Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ode to Paul

[via NYT]

We are such spendthrifts with our lives...The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.

-Paul Newman, humanitarian, philanthropist, actor (1925-2008)

Paul, you are loved and will be missed!

Will wireless technology even the playing field??

A Hindu monk on a cell phone. Cellphones are almost ubiquitous in most parts of the developing world (photo courtesy: w3.org)

At the X PRIZE, particularly within in the Global Development sphere, we've been considering weighing and considering several options on how and which area to build our prize in. I've quickly learned about the power of wireless/cellular technologies and believe that they are the most powerful platform of the now and the future, particularly for the poor. They have and will continue to "level the playing field" between access to resources that the developed world has enjoyed and the lack of it in the developing world.

MobileActive is an amazing blog that gives you an idea of how powerful wireless technology applications have been to the developing world; how they are leveraging these platforms, in even the simplest ways, to access information, goods, and services in a way they couldn't before. In fact, we in the developed world are underutilizing what we have so freely at our disposal.

WhiteAfrican gives a great rundown on cellphone stats in Africa.

The Economist also took a look at the same phenomenon in their article "The Meek Shall Inherit the Web."
The developing world missed out on much of the excitement of the initial web revolution, the dotcom boom and Web 2.0, largely because it did not have an internet infrastructure. But developing countries may now be poised to leapfrog the industrialised world in the era of the mobile web. [...]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Do-It-Yourself food dehydrator

A DIY food dehydrator can preserve your food in the absence of refrigeration (courtesy: instructables.com)

[via Make]

Instructables has a great step-by-step Do-It-Yourself (DIY) guide to building yourself a food dehydrator. Total cost is around $20 (possibly less depending on where you are buying your materials!).

What does a food dehydrator do?? It keeps your food safe and healthy by dehydrating it, essentially extending the life of your food without refrigeration. This is an excellent way to keep your food lasting in hot climates especially. In the developing world, they usually use a lot of salt and the sun, but this takes a lot of time, and has to be done correctly.

Moving Time!

As some of you probably know, especially if you read the Launchpad, the X PRIZE Foundation is moving offices! We're leaving lovely Santa Monica, and moving down the street to lovely Playa Vista. The move is actually taking place over the weekend, so we're all packing up like crazy today to get ready for the moving company. My desk has never had so little stuff on it. I have to say, I like the change.

This is what our reception/seating/lounge area currently looks like :)

It's a mess right now, but we're packing hard, and we're all excited about the new place! You can check out the Launchpad to see some pictures of the our soon-to-be new digs.

I'll keep you updated on our move, and show you some videos and pictures of the new office once we move in.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Food Supply Comparisons from Around the World

What does your grocery cart fill with every week?? (photo courtesy: KC)

Some pictures speak a thousand words. In light of the food crisis, I saw one of the most interesting picture posts that compared a week's worth of food supplies for an average semi-middle-class family (I say "semi" because some countries lack a middle class) in different countries around the world: Bhutan, Chad, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, and USA. I've visited quite a few of these countries for extended periods of time; they are (unfortunately, in some cases) quite representative of the typical meals you'll find when you visit.


(In addition, for some reason I'm trying to figure out where GDP, health, and/or happiness fit into these pictures. Any thoughts??)

Google will award $10M for ideas that benefit the world

[via CNN.com]
Got an idea that could change the world, or at least help a lot of people? Google wants to hear from you -- and it will pay as much as $10 million to make your idea a reality.

Google Inc. will award $10 million to solicit ideas it believes could benefit the world.

To help celebrate its 10th birthday, the ambitious Internet giant is launching an initiative to solicit, and bankroll, fresh ideas that it believes could have broad and beneficial impact on people's lives.

Called Project 10^100 (pronounced "10 to the 100th"), Google's initiative will seek input from the public and a panel of judges in choosing up to five winning ideas, to be announced in February.

Google announced the project live on CNN on Wednesday morning.

"These ideas can be big or small, technology-driven or brilliantly simple -- but they need to have impact," Google said in a news release. "We know there are countless brilliant ideas that need funding and support to come to fruition."

Those are ideas such as the Hippo Water Roller, which Google cited as the kind of concept the company would be interested in rewarding. Developed in Africa, where it is most used, the Hippo Water Roller is a barrel-shaped container, attached to a handle, that holds 24 gallons of water and can be rolled with little effort like a wheelbarrow, making it easier for villagers on foot to transport critically needed fresh water to their homes.

People are encouraged to submit their ideas, in any of 25 languages, at www.project10tothe100.com through October 20. Entrants must briefly describe their idea and answer six questions, including, "If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how?"

Google employees, with the help of an advisory board, will narrow the submissions to 100 semifinalists by January 27. Between January 27 and February 2, the public will vote online for their favorite ideas. A panel of as-yet-unnamed judges will then review the top 20 ideas and announce up to five winners in mid-February.

Funding, from a pool of $10 million, will be awarded in May. If the judges decide to reward five winning ideas, each will receive $2 million. If only two ideas are chosen, each will receive $5 million, and so on.

A Google spokeswoman was reluctant to set parameters for the submissions, although the project's Web site suggests that successful ideas should address such issues as providing food and shelter, building communities, improving health, granting more access to education, sustaining the global ecosystem and promoting clean energy.

"We don't want to limit it at all. We want a wide range of ideas," said Bethany Poole, product marketing manager at Google, who announced the project Wednesday on CNN along with Andy Berndt, managing director of Google's Creative Lab. "We think great ideas come from anywhere."

To cite Google's own example, Google News began after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when an engineer became frustrated that he couldn't aggregate news sources from around the world in one place.

By opening the project to anyone -- not just laboratories or universities -- Google is embracing "crowdsourcing," the Internet-age notion that the collective wisdom of mass audiences can be leveraged to find solutions to design tasks.

Project 10^100 is not unlike the Google-sponsored Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to Earth. The first team to land on the moon and complete the mission objectives will be awarded $20 million. At least 16 teams are competing.

Those who submit winning Project 10^100 ideas will not be required to have the technical expertise to implement them, Poole said. Google has not determined how winning projects will be sustained financially after the initial prize money runs out, she said.

People may submit more than one idea. Through its online submissions, Google also hopes to connect people with good ideas to charitable organizations who could help implement them, Poole said.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to Live on a Schoolbus

An abandoned schoolbus that serves as a home, greets the sunrise (photo courtesy: Elm Studio)

How do you define a "house" or a "home"?? Some of the most interesting people I've met have grown up in (and made a home out of) some of the most unconventional places - pavements, roads, beaches, buses, trucks, boats, etc.

Boing Boing highlighted an Instructables post on how to convert a schoolbus into a livable/comfortable space. Don't be surprised...Chris McCandless aka Alex Supertramp of Into the Wild fame, and Paul Farmer from Partners in Health, both spent significant time in old schoolbuses. So why can't you or I?

So here's how Zim (the Instructables post-er) starts:
A few years back, I got tired of living the American Dream and struggling to keep up with a horrendous mortgage and rising credit card debt. I know there's really only two ways to balance a budget, spend less or earn more, and I didn't see a huge wage increase in the future. Also, I have always been interested in unusual homes and can't pass a two or three hundred square foot enclosure without wondering what interesting living space could be made there. Less space, less stuff, less consumed, less owed. It sounded like where I wanted to be.[...]

If buses aren't your thing, check out MAKE magazine's DIY on "how to make a bed."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Pixar fosters Creativity

What is the story behind Pixar's amazing success?? (photo courtesy: dan-dare.org)

If you had a venn diagram of atleast three intersecting circles - creativity, technology, and kids - at the overlapping section of all three (in venn diagram terms that would be the "and" of all three circles) you'd have Pixar Animation Studios.

I don't know about you, but I love Pixar movies. They are amazing in every way, and they really have the best quality control ever. I have yet to see a bad Pixar flick. My favorite Pixar movie is Monsters, Inc, but I'm sure many of you would fight for your own...and that's fine. I spent countless nights terrified of the monsters in my room, and I'm glad to know that my theory is justified and that not all monsters mean.

This month, Harvard Business Review did a brilliant analysis of Pixar and how they foster creativity. I HIGHLY recommend reading the article, because the lessons apply to just beyond the realm of creativity. In fact, I already see that they mirror lessons from places like IDEO, and Google. Here's some of what I got out of the article; feel free to add your own:

1. "We are smarter than me." Pixar recognizes that it takes EVERYONE to build into the creativity of a project. Interdisciplinary, intercultural, interage dialogue is not only encouraged, but promoted.

2. Take risks. This starts from hiring to making daily business choices to choosing movie topics. "if you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What’s the key to being able to recover? Talented people! Contrary to what the studio head asserted at lunch that day, such people are not so easy to find."

3. Hire good people, not good ideas. This is something even Jim Collins says in "Good to Great." Get the right people and the rest takes care of itself! Give even a mediocre idea to a good team and they will turn it into gold.

4. Give the right people the support/leeway to develop, then stay out of their way. It takes tremendous amounts of trust to get talented people to be creative and work together without feeling threatened. Cultivate an environment of trust and respect; they won't let you down.

5. Peer culture/flatness of organization/honest feedback: Pixar's culture, which interestingly seems to imitate that of Google and IDEO, lies in creating "flatness" rather than "hierarchy." Everyone, regardless of background, is treated with the same level of respect. This creates an environment of honesty, experimentation, creativity, and willingness to listen, which is critical to the overall outcome of any product.

[read more]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some New submissions to the Crazy Green Idea Contest

So the submissions for the "What's Your Crazy Green Idea?" Contest on YouTube have been coming in heavily and steadily. We're up to 30 submissions now, all of which you can see on our groups page.

Here are jsut a few examples of videos that have been submitted:

And my favorite:

So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur

Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?? (photo source: Jason Mulcahy). Hint: the tie is not necessary, but I'm sure charm helps! :-)

The X PRIZE Foundation takes entrepreneurship very seriously. After all, we were started by (a) serial entrepreneur(s), and our technologies capitalize on and force more entrepreneurship.

Ever wondered whether you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?? Take this quick 50-question quiz.

You can also read more in an interview with the author, Jon Gillespie-Brown here. Jon is author of the book So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur. He has also promised that all proceeds from the book will go to benefit the Grameen Foundation.

Over seven years of research for this book, Jon says that the most common mistake he found was that:
people start a business or have an idea without considering their personal lives in the process. They would separate these two thought processes and never try and align them — it’s human nature to get excited about a new idea. However, if you don’t align your business with your personal life vision, somewhere down the line you will wish you had chosen an idea to serve you rather than the other way around... Business is very tough, without the passion and the drive (due to the lack of planning) many people give up – hence the increased risk of failure! [read more]

Hat-tip Small Business Trends.

Can America Invent Its Way Back?

BusinessWeek had a great article called "Can America Invent Its Way Back?" this week about innovation, and what influences innovation. The idea of prizes is covered, and of course, one of our prizes, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, was mentioned.

At the crux of this article is the question "What causes innovation?" Is money enough of a motivation to create innovation? Certainly, money can be a great motivator, and causes many people to think of many things. I think Cole Porter (music composer) said something along the lines of "My biggest inspiration is a paycheck." And at the X PRIZE Foundation, we offer $10 million to solve a grand challenge. But is it the money that makes competing worthwhile? I don't know.

My favorite quote from the BusinessWeek article is this one: "Innovation is not just exerting effort and spending money, it's problem-solving," says Karim Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School.

What do you all think? What's the greatest motivation for innovation? Is our model of offering a monetary prize the answer? Or is it something else?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Finishing up the week on competition

I've rounded up a few of my favorite competition bits from the past few weeks. I LOVE the Olympics, and watched them, as always, with great delight. Here are more articles with relation to them, in no particular order:

1. Tyler Cowen on why India has so few Olympic medals. Do read the comments section.

2. New York Times on the evolution of medal-ing in the world. Who dominated the medal count will surprise you, with the passage of time.

3. PBS Frontline did an amazing profile on Kenyan athlete Lornah Kiplagat, who took her winnings back to start a running school for women in Kenya. AMAZING story.

4. Forbes Magazine does a great job profiling Olympians turned into entrepreneurs. My favorite is Mary Mazzio, a 1992 Olympian who missed the Bronze by a minimal mark; but went on to an amazing filmmaking career.

5. The Private Sector Development (PSD) blog from the World Bank, about Mongolia winning its second gold medal. Another amazing story!

Where does our disposable income go??

Where does your discretionary income go?? (photo source: New York Times)

In Sunday's New York Times, there is a fascinating pictographical look at how people in countries around the world spend their discretionary income. I'd be curious to see this in per-capita expenditure; and more interested in seeing something like this with regard to the BoP (Bottom of the Pyramid). Still there is enough information in there to make it truly worth some pondering.
  • In Saudi Arabia, people spend about $1.2 B every year on alcohol and tobacco. This is fascinating considering that Saudi Arabia houses the birthplace of Islam and is home to the two most sacred shrines in Islam - Mecca and Medina; and Islam shuns alcohol. Maybe all the money is going to tobacco.
  • Greeks spend 13 times more on clothing than on electronics.
  • The Japanese spend more on alcohol and tobacco than any of the European countries (Germany included...that was a bit of a shock!)
  • Indians spend several times more on alcohol and tobacco than they do on electronics. I expected differently from a country of technophiles.
  • Americans spend almost four times as much on recreation than on alcohol and tobacco. That was fascinating!
Check out the article here and the metrics here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Drill, baby, drill?

I was reading through Celsias.org this afternoon, and I came across this interesting article about drilling for oil. Now, we all have heard the rhetoric saying that the way to reduce oil prices is to drill for oil offshore, and maybe even in Alaska. Now, personally, I couldn't be more against just opening the world up to drilling for many reasons, but this is a great article about why drilling for oil WON'T lower gas prices. People who are FOR drilling even agree that drilling will have no impact on oil prices.

The reason that makes the most sense to me is, well, it takes 5-10 years before anyone will even get any oil from these areas. That is hardly a short term solution. The next president's first term will be OVER before that happens.

But I won't give away the article. Check it out for yourself.

Prize for Tuberculosis?

Something that we announced as part of our Alternative Energy Forum at MIT was that we are starting to look into prizes that we could do based around better diagnosing tuberculosis. Now, before I get into this post, I want everyone to know that I am not what you'd call an expert in this area. In fact, two weeks ago, I knew nothing about tuberculosis. However, I have an internet connection and know how to use Wikipedia. So I'm going to talk a bit about why tuberculosis is such a problem, and why we need a prize, specifically to diagnose tuberculosis.

First, what is tuberculosis? According to Wikipedia:

"Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus or Tuberculosis) is a common and often deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacteria, mainly Mycobacterium tuberculosis [1]. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs (as pulmonary TB) but can also affect the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, the gastrointestinal system, bones, joints, and even the skin. Other mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium africanum, Mycobacterium canetti, and Mycobacterium microti also cause tuberculosis, but these species are less common."

Some facts about TB, which may well be out of date. Please update if you know better.

The mortality rate for people with untreated active TB is more than 50%

Approximately one third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is the world’s second deadliest infectious disease — following HIV/AIDS — responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.6 million people each year. As the leading infectious killer of people living with HIV/AIDS, TB deaths have quadrupled over the past 15 years in African countries suffering the highest rates of TB/HIV co-infection.

With all of the awful statistics I've just listed, the saddest part of this is that there is a cure for tuberculosis ready and waiting. The reason that so many people die from this disease is that diagnosing it in third world countries is extraordinarily difficult.

Currently, it takes 3 weeks to get results back for a TB diagnosis in the developing world. Patients have to come in several days in a row to give a saliva sample, and then wait. 10-15% of the patients never come back to receive the results of their test. Untreated, or if treated too late, tuberculosis is deadly.

So it is vital for a fast, easy diagnosis to be created that can be used in the field, and deliver results quickly. So that's why we're exploring ideas for tuberculosis diagnosis.

Here are some resources to check out if you're interested in learning more about TB.


If anyone has other information about TB, or if anything I've said is wrong, PLEASE leave a comment and let me know. This is just based on some reading and research online.

Thanks everyone!

The power of possibility

Would you have known that one of the people in this photo would grow up to be one of the world's richest men?? (see left bottom...recognize him? That's Bill Gates!)

I was reading one of Kiva's blogs, Kiva B4B. Something about yesterday's entry made me really happy.

It's easy to bash Lehman Brothers for the events of today, but a look back to its beginnings provides a more inspirational story.

On my drive home from work yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about the early days of Lehman. It went like this - two immigrant brothers set up a general store in Montgomery, Alabama. Flash forward - it is one of the Big Five investment banks. Do you think they ever imagined? Where did they get their idea and first dollar? When they were selling soap, do you think they knew about derivatives?

The point is, as I look around the B4B community, I realize that every business has the potential to become something spectacular. It could be the restaurant owners, accountants, plumbers and goat herders. It could be the U.S.-based small business that is helping an entrepreneur get started abroad, or the Kiva entrepreneur that is scraping up money to start a business. We don't know what they will be one day or the impact that they will have on society. That's pretty powerful!

When people (including me) look at big, famous, and/or successful companies or people, they often forget that they started somewhere very small and spent a lot of time being ignored. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Ben & Jerry's excellent ice cream all started with two dudes who decided to take a chance on something they believed in; Dell started with one. When they started, they weren't any more distinguishable from any other crazy kids with crazy ideas.

So the beauty of this is that each of us are seeds of change, who with a little bit of belief and hard work can all be something. We're all starting the same way. And we all have the chance to make a BIG difference! I agree...that's pretty powerful!

So also I think with the prizes we are developing and the people we touch. Big, amazing things are possible!

The true spirit of competition

Lending a Hand: Kenya's Henry Wanyoike, China's Zhang Zhen (Centre) and Kenyan Francis Thuo Karanja hold hands with their respective seeing-guides during the Men's 5,000 meter race. (caption and photo courtesy: Time.com)

Probably the most amazing part of the Olympics happened recently, and was not covered on TV - the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Maybe they should have covered it. Everyone needs a shot of hope and inspiration in the arm.

Time Magazine did a powerful photoessay about paralympic athletes in competition. It is impossible to not be inspired.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wordle Wednesday

Wordle from this week (I'm trying to figure out how to make it bigger and clearer).


Spirit of Competition in Japanese Baseball

Somehow I'm talking a lot about competition this week (not sure why). Hopefully, you'll enjoy this bit too.

When I get a chance, I love watching POV (supposed to stand for "Point of View") and Wide Angle, from PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, the only real independent channel in the United States). Both give very interesting points of view from around the world.

Recently, POV showcased Japanese school baseball programs. I had NO idea that baseball was such a national obsession. I knew about Ichiro and Daisuke (superstar Japanese baseball players now playing in the United States), but this was a whole eye-opening lesson for me. What I loved and appreciated more than anything else was the level of respect that the kids are taught to have for their opponents as well as for the spirit of competition. No trashtalking, no badmouthing; only pure respect. What an amazing way to bring up children of the world. And what if we were all brought up this way?? Differing viewpoints would be more readily taken in. Maybe the world would be a better place. Our kids would most certainly be better off!

Here's an excerpt; the team the filmmaker is following has just lost the regional competition.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The power of wireless

Masaai warriors play games on their cell phones. In the absence of reliable infrastructure, cellphones have become the lifeline for the poor and remote of the developing world. (photo courtesy: Mark Kelley)

One of the many areas that the Global Development team is looking to build a Global Development X PRIZE in is the wireless space.


Because it seems like the place to be. In the absence of any proper infrastructure, and desperate for connectivity, the poor hold onto the wireless network as a lifeline. Developing countries have seen phenomenal growth in this field, beyond anything that the United States or any other developed country has ever seen. And the poor are pushing their phones to make up for the lack of infrastructure in every other field.
Masaai Tribesmen play games on their cell phones. In the absence of any reliable infrastruct

Granted it can't clean water or store your money or give you blood, but a cell phone can certainly narrow the gap and get those services to you. All kinds of informal working systems have come up around the world to fill in exactly these needs. In India, blood banks use SMS codes to communicate urgent blood requests between recipients and donors, thereby reducing transportation and refrigeration costs. Blood is donated on the spot. There is always a perfect match, and the blood is fresh. Across Africa, Ushahidi uses cellphone SMS's to alert and warn users about conflict hotspots, so that no civilian innocently walks into an area of harm. This was an idea that sprouted out of the Kenyan riots when so many innocent people were suddenly caught in the violence and killed. And in Egypt, a set of viral videos for women's rights and free speech built for viewing on cell phones have become the rage amongst the youth. And across the world, mobile banking (or m-banking) is giving millions of people without access to banking and financial services to use their phones to save and transfer money.

Here's the best blog I've come across with regards to wireless resources in the global development sphere: MobileActive.

Speaking of spelling

Spelling ain't easy. Especially not in English. There is the hilarious I Love Lucy episode of Lucy telling Ricky to read a book in English. You can see the results for yourself. Try spelling half these words!

Then Boing Boing asks Ed to give them a lesson in spelling. Wait until the end, its funny and cute!

Ed Rondthaler, age 102, gives a very cool lesson about how odd the written English language is. Andy Cruz of House Industries says:

We had the privilege to spend a day filming Ed Rondthaler, the founder of Photo-Lettering, Inc., former president of the American Literacy Council and author of The Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling. Another living legend, writer/director Erich Weiss, is in the process of editing down all of the film we shot. Click here for the “trailer” he put together for us.

Children and competition

Competition weighs down heavily at the Spelling Bee (photo courtesy: tree and j hendshill)

I love watching the Spelling Bee. Its nerve-racking, exciting, and yet I really feel for the kids. But who pushes them? Is competition at that level really good for them??

This weekend, I saw the critically acclaimed documentary Spellbound (highly recommended), a film that follows six kids from extremely different ethnic and demographic backgrounds as they compete for the National Spelling Bee in the United States. I was absolutely surprised. The children were often extremely self motivated (rather than being pushed by their families); and deeply cared about doing well. Often they did it because they cared about the material and it gave them something to strive for.

Competitions like these are equally critical for children living in poorer countries. They need something to strive for and be a part of; and they need to have the chance to be around kids like themselves. Universities often give them that, but I wonder if it comes too late. Shouldn't we want to capture a kid's interest before they head to university?? Shouldn't the poor kids of India, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa who so desperately need some hope to cling to be given the chance to meet and compete in events like this??

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Fun Energy Contest for Middle Schoolers

Get your middle schooler involved in this cool energy contest (photo: www.wecanchange.com)

Want to get your kids involved in the energy challenge (you have to be over 18 to enter the X PRIZE What's Your Crazy Green Idea challenge)??

Siemens has the answer. Check out their Agents of Change contest. Siemens has partnered with the Discovery Channel to offer a slew of interesting prizes for the winners. Its a GREAT site (complete with "green" action heroes). The Agents of Change contest...
challenges you and your team [of 6th-8th graders] to choose an environmental issue in your own community that you care about; to learn all you can about it; and to design and act on a solution that will make it better. You will be encouraged to use your creativity and all you know about science to create real-world changes. You’ll also help other students across the nation improve their communities by sharing your results.

Revolutionizing Technology Breakthroughs, a recap on the Energy Forum at MIT

Thanks for waiting all! The highlights of the Alternative Energy Forum @ MIT are now up. Check it out here (below).

The What's Your Crazy Green Idea competition is heating up. Keep those submissions coming. We're loving all the ideas!

Second place...does it count??

Jockey Dean Deverell, after coming in 2nd at the Breeder's Cup, Ontario (photo source: Time.com)

Not surprisingly, I love watching and being a part of competition...afterall, I work at the X PRIZE Foundation. But, so much of the attention is always focused on the first-place holder, "the winner" that I wonder about the people who just missed that mark; people who had worked just as hard, just as long and just missed it (I know all about it...second place should be tattooed on my behind!)

Here at the X PRIZE Foundation, we believe it does. Since the Ansari X PRIZE, we've tried to incorporate prizes for the second and third place winners. There is no reason that innovation should stop with the winner, and there is no reason why hard work shouldn't be rewarded. What about the bronze and silver medals. Don't they count as much??

Photographer Sandy Nicholson has a new book out that captures the emotions of the second place winners. I'm not keen on the title (2nd: The Face of Defeat), but the pictures are fascinating. Check it out on Time Magazine's excellent photoessay on her work: http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1838992,00.html

Picture of the week

Caption this!

What's Your Crazy Green Idea Contest? Taking Off!

I've been amazed and pleased at the response the "What's Your Crazy Green Idea?" Contest has been getting. Not only are our numbers great (more than 17,000 people have watched the video), but we've gotten our first 10 submissions already! You can check them all out at http://www.youtube.com/group/xprize.

We've also been receiving a great deal of support from the eco-blog community, which has been great. One, Celsias, wrote an article this morning about the competition, and has helped us get set up with company and project profiles on their website to help us reach out to the community!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Architecture for Humanity

Keeping with the design and sustainability theme, Frontline did a great profile on Architecture for Humanity. Watch it here (also below):

Also watch Co-Founder Cameron Sinclair's talk about the power of open-source architecture on TED here:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

e2: The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the independent member-supported news channel in the United States (something like BBC, CBC, etc), has been doing a series of absolutely amazing shows on global sustainability and environmental responsibility initiatives.

"e2" discusses the global "economies of being environmentally conscious." Season three is going on now and you can view the webcasts for upto a week after the original air-date. You can also subscribe to the podcasts here. I highly recommend watching them. Thus far, the first few shows have focused on green building and design - about how the failure of government and public support caused a community of some of the poorest communities in New Orleans to rally together and force even better quality buildings in their neighborhoods. The second talks about architect Renzo Piano's design of a green museum in San Francisco.

Soon they will start a series on ecological transportation, highlighting eco-transport programs from around the world that are both environmentally and financially savvy.

You can also view old shows from "e2 Energy" here. Topics cover energy solutions developed in Brazil, Bangladesh, the U.S, and much, much more.

Here's a trailer, to give you an idea of topics that are covered:

Presentations of Energy Experts

As promised, I'm posting the three presentations by Drs. Ray Kurzweil, George Church and Saul Griffith from September 10 at MIT for you all to download. They're fascinating. Dr. Kurzweil talks about the progression of technology, and the possibilities that solar power holds. Dr. Church talks about energy from biological sources and Dr. Saul Griffith talks about a number or different possibilities.

Dr. Ray Kurzweil's Presentation
Dr. George Church's Presentation
Dr. Saul Griffith's Presentation

Welcome to Prize Development

Hello World,

Wow! My first (our first) blog in Prize Development for X PRIZE Foundation. I'm excited to share our developments/future prizes with you and give constant updates on what we're working on, where we are headed, and how you can help/participate.

We have several prizes in development at the moment and about once every few days, I (or someone else from Prize Development) intend to blog about what is going on within our pipeline. Currently we have prizes in smoking cessation, longevity, tuberculosis detection, vision restoration, health care informatics, a bionic prize, global development, energy, alternative aviation fuels, biofuels, and an exploration prize that will explore, conserve, heal and help map the ocean floor.

As you an see, it is a lot - but we are EXTREMELY excited about all of these potential X PRIZEs and our (new) ability to share them with you.

Thanks and I look forward to hearing your feedback and input.

Asher Spittler
Project Manager, Prize Development

Energy from Pathogens

First, (L-R) MIT Professors Chiang, Belcher, and Hammond who have co-authored a paper on virus-based batteries (photo: MIT News); second, the microbial fuel cell by Lebone consists of a bucket, wastewater, and a graphite sheet (photo: Lebone)

Rather than having your energy sucked out of you by pathogens, how about making energy from them?? Yes, its actually happening!

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with ways to use viruses to power batteries. The MIT Press release stated:
the technique itself "does not involve any expensive equipment, and is done at room temperature," said Belcher, the Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering.

"To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which microcontact printing has been used to fabricate and position microbattery electrodes and the first use of virus-based assembly in such a process," wrote MIT professors Paula T. Hammond, Angela M. Belcher, Yet-Ming Chiang, and colleagues. [...]

On the other end, Lebone Solutions, a startup founded by African students now based in Cambridge, MA, has come up with a novel type of microbial fuel cell. According to the Technology Review:
"[African] people want to power [small] DC devices," as opposed to large AC devices like a refrigerator, says Lebônê cofounder Hugo Van Vuuren, a Harvard graduate and a South African native. The team hopes to develop the technology to make it competitive with other renewable energies in countries across Africa. Microbial fuel cells could have a distinct advantage because they are initially cheaper to build than a windmill and easier to set up than solar panels. What's more, they could last up to 10 years, says Lebônê cofounder David Sengeh.

Instead of using hydrogen as a fuel, as do conventional fuel cells, microbial fuel cells use naturally occurring microbes to generate power. Bacteria live in the anode, where they eat glucose, sewage, or other waste water, and turn that into electrons and protons. The bacteria transfer electrons to the circuit, which provides small amounts of power.[...]
You can also view a multimedia show on the DIY portion here.

Our first video submission!

YouTube user JoeFether will go down in virtual history as the first person to submit a video to the "What's Your Crazy Green Idea?" Video Contest. Check it out!

He's thrown down the gauntlet. Is anyone going to accept the challenge and submit their own crazy green ideas?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alternative Energy Forum at MIT

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the X PRIZE Foundation host an Alternative Energy Forum with MIT and the MIT Energy Club this evening. Though I wasn't able to attend myself (MIT is a long way from Santa Monica), I heard that the event was a tremendous success. The room was packed, the speakers were great, and the questions were thoughtful and worthy of the speakers. Everyone I've talked to so far seemed extraordinarily happy. I'll be posting more about what exactly happened at the Forum, what the speakers said, and hopefully some video of them saying it, but for now, you're going to have to be satisfied with some photos.

We hired Leslie Roemer to shoot the event, and she did a great job (shameless plug).

Lee Stein, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, Dr. George Church, Dr. Saul Griffith, Dr. Peter Diamandis

Post talk conversations

What a crowd

Thanks everyone who spoke and helped out! And everyone else, keep an eye out for updates on the event.

Global Development: Water, Energy, and International Development Contests worth USD100,000

Do more good, get more money...life is good! (photo source: Alberto Alvamidris)

Yes, we have competition...and lots of it!

There are several competitions going on around the world around many of the same issues that we are trying to deal with. I'll highlight them as I come across them. Hopefully you'll find them interesting enough to compete in and then tell us about it.

Here are the basics:
Aspen Design Challenge: Designing Water's Future
Deadline: 2008-12-31
The international contest challenges cross-disciplinary student teams to develop design solutions that encourage responsible water use, provide access to freshwater to those in need and increase awareness about the importance of water conservation. Students and faculty from around the world will develop ideas this fall and submit proposals by December 2008. Winners will have the opportunity to refine and develop their concepts with world leaders and policy makers at the Aspen Environment Forum.

Deadline: 2009-01-31
Intel’s INSPIRE•EMPOWER Challenge is calling for the best technology solutions to address four areas of global need – education, healthcare, economic development, and the environment. The contest will award seed funding of $100,000 USD to one winner in each category. The Challenge is designed to inspire developers, individuals, and organizations to innovate and empower them to deliver new ways to apply technology to these issues.

Live EDGE Global Environmental Challenge
Deadline: 2009-01-31
Entries are invited for the $100,000 USD Live EDGE global environmental challenge for 2008. Qualified entrants can compete in one of two categories: student and general/open. The general/open competition is for design engineers, hobbyists, inventors and anyone else who is not a full-time student. The designs must be original and innovative, use electric and/or electronic components, and positively impact the environment, such as by increasing energy efficiency or reducing carbon emissions.

Imagine Cup: Solve the World's Toughest Problems
Deadline: 2009-05-20
This year’s theme is "Imagine a world where technology helps solves the toughest problems facing us today." The United Nations has identified some of the hardest challenges in the world today in its Millennium Goals: End Poverty and Hunger, Universal Education, Gender Equality, Child Health, Maternal Health, Combat HIV/AIDS, Environmental Sustainability, Global Partnership. This year the Imagine Cup uses these ambitious challenges as a guiding light to inspire change all over the world. Deadlines vary for each category, so please visit the website for details.

Hat-tip: Ideaconnection

Before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea

So, as many of you may have heard already, the X PRIZE Foundation has announced a new video contest on YouTube. We want to know your crazy green ideas. And if we like one enough to turn it into an X PRIZE, we'll give you $25,000.

So it's simple really. We want to hear about your crazy green ideas. The crazier, the better. Specifically, we want to hear what you think the next X PRIZE in the area of Energy and Environment should be. A way to turn pollution into more fuel? A frictionless drive shaft? A football that always spirals? Ok, they already have that one, but you get the idea.

The rules are pretty simple.

  1. Join our "What's Your Crazy Green Idea?" YouTube Group
  2. Add your 2 minute video.

Your video should answer these three questions:

1. What is the Grand Challenge or world-wide problem that you are trying to solve?
2. What is the specific prize idea (goal, rules, judging criteria)?
3. How will this prize lead to benefits for humanity?

The deadline for videos is October 31.

We'll pick our favorite three, post them on www.xprize.org, and have a public vote. The winner of that vote will win the $25,000, and we'll look into turning their idea into the next X PRIZE!

So if you want the chance to change the world, and improve the way we use energy and treat the environment, then show us!

Hopefully we'll be getting a lot of submissions. We're going to watch every one. So please make them fun and creative so we don't get bored :)

Good luck everyone! I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Sustainability, being "green" and how they relate to poverty

Children play around mounds of trash that surround their home in Nicaragua
(photo courtesy: pushplayproductions); and closer to home in the U.S, Katrina survivors struggle to be heard (photo courtesy: Craig Morse)

Global warming, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, environmental responsibility...these are big and hip words to use now, particularly in this era of greenwashing. But they have everything to do with the poor in the developing world.


Well, we live in a world of shared resources. For the most part, the "developed" world has used a lion's share of these resources (air, water, minerals, etc) to get the quality of life we enjoy now, often in not the most sustainable or environmentally responsible way; and the "developing" world is trying desperately to catch up. But the people who bear the brunt of this large-scale environmental destruction or lack of social goodwill are the poorest (even in the developed world). Their land is strewn with pollutants of every kind - from garbage and hazardous waste, to water and air pollution; their rights are rarely protected; their voices rarely heard; and they are never compensated for any thing. In fact, all they have to show for it is a struggle for survival.

Being "green" and sustainable means taking responsibility for easing the burden off the poor. It means sharing our resources, and showing better, more improved methodologies and technologies that the developing world can emulate (we can also learn a lot from the developing world). Being "green" here, translates to cleaner air, water, and land here and there. It means not allowing countries like India, China and others following in their path to massive industrialization to repeat the mistakes we made. It means just doing our part for a better world, not because anyone is making us, but because it is the right thing to do and because ultimately its good for us and them. And ultimately, poverty will slowly and surely be less punishing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why gummy bears make you hyper

This video was sent to me by one of my nerdy friends who likes to make bonds break (you can interpret that how you will!). What it taught me was why gummy bears (and other sugar) should come with a "warning" label!

What markets thrive in(spite of) war and poverty??...

Banana "Wine" out of a jerry can. Apparently it tasted like rubbing alcohol (yummm...??) (photo courtesy: Laura Darby)

Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about industries that thrive during war (still not sure quite how we got into it). But other than the usual guns and ammo market, and natural resource bartering (eg. diamonds or water or whatever else the fight started over), we both were surprised at the presence of alcohol in the middle of all of this. Em (my friend) tells me that the only factories that stayed open without a moment's pause during the first and second Liberian civil wars, were the alcohol distilleries! Come to think of it, alcohol is the one big thriving business even in parts of the world with extreme poverty. I've been to some POOR parts of the world; there is often no food, but there'll invariably be a drunk man (usually more) roaming around there. Where and how (t)he(y) got the money, time, resources, and motivation are beyond me. I often wonder if the drunks or the factory owners applied the same level of motivation and resourcefulness to other things, how different a country they would be in...

(as a caveat, in countries where alcohol is banned (though invariably I've seen that there is an equally booming business of contraband and moonshine), drugs seem to do well as a replacement.)

Definitely something to ponder...

Teaching Third World Development to Swedish Students

Hans Rosling gives an excellent (and amusing) talk about teaching Swedish undergrads about the "third world." In the process he came up with amazing graphics to show that we are underestimating the monumental changes that are taking place in the world, particularly in the developing world, and that we need to use data more to our advantage. If not anything, he leaves you with a lot of hope.

My biggest takeaways:

1. You can develop faster if you are healthy (eg. Paraguay), rather than wealthy (United Arab Emirates).

2. Improvements have to be highly contextualized; even within a country, community and individual needs are extremely variable. Therefore, you cannot use the same strategies uniformly.

3. The importance of transparency. So much data about the world has been collected, but very little is shared. Making this information or any information in general more publicly accessible will allow more people to work toward a solution collectively ("we are smarter than we").


The Economist's GreenView Blog had a great article about prizes and the X PRIZE Foundation. They hinted in the article, rightly so, that we would be announcing a new way to get the public involved in deciding what the next X PRIZE in Energy and the Environment. I won't give you details until tomorrow (it's still a secret), but we will be talking about it at our Energy Forum at MIT.

What do you all think should be the next X PRIZE in Energy and Environment?

To help you think about it, here's a video of Peter talking about the Attributes of an X PRIZE.

Monday, September 8, 2008

One Laptop Per Child now available on Amazon

The XO laptop by "One Laptop Per Child." (photo courtesy: Wayan Vota)

In case you haven't heard, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has paired up with Amazon.com and will be available online in time for the Christmas 2008 season. They are calling it the "Give 1, Get 1" campaign. According to the BBC

The online retailer will help with its next Give 1 Get 1 (G1G1) programme that is due to begin in late November.

Under this scheme people can buy one of the XO laptops for themselves and donate the other to a school child in a developing nation.

It is hoped the deal with Amazon will iron out the problems OLPC encountered when it ran the G1G1 programme itself.
[read more]

neXt Prize Wordle

Not sure if you've heard of Wordle, but its cool. It runs a word cloud of all the text on whatever document you give it (in this case, our blog!). Here's what our word cloud looks like as of today. If you think our material needs some "re-wording," do let us know. Always happy to take suggestions.

Peter Diamandis on TED

Peter Diamandis' two TED talks are up now - the first is Peter's TED talk about the Ansari X PRIZE (note: this was filmed in 2005, shortly after the Ansari X PRIZE was won), and the second is his talk about taking Stephen Hawking into zero . (If you are on a time crunch, atleast watch #2...its about 4 mins long). Both are embedded below:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

HIV Marriages being arranged in Nigeria

BBC Africa reports that "HIV-positive couples are being paired up for marriage by a northern Nigerian state in an attempt to reduce the spread of the disease." Is this proactively brilliant or stupid?? Read here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Look inside a South African Mine

Miners emerge after a nine-hour shift in one of South Africa's largest mines (photo courtesy: Time Magazine)

South Africa is the world's largest producer of gold, chromium, and platinum; and a large scale manufacturer of automobile parts, iron and steel. A significant portion of the workforce is employed in the industrial sector. Here, Time Magazine photographer Benedicte Kurzen takes you behind the scenes of a South African coal refinery struggling to adapt with the changing economy and political culture of the new South Africa. See the photoessay here.

Our significance (or the lack of it)

Every once in a while I need a reality check about my place in this universe (and yes, we work at an organization with a lot of space geeks!).

If you want one, check this video out, and keep in mind that the average human being is between 5.5 and 6 feet (1.68 and 1.82 m).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Global Development X-Prize: Who are we??

This is not a picture of us (obviously!); but we'll hopefully have one up of us soon! (photo source: John Cooper)

Q. Who comprises the Global Development X PRIZE team??

A. The Global Development X PRIZE team includes the larger X PRIZE Foundation itself and people like yourselves, but largely two people are tasked with the management and development of this X PRIZE – my colleague Emeka, and myself. We’ll be doing most of the blogging here, research and development of the prize (though we do hope that you will take your part as members of our team seriously!)

Its important to note that the opinions and information put here will largely be representative of Emeka and myself.

Emeka is a full-time entrepreneur based in NYC, and is involved in about five companies/organizations simultaneously. Last year, he organized the hugely successful TED Africa conference in Arusha, Tanzania; and has gained renown for his critically acclaimed blogs on Africa – Africa Unchained and Timbuktu Chronicles. Because of his other work, Emeka works mostly as an advisor; but his input has already proven valuable in many ways. You can read more about Emeka here, here and here. Emeka has lived, worked, and studied in North America, the United Kingdom, and western Africa. He has a degree in architecture from the University of Nigeria.

I work full-time on this project. My name is Pragnya and I am the Project Manager. I am an environmental engineer, with a focus on water and sanitation in developing countries. I’ve also worked in a variety of sectors and disciplines, including energy, public health, education, conflict resolution, and entrepreneurship, across Asia, Sub Saharan Africa, Europe and North America. I have degrees in environmental engineering and technology policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and civil engineering from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA); and certification in humanitarian studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and Tufts University.

Now that you know about us, we think its fair that you tell us about yourself. So...tell us about yourselves!

Seeking Radical Breakthroughs in Alternative Energy

Date: Wednesday, September 10
Time: 4:30-6 pm
Location: MIT Building 34, Room 101

On September 10 (next Wednesday), the X PRIZE Foundation is holding a panel discussion at MIT, co-sponsored by the X PRIZE Lab @ MIT and the MIT Energy Club, with three leaders in the energy and environment sector: George Church, Ray Kurzweil, and Saul Griffith. The theme of the discussion is "What I would advise the next president." Kurzweil, Church and Griffith will discuss alternative energy solutions for the country and the world."If you're in the area and interested in attending (the event is open to the public and runs from 4:30-6:00), please RSVP here.

The three speakers are some of the top minds in the energy and environment field:

Dr. Ray Kurzweil
Ray Kurzweil has been described as “the restless genius” by the Wall Street Journal, and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes. Inc. magazine ranked him #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States, calling him the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” and PBS included Ray as one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America,” along with other inventors of the past two centuries. Along with Larry Page, Ray devised the solar-based energy plan for the recent "Grand Challenges in Engineering" blue ribbon panel of the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. George Church
George Church is Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Director of the Center for Computational Genetics. His 1984 Harvard PhD included the first direct genomic sequencing method, molecular multiplexing tags, which lead to automation & software used at Genome Therapeutics Corp. for the first commercial genome sequence -- pathogen, Helicobacter in 1994. Innovations in homologous recombination and array-based DNA reading & writing lead to current research and new ethics/safety strategies in Personal Genomics (PGP, 23andme, Knome) & synthetic biology (Codon Devices, SynBERC, LS9). LS9, Inc. is developing biofuels made with the power of synthetic biology.

Dr. Saul Griffith
Saul Griffith has multiple degrees in materials science and mechanical engineering and completed his PhD in Programmable Assembly and Self Replicating machines at MIT. He is the co-founder of numerous companies including: Low Cost Eyeglasses, Squid Labs, Potenco, Instructables.com, HowToons and Makani Power, which is seeking to harness clean energy from high-altitude wind. Saul has received several awards for invention, including the Collegiate Inventor's award, the Lemelson-MIT Student prize, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fast Forward

Anyone planning a trip to Chicago will definitely want to check out a new exhibit that opened today at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The interactive, multi-media exhibit is called "Fast Forward... Inventing the Future" and it's all about visionaries of today and how they are shaping the future. One of those visionaries happens to be our very own Peter Diamandis! He's being featured for his creation of the X PRIZE Foundation as well as his many entrepreneurial space ventures.

The other innovators are also doing some pretty cool things. For example, Dickson Despommier is leader of the Vertical Farm Project that proposes to grow food in high rise buildings in urban centers, helping to feed increasing urban populations while also allowing sprawling farmland to be returned to nature. Another "Fast Forward" innovator is Dana Myers, the entrepreneur behind electric vehicle company Myers Motors -- a company that also happens to be a serious contender for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE.

The purpose of the exhibit is to inspire us all to dream big, and to believe that the impossible can become possible. Anyone of us can produce extraordinary ideas, no matter our age or background. One young innovator is a self-taught 20-year-old, William Kamkwamba, who as a teenager built a windmill out of scrap materials to provide electricity for his family. He now dreams of powering every village in his African nation of Malawi. How amazing is that??


As part of our prize development process, and education initiatives, the X PRIZE Foundation sponsors a class at MIT called the X PRIZE Lab @ MIT (sorry for the redundancy). The point of the class is to explore the model and potential of X PRIZEs, and what sorts of PRIZEs would bring about the radical breakthroughs that we're always seeking. In the Spring of 2008, the first semester that the Lab ran, the students explored the area of Health and Healthcare in the developing world. At the end of the class, the students were able to present their ideas to Dr. Peter Diamandis, our CEO and Chairman, as well as a select group of Board Members. In the fall, the students are going to be focusing on Energy and the Environment.

I've embedded a video of Peter talking about the X PRIZE Lab from YouTube.