Now: February 2011

Events and conferences you don’t want to miss this month.

Now: February 2011
Illustration by Jennifer Lew Illustration by Jennifer Lew



tue, february 01

O’Reilly Strata Conference

Sifting through tons of data used to be a task left to computer whizzes and weathermen. But mining for insights has gotten faster and cheaper, and businesses from ad agencies to grocery stores will gather in Santa Clara, California, to discuss turning data into dollars. Carol McCall and her team at insurance giant Humana looked at claims and health studies to pinpoint how to tailor drug cocktails to avoid bad reactions, which cost the firm $500 million in claims in one year. With big-data analytics, McCall says, “you can solve things that we couldn’t even see before.” — RACHEL ARNDT

tue, february 01


“People have carpal tunnel because hardware wasn’t designed with humans in mind. The same problem exists with digital interfaces — human elements are often left out of code,” says Carolyn Guertin, a self-proclaimed cyberfeminist, University of Texas at Arlington professor, and speaker at this Berlin festival aimed at pondering the intersections of culture and technology. Just as gender and cultural studies transformed the humanities from “bastions of white male privilege” to supporters of inclusivity, Guertin says, it’s time to open up all things tech. — STEPHANIE SCHOMER

thu, february 03

Triumph of the City

“There’s a lot to like about urban poverty,” writes Edward Glaeser in this provocative new book. When the Harvard economist looks at the poorest cities — Kinshasa, Rio — he sees not just deprivation but opportunity. People in slums are better off than their poor rural neighbors — happier, more likely to find a job, and with more means of advancement. And poverty is higher for new arrivals than for established residents, suggesting the benefits over time of urban living. “Better to hope for a world where cities can accommodate millions more of the rural poor,” he argues, “than to wish that those potential migrants would end their days in agricultural isolation.” With apologies to Henry David Thoreau and Jane Jacobs: Bring on the megacities! — MICHAEL SILVERBERG


thu, february 03

Pixar Turns 25

My, how Pixar has grown. The studio, officially created when Steve Jobs paid $10 million for George Lucas’s computer division of Lucasfilm, cut its teeth making animated commercials for companies including Listerine and Lifesavers. Toy Story in 1995 allowed Pixar to finally shed its ad-agency day job, leading to a boy-centered adolescence and 11 chart-topping full-length films. Since the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2001, every movie Pixar has made — totaling more than $6 billion in worldwide box-office sales — has been nominated, and five have won. Still, 25 years is a long time to be putting off the ladies: Pixar has yet to make a movie with a female protagonist. Its 2012 film, which aims to change that, is appropriately called Brave. — RA

wed, february 02


What do rich folk do when playing the stock market has lost its luster? Buy vintage cars, of course! Collectibles like old-school Ferraris, Maseratis, Mercedes-Benzes, and Rolls-Royces have never been more popular, but the inventory of vintage autos is fixed at roughly 6 million, so high-end collecting has also never been pricier. This past May, a 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic sold for more than $30 million to an anonymous buyer — the highest price ever paid for a car, by about $2 million. That sale should be a hot topic at this five-day Parisian expo. Last year, an all-but-destroyed 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 22 Roadster, submerged off Switzerland in Lake Maggiore since 1936, sold for around $370,000. — SARAH UNKE

wed, february 02

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show

Good news for cows, bad news for cattlemen: The average American ate 1.7 pounds less beef in 2009 than the year before. (That’s still 61 pounds per person, roughly the weight of a newborn calf.) Rising feed costs (hello, ethanol!), higher export demand, and smaller supply have beefed up prices and trampled dining-table demand. Beef producers at this annual convention in Denver will talk ways to keep beefeaters from quitting cow. One solution for keeping carnivores craving steak? Push smaller (more affordable) portions, says association marketing manager Trevor Amen. “You can include beef in your diet at any budget.” Well done, beef man. — RA


sat, february 05

Celine vs. Cher

sun, february 06

National Biodiesel Conference and Expo

Pack your party hat and your sustainably made kazoo if you’re headed to Phoenix for this year’s annual event. Two new decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency should make this a banner year for biodiesel. In October, the EPA approved raising the ethanol blend rate in gasoline to 15%, from 10%. The agency also announced that petroleum manufacturers must blend 800 million gallons of biodiesel into their U.S. product mix in 2011 and 1 billion gallons in 2012. (Biodiesel producers moved just 500 million gallons of the stuff in 2009.) According to the EPA, biodiesel, made from animal waste and agricultural oils, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 86% when compared with petroleum. But this conference shouldn’t be a nonstop celebration: The $1-per-gallon biodiesel tax credit has yet to be resurrected. Passed in 2004 to encourage use of the fuel, the credit expired a year ago, and efforts to renew it have gotten lost in the legislative shuffle. — ADAM BONISLAWSKI

sun, february 06

Post-Super Bowl XLV Episode of Glee

It’s official: Glee is bigger than the Beatles. In just two years, TV’s only musical comedy has charted more than 90 tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles, besting the Fab Four’s group record of 71, which took more than three decades to secure. To be fair, the cast’s boffo sales (6.5 million albums, plus 17 million singles) are still a far cry from the 600 million posted by John, Paul, George, and Ringo. We suggest the folks behind the remaining Hot 100 record holder — Elvis Presley, who charted 108 singles — take a cue from Michael Jackson and Katy Perry, whose songs will be featured in this blockbuster episode: If you can’t beat ’em, sell ’em your licensing rights. — DAN MACSAI


mon, february 07

Say No to PowerPoint Week

Suffering from PowerPoint fatigue? You’re not alone. Tech conferences, including Demo and Finovate, have banned boring slide shows in favor of short, fast-paced product demos. For young companies, dissing checkerboard fadeaways and cheap gradient backgrounds does more than entertain an audience; it could make a sale. “It’s not about bullet points or the company, but what have they built?” says Finovate CEO Eric Mattson. “If you show your product to us, and we go, ‘Wow, we can grasp that in seven minutes, and we want that,’ then the customers will want it too.” We’ll buy that — no pie charts required. — MARGARET RHODES

mon, february 14

National Donor Day

Saturn may not have survived the recession, but the automaker’s event, launched with the United Auto Workers in 1998, has. From marrow to kidneys, hearts to umbilical cords (used for their blood), the need for donation remains urgent. Here, the cost of common transplant procedures. — JENNIFER VILAGA

sat, february 19

Cricket World Cup

The biggest upset for the Cricket World Cup may have happened before the 43-day-long tournament even begins. Following concerns over security, Pakistan was stripped of its status as a host country in April 2009 and told it would have to host its home games in neighboring India. The Pakistan team threatened to withdraw, but after its opening matches were rescheduled to take place in Sri Lanka, the team decided not to skip the spotlight. And this year, it’ll be a big one: ESPN Star is broadcasting the games in 220 countries as part of a $1.1 billion deal. — JEREMY GORDON


tue, february 22

Digital Signage Expo

All the world’s a display — or it soon will be, if companies like Intel have their way. A sponsor at this Las Vegas expo, Intel is the computing power behind concepts like a vending machine covered in a giant LCD touch screen. When the screen senses snack-searchers approaching, it switches from ads to product displays. And — surprise! — a hidden camera records which ages and sexes consume which snacks. So while the trend in digital signage may be “getting the customer involved with the digital boards,” says event cofounder Chris Gibbs, the future will be about getting those boards to first interact with us. — RA

sun, february 27

NASA’s Space-Shuttle Program Ends

Unless the new Congress approves an appropriations bill sending hundreds of millions of dollars to NASA, the space agency will launch its final space-shuttle mission on February 27, at 3:35 p.m., give or take 10 minutes. As the $115 billion reusable-orbital program retires, we look back at six notable missions from its 30-year history. — MS