Now | April 2011

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

Now | April 2011
Illustration by Craig Ward


Global Astronomy Month


You needn’t be an astronomer to know that city stargazing is lousy, thanks to everything from street lamps to round-the-clock office bulbs streaming illumination upward. But surging light pollution is making it harder for even country mice to find a clear sky (and Orion’s Belt). In the U.S., 95% of people live in an area with double the natural level of outdoor light. To combat such pollution (which produces 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — the equivalent of 9.5 million cars), Astronomers Without Borders is organizing local gatherings to get folks to flip off the porch lights and break out their telescopes.


25th Annual WonderCon

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a — scrolling, scrolling … Comics may have made the leap from printed page to silver screen (the Spider-Man trilogy alone has nabbed $2.5 billion at the box office), but the move from paper to mobile devices has been laden with Kryptonite. Fans at this San Francisco geek fest will assess digital comics’ $1 million piece of the $680 million U.S. comics industry. Zooming and panning on the iPad still “yank you out of the experience a little more than they should,” says comics writer and critic Scott McCloud. Rather than translate dots to pixels, he says, “the best thing is to format the page for the screen.”


Google Global Science Fair

What do earmuffs, television, and ChatRoulette have in common? They were all dreamed up by teenagers — the same age group Google is targeting with its first-ever science fair, an online smarts search. Judging begins today, with winners announced in mid-July. Those who missed the deadline (or the 13-to-18 age bracket) can still marvel at wunderkinds’ submitted videos and vote on which pint-size inventor might have outsize impact. Google is following Intel’s lead: At last year’s fair, 16-year-old Amy Chyao, whose photosynthesizing process allows cancer drugs to penetrate more deeply, scored top honors, and her work is now being tested at the University of Texas at Dallas. Sure puts your glue-stick-and-poster-board memories to shame, don’t it?


Final Four Championship


Besides bragging rights and a bit of national attention, what does an NCAA basketball championship bring? More applicants the following year, according to researchers Jaren and Devin Pope, who found an increase for schools that make it to the Final Four and a larger uptick for winners. Hear that, ballers? The admissions office is rooting for you.


One Day Without Shoes

Since launching its buy-one-give-one model in 2006, Toms Shoes has donated more than 1 million pairs to kids in need. Today, the company asks us to bare our soles to raise awareness, but its influence has spread far beyond footwear. Here, a look at companies inspired to share the wealth by donating an item for each one sold.


World Health Day

We bet you can’t guess the theme of this year’s World Health Day. And no, that line wasn’t laced with sarcasm — really, we bet you can’t. After presumably running down the list of big-name global health issues like malaria, AIDS, obesity, and childhood mortality, the World Health Organization settled on a 2011 theme that is as scientifically important as it is difficult to remember: antimicrobial resistance. It’s the idea that the biggest health threat is the resistance that human bodies are building up to medicines aimed at fighting health threats. The problem is compounded by the emerging risk of highly resistant superbugs. Whoa. While it may not make for the catchiest public-awareness campaign, it gets major points for being daringly meta.


Women, Money, and Power


Is it just us, or is it a bit ironic that the Women, Money, and Power Summit is being held at Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, the infamous site of Eliot Spitzer’s ill-fated romp with the same trifecta? The Feminist Majority will use the spot to host its third annual event exploring issues ranging from gender equality to reproductive health — and, more specifically, why landmark women’s bills continue to pass but the money doesn’t follow. “We’re great on the policy side but not on the appropriations side,” says president Eleanor Smeal, adding that this year’s event is “dedicated to following the dollar.” In that case, Washington and the Mayflower are as perfect a place as any.


Reality Rocks

Although the genre thrives on shrill outbursts and general debauchery, reality TV’s savviest participants now tout multiplatform brand empires. We size up the biggest names sure to be obsessed over at this L.A. fan convention.


MIT’s 150th Birthday

The students, alumni, and professors at MIT are a brainy — and busy — bunch. To mark the university’s 150th year, we tracked a handful of smarty-pants with ties to the school.



National Volunteer Week

Gym reimbursements and lavish company parties may be going the way of the dinosaur, but paid time for volunteering is one employee perk not yet in danger of extinction. Take UnitedHealthcare, whose company attorneys recently donated 600 hours of pro bono legal service. Or Target, whose workers spend 450,000 hours annually on projects such as overhauling school libraries. At Gap, staffers can spend five company hours each month on causes like teaching underserved youth about job applications. VolunteerMatch, which pairs corporations with communities, expects skills-based volunteerism to double by 2015, thanks to a huge win-win factor: “Employees learn project management skills and improve their public-speaking skills,” says Gap’s director of employee engagement, Gail Gershon. “Obviously you want to get promoted, and this is a clear path to getting there.”


Include 2011

Bill Moggridge, cofounder of Ideo and director of Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, has a suggestion for anyone designing a phone: “Put on a thick pair of gloves and try to operate the cell phone. If you can successfully do it with that thick pair of gloves on, it’s probably going to work for the person whose hands don’t work quite so well.” Empathy isn’t an obvious job requirement for a designer, but it will be at the heart of this biannual conference of universal-design advocates in London. And designing for the greatest number benefits those who might not think they need the extra help. Oxo’s Good Grips line of kitchen tools, for instance, was made for arthritic hands, but who doesn’t relish the tools’ superhuman ease of use? Even so, you can’t please all the people all the time. “Nobody designs for the tallest guy in the world,” Moggridge says. “That poor person just has to duck.”


Where 2.0

In the battle to be mayor at your coffee outpost, it’s easy to overlook the stat that only 1% of smartphone owners use location-based apps more than once a week. To nudge more folks into joining the geo-craze, TripAdvisor and Groupon are adapting data from Facebook Places and Foursquare to make their recommendations more real-time and relevant, based on where you are and what your friends most recently liked. “People have all this location knowledge they’re waiting to release and share,” says Laurel Ruma, cochair of this Santa Clara conference. “The question now is, What’s the predictive technology?”



Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy

Sister Act fans rejoice! It’s been nearly 20 years since the wacky tale of a lounge singer turned phony nun became a classic, but now it’s being resurrected for Broadway. Silver-screen success doesn’t always mean quality theater (we’re looking at you, Legally Blonde), but with music by Grammy and Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) and a box-office record-breaking run in London, failure seems unlikely. “It’s not about how good the movie is,” says Bill Taylor, one of the show’s producers. “It’s about how good the show is. And it’s fantastic.”


Marketing to Digital Moms Conference

When a Motrin ad poked fun at baby-wearing-induced backache, the ensuing Twitter storm killed the campaign in two days. The lesson? Don’t piss off Mom. To prep for this Toronto event, we survey the best and worst mom ads from the past year.