The Future-ish PISA List

2017 PISA List addition, Shirley Ann Jackson. Image credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

PISA is a short but meaningful acronym associated with one of our most important and respected endeavors here at Future-ish, The Future-ish Public Intellectual Service & Advocacy (PISA) List. Some people say that public intellectuals have all but disappeared from our modern society. We strongly disagree. The Future-ish PISA List is a growing collection of people from around the world that we feel embody what it means to be a public intellectual.

Public intellectuals are individuals with extensive training and expertise in a particular discipline that speak or write publicly about their discipline to an audience outside their own field or industry. More importantly, they endeavor to relate their work to the larger social, economic, and political world around it. Albert Einstein, for example, was often asked to comment on art, politics, and religion in addition to his own work in physics. Public intellectuals are rigorous thinkers that offer their own ideas and opinions while still respecting the ideas and opinions of others. On rare occasions, public intellectuals are elected and/or are appointed to public office; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is such an example.

In establishing the Future-ish PISA List, we hope to inform and inspire many generations of scientists, designers, and cultural leaders to follow in Einstein's and Merkel's footsteps and become more involved in public service and advocacy, from participating in civic panels and writing editorials to serving as subject matter experts in the media and running for public office.

We update the PISA List each December. If you have suggestions for additions to the list, please send them to us at StudioF/at/future-ish/dot/com.

Individuals with an asterisk (*) have been elected or appointed to public office. Years in parentheses indicate year added to the list.

2017 additions to the PISA List
Jared Diamond
Harold Frazier
Neil Gershenfeld
Shirley Ann Jackson
Maya Lin
Patricia Williams

Full list as of December 2016
Qanta Ahmed (2012)
Maya Angelou (2007)
S. Haunani Apoliona (2012)
Rachel Armstrong (2015)
Janine Benyus (2010)
Sass Brown (2016)
Majora Carter (2014)
Noam Chomsky (2007)
Yvon Chouinard (2011)
Stephen Chu* (2011)
Jared Diamond (2017)
Esther Duflo (2015)
Michael Eric Dyson (2015)
James H. Fowler (2013)
Harold Frazier (2017)
Tulsi Gabbard (2016)
Neil Gershenfeld (2017)
Jane Goodall (2007)
Janet Gray (2011)
Timothy Gunn (2016)
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama (2012)
Stephen Hawking (2016)
Segenet Kelemu (2014)
Katherine Hamnett (2008)
James Hansen* (2011)
Tyrone Hayes (2008)
Bruce Jackson (2012)
Shirley Ann Jackson (2017)
Áile Jávo (2014)
Michio Kaku (2008)
Zafra M. Lerman (2016)
Maya Lin (2017)
Jane Lubchenko* (2010)
Oren Lyons* (2010)
Angela Merkel* (2008)
Akira Miyawaki (2014)
Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) (2011)
Feryal Özel (2013)
Pope Francis (2012)
Lisa Randall (2009)
Yvette Roubideaux* (2013)
Bobby Sanabria (2009)
Martha Schwartz (2012)
Noel Sharkey (2014)
Vandana Shiva (2009)
Amanda Simpson (2015)
Brian Sims (2016)
Cameron Sinclair (2010)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf* (2011)
Adam Stelzner (2012)
David Suzuki (2010)
Richard Swett* (2009)
Jason deCaires Taylor (2014)
David Tartakover (2012)
Tony Turner (2015)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (2007)
Ai Weiwei (2015)
Vivienne Westwood (2013)
Patricia Williams (2017)

Public Intellectuals in History
Elouise Cobbell* (2011)
Zaha Hadid (2011)
Wangari Maathai* (2010)

Cocktail Astronomy | Brahe's Marvelous Moustache

Image credit: Mads Nissen for

Here at Future-ish, we love astronomy and we love cocktails. So to prep our fans (and ourselves) for those stellar weekend cocktail conversations, we are pleased to offer our Cocktail Astronomy post each Friday.

This week we join our fans around the world in celebrating Movember, the annual moustache growing (well, we've seen a few ladies and gentlemen glue them on an "Mo" emergency of course) charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for men's health issues, particularly prostate, testicular, and other forms of men's cancer.

We couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the event than to raise a cocktail in honor of the very famous and very moustachioed 16th Century Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. Brahe made many discoveries in the fields of astronomy and alchemy, but he is most noted for his his incredibly accurate observations of our solar system and many stars, noting a supernova in 1572, and providing evidence that comets are heavenly bodies rather than weather related. Brahe's celestial mechanics and detailed star maps were later used by Johannes Kepler in his theories of planetary motion.

Musk Matters | Hyperloop

Hyperloop Alpha. Image credit: SpaceX/Tesla Motors

Bus too slow for you? Train too old-fashioned? Have you been waiting for the transportation system of the future? Look no further. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is on the way.
by Drue Johnson

The Hyperloop is essentially a high speed train designed to transport passengers and cargo, contained within a tube. Why the tube, you ask? The unique part about the Hyperloop is how it actually moves. By being sealed within a low pressure, near vacuum environment, these trains can move a lot faster in less time. The vacuum removes most of the friction from the area within the tube, which is what allows for quicker travel. The Hyperloop that Musk is designing is actually moved within that vacuum through the use of magnetism, which would draw the trains along the tracks without using fossil fuels.

Though the idea for an “atmospheric railway” has been around for quite some time, Musk began designing his version of the concept back in 2013. Citing his dissatisfaction with the California high speed rail project, he began envisioning a “fifth mode” of transport - the first four being cars, planes, boats and trains. In order to make it more palatable than the well-established modes of travel, he aspired to create something that would be safer, cheaper, more efficient, and more sustainable than all other vehicles to date. Given the lack of pretext for something like the Hyperloop, it remained little more than an idea for a few years.

Along with his company SpaceX, Musk has hosted several competitions over the years designed to get university teams involved with and pursuing a concrete version of something like the Hyperloop. The most recent one began in early September, and is due to take place sometime in the Summer of 2018. While Musk personally sat out of cultivating a real-life Hyperloop system, several other organizations have emerged in effort to create a high-speed, low cost, tubular transport. Though these other Hyperloop groups have successfully tested their systems, according to SpaceX's Hyperloop webpage, SpaceX remains the only entity to hold competitions designed “to advance the development of functional prototypes and encourage student innovation.”

As of late, Musk has been taken a bit more forward action on being directly involved with the creation of a Hyperloop system. Another one of his ventures, The Boring Company, has been developing cheaper and more efficient ways to build tunnels for travel underground. Tunnels like these would be a must for a convenient Hyperloop system, so his recent success with tunneling has pushed him back into the high-speed transport game. In fact, rumors have been swirling about that Musk had gained approval to start constructing a Hyperloop tunnel somewhere in Maryland. The rumors were bolstered by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s recent public announcement in support of the loop, but Musk quickly cleared the situation up. Responding to an APTA Twitter post, Musk tweeted “not ready to do a proper announcement yet, but maybe in a month or so. Maryland has been awesome to work with and just wanted to say thanks,” it seems that the deal isn’t completely done, but great things are definitely in the works.

NewsFusion | 045

Makerchair series, 2014. Joris Laarman Lab exhibit at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Photo courtesy of Joris Laarman Lab

NewsFusion for November 2017


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Musk Matters | The Boring Company

If you enjoy hearing about Elon Musk, dig on this: One of the intrepid entrepreneur’s lesser known ventures is entitled “The Boring Company.” But, aside from a double entendre, what is it?
by Drue Johnson

Take a glimpse at the the company’s website, and you’ll see a surprisingly uncomplicated, almost concerningly vague, homepage featuring a single video. Watch it, and you’ll see a stark red car (almost looks like a Tesla Model S, doesn’t it?) pull into an odd looking parking spot. The vehicle stops, and then sinks directly into the street. Panning downward into the earth, we see the Model eS-que descend down an elevator, travel along a metal track, and then converge onto a freeway system floating in a dark abyss. Seconds later it rises back up to a new street, heading to destinations unknown.

Confused enough? Stumble upon the FAQ page, and you’ll probably find the answers you’re looking for. The Boring Company wants to
“solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic” by creating “Fast to dig, low cost tunnels… and enable rapid transit across densely populated regions, enabling travel from New York to Washington DC in less than 30 minutes.”
The traffic issue that currently plagues many cities across the United States has been getting worse as populations rise, and stands to get much worse in the near future. Musk started the Boring Company to help solve this issue, and as a way to push alternative transport systems.

The company’s site points to sheer cost as one of the largest issues with implementation, explaining “tunnels are really expensive to dig, with some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile.” At the same time, it notes that current tunneling systems are highly inefficient, and that through improvements in both technology as well as technique, the Boring Company hopes to make tunnel systems become a much more feasible mode of transport.

As can be seen from the concept video, vehicles using the tunnel system will pull onto car-sized skates. Once reaching the tunnel road, each skate will be electrically guided to any number of stops that may be placed on the way. The Boring Company site notes that “passengers travel directly to their final destination without stopping,” so travel will remain close to top speed at all times. While decreasing travel times, the electrically powered system reduces reliance on fossil fuels, as each car will only need to travel to the nearest skate station, where the tunnelway handles the rest of the work. The skates are also said to increase safety and increase maximum payload per trip.

Just last week, Musk shared a behind the scenes look at the Boring Company’s LA project with his twitter followers. Most of the testing of the venture has been occurring beneath the SpaceX facility in Los Angeles, where the project has been awarded a test permit by the local government.

“But what about earthquakes?” you might ask. Don’t worry, The Boring Company’s got you covered. The site makes sure to note that, when earthquakes do occur, tunnels happen to be one of the safest locations to be at. While above-ground structures tend to crumble and crack with the stress, an underground “tunnel moves uniformly with the ground” as shock waves emanate from the epicenter. As evidence, the company sites 3 earthquakes: two in Los Angeles, and one in Mexico City. In near all cases, no damage to tunnel systems was detected after the fact, and the very same tunnels were often used to transport emergency personnel just after the quake.

Now at just a tenth of a mile, Musk says that he hopes to have bored a 17 mile stretch of tunnel underneath Los Angeles by next year. Once that’s done, a nearly hour long commute would be reduced to just 8 minutes. All thanks to underground electric car skates hurtling underneath Los Angeles at 125 mph.

Going Local | Lollygagging in La Conner

A short jaunt from Seattle, the village of La Conner makes an adorable weekend getaway for anyone wanting easy access to one of the region’s best kept secrets.
By Vanessa Bassett

After a romantic drive through the Skagit River Valley, spend an afternoon walking the main street of this historic little port town set on a small inlet off the Puget Sound. At the right time of year, tiptoe through the tulips at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, an international destination event. Wrap up a day of exploration at any number of small but well equipped restaurants or breweries before turning in for the evening at a charming local hotel.

From Seattle, head north on Interstate 5 and take exit 221 towards La Conner for a picturesque drive through iconic rural Washington. This scenic route provides lovely views of the Skagit River Valley, and showcases some of the small local farms that this region is known for. Be sure to stop at the Snow Goose Produce farm stand for dazzling local fruits and veggies, and some of the most gigantic ice cream cones you’ve ever seen.

If you are visiting La Conner in April, be sure to check out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Visitors come from around the world to see millions of tulips in bloom during the month of April. While there is always plenty to see in and around La Conner, tulip season is an annual highlight for the region. Be sure to book hotel rooms and dinner reservations well in advance during this period.

La Conner's Wood Merchant
Once you arrive in downtown La Conner, take a stroll along First Street. You’ll be rewarded with many locally owned shops and studios featuring regional merchants and northwest artists, as well as views of the Swinomish Channel. Visit the Wood Merchant and shop for anything from housewares to guitar picks, all made from sustainably sourced wood and handcrafted locally. Stop at Cascade Candy to sample any number of homemade treats in this cheery shop. Get your art fix at the Museum of Northwest Art, and stop for a snack at The Scone Lady Bakery.

Pacific NW Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum
If you wander off of First Street, you are likely to encounter many antique houses which have been placed on the National Historic Register. The building which houses the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum is an excellent example of period architecture, built as a Tudor-style Victorian mansion and finished in 1891. Many other turn of the century homes dot the landscape of the neighborhood, making it fun to wander and explore the area.

As your day of adventure begins to pique your appetite, consider a few of La Conner’s homey restaurants as dinner options. Seeds on Morris Street has a substantial seasonal menu showcasing local crops and harvests. Here you can find yourself in a warm, family friendly atmosphere where there is something for everyone. The Oyster and Thistle Restaurant & Pub is a wonderful seaside-theme option, highlighting northwest seafood and other regional specialties. Quiet and romantic, this is a good option for a sophisticated dinner for two. If you are in the mood for a more casual but highly delicious experience, be sure to head over to the La Conner Brewing Company, where you can enjoy a variety of beer on tap, also on a seasonal rotation. Delicious appetizers (try the baked brie!), entrees, and desserts ensure a good time is had by all, and make this a fun, social option with plenty of energy and cheer.

When you are ready to wrap up your day, La Conner has plenty of cozy accommodations where you can relax. The Wild Iris Inn, centrally located, has warm welcoming rooms with country home style. Spend some time reading or catching up with other travelers in the large, cozy living room, or check out one of the movies from their DVD collection to take back to your room. Not to be missed are the amazing homemade cookies baked daily in house – be sure to save room!

Hotel Planter
Another charismatic accommodation is the Hotel Planter, lovingly cared for as a historic building and faithfully restored to honor its humble beginnings. Several of the rooms have peek-a-boo views of the Channel, while at the same time overlooking First Street. Peruse the history of the building from your room, the details of which lend to its charm and appeal. The small yet welcoming rooms have some of the original building features, and all of its original appeal.

In the morning, whether you have another day of exploration in front of you or you are heading home, breakfast at the Calico Cupboard on First Street is a must. Their menu is not only extensive, covering any and all breakfast items one’s heart could desire, but also features local ingredients and seasonal themes. Above all, the cinnamon rolls are not to be missed!

Bonus find: Two Ravens and antique stores galore!

As you bid farewell to La Conner's peaceful streets, rest assured that you can return at any time to explore the town again. Though small, you can always find new exhibits, crafts and delicacies that come and go through the changing seasons. Whenever you are in need of a quiet weekend away to rest and recharge, come back to La Conner and see what awaits you there.

La Conner waterfront

Going Local showcases the opportunities we all have in exploring and re-connecting with our home towns and local destinations. Someday we will go to Mars but the importance of having a sense of place will always be important, no matter what planet we're on. And hey...even Star Trek's Captain Piccard returned to his family's winery in France on now and then.

Musk Matters | Puerto Rico Solar Energy Offer

Puerto Rico post hurricane Maria.
Image Credit: Carlos Giusti/AP via CNN

The island of Puerto Rico was recently devastated by hurricane Maria, which made landfall late September near the Caribbean and South Eastern United States. With nearly every man-made structure on the island destroyed, public infrastructure in ruins, and necessities of life scarce, many residents of the U.S. territory are struggling to resume an ordinary lifestyle.
by Drue Johnson

Though Congress has already approved a $70 million dollar aqueduct and sewer aid package, they are still deliberating on how to disperse future aid funds. Current reconstruction efforts are focused on the immediate issues: providing those affected with food and potable water, as well as getting important public structures like hospitals or government facilities running with power. While representatives and volunteers focus on the issues at hand, others are already in deliberation with the local government of Puerto Rico about how to tackle the long term problems the island will face. Except, unlike many post-natural disaster reconstruction discussions, this one began with a tweet:

On October 5th, Twitter user Scott Scapf queried Musk on a topic not unfamiliar to the entrepreneur: the integration of solar technology in public infrastructure. Scapf wondered whether or not Elon Musk could use the resources provided by Tesla’s work in the solar and energy storage fields to repair Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, making it bigger and better than it was before. The curious tweeter, likely not realizing what sort of conversations his question would set in motion, received an answer from Musk not long after. The reply revealed that his team at Tesla had already completed similar projects on multiple islands, the only caveat being that successful endeavors had occurred in places smaller than Puerto Rico.

The idea then started to become reality when Ricardo Rosselo, governor of the island, boldly tweeted back at Musk that he wanted to speak about the idea, pointing out its potential to be a groundbreaking project for Musk. After a short phone call, Rosselo tweeted “Great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities. Next steps soon to follow.”

If Musk and the government of Puerto Rico are able to reach an agreement, it would be an astounding development, and potentially a huge boon for communities that suffer natural disasters in the future. If private businesses are able to directly influence reconstructions of infrastructure, lengthy government deliberation about aid distribution could be circumvented. In this specific case, installing solar arrays and energy storage units like those Musk’s companies offer could provide a real-world example of the benefits of a society based around renewable energy, making it hard for people to argue against implementation on a larger scale. At the same time, many of the potential reconstruction costs for Puerto Rico could be mitigated by the free energy that solar provides. Presumably investors in Tesla would stand to gain a profit from the venture while Puerto Rico bounces back from the devastation, setting an example for the rest of the world at the same time.