March 2011

A list of events and conferences you don’t want to miss this month.

March 2011
Illustration by Fernando Volken Togni Illustration by Fernando Volken Togni


National Frozen Food Month


America’s real top chef? The microwave. Thanks to a weakened economy, consumers’ yen for convenience, and superMARCHkets eager to expand their high-profit frozen-food aisles, more meals now hit the microwave than ever before: 23% of home dinners are frozen entrées, helping push the industry to $56 billion last year, up from $43 billion five years before. The good news? Analysts say we’re not (just) stuffing our face with Stouffer’s. Manufacturing breakthroughs, more ethnic options, and cutthroat competition for health-conscious diners mean better choices. Though we’re still stumped by the popularity of a frozen PB&J.


ARPA — E Energy Innovation Summit

Seeding a new industry with government funds intended to spur an economic recovery can bring out the critics. That’s the challenge facing research agency ARPA — E, which is trying to do for renewable energy what DARPA has done for the military (hello, Internet and unmanned aerial vehicles!). Those wondering where the money has gone can join academics, venture capitalists, and industry execs in Washington, D.C., for this interactive display of investments: 200 projects, so far, that span batteries, biofuels, and solar. “Even if only a few of them are successful,” says summit organizer Sanjay Wagle, “they can really change the world.”


CeBIT Electronics Fair

CeBIT might not get techies’ hearts racing the way CES does, but the German computer trade show — the world’s largest IT fair, spanning 5 million square feet and attracting more than 500,000 visitors — says it doesn’t need to. “At other events, they show screens, screens, and screens,” says Frank Pörschmann of Deutsche Messe, which puts on the Hanover gathering. “At CeBIT, you also see what’s behind them.” Last year, lip-reading cell phones and soccer-playing robots stole the show; this year, the Germans are going crazy over cloud computing, a technology, Pörschmann says, that’s poised to change the way companies do business, from server rooms to consulting to, yep, screens of all kinds.


Texas Independence Day


One hundred seventy-five years after the state’s Declaration of Independence was signed, the Lone Star State continues to assert its autonomy. When Texas voted last year against nationalizing school curriculum standards, the State Board of Educa-tion quickly approved curriculum guidelines with a conservative bent. But this wasn’t some “only in Texas” joke: The new standards, which give more attention to the likes of Newt Gingrich, Confederacy leader Jefferson Davis, and Commie-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy, will likely wind up in classrooms across the country. That’s because Texas, with its 4.8 million public-school children, is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, and publishers often don’t bother with state-specific versions.


Paris Cookbook Fair

Most book execs may be crying into their cocktails, but one group has reason to raise their glasses: Cookbook sales last year were up as much as 10% in the U.S. and Europe, and 20% in Asia and Latin America. (The best-selling nonfiction title of 2010? Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals.) That all-you-can-eat buffet of soon-to-be-splattered print pages hasn’t sated the appetite for next-gen cooking apps, either. More than 90 best-selling authors, including Giada De Laurentiis, MARCHtha Stewart, and MARCHk Bittman, have already made the digital leap, joining an already crowded roster that ranges from Betty Crocker and Epicurious to niche apps like VeganYumYum. It seems that too many cookbooks don’t, in fact, spoil the broth.



Make room, Pixar and DreamWorks. Industrial Light & Magic, the special-effects shop behind the Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, is coming to toon town with Rango, its first full-length animated feature. The story of a hapless chameleon trying to save a rough-and-tumbleweed hamlet from menacing bandits is steeped in reality. Director Gore Verbinski first filmed the cast — starring Johnny Depp — acting out the entire script, then gave the footage to ILM. The idea was to “emotion-capture,” as Verbinski has called it, all the spontaneous facial expressions and ticks the actors gave their characters. Is there enough magic in Rango’s animated realism to capture the audience’s imagination? Eyes from all studios will be on the box office.




“Gold has lost its prestige,” says Rico Franses, an art history professor at the American University of Beirut. That’s an interesting opinion when gold is at record-breaking prices — it jumped 28% in 2010 to $1,400 an ounce — but Franses, keynote speaker at this Boston art symposium, insists that our modern dollar fixation has actually devalued the precious metal. “When gold was the only store of value, it was sacred. In medieval art, gold was everywhere. Viewed by candlelight, it created a dazzling, spiritual effect,” he says. “Today’s world doesn’t want to be dazzled by gold. We just want to know how much money it can be converted into.”



International Women’s Day

When the first International Women’s Day took place 100 years ago, there were a lot of female “firsts” we couldn’t yet celebrate. Flash forward a century and women are cracking the gender-expectations piñata everywhere from Sri Lanka to outer space.



Ides of MARCHch

What better way to remember Brutus backstabbing Caesar than by watching movies like The Informant! and The Social Network? Here are four more corporate-betrayal films primed for the Hollywood treatment.



Global City Forum

Traffic taxes, parking-spot sensors, individual transit pods — what does transportation look like in an ideal city? Urban planners and industry experts will gather in Abu Dhabi to talk ideas being tested across the globe. In nearby Masdar City, a development designed to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city, people can use Personal Rapid Transit, a network of driverless electric taxis. In Stockholm, IBM’s congestion-management software allows traffic fees to rise and fall depending on the number of cars on the road — and has helped cut traffic by nearly 25%. And MIT’s Copenhagen Wheel, hitting streets later this year, is an add-on motor to encourage the athletically averse to travel by bike.


10th Sharjah Biennial

The Arabic-speaking world’s largest art show brings 119 artists to Sharjah, a historic port city in the United Arab Emirates, with made-for-grad-seminar themes such as “seduction” and “dissidence.” Most participants, like Decolonizing Architecture, a West Bank — based group that reimagines the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation, come from the Middle East, but there are also many Western artists, including Sophie Calle. How well can contemporary art, with all its weird juvenilia, play in a deeply conservative emirate governed by sharia law and an autocratic ruler? In past years, some work that alluded to sex was censored, and Israeli artists haven’t been welcome. Suzanne Cotter, this biennial’s cocurator, says she hasn’t “encountered thus far” any limits on artistic freedom. “Sharjah is a place where life is life,” she says. “It’s not a repressive dictatorship. It’s a place.”


Artificial Intelligence for Business Agility


How’s this for instant gratification? “If you’re shopping for a car and spout out a feature you’d like, the factory should immediately start creating it,” says Michael Gruninger, who heads the semantics technologies lab at the University of Toronto. “We have to make business processes that are more responsive.” Gruninger will join leaders in semantic-web tech and business modeling at this Stanford conference to discuss the challenges of making ultra-agile businesses. “We talk about tech in the abstract, but when it comes to implementation, there’s a big gap,” he says. “Once we learn how to close it, the rubber will hit the road.”


Engineers Without Borders Conference

If Doctors Without Borders is the Brad Pitt of charities, consider Engineers Without Borders to be Eric Bana. Smaller star power and lesser fame, sure, but still reMARCHkably impressive. Founded in 2002 by a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, EWB has grown to more than 12,000 members who install solar panels in Rwanda and put up health clinics in Peru. Hundreds of engineers will gather in Louisville, Kentucky, for the organization’s annual meeting to discuss low-cost housing design, simple water purification, and soil improvement — all with an eye toward helping developing nations. Such ambitions are Pitt-worthy, to say the least.


Government Security Expo

Law-enforcement officials are trained to fight crime in the physical world. Still, the need to transition them from guns and patrol cars to keyboards and mouses is pressing. “How can they protect the public when more and more threats are coming from cyberspace?” asks GovSec content director Wyatt Kash, citing recent WikiLeaks-related hacker strikes on and, which were shuttered for several hours in December. One step: Pay attention at this Washington, D.C., event, where a quarter of the seminars will tackle modern-security musts, such as leveraging mobile-safety apps and preventing the types of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that befell the credit-card titans.


MLB Opening Day


The real world’s baseball season starts today, which also means batters up for another stat-fueled year of the fantasy version. At 30 million players strong, fantasy sports is a $4 billion industry, drawing in companies from ESPN and Yahoo, which host leagues, to Bloomberg, which has partnered with to offer a fantasy-sports take on its financial services. In some leagues, players pay to enter, build their teams on stats knowledge — sometimes bolstered by insights purchased from experts — and vie for what can be six-digit grand prizes by racking up points for their players’ performances. It’s a far cry from fantasy sports’ early days of the Strat-O-Matic baseball-card game.