopTech 2008 presenter Festo to see their latest innovation, the SmartBird. You'll have a chance to see the nature-inspired technologies they've been developing and "the secret of birds' flight decoded."  Festo describes the project:

SmartBird is an ultralight but powerful flight model with excellent aerodynamic qualities and extreme agility. With SmartBird, Festo has succeeded in deciphering the flight of birds - one of the oldest dreams of humankind. This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously -- with no additional drive mechanism.

If you're not able to pop over to Hanover for the fair, have a look at their video, which explains the SmartBird project in more detail.