Who's Got the Blues Anymore?

What makes music authentic? When the conditions that birthed the American blues disappear, what happens to the blues? Sarah Gibson, in one of Scalawag's favorite pieces on Southern culture, meets one of the greatest artists of the Piedmont Blues, Algia Mae Hinton, and finds, "The closer you get to the artist, the less you can project onto that character an imagined narrative of strength or authenticity." Instead we find what's really dangerous and powerful about an artist's ideas—and are forced to embrace that danger or relegate it to the past.

Read more at Scalawag!

Editor's note: We're thrilled to have Scalawag as a media partner of the IdeaFestival. If you see Scalawag co-founder Evan Walker-Wells in Louisville during the festival, say hi!


Louisville Crowdsources its Way to Global Smart City Leadership

On the 700 block of Main Street in Louisville, CNET and the City of Louisville are launching a powerful new partnership with big implications for smart cities and smart living spaces.   Photo credit: Jason Hiner

On the 700 block of Main Street in Louisville, CNET and the City of Louisville are launching a powerful new partnership with big implications for smart cities and smart living spaces. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

A few blocks from the Kentucky Center for the Arts where IdeaFestival hosts its annual event, the City of Louisville and CNET are launching a powerful collaboration with global implications.

The City of Louisville, where IdeaFestival will host its global innovation event on September 27-30, has emerged as an unexpected pioneer of the smart city movement.

On August 24, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced that the city is opening a 7,000 square foot command center in downtown Louisville to accelerate its smart city plans.

Fischer also revealed that one floor above the command center at 745 Main Street—just a few blocks from where IdeaFestival will hold its annual conference—CBS Interactive will lease the building's penthouse to showcase the CNET Urban Smart Home. This "smart apartment" will be an urban companion to the CNET Smart Home, one of the world's most advanced living laboratories of smart home technologies.

As part of the new partnership, TechRepublic—one of the media sponsors of IdeaFestival and a sister site of CNET at CBS Interactive—is going to be writing about how the connection between the smart city and the smart home could yield important benefits to professionals and make them more efficient, healthy, and productive.

The new Louisville command center will be called LouieLab and will be focused on extending and expanding the kind of public-private partnerships that have fueled Louisville's momentum in innovation and digital transformation. A few examples include:

  • The AIR Louisville project, which has empowered citizen scientists with GPS-enabled inhalers to track air quality and help fight asthma with crowdsourced data

  • The nationally recognized FirstBuild maker space, a partnership between GE and the University of Louisville, which has become a source of entrepreneurship for new products with global potential

  • A solar-powered vacant property smoke detector that came out of a hackathon (from the local Louisville maker community) is going to help the city protect citizens who live next to vacant properties in case of fires; the product could also be used in cities around the world

  • The city's TARC buses are now on Google Transit and available to track through the Transit app

  • The city's partnership with Waze has enabled two-way data sharing and crowdsourced information about roads (including reporting potholes and traffic jams) to streamline commutes for local workers

  • In 2011, Fischer hired Ted Smith from the Obama administration's Department of Health & Human Services to become one of the first Chief Innovation Officers for a city in the US, a move that has since turned into a trend

It's these kinds of developments that have resulted in Louisville being named a Top Digital City for five years in row and being lauded by Time Magazine as a center of "free-wheeling innovation" and growth.

In the August 24 press conference announcing LouieLab, Smith said that the kind of innovation that's been coming out of Louisville is the stuff you'd expect from Boston or San Francisco, but people are often surprised to see Louisville "punching above its weight." He credited Louisville's success to inviting its citizens to co-create their government as part of this process of digital transformation.

At LouieLab, a third of the space in the command center will be used as offices for city employees working on the innovation team. The rest will serve as a collaboration space for other city departments, local entrepreneurs and innovators, and agencies, organizations, and businesses from across the globe to come together and solve problems.

"We've got a lot of projects in place with partners all throughout the world," said Mayor Fischer at the press conference. "We've never had a space to bring everybody together."

Theresa Reno-Weber, the city's chief of Performance & Technology added, "The innovation that comes out of LouieLab will inspire other cities and governments throughout the world."

The LouieLab and the CNET Urban Smart Home are expected to open by the end of September. CNET will use its space to test home technologies that anyone can buy off the shelf to make their living space smarter and better connected. TechRepublic, which has covered smart cities extensively, will write about ways that data from cities can connect to your smart home devices to deliver information on things such as traffic, air quality, and local events to help improve the lives of professionals.

With all of these developments from the City of Louisville, CNET, TechRepublic, as well as IdeaFestival itself—which always attracts some of the planet's smartest global innovators to speak—Louisville is on the path to transform from an outpost to an epicenter of innovation. Come join us at this year's IdeaFestival to learn more about all of these exciting innovations in action.

Jason Hiner

Editor's note: Jason is the Global Editor in Chief, @TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor, @ZDNet for @CBSi. Co-author @FollowtheGeeks.


Fearless Factoring

Famous climber Alex Honnold (that's not him in the picture) scales daunting challenges solo, and with only his hands and feet, arms as legs as safety gear. Because of his seemingly fearless ascents, the subject of what motivates him to accept the risk of soloing, for example, a thousand foot sheer rock wall is of interest to science, as well as the source of a fascinating article in Nautilus magazine.

About the why of his risk taking:

'I think that the unique thing isn’t my ability to solo, I think the unique thing is really wanting to,' [Alex] Honnold says. His heroes were ropeless climbers like Peter Croft and John Bachar, who had set new standards in the style in the 1980s and ’90s. (Honnold was also intensely shy, which made it difficult for him to find partners for roped climbing.) He saw their photographs in climbing magazines and knew—he just knew—that he wanted to put himself in those same kinds of positions: wildly exposed, potentially deadly, totally under control.
To Marie Monfils, who heads the Monfils Fear Memory Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, Honnold’s process sounds like an almost textbook, if obviously extreme, approach to dealing with fear. Until recently, Monfils says, most psychologists believed that memories—including fear memories—became 'consolidated,' or unchangeable, soon after they were acquired. In just the past 16 years, that understanding has shifted. Research has shown that every time we recall a memory, it undergoes reconsolidation, meaning we are able to add new information or a different interpretation to our remembrance, even turning fearful memories into fearless ones (emphasis added).

I love that last sentence, don't you?

There are of course reasons to be afraid. Is that rustling behind the bushes a threat or simply a friend walking to greet me? But once afraid, the mind becomes hyper focused, locked, unable to process other information clearly, much less creatively. And needless to say, scaling mountains bare-handed requires a clear head and creative approaches.

Climbing changes Honnold by redeeming his past. It is, strictly speaking, a mind altering substance.

Read Nautilus Magazine's "The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber" to discover more about his amazing skill.

Stay curious™


Please remember that the price for a festival pass will go up on September 6th. Get yours today - and get this IF-branded Google Cardboard to experience the IdeaFestival in virtual reality!

Morehead to Join Deep Space Network

21m Steerable Antenna, Morehead State University

21m Steerable Antenna, Morehead State University

Situated in a radio quiet part of the country and driven by the staff and students of its Space Science Center, Morehead State is on track to become the first university to join NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN).

Following upgrades, the university's antenna will join the three DSN assets in California, Spain and Australia, which track and communicate with numerous robotic explorers from Mercury to Pluto and beyond. The 21m dish (pictured above) will be the first non-NASA asset in that global network.

I guess when you're building a Sam's Club Wheaties Box-sized lunar orbiter set to fly in 2018, an antenna compatible with NASA's DSN will come in handy.

Stay curious™



Is String Theory Science?

If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science, stop wasting your time and money.

True or false? If theory can't "make contact" with empirical evidence, can it be called science? That's the question posed by some who believe that string theory, an attempt to unite the (quantum) physics of the vanishingly small with the (astro) physics of the colossally big, is not a science at all.

In "Must Science be Testable?" philosopher Massimo Pigliucci tees up a conversation on the nature of knowing, and whether philosophy (or, loosely speaking, any of the other humanities) is important to the business of physics. The question about the truth of a theory, he argues, is a question bout boundaries, distinctions that people, not just scientists, use to distinguish between competing claims.

The point is that in a lot of cases we don’t discover pre-existing boundaries, as if games and scientific disciplines were Platonic ideal forms that existed in a timeless metaphysical dimension. We make up boundaries for specific purposes and then we test whether the boundaries are actually useful for whatever purposes we drew them. In the case of the distinction between science and pseudoscience, we think there are important differences, so we try to draw tentative borders in order to highlight them. Surely one would give up too much, as either a scientist or a philosopher, if one were to reject the strongly intuitive idea that there is something fundamentally different between, say, astrology and astronomy. The question is where, approximately, the difference lies.

Similarly, many of the participants in the Munich workshop, and the ‘string wars’ more generally, did feel that there is an important distinction between fundamental physics as it is commonly conceived and what string theorists are proposing. Richard Dawid objects to the (admittedly easily derisible) term ‘post-empirical science,’ preferring instead ‘non-empirical theory assessment’, but whatever one calls it, he is aware that he and his fellow travellers are proposing a major departure from the way we have done science since the time of Galileo. True, the Italian physicist himself largely engaged in theoretical arguments and thought experiments (he likely never did drop balls from the leaning tower of Pisa), but his ideas were certainly falsifiable and have been, over and over, subjected to experimental test (most spectacularly, if a bit theatrically, by Neil Armstrong on the occasion of the first Moon landing).

The broader question then is: are we on the verge of developing a whole new science, or is this going to be regarded by future historians as a temporary stalling of scientific progress?

Along the way, the philosopher argues for a way of knowing that incorporates many different domains and, drawing on the history of science and his own domain as a philosopher of science, suggests that "falsifiable" is a permeable boundary.

"The answers are everywhere" is, of course, an idea that the IdeaFestival can get behind. Give Pigliucci's essay a read.

Stay curious™