Thursday, July 19, 2012

bees and innovative cities

Last Tuesday night I attended a combination book event for The Pollinator's Corridor and film screening of Bees in the Key of A. You might ask "What's this got to do with innovation?" There's a heck of a lot of innovation going on in the economic, physical, and social development of small- to mid-sized cities (in fact Lowell hosted the Innovative Cities Conference a couple of years ago). 

The event was at the Spalding House, a Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust property with lots of historic New England atmosphere.

Even just hearing Aaron Birk chatting with Suzz Cromwell before the presentation about Philadelphia and how he likes that there's lots of activism, yoga studios on every corner  --- no mention of bars, late night partying, burritos, or venture capital -- told me I was in for a treat.

Aaron and Suzz before the talk
It was a packed house, filled to the 50 person capacity.  I enjoyed the fresh delicious food from the gardens of MillCityGrows, prepared by the teens from UTEC's FRESH Roots program: beets with goat cheese and basil leaves, mushrooms with pesto, mint water, iced tea with mint ... and that's not even counting the dessert.

Delicious Food from UTEC's FreshRoots Program
Mint water must be a big thing in Lowell. I remember them serving it at the Lowell Folk Festival the same year they were handing out mint and oregano seedlings grown in compost from the festival food booths.

Cities, the environment, bees, vultures, Buddhism, locally grown vegetables, and indie film. Oh my! All kinds of intersections with my interests!
Spalding House Entrance
Spalding house has a great view of the Merrimack River's Pawtucket Falls too. I checked out the Spalding House-Pawtucket Falls Overlook Park before the event.

Pawtucket Falls Overlook
Aaron is a lively and engaging presenter and the book speaks to issues that are dear to me. I kept nodding and wanting to shout "Yes, yes, yes, biodiversity has everything to do with urban life and keeping your brother out of jail! Relevant! Relevant! Relevant!" If there is one thing I'd like to communicate to urban dwellers and environmentalists alike it's that nature is not out there somewhere in the wilderness -- we're in it, surrounded by it, part of it.  The story is set in the Bronx in the 1970s and addresses exactly those issues brilliantly.
Aaron Passed around Copies of the Book while He Talked

His presentation also included lots of images that aren't in the book yet and amazing slides of traditional Nepali bee hunters.  One of the images he showed that's not in this installment of the novel was a beautiful drawing of a Himalayan griffon vulture flying over the city. The desolate city and the griffon vulture were just so evocative of decay and renewal!  Not only did he talk about vultures, but he also spoke a little about Buddhism.  I had to tell him my story about seeing my life Himalayan griffon circling over a cliff side monastery high on the Tibetan plateau.

Signing Books in Front of Old Clock
After the presentation we watched the wonderful short film Bees in the Key of A. The bees and the beekeepers were fantastic. By the end of The Pollinator's Corridor presentation and Bees in the Key of A  if you weren't already interested in bees you would be for sure.

I got plenty of time to talk with Aaron about vultures and tell him my story of seeing my first ever griffon vulture when I was in Tibet.  When he signed my copy of the book, he inscribed the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

Back home that night, I dreamed of bees and of beautiful soaring vultures.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Mass Innovation Night was back at the IBM Innovation Center in Waltham for its 40th event. 40. Wow.
IBM Lab Looking Awesome

The four chosen presenters for the night were:
  • -- an online auction site that raises money for national and international charities in a game-like auction format. Presenting
  • Azigo -- turns dealing with hundreds of emails and maintaining account relationships with your favorite companies into a fast, visual, enjoyable experience.
  • Honest Discounts -- a mobile app that tells you not only where the nearest pharmacy is but also which pharmacy has the best price for your prescription.
  • Honest Discounts Ready to Take on High Prescription Prices
  • Klypper -- a mobile app that makes it easy to create and combine video, text, drawings and emoticons for capturing those multimedia, multidimensional moments of your life.
Klypper CEO Presenting
All of the presenters were excellent and finished within 5 minutes. It was a great crowd.

Joszef wanted to know if I was photographing for the New York Times. I wish.

I caught up with some of the other participating companies after the presentations. Njabini Apparel was introducing a new scarf but also had lots of other beautiful stuff made by handicapped mothers in central Kenya. I love how local is global these days.

Njabini Apparel

Apptegic is a cloud-based analytics service that tells you how engaged each of your customers is with your business. I almost gave them Best Costume because the white board was wearing one of their t-shirts.

Apptegic T-shirt
I enjoyed talking with the folks from Orbeus about  computer vision and about the great Chicago fire. Their goal is to help computers see like human beings. Their visual recognition engine combines facial, product, scene and text recognition. I asked them if they could identify trees by species by viewing a forest from overhead (one of my fantasies for computer vision), but they don't have enough data about trees/forests to do that. What they do is take visual media content (video and images) as input and put  metadata around that content. Very cool and definitely useful for social networks and advertisers even if it's not the answer to my particular fantasy.
Team Orbeus

I think this is the first time I have ever watched a chemical reaction that didn't involve cooking at a Mass Innovation Nights event. The folks from Family Safe System were demonstrating a solution for a problem I never knew existed.  They sell devices and services to help chemotherapy patients protect their families, homes and everyone's water from the dangerous drugs that pass through their bodies intact in the 2-5 days after infusions.

Family Safe System Doing Chemistry
As usual, I tried to check out as many of the participating companies as possible. I missed a few this time. The ones I missed sounded interesting too:
  • FairSetup -- provides a web-based performance management suite that allows companies to connect impact to compensation. Compensation according to one's impact, that defines fair compensation.
  • CoachUp -- an online platform that connects people with private coaches in sports.
  •  Boston Landlord Reviews--a free Internet site that allows prospective tenants to rate and review properties. Prospective tenants will be able to view valuable landlord information from current and previous tenants. That should come in handy during the upcoming student migration season.
Many of the usual suspects were there and there were lots of new people too. There was also a new wrinkle, lightning job postings. Folks who are hiring had a minute to pitch their job openings.
Pitching a Job

Usual Suspects
Didn't get any photos of experts looking expert this time, but you're all experts and innovators anyway.

On the way back to the garage, I met the same people I had met when I arrived. It was their first time at MIN and they had a great time. They'll definitely be back.