Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

04 DECEMBER, 2009

Top 10 Contemporary Cross-Disciplinary Conferences

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Ideas in real life, or how to increase the statistical probability of finding a clown, Malcolm Gladwell, and a rocket scientist in the same room.

It’s no secret that we’re huge TED fans here at Brain Pickings, but we also follow other conferences with a great deal of interest — ambitious alternative events determined to make oft-repeated phrases like “design thinking” and “interdisciplinary innovation” mean something. These expansive — but not prohibitively expensive — experiences also aim to create communities that live beyond the initial flurry of inspiration. And while we certainly don’t believe the world needs gratuitous gatherings of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, we do believe in incubating ideas and connecting inspired changemakers.

So here’s a list of the top-10 non-TED alternative live conferences — and we use the term loosely — bound to make your brain sparkle.

99%

Named after Thomas Edison’s dictum, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% Perspiration,” the 99% conference has a unique raison d’être: “making ideas happen.” In a twist to traditional conference talks, the speakers are asked to share the stories behind the execution of their great ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. (And with a brand-name lineup featuring Michael Beirut and Seth Godin, attendees were already familiar with the speakers’ main ideas anyway.)

Produced by the creativity consultancy Behance, the inaugural 99% conference took place in New York in April of this year; next year’s is already on tap for April 15-16, 2010.

BARCAMP

Inspired by Tim O’Reilly’s famous invite-only hacker summit, Foo Camp, BarCamp borrowed from the hacker slang foobar to create a set of guidelines for an alternative, open-to-all, ad-hoc event around a common topic or theme that anyone can host anywhere. (These user-generated experiences are also sometimes called unconferences or non-conferences, after legendary eccentric curator Hans Ulrich Obrist‘s experimental non-conference in Jülich, Germany, in the 90’s.)

A self-organizing community of diverse interests, BarCamp participants are also its presenters. Attendees spend the first part of each event brainstorming and voting for session subjects, and can then choose among the various breakout groups. As you might imagine, the quality of a BarCamp can vary considerably depending on who’s present — we’ve had mixed experiences, accordingly. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for; and BarCamps are typically free.

DO LECTURES

As with the 99%, the Do Lectures have the proactive premise “that the Doers of the world can inspire the rest of us to go Do something.” Fewer than 100 attendees, speakers, and staff gather in west Wales under a tent for a weekend of cross-disciplinary inspiration. Speakers at this year’s second-annual Do session included mountaineer Paul Deegan and Tony Davidson, Creative Director of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.

The Do Lectures were started by David and Clare Hieatt, founders of the activewear brand Howie’s.

THE FEAST

Produced by the irrepressible duo behind All Day Buffet (Jerri Chou and Mike Karnjanaprakorn, who also put on the first 99% conference), The Feast is a two-day affair that had its first run in New York this year as well.

With the tagline “feast on good,” the focus here is social enterprise: self-sustaining, next-generation initiatives with nothing less than world-changing intentions. Talks from inspiring models such as charity: water and New Orleans’s 9th Ward Field of Dreams made for an amazing lineup, and everything from fifteen-minute breaks to flatware is carefully curated by the conference organizers. (Okay, perhaps we’re a little biased, having attended the first Feast as a fellow.) Bias notwithstanding, though, All Day Buffet’s thoughtful stewardship of this startup conference makes it a must-follow event.

GEL

An acronym for “Good Experience Live,” GEL is a twice-yearly conference in New York, focused — as its name suggests — on the human experience in all arenas. The main event takes place in April and features speakers from business, design, technology, and other service-driven disciplines (so basically anything). GEL Health focuses on improving the patient experience and is held in October. Entering its seventh year, GEL was founded by Bit Literacy author and user-experience consultant Mark Hurst.

The next GEL is scheduled for April 29-30, 2010; in the meantime you can check out clips from past GELs here.

IGNITE

Started in Seattle in 2006, Ignite talks hacked Pecha Kucha’s 20×20 format (below) for a Google generation’s attention spans. Speakers have five minutes and 20 slides (which automatically rotate every 15 seconds) with which to present anything from cheesemaking to conservation. In addition to these nano-talks, participants also spend part of any Ignite event making — usually coding or moding something to be judged in a subsequent contest. Founders Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis have roots in online networks (O’Reilly Media and Etsy.com, respectively), and correspondingly, Ignite events are openly geeky affairs. Since that inaugural event Ignite has spread to cities around the world, with strongholds in New York, Helsinki, Paris, and Portland.

You can view more talks at Ignite’s YouTube channel, including Scott Berkun’s now canonical “Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk.”

PALOMAR5

A global group of 30 people under age 30 just completed six weeks at this innovation camp in Berlin, forming Palomar5’s first graduating class. Six young entrepreneurs founded the group and formulated the question posed to these lucky souls: “How will we work in the future?”

The residency itself then became a kind of living laboratory for Palomar5’s premise. (In a great nod to the industrial-era fabrik that served as backdrop, participants were given overalls to wear for their first weekend, “to initiate a kind of reset-mode.” From the look of Palomar5’s Flickr sets, the attendees may have enjoyed a Hefeweiss or two on the former beer factory site as well.) Following weeks of envisioning, workshop-ing, and prototyping ideas, the camp culminated in a festival and livestreamed summit (that included a talk by Brain Pickings favorite Aaron Koblin).

Palomar5 may be in hibernation mode now, but you can still connect with its community on Facebook and Twitter.

PECHAKUCHA

What started in 2003 in a Tokyo gallery as an event for designers has since spread to 260-plus cities, from A Coruña to Zürich. Pecha Kucha pioneered the 20-slides-in-20-seconds format, providing a built-in check for creatives who tend toward too much exposition. Beyond this constraint, however, the talks have been held in bars, churches, and swimming pools; equally diverse are Pecha Kucha speakers, fulfilling the founders’ wish that anyone, from upstart to well-established, might be able to present.

Check here to see if there’s a Pecha Kucha Night near you, and catch up on presentations past on their recently launched video portal.

PINC

Held in the Netherlands, the annual PINC conference typically features around 16 speakers and 500 guests.

Its acronym stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity, and the prevailing ethos — as articulated by PINC’s founder, publisher Peter van Lindonk — is “passion.” (Not for nothing did van Lindonk spent 15 years moonlighting as a ringmaster for Amsterdam’s World Christmas Circus.)

The eclectic program aims to recharge the brain’s batteries with “[a]n inspiring cascade of new ideas, great stories, and impressive visual presentations.” Next year’s PINC is scheduled for May 11-18, 2010, but you can watch videos from past years here.

TEDX

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fantastic success that is TEDx.

These independently curated, local talks have brought TED’s mission of “ideas that matter” to 350-plus places globally, and created their own rich cache of video for anyone to watch. TED may be the sine qua non of idea conferences, but these smaller stages are showcasing an exciting amount of big thinking.

We’re certain that we missed other great conferences and meeting models in this rundown, particularly non-English-language-based experiences, so do use the comments section to tip us off to your favorite alt-conferences.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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27 NOVEMBER, 2009

Carbon Sucker: CR5

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What carbon dioxide has to do with national security and a dog’s tail.

Recycling alone won’t do it, carbon offsets are a joke, and geoengineering is a bandaid at best. Even our most committed resolve to change our unsustainable ways may just take too long to prevent the grim consequences of decades of wasteful consumption. Let’s face it, the best solution to our climate pickle would be to suck the carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere and be done with it.

Luckily, researcher Rich Diver at Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. facility developing national security products through science and technology, has been working on just that — and then some. (Because, at this point, the climate crisis is a matter of trans-national security.) He has developed a prototype for a machine that uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide waste from power plants into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel — an interesting alternative to carbon sequestration where, instead of stashing CO2 in underground storage, carbon dioxide can actually be put right back into the energy system.

The device, called the Counter-Rotating-Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5), may take 15-20 years before it becomes an efficient market-ready technology. (Researchers want to pump up its efficiency to a few percent, double that of real-world photosynthesis.) And, of course, there’s still the glaring issue of using energy waste to create non-clean-burning energy, which in turn creates more waste — no dog chasing its tail ever got anywhere.

But we still think the development is important — not even because of the actual technology, but because of what it connotes: A large-scale effort from governments, institutions and scientists to brainstorm possible solutions and really get their hands dirty until they find the right ones, the ones that both help undo decades worth of damage and offer long-term solutions for the future.

Meanwhile, though, you should still recycle, you know. And don’t forget today (if you’re in the U.S. — tomorrow if you’re anywhere else) is Buy Nothing Day.

via Inhabitat

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09 NOVEMBER, 2009

Introducing the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

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What liquor stores have to do with the advancement of the digital arts.

Last week, we saw artist-explorer Jonathan Harris’ profound reflection on the current state of the digital world. But as digital culture grows on, we need more explicit, concentrated efforts to make sense of it all and its ever-evolving relationship with the arts. Enter GAFFTA, the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts — a visionary Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to building social consciousness through digital culture, based on the principles of openness, collaboration, and resource sharing. (Principles validated all the more strongly as Firefox, the quintessential epitome of this movement, turns 5 today.)

GAFFTA‘s programs explore the creative intersection of art, design, sound, and technology — a celebration of the interdisciplinary cross-pollination of ideas we’re so fond of around here.

The world is experiencing an explosion of technological development that presents us with inspiring opportunities and challenges. While the ability to rapidly produce and consume information has fueled quantum leaps in innovation, its abundance can also disrupt our focus and fragment our consciousness. By funding and curating projects that offer insightful perspective on the information of our age, using the technologies of our time, GAFFTA provides a means to decode and humanize the evolving global database.

GAFFTA was born out of the realization that, beyond a limited number of mainstream museums, there is no cohesive public space for exhibiting and fostering dialogue around experimental digital art. Eventually, Gray Area took over 7 storefronts in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, previously used as a porn arcade, liquor store and bar, and transformed them into a Media Arts Center populated by galleries, studios and office spaces.

It’s no coincidence that the ever-amazing Aaron Koblin is on the GAFFTA team, populated by equally incredible creative visionaries and artist-technologists.

GAFFTA‘s inaugural exhibition, OPEN, opened last month and runs through November 18, highlighting work from several digital art pioneers spanning a multitude of formats and techniques. And while such events and workshops are no doubt a fantastic leap forward for digital art, we’d love to see GAFFTA’s mission extended to the broader digital community in a portal or social network that transcends geography and allows for the wider cross-pollination of ideas.

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