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EPA Conference is indeed about nanotechnology for pollution prevention

You may recall that back in July I posted a rather disappointed comment on the announced EPA Conference on how nanotech can be used to both remediate and reduce pollution.

It seemed that the agenda had been hijacked by environmental concerns over nanotech and had lost its focus on the benefits of how nanotechnology can improve the environment.

But I held out hope...and sometimes your wishes are granted. While the agenda still puts concerns over the lifecycle of nanomaterials in a prominent place, it is more than made up by a really interesting list of new nanotechnologies and the various beneficial impacts they have on pollution issues.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

NYC Startup Weekend: The Home Stretch

It's Sunday night at Startup Weekend NYC, and the remaining fourteen or so people look tired-they're in the 28th hour of work since the normal week ended. The group has honed the initial idea into a concrete product: A Facebook application where users can rank specific meals at local restaurants.

Startup Weekend founder Andrew Hyde tells me that a Facebook application should be able to generate page views much quicker than a standalone web page. Facebook also taps a user base built around college campuses, where questions like "Where's the best hamburger under $5?" and "Where's a good Thursday night happy hour?" are of utmost concern.

Yesterday, the creative team came up with the name and logo:

favoreats.jpg

Now the programmers are furiously coding to make the software actually work. Most of them had never coded for Facebook in particluar, so they had an initial learning curve to climb. Andrew thinks they'll have to leave the premises before they launch, but the development team expects to be done sometime before tomorrow morning.

Over the two and a half days, more than 80 people have chipped in their time to create Favoreats-now there's just a few more hours until their vision and work hit Facebook.

Saturday

No "media" present today, but they're liveblogging their own event today. Apparently the Meal Ranking venture is going to be Facebook app.

Your Favorite Cheeseburger Here

The "Best Meal Rankings" idea has been upgraded from an abstract topic of heated debate, to a large sheet of white paper covered in doodles and surrounded by ten people having a heated debate.

How do you start? Do you start with one meal? Best cheeseburger? Best cheeseburger in New York? Does that mean hamburger or just cheeseburger? Are you on Facebook? Myspace? (ugh.... Friendster?)

All these questions will be tortured for 13 hours tomorrow and 13 hours Sunday. Tomorrow we won't be here, but on Sunday we'll be blogging with video. And the Meal Ranking idea will have a real name, a web site, and who knows, maybe it'll be ready to accept your nomination. That's your homework, Tech Talk readers: Figure out your favorite cheeseburger. Defend it mightily.

And what happens after Sunday? Ask the past alumni. July's Boulder, C.O., Startup weekend resulted in Vosnap, an online polling tool. For more coverage of the Startup Weekend, check out Silicon Alley Insider and Download Squad.

Winner: You Don't Eat a Restaurant, You Eat a Meal

Too bad for GPS fashion tagging. After all, where are you going to buy this awesome shirt?

swnyc-shirt.jpg

Tomorrow morning they're getting back at 9 a.m.-- and Andrew just told them to do their homework.

Down to Two

The discussion is intense: Men are arguing about why women buy dresses.

GPS fashion tagging will take the form of a web site where a user can upload a picture of clothing they like, on anyone on the street. Then other users will provide the informationâ''she got that dress at H&M for $35.00, say. Ideally, that Buy It Now possibility would get clothing stores involved.

The argument I am now eavesdropping on is about why a clothing store would buy in. â''Why would stores get involved if a user can find one dress for $1100 and then â''tagâ'' a similar dress on someone else that costs $100?â'' asks one argumentative potential entrepreneur. â''No one is going to buy the 1100 dress!â''

â''But thatâ''s not why women buy dresses,â'' argues a kid with a full dayâ''s beard stubble and a big mop of curly brown hair. â''They decide based on, is the hem like this,â'' he holds his hand over his knee, â''is the hem like this... price isnâ''t the most important part.â''

â''Have you met them?â'' the other guy challenges.

â''Yeah! Iâ''m married to one!â'' Curly yells.

But the Internet Scavenger Hunt is going rapidly down in flames. Itâ''s a pretty good idea, but I think itâ''ll lose to the other two. The idea is a web site that helps people figure out how to navigate the internet by way of games. A scavenger hunt would force a person to learn a lot about navigation, scrolling and so on. I think itâ''s designed for kids, but Iâ''m thinking of my parents, who call me every time â''The Computerâ'' does something unexpected.

But I think it was designed a bit too much with corporations in mind. Everyone is talking about how big companies would love it because they could send people on the hunt for an icon on a particular site, so the customer would spend a lot of time thinking about the companyâ''s brand. Whatâ''s the userâ''s motivation? I just overheard someone say, â''You look like youâ''re shilling for SONY.â''

And the votes are inâ''Internet Scavenger Hunt is out.

The Cliff Notes

Okay, now weâ''re going to backtrack a little.

mens.jpg

I think I explained Startup adequately. But what does it have to do with Brooklyn Polytech? Mike Wills, (standing on the left) is a Polytech alumn. He read about Startup weekend on BEST would be a good host. Because Poly is hosting the event, 30 spaces of the 100 were reserved for Poly students. The rest of the attendees are entrepreneurs from around the New York area. Registration was first come, first served. Bruce (sitting, left) sent the email on Wednesday afternoon--registration was closed five minutes later. They were flooded. But there was no application process. If you can get a spot, you're in. I ask Andrew if that self-selection process poses any problems-- no one is screening for qualifications. He smiles. â''If youâ''re willing to show up on a Friday night after a busy work week, and work all weekend, Iâ''m guessing you're qualified."

And think about telling a university PR department (and all the other various planning entities and persons who require notification) to coordinate this event with a two-day lead time. A full weekend event, hosting 100 people, making the posters, catering the meals. Apparently it workedâ''thereâ''s a roof over everyoneâ''s head, a turkey sandwich next to my computer, and a poster hanging only slightly crooked on the wall.

best.jpg

And tomorrow, theyâ''re bringing in the big guns. They donâ''t want media coverage for that, but this nascent little idea will be put through its paces by a savage horde of lawyers, accountants, PR consultants and marketing people. How feasible is it to put together a global site that ranks the best cheeseburger? How do you let people know the site is out there? How do you motivate them to add their two cents? How do you decide on the look and feel? The coders will have their work cut out for them. I doubt theyâ''ll get much sleep. On Sunday the graphic designers will design the look and the coders will be frantically tapping gobbledygook into their laptops.

And on Sunday night, the world will have a new web siteâ''either ranking cheeseburgers, harshing on bad dresses, or making you troll the internet for the IBM logo. â''Web-based businesses are probably the easiest to start, grow and maintain,â'' Bruce explains. And of course, youâ''re not going to entice a college kid with the promise of keeping inventories. Patent lawyers will have bestowed upon it a little copyright symbol. Thereâ''s no prize money for â''winning,â'' but Iâ''m told venture capitalists will be here this weekend, flush with startup cash. Thereâ''s a complicated shareholder system that I wonâ''t bother to explain, but essentially every day youâ''re here is a share. If youâ''re here on Friday, you get one share. All weekend, all three possible shares. Andrew makes a point of saying that has no shares in the company.

Down to Three

Well, I picked two out of three: we've whittled down the ideas, and the three remaining contenders are User Generated Fashion tagging, Greatest Menu Meals, and Internet Scavenger Hunt. It's interesting that I zeroed in on two of them-- it makes you realize that some inventions just make sense. I mean, who wants to eat at the world's best Thai restaurant and get stuck with the worst Basil Chicken?

Andrew has a tight schedule for the rest of the year. NYC startup is only 2 months old. Andrew invented it, did it in Boulder, and then again in Toronto. Word spread virally, and suddenly he was getting emails from all over the world-- everyone wanted one of these. So he has a tight schedule for the rest of the year. Fourteen startup weekends will take place in London, Dublin, Hamburg, Boston, DC-- I won't list all 14, but here's the schedule for 2007.

Right now we're discussing a major stumbling block to the success of Greatest Menu Meals: Apparently people really don't like taking surveys online. I thought that was just me, being misanthropic. I feel much better.

NYC Startup Weekend

startup-weekend.jpg Various Spectrum folk will be blogging the NYC Startup weekend, hosted by Brooklyn Polytechnic University's BEST startup incubator, from now until Sunday. BEST (Brooklyn Enterprise in Science and Technology) director Bruce Niswander is a self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" who understands the 101 ways 99.9% of startup businesses fail. Startup is the brainchild of Andrew Hyde, a 23-year-old Boulder, C.O. wunderkindwho tells me he is "great at the first 25 percent of starting a business, and terrible at the rest. I suck at day-to-day." He's here to inspire the 100 people from all over New York sitting here in the standard-issue linoleum-floor-and-fluorescent-lights university room where the event is kicking off with keynote speeches. (In his keynote address, Andrew mentions first that 15 people are going to be late.) Right now it's a little bit like Lord of the Flies; we're trying to get a sense of who will emerge as the leader, a process which can only happen organically in an impromptu setting like this one. Everyone is networking with each other and trying to funnel their ideas down to The One Big Idea, which will emerge gradually and finally pop into existence on Sunday night. The goal: A web-based business with a corporate identity ready for prime time, with a functioning web site, a business model, and willing investors. As of right now, the thing doesn't even exist. These 100 people have 48 hours to make all that happen.

It's going to be an intense weekend. They started tonight at around 6:45 (plagued by a particularly "old world" problem that feels like a museum artifact in this new-media-only environment: the delayed insurance certificate). They'll be here tonight until 11 pm, get back at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, be here until 11 p.m., back at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, and here again until 11 Sunday night. At 11 pm, in theory, you have a startup with 100 shareholders.

We're listening to everyone's 30-second pitches-- so far I've heard about user-generated fashion via geotagging, 11th hour reservations, Green Ads (where ad revenue gets funneled not to the host but to, say, Greenpeace), and a ratings systems for individual meals. ("Sometimes when I'm in Queens, I don't want the best restaurant-- I want the best chicken parm," says the idea's originator, a clean-cut looking blond guy in a striped polo shirt. He may have just figured out the company's tag line.)

Andrew knows how to whip a crowd into a froth. People are really excited. They're discussing their 30-second pitches in small groups, but the volume is rising steadily towards that cocktail party level right before the moment when everyone goes mysteriously silent just as you loudly say the word "...breast!"

London's public cameras can't solve crimes

For years groups like the ACLU have been fighting to restrict the use of surveillance cameras in public placesâ''itâ''s bad enough to be caught on film every time you use an ATM or buy a convenience store hot dogâ''and they've been slow to catch on. Across the pond, however, the United Kingdom has embraced the technology, setting up more than 10,000 cameras in London alone.

But if you're planning a British crime caper, don't despair: having more cameras in an area seems to have no effect on how many cases the police actually solve there. The Liberal Democrats of the London Assembly published their proof this week, which they acquired through a Freedom of Information Act, according to thisislondon.co.uk. Theyâ''re clearly trying to paint the camera systems as a waste of money that provides minimal results.

With a quick look at the new crime data, their conclusion seems hard to argue with: whether boroughs had a few dozen cameras or a few hundred, they all solved only about 20 percent of the crimes reported.

But the straightforward numbers can be a bit misleading. As it turns out, researchers have struggled for years to determine if and how cameras work.

Temporarily setting aside any Orwellian fears, itâ''s easy to see why cameras should reduce crime in theory:

1) They make it easier to apprehend and prosecute criminals who are caught on tape (which the Fox network will eventually turn into television specials).

or

2)They act as a deterrent (this is why stores install fake security cameras and dad's lie about urine-detecting pool chemicals)

This new data seems to rule out the first, as 80 percent of crimes reported still go unresolved even in densely recorded areas. So what about prevention? A 2005 report [PDF] commissioned by Britainâ''s Home Office, found that installing cameras reduced crime in only one of the fourteen closed-circuit systems that researchers studied. Strike two.

But not so fastâ''according to a 2005 review of closed-circuit video cameras and crime, most studies show that such systems do manage to reduce crime. So why can't analysts figure out if they work or not?

The discrepancy arises because crime statistics almost inevitably bundle many variables into one number. In the 2005 Home Office Report, the authors note that crime rates may have gone up in some areas simply because the surveillance systems recorded crimes that would have otherwise gone unreported. Similarly, individuals might be more likely to report crimes if they suspect there's video evidence backing them up.

Regardless of these factors that may suppress the statistical success of video surveillance, the fact that there's still so much debate means that they aren't revolutionizing law enforcement. Even with continued technological improvement, there's a chance that Big Brother just doesn't work.

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