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Fast Company Recommended Events April 2010

Conferences and events you don’t want to miss this month.

Fast Company Recommended Events April 2010
Illustration by Deanne Cheuk Illustration by Deanne Cheuk


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Week 1

sat, april 03

150th Anniversary of the Pony Express

On the Tuesday in 1860 when Johnny Fry left St. Joseph, Missouri, on horseback carrying 49 letters and five telegrams, fireworks were set off, bands played in the streets, and, wrote The New York Times, “the best feeling was manifested by everybody.” So began the famed Pony Express. The trip from St. Joseph to Sacramento required 75 horses and 100 stations (riders changed horses every 10 to 15 miles). But as legendary as it remains today, the Pony Express was a bad business. It lasted just 18 months, losing $200,000 ($4.7 million today) before being replaced by the telegraph. — ERICA WESTLY

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sun, april 04

MLB Opening Day

“David from New York is calling about the problems with baseball’s business. On Opening Day?” “First-time caller, longtime listener. Red Sox — Yankees is a great rivalry, but these are rich teams. The big guys shelled out $400 million in revenue sharing last year to seven small-market clubs. The Pittsburgh Pirates used some of their $35 million to pay down debt. Does that make them better on the field?” “This will be big in 2011 when the labor agreement is up. But for now, enjoy the return of baseball, will ya? On Opening Day, every team still has a shot.” — DAVID LIDSKY

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Week 2

thu, april 08

75th Anniversary of WPA

Critics of the Works Progress Administration saw it as nearly communist, but the agency, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as a Depression-era stimulus package, delivered a solid return on investment. A piddling program by 2010 standards, it spent $165 billion (inflation adjusted) over seven years. (Compare that to last year’s $787 billion stimulus.) The result: some 8 million jobs; thousands of roads, parks, and public facilities, such as San Antonio’s Riverwalk and New York’s LaGuardia Airport; and myriad works of writing and art created for the nation. New York painter Marcus Rothkowitz got $1,500 in today’s dollars per month for turning in a piece every four to six weeks. The WPA was “a godsend,” said the artist later known as Mark Rothko, “to so many who needed help.”

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fri, april 09

Rock the Soap

The cruise industry’s latest gambit uses soap stars as bait. The most buzzed-about soap-themed cruise is Rock the Soap, aboard Carnival’s Paradise. Daytime-TV celebs will sing karaoke and act out fantasy scenes with fans for four days and three nights. “It lets fans know we’re not just some figment of their imagination,” says Tyler Christopher, aka Prince Nikolas Cassadine on General Hospital. While it may be a soap lover’s dream to blur the line between fantasy and reality, isn’t it potentially an actor’s nightmare? “You’re on a boat,” he admits. “There’s nowhere to go.” Nowhere but down. — LILLIAN CUNNINGHAM

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sat, april 10

National School Boards Association Conference

As No Child Left Behind comes up for reauthorization, the debate will rage at this Chicago meeting of school-board members and administrators. Backers believe NCLB just needs tweaks, while opponents feel the program forces educators to teach to the test. There’s another way to improve teaching, says the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein, who will speak in Chicago — dispatch an army of experts to evaluate our schools. It’ll be complicated. And it won’t be cheap, but he says no real solution will be: “If we’re looking for cheap, we should just keep the current system.” — ANNE C. LEE

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sat, april 10

National Association of Broadcasters Show

Add this to your lexicon: “Broadercasting” is the word now being bandied about to describe how more people are creating more content and reaching more viewers. Eighty-five thousand industry leaders will clamor to use it and sound au courant at the annual NAB Show in Las Vegas. “This is not your father’s broadcast business,” says NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton. “Thanks to cheap technology, anyone can produce content, anyone can be a journalist.” While we would of course like to disagree, the Telly Awards — honoring cable, regional, and local ads and shows — will give out prizes at the NAB Show to prove it: The People’s Tellys will reward entries that garner the most votes on YouTube. — STEPHANIE SCHOMER

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Week 3

tue, april 13

Public Design Festival

Lamborghini, Pininfarina, Alessi — these are hallowed names in Italian design … and you will find none of them at Milan’s Public Design Festival, which is all about the cityscape. “Design began as a tool to solve the problems of everyday life,” says festival coordinator Anna Spreafico. “More than ever, these problems concern public spaces.” She’s not alone in arguing that as the world urbanizes, we need to focus less on sleek cars and more on remaking our streets and smartening our environs. The festival coincides with the annual furniture fair that draws armies of trendsetters to Milan — each of them potential ambassadors for these ideas. That’s smart design, to which we say: Bravo. — LC

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wed, april 14

National Tattoo Convention

The vast majority of tattooed people don’t regret getting inked, according to recent data from Harris Interactive. But for the 16% that do, the cost of laser-removal treatments can run up to $10,000 — a hefty price to pay for a one-off mistake. At the National Tattoo Association’s gathering in Seattle, veteran tattoo artist Heide Unger will share strategies about a simpler alternative: the cover-up. “Anyone can mask a Wile E. Coyote with a whole back piece,” she explains. “The key is to empathize with the client and do something that’s not much bigger than the original.” Such as? “I once turned a Chevy truck into a Colorado columbine.” No permanent damage or hard feelings — right, GM? — DAN MACSAI

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wed, april 14

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting

After the January earthquake that rocked Haiti, satellite maps — a discussion topic at this D.C. meetup — enabled scientists to find and act on topographical changes more quickly than ever. They integrated their observations with population data to estimate how many people were affected. Then they alerted NGOs and officials — in 20 minutes. “The imagery capabilities of today really are revolutionary,” says geologist David Applegate. And lifesaving. — ZACHARY WILSON

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sat, april 17

Global Health & Innovation Conference

“Social entrepreneurship” is a buzzword that has been floating around a lot of do-gooder conferences and Web sites. For a while, calling yourself a social entrepreneur seemed like enough to draw funding and prestige, but more and more investors want to know what works, what’s sustainable, and what unintended consequences there might be. At the Global Health & Innovation Conference, hosted in New Haven, Connecticut, by the not-for-profit Unite for Sight, experts will discuss these challenges, which pop up in various forms. One example: Western hospitals often donate old equipment to hospitals in developing nations. “How do you compete with free?” asks Timothy Prestero, CEO of Design That Matters and a conference speaker. It’s not just a philosophical question for him. His firm taps engineering and design students to help solve developing-world problems. He points out that most donated equipment fails within five years because of power outages or high humidity. “Donations are free,” he says, “but they come with a lot of embedded problems.” — EW

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Week 4

mon, april 19

Cloud Computing Expo

The much-hyped cloud really is growing — so quickly, in fact, that this year’s New York conference is expected to draw 5,000 attendees, more than quadruple last year’s crowd. Even President Barack Obama has called for a switch to cloud computing, because it can stretch the $80 billion budget for federal technology spending. And IBM recently nabbed a deal to create a cloud model for the Air Force, a chance to prove that the cloud can handle heaps of highly sensitive data. But you have to separate the interest from the reality: According to a recent Forrester survey, only 3% of companies have implemented cloud-hosted storage and servers. — ACL

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mon, april 19

High-Speed Rail World

The mood at this Washington conference should fall between giddy and ecstatic. That’s because, in January, President Obama announced an unprecedented $8 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail. But what passes for high speed? In Ohio, which got $400 million to connect Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, trains on the “3C” line will peak at 110 miles per hour, less than half as fast as Europe’s and Asia’s best. Ohio rail planner Don Damron, who will speak at the conference, says 110 mph is still enough to beat cars — and begin bringing back train travel’s glory days. “We want to put back what was there historically,” he says, “and take it to a higher level.” But not yet, alas, the highest. — EW

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thu, april 22

Earth Day

Forty years ago, 20 million Americans took to the streets on the first Earth Day, rallying for the nation to show the environment some love. Today, it’s easy to pooh-pooh the day as an occasion celebrated most avidly by aging hippies and elementary-school students. But that early groundswell led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with a raft of laws to safeguard clean water, air, and ecosystems. Environmental issues, of course, transcend national borders, as does the damage, which is why Denis Hayes, who coordinated the 1970 Earth Day, wants global action. “Earth Day has been transformational in this country,” he says. “We’re now trying to make it transformational in the world.”

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fri, april 23

When Bad Products Happen to Big Companies

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Week 5

mon, april 26


Trying to imagine the future of the Internet — the task at hand for the Web fanatics who will gather at this summit in Raleigh, North Carolina — is almost as difficult as remembering what life was like without it. “Look at the billions of questions people ask Google every month,” says computational physicist Bebo White. “Ten years ago, how did we get the answers?” We would prefer not to think about those dark pre-Google days, but what we and White do know is that the most likely future for the Web is “our growing dependence on it,” he says. Few would know better — White was part of the team at Stanford University that set up the first Web server in the United States back in 1991. “There’s been no turning back since then,” White says. “It’s sort of taken over my life.” We know exactly what he means. — SS

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tue, april 27

Enron Opens on Broadway

“I believe in God, I believe in democracy, and I believe in the Company.” So says fallen Enron CEO Kenneth Lay’s character in the musical based on the 2001 financial scandal, a surreal interpretation that sets corporate malfeasance against a backdrop of techno beats, fluorescent-lit pole dances, and transparent plastic furniture. The production, which opened in London’s West End to raves, moves to New York’s Broadhurst Theatre and attempts to put the business back in show business. And if success is found stateside, the Enron song-and-dance may not end there — Columbia Pictures has already bought the film rights to the show. — ZW

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fri, april 30

’80s Remake Month