28 February 2009

Video Projection Monumentale ~ Digital Lights!

Wow, videobeamers and digital fx are totally changing our visual surroundings! View the Video Projection Monumentale compilation...

Willem "Pim" Kolff ~ R.I.P.

A biomedical engineering giant has fallen to the relentless ravages of age. Dutch inventor-engineer-physician Willem "Pim" Kolff persevered through Nazi occupation in the Netherlands -- helping the Resistance, protecting Jews and others at risk -- all while inventing-perfecting the first kidney dialysis machine. He then migrated to the USA and went on to play key roles in developing artificial hearts, eyes, ears, and an early prosthetic arm. Remarkable. R.I.P.

Transforming Trash ~ Economist Surveys Waste

Once again another timely and important Special Report from the Economist, this time on the global waste industry...
"Rubbish may be universal, but it is little studied and poorly understood. Nobody knows how much of it the world generates or what it does with it. In many rich countries, and most poor ones, only the patchiest of records are kept. That may be understandable: by definition, waste is something its owner no longer wants or takes much interest in. [...] Yet many also see waste as an opportunity. Getting rid of it all has become a huge global business. Rich countries spend some $120 billion a year disposing of their municipal waste alone and another $150 billion on industrial waste, according to CyclOpe, a French research institute. The amount of waste that countries produce tends to grow in tandem with their economies, and especially with the rate of urbanisation. So waste firms see a rich future in places such as China, India and Brazil, which at present spend only about $5 billion a year collecting and treating their municipal waste. Waste also presents an opportunity in a grander sense: as a potential resource..."
Indeed, the tremendous business opportunities in transforming trash lead me to think of today's waste dumps as tomorrow's gold mines. And that's not only for solid waste, but also water and sanitation, as I've written about in Waste Matters and Bio-Latrines. But not all trash smells like roses, some dumping practices really stink, including the scandalous use of developing countries as Global Junkyards. FYI, the references at the end of the Economist's report are first class. Bottom line: waste management really matters because otherwise our kids will face a world that looks like Naples, the dumpcity of Italy...

Civic Media ~ U2's Surprise Gig Atop BBC House!

The Telegraph has a nice write-up on Bono and U2 band's surprise gig atop BBC's Broadcasting House yesterday night... Here they are in larger London City setting... And, of course, watch part of the live performance on the 'Tube...

26 February 2009

Appropriate Financing ~ The SELCO Experience

Great to read in the FT about A bright idea that helped India's poor by Amy Kazmin writing from Bangalore, India. The story is about the tremendous work by SELCO founder Harish Hande and team in deploying solar electric lighting systems starting in Karnataka -- and their trials and tribulations in sustaining this social-mission for-profit venture in the face of daunting obstacles. I've written before about Harish and SELCO, but the tail-end of this FT article spotlights a hugely important part of the process that must be extra-emphasized -- Appropriate Financing...
"Dealing with India's rural poor is traditionally the preserve of government or non-profit charities -- or rapacious money-lenders ready to step in with emergency loans at extortionate interest rates. But after two years of research in rural villages in India and Sri Lanka, Mr Hande was convinced the poor would pay for solar lights, in spite of their hefty cost, if they could obtain affordable loans with repayment schedules that reflected their cash flow. "If you create appropriate financing and appropriate products, the people will pay," he says. Much of Mr Hande's energy has gone into persuading rural loan officers in state banks to provide credit to families to buy solar lights. But he remains awed by villagers' willingness to spend the equivalent of a full year's income on his product. "Think how much time we take to make a decision to spend a whole year's salary," he says. "But the poor are willing to pay."
Harish and colleagues continue to both extend their reach and bring new sustainable energy solutions to their customers!

25 February 2009

3D Street Art ~ Edgar Mueller's Giant Illusions!

Thanks to the Daily Mail piece by Tom Kelly on Mind the crevasse: The amazing 3D pavement art that has pedestrians on edge spotting Edgar Mueller's giant optical illusions! Here's the artist in mid-paint... And, of course, there's a great timelapse video on the 'Tube!

23 February 2009

Real Slumdogs ~ Hand in Hand Starting Ventures

Interesting Op-Ed piece in the BBC by Percy Barnevik about The real Slumdogs of India where he describes his personal and professional commitment as Chairman of Indian charity Hand in Hand...
"So far Hand in Hand has enrolled 387,000 extremely poor women. They are trained in finance and enterprise creation, and supported with micro-loans. They have started 215,000 enterprises in production, trade and services, and currently establish around 400 new enterprises per day. The reality is that when the women start businesses, they get empowered at all levels. They eat more, earn more, read better, become more active in local government. The fight against global poverty can also be greatly inspired by Indian methods. We have seen that, with tight cost control, it is possible to create a job for some $50. This means taking a woman living on less than $2 (£1.40) per day, and within one to two years turning her into a self-sustaining entrepreneur, with a business generated income supporting an average of five or six people. This cost is a one-off. It is a fishing rod rather than a fish. With the reallocation of some 5 to 6% of the world's aid budgets, and using a self-help model, we could see a massive improvement in the living standards of the world's poor in the next 10 to 20 years. These self-help models, now growing among the entrepreneurial ultra-poor Indians, show that India could lead the way in the fight against poverty."
Be sure to check out the Hand in Hand promo on the 'Tube...

GreenWheel ~ Electro-Motorized Bicycle Retrofit

Nice write-up in AutoBlog Green by Domenick Yoney on MIT GreenWheel: Simply an electric bicycle revolution about the MIT Media Lab SmartCities team building...
"...a wheel that can turn an ordinary bicycle into a very desirable electric one in an easy, cost effective manner. Enclosing a motor, A123 Systems batteries and a generator into a small aluminum pancake hub, the GreenWheel can give you up to 25 miles of propulsion, or much more if you don't mind pedaling. Unlike conversions kits from the past, it forgoes running wires the length of your bike by incorporating the magic of bluetooth to control the twist-throttle."
This is a great emerging innovation sector. Check out my earlier posts on Wheelmotors and RevoPower as well as about Practical Cycles more generally.

22 February 2009

mHealth for Development ~ Mobile Phones & Rx

Thanks to Scot Frank at MIT for spotting the latest UN Foundation report mHealth for Development: The Opportunity of Mobile Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World. The report looks at...
"...the rapidly evolving intersection of mobile phones and healthcare. It helps the reader to understand mHealth’s scope and implementation across developing regions, the health needs to which mHealth can be applied, and the mHealth applications that promise the greatest impact on heath care initiatives."
The whole report PDF is online and was orchestrated by a partnership of the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation and written by Vital Wave Consulting.

Do Not Microwave Metal ~ An MIT PhD's Lesson;-)

Do not microwave Domino's chicken wing left-overs while they're still in an aluminum foil wrapper and cardboard box! The resulting sparks can ignite things, nevermind leaving a charred, smelly mess. Yes, I thought this was obvious, but my post-doc friend -- who shall remain nameless to protect his employability as an MIT engineering PhD alumnus;-) -- was under the impression that it's an "old wives' tale" that you shouldn't put metal in microwave ovens. Oh really?-) Perhaps an instructional Moment of Science is in order. Or take a peek at How Stuff Works. Or, better yet, just watch the 'Tube...

Roof Gardens ~ Beauty Atop The Greenscraper!

There's no excuse in the modern era for rooftops to lack greenery!

19 February 2009

Bicilavadora ~ Pedal-Powered Washing Machine

Nice to see MIT student Lisa Tacoronte (center, green) and her fellow D-Lab Development team spotlighted in news article MIT Students Create Bicycle-Powered Washing Machine...
"After working four years to develop their concept, students and staff at MIT built the pedal-powered washing machine primarily from bicycle parts and empty barrels. The machine was designed to be easy and inexpensive to manufacture, mostly using parts and tools that are readily available anywhere in the developing world. And since the machines can be made locally, their use can even generate new jobs. Dubbed "bicilavadora," which combines the Spanish words for bicycle and washing machine, the new invention got a stringent test last month when a team of MIT students took a prototype machine to an orphanage in Ventanilla, near Lima, Peru. With 670 resident children, the orphanage produces enough laundry to keep the washer perpetually busy."
This is a really great project which resulted from mentorship by Gwyn Jones, MIT D-Lab instructor, and ongoing involvement of originator grad student/alum Radu Raduta. And Lisa's part of the Global Cycle Solutions emergent development ventures team which is seeking to build and sell entire families of pedal-powered products for use worldwide. See also David Chandler's MIT News piece, Spin cycle: a new kind of washer, and the embedded video...

18 February 2009

Von Manstein's Matrix ~ Clever Lazy Generals...

Uber-compadre Daniel Rosenberg of Moments of Science and In Demo Veritas fame spotted this delighter on the Slow Leadership site, Are today’s organizations creating hardworking Idiots? all about German General Erich von Manstein's leadership typology... The upshot? Fire all the hardworking idiots -- and I know of several in quite senior positions at MIT -- be a clever lazy person, and hire clever hardworkers. Harsh but honest.

17 February 2009

Entrepreneurial Impact ~ MIT's Venture Ethos...

Interesting to see my MIT colleagues Ed Roberts and Chuck Eesley authoring a Kauffman Foundation Study [Which] Finds MIT Alumni Companies Generate Billions for Regional Economies. Here's the MIT News Office trumpeting the word. Some of the assertions are glorious...
"The 25,800 currently active companies founded by MIT alumni employ 3.3 million people and generate annual world sales of $2 trillion, equivalent to the 11th largest economy in the world."
One caveat, however -- since I ran the MIT Founders Project in the 1990s -- which was an actual direct count census -- and I have some sense of how many companies there really are co-founded by MIT-related people, I think the Roberts & Eesley so-called direct extrapolation technique substantially overestimates things (by maybe a factor of 3x or 5x). But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

15 February 2009

Smile Pinki ~ From Social Outcast to Child Star

Thanks to BBC's Geeta Pandey for the story Pinki hopes to smile at Oscars about Smile Pinki, a documentary by director Megan Mylan about eight-year-old Pinki's journey from being a village social outcast to her acceptance by society. Writes Pandey...
"Born with a cleft lip in an impoverished family, the first few years of Pinki's life were spent in abject unhappiness. Every one used to tease her, they used to call her hothkati -- the girl with the torn lip. "I used to think that she would be better off dead. I used to wonder who would marry her? Where would I find the money to pay for her dowry? At school everyone teased her. At home, family and friends talked about her as if she was a freak," says Mr Sonkar [her father]. Pinki's life took a turn for the better when she was spotted by a social worker. Dr Subodh Kumar Singh is the plastic surgeon at the GS Memorial hospital in Varanasi who carried out Pinki's surgery. "Her parents wanted her lip to be fixed from the time she was born, but they had no means. They couldn't afford it. Pinki had grown up to six years, she could see her face in the mirror, and she always wanted it fixed," Dr Singh says. It's difficult to imagine that until a couple of years ago, she had no friends and that she was ostracised and teased. Today, she's the star."
This is a great story. And one we need to enable for millions of children afflicted with cleft lip, skin ailments, eye conditions, broken bones, and myriad illnesses and otherwise treatable afflictions. International medical aid organization Smile Train is a key part of the solution, but they and other like-minded organizations need our vital support. There's absolutely no excuse in the modern era for lack-cure anywhere on Earth. View the Smile Pinki trailer... P.S. 22 Feb 2009 Update: Smile Pinki won the Oscar!

13 February 2009

Conditional Cash-Transfers ~ Savvy Welfare...

The Economist spotlights Quid Pro Quo ~ Anti-Poverty Programmes, noting that "Doling out cash with strings attached is a good idea, but no panacea". Conditional Cash-Transfers (CCTs) are social payments given only if recipients ensure some beneficial act occurs, for instance, they send their kids to school or improve nutrition. On the positive side, they note...
"These programmes have swept across the developing world. In 1997 Mexico was one of only three countries to have a CCT programme. By 2008, as the World Bank documents in a new report, virtually every country in Latin America had one. So did Indonesia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Cambodia, Pakistan and Kenya. Some of these programmes are huge: Brazil’s Bolsa Familia serves 11m families."
But all is not universally glorious, since...
"...there is little evidence that CCTs raise educational standards (as opposed to attendance); and while children may go to clinics more, that does not mean their nutrition or immunisation rates improve. The programmes may not be to blame. The problem may lie with the dire quality of schools and clinics [since] a quarter of Indian schoolteachers were absent on any given day. CCTs, for all their advantages, cannot do much about that."

Enabling the Disabled, Disadvantaged, Dismissed

I'm delighted to see MIT Media Lab Director Frank Moss cast a high call for investment in Enabling Innovations -- those technologies and solutions which serve those who he calls the historically disabled, disadvantaged or dismissed. This is a topic I've cared about for a long time, including having catalyzed our MIT Enterprise Forum Global event two years ago on A.B.L.E. Technologies -- or Achieving Better Life Experiences for people with injury, disability, and aging challenges. And the Neurotechnology Ventures seminar I co-teach with Ed Boyden and Rutledge Ellis-Behnke -- spotlighted recently by MIT TechTalk as Brainy Businesses -- is centrally interested in regenerative and recuperative solutions. Plus, the Development Ventures seminar I co-teach with Sandy Pentland centrally addresses the challenges of the most dismissed -- those in Emerging Markets! Not only are more investments a top priority here, but the accelerated translation of inventions into widely deployed innovations could not be more pressing and urgent. Most exciting of all, some of the currently so-called "disabled" might become the dramatically empowered lead users of tomorrow -- i.e. more enabled than everyone else!

Emerging Market Middle ~ Billions of Bourgeoisie

Nice Economist special report on the Burgeoning Bourgeoisie ~ The New Middle Classes in Emerging Markets...
"...there is indeed something special about the contribution the middle classes make to economic development that goes beyond providing a market for Western consumer goods. The middle classes can, and sometimes do, play an important role in creating and sustaining democracy, though on their own they are not sufficient to create it, nor do they make it inevitable. On balance, the report is optimistic about the prospects of countries where the middle classes are growing. But they are not a homogeneous group, so their impact varies. A middle class that has grown largely to tend to the state will behave differently from one that is based on the private sector."

Charles 'Che' Darwin ~ ¡Viva La Evolución!

The latest hack at MIT -- Celebrating yesterday's 200th birthday of that radical evolutionary, Charles 'Che' Darwin!

10 February 2009

Rural Mobiles ~ Indian Farmers Get Connected...

Great to see Eric Bellman's piece in the WSJ titled Rural India Snaps Up Mobile Phones. Bellman notes...
"Even amid the global economic slowdown, one Indian industry continues to boom: selling cellphones to the rural poor. Economists have slashed Indian economic growth forecasts for this year and the stock market is in the doldrums. But cellphone companies are signing millions of new subscribers a month, making India the fastest growing mobile-phone market in the world. There is no sign of a slowdown yet: figures to be released later this month are expected to show that new subscriptions in January reached a record 11 million."

Boeing 747 ~ Happy Birthday to the Big Jumbo!

The BBC's John Strickland celebrates Four Decades of a Flying Giant, the birthday of the Boeing 747... Notes Strickland...
"Since that first flight, the 747 has fulfilled the faith of its designers and has led to reductions in air fares, opening up air travel to many in a way that was previously unimaginable. This has been made possible by the economies of scale which a larger aircraft can offer. In simple terms the overall costs of operating an aircraft with, say 400 seats, are typically not double those of an aircraft with 200 seats. In effect, the cost per seat is reduced."

08 February 2009

Märklin ~ Challenging Days In Model Trainsville

Word has just come to me of bankruptcy declaration by my favorite toymaker -- Märklin -- a giant in the field of model trains. Since I was five years old I've played with their product and it inspired my interest in engineering and more. Here's the evidence: DIY play with Dad! I hope that the madness and uncertainty and turmoil that are today's economies and financial markets don't inadvertently kill the very stuff that makes us human -- culture, history, legacy, creativity, joy, and more. Let's hope Märklin makes it through these troubles.

Informal Sector ~ Meet The Kenyan Metalworkers

Dutch videoreporter Ruud Elmendorp tells the entrepreneurial story of the informal metalworking sector in Kenya...

Green Developments ~ Inhabitat's Latest Spots...

Inhabitat spotlights several great green designs...

07 February 2009

Stonehenge Reloaded ~ Simple Build Methods!

Thanks to Miss Cellania for spotting Wally Wallington's use of simple build methods to move heavy rocks and perhaps crack some of the mysteries of Stonehenge construction...

06 February 2009

Fluid Interfaces ~ Any Surface Interactive Display

Some really lovely Fluid Interfaces wearable imaging work by MIT Media Lab colleague Pattie Maes and student Pranav Mistry noted in recent Wired blog by Kim Zetter on TED: MIT Students Turn Internet Into a Sixth Human Sense -- Video. Also mentioned in Fast Company note by Kit Eaton on MIT's Sixth Sense Machine Makes Reality Better. Turns any surface into interactive display...

Permeable Buildings ~ Digital Water Pavillion!

Just now sitting in the MIT Media Lab's Permeable Buildings event. Bill Mitchell shared his work with Carlo Ratti on the Digital Water Pavillion at Zaragoza. Very cool!

Bird Strike ~ We're Going To Be In The Hudson...

Listen to the actual audio exchange from the US Airways Flight 1549 and New York air traffic controllers following bird strikes killing both engines just after take-off. Without other alternatives, cool-headed Captain Sully and crew emergency landed in the Hudson River...

05 February 2009

Social Entrepreneurship ~ Solving Global Problems

Together with a highly motivated MIT student colleague, Wendy Chen, I'm organizing an introductory seminar on Social Entrepreneurship for underclassmen at MIT (and, it turns out, cross-registrants from Harvard.) Our goal is for them to become increasingly able social entrepreneurs while at MIT, learning by doing work on a more senior student's social enterprise project, and ultimately planning and/or building their own efforts. We'd like to help our students make the very most of their all too limited time at the Institute, which includes learning how to take full advantage of the resources, connections, and opportunities which abound here!

04 February 2009

Imaging Ventures ~ Cameras, Displays, Visuals!

One Billion Cameraphones worldwide. Gigapixel pano's with everyday imagers. Exponentially improving price-performance curves in cameras and displays. Imaging is the core. Ventures are the vehicle. Imaging is essential to many biotech, neurotech, mobile, security, robotics, and other compelling venture sectors -- including several winners of the MIT $100K prizes -- e.g. Actuality, MIMIO, Imagen, ClickDiagnostics, Brontes -- among them our guest speakers in our new prototype Imaging Ventures seminar...

03 February 2009

Responsive Cities ~ Emergent Urban Innovations

My colleague Kent Larson and I are running an informal MIT survey seminar on Responsive Cities this Spring 2009. Our focus is on six themes of emergent urban innovation:
  1. New Model for Transportation -- February 10th -- How can city design, new vehicle concepts, and technology enable more responsive personal and mass transportation?
  2. Digital Cities -- February 17th -- How can personal technology, sensing, urban-scale media, and just-in-time information foster community, sustainability, and a better life-balance?
  3. Live-Work -- February 24th -- How can the city plan, architecture, transportation systems, technology, and services support a changing pattern of 24-hour distributed work, virtual offices, live-work environments, etc.?
  4. Distributed/Centralized Energy -- March 3rd -- How can we design for both distributed and centralized energy? How can heating, cooling, and electrical loads be dramatically reduced through design innovation and technology?
  5. The Code of Creative Cities -- March 10th -- How can codes, zoning, and master plans allow for change and enable bottom-up innovation? And...
  6. New Model for Building Design, Fabrication, and Technology Integration -- Mar 17th -- How can mass-customization, disentangled systems, off-site fabrication, and information technology enable agile, adaptable, high-performance, responsive housing?
We challenge our students to explore the design, commercial and cultural consequences of emergent urban innovations across several levels of analysis from individual artifacts through urban plan.

NextLab II ~ Mobile Ventures for the Next Billion

My colleague Jhonatan Rotberg is running the NextLab II focusing on Launching Mobile Ventures for the Next Billion Consumers... Mobiles are a truly transformative technology dialing up the lives of billions of people worldwide!

02 February 2009

D-Lab ~ The MIT Int'l Development Action Labs

At MIT we live up to our motto Mens et Manus and our humanistic mission -- "for the betterment of humanity" -- by doing international development. The D-Lab family of classes has blossomed from a Haiti Class taught by my MIT colleague Amy Smith, an extracurricular DesignThatMatters offering by Media Lab grad students, and a water and sanitation class by Civil & Environmental colleague Susan Murcott to a whole suite of offerings throughout the year along the extended development innovation pipeline from Discovery to Design to Dissemination and beyond! The latest incarnations include ICT, Wheelchairs, Prosthetics, Health, and more. There's an ever expanding Fall and Spring sequence (green and yellow, respectively)... This is a great set of activities and I'm proud to be collaborating on this with some really wonderful colleagues!

01 February 2009

Sober Optimist ~ We've Just Exactly Enough Time

The latest MIT Sloan Management Review interviews Professor John Sterman in A Sober Optimist’s Guide to Sustainability. Sterman covers a wide range of items, including defining sustainability, describing his own and MIT colleagues efforts, and towards the end, quotes his mentor Dana Meadows...
"...if you believe that the world is unlimited, that technology will always be there with a solution that lets you have more, that markets always work perfectly, then we will never change what we're doing and we will inevitably crash into the physical limits of the planet. On the other hand, if you say it's too late, that there's too many of us, that we're too greedy, that no change is possible, then we might as well just give up and for sure we're going to get what we expect. What Dana worked for is to live as if there's just exactly enough time. There's enough time to do it, with no time to waste. Just exactly enough time, enough resources, enough environmental resilience and enough human compassion to bring about the change we need to create a sustainable world."

Unnecessary Censorship ~ Spoofing the FCC ;-)

Jimmy Kimmel's show has a great segment called Unnecessary Censorship, spoofing the FCC's unconstitutional interference in our lives. Enjoy!