Ep. 10: Ellen Hwang

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So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to Ellen Hwang, Philadelphia Director at the Knight Foundation, about how cities, media, the arts, and philanthropy have all evolved over the past few years in response to the pandemic.

Ellen Hwang is the Philadelphia Director at the Knight Foundation. Previously, she was with the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology, overseeing the creation of SmartCityPHL, a roadmap guiding the use of technology in serving the community and improving services. Ellen also directed programs at the Asian Arts Initiative, collaborating with artists, cultural organizations, and schools to develop and implement youth programs to engage them in arts and community development projects. She is a regular speaker on topics such as Smart Cities, community-driven technology planning and design, and engagement strategies for local government. She has presented at prominent events including SXSW, the Smart City New York Conference, and Tech Foundations for Congressional Staffers at the Georgetown University Law Center. Ellen grew up in Greater Philadelphia and has Bachelors and Masters degrees from Temple University.

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Ep. 9: Rob Cottman

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to Rob Cottman, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at World Cafe Live, about how restaurants and food service have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic.

Chef Rob Cottman’s road to professional kitchens was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit when a unique opportunity presented itself to operate his own restaurant. After selling his first establishment, he decided to return to the basics and climb the ranks in established kitchens. Absorbing every ounce of knowledge around him, he accepted a position at World Cafe Live’s former location in his hometown of Wilmington, DE and spent years covering all aspects of the business from large scale a la carte service to formal catered dinners to specialty pairing menus. Now as the Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Rob is responsible for the dining experience of over 100,000 guests a year, overseeing service in two spaces daily and over 200 catered events annually while playing an integral role in the next stages of the organization’s development.

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Ep. 8: Donald Nally

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to Donald Nally, music director of The Crossing, Philadelphia’s Grammy-award winning chamber choir, about creating choral performances through the pandemic and the process of “musical journalism”, to capture and reflect our times.

Donald Nally collaborates with creative artists, leading orchestras, and art museums to make new works for choir that address social and environmental issues. He has commissioned over 125 works and, with his ensemble The Crossing, has produced over 25 recordings, with two Grammy Awards and six nominations. His 60-chapter series Rising w/ The Crossing, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, gained national attention and was featured in The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR’s Performance Today; it has been archived by The Library of Congress as a cultural artifact as an “important part of this collection and the historical record.” Donald has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Recent projects have taken him to London, Osaka, Cleveland, Boston, Edmonton, Houston, Helsinki, Haarlem, Riga, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Donald is professor of conducting at Northwestern University.

There are some minor glitches and dropouts in this episode. Our apologies to Donald and our audience for the audio issues, but it’s still well worth a listen!

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Ep. 7: Sarah Williams

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to Sarah Williams of Opera Philadelphia about creating and commissioning new work amidst the pandemic and developing what is essentially a new genre of short operatic films.

Sarah Williams is the Director of New Works & Creative Producer at Opera Philadelphia.  Since 2014, she has cultivated 15 award-winning world premieres, numerous co-commissions and creative works, making the company an industry leader in producing new work for the physical and digital space. In continuing to expand artistic practice and celebrate the intersection of the arts, Sarah champions digital experiences including creating the digital commission series in which the New York Times said, “One of the great treasures of the pandemic has been Opera Philadelphia’s digital shorts.” She’s been widely recognized as a multidisciplinary leader and producer who in 2020 was named one of Philadelphia Business Journal’s Women of Distinction. In 2019 Sarah was named among the top 30 Professionals of the Year by Musical America. Sarah serves on the board of American Composers Forum and the executive board of Young Women Composers Camp, is a member of New Opera Dialogues, and a mentor for Utopia Arts.

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Ep. 6: Lisa Nelson-Haynes

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to Lisa Nelson-Haynes about adapting Philadelphia Young Playwright’s creative education program to online learning and the ways young people have found to express themselves in response to the pandemic.

Lisa Nelson-Haynes is the Executive Director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights (PYP), where she helps young people discover their potential through the art of the play. PYP is currently in 43 schools, throughout Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties, and in 92 classrooms with students in grades 2 – 12. Lisa is an award-winning storyteller and teacher and has facilitated digital storytelling workshops for Storycenter for more than ten years. She is the executive producer of Mouthful, a Philly-based podcast that digs into the experiences and perspectives of young people to start conversations about big ideas and important issues.

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Ep. 5: Sean Kelley

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to museum leader Sean Kelley about the challenges for cultural sites wrought by the pandemic, but also the opportunities for expanding audiences through mission-driven innovation.

Sean Kelley is Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in Philadelphia.  He produced the site’s award-winning audio tour, now heard by more than a million visitors, and has curated more than 100 site-specific artist installations in the building.  He conceived and developed The Big Graph, a 16-foot infographic sculpture that illustrates the skyrocketing US Rate of Incarceration, and curated the companion exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarcerationwhich won the 2017 Overall Award for Excellence from the American Alliance of Museums.  From 2017 to 2019 he oversaw “Hidden Lives Illuminated,” a project which resulted in 20 original films made by currently incarcerated individuals and projected them for a month onto Eastern State Penitentiary’s façade.  

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No. 44 • 2021-10-13

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Above: My collection of portable music players. From left: Panasonic CD player (1998), original iPod (2001), iPod mini (2003), iPod nano (2005), iPod with Video (2005), iPod touch (2007).

How innovation works

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the iPod (Oct. 5, 2001), the iconic portable digital music player. The iPod transformed Apple from a computer company to a consumer tech giant, but I’ll argue that its impact reverberated far beyond one company or industry. The story of the iPod reveals insights into how innovation works (and how it’s misunderstood).

20 years ago, we mostly listened to music on Compact Disc (CD). Many had portable CD players, but Walkman-style cassette tape players were still common. Each was limited to about an hour of music (1 album), and you could only listen to the albums you carried with you. (I used to carry a small “book” of about 10 CDs in my bag, along with my “Discman” player.) A few of us were starting to collect music on our computers, “ripping” the tracks from CDs and storing them as digital files, but this could quickly consume most of your computer’s precious hard drive space.

The first iPod (“1000 songs in your pocket”) was poo-pooed by the nerd class of the time. Here’s an infamous review from an early blogger on tech site Slashdot: “No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.” (The Nomad was another digital music player at the time that has long since fallen into the dustbin of history). For the tech crowd there was nothing particularly innovative about the iPod… The core technologies (small-ish hard drives, tiny screens, and mp3 files) already existed. Others had introduced similar (even better spec’d) products.

What these early reviews missed was real people’s relationship with music. We love our music, but few were willing to put effort into loading their music onto devices and also deal with a bunch of tiny, fiddly buttons to locate the song we want to hear right now. The iPod focused on usability, the human-side of the problem rather than technical specs. It solved both issues, quickly syncing music files from a computer via a high-speed connector and offering an elegant click-wheel interface that could easily navigate to any of the 1000 songs on your device. 20 years later (yes, mine still works!), although the technology is antiquated, its still a highly intuitive and usable interface.

That’s just the beginning of the story… The success of the iPod fomented the desire for easier access to digital music and other media.

In 2001 you had to buy an entire album ($12-20) just to get 1 track from an artist (and then rip it yourself to an mp3), an untenable situation that caused many to turn to piracy (Napster and its descendants) to get the latest songs. The iTunes Music Store (launched in 2003) offered songs for $0.99, a convenient, inexpensive, and legal way for consumers to purchase just the tracks they wanted for their iPods. Again, this wasn’t radically new technology. It was a digital storefront like many others, but it compelled the record labels to license their content at a reasonable rate, embracing a new model and reshaping the music industry (and creating the template for modern content services).

A few years later, the iPod and iTunes Store were a runaway success, changing our relationship to music (and soon thereafter, video). Moreover, it changed consumer expectations of our devices… More and more people started to wonder why our iPods worked so well when our cell phones felt so clunky? The disconnect grew, until… the iPhone kicked off the smartphone era that still shapes our lives today. The iPhone built upon the strengths of the iPod, content and usability, added wireless communications, and the rest is history. (Think about all of the industries enabled by smartphones: social media, streaming services, ride sharing, etc). All of this was enabled by a music player, an example of how advances in one area reverberate into other disciplines and industries.

After the introduction of the iPhone, the influence of the iPod rapidly faded, but 20 years since its introduction, it offers an important insights into innovation. In general, too much emphasis is placed on capability rather than usability. Yes, the capability (storage, computation, wireless communications, etc.) must exist, but it is useless without a way to wield that capability. Usability is far more than graphics or the design of menus and buttons. It requires a deeper understanding of the needs of real people (not just tech nerds). Steve Jobs famously pronounced that Apple represented the intersection of Technology and the Liberal Arts, and the iPod was truly an embodiment of that. I call it STEAM (integrating STEM and the Arts), but this bridging of capability and usability is still not well-covered in traditional academic training. Given the acceleration of technological capabilities, the demand for making them usable and more accessible will be enormous. I believe the true innovators will continue to be those who find the best ways of bridging that gap.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • America [The Swingles] A lovely rendition (and beautifully creative video) of Paul Simon’s classic song by this world-renowned a cappella ensemble.
  • Philadelphia Public Orchestra [Curtis Institute & Drexel Westphal College of Media Arts & Design] A unique project to rethink and broaden participation in music making, to form a 50-person ensemble (the ability to read music is not required). Applications open through October 28.
  • Captain Kirk goes to space [Blue Origin] It’s not a joke… 90-year-old William Shatner was on board today’s successful rocket launch from Jeff Bezos’ side hustle hobby. You can watch the archived live stream of the launch and return. Also, who can forget his rendition of Rocket Man?
  • James Bond Theme [Jared Halley] The new James Bond film has finally been released! Here’s a great a cappella rendition of the classic Bond theme.

What I’m creating…

We’ve started recording the Fall 2021 series of So Where Do We Go From Here?, my podcast with co-host Melinda Steffy and guests from Philly’s creative community. Here’s a selfie from our recent session with Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. New episodes will drop later this month!

No. 42 • 2021-09-14

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Virtual Community Creation

Last week, I wrote about tools and methods learned from a year+ of remote/virtual instruction that I’ll be bringing back into the IRL (“in real life”) classroom. What about the future of online instruction?  Given the uncertainties of the past few weeks, we can all imagine a situation where we’re forced back online and a long-term future where more and more instruction is delivered exclusively online.

As I’ve written previously… Good online instruction is authentic to the medium, leveraging the benefits and limiting the constraints of tools and platforms. Good online platforms enable active participation, group interaction, and community building. For an example of all of these, I say look no further than Minecraft, a platform built around a culture of shared experiences and creativity. We used Minecraft for our middle school Summer STEAM virtual camp, and we designed new activities and worlds specifically within the norms and values of Minecraft. Click here to watch a summary of our camp activities.

As we start the new academic year, we’re kicking off a new ExCITe Center project to expand the Minecraft build of the Drexel campus. This project started with some amazing work in the early days of the pandemic by a handful of Drexel students to digitally re-create much of our University. Most campus buildings have been built, as well as some nearby buildings critical to Drexel students (e.g., Wawa and 7-11 😀).  The students who started the project have since graduated, but we hope to continue their efforts in keeping the Drexel Minecraft server a dynamic, evolving, and accurate virtual representation of the area. For example, only a few building interiors have been created; most remain exterior shells. Drexel Minecraft has already been used for virtual campus tours and events, and it will continue to serve as a showcase for the creativity and imagination of our students.

Most college campus builds have stopped at the borders of their campus. In keeping with our mission to be the most civically engaged University in the nation, we’ll also be connecting Drexel students with our neighbors and community partners to extend the build beyond campus boundaries. Our Summer STEAM program was just a first step in virtual building with neighborhood K-12 students. Later this year, we’ll be partnering with Science Leadership Academy-Middle School to re-create their brand new school building on 36th and Warren Streets as part of our Minecraft campus. We hope to build more sites in Powelton Village, extending to the Dornsife Center, the West Philadelphia Community Center, and beyond.

This effort will help Drexel students learn about the surrounding neighborhoods and establish meaningful relationships with community members. We hope our students will mentor younger students in the building process, working with them to add the structures and landmarks most important to them. I firmly believe engaging in a shared creative process will bring more people together to better understand both the common challenges and the unique opportunities present in West Philly. I can’t begin to predict the new kinds of projects that may emerge from these collaborations, both virtual and, hopefully, IRL as well.

If you’re already a “crafter”, you can join our server in Minecraft (spectator mode) here: mc.excitecenter.org:19132.  If you don’t have Minecraft visit this website, which offers a 3D preview of the world. We will follow-up in the coming weeks with a virtual building tutorial for those who want to participate in the building process. If you’re interested in following this exciting project, please sign up for updates here.

This is Welcome Week for new students, and we invite all new Drexel community members to join us (IRL) at the ExCITe Center this Thursday, Sept. 16 at 1pm to learn more about Drexel Minecraft.

Registration required: sign up via Drexel One or register here.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Kyrie [VOCES8] Start your day with this beautifully serene movement from Josef Rheinberger’s Mass in E-flat. I’m simply astounded by the volume of amazing music performances VOCES8 has released throughout the pandemic.
  • Landfill Monitor Restoration [The 8-Bit Guy] I’ve become addicted to this YouTube channel, which is like This Old House, but for technology. I love it. (Yes, I’m weird).
  • The Legend of Zelda [MayTree] Known for lending voice to technology, this Korean a cappella group is back with music and sound effects from another classic video game. Nintendo players, rejoice!
  • Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How is That Possible? [NY Times] A few months ago, I wrote about the enormous energy consumption of NFTs. Here’s more data and details about the massive energy consumption of cryptocurrencies (from which NFTs are derived).
  • How Deep Is Your Love? [Kings Return] The 4 guys in a stairwell are back, with an amazing 4-part arrangement and performance of this Bee Gees classic.

What I’m creating…

I have several projects that are in process:

  • I just posted another Applied DSP video. If you’re teaching / learning signal processing, you may want to check out the series.
  • Our podcast, So Where Do We Go From Here?, will return with new episodes later this Fall! In the meantime, listen to our 4 summer interviews with Philly creatives.
  • My lab is working on a new video series on Minecraft, Music, & Coding. The first episode will drop in a few weeks.

No. 40 • 2021-08-13

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Conferences… Back in person?

We’re approaching the return of large conferences and festivals, in person. Yes, the Delta variant is causing concerns and we’re all monitoring the return of schools & colleges closely, but I think everyone hopes to return to in-person events (safely) in the coming weeks and months.

B.PHL 2021

I’ve been a planning partner for the B.PHL Innovation Festival since it started in 2019. Last year was all-virtual, but this fall (fingers crossed) the B.PHL program will be hosted at an in-person venue in the city and also available for streaming (and could move to all-virtual, if necessary). The full festival program will be available soon, but I can assure you there will be some fantastic sessions featuring local creatives, innovators, change makers, and celebrities. Free virtual tickets, with access to all sessions, are available until August 15 (and afterwards they increase to $20), so register now!

SXSW 2022

In 2020, SXSW (held annually in Austin, TX) was among the first large-scale events to be cancelled due to COVID-19. This enormous conference & festival plans its in-person return in March 2022, highlighting the most important breakthroughs in education, technology, film, culture, and music. Given the organizers’ belief that “the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together”, you can see why I’m a fan.

The planning for SXSW 2022 is well underway, and this is the time when anyone can vote on proposed sessions. In the PanelPicker process, public votes weight 30% in the selection criteria. With Drexel colleagues Kareem Edouard and Chris Wright, I had planned to present a session at the cancelled 2020 conference. We’ve revised this proposal for 2022, adding the amazing Prof. Rasheda Likely of Kennesaw State University (and Drexel School of Education PhD alum) to our team. Our session proposal is “Building an Inclusive Maker Community”, and I humbly ask that you read our session description and vote for its inclusion in the program. Voting is open through August 26!

Thank you for considering our SXSW EDU 2022 session proposal. Let us hope all our in-person plans for this academic year can be realized!

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • The TikTok Medley [Penn Masala] Fantastic audio and video production in this medley of international hits, new & old, presented TikTok style by the “World’s First South Asian A Cappella Group”. Great group of students from the other U. across the street!
  • AAPI Representation in American Musical Theater [CollaborAzian] A discussion of AAPI representation on the musical theatre stage, and the future for AAPI theatre artists in the industry as we emerge from the pandemic, while still fighting for racial justice and contending with the rise of anti-Asian hate and violence. Part of a fundraiser for Stop AAPI Hate.
  • Deep River [VOCES8 & Chineke!] From the Live from London 2021 Summer Festival, just a beautiful performance and arrangement of this classic spiritual. The festival continues through the end of August.
  • Anita Baker Medley [Kings Return] Just 4 guys harmonizing in a stairwell… back with another great performance of hits by R&B giant Anita Baker.
  • Dear Evan Hansen in 10 Minutes [Titled Keyboard Studios] Wow. Amazing performers and a cappella arrangements in this abridged version of the hit musical. Just an incredible effort to put this together! (I’m also eagerly awaiting the movie version coming out in September.)

What I’m creating…

We just posted the fourth episode of our podcast, So, Where Do We Go From Here?, featuring an interview with science & technology writer, Michelle Sipics.

Co-host Melinda Steffy and I will be taking a summer break from podcasting, but we’ll be back in September with more guests from Philly’s creative community!

Ep. 3: Michelle Sipics

So Where Do We Go From Here podcast

In this episode, we speak to science & technology writer and editor Michelle Sipics about changes in work culture, the challenge of communicating complex topics, and opportunities for mentoring Philadelphia youth.

Michelle Sipics is a science writer and editor with a focus on technology, its applications, and its implications across society. She started her career as an engineer and continues to bring an engineering mindset to her professional and personal pursuits. Michelle has also worked as a contributing editor for a professional mathematics society; content developer for the History of Vaccines website from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; news director for Yale’s school of engineering and applied science; director of content for a privacy-focused startup; and shopping cart chaser for a grocery chain. She draws on these and all of her varied career experiences for perspective on a daily basis. Michelle has a particular interest in education in all its forms, and currently serves on the board of Philadelphia Futures, a non-profit that serves low income, first-generation-to-college students in Philadelphia. She is currently the editorial lead for Accenture Technology Innovation.

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