press & buzz

Two candies enter, one candy leaves

July 4th, 2008 by Michelle · 3 Comments

Photo credit: Lin Pernille Photography

To celebrate both the spirit of independence and epic battles, we Pop!Tech bloggers decided to post something a little offbeat today.

Craig Newmark, the independent (and himself slightly offbeat) founder of craigslist.org , allows readers to post to a running “Best of ” list. These listings from his incredibly popular, lo-fi “classifieds” offer brief glimpses into the weird, wonderful, often way-out lives of craigslist users.

Those of you interested in evolution and Darwinism will appreciate one noble scientist’s research in the area of “candy battles”.

Survival Of The Fittest (from reader in Tampa Bay, FL)

Whenever I get a package of plain M&Ms, I make it my duty to continue the strength and robustness of the candy as a species. To this end, I hold M&M duels.

Taking two candies between my thumb and forefinger, I apply pressure, squeezing them together until one of them cracks and splinters. That is the “loser,” and I eat the inferior one immediately. The winner gets to go another round.

I have found that, in general, the brown and red M&Ms are tougher, and the newer blue ones are genetically inferior. I have hypothesized that the blue M&Ms as a race cannot survive long in the intense theater of competition that is the modern candy and snack-food world.

Occasionally I will get a mutation, a candy that is misshapen, or pointier, or flatter than the rest. Almost invariably this proves to be a weakness, but on very rare occasions it gives the candy extra strength. In this way, the species continues to adapt to its environment.

When I reach the end of the pack, I am left with one M&M, the strongest of the herd. Since it would make no sense to eat this one as well, I pack it neatly in an envelope and send it to M&M Mars, A Division of Mars, Inc., Hackettstown, NJ 17840-1503 U.S.A., along with a 3×5 card reading, “Please use this M&M for breeding purposes.”

This week they wrote back to thank me, and sent me a coupon for a free 1/2 pound bag of plain M&Ms. I consider this “grant money.” I have set aside the weekend for a grand tournament. From a field of hundreds, we will discover the True Champion.

There can be only one.

By the way, Craig has a blog and a twitter account, so if you’d like to know more about him (other than the fact that he is an all-around nice guy) give him a read or a follow.

Happy 4th of July to our American readers! To all, may your weekend tournaments be nothing short of grand.

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Consumer Reports: glimpses of futures past

July 3rd, 2008 by Bobbie · No Comments

Consumer Reports on Flickr, by Shashi BellamKonda
Photograph used under CC license from ShashiBellamkonda

Consumer Reports is best known for providing in-depth product reviews, but it’s easy to forget that they’ve been doing it for more than 70 years. That means they’ve got some great archive pages of reviews conducted in the past.

Some of the entries give you a real flavour of how people thought about the future; whether it’s this robot dog from - or in-car vinyl record players from 1961… or even portable electric hairdryers.

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Food for the future?

July 3rd, 2008 by Ann · No Comments

Following up on the recently published Cary Fowler Pop!Cast, I went to explore the Global Crop Diversity website — to learn more about what Fowler’s organization is doing to address our global food crisis.

Besides the fascinating information on the Doomsday Vault (as sensationally nicknamed by the media) in Svalbard, Norway, the Trust also publishes a Crop Diversity Topics newsletter, which I found very insightful, especially on the topics of the economics of food prices, and also how our current food shortage is paralleling that of the early 1970s.

Image from FAO’s Food Prices slideshow

So, while the world is pressed to increase food production, and in certain places farmers have already begun planting more crops as a response to the high prices, the Trust poignantly argues that our current food shortage will not be solved — in the long run — by simply planting more and doing what we’ve been doing. Factor in the cost of energy and water scarcity into today’s agricultural practices, and even if food prices subside, we would still have a huge conundrum: the earth’s limited resources. High food prices, while critical, are just a surface problem.

What the Trust positions itself to do for the long-term is “get agriculture ready,” by preserving crop diversity and identifying crop types that would adapt to our climate change and energy challenges. To this end, the Trust has a grant award scheme set up to support breeders who identify the genetic makeup of plants susceptible to climate change, pest problems, water scarcity, etc.

It’s one step towards restoring food security for our future, and for that, we salute the work of The Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Other related links: Food Price Crisis, Food Shortages Drive Global Prices to Record Highs, UN Food Task Force

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Design as strategy for social change: Shelter

July 2nd, 2008 by Michelle · 1 Comment

Composite photo: High Point homes and public housing projects

This post is the first in a series where we’ll be exploring how design is influencing the products we buy, how we interact with each other and changing the way we live. If you know of a person or company doing cool stuff with design, let us know so we can include them in the series.

In 1936, in an effort to provide low-cost housing to some of the nation’s poorest families, the United States government got into the business of building homes.  A quick survey of public housing projects from this era reveals that the design was not intended to encourage social activity among its tenants, allow for interaction with the natural world, or foster a sense of community. Rather, the projects were insular, prison-like units that over the years became synonymous with terrible living conditions and rampant crime.

Recent movements in architecture are changing that. In April of 2007, Seattle’s High Point housing project debuted to much acclaim. The project replaced a dingy, World War II era public housing project with a mix of 1,600 market-rate and subsidized homes. The homes were designed to integrate with the surrounding neighborhood and to be part of a community. With their brightly-colored exteriors and front porches that face the street, the houses purposefully create common spaces where neighbors naturally meet and mingle. And with energy-conserving interior design and appliances, as well as a natural drainage system, the development is extremely environmentally friendly. High Point’s award-winning take on urban planning has helped spark a new, positive trend in designing for lower and mixed income families.

It’s not just public housing projects that are benefiting from the shift to a more eco-friendly, community-centric design. Companies around the globe are giving more thought to the lives of their employees as they consider the design of new office buildings. In Melbourne, Australia, the recently built Council House 2 (CH2) provides bike racks and employee locker rooms. These features encourage the more than 500 City of Melbourne employees who work in the office to use their bikes as transit, which is better for both their health and the environment. Artwork from local artists is also an integral part of the building’s design, further connecting the building to its community.

Described by its planners as one of the most sustainable buildings in the world, CH2 boasts a low-energy cooling system, roof-mounted wind turbines and an on-site water recycling plant. The City of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor John So states, "CH2’s design uses ideas inspired by nature to create a building that operates in harmony with the wind and the sun." It’s so green that apparently several tree frogs have moved in to the building’s potted plants, allowing city workers to commune with nature in a small, unexpected way.

Projects like High Point and CH2 are leading the way, and groups like Architecture for Humanity are pushing the boundaries of what building design can do for social change. Architecture has always played a defining role in where we work and live. Now it’s also shaping how we exist and interact in these spaces.

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New at Pop!Tech: fresh links and another blogger

July 2nd, 2008 by Bobbie · No Comments

As well as myself and Ann Poochareon, you might have noticed a new contributor to the Pop!Tech blog, Michelle Riggen-Ransom. We’re glad to have Michelle, who is co-founder of BatchBlue Software, on board.

She says: “I write about social media, technology, nature, parenting and increasingly, the intersection of these topics. Having lived at various times in Boston, London, Rome, Florida, Los Angeles and Seattle, I now reside in Providence, Rhode Island with my husband and our two budding naturalist/techie kids.”


While I’m here, I’d also like to point out something you might have missed. Over on the right hand side of this page, you’ll see a roll of links to articles we’ve been reading - provided through Pop!Tech’s account on Delicious. If you want to see more, you can see all our links on our page (or add us to your Delicious network): delicious/poptech. And you can also send us tips to interesting stories simply by tagging something for:poptech. How’s that?

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How to spot a penguin from 100 paces

July 1st, 2008 by Bobbie · No Comments

It’s almost certain that you know fingerprints can be used to identify people. And you probably know that footprints can do the same. You might even know that earprints are used in some court cases to prove identity.

None of that is much use to scientists tracking the 20,000 penguins on Robben Island off South Africa, who don’t get the benefit of a shedload of data on their quarry. Instead they’ve turned to a new way of identification - belly biometrics.

According to the BBC:

The software has been trained to recognise if there are any penguins in the camera’s field of vision. If there are, it looks at the spot patterns to determine whether it is a bird that it recognises or new penguin. It then records and ID number and the date, time and location of the sighting.

At its heart, the system is far from expensive: it’s a few security cameras and laptops. But it does point to the ease which such systems could be used for other methods of identification, such as facial recognition.

Photograph by Michelle Riggen-Ransom

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Can Bill Gates hack the world healthy?

June 30th, 2008 by Bobbie · No Comments

One of the big events over the weekend was undoubtedly the story of Bill Gates’ last day in the office: as of now he is working full-time with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and will only retain a marginal involvement in Microsoft’s affairs.

The amount of money the Foundation can now command is staggering, and blogger Anil Dash argued that this makes Gates the greatest hacker of all time.

Bill Gates has pulled off one of the greatest hacks in technology and business history, by turning Microsoft’s success into a force for social responsibility. Imagine imposing a tax on every corporation in the developed world, collecting $100 per white-collar worker per year, and then directing one third of the proceeds to curing AIDS and malaria. That, effectively, is what Bill Gates has done.

I recently met Larry Brilliant, the doctor and technologist who is heading up Google’s philanthropic arm - he told me that the foundation’s vow to beat malaria could be one of the greatest moments in the history of public health.

I wonder if Gates can make as much of an impact in the next chapter of his life as he managed in the last?

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Gilberto Gil on music, technology and life

June 27th, 2008 by Bobbie · No Comments

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! interviewed Gilberto Gil - the musician, politican and campaigner for better intellectual property rights.

It’s fairly lengthy, but definitely worth a look: here is somebody who is both at the center of the system and also at the edge. Read the transcript or watch the video on the Democracy Now site.

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GreenPix goes up in China

June 27th, 2008 by Ann · No Comments

Does the world really need another giant building acting as a video screen?  Mm, maybe not, but there’s nothing to stop the billboard and advertising industry from putting up large video screens in public spaces… so this uber-huge GreenPix: Zero Energy Media Wall, installed just in time for the Beijing Olympics, is something we like to see.

Featuring the largest color LED display worldwide and the first photovoltaic system integrated into a glass curtain wall in China, the building performs as a self-sufficient organic system, harvesting solar energy by day and using it to illuminate the screen after dark, mirroring a day’s climatic cycle

And for now, this gigantic “screen” is to be used for art.  The building opened this week with specially commissioned programs from Chinese, American and European artists.  For more pictures and video, check out ArchDaily.

It sure looks great in the photos.  Perhaps any readers in Beijing can tell us how it looks in real life?

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Pretty, practical, photovoltaic! Solar goes mainstream

June 25th, 2008 by Michelle · 10 Comments

You’re a gadget geek but you’re trying to be better about being a resource hog. You’re juggling world-changing conferences, phone calls to rally voters, hikes to save the rainforest. What’s a hyper-connected greenie to do?

Enter the solar backpack. Light-weight, durable, and dare we say attractive (at least to fellow geeks), these trendy bags gather the rays while your schlepping around campus or biking to the vegan BBQ joint. Once fully powered, most will charge a GPS, camera, ipod, or cell phone for several hours using special adapters or, in some cases, even a good old USB cable. Rechargeable battery packs serve as back-ups on cloudy days or after marathon code sessions.

Voltaic orange daypack

Several companies have come out with solar bags recently, including Voltaic Systems , Reware Products’ Juice Bags and Eclipse Solar Gear . Made primarily from recycled materials, all of the bags rely on similar, flexible solar technology and boast durable, waterproof construction. With prices ranging from $199-$599, it’s a little spendy to get your geek on, but you’ll surely be the hit of the next Burning Man festival when you’re the only one with a working cell phone. And the bags are quite practical for folks doing remote fieldwork or traveling abroad.

What’s that you say? You’re more of a homebody than a geek-on-the-go? Well, pretty up your place with solar plant pots . The rays of the sun charge an internal battery during the day: by night the plants emit a soft, glowing light. Perfect for strolls with your cyber-sweetie.

California-based Lumeta recently unveiled a peel and stick solar paneling , which makes adding solar power to a building much easier and less expensive to install. Watch a video of it being adhered into place – the process is darn speedy (just over half an hour!) The paneling is only available for commercial projects at present, but should be available for residential in the near future. In the meantime, you can buy photovoltaic shingles , which blend seamlessly with your existing roofline but still allow you to catch some serious rays to help offset your rising energy bills.

With the prices of solar solutions dropping, photovoltaic technology continually improving, and global temperatures steadily climbing, it seems now is a good time for sunshine.

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