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Illustration by Laura Cooperman

Fast Company

Now: December 2010 January 2011

December

Week 1

Wed, December 01
Construct
Concrete Canada

Only oil refineries and power plants pump out more greenhouse gases than cement kilns -- at least for now. The EPA recently warned 100 U.S. kilns they'll have to spend $1 billion annually to cut mercury and fine-particle emissions by 92%, a measure the agency says could save 2,500 lives each year. Concrete execs, who rely on cement as a key ingredient, worry that cleaner kilns mean higher costs. Next steps will be bandied about at this Toronto expo, but as Ross Monsour of Ready Mixed Concrete says, "The unfortunate part is, you still have to make concrete with cement." -- Suzy Evans

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Sat, December 04
Primp
American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship

Professional blowouts, business cards, glossy ads in magazines -- if you want your bitch to win, be prepared to pay up. And dog owners do: Americans spend $330 million annually on competitive shows, from travel and training to promotional campaigns (winners can shell out $100,000 a year in trade ads alone). This 10th annual invite-only event draws 1,500 purebreds to Long Beach, California -- and, for the first time, network viewers -- as it dog-paddles from Animal Planet to ABC. Better prep for your close-up, Princess.
-- Kate Rockwood

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Sun, December 05
Stay Within the Lines:
Color Management Conference

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Week 2

Mon, December 06
Proliferate
International Health Promotion Awards

Daily doses of folic acid during pregnancy lower spinal birth defects by a mammoth 50% to 70%. That's a motivating stat, unless you live, say, in an Agent Orange -- affected area of Vietnam, where mothers don't have access to WebMD and children are three times more likely to suffer birth defects. New community health groups are working to mend this information gap, on both the micro level (village meetings stocked with samples of folic-acid tablets) and macro (billboards, TV ads, and radio announcements). Impact and strategies for going global will be dissected at this Rome symposium honoring organizations from around the world, with the winner getting a financial booster shot: $5,000 to keep growing. -- Margaret Rhodes

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Tue, December 07
Complement
TEDWomen

In July, when TED announced its first conference on women's issues, many fretted that it would segregate female voices from the main event, where they are underrepresented. But June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, says the two-day gathering, which features women such as Madeleine Albright and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as nonwomen like Ted Turner, will complement rather than replace TED's diversity efforts. "It's not an either-or," she says. "It's a yes-and." One early lesson is that gender is still a hot potato. "It's always seen as a zero-sum game somehow," says Paley Center for Media CEO Pat Mitchell, who conceived the event. "I can promise you, we're going to try to do a whole conference where 'women' is in the title and not mention the word gender."
-- Michael Silverberg

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Wed, December 08
Nip, Tuck
LifeScience Alley Conference and Expo

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Thu, December 09
Respect
Destination Slum

"Is it voyeuristic to look at poverty, or worse to ignore its existence? It's a difficult question," says Ko Koens, co-organizer of this Bristol, U.K., conference that plumbs the murky ethics of slum tourism. The practice has gained recent popularity, thanks to films such as City of God and Slumdog Millionaire. After studying slums around Cape Town, South Africa, Koens argues that when done correctly, slum tourism can bring a welcome boost to the local economy. "Residents are eager to engage with visitors, and when tours incorporate the local people and businesses, there are undeniable benefits," he says. "But when big buses drive in, take photos, and drive out, locals despise it. They're not zoo animals." -- Stephanie Schomer

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Thu, December 09
Recall
Contained Memory Conference

Our world is made of memories -- and words play but a minor role: Public memorials are designed to evoke a sense of community and pride; dance is used globally to preserve cultural heritage; businesses bank on nostalgia to sell products. But for the 26 million people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, memory is a daily battle. Academics and artists gather in New Zealand to discuss treating Alzheimer's with art, which bypasses cognitive skills and taps into the nonverbal, creative part of the brain, aiding in communication and recall. "No matter where we come from or what we believe in, memory is essential to our being," says Kingsley Baird, a conference organizer. "By bringing science and art together, we'll find new ways to express, retain, and retrieve memories." -- Stephanie Schomer

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Week 3

Mon, December 13
Lick, Stamp, Repeat
Busiest Mailing Day of the Year

The U.S. Postal Service will handle almost twice as much mail today -- 830 million pieces -- as on a regular day, but that extra business is doing little to make mail carriers jolly. This fall, the Postal Regulatory Commission denied the agency's proposal to raise a first-class stamp by two cents, to 46 cents -- the fifth rate-hike request since 2006. In its plea, the post office pointed to declining revenues and a $6 billion deficit for fiscal year 2010. In its rejection, the commission argued that, by law, rates cannot raise beyond the level of inflation unless there's an emergency and criticized the USPS's "overly ambitious" attempt to fund retiree health-insurance premiums. We wonder if the commission sent the news by email (ouch). -- Brigid Sweeney

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Fri, December 17
Zoom
Tron: Legacy

"I wanted to make the sexiest, coolest vehicle you could possibly imagine," says designer Darren Gilford of the Light Cycle, the sleek speeder that swirls trails of neon in Tron: Legacy. For the sequel, Gilford's concept artists avoided alienating fans of the 1982 cult classic by drawing inspiration from the bike's original design, a boxy pixilated vehicle that was severely hampered by 1980s technology. Three decades later, the Light Cycle has morphed into a glossy prowler, with hubless wheels and loops of light that blur where the bike ends and the body begins. "For engineering purposes, it's next to impossible to actually make," Gilford says. "But we're no longer beholden to the limitations of engineering."
-- Austin Carr

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Week 5

Fri, December 31
Focus
No Interruptions Day

The bad news: The average office worker is interrupted -- by coworkers, emails, or phone calls -- every 11 minutes. Even worse is that it takes basically that much time to refocus on the task at hand. On this last business day for 2010, turn off your phone and tell that chatty coworker to buzz off. If he doesn't listen? Sneak around, says Gina Trapani, a FastCompany.com Work Smart blogger and project director at Expert Labs. "At a software job years ago, people constantly stopped by to ask questions, and it was impossible to work," she says. "I started booking a conference room for an hour or two. I worked in total peace while the rest of my office mates thought I was in another meeting." Deceptive, yet effective. -- Stephanie Schomer

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January

Week 1

Sat, January 01
Make Change
Estonia Adopts the Euro

Head uut aastat! That's how to wish a happy new year in Estonia, where citizens ring in a new currency along with a new decade. Today, the tiny country becomes No. 17 to join the euro zone -- and, more notably, the first former Soviet republic to make it in. (Just shy of 20 years ago, Estonians were celebrating the switch from rubles to krooni.) But adopting the euro is unlikely to pay off immediately after a storm of sovereign debt problems, the zone is still walking on economic sea legs. Which leaves this irony: If you're a country with the kind of strong balance sheet that's enviable enough to get you into this club, then you might be better off staying out. But who ever said prestige didn't come with a price? -- Lillian Cunningham

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Sat, January 01
Bromance
World Series of Beer Pong

News flash: Masculinity is cool again. "The pendulum is swinging back from metrosexual," contends Dos Equis brand director Paul Smailes. And nothing says manly like tossing ping-pong balls at plastic cups. Or, you know, beer. Brands such as Miller Lite and Dos Equis have embraced bro culture in a big way, with campaigns urging drinkers to "man up" and emulate "the most interesting man in the world." You'd think that would make finding a sponsor for the World Series of Beer Pong, in Las Vegas, a no-brainer -- the event runneth over with advertising's coveted demographic of 21- to 30-year-old men. But Ben Solnik, of host bpong.com, says beer brands remain skittish. Dude, tell those breweries to man up.
-- Rachel Arndt

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Week 2

Mon, January 10
Reverse
North American International Auto Show

It's been three years since Porsche led an exodus of high-end brands -- including Ferrari, Infiniti, and Rolls-Royce -- from this prestigious Detroit show, which attracts 700,000 auto enthusiasts over two weeks. But this year, Porsche quietly signaled it'll be back in the lineup and plans to display its iconic 911 Speedster. Is this an indication to other luxe lines that it's time to steer on back to Motown? "There is a feeling of optimism that the event will continue to grow," says NAIAS spokesman Sam Locricchio. With all 750,000 square feet of the main show floor sold out by September, we'd say that optimism is justified. -- John Dorman

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Sat, January 15
Fact-Check
10th Anniversary of Wikipedia

The edits made to the Wikipedia entry for the Iraq War can fill 7,000 pages -- and they do, in this fall's The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs. (We appreciate the simplicity of the edit "Saddam Hussein was a dickhead.") But as the encyclopedia rounds its first decade, it's beefing up its veracity, with the Public Policy Initiative, in which college students write fully vetted entries. "Our courses are rigorous," says Rochelle Davis, whose Georgetown public-policy students will produce entries. "They do all the research, and then the work is for Wikipedia." Smart, indeed. -- Margaret Rhodes

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Week 3

Mon, January 17
Tally
The Australian Open

How much are those grand-slam groupies worth? Depends on location. The U.S. Open, in New York, serves up about $420 million in economic impact, counting 720,000 spectators. But last year, Melbourne hosted 600,000 and generated just $110 million. The city is shoring up its game with a new $363 million redevelopment of Melbourne Park to create friendlier common spaces, enhance transit access, and increase seat capacity. In exchange, Melbourne is the guaranteed host through 2036, by which point the tournament is expected to draw a million free-spending spectators each year. -- Clay Dillow

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Sat, January 22
Self-Organize
Compostmodern

How to design an eco-design conference? Pick a setting (San Francisco, home to more green jobs than any other city in America) and invite a bunch of companies to give inspirational talks (Ideo, Stanford's d.school, GoodGuide, Obama for America). After the first day, when everyone tires of speakers, schedule a daylong "unconference," full of free-form presentations and project incubation. People will share, they'll kibitz, they'll finally corner Yves Béhar long enough to pitch him that idea for a sustainable dolphin fanny pack. But wait a sec -- isn't that just more conference? Those earnest designers can be so sneaky.
-- Michael Silverberg

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Week 4

Mon, January 24
Get Pricked
Biomanufacturing Summit

Swine flu may seem so last year, but the Centers for Disease Control is worried enough about it recirculating that it's issued its first-ever recommendation that everyone get vaccinated. That's a swinish silver lining for bio execs at this San Diego summit, who say they're prepped. (While the government footed the bill last year, meeting demand was a struggle.) As Novartis's Matthew Stober reassures us, "There's no scramble for vaccines this year." -- Rachel Arndt

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Week 5

Mon, January 31
Read
When Small Countries Crash

1690s Scotland, 1930s Austria, 2008 Iceland -- all are small countries that suffered economic collapses. Scott MacDonald and Andrew Novo's new book argues that small nations are especially vulnerable and ill-equipped to rebound. "You have a limited universe of talent to draw from," MacDonald says. "It does function in some ways like a limited gene pool." Lest Lesotho and Kiribati despair, they might consider the success of pint-size Luxembourg, which has kept its ambitions modest and separated its political and economic spheres. In other words, it's time for Iceland's corporate Vikings to dock their longships.
-- Michael Silverberg

Illustration by Laura Cooperman

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