Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Artists on 20 Lessons for the 21st Century

Last week I attended the opening reception of 20 Lessons from 20th Century History: Artists and Designers on Civic Engagement, an art exhibition based on the writings of Yale historian Timothy Snyder. Twenty artists had a total of twenty four works on display. Each artist took on one of the 20 points of Snyder's essay and interpreted it in a poster-sized 16"x20" format in a wide variety of styles and media. Two of the posters were accompanied by sculptures.

Poster for the Show
Art and words are both powerful ways of communicating. Seeing how these artists fused art and words to create powerful statements about what it means to be an active participant in our society in these times felt really inspiring. There were a couple of works that I kept returning to over and over during the evening because the visual imagery brought the ideas to life in a way that the words didn't.

Early Arrivals
I was impressed with the attendance on a winter Tuesday night. People started arriving on the dot of 6PM and just kept coming. By 7PM or so, it was quite busy. There were tasty refreshments and, of course, coffee (I think there must be a Lowell bylaw that wherever two or more are gathered there must be coffee). I talked with some of the artists and asked questions about the work. That's part of the fun of going to the opening reception.

Some of the "Posters" were Paired with Sculptures
LTC is always a great host for these kinds of events in addition to their role as a community communications technology center. I've been to many FreeVerse! events,  LCK events, and cool art shows  that they've hosted. It seemed fitting to be reminded of our responsibilities as citizens in such a community-minded place.

The size of the works and the resistance theme brought back memories of the 1960s for me. I was already thinking about the history of those times because earlier in the day I'd gotten email from my Mom who had been contacted by someone working on a history of Freedom School and the Boston School Stay Out. She asked if I could provide any memories, so I had just sent her what I could come up with.  (The Roxbury-Newton Freedom School grew out of the second Boston School Stay Out in 1964 and continued for years as an after school program. The historian was asking about that too.) It felt good to relate the 20 lessons to what I learned all those years ago. I only hope that we don't lose those advances that people fought so hard for in the sixties.
Works in a Variety of Styles
 Each work spoke to me in a different way. Some were abstract and some were quite literal. One of my favorites was a map of North Carolina congressional districts in red and blue, clearly showing the results of gerrymandering. One of the blue districts had a tree growing out of it. Such a simple graphic, yet it clearly communicated the importance of voting in state and local elections (lesson 13 on the list).  Another favorite was a painting of the faces of participants in the Boston Mother's Day March for Peace. One face cried tears so affecting that I almost started to cry myself.

I don't think I've ever been to an art opening and come away with a reading list and a handout meant to spur action. I kind of like that Orwell's 1984 and Camus' The Rebel are on the reading list.  I hope anyone who hasn't read 1984  goes to the library and checks it out ASAP.
The Crowd Kept Growing
Words and art are powerful and relevant. I feel glad to have been reminded to use them well.

Words are Powerful

Thursday, January 12, 2017

At Innovation Central #MIN94

Tech Square at Night -- View of Draper Garage from One Kendall Square
Host Sembler at Draper provided a first class space, food, and overall hospitality. The location also provided for some feelings of nostalgia on my part -- twofold nostalgia if there is such a thing. My office at Boston Technology 1000 years ago overlooked the Draper parking garage and we used to make jokes about the stunning view. And 100,000 years ago my Dad worked at Draper making it possible for humans to go to the moon among other things.
Cool Display near the Entrance to the Function Room
So many products got thru to me that I'm not sure where to start. So I guess I'll go with the four chosen presenters first:
I was impressed with Airing's amazingly small CPAP device with no mask, no hoses, and no cord.  It uses tiny micro-blowers to create the airflow and all the electronics, including the battery, is built into the molded plastic housing. It just fits right into your nose and stays put without straps or anything.  This could make life way better for people with sleep apnea and for their partners too.
Airing CPAP Device is Really Small!
My favorite was definitely BlindWays, an app that helps blind people find bus stops. Just recently, my partner (who is blind) and I were discussing the difficulties involved in finding bus stops and identifying which bus stops where. She'd heard they're working on that very problem at Perkins, and lo and behold they are.  Betcha didn't know that being 30 feet away from a bus stop can often mean missing the bus and that GPS technology only gets you to within 30 feet of the destination. Hence blind people often miss the bus. So how to navigate those last 30 feet? Landmarks. The BlindWays app crowdsources "clues" that describe permanent landmarks near the bus stop that are detectable with a white cane. Things like fire hydrants, trees, benches, rocks, and mailboxes can get you within four or five feet of the bus stop. Trying to catch that Number 60 bus? Ask the app where the bus stops near you and when it will arrive. Knowing where the bus stops and when the predicted arrival time is can give a blind or low vision person way more confidence in getting around. They got my vote for Audience Choice.
JoAnn Demonstrating BlindWays
Ever noticed your sunglasses slipping off your nose or experienced ill-fitting frames for your regular glasses? Heads aren't all the same. Skelmet makes customized sunglasses fitted to your individual head. It's a simple 3-step process. The Skelmet app scans your face and head. Their algorithms analyze your features to create a design specifically for your head.  Then they use 3D printers to build your custom sunglasses.That's it. Their presentation included a demo using the scanning app to scan the head of a volunteer from the audience. Really cool.
Skelmet Sunglasses --Best Prop of MIN94

Scanning the Head for a Perfect Fit
Floelle takes a new approach to dealing with the problem of involuntarily peeing when you sneeze (or laugh for that matter). This is a common problem for women. Think how many commercials for undergarment solutions to this problem you see during the nightly news.  Floelle's approach does away with the need for absorbent pads and special undergarments. Instead, they've developed a really small device, I do mean really small,  that gets inserted into the urethra. A tiny pressure-sensitive valve blocks the involuntary urine leaks caused by coughing, laughing, sneezing, etc. while allowing you to urinate normally.
Jerrold Shapiro Describing Floelle
I enjoyed talking with Denise about IMMAD, the solution to a problem I've been thinking about since Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana. How can law enforcement officers test for driving impairment after marijuana use? There's no equivalent of the breathalyzer for pot.  IMMAD  is a finger tap tablet application that does a visual test to identify the changes in the ability to perceive depth, speed, and contrast that cause impairment with marijuana use. As more states legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana, there's more and more need for something like this.
Denise Valenti -- IMMAD
Kyrus Mobile automatically disables smartphones while driving. The combination of a device that plugs into the car's data port (you know, that port that your mechanic uses for maintenance data) and software running on the phone disables all those distracting apps on the phone as soon as the vehicle starts moving. The phone works again when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. It's that simple.

Kyrus Mobile
In the Student Startups corner were two startups from Wentworth Accelerate: MyoTherm and Moonwalks.

MyoTherm is an internally heated foam roller. This makes injury rehabilitation and physical therapy involving heat and foam rolling much easier. It also guides the user through learning to do the rolling part correctly. The MyoTherm also provides cold therapy.
Moonwalks is a virtual reality device that attaches to the user's feet to make the experience of moving and walking around in virtual reality more meaningful. It allows you to walk freely in a confined space by compensating for movement. I'm sort of picturing climbing Mt. Monadnock in virtual reality in my living room and really feeling like I'm climbing. I don't know if any of the components of VR are really ready for that kind of experience yet, but Moonwalks brings it a step closer (pun intended). I did have a hard time not laughing at a virtual reality device named Moonwalks being presented at the very home ground of much of the technology that made it possible for actual humans to walk on the actual moon.
I can't say I saw everything. I didn't get a chance to talk to Franklin Robotics, who was there demonstrating Tertill, the weeding robot. I've chatted with him at both MIN and EforAll events previously. I also couldn't get near NextShift Robotics' table, which was very crowded. The crowd for this MIN was one of the largest I've seen.
Crowd -- We're Talking Jam-packed
The Audience Choice winners were:

Among the experts in the Experts Corner were these expert-looking experts from Sembler at Draper.
Experts Looking Expert
But wait, there's more:
I also got to meet Tom O'Donnell from the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub (UML iHub). iHub will be hosting MIN95 on Wednesday, February 15. You definitely want to come to this one. It's all tech-themed and you'll get to see Zwiftpay's wireless payment platform to pay for gas, whom I met at November's EforAll pitch contest, among a great lineup of cool tech products.  Come early and stay late, because you'll discover a lot to like about Lowell.
MassInno Founder Bobbie Carlton and UML iHub Director Tom O'Donnell Want You to Come to Lowell