Robert Boroffice, head of the Nigerian Space Agency, came on stage and told us that 1 in every 5 Africans was a Nigerian. Therefore, 1 in every 5 scam letters received was from a Nigerian but that he did not have any money to transfer (which got a few laughs from the audience).

Boroffice was there to tell us about the Nigerian space program. Initially, I was rather skeptical. I couldn’t figure out the relevance of space technology to Nigeria (which actually says a lot about my ignorance). But Boroffice presented a convincing case for the Nigerian space program as a tool for socio-economic development. The main reason for their space program seems to be to generate geospatial information for national development. He argues that Africa has resources but it is mismanaged and that satellites provide critical information for decision making. This in turn enables the government to address many environmental problems, like soil erosion and deforestation. Other applications range from healthcare to education.

It was all very interesting but I do have one last question – Couldn’t they have just used Google Maps?


Kelly Joe Phelps

October 22, 2007

He doesn’t have the best voice in the world but there is something about the effortless fusion between voice and instrument. I could definitely listen to Kelly Joe Phelps for hours and hours. His style is a mixture of folk, delta blues and jazz (some of my favourite genres of music). He plays the notes on his guitar in a wonderfully comforting yet pensive way. It made me think about a glass of warm milk, a chocolate chip cookie and the pitter-patter of raindrops outside. Like coming home.

(It is probably obvious that he played at Pop!Tech. The posted video is a awesome one of him on the slide guitar.)

Andrew Zolli introduces the segment of Pop!Tech on “Sustaining Tomorrow” as the things that “comic books are made of”. And Cary Fowler’s Artic Seed Vault definitely seems like it would fit comfortably into an epic tale of heroes and villains.

Fowler is the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the world’s seed banker. He starts by explaining what biodiversity really means. It is the biological foundation of agriculture and losing biodiversity is extinction. It means losing important genetic traits and options for the future. And with climate change and food security issues, there is pressure on agriculture to do many more things. The question is do we modify the environment to suit the crops or modify the crops to suit the environment? And if the latter, don’t we need biodiversity?

This is where seed banks come in. And the mother of all seed banks must surely be the Artic Seed Vault. It is a sort of a Noah’s Ark concept – taking a sampling of what you want to preserve and protecting it from impending doom. A global resource to ensure continuity in human existence.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or the Doomsday Vault as the media have nicknamed it, will be the ultimate safety net for the world’s most important natural resource… The seed vault is an answer to a call from the international community to provide the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity, and in fact the idea for such a facility dates back to the 1980s. However, it was only with the coming into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, that the seed vault became a practical possibility.

The vault is being dug into a mountainside near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Construction is due to be completed in September 2007. Svalbard is a group of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway. Remote by any standards, Svalbard’s airport is in fact the northernmost point in the world to be serviced by scheduled flights – usually one a day. For nearly four months a year the islands are enveloped in total darkness. It is here that the Norwegian government is building the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, to provide this ultimate safety net for the world’s seeds.

Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that even without electricity, the samples will remain frozen. The vault’s construction will be funded and managed by the Norwegian government as a service to the world community. The Global Crop Diversity Trust considers the vault an essential component of a rational and secure global system for conserving the genetic diversity of all our crops. The Trust is therefore committed to supporting ongoing operational costs, and will assist developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting their representative seeds to the Arctic.”

All I can say is kudos to those who dare to dream!

A break from the Pop!Tech content but this is way to hilarious not to post.  I think it started off in Craigslist and then made its rounds in cyberspace.

What am I doing wrong?

Okay, I’m tired of beating around the bush. I’m a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25 year old girl. I’m articulate and classy. I’m not from New York. I’m looking to get married to a guy who makes at least half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don’t think I’m overreaching at all.

Are there any guys who make 500K or more on this board? Any wives? Could you send me some tips? I dated a business man who makes average around 200 – 250. But that’s where I seem to hit a roadblock. 250,000 won’t get me to Central Park West. I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she’s not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right? How do I get to her level?

Here are my questions specifically:
– Where do you single rich men hang out? Give me specifics- bars, restaurants, gyms
– What are you looking for in a mate? Be honest guys, you won’t hurt my feelings
– Is there an age range I should be targeting (I’m 25)?
– Why are some of the women living lavish lifestyles on the Upper East Side so plain? I’ve seen really ‘plain jane’ boring types who have nothing to offer married to incredibly wealthy guys. I’ve seen drop dead gorgeous girls in singles bars in the east village. What’s the story there?
– Jobs I should look out for? Everyone knows – lawyer, investment banker, doctor. How much do those guys really make? And where do they hang out? Where do the hedge fund guys hang out?
– How you decide marriage vs. just a girlfriend? I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY

Please hold your insults – I’m putting myself out there in an honest way. Most beautiful women are superficial; at least I’m being up front about it. I wouldn’t be searching for these kind of guys if I wasn’t able to match them – in looks, culture, sophistication, and keeping a nice home and hearth.

It’s NOT OK to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Posting ID: 432279810

Dear Pers-431649184:

I read your posting with great interest and have thought meaningfully about your dilemma. I offer the following analysis of your predicament:

Firstly, I’m not wasting your time, I qualify as a guy who fits your bill; that is I make more than $500K per year. That said here’s how I see it. Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is plain and simple a crappy business deal. Here’s why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here’s the rub, your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity…in fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won’t be getting any more beautiful!

So, in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset. Not only are you a depreciating asset, your depreciation accelerates! Let me explain, you’re 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 stick a fork in you!

So in Wall Street terms, we would call you a trading position, not a buy and hold…hence the rub…marriage. It doesn’t make good business sense to “buy you” (which is what you’re asking) so I’d rather lease. In case you think I’m being cruel, I would say the following. If my money were to go away, so would you, so when your beauty fades I need an out. It’s as simple as that. So a deal that makes sense is dating, not marriage.

Separately, I was taught early in my career about efficient markets. So, I wonder why a girl as “articulate, classy and spectacularly beautiful” as you has been unable to find your sugar daddy. I find it hard to believe that if you are as gorgeous as you say you are that the $500K hasn’t found you, if not only for a tryout.

By the way, you could always find a way to make your own money and then we wouldn’t need to have this difficult conversation.

With all that said, I must say you’re going about it the right way. Classic “pump and dump.”

I hope this is helpful, and if you want to enter into some sort of lease, let me know.

Jeff Fisher heads the University of Connecticut’s Centre for Health Intervention and Prevention. CHIP tries to understand the dynamics of unhealthy behaviour to develop interventionist measures to positively change behaviour. Risky behaviour is a function of 3 factors: weak information; weak motivation; and, weak behavioural skills. By understanding these factors, we are better able to remediate risky behaviour.

Paul Shuper developed an exciting tool called “Live Windows”, which CHIP hopes to adapt it to help Zinhle Thabethe & Krista Dong out in the their fight against AIDS. It is an interactive video system that educates patients on the HIV virus and explains the ARVs are helping them and the importance of compliance. It also tries to understand the patient’s lifestyle to develop a more effective treatment strategy for each individual. There are even videos where other people struggling with HIV speak candidly about their experiences and what works for them. The idea is to overcome the human resource constraints to achieve higher rates of ARV compliance and ultimately better HIV treatment.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of content development before the software can be used in an African context but I do think it is a great idea. I guess anything that helps people get the treatment they need is fantastic in my book. But I do feel a tinge of sadness that the only one who can help you is a computer and your support group is virtual.

What happens when you just need a hug?

The Pop!Tech Accelerator

October 20, 2007

To set some context, I should probably write a little about the new initiative at Pop!Tech – the Pop!Tech Accelerator. (Am I the only person who thinks of Arnie saying, “I’ll be back” when hearing that phrase?).

“The Pop!Tech Accelerator facilitates interdisciplinary, world-changing projects that use new tools and embody new approaches to significant global challenges. For each project, the Accelerator provides operational and project management and solicits many additional forms of support, including human resources, corporate partnerships, financial contributions, skills training, media coverage and other forms of support required to transform each project into a sustainable enterprise. Special emphasis is given to projects which grow authentically from the Pop!Tech network, and which will benefit from the unique resources of that network.”

Their first project is a collaborative effort between Zinhle Thabethe & Krista Dong, Frog Design and the University of Connecticut, called Project Masiluleke. It “focuses on deploying a potentially groundbreaking software tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa – and beyond.” The software, “Live Windows” was originally developed by the University of Connecticut to ensure ARV compliance in North Amercian HIV+ patients

It’s a wonderful new initiative. A lot of the time the technology and expertise exists out there somewhere and we really need to start bringing stuff together.

What does it feel like to be on the front line fighting a disease like HIV-AIDS in the epicenter of the outbreak, South Africa? This was the question that was posed to Zinhle Thabethe and Krista Dong.

Zinhle Thabethe is an inspirational woman. She spoke at last year’s Pop!Tech and simultaneously filled me with despair and hope with her idea that “we are not the same”. Life is unfair but it is not okay to accept diseases in the developing world that we would not accept in the developed world. We’ll just have to try harder.

They spoke about the kinds of things that keep responsible policy-makers up at night. How to deal with the disconnect between the policy-maker and the situation on the ground? How to communicate policies in a way that takes into account cultural relevance, literacy etc for the maximum efficacy? How to scale up a successful, but small, pilot project? What is the best use of the limited resources? What are we doing about the human resources gap?

Their work makes me think of that story about an old man walking back along the beach. Ever so often, he would bend down and pick up a starfish and toss it into the sea. A young man approaches him and points out that his work is futile and that he would never be able to save all the starfish before the heat of the sun dries them out. The old man just smiles as he tosses yet another starfish into the sea.

“It matters to this one.”