Oct. 23, 2010

PopTech Day 3

by Milbry Polk

TalkingScience is delighted to have recruited Milbry Polk as our POP! TECH correspondent. Over the next few days, she'll be reporting from the annual POP! TECH conference in Camden, Maine. You also can hear the amazing talks firsthand through the livestream at http://poptech.org/live

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

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I began this morning with a massage. Yes the brilliant organizers of POP! TECH arranged for an army of masseurs to give massages in 15 minute intervals – free. I opted for a head massage as I am having an overload of brain candy. Now I am ready, I think, to absorb 18 hours of awesome conversation and presentations.

Some Highlights - -BUT Please check this out for your self on the web…

We began the day learning from Elizabeth Dunn, the Founder/Director of Vancouver based Happy Lab, that allowing people to be generous –- for example giving your employees vouchers for charity donations -- increases job satisfaction and improves team work. Proof that people like helping others and being generous even more than spending on themselves. What a relief. http://elizabeth.dunn.socialpsychology.org/

Orlagh O'Brien's project "Emotionally Vague", http://emotionallyvague.com, graphically depicts the results of surveys showing how people visualize feelings of joy, anger, fear, love, and sadness. It was quite a powerful yet simple series of images.

I forgot to mention yesterday about the editor of Smith magazine, Larry Smith’s, 6 word biography project. He is wants everyone to capture their life in 6 words. A computer has been set up at POP! TECH so we can all log on our bios But if you go to his website, www.smithmag.net, you can enter your own bio and read all the other ones.

From Stephanie Coontz, www.stephaniecoontz.com, we learned all about modern relationships. One thing I took away from her presentation was that the word for wife in many languages means 'peace-weaver'

Ben Dubin-Thaler has created a brilliant project to let young people experience some of the magic of science. Realizing that many schools only have old science textbooks, limited resources, and not enough science teachers, he conceived of the biobus. www.biobus.org. The old school bus has solar power and wind generators on the roof –- and a garden. It is powered by vegetable oil he gets from restaurants. To enter the bus is to walk into a super high-tech lab. Ben partners with scientists where ever he goes so they can talk to the young people and help them experience the 'wow' of science.

Yasser Ansari, through his Project Noah, has created a really novel platform for citizen science. This is a wonderful new movement in many areas that involves the public in the scientific process. http://www.networkedorganisms.com

Noah is a tool that nature lovers can use to explore and document local wildlife. It is a common technology platform that research groups can use to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. Using an app for the iphone people can photograph an animal or a plant – 1. send in the image 2.get information on the area about the flora and fauna and specifically on the thing emailed in, 3.fill out a brief questionnaire on the phone so the data will go into a scientific database to get a handle on what is happening biologically in that place. Voila! Everyone can be a researcher maybe even make an important discovery. Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of citizen scientists--something we critically need now! www.networkedorganisms.org

Coffee break and furious conversation...So many interesting people so little time…

I had a chance to catch up with Margaret Honey, Director of the innovative New York Hall of Science. NYSCI recently hosted hundreds of creative inventors and 25,000 attendees at the Maker Faire.

I also caught up with Ron Thorpe, Director of Education at Channel 13 in New York. Among other things, Ron hosts an annual Education Summit. He told me about the conference he is organizing next spring, which will bring together ministers of education from the top 20 countries (education wise) as well as the directors of education from every state, and the 50 teachers of the year. As we all must know, the world is in an education crisis. Not only is endless wave of information becoming so much noise, but more and more young people are disengaged. Teachers are exhausted and lack of resources is a constant problem. Ron is tackling this problem with inspired, meaningful conversation.

Lastly, I spoke with Nick Pinkston of Cloud Fab. (Everyone’s organization has such cool names.) Nick works with people who go to Maker Faire and others. Based in Pittsburgh, Nick has created a space stocked with materials and equipment where individuals can come and -- for a small fee -- create the item they need. They can die cut, fabricate, glue, or whatever. He also showed me the endlessly folding wallet he has created. He told me his space is called a FAB LAB and they are all over the country. It is for the inventor that lurks in the soul of us all. www.cloudfab.com.

Then we heard about one of the coolest new developments that combines mapping technology with social networks to facilitate the fastest access to basic information –- maps, locations, etc. -- during crisis situations. Patrick Meier of http://www.ushahidi.com spoke about an example of this new technology that made a profound and fast difference during the Haitian earthquake crisis. Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency, and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. He teamed up with Josh Nesbit, Executive Director of Frontline MSM, http://frontlinesms.ning.com, to map the unfolding Haitian crisis and provide up to the minute information about where help was needed. This technology is used in many arenas from community mapping to monitoring armed conflict and the impact of environmental disasters. This is an unusual free source that can use any platform --pictures, videos, facebook, twitter, you name it-- and the people imputing information can be all over the world.

In the case of Haiti, volunteers started to map the tweets they were receiving from people buried in buildings to volunteers nearby who had needed supplies. From across the internet, information began flowing in. The people on the ground in Haiti found the live map that was created and updated a thousand miles away in Boston Massachusetts was by an invaluable resource.

Lunch is the best chance to meet very cool people. I was not disappointed. As I wolfed down my sandwich, I talked to Marty O’Kane of the band April Smith and the Great Picture Show. He is a musician, (playing the guitar, accordion, ukulele, and back-up singing); he is a teacher (mostly for SAT math students); and he is a future lawyer. His music, which will be playing a little later at POP! TECH, he described as sort of Dusty Springfield, retro-pop-rockabilly original written by April Smith. He gave me a copy of their CD. I feel so cool! Marty, who is from Brooklyn, has played with other bands including Spiraling, a cover band for They Might be Giants.

Tom Neilssen runs a speakers bureau out of Princeton www.BrightsightGroup.com. He looks for speakers who “do no harm” and whose work and/or writing have a positive impact on the world. Several of his speakers are at POP! TECH. Tomorrow Christopher Chabris will be speaking on a book he co-wrote entitled The Invisible Gorilla which was recently featured on Science Friday.

And I spoke with my wonderful cousin, Will Carey, a concerned citizen who is working with me on a conference on Affordable World Security that is being funded by the WP CAREY Foundation. You can imagine in the few minutes of lunch our conversation covered a wide range of topics from around the globe, impacted by the amazing presentations we had heard this morning. I urge everyone reading this, to log onto www.POPTECH.org and listen to every single one. Each presentation is life changing and together it is mind blowing…. And so very hopeful.

One last new person from today is my brother George Polk’s friend Jack Hidary. www.hidaryfoundation.org. He began his career in brain science then moved on to Web-based databases connecting experts in a range of topics. He showed us a project he is rolling out with Hertz in January making new technology cars available to customers.

Cant wait for tomorrow!

Milbry Polk is the Founder and Director Emeritus of Wings WorldQuest, the preeminent organization supporting women explorers throughout the world. She is the author/editor of a dozen books including Women of Discovery, The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, and Egyptian Mummies; and she is the book reviews editor for The Explorers Journal.

About Milbry Polk

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