PopTech Blog

Posts by Emily Spivack

Collaboration alert: Lincoln Schatz and CeaseFire work to cure violence

PopTech is known for bringing together innovators from its network to facilitate unlikely collaborations.  Such was the case when Lincoln Schatz, a video artist, met CeaseFire’s Executive Director, Gary Slutkin, at PopTech 2008. A year later at PopTech 2009, they announced their joint project, Cure Violence, which empowers communities to openly and safely discuss the causes – and more importantly, solutions – to violence.

Today, Schatz announced via email that the first chapter of Cure Violence: Portrait of an Epidemic could be viewed online.  He provided background about the project along with an explanation of his process:

I created Cure Violence: Portrait of an Epidemic in conjunction with CeaseFire, an Illinois nonprofit dedicated to working with community and government partners to reduce violence. Traveling through the greater Chicago area in 2009, including the neighborhoods most ridden with violence, I interviewed people from the CeaseFire network of violence interrupters, outreach workers, and community members. I processed the footage through my custom software to create a non-editorialized composite portrait of the complex landscape of violence. Cure Violence: Portrait of an Epidemic is intended increase awareness, incite social action, and provide a platform for discussion.

Stay tuned for more news about CeaseFire-related collaborations in the coming months!

Image-wise: Antarctica's blood red waterfall

This five-story, blood-red waterfall pours very slowly out of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys. When geologists first discovered the frozen waterfall in 1911, they thought the red color came from algae, but its true nature turned out to be much more spectacular.

Roughly two million years ago, the Taylor Glacier sealed beneath it a small body of water which contained an ancient community of microbes. Trapped below a thick layer of ice, they have remained there ever since, isolated inside a natural time capsule. Evolving independently of the rest of the living world, these microbes exist in a place with no light or free oxygen and little heat, and are essentially the definition of "primordial ooze." The trapped lake has very high salinity and is rich in iron, which gives the waterfall its red color. A fissure in the glacier allows the subglacial lake to flow out, forming the falls without contaminating the ecosystem within.

Full article and additional images can be found on Atlas Obscura.

Image: United States Antarctic Program Photo Library. (A tent can be seen in the lower left for size comparison.)

Flashback: Erin McKean and her words

Erin McKean spoke at PopTech in 2006 about words, dictionaries, grammar and all things in between. 

McKean's love of language continues today.  Her website, Wordnik, is a resource to better understand a word, check its spelling, hear a pronunciation, or express an opinion about that word. And more recently, she's become a regular contributor to the Boston Globe's The Word column where she tackles the pros and cons of language advice websites and considers the plural form for Toyota's Prius (Prii) among other etymological topics.

A look inside the financial diaries of $2 a day households with Daryl Collins

You earn money. You try to save some. You spend most of it. You attempt to stick to a budget. Rent, cell phone, heat and electricity, some groceries. Juggling your income and expenses is manageable, more or less. 

But what if you were living on $2 a day, as 40% of the world’s population does? How would you make ends meet then? Is managing money even an option? That’s what Daryl Collins set out to determine when she co-authored Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day.

The assumption may be that the poor have very little financial life, but when she and her colleagues started to interview low-income households in Bangledesh, India and South Africa every two weeks over the course of a year, they saw something different. From the financial diaries the 250 participants kept, a picture emerged of families with sophisticated financial lives, borrowing and saving as well as maintaining diverse “financial portfolios.”

For a peek inside some of these households’ financial diaries, check out Collins’ PopTech talk above.

Casey Dunn wins the Waterman, untangles DNA and promotes open science

Casey Dunn is a biologist who draws upon an eclectic set of interests. His lab at Brown University studies how evolution gave rise to the diversity of life.  In particular, he studies siphonophores, giant colonial, connected ‘superorganism’ jellyfish that are one of the longest animals in the world (they grow to be 100+ feet long in the open ocean).

Beyond siphonophores, Dunn’s invested in the future of scientific data sharing as well as makintg science accessible through storytelling. To that end, Dunn created CreatureCast, an online video series that feels like an episode of This American Life recorded in a biology lab.

Today, Dunn, a 2010 PopTech Science Fellow, was awarded the National Science Foundation's prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award, the United States’ highest scientific honor bestowed to a scientist 35 years or under. PopTech spoke with Dunn about the various projects he has his hands in right now.

PopTech: Your lab focuses on “learning about the actual history of life on Earth as well as the general properties of evolution that have contributed to these historical patterns,” which sounds pretty expansive. How do you approach that type of investigation?
Casey Dunn: A lot of what we’re doing is collecting rare, poorly known organisms and then using genomic tools to sequence lots of genes from them. Then we use that information to figure out how they’re related, which helps to reconstruct the history of the evolution of a variety of things.


Nancy Duarte: Presentations that transform audiences

Speaking in front of an audience can be hit-or-miss. Even if you have something amazing to say, if your on-stage presentation is weak or disorganized, you’re not going to move anyone, let alone keep people’s attention.  That’s where Nancy Duarte comes in. Presentation designer and CEO of Duarte Design, Duarte is a storyteller with an eye for clearly articulating a message and keeping an audience rapt. If you need any convincing, check out the slides she put together for the 2006 Oscar-wining documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

A Faculty Advisor at PopTech, Duarte, along with her team, have helped Social Innovation and Science Fellows put together powerful stage talks for PopTech’s annual conference for the past couple of years. She's also the author of a book on the same topic entitled Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences.

In this PopTech video, Duarte shares the patterns she’s seen emerge from performances, speeches and films that transform - and transfix - audiences. Referencing Martin Luther King Jr., Martha Graham, and Steve Jobs, Duarte explains, “The greatest communicators connect really empathetically with their audience.”

Susan Casey talks tsunamis and the mysteries of wave science

In light of the recent 8.9 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and with tsunami warnings issued to 50 countries and territories, we’ve released Susan Casey’s enlightening PopTech 2010 talk about the history and implications of rogue waves. For three years, Casey studied this mysterious phenomenon, observing waves’ behavior, researching their history, and talking with people who spend their lives in the ocean.

For more on these ‘oceanic criminals,’ as she refers to them, check out Casey’s most recent book, The Wave: In the Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

PopTech at SXSWi: Better Innovation, Design and Sustainability via Open Source

Hannah and Andrew

If you're in Austin on Monday, March 14th for SXSWi, why not consider checking out Better Innovation, Design and Sustainability via Open Source, a conversation between PopTech's own Andrew Zolli and Hannah Jones, Vice President of Sustainable Business at Nike?

Here's what you can expect from the discussion:
The need has never been greater than it is today for action to be taken on separating consumption from the use of natural resources if we are all to thrive in a future sustainable economy. Nike believes that design, innovation and a commitment to open source data and collaboration will help fast track the work needed to architect a sustainable roadmap. This session will explore the internal and external pressures that are creating a platform for Nike to start a conversation with the design and development community around the value and application of intellectual property and data to help find solutions to some of the most intractable sustainability problems.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, March 14, 11 am
Salon K, 500 East 4th Street

And if you can't make it in-person, follow the conversation on Twitter with #nikebetterworld.

Pine Point knows how to tell a story

Pine Point started off as a book but quickly morphed into something that could only exist online: a scrapbook (of sorts) that uses films, old photos, and audio recordings to tell the true story of a small Canadian town that simply disappeared one day. (via VSL)

Created by The Goggles (Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons) and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, this "interactive documentary," as they call it, is pitch perfect. Poignant, nostalgic, historical, entertaining and interactive in a completely intuitive way, could Pine Point be the future of the book? Watch it over lunch - it's best consumed when you've got 20+ minutes to spare.

You make plastic out of what? Ryan Smith tells all.

Someday soon we may all be drinking water out of biodegradable plastic bottles made from raw sewage. Yes, raw sewage. That is, if Micromidas has anything to do with it. Founded by 2010 Social Innovation Fellow Ryan Smith, Micromidas feeds raw sewage to bacteria that, in turn, turns it into plastic. It's an elegant solution that solves two problems simultaneously: it reduces the use of harmful petroleum-based plastics and uses sewage instead of resources like oil and coal.

Recently, PopTech asked Smith about the potential long-term impact of Micromidas.

Micromidas can play a critical role in transitioning the chemicals industry from petroleum-based feedstocks towards low-cost renewably-sourced feedstocks. There has been a great deal of discussion over the last few years about developing a biorefinery platform within the fuels and chemicals industries. I believe that Micromidas has found a pathway to achieving this ideal by efficiently taking wastewater bio-solids and converting them to commodities materials and chemicals such as plastics. We're also very proud of the fact that our bio-plastic is marine biodegradable and can help prevent further pollution of our oceans.

So those plastic islands floating in the middle of the ocean that amount to the size of Texas? Micromidas won't be contributing to that problem. Its plastics break down within one year.