With just 10 days to go before Popular Mechanics inaugural FutureTech conference starts in Johannesburg, editor of the sci-tech magazine, Alan Duggan, pretty convinced they’ve hit on a winning formula.
FutureTech is the grown up sibling of Popular Mechanics’ annual Inventors’ Conference, and RamsayMedia has pulled in some seriously interesting speakers, people Duggan says are “on top of their game”.
There’s controversial Professor Tim Noakes who’s latest theory on nutrition has tongues wagging with his talk on ‘Your body, your future: getting the science wrong’.
George Ellis, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems at the University of Cape Town, who will speak about the occasionally uneasy relationship between science, technology and humanity. Dr Annamart Nieman, who has been a guest lecturer at the FBI Academy in Washington, will discuss the policing of cyberspace. Then there’s Alan Knott-Craig, CEO of Mxit; James Munn, vice-president of business development in sub-Saharan Africa for wireless giant Qualcomm; and Cavan Hill, general manager at Sasol New Energy.
Not a lightweight bunch! As Duggan says, “We intend to unpack and demystify ideas and technologies that are already changing people’s lives beyond recognition.” And of course, those talented inventors will be given the opportunity to ‘pitch it to the panel’.
It’s bound to be a huge success, if it’s sponsor’s place in the market is anything to go by. Popular Mechanics has a readership of over 200 000 people and a massive presence on social media channels. We caught up with Duggan to find out more about the truth that is out there…
My latest tech obsession: Google Nexus 7 by Asus. Quad-core processor, Android Jelly Bean operating system, excellent resolution and an amazingly low price. Do I need it? You miss the point entirely…
Most ridiculous gadget: A new phone called Binatone Idect Eclipse, which has yet to reach the market. It comes in the shape of a very large ring, and the thinking behind the concept is straight from Loonyville.
I’d like to invent: A special kind of hell for people – all of them with small willies – who think fitting a large-diameter tailpipe to their 20-year-old cars, then racing down my street at 2 am, gives them street cred. More practically, I would like to design a machine that creates mini-wormholes that allow me to travel back in time. I would use the opportunity to make early investments in Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and also to admit responsibility for scattering small but effective explosive balls outside the staff room at my high school (our whole class was given detention when I failed to own up).
Who are “South Africa’s vibrant tech community”, and are they readers of Popular Mechanics? In essence, these are the people who want to know how their world works, and they are certainly Popular Mechanics readers. Their antithesis is the person who embraces pseudoscientific claptrap such as “quantum healing”, imminent ascensions by the chosen ones, uplifting messages from very senior angels, and every UFO and alien abduction conspiracy ever conceived. These people need a reality check, and possibly professional counselling.
How innovative is South Africa in terms of technology? South Africans are an extraordinarily inventive bunch, as evidenced by the quality of entries to our three Inventors Conferences. Among them was a researcher from the University of Cape Town who won the title Inventor of the Year in 2011 for his life-changing facial reconstruction system. We awarded him a R50 000 cash prize, which he promptly shared with his two collaborators. My own invention was a wineglass-holder thingy for picnics.
We have some brilliant speakers lined up. What were our selection criteria? Intent on equipping our audience to face the coming challenges of life in the 21st century, we identified clever and well-informed people whose fields of expertise encompass some of the most critical issues – the technology and potential of sustainable energy, the impact and promise of social media, security in cyberspace, how wireless communication rules our world, the preservation of life and health, our occasionally uneasy relationship with science and technology. Professor George Ellis, for example, is a world-renowned cosmologist who once collaborated with Stephen Hawking, and Professor Tim Noakes is an A-rated scientist who is quite prepared to stick his neck out. There’s nothing quite like FutureTech… it’s a unique event.
Haven’t watched Revolution, but here’s how I would survive without power or technology: First, I would buy a cottage in the woods and populate a fenced-off area with chickens, sheep, a large dog and a superior cat (that is, any cat). I would load the cabin to the rafters with cans of baked beans, sweetcorn and pink salmon, then settle into a rocking chair on the verandah with my old .303 rifle across my lap and wait for them to come. Every few months, I would call my family to find out if they’re okay.
What do I read to keep pace? New Scientist (probably the best out there), Scientific American, MIT’s Technology Review, the UK version of T3, various PC titles, the New York Times tech pages, and lots of blogs. Naturally, I also keep up by visiting university and other Web sites.
Tech mag sales are beating “male” titles. Why is PM doing so well? Because we’ve remained true to our original brief. We showcase and deconstruct the wonders of the 21st century to explain how our world works, and we do it better than anyone else. We also make sure our readers are the first to know.
Is our advertising keeping pace with sales growth? We’ve seen encouraging growth in some segments and we’re still making a healthy profit, which is very good news in a declining print market.
Is readership mainly male? Is our female audience growing? Yes, our audience remains predominantly male, but we’re happy to note a small but steady growth in female readership. Fortunately, there’s nothing gender-specific about our subject matter: we don’t have to tweak our science, technology, automotive or outdoor articles to suit one or the other.
My favourite app: It’s been around for a couple of years, but I still enjoy SoundHound on my Android phone. You hear a tune on the radio or TV, activate the app, hold the phone near the speaker, and up pops a range of Web sites providing the lyrics, a biography of the musician, perhaps a YouTube video, a selection of online stores where you can buy the song, and more. This little number has won me a lot of arguments. Oh, and Pulse, an aggregator of all the sci-tech blogs and other news sites I could possibly want.
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The FutureTech conference is taking place on 25 October. Book here.
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