Saturday, February 7, 2009

On the road again: TED@PalmSprings, day 5

The conference ended today after two morning sessions and a lunch. I found most of today's talks quite good, with Barry Schwartz's presentation on practical wisdom particularly compelling. Schwartz argued for the importance of individuals applying to their jobs their own practical wisdom--their own thinking and analysis, not just a robotic following of rules--and used hospital janitors as strong examples.

Jay Walker also made a very interesting case for English as the language of problem solving for much of the world. His video clips of Chinese children learning English were both powerful and, at times, more than a little disturbing.

I definitely want to come back next year.

On the road again: TED@PalmSprings, day 4

I had really hoped and planned to go completely offline during TED, but business demands (and my fear of this economy) have made that impossible. So, the good news is that I'm not going to bed at night until I have caught up on all PT work and done my writing, but the bad news is that I'm consequently sleeping very little. So it goes.

Today's sessions were the most mixed of any day of TED I've yet attended. I thought several presentations were weak, one was almost offensively patronizing, and a few speakers with great things to say were so dull that they were putting people to sleep. At the same time, some of the presentations were magical, fascinating, moving--all that TED can be and often is. I loved learning about the way bacteria communicate, marveling at a project that reclaimed about 5,000 acres of devastated Indonesian forest, and listening to Herbie Hancock play. On balance, I have to call it a good day, but one that was the weakest of those so far.

Dinner was heavy hors d'oeuvre's at the very lovely Palm Springs Art Museum, where we ate and chatted for a time, then went downstairs to the theater to watch a sneak peek (30 minutes) of a documentary film, The Fixer. After the film segment, a judge from the Gucci Tribeca group that gave the film some financing, its director, and a journalist who appeared in it sat on stage and answered questions. I've seen sessions like this on DVDs, but I've never before gotten to participate in one. I quite enjoyed the event, though the film--about the murder by the Taliban of an Afghan translator for journalists (the fixer of the title)--was painful at times and left many of us wondering what, if anything, the U.S. can really hope to accomplish in that country.

I'm coming to believe that my biggest project for the next year must be to remake myself into a significantly thinner, healthier person. Given the stresses I'm facing, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to manage to do that, but I think it is time.

Friday, February 6, 2009

On the road again: TED@PalmSprings, day 3

I enjoyed yesterday quite a bit, but I thought today's sessions were in general better. I found almost all of them thought provoking and quite a few of them very moving. I won't try to recap them all--I'm too tired, sorry--but I do want to highlight two.

Elizabeth Gilbert gave an excellent talk that centered on the demons that plague writers (and, she assumed, as do I, other creative types) as they try to work. In her case, it was the fact that it is most likely that her next book is nowhere near as big a hit as her current one, the major bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love. She discussed the ways the ancient Greeks and Romans viewed creative muses and ultimately suggested that if we accept--or pretend, depending on what you believe--that your muse, your genius (in the ancient sense), is something outside yourself, then you can relax a bit more. I don't know that the solution is at all useful, but her exploration of this problem resonated with me, as I'm sure you would expect it would.

The last session of the day brought the awarding of the TED Prizes. One went to maestro José Antonio Abreu, who organized in Venezula a way, el sistema, of bringing music to kids poor and rich alike. Today, the result is over a hundred youth orchestras, with hundreds and hundreds of children involved and stars that have gone on to major musical jobs. One of those, Gustavo Dudamel, is the conductor of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and will soon be the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Abreu's wish is to bring el sistema to the U.S. as a way to engage more children in music--and help more children. It's an admirable and achievable goal, and I think the TED community might really be able to help with it.

After the award, we went live via satellite to Caracas, where Abreu said a few words and then Dudamel conducted a very large youth orchestra in two amazing, powerful, deeply moving pieces. At the end, we all stood and applauded for minutes. I was blown away by the quality of the playing, the power of the pieces (neither of whose names I got), and the intense passion of both Dudamel himself and all the young people in the orchestra.

As often happens at TED, I left that session with my heart full and my head a bit confused over what to make of everything and how I might fit into it all. I consider that confusion a good disruptive force and more than enough reason to come here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On the road again: TED@PalmSprings, day 2

The sessions started in earnest today, and as I did last year, in general I found them interesting, informative, and moving. TED is, as Bill observed, incredibly self-referential, so much so that it's tempting to see the references as acts of ego, but I don't think they are. Rather, I think Chris Anderson and the TED team are very good at quickly building a community of the attendees--and then of making that community matter, both to its members and, in many cases, to the world.

I'm not going to cover the individual sessions, because you can probably read about them elsewhere. Instead, I'm going to indulge (yet again, and maybe too much) in a bit of navel-gazing.

More than any other event I've attended, these two TED conferences have aroused in me powerful but mixed feelings. On the one hand, they inspire me to go forth and make the world better. On the other, they leave me depressed at my own lack of accomplishment and lack of work on anything that matters. I see what others are doing and despair over my own meager contributions.

They also make me feel like the high school dork once again. Tonight's dinner was around the pool. People were talking in small groups all over the place. I have no doubt that if Bill and I had joined any of those groups, the people would have talked to us and been generally welcoming. That's certainly been my experience so far. Instead, we wandered together and chatted with each other, neither of us comfortable enough to intrude on others. When someone talks to me, I think I do well in response, but I rarely initiate conversations in such gatherings. I wish I were better at this whole party thing, but I'm not.

Part of me wants to give up, part of me wants to learn this skill, and a small but egotistical part wants to solve the problem by becoming so famous that people come up to me and thus save me the hassle of having to initiate contact. To do that, I better write more and better books--which is what I will go work on next.

Please don't get me wrong. I do not regret coming here. I love the sessions, the atmosphere, the interesting people--pretty much all of it. I've already signed up for next year. I simply regret my own limitations and must work to overcome them.

When isn't that the case?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On the road again: TED@PalmSprings, day 1

I woke at 6:50 a.m., before my alarm, after less than three hours of sleep and with my back aching and threatening to go out like it did last June. I stretched, did some crunches, and stretched some more. I've been very careful with my back all day long, or at least as careful as one can be on a day with two long plane flights, and so far it's holding up. I'm hoping for a long and healing sleep tonight. We'll see.

Except for the back problem, I can't complain about my travel today. I had an exit-row-aisle seat on the first leg and got a first-class upgrade on the second. Both flights were even a few minutes early and, miracle of miracles, our taxi time in DFW was the lowest I've ever experienced--under ten minutes.

We registered for TED, picked up our amazing bags full of cool gifts (maybe a photo on that tomorrow), and then I worked. I missed the opening concert due to work, but I'm determined to make that the last TED event I miss this trip. We'll see if I succeed.

The hotel/resort is a renovated older resort that is trying to be both modern and Rat Pack retro. So far, it's succeeding: the wireless works everywhere I've been, the conveniences are all modern, and yet you always feel you're walking through a hip joint and could bump into Frank and Dino at any time. It's an odd vibe for a conference like TED.

Dinner was a buffet-style gathering around the resort's smaller pool. The food was passable, and we had several enjoyable conversations--as well as too many calories. Eating well at these things is very hard, at least for someone with my weak food willpower.

A few folks here and on the phone today have asked why I'm back at TED. I answer them all truthfully: because last year's TED played with my head in a good way. I hope this year's sessions do the same.

I'll let you know.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dead computer kills self-help chapter

Okay, it's not that simple, but it's close. I'm heading out tomorrow to TED@PalmSprings (I didn't get into the main tent of TED, but I at least was able to return to the satellite), and I have to leave the house in not much more than six hours. With work, packing, writing work, and family time, my evening was already jammed past all reasonable limits on my time. So of course I arrived home to find my main personal PC had died. I then lost over an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to bring it back.

Consequently, I'm putting off today's self-help chapter until after TED (unless, of course, I get a wild hair and write one while there) and am going to have to keep this entry short. Sorry about that.

Last year's TED made my brain hurt in all the best ways, so I'm quite looking forward to this one. I'll report a bit, but I won't try to blog it in detail; there's just too much that happens for me to do that.

I know some people plan their packing like a military assault, with detailed lists and schedules of what they'll wear each day and so on, but I pack more like a three-year-old fingerpainter staring at a large assortment of colors: I stick in my hands, flail around, and hope it all works out. I better do that now.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Yes, we ate it

[I'll resume The Animal House Life tomorrow.]

Earlier tonight, we gathered for our annual Super Bowl commercials party, in which we fast-forward through the game but watch the ads. We also eat massive quantities of junk food of all sorts.

Enter the bacon explosion, about which you've probably read in a variety of places online, including in this New York Times article. This first photo shows the loaf of baconly love early in its sojourn in Jennie's oven; she was the one willing to work the over three pounds of meat into the delectable goodie you see here.

Yes, we are indeed talking over three pounds of pork, folks, more than half of that bacon, some in a lattice and some crumbled inside the loaf itself.

We're talking a heart attack in a tube of ex-pig parts.

As Kyle said when I emailed him this photo, "I want!"

As you can see in this second picture, the creation browned up nicely and left us all (well, all of us except the vegetarians) feeling exactly as Kyle did.

Sure, you may be saying, it looks like porkly love on a pan, but how did it taste?

In a word, awesome.

As the third photo shows, the roll is solid with grease-dripping bacon and sausage. You can eat it on its own, as I did, or put it in a buttery roll, as I also did, and chow down on a delicious all-fat-wich.


Surely, you say, you can do better than that. Of course I can! After my first fat-wich smacked my arteries, I created a second, but this time with two thick slices of cheese roll on top of the pork.

OMG! If I hadn't been sitting in my chair, I would have fallen over from the sheer impact of the fat on my system. It was amazing--and delicious. Add a few (six is a few, right?) deviled eggs, some chips, a couple (or maybe that's a few, too) wings, a few (couldn't have been more than three, maybe four) pigs in blankets, and top it off with a little (really, the piece barely counted) cheesecake, and you have a meal sure to put a cardiac ward somewhere in my future.

In case you're wondering, the best commercial was the Doritos ad with the crystal ball, though several were quite funny.

The bacon explosion in particular and this meal in general hit me so hard that I reclined in my chair in a stupor and actually watched the entire Super Bowl. It's a good thing the game was exciting, because there was no way I was getting up even if it was a blow-out.

I won't eat a bacon explosion again soon--I couldn't handle it--but someday, it will return to our house.

Let's pray nanomachine artery cleaners arrive before it does.


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