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8 minute read

Now: May 2010

Now: May 2010
Illustration by Ralph Karam
Illustration by Ralph Karam


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Week 1

sat, may 01
Expo 2010

For this year's world's fair, which runs until October 31, Shanghai has set up a high-tech welcoming committee: an army of 5-foot-tall androids named Haibao ("treasure of the sea"). The 70 million visitors expected in town for the fair can direct questions — and quirky requests — to the robots, which will be at the city's two airports and at major venues. Beyond offering event and travel info (via a touch screen), Haibao can take photos, make LCD faces, and greet visitors in six languages. Make nice, and he might dance a jig or sing you a song. Here's hoping it's "Mr. Roboto." — DAN MACSAI

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sun, may 02
10th Anniversary of GPS's Nonmilitary Expansion

Finding restaurants. Mapping hiking trails. Geo-tagging photos. Playing location-based social-media games. Tracking lost pets. What don't we use GPS for these days? It's hard to believe that just a decade ago the military-designed satellite network was massively opened up, allowing civilian GPS to become 10 times more accurate. Car-navigation device makers TomTom and Garmin have since become billion-dollar-plus companies, and GPS-related apps are now a bazillion times more prevalent. Where to from here? We're recalculating. — ERICA WESTLY

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Week 2

mon, may 03
BIO International Convention

Policy wonks and science wizards unite at this year's big biotech-industry conference in Chicago, where more than 15,000 attendees talk biofuels, health innovation, and superpowered agriculture with former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore. With roughly $250 billion in market cap and influence across a staggering number of sectors, it's no wonder biotech managed to snag a bipartisan clutch of big names to key-note. "We like to invite speakers who challenge our industry and who don't necessarily agree with us," says Robbi Lycett, BIO's VP for conventions and conferences. With an agenda that includes genetically modified crops and stem-cell research, we suspect that stirring debate will not be a problem. — LILLIAN CUNNINGHAM

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tue, may 04
The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of Our Food Supply

Worst. Company. Ever. That's the inevitable conclusion in documentarian Marie-Monique Robin's perversely fascinating investigation of Monsanto, the chemical company turned $11.7 billion agribusiness giant. She details how the astounding list of controversial products and environmental scandals in Monsanto's history — PCBs, dioxin, Agent Orange, DDT, bovine growth hormone — is exacerbated by the company's repeated choice to preserve sales over the public health and employ its outsize influence in government to shirk full responsibility for its actions. Even more disturbing, Robin argues, is the "new Monsanto," which has wielded its global muscle and patent prowess to try and take control over the food supply. Given Monsanto's ugly past, she makes clear that we cannot pretend that we don't know what's possible. — DAVID LIDSKY

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wed, may 05
Bingo World

Bingo may seem like old news for old people, but when Alabama governor (and lifelong gambling opponent) Bob Riley sent state troopers to shut down more than 30 electronic bingo parlors earlier this year, he brought new life to the issue. Hundreds of casino workers lost their jobs, and now some state representatives — with the help of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who marched on Montgomery — are pushing for a statewide vote. Riley's move, which is expected to be hotly dis-cussed at the Bingo World conference in nearby Biloxi, Mississippi, comes near the end of his second term. While he's not up for reelection in November, he has vowed to keep up the bingo fight until his final days. Call it a free space. — ZACHARY WILSON

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wed, may 05

Conventional wisdom — and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — suggests privacy is no longer a social norm. But at last year's Lift, a conference on the social consequences of new technologies that hits Geneva this month, think tanker Daniel Kaplan presented a study showing that most users are actually very conservative online. They will exhibit only as much information as you might "display in your sitting room," he argued. "They are not just throwing out buckets of information without realizing the effect." With nearly one-quarter of the world's 1.7 billion Internet users registered on Facebook, though, perhaps Zuckerberg has the power to draw users from the privacy of their own homes. — AUSTIN CARR

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sun, may 09
Alternative Fuels & Vehicles Conference

Half of all car purchases in 2035 are predicted to be alternative-fuel vehicles. But until then, we're about as green as the 378 million gallons of gas our cars guzzle daily. Despite programs like Cash for Clunkers, nearly 98% of autos sold last year had conventional gasoline engines. Hybrid cars hold less than a 3% market share, and roughly one in four hybrid-car owners also own a nonhybrid SUV. Last year's stimulus did help put some 9,000 alternative-fuel vehicles on the road and will pump $2.4 billion into the electric-vehicle industry, with the greenest new models on display at this annual gathering in Las Vegas. With that in mind, the glass — or the battery, rather — looks half full. — AC

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Week 4

wed, may 19
Hospitality Design Expo

A bike valet, a bathroom vanity made from recycled milk cartons, a shower system that warms water with solar energy — in next-generation, sustainable luxury hotels, even the most mundane feature will be infused with eco-cred. Heavyweight design firms WATG and Ideo teamed up to win the U.S. Green Building Council's first annual Sustainable Suite Design Competition — and their green suite of the future will be built full scale and unveiled at this year's Las Vegas expo. "People used to say, 'I want a hotel to look like my house,' " says Michelle Finn, VP of the Hospitality Design Group, which hosts the event. But more and more, she says, hospitality design is setting innovative trends for residential design: "Now they're saying, 'I want my house to look like this hotel.' " There's no place like Hilton. — LC

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thu, may 20
20th Anniversary of the First Photo From the Hubble Telescope

20th Anniversary of the First Photo From the Hubble Telescope
A STAR IS BORN: Thanks to Hubble, scientists and citizens can see up-close images of stars, planets, and galaxies. | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF NASA.

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fri, may 21
International Virtual Assistants Day

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sun, may 23
Lost Series Finale

Lost, the TV show, is best known for the mysterious numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 — which may or may not refer to characters who may or may not be "candidates" to control the island. But Lost, the pop-culture phenomenon, is better defined by 18.6 million (viewers who watched its two-hour pilot in 2004), 117 (new episodes during its six-season run), and 6,319 (entries on Lostpedia, the show's comprehensive wiki page). And while die-hard fans prepare for the finale — DHARMA beer, anyone? — ABC Studios will undoubtedly focus on one of its favorite numbers of all: 730,972 (copies sold of Lost's most recent DVD set, which generated revenues north of $28 million). — DM

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sun, may 23
MuseumExpo 2010

One upside of a down economy: Museums are getting more popular. In 2009, 57% of U.S. museums saw an uptick in attendance, and the industry is looking to social media to keep the trend going. "By engaging people online, we can inspire more visits in person," says MuseumExpo director Dean Phelus. Talks on creating more immersive online experiences sound great, but we're more impressed with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which already has an award-winning blog and YouTube channel. At LACMA, social media isn't a mere marketing gimmick. When an artist needed an impossible-to-find tea bag to finish an installation, the museum used Twitter to crowdsource the solution. — STEPHANIE SCHOMER

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sun, may 23
National Lucky Penny Day

"The penny is completely inefficient," says former congressman Jim Kolbe, who twice introduced legislation that would abolish the one-cent piece. "It seems such an obvious no-brainer to get rid of the thing." In 2008, the U.S. spent $134 million to produce $80 million worth of pennies — roughly 1.7 cents per coin. And studies estimate that we lose as much as $1 billion annually from time wasted exchanging pennies. Thanks to Lincoln lovers and zinc lobbyists, though, the penny's luck has yet to run out, and the U.S. will ship 5.9 billion of them in 2011, most of which will likely disappear into piggy banks and couch cushions. — AC

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Week 5

mon, may 24
Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup

Can you tweet like a tween? Text faster than a sixth grader? Chances are you're biting their virtual dust. Three-quarters of all kids in the U.S. have their own cell phones by age 12, and today's average teen sends more than 3,000 text messages a month. "Kids have been the chief information officers of their households for at least a decade," says Dan Coates, president of Youth Pulse and organizer of the San Francisco event aimed at reaching this coveted consumer base — and through them, their parents. "You'd never buy a new computer without consulting your kids." How's that for influence? — LC

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thu, may 27
Franchise Fatigue

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sun, may 30
Indianapolis 500

Danica Patrick raced into history when she finished third at last year's Indy 500, the best-ever finish for a female driver. The Go Daddy Girl has paved the way for new competition like Switzerland's Simona de Silvestro, who's been described as the anti-Danica. De Silvestro won four lower-level races last year, and her modesty sets her in contrast to Patrick, whose scantily clad appearances in Go Daddy's racy commercials constantly remind us that we still aren't sure what Go Daddy does except employ Danica Patrick. With Patrick dividing her time among stock cars, open wheel, and brand building this year — did you see her guest-star on CSI? — will that leave room for an upset on the racetrack? As IndyCar's Eric Powell reminds us, "Never say never." — EMILIA BENTON

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sun, may 30
International Supercomputing Conference

On the world's fastest supercomputer, named Jaguar, scientists are simulating the past 21,000 years of earth's climate history — a feat that would take average desktop PCs centuries to complete. Or, in science-speak: "After theory and praxis, supercomputer simulation is the third way of doing science," says conference organizer Horst Gietl. Churning through trillions of calculations per second, supercomputers like Jaguar are already yielding breakthroughs in climate science and medicine. Next up, Gietl says, are "exascale" supercomputers, which run 500 times faster than Jaguar — or about the combined performance of 50 million MacBook Pros. — AC

A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.