31 January 2009

Energy Innovations ~ MIT Yunus Challenge 2009

It's fantastic to see the subject of the MIT Yunus Innovation Challenge to Alleviate Poverty 2009 -- Energy Innovations -- specifically affordable, small-scale energy storage.
"Each year, the Yunus Challenge highlights a need of the world’s poor and enables MIT students to develop solutions through a variety of mechanisms, including Public Service fellowship grants, the IDEAS Competition and D-Lab. The Challenge, named in honor of 2006 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus, was initiated and also supported by MIT alumnus Mr. Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, supporter of the MIT International Development Initiative, and benefactor of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT (J-PAL)"
This year the theme is...
"innovative small-scale energy storage solutions to help alleviate poverty. Solutions must address the needs of people living on less than $2 per day. Solutions are not limited to electrical storage; applicants are encouraged to consider other types of storage, such as storing thermal or mechanical energy. However, solutions should focus on storage and not on insulation or other energy-related issues."
Get engaged!

Failed States ~ Concentrations of Global Danger

The Economist spotlights Failed States: Fixing a Broken World noting that "the planet’s most wretched places are not always the most dangerous." Not surprisingly, the best form of national security is finally being appreciated to be international development...
"In America these days, defence planners say they worry more about weak states, even non-states, than about strong ones. “Ungoverned, undergoverned, misgoverned and contested areas” offer fertile grounds for terrorists and other nefarious groups. [...] Large chunks of its language could have been issued by bleeding-heart aid agencies or the United Nations: it speaks of the need to “build the capacity of fragile or vulnerable partners” and to address “local and regional conflicts” that exacerbate tensions and encourage drug-smuggling, gun-running and other illegality. To the chagrin of old-school sceptics, nation-building is now an integral part of American strategy."
Great! Maybe we'll see USAID and even more entrepreneurial development efforts properly funded going forward.

John Mortimer ~ R.I.P.

John Mortimer (left) creator of the epic Rumpole of the Bailey series -- Rumpole portrayed on the telly by the inimitable Leo McKern (right) -- has been laid below by the ravages of age and godlessness. No less than the Economist rightly salutes Mortimer as a freedom-fighter who championed the presumption of innocence, battled the scourge of censorship, and served as devil's advocate for pornography, fox hunting, smoking and other supposed sins. R.I.P.

30 January 2009

Kiva Systems ~ Robots Transforming Warehouses

Thanks to MIT alum entrepreneur Patrick Sobalvarro from Heartland Robotics for a pointer to this nice Wired post Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses by Alexis Madrigal. Madrigal writes how robots are transforming the logistics arena as you can see with this case study of the Kiva Systems deployment at shoe-co Zappos... As Scott Kirsner of Innovation Economy notes, Kiva, Heartland, iRobot and a growing number of firms are part of the blossoming robotics cluster in the New England region.

28 January 2009

Signs of Africa ~ BBC Visualizes the Situation ;-)

Leave it to the BBC to spot Signs of Africa...

Water Jet Pack ~ Nextgen Tourism Thrill Vehicle

Thanks to Unique Daily for spotting this water jet pack!

CHES International ~ Haitian Entrepreneurship!

I was delighted to host the Christian Haitian Entrepreneurial Society (CHES) co-founder and President Rebecca Roseme Obounou on my TV show tonight. Rebecca's an Haitian-American colleague of mine at MIT Sloan who has been quite passionate about economic and venture development in Haiti, the Caribbean birthplace of her parents. Between her youth here in Cambridge, MA and her college years at Bentley in Waltham, MA, Rebecca and her parents returned to live in Haiti. Now after studies in business and international relations at Bentley, she's impassioned about prosperity for the people of Haiti. We talked about her startup NGO organization, CHES, whose goal is to restore and transform Haiti economically, environmentally, and socially into a sustainable nation driven by core values. This very young but quite entrepreneurial organization is focusing on three top projects:
  1. Boosting incomes for farmers through food processing via dehydrators
  2. Making a market for local musicians through PeaceTones
  3. Developing a business skillbuilding program in collaboration with a northern Haitian community and its local university
I'm really delighted by the progress Rebecca and her colleagues have made over this past year in building CHES and getting those who are part of the diaspora to think of becoming part of the reaspora -- those returning to participate in the entrepreneurial and economic development of Haiti! (And yes, I thought "reaspora" was a original Joost spinonym when I suggested it to Rebecca tonight, but Google schooled me!-)

Greenways ~ Grass-Lined Metro Rail Solutions...

Thanks to Inhabitat's Bridgette Steffen for pointing out that Europe’s Grass-Lined Green Railways = Good Urban Design...

26 January 2009

Mobile Metrix ~ Census Count of the "Invisibles"

It's fantastic to read in the Monitor about How to count the "invisibles": A new kind of census, by Gregory Lamb, which spotlights Mobile Metrix, a social venture founded by Echoing Green Fellow Melanie Edwards to count the 1 billion people living off the grid...
"Mobile Metrix hires local youths to go into neighborhoods carrying PDAs, hand-held devices capable of storing and transmitting data as well as audio. Their work often paints a clearer picture of who lives there than government estimates or infrequent paper surveys that can be inaccurate or years out of date. The PDAs allow information to be gathered more accurately and shared more quickly than with pencil and paper. But the key Mobile Metrix innovation in early pilot programs in Brazil has been employing young people from the neighborhood, male and female, to conduct the surveys. These "mobile agents" must be recommended by a prominent community member, such as a church or nonprofit organization leader. They are trained in how to conduct a survey and how to use their PDA. A typical survey might ask 60 to 80 questions, such as "How many people live in the home?" and "What is their level of education?" The mobile agents are 16 to 25 years old. "You see these youths transformed," Edwards says. "That tends to be the age where they could be going into prostitution or the drug gangs, so we’re hoping this is an alternative to that. In several cases, we’ve had gang members come up and want to become involved."
The ICT-enabled leveraging of local community workers is a blossoming theme, for TB-DOTS work, for ClickDiagnostics tele-diagnoses, and a whole array of social, financial, and other services. This is a truly essential innovation!

MIT @ Arcahaie ~ Sustainable Village, Haiti-Style!

Ron Fletcher writes in the Globe about Lifting the poor with sustainable design: MIT architect aids village in Haiti. MIT Architecture Professor (and RISD alum) Jan Wampler is collaborating with the wonderful Haitian community organizer Gerthy Lahens -- co-founder of MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition D-Track Grand Prize Winner Bagazo, the agriwaste charcoal fuels company -- on designs for Haitian villages which are not only sustainable, but beautiful and affordable, and with what Gerthy calls "a little Haitian style"!

Swype ~ Finger-Tracing Text Entry on Soft Keys

Thanks to Gwen from Oxcullent Findings for spotting Swype...
"A revolutionary way of creating messages... The company founders Cliff Kushler and Randy Marsden with their team have developed a system that recognizes words when you slide over the qwerty keyboard with your fingers. Instead of typing the words, like hardware keyboards this is a touch screen. When you want to write a word you simply connect the dots and the program will recognize the word..."

25 January 2009

Valley of Peace ~ Jordan-Palestine-Israel Projects

Back in mid-2008 Jennifer Schenker wrote a BusinessWeek piece on A Mideast Valley of Peace about the proposed Red-Dead connection and larger peace initiative. I just found and read this and it threads together several recent themes of special relevance including:
We need to accelerate these kinds of projects and seek out ever better pathways towards a peaceful, prosperous, and vital future.

Globish ~ French Defeated by Simple English;-)

The BBC's Hugh Schofield reports that New lingua franca upsets French...
"That the French resent the global supremacy of the English language is nothing new, but [...] a newly evolved business-speak version is taking over. [Already] French executives draft reports, send e-mails, converse with their international colleagues -- and increasingly even amongst themselves -- in English. It is of course a kind of bastardised, runty form of business-speak full of words like "drivers" and "deliverables" and "outcomes" to be "valorised", but is nonetheless quite definitely not French. [One day, French author-observer Jean-Paul Nerriere] noticed that he and the other non-native English speakers were communicating in a form of English that was completely comprehensible to them, but which left the Englishman nonplussed [...] a new form of English is developing around the world, used by people for whom it is their second language. It may not be the most beautiful of tongues, but in this day and age he says it is indispensible. He calls the language Globish and urges everyone -- above all the French -- to learn it tout de suite."
Even an entire country, Rwanda, has joined the movement, tossing the French language into the dustbin of history in exchange for the far more global and useful English. De Gaulle and Napoleon are no doubt flipping in their graves;-) See here the creator...

24 January 2009

Meet Your Meat ~ Dutch TV Visits Slaughterhouse

As an urbanized carnivore (or really, an omnivore, but let's focus on the meaty part), I have been totally ignorant of the full food-chain from raising the animals through cooking them. And I was especially ignorant of the slaughter. Lamb chops, steak tips, breakfast bacon, lobster roll, grilled chicken sandwich are all simply things I either buy at the market or order at the restaurant. So I was quite interested to stumble across Eet Smakelijk, a six-part Dutch TV show which invites celebrities to go with the host -- top-chef Leon Mazairac -- to visit a slaughterhouse and to watch-and-participate in every step of the process going from live animal to ultimately eating the resulting meat as part of a chef-cooked meal. It's a simple concept, but fascinating -- and it clearly helps contemporary consumers become more fully-informed about what's behind their foods. If you're curious -- and not too squeamish -- watch for yourself: Lamb, Cow, Pig, Lobster, Chicken, and Wild Boar. After seeing these, I'm now curiously hungry!

Bike Innovations ~ Making Cycling Ever Better...

Thanks to Paul at GeekPress for spotting this projected LightLane... And thanks to Fun Safari for spotting this backpackable folding bike...

Cellphone E-Cash ~ America's Slow Adoption...

Leslie Berlin writes in the NYTimes asking about Cellphones as Credit Cards? Americans Must Wait. She writes...
"Imagine a technology that lets you pay for products just by waving your cellphone over a reader. The technology exists, and, in fact, people in Japan have been using it for the last five years to pay for everything from train tickets to groceries to candy in vending machines. And in small-scale trials around the world, including in Atlanta, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly everyone has liked using this form of payment. But consumers in the United States won’t be able to wave and pay with their cellphones anytime soon: The myriad companies that must work together to give the technology to the masses have yet to agree on how to split the resulting revenue. “In Japan it was easier,” explains Gerhard Romen, director for corporate business development at Nokia. [...] This is not the case in the United States."

High-Low Tech ~ New Crafts Blur Classic Lines...

It's delightful to see our newest MIT Media Lab Professor Leah Buechley speak about New Craft: a Marriage of High and Low Tech...

Namba Parks ~ Terraced Gardens Shopping Mall!

Thanks to Justin at Metaefficient for spotting Unusual Green Architecture In Japan: Namba Parks...
"In a city with few green spaces, Namba Parks is a welcome swath of green for the inhabitants of Osaka. The complex stands where Osaka’s baseball stadium used to be until 2003, and consists of a 30-floor skyscraper, Parks Tower, and a shopping mall with eight floors of terraced gardens. The sloping park connects to the street, welcoming passers-by to enjoy its groves of trees, clusters of rocks, cliffs, lawn, streams, waterfalls, ponds and outdoor terraces."

23 January 2009

22 January 2009

Change.IT.gov ~ BarackBerry & MacBook Air One!

Several amusing IT changes afoot in the Obama Whitehouse, including MacWorld's revelation that Obama administration frustrated by old White House PCs, with author Cyrus Farivar suggesting that Apple HQ urgently "outfit the new president with his very own MacBook Air One, pronto." The new staff reportedly said "it was like going from XBox back to Atari";-) And CNN reports that Obama 'to get spy-proof smartphone'... "Writing on his blog for the Atlantic magazine, Marc Ambinder reports that the National Security Agency has approved a $3,350 smartphone -- inevitably dubbed the "BarackBerry" -- for Obama's use." Hilarious! Mobile Mag reveals what this beast of a device is like...

21 January 2009

Far Planets ~ Exploring Celestial Outer Reaches!

Thanks to BBC journo Jonathan Amos for spotlighting Outer planets choice is narrowed, about ambitious plans to remotely inspect the more distant reaches of our solar system. Far out!

20 January 2009

Pomp & Stupidity ~ Sullying the Secular Occasion

Obama's inaugural oration was excellent. I'm glad he spotlighted science and technology, because those are indeed the core strengths -- and critical needs -- of this nation and our time. Most of the rest of inauguration, alas -- i.e. the right-wingnut Rick Warren, endless crappy music, the bad poetry, and the boring benediction -- was awful and idiotic. (We later learned that some of the crappy music was pre-recorded a la Milli Vanilli. Ugh) Beyond being depressingly lame, however, it's an appallingly un-constitutional imposition of state-sanctioned religious irrationality on to what ought to be an entirely secular celebration. To add one final environmental and aesthetic insult to this intellectual and legal injury, check out all the trash that the millions of supposed "patriots" left on the Mall... Cleaning up their own mess is "not their problem" apparently. As the latest Economist writes in Bin It, this was supposed to be the "greenest inauguration" and inaugurate Change. So far, all I've seen is the same old Hypocrisy. Good luck to US in achieving a greener, cleaner America, nevermind even more dramatic and difficult changes for the better.

Queen Rania's Channel ~ Why She Launched It;-)

Jordan's Queen Rania offers her Top Ten reasons for starting her YouTube channel! She has a great sense of humor! And she's right on: suspicion, intolerance, and mistrust should not reign supreme. Videos can change minds through open eyes. Lovely!

From Above ~ Glorious Socio-Data Visualization!

Thanks to Ethan Zuckerman, I too am Seduced by BBC’s maps of British infrastructure and the Britain From Above series!

19 January 2009

Beyond Race ~ From Segregation to Inauguration

Thanks to the BBC for Three Generations: Little Rock to Obama...
"For generations of African-Americans, a black US president was an impossible dream. Civil rights veteran Terrence Roberts explains his family's journey from segregation to the inauguration of President Obama."
  • P.S. As the Washington Post reports in We've Completed Our Mission, all of the Little Rock Nine as well as the Tuskegee Airmen are invited to Inauguration!
  • P.P.S. Very interesting to see that BBC unearthed this historical clip where Martin Luther King shares his optimism for a future African-American President in "less than 40 years", he says "25 years, or less". That quote is from 1965 -- 44 years ago -- still pretty close!

18 January 2009

Vision vs Reality ~ Will Deeds Mirror the Dream?

Like most people on our Planet, I'm quite excited by the imminent inauguration of Obama. There's lots to disagree with about his policies and plans, but I put those aside in comparison to the absolutely epic nature of his election and what it says about the US and about the aspirations for anyone, anywhere. I am especially curious whether and to what degree Obama will be able to achieve his ambitions, whether the reality will mirror the vision, and deeds match up to the dream. I'm hoping for real change!

16 January 2009

People Crunch ~ Global Migration & Depression...

The Economist spotlights global migration and the downturn in an article titled The People Crunch. As I've written about before, migrants are among our most vulnerable and yet precious compatriots. The Economist rightly acknowledges the...
"...migrants’ growing woes all over the world. Rates of migration soared in recent decades as the likes of Britain and America enjoyed rapid economic growth and sucked in labour. Around 200m people now live outside their homelands, some 3% of the global population. The proportion of foreign-born people in many Western countries has surged well above 10%: this includes Greece and Ireland, from where emigrants used to leave. Spain, where a construction boom helped to create a third of all new jobs in Europe in recent years, sucked in 4m foreigners (especially from Bulgaria and Romania in the EU, plus Ecuador and other bits of the former empire) between 2000 and 2007. As economies turn, migrants suffer. Many industries where they predominate (tourism in Ireland, financial services in Britain, construction in America and Spain) have shed jobs fast."
Let's celebrate and support our migrant brethren as they deal with these extraordinarily challenging times.

15 January 2009

Dirty Jobs ~ Making The Case For Sweatshops...

Today's NYTimes features an embedded video titled A Dirty Job by Nicholas Kristof who visits a Cambodian garbage dump where he interviews people who make their living scavenging through the toxic pile. Kristof makes the case for less misguided policies and western liberal labor standard campaigns. The video and the living and work conditions shown are not pretty.

Harvard's Impact ~ Investing in Boston Innovation

Harvard University just released a report titled Investing in Innovation about their impact in the greater Boston-metro area. It's impressive indeed since this university is our most venerable regional institution and an absolutely key player in our innovation economy. I'm especially inspired by this effort since I personally ran MIT's own Founder's Project in the 1990's -- together with my excellent colleague Alex Chisholm -- which ultimately led to the MIT: Impact of Innovation report, a rather larger, nation-wide accounting of the impact of MIT-related entrepreneurship and innovation. Beyond that, I can both appreciate the work involved in accurately characterizing "impact" as well as inspiring future "action". Kudos to Harvard for conveying their local story reasonably well. I can only hope that the current regime in charge at MIT can get its act similarly together.

14 January 2009

FAB.REcology ~ Neri Oxman Wins Earth Awards

Congratulations to MIT doctoral student Neri Oxman for being named first winner of The Earth Awards for her FAB.REcology concept. Neri's an architect, researcher and founder of MATERIALECOLOGY. The Awards organizers did a...
"...global search for products and concepts that are sustainable, innovative and essential to improving basic quality of life. The winner and finalists will meet with joint venture companies in the hopes of generating commercial opportunities."
Fantastic! That's a compelling theme and they picked a wonderful winner in Neri, whose work is ecologically inspired and aesthetically exuberant.

13 January 2009

Global Poverty Initiative ~ Intro to Development

I was really pleased to see the MIT Global Poverty Initiative (GPI) IAP Workshop panelists talk today about their experiences in doing international development while students at the Institute...
Especially good to see the MIT Freshmen interested in international development attending.

R.I.P. Great Lectures ~ Sad MIT Teaching Decay...

The NYTimes Monday featured a piece by Sara Rimer titled At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard claiming that...
"...with physicists across the country pushing for universities to do a better job of teaching science, M.I.T. has made a striking change. The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning."
What's sad about this change is that it distributes "responsibility" to some kind of amorphous committee. Who then is overall accountable for educating and inspiring students? I think this because I personally sat in that very same classroom learning lessons from absolute intellectual giants: Walter Lewin, Alar Toomre, Arthur Mattuck, Hartley Rogers, Philip Morrison, Daniel Kemp, Mark Wrighton, and more. All gods of science and mathematics and each inspiration incarnate. Splitting into small groups to "learn" with some understudy seems like a second-class teaching solution. Small saving grace: At least the wonderful Walter Lewin lives online courtesy YouTube!

12 January 2009

Sustainability@MIT ~ Integrating Thought & Action

Great to see the latest Tech TV episode from the MIT Alumni Association on Sustainability @ MIT...

Greening MIT ~ Walking The Talk in a Living Lab

I just sat through the Greening MIT kickoff of the Energy Futures Week. Lots of effort around personal behavior modification. David Chandler wrote a nice review of the kickoff titled Going Green Saves MIT Green. While I'm a big fan of Walking The Talk and getting practical and tactical things done, I really do hope that this MIT initiative is just the beginning of a larger visioning exercise. We need to make a truly serious commitment to doing something transformative in energy, environment, and sustainability. Something like I wrote about in both my MIT 2020 and Energy is Not Enough pieces. I'm also pleased to see Jason Jay taking a real leadership role in catalyzing action towards Greening MIT, something we've talked about for a couple years now. Indeed, one of my first blog posts was after Jason and I, together with Elsa Olivetti, had a wonderful discussion about the prospects for MIT as a Living Lab for learning about sustainability at scale, something we imagined as some kind of LEED Campus initiative (escalating on the LEED Buildings movement).

Peace Parks ~ Conservation & Conflict Resolution

I've been thinking for a while now about the prospect and promise of international Peace Parks as an important part of a larger initiative addressing the Israel-Palestine regional impasse. Think of the Golan Heights, Jordan River valley, Dead Sea basin, Arava, Red Sea coral reefs, Negev-Sinai border from Taba to Rafah, all as potential Transfrontier Conservation Areas. I had known already of the Africa-centric Peace Parks Foundation, co-founded by Nelson Mandela and Dutch Prince Bernhard, and the origin of border peace parks between the US and Canada back in 1932. So it's a real delight to run across and get to read through Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution edited by MIT alumnus and scholar Saleem Hassan Ali and published by MITPress (and with online preview!)...
"Although the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Kenyan environmentalist, few have considered whether environmental conservation can contribute to peace-building in conflict zones. Peace Parks explores this question, examining the ways in which environmental cooperation in multijurisdictional conservation areas may help resolve political and territorial conflicts."

XoutTB ~ Take Medicine, Get Mobile Minutes...

Great to see my MIT IDI-IIH colleague Jose Gomez-Marquez's XoutTB spotlighted by Emily Singer in her Technology Review article titled Take TB Meds, Get Mobile Minutes. The current state of the art in ensuring tuberculosis patients take their medicine is to have health workers watch the pill-taking, or Directly Observed Therapy System (DOTS). By contrast, XoutTB distributes...
"...a simple paper-based diagnostic that detects metabolites of the TB drug in urine. The papers are dispensed from a device every 24 hours; when the diagnostic comes in contact with patients' urine, the metabolite reacts with chemicals embedded in the paper. That reaction reveals a code, which the patient then texts to a central database every day. Those who take the drugs consistently for 30 days are rewarded with cell-phone minutes. "The beautiful thing about this approach is that it really takes into account all the latest research on the psychology of compliance," says [Rachel] Glennerster [Executive Director of MIT's Jameel Poverty Action Lab] "What psychologists have found is that people respond to reminders and deadlines, and they are much more responsive to small, immediate incentives than to larger, more distant ones."
And since it's increasingly affordable to give (or subsidize) simple cellphones to patients, this creates what I would call Patient Observation Incentive Network Therapy System (POINTS), a fantastic way to both boost compliance plus empower patients with cash and connectivity.

11 January 2009

More Robo-Parking ~ Automatic Car Storage...

I wrote about Trevipark's automated car storage system a year ago. And more recently about the same kind of robo storage solutions for bikes. These urban innovations are all crucial elements of ever more vital cities. Such systems allow us to create parking spot markets ensuring people appealing and available places to park. And also applying the laws of supply and demand and proper pricing to the current tragedy of the urban parking commons free-for-all (or really free-for-the lucky-few). Here's some videos about additional car storage robo-systems. First, the PerfectPark system in Cesena, Italy... And a smaller PerfectPark linear-tandem system in use... Eito & Global's system (like Trevipark)... A more complex arrangement in Lisbon, Portugal... Finally, the Unitronics T2 system...

10 January 2009

Milky Way ~ Extreme Resolution Galactic Images

Thanks to Daily Galaxy for pointing out these stellar uber-resolution images of our Milky Way. More info (and big pix!) from the Caltech JPL / NASA project pages...
"More than 800,000 frames from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope were stitched together to create this infrared portrait of dust and stars radiating in the inner Milky Way. As inhabitants of a flat galactic disk, Earth and its solar system have an edge-on view of their host galaxy, like looking at a glass dish from its edge. From our perspective, most of the galaxy is condensed into a blurry narrow band of light that stretches completely around the sky, also known as the galactic plane."

Rainbows ~ Beautiful Physics at Lovely Locale!

Thanks to Talks Like a Physicist for this lovely shot... Note the double 'bows!

Vuzix Wrap 920AV ~ First Aesthetic Info-Glasses

Wow, Vuzix is the one company that has finally made an aesthetically attractive pair of info-glasses: the Wrap 920AV wearable PC / video display...

Biodiversity 2050 ~ Exploring Alternative Scenarios

Eye-opening to find these projections of biodiversity loss from 2000 to 2050. This is speculation, of course, but produced by the GLOBIO consortium. They mapped several scenarios...
"The greatest losses are seen in Markets First, followed by Security First, Policy First and Sustainability First for most regions. Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean experience the greatest losses of terrestrial biodiversity by 2050 in all four scenarios, followed by Asia and the Pacific. The differences among the regions are largely a result of broad-scale land-use changes, especially increases in pastureland and areas dedicated to biofuel production. The overall changes in terrestrial biodiversity though, are influenced by a number of other factors, including infrastructure development, pollution and climate change, as well as public policy and conflict."
More details at UNEP.

09 January 2009

Spider-Fan ~ Spidey Saves Obama's Inauguration!

BBC reports that Spider-Man Peter Parker saves Spider-Fan Barack Obama on Presidential Inauguration Day!
"Marvel Comics editor Joe Quesada said the idea for edition came after Mr Obama admitted he was a Spider-Man fan. "How great is that? The commander-in-chief to be is actually a nerd-in-chief," Mr Quesada said. Mr Obama's fan status was revealed by his campaign team, who released 10 little-known facts about the Democrat. "Right at the top of that list was he collected Spider-Man comics," Mr Quesada said."
How cool!

08 January 2009

Ocean X-Prizes ~ Exploring Possible Challenges

We just finished a two-day X-Prize workshop at MIT exploring possible new challenges with an Oceans theme. Organized by Erika Wagner, who runs the MIT X-Prize Lab, and Jaison Morgan from the X-Prize Foundation, this session brought together a couple dozen students, faculty, staff, entrepreneurs, journalists and other oceans enthusiasts. In addition to thinking about what qualifies as a compelling prize, we learned about how to organize things, maximize promotional value, catalyze new industries, learn from past prizes, and more. We split into four idea teams and in the end, proposed two preliminary concept themes:
  • Treasure Quest -- Discovery and mapping of wonderous ecological, geological, and archaeological marine riches, and
  • Blue Space Race -- a Tour de Oceans competition via Formula One-like manned submersibles in the briny deep

Aquatourism ~ Emergent Oceanic Eco-Industry

At MIT's IAP X-Prize Workshop I was delighted to see for the first time Graham Hawkes speak about his Deep Flight family of submersibles. These currently luxury devices (~US$1 to 3M each) will soon enable aqua-limo services and ultimately be a class of readily accessible toursubs, thus transforming the aquatourism sector. I expect that, in the beginning, they'll be launched from ports or beach resorts or cruise liners or personal yachts. But they do not require exotic (and expensive) specialized and dedicated support vessels. And they're tremendously maneuverable, underwater flyers really. These are big breakthroughs. Graham Hawkes is the creator-engineer, a multi-company entrepreneur, most recently operating both Precision Remotes and Hawkes Ocean Technologies.

07 January 2009

Hummus 2050 ~ Austrian Sigi Atteneder on MP.TV

I was very pleased to interview Sigi Atteneder -- co-creator of the Hummus 2050 initiative -- on my Maximizing Progress TV show tonight (f.k.a. HighTechFever). Sigi and colleague Lorenz Potocnik were among the four winners in the Jerusalem 2050 Competition organized by MIT's Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Center for International Studies. The Competition sought ideas and imagined possible futures for building towards a more prosperous, peaceful, vibrant Jerusalem and larger region. The Hummus 2050 initiative is a proposed...
"East Mediterranean City Belt [...] alliance of about 20 cities which form a corridor of urbanization along the Mediterranean Coast from Turkey to Egypt, and include the corresponding desert hinterland. A high concentration of people, money, service and production will create a strong backbone for the area. By 2050, the belt's population will approach or exceed 200 million inhabitants."

"Jerusalem has very specific problems which cannot be solved in a micro or macro scale. Being a symptom of the whole region, we consider it necessary to think simultaneously of Jerusalem in the region, and the region in Jerusalem: without a peaceful and economically thriving East Mediterranean region, there can be no vital city."
Especially check out the lovely graphics and maps on the Hummus 2050 website which go well beyond this early summary view... By bolstering the connections and trade and prosperity in the region, they maximize the odds of ever-more friendly and civil engagement among the peoples involved.

06 January 2009

Africa Rising ~ Prospects For Prosperity by 2050

Very interesting to read Business Week's Featured Special Report by Jack Ewing on South African Companies Unlock Sub-Saharan Africa. Several compelling case examples, including...
"All told, South Africans have plowed more than $8.5 billion into the Sub-Saharan region, the U.N. estimates, making the country the biggest investor there. Ever since South African Breweries pioneered the African beer market—and then went on to become the global titan known as SABMiller—South African companies have led the way on risky turf. Johannesburg cellular provider MTN was one of a handful of companies to defy conventional wisdom and prove that Africa could be a huge market for mobile phones. South African retailers such as Massmart, Shoprite, and packaged-food maker Tiger Brands are bringing Western-style shopping to Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and other far-flung locales. And Standard Bank has opened branches in 16 African countries that in many cases lacked even basic financial services. "South African companies are more open than ever to the opportunities in Africa,"
The BW article links to UT Austin Professor Vijay Mahajan's new book Africa Rising: How 900 Million Customers Offer More Than You ThinkWhere he...
"...introduces readers to Africa as a place of remarkable optimism and ingenuity with entrepreneurs and businesses working to create a better future for the continent. Crossing thousands of miles across many countries, Mahajan shares the lessons that Africa’s businesses have learned about succeeding on the continent…shows how global companies are succeeding despite Africa’s unique political, economic and resource challenges…introduces local entrepreneurs and foreign investors who are building a remarkable spectrum of profitable and sustainable business opportunities even in the most challenging locations…reveals how India and China are staking out huge positions throughout Africa…and shows the power of the diaspora in driving investment and development."
See this video clip of Professor Mahajan making his case...

Global Health ~ CIMIT on Emergent Care Solutions

I'm sitting right now in the CIMIT weekly forum. Today's session is on the theme of Global Health lead by Dr Kris Olson and titled Getting It Right in Global Health Technology Development. Guest speaker John Sherry -- most recently from Intel Digital Health, going to Gates Foundation next -- talked on Systems Thinking: Using the Tools of Ethnography and Technology to Transform Healthcare Delivery which means urging human-centered research as a tool for design. And my colleague and second guest speaker Jose Gomez-Marquez spoke about the Innovations in International Health Initiative at MIT. As Kris and colleagues describe it:
A transition of technological design for Global Health is underway. The developing world has graveyards of medical devices that were not designed for the settings where they are found. Delivery systems are not functioning and beleaguered health care providers cannot keep up. An intersection of disciplines ranging from clinical, public health, anthropology, design, engineering, and business is needed. Insights of would-be users of equipment and those that stand to maintain them are essential components to develop life-saving technologies for areas where necessity should be the mother of innovation.

05 January 2009

Spider's Web ~ Weaving Hundreds of Rings!

If only mass transit solutions -- such as Boston's quite needed Urban Ring! -- could be woven with the amazing efficiency of a spider weaving its web! Check out this lovely Attenborough clip...

Urgent Urban Ring ~ Accelerating Transit Solutions

I first wrote about the Boston metro Urban Ring in mid-2008. This long-overdue urban transit infrastructure addition has a key public hearing tomorrow night, Tuesday January 6, 2009. Read more at the rather comprehensive UrbanRing.com project site, including the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIR/DEIS). The goal is to put an effective and appealing mass transit Ring connecting around the spokes of the current MBTA metro system...

04 January 2009

Civilized ~ Provisioning Key Services in Vital Cities

Copenhagen Cycle Chic spotlights how civilized vital cities deal with snow removal (unlike the barbarians in Boston and incompetents in Cambridge;-)

Last Village ~ Singapore Plans to Pave the Past...

Fascinating story by Seth Mydans in the NYTimes titled Urban Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up Its Last Village, Kampong Buangkok...
"With just 28 houses in an area the size of three football fields, it is Singapore’s last rural hamlet, a forgotten straggler in the rush to modernize this high-rise, high-tech city-state. But apparently not for much longer. Kampong Buangkok is designated by the government for demolition and redevelopment, possibly in the near future. When it is gone, one of the world’s most extreme national makeovers will be complete."
Purely on preservationist grounds it's worth keeping some aspects of historic life, including this village and probably dozens of other key buildings and UNESCO-quality sites. Simply paving over the past seems so uncultured and uncivilized. On the other hand, I can understand and admire the push towards progress and modernity that Singapore perhaps best exemplifies. I wonder if there is not a third way, or at least key lessons that can be drawn from these Kampong dwellers. Be sure to visit the article and view the embedded video with interviews of Kampong Buangkok residents. These villagers talk about the place being...
"very quiet", enjoying "living in nature, among the trees. If I lived in a flat it would be difficult to have trees", having a sense of community and "caring about everybody" instead of being isolated and impersonal.
Why can't we have these qualities in greenscrapers and even the densest parts of vital cities?

03 January 2009

MoneyMaker ~ Mr Ebbo KickStart Pump Promo

Last year when Lemelson Foundation director Julia Novy-Hildesley spoke to our MIT Development Ventures class, she showed this promo video featuring Kenyan Tanzanian artist Mr Ebbo titled Don't Wait For The Rain about the MoneyMaker treadle pump by KickStart. KickStart's co-founder Martin Fisher would go on to win the Lemelson-MIT Sustainability Prize. Thanks to NextBillion.net's Rob Katz for the link. This promo's catchy, corny, and clever all at once...

Helen Suzman ~ R.I.P.

Sad to hear that Helen Suzman passed away January 1st, 2009 in South Africa. She was a moral giant, fighting tirelessly and eloquently for decades to achieve progressive values and to secure liberty in a post-apartheid South Africa.