“This is what happens when you are raised by Wiccans at sci-fi conventions.”
So said Jason Porath, effects artist and technical director at Dreamworks Animation. His comment was the first thing I heard when I walked into a steamy downtown Los Angeles warehouse on a Saturday earlier this month for Mindshare50/, the West Coast’s premier gathering of quirky, transcendent arts and engineering talent—and it was a good prologue for an only-on-the-West-Coast event.
Mindshare organizer Doug Campbell invited Porath and dozens of others to present and perform at a blow-out 50th-month anniversary event for the L.A. mindmeld sessions. The goal of Mindshare is to break down barriers and foster collaboration between people with expertise in areas as disparate as rocket science, graffiti, and advertising. Twenty presenters spoke on this day on topics ranging from biophysics to how to make parties more fun through social media. During breaks attendees could take in music and art from 18 artists scattered throughout the warehouse.
Future Mindshare events should be on the list for anyone visiting the LA area.
Nine more highlights from Mindshare50:
1) Fashion technologist and MIT Media Lab’s Amanda Parkes’ plan to grow ears, roses, or maybe a chlorophyll slug on our arms. She made a stimulating—and nearly convincing—argument on the likelihood of a dystopian future where global-warming pessimists’ worst predictions come to pass, and human pollution extinguishes plant life. She theorized our own bodies might be the only place where we’ll be able to grow life-sustaining, carbon-processing flora and fauna, and described her work developing clothing integrated with technology to meet this hypothetical need.
2. Revenge of the Nerds style
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab team was mobbed by fans after their talks. Kevin Hand, chief of Solar System Exploration at JPL, received a big ovation after explaining how he follows rainbow-like light traces sprouting off Europa to detect water buried deep beneath the Jupiter moon’s icy surface. And where there’s water, there’s likely life.
Look for Kevin in our July/August print edition; we take a look at his work consulting with Ridley Scott on the upcoming blockbuster Prometheus. Of course JPL is consistently producing some of the most interesting work by any government agency.
3. Bones in Space
Though previously reported, Dan Goods, visual strategist at JPL, left the crowd stunned with the story of how he got approval from NASA, an Italian university, and even the Vatican to send a fleck of Galileo’s bone to Jupiter. Alas, a political appointee in the Italian government shot the idea down.
4. Grain of Truth
Dan Goods also found a way to drill a hole in a single grain of sand, which was on display under a microscope on site.
5. Spiny Soundscape
Sonic Succulents—interactive sound objects created by Adrienne Adar that featured prickly cacti hooked up to amplification systems that emitted plunky notes when the tines were plucked—filled tables throughout the Mindshare campus, providing unending conversation starters for attendees. [vimeo]42352863[/vimeo]
6. Flying Down the Highway
“Flying cars are, like, the best idea I had in 2003. I already own two. I’m on to the next thing. Flying motorcycles.” Who could resist this presentation opening from Dezso Molnar, inventor of a flying motorcycle, a street-legal aircraft called the Gyrocycle, which was on display in the event courtyard?
7. Pong's Dad
Watching geek-drool pool over the presence of the legendary founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, there to speak on applying the latest research on working memory to enhance education outcomes.
8. Rolling Palette
Artists John Park and Stephen V. Williams transforming Doug Campbell’s old brown van into the Mindsharemobile, covered in a swirling miasma of sharks, jagged lines, and psychedelic colors.
9. Pirate Entrepreneurs
Dario Mutabdzija, founder and president of Blueseed, explained his plans to launch a boat full of entrepreneurs and Wi-Fi routers into international waters—free from U.S. taxes and regulation—by early 2014.
Between the life-size game of Jenga and the neutrino-beam experts walking the floors, there was much, much more. “Watching the level of detail the presenters can go into”—while still keeping the audience on the edge of their seats—“is like watching an athlete at the top of their game,” said engineer Andrew Cholakian. Whether or not any of the zany ideas bouncing around last weekend ever come to fruition, at least there were fire dancers at the after party.