People who might rather read information cards of giant dinosaurs in the Academy of Natural Sciences got the red carpet treatment at the Philly Geek Awards last night.
“This is like the ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ Gala,” observed awards presenter and entrepreneur Tayyib Smith. “Instead of the stereotypical 1980’s identities of success, if you look at the 21st century’s digital economy with innovation in entrepreneurships and startups, the geeks are winning.”
Honored projects promoted smart use of big data, storytelling and citizen engagement in science and politics. Yet, there was room in the winner’s circle for an April Fools Day ad about a fake ant farm watch, a graphic novel, a literary podcast, and a new role-playing card game.
Pathologist’s assistant Nicole Angemi’s morbidly informative Instagram account @mrs_angemi took home best social media project award.
Online, Angemi works to educate her more than 400,000 followers about her job. “I really want people to feel more in touch with their bodies,” she said. She posts graphic pathology photos that she finds fascinating, though not taken directly from her work for ethical reasons.
Caught off guard, she apologized for her lack of acceptance speech, “I usually work with dead people,” she joked.
But even the geekiest anatomy whiz has her favorite body parts.
“I am obsessed with gallstones,” admitted Angemi, “The organ itself just this little tan-green sack, but when you open them up there are these beautiful little stones. I’ve been in this field for over 10 years, and still I see stones that I’ve never seen before. It’s so cool” she said.
This year’s best IRL (in real life) project, the play “The White Mountain,” explores the industrial legacy of Ambler, Pennsylvania, as an asbestos-manufacturing town. It also brought together three different kinds of geek, with input from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the Act II Playhouse.
“I love interdisciplinary work, and this project combined history, art and theater. I think that’s what tonight is all about,” said playwright Bill D’Agostino.
Philadelphia’s Geek of the Year, Ather Sharif, personified geek fluency. His projects have developed accessible websites for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, taught middle school kids how to code, and brought international subtitles to spinal cord injury support videos, all while being a Google Scholar.
“Beyond showing that someone can literally be in three different positions at once … this award, to me, tells people that no matter what disability you have, no matter what limitations, these are never the end of the world. You can still get there. You can make an impact on society,” he said.
2015 Philadelhia Geek Award Winners
Scientist of the Year: Penn’s “Twitter Detects Heart Disease” Team
The World Well Being Project is a collaboration between computer scientists and psychologists, pioneering big data techniques for measuring physical and psychological health and well-being based on language in social media.
In a study released in January, led by graduate student Johannes C. Eichstaedt, the Penn team found that Twitter can predict community mortality rates from heart-disease better than 10 common demographic, socioeconomic, and health risk factors, including smoking and hypertension.
Streaming Media Project of the Year: Book Fight!
When these two book lovers collide, things get heated in the best way. Book Fight! is a podcast headed up by two Temple professors who are fiercely passionate about the literary world, and discuss books they love and hate, as well as talking about the craft of writing,
They’ve also taken their podcast into the wild, hosting events at places like Tattooed Mom, The Spiral Bookcase, and the Philadelphia Writers Conference. Listen at www.bookfightpod.com .
Geek Story of the Year: Analog Watch Company’s Ant Farm Watch
With an April Fool’s Joke that took the Internet by storm, Analog Watch Company’s Ant Farm Watch was Philly’s gift to viral pranking.
The Ant Farm Watch was showcased (and in some cases fiercely argued about) on websites like TechnaBob, Design Taxi, Bejautiful Decay, Complex, Fast Company, Yahoo, TechCrunch, and listed as one of the Best April Fool’s Pranks of 2015 by The Telegraph.
Startup of the Year: BillyPenn.com
Launched in October, Billy Penn is a mobile-first news platform designed with millennials in mind. In its first year, BillyPenn has covered political debates with emojii, explained local dynasties à la Game of Thrones and taken an approach to civic engagement targeting an audience that’s typically hard to reach.
A project of journalist Jim Brady, BillyPenn combines original content with aggregated must-read links from around the local web.
I.R.L. Project of the Year: The White Mountains
Through a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, REACH (Resources for Education and Action for Community Health) Ambler explored the history, environmental health, and community identity of Ambler, Pennsylvania.
A play, The White Mountains, a play produced by Ambler’s Barrymore Award-winning Act II Playhouse, was the culmination of a project that also included a website, exhibit and publication. The entire project was funded through a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of Health.
Visual Artist of the Year: Cory J. Popp
Filmmaker and journalist, this native Philadelphian is known for his three-video series, “Philly Makers,” “Wastelands,” and “Uncover Philly.” South Philly local, Cory J. Popp has used his passion for storytelling to focus on the fascinating people and places of his hometown. Popp began shooting video for real estate companies, which transitioned into the production of his own videos, including his first Philly seasonal video in 2014, the massively popular “A Philly Christmas.”
Most of his films are captured spontaneously while walking through different Philadelphia neighborhoods. In his latest “Undercover Philly” installment, Popp’s largest project to date, “Philadelphia from Above,” is the result of four weeks, 70 hours, 230 GB, 204 video clips, and 40 time lapses made from 16,288. photographs.
Game of the Year: Pretense
With a successfully crowdfunded Kickstarter, Pretense launched with more than 1,300 backers excited about this card game that’s high in concept and fun. Pretense, created by Jason Tagmire, is a game night social metagame, played over the entire course of an evening, as you play other games.
Your job? Fulfill the role you’ve been given on your card. Are you the critic? The bookworm? The glutton? The busybody? If you accomplish the goal of living out this role, you gain a point and get to steal someone else’s role.
Feature-Length Indie Film of the Year: I Am Santa Claus
Financed by a Kickstarter campaign that brought in over $50,000, I Am Santa Claus documented a year in the lives of professional Santa Clauses to find out what the rest of the year is. A quirky and unique documentary, viewers get to see these Santas for who they actually are: flawed, flesh and blood men who feel responsible for protecting the integrity of the Red Suit.
Web Project of the Year: Open Data Philly’s Relaunch
OpenDataPhilly is the source for open data in the Philadelphia region, and a direct product of partnerships between the City of Philadelphia and the local tech and creative communities. It is a data portal that provides access to more than 300 data sets, applications, and APIs related to the region.
Built by Azavea, a Philadelphia-based geospatial software firm, OpenDataPhilly is based on the idea that providing free and easy access to digital information encourages better and more transparent government and a more engaged and knowledgeable citizenry. It first launched during Philly Tech Week in April 2011, and was relaunched in February 2015.
Comic Creator of the Year: Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman for “Dirty Diamonds”
An all-girl comic anthology curated by Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman, Dirty Diamonds strives to give the women of comics a dedicated outlet for telling their stories. Artists from all around the world have contributed their works over the years, and using this outlet, Phillips and Folkman have given numerous women in comics a platform to stand out.
Their fifth issue, an anthology on comics, featured 32 artists from six different countries, all sharing stories about the medium that they hold dear: comics. Their first professionally printed book, Comics, features a cover by Carey Pietsch (Adventure Time). Dirty Diamonds’ latest crowdfunded campaign, an anthology on beauty, raised over $17,000 just in June.
Social Media Project of the Year: Nicole Angemi’s Autopsy Instagram
Nicole Angemi is a pathologist assistant whose Instagram was shut down multiple times, because she posts autopsy photographs. Her controversial account is there to educate and inform and to reveal hard truths about the human body, health, and the causes of death.
Her account boasts over 350,000 followers, and she’s found herself featured in local media and with pieces in The Sun in the UK and VICE.
Event of the Year: City Council Candidate Convention
Young Involved Philadelphia hosted the largest event in its 15-year history and one of the largest events in the 2015 primary election season. Hosted by WHYY and in partnership with the Committee of Seventy, this event saw more than 400 young voters converge on WHYY’s studios to meet and engage with 23 candidates for Philadelphia City Council.
The impetus for this event was the growing power of City Council in relation to the mayor, and that virtually no one, especially young voters, knows anything about who sits on council or who is running. It featured a career fair for the candidates, with curated questions from more than a dozen issue-specific organizations, including the Bicycle Coalition, Plan Philly, AL DIA, Philly Core Leaders, and the Urban Affairs Coalition.
Geek of the Year: Ather Sharif
The founder and researcher at EvoXLabs, Sharif is a software engineer, freelance web developer, and a consultant who is constantly researching web accessibility and jQuery tools to make the Internet a more accessible place.
One of the developers on Unlock Philly, he also founded the SCI Video Blog, full of tutorial videos that help people with SCI (spinal cord injuries) perform their daily activities.