Hackathons in which participants build online tools based on free-for-the-taking government data, or give birth to a potential new enterprise in an intense, 54-hour "Startup Weekend."
Robotics demonstrations that show how the region's students, engineers and companies are helping to turn sci-fi dreams into reality.
Workshops and panels on issues such as the challenges facing women and minorities in technology, the use of digital media to promote social change, and the value of "gamification" — using game play in nontraditional ways. Even how-to sessions on lock-picking — valuable, believe it or not, for anyone who wants to understand digital security — and a display of Tetris Arm Wrestling, a mind-bending mix of the physical and the mental.
The list goes on and on for Philly Tech Week, an agglomeration of about 80 loosely related events clustered into a nine-day calendar starting Friday. It's a schedule — you can find the details at www.phillytechweek.com — that should hold some interest for anyone but the most committed Luddite.
This is the second year for Tech Week, an event that its creators at Technically Philly — a startup that mashes tech blogging with tech evangelism — hope to make an annual event.
A driving concept behind both Philly Tech Week and its organizers is the idea that just as technology helps knit together people and institutions globally, it can also help strengthen a local community — and not just in a tiny handful of high-tech corridors.
"There are great people in Philadelphia, there are great organizations in Philadelphia, and there are great innovators in Philadelphia," Brian James Kirk, one of Technically Philly's three co-founders, said during an interview. "Why can't they compete with Boston and Silicon Valley?"
Kirk's company is organizing about 10 of the events on the Tech Week schedule, and event programming, along with revenue from corporate underwriting and sponsorship, has become a key part of its business model. Officially, this year's event is "Philly Tech Week 2012 Presented by AT&T."
But Kirk, 28 and a Temple University graduate, said the broad scope of this year's events reflects a recognition that technology is crucial to education and the region's overall economic health, as well as to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Five of the week's events were put together by the Freedom Rings Partnership's Keyspot program, which is using federal grants to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" in Philadelphia, largely by providing training and public access to Internet-connected computers.
By one estimate, about 41 percent of Philadelphia residents lack the ordinary Internet access that most Americans now take for granted. To highlight that statistic and the problems it represents, the Keyspot program (www.phillykeyspots.org) is encouraging area residents to join in a 41-hour "Internet Fast," starting Saturday at 3 p.m. and ending at 8 a.m. Monday, when Tech Week formally starts with an invitation-only breakfast.
Kirk said that while he'd like to participate, he probably can't as a Tech Week organizer. But he said he was "excited to see a lot more policy events around digital inclusion" in this year's lineup, along with events that focus on the interests of entrepreneurs.
Tech Week "was never just supposed to be about what's the latest cool new thing in tech," he said. "It was supposed to be about 'How do you make Philadelphia better through technology?'?"
Cool new things, and entrepreneurship, are hardly getting short shrift.
For example, robots take the floor from noon to 5 p.m. Monday at "Philly Robotics Expo" at Drexel University's Bossone Research Center, 3140 Market St. So far, about 1,000 people have registered for the free event, one of a handful of Tech Week events that are also part of the 10-day Philadelphia Science Festival, also starting Friday.
Tech Week gets a head start Friday with the opening session of a marathon event, Startup Weekend, that is intended to foster web entrepreneurship through a novel format: Participants arrive alone, or perhaps with a friend or co-worker or two, connect with others, and flesh out an idea they might actually be able to turn into a business.
This is Philadelphia's third Startup Weekend since January 2011, according to Brad Oyler, a Phoenixville software developer and the weekend's organizer. Promoted by a Seattle nonprofit (www.StartupWeekend.org), the hackathon-style sessions are a global phenomenon. Just on this single weekend, there are a dozen similar gatherings in places such as Albania, Belarus, Chile and Tunisia.
The Philadelphia version will draw about 130 participants — it's been sold out for a month — as well as seasoned entrepreneurs and technology experts who serve as coaches. People from venture-capital firms serve as judges.
Oyler said most participants arrive with ideas they've been kicking around, and the weekend begins with perhaps half of them making 60-second pitches. Most of the work is done once the participants attach themselves to about 20 teams.
"It's a great way to throw yourself and your ideas into the fire and see what comes out," Oyler said. "Ideas are like a dime a dozen. You really need so much more."
He said the programs are ideal for networking and learning about entrepreneurship.
"It's probably the best event I know of to meet a co-founder," Oyler said.