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Now: May 2009


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Week 1

sat, may 02
Louisville, Kentucky

Ever sweat through your straw boater wondering why a fast-food firm with $11 billion in sales sponsors the fastest two minutes in sports? "To attract more investors," says Jonathan Blum, a spokesman for Yum, whose brands include Pizza Hut and KFC. Has it worked? Well, the percentage of individuals own-ing Yum is "slightly higher" than when the sponsorship started in 2006, Blum reports. There's no way to credit that rise to the derby, of course. But the deal costs Yum about $1 million a year — less than half the price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad — and Eric Wright of con-sultants Joyce Julius & Associates estimates that Yum ran away with $7.3 million in media exposure during the 2008 telecast. Now that's a good investment. — DAVID LIDSKY

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Week 2

mon, may 04

Today, the chicken and the egg both come first: The pro-vegan activist group United Poultry Concerns wants us to pause to "celebrate chickens around the world." Last year, Americans ate more than 9 billion chickens, an average of 90 pounds per person. This year, Karen Davis, UPC president and author of the book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, hopes you'll "do an action that shows that chickens matter." Besides eating them. Some ideas: video presentations, library displays, letters to the editor. If nothing else, she suggests in all seriousness that you "stick up for chickens by calling in to talk-radio shows." Cluck cluck. — ABHA BHATTARAI

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tue, may 05

Let's tip our hats to Mary Dixon Kies. The milliner's new way of weaving straw with silk (U.S. Patent No. X1041) earned her plaudits from Dolley Madison for boosting New England's flailing hat industry. Unfortunately, that prosperity never materialized in her pocket. Two centuries later, most inventors face similar challenges: With 495,095 patent applications filed and 182,556 granted last year, the vast majority are like Kies's method, the thumb-wrestling ring (Patent No. 4998724), or the bird-trap cat feeder (Patent No. 4150505) — not lucrative enough to fill a piggy bank (Patent No. D458727). — ANNE C. LEE

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thu, may 07
OFFF 2009
Lisbon, Portugal

The Online Flash Film Festival has evolved over the past eight years from a tiny gathering into a 4,000-attendee multimedia art event with speakers including such graphic-design luminaries as Paula Scher, Neville Brody, and Stefan Sagmeister. Admission has stayed low — 75 euros ($95) for a three-day pass — but the geek factor has not, thanks to an all-new Nerdferences (that's "nerd" + "conferences") Panel. Expect talk of circuit bending, open software, and hacks. For those who find these terms off-putting, this could be a haven to work out your bigotry in a safe setting: Organizers pledge to "help us get our nerdism out." — ACL

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fri, may 08
Log On
EduNation Islands

Kick your feet in the fine sand. Dance under the palm trees with friends. Attend seminars in a gorgeous glass pyramid. If you want, you can even do it all naked. This language conference takes place on the EduNation Islands ... in Second Life. The 24-hour virtual conference, now in its third year, explores possibilities for teaching language in a 3-D online world. It's free to attend and everything you would expect from conferences in real life occurs: Workshops, panel discussions, intense networking, and spells of boredom are all key components. Is this the future of conferencing? We're not sure, but at least no one will know if you fall asleep during the PowerPoint. — ZACHARY WILSON

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fri, may 08
Beam Me Up
Directed by J.J. Abrams

In Hollywood, reinvention is all the rage. Look at the success of the reimagined James Bond and Oscar-winning Batman franchises. These films have sought to take the characters deeper. Such is the mission of screen wizard J.J. Abrams as he revives Star Trek. More than 40 years after the premiere of the original series, this prequel finally explains how James Tiberius became Captain Kirk, how Dr. McCoy became "Bones," and how they got the enormous Enterprise into space in the first place. Hard-core Trekkies will surely find something to complain about, but for most of us, the new Star Trek could boldly go ... well, you know the rest. — ZW

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fri, may 08
Brussels, Belgium

This just in: Tintin, the foppish Belgian reporter and star of a comic-book series that has sold more than 230 million copies since 1929, is turning 80. His birthday present: a brand new museum paying tribute — excuse me, homage — to his creator, Hergé (née Georges Rémi). The Belgian artist, who died in 1983, penned The Adventures of Tintin for 54 years, and he'll undoubtedly be a hot topic at this year's Tintin Fes-tival, a celebration for Tintophiles of all ages. We'd be there, except we already bought tickets to Star Trek.

Week 3

mon, may 11
Buffalo, New York

There's a lot that's new under the sun, and program organizers intend to discuss much of it at the 38th annual solar-energy conference. There will be sessions on solar cooling applications — sounds oxymoronic, but it's real — as well as case studies on sustainability. The conference promises to help find "hidden opportunities in the trillion-dollar green economy" — in other words (sorry, we can't resist), your place in the sun. — AB

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mon, may 11
Hong Kong

Exploding gas tanks. Asbestos poisoning. Falling steel beams. These are the hazards faced by the tens of thousands of people who work in ship-breaking yards in India and Bangladesh. Their pay: on average, $1.30 a day. This year, 80% of the 1,000 commercial vessels sold for scrap will be dismantled by hand on the subcontinent's beaches. In an attempt to reduce the industry's environmental and human tolls (in a typical week, one worker is killed and seven seriously injured), the world's shipping nations will agree to new rules on safe, sus-tainable recycling at this Inter-national Maritime Organization conference. Alas, Ingvild Jenssen, director of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, says the document will have little effect because most of the rules are actually just voluntary guidelines. "We all depend on shipping," says Jenssen, and she believes that real regulation won't happen until consumers start caring — which means it won't happen anytime soon.

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tue, may 12

It might read like a shopping list — Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Coca-Cola — but don't be fooled by the forum's presentation schedule: The attendees will work while they eat. In years past, they tackled issues such as marketing to the YouTube generation (solution: Go viral, like Mentos); this year, they'll talk food safety (solution: Avoid anything from the Peanut Corp. of America?). But if you ask organizer Tom Quinn, it's the free desserts that take the cake. "[Sprinkles maker] Parker Products is serving," he says, "so we'll probably have ice cream." — DM

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tue, may 12
Cape Canaveral, Florida

What goes up must come down eventually. But before the Hubble Space Telescope does, NASA will send the space shuttle Atlantis up on one last servicing mission. Astronauts will deliver a new data-handling unit, remove and replace broken parts, and make other repairs to the 19-year-old telescope. The Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, has already done heroic work, taking extraordinary photographs, like the one above, and helping scientists calculate the age of the universe, study how planets form, and even identify the first organic molecule outside our solar system. Not bad for a 12-ton hunk of mirrors, metal, and electronics. It's scheduled to splash down at sea, mission accomplished, sometime around 2014. — KYLE BERLIN

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sun, may 17
New York

Dear stationery makers: The average U.S. teenage cell-phone user sends or receives 1,742 text messages a month. The number of handwritten letters? Zero. But don't fret. There are still enough bridezillas and grandmothers to keep the $54 billion stationery industry afloat for now, and e-cards haven't stopped making us cringe. More than 14,000 buyers are expected at this 63rd annual show to celebrate pulp products and browse 10,000 lines of invitations, envelopes, letterhead, and card stock. Hope 2 CU there. — KATE ROCKWOOD

Week 4

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mon, may 18
New York

These days, the big four TV networks might as well be on The Biggest Loser. Viewers are ditching them in favor of cable and DVR, marketers canceled more than 10% of the buys at last year's upfronts, and (ugh) Fox hasn't axed Hell's Kitchen yet. You'd guess none of that, given the swanky venues for this year's upfronts: CBS will be at Carnegie Hall, ABC likely at Lincoln Center. Network execs still seem to be banking on upfront ad sales to beat last year's $8.9 billion. (That's before all those buyers backed out.) Will they succeed? Stay tuned for the answer ... immediately following this two-hour commercial break. — DM

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mon, may 18

Biofuels, biotech, bioscience, bioelectricity, bioethics, BioShock, Bio-Dome, Lego Bionicle.... Okay, so maybe we added a few, but this meeting really is all things bio — which makes it a living, breathing powerhouse, with more than 20,000 life-science pros from around the world in attendance. This year, the focus is on the effects of the recession on the bio industries and how to keep moving forward. Good luck, guys. Please let us know when you've found signs of life. — ZW

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mon, may 18
By Geoffrey Miller

What if everyone got face tattoos that revealed IQ as well as conscientiousness and openness? Audacious? Yes, and it's just one example of Spent's point: Perhaps our rampant consumerism — what we buy, what we wear, what we flaunt — isn't the most efficient way for us to signal personal traits. In this wry, pro-vocative book, Miller, an evolu-tionary psychologist, proposes a third way between our consumerist society and the typically cited alternative, what he calls the "eco-commune-primitivism utopia." Using the sweep of history com-pellingly to make his points, he pushes both consumers and mark-keters to a deeper understanding of how people communicate and how we can modify social norms to create a better society — without the face paint. — DL

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tue, may 19

Could a spoonful of sugar help anxiety go down? The prices of three main candy ingredients — corn (syrup), sugar, and cocoa — hit record highs last year, yet the $28 billion U.S. confectionary industry still managed to expand by 2.2%, with candy purchases soaring in dollar stores, warehouse clubs, pharmacies, and convenience stores. At the nation's largest confectionary-and-snack trade show, 12,000 execs will scout emerging trends to keep us on our sugar highs, including exotic flavors (expect Himalayan sea salt and ancho chili peppers to be big), superhigh cocoa content, and single-origin choco-lates. Sweet! — KR

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sat, may 23
Anchorage, Alaska

Ever seen a bearded man work a runway? Here's your chance: The biennial beard-and-moustache championships are coming to America. This will not bring an olympic economic boom. No new venues are needed to accommodate the estimated 500 attendees. (That's spectators and contestants, including Franz "Schani" Mitterhauser of Austria, above left, who placed second for sideburns freestyle in the 2007 championships and fifth for partial-beard freestyle in 2005.) The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is helping to promote the event, expects total tourism revenue of $487,080. That's pennies compared with, say, the $1.8 billion spent in the United States each year on shaving and hair-removal products. But who's going to say no to money? And who wouldn't welcome a team called the Australian Bushrangers? They travel with their own band, the Beards, which plays "songs about beards, for people with beards." Their biggest hit (9,672 plays on MySpace): "No Beard No Good." — ACL

Week 5

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mon, may 25
Nürtingen, Germany

If these experts have their way, you'll soon be raising the roof and putting down roots, all at once. Hundreds of the world's green-roof specialists, architects, and designers will convene in Germany to admire what has already been built (we're loving Copenhagen's Mountain Dwellings, a cascading collection of 80 apartments, each with its own green-roof terrace) and to talk about what's in store. Given the rapid progress in green-roof tech, the grass, we think, may be getting greener on the upper side. — AB

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tue, may 26
Washington, D.C.

Could the wheezing fate of America's newspapers crush even the hearts of young children? You bet! The National Spelling Bee, which famously felled contestant Ben Bernanke in 1965 — the word he couldn't handle was "edelweiss" — has inspired books, movies, and even a Broadway musical in recent years, and some 5 million viewers tuned in to catch the final rounds on ABC in 2008. But youngsters vie for a modest $37,600 in cash and savings bonds only after winning regional competitions mostly sponsored by local newspapers. Small daily rags and even a few big-city ones have been folding fast — several dozen so far in 2009, including Denver's Rocky Mountain News, which has produced seven champions over the years. So some communities are grumbling that Scripps needs a new competition model. Mr. President, we want a bee b-a-i-l-o-u-t. — KR

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wed, may 27
Las Vegas, Nevada

Though Las Vegas casinos are taking a beating — gaming revenue is down this year by double digits — one segment of the gambling industry remains evergreen: high-stakes poker. The WSOP is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a $40,000 No-Limit Hold'em tournament, surely intended for the recession-proof ... or soon-to-be broke. Last year, 58,720 entrants competed for a record $180 million in prize money, and 22-year-old Danish player Peter Eastgate won the main event (buy in: $10,000) and $9 million, becoming the youngest person ever to win the WSOP. Looking to emulate Eastgate but can't quite come up with the cash? Try the "stimulus special" event on Saturday, May 30th — buy-in is a measly one grand. — KB

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fri, may 29
Go Nuts
Monte Carlo, Monaco

For this year's Golden Nut Award, the Oscar of the nut-and-dried-fruit world and the highlight of this three-day congress, we nominate Dr. Atkins. High-protein diets have helped boost nut consumption in the United States by almost 50% over the past decade, with almonds tightening their hold on the No. 1 spot. Why the International Nut and Dried Fruit Foundation doesn't give out a more inclusive Trail Mix Award, we don't know. But for the record, the most popular dried fruit in the U.S. is the raisin; the average American noshes 7.3 pounds each year. — KR

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fri, may 29

After some 3,800 episodes, Jay Leno will relinquish his 11:35 p.m. slot to Conan O'Brien. (Jimmy Fallon, above, with Leno, is already in O'Brien's old slot.) Here's our take on Leno's last monologue: * After 17 years, Jay Leno is stepping down as Tonight Show host. That's a long time in one job. How long? When Leno started, there was no Internet, O.J. Simpson was respected, and the economy was merely George H.W. stupid.

    You excited about summer vacation? It officially started this week. Or, as Jay Leno calls it, "temporary unemployment."
  • Leno says he's never touched any of the salary he's earned as host. In a related story, CEO Jeff Immelt today asked Leno to bail out GE.
  • NBC wanted to break it gently to Jay that his last day would be May 29. I don't know if having Donald Trump make the call was such a good idea. — DL


A version of this article appeared in the May 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.