Thursday, February 11, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 4

Before I get into today's TED talks, let me share with you, courtesy of the URL from Steve, Jake Shimabukoro, playing "Let's Dance," the flamenco piece of the initial trio he played at TED. Enjoy.

Today's sessions began at 8:30 a.m., which meant I was up and working before seven a.m. I hate getting up early, but the talks are worth it, so get up I did. Here again are some verbal snapshots of moments that interested, impressed, or intrigued me.

Thomas Dolby and Ethel kicked off the day by playing an unusual but nonetheless moving version of "Eleanor Rigby."

Michael Specter made a powerful case for the importance of facts and the dangers of ignoring them.

Graham Hill suggested we all consider the health and ecological benefits of becoming a "weekday veg," someone who eats nothing with a face Monday through Friday.

Sam Harris argued for a scientific, fact-based basis for morality. I'm not convinced his arguments entirely hold up, but I've long believed that you don't need any outside agent to make a case for the value of doing good.

Elizabeth Pisani, author of The Wisdom of Whores, discussed her research on the spread of HIV and ways we might help persuade our government to do such sensible things as provide free needles.

Nicholas Cristakis examined his research on the power of social connections to affect our behaviors. He's the guy behind the now-famous studies that show that your probability of obesity goes up dramatically if your friends are obese.

Harvard professor and Internet star, Michael Sandel, ran a philosophy class that showed the value of directly engaging the moral and belief frameworks that people bring to debates.

Christopher "moot" Poole, the founder of 4Chan, reviewed the power--and some of the pitfalls--of a network based on anonymity.

Kevin Baker opened a lot of eyes with his presentation on modern slavery. I was aware it existed, but I had no clue that the worldwide total was anywhere near the 27 million he cited.

In a first, at least since I've been coming to TED, Chris Anderson hosted a debate. The topic was nuclear power. Steward Brand argued for more nuclear power, and Stanford's Mark Jacobson took the opposite position (and instead pushed wind and solar). Watching their dueling presentations and warring sets of facts was fascinating.

The greatest surprise of the day for me was the performance by The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD). I'm not a dance fan, never have been. With the exception of bellydance, which works for me largely because of its sexual side, I tend to avoid dance shows. Thus, I expected to be bored by LXD, which debuted at TED a dance they'd created for the conference, as well as some improv moves by various performers. I have to confess that I loved it. The improv bits were good, but the choreographed piece really touched and moved me. I would watch these young dancers any chance I had.

Game designer, Jane McGonigal, gave an interesting talk on gamers and how to translate their strengths into the real world. Though I remain unconvinced that such a translation is possible, the talk was full of good insights and fascinating stats. For example, she said that players around the world have invested in World of Warcraft a total of 5.93 million years of game play. She also said that a typical gamer by age 21 will have spent about ten thousand hours gaming--about the same number of hours as all the school days from fifth through twelfth grades. I also liked her list of the four things gamers are most good at when gaming:

* urgent optimism
* working with a social fabric
* blissful productivity
* pursuing epic meaning
David Byrne talked about how venues--and, by generalization, expectations--shape music and all art.

Jake Shimabukoro and Ethel then played a sweet version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Blaise Aguilera y Arcas delivered a lovely and compelling demo of the new features of Bing Maps.

Nathan Myhrvold discussed the power of seemingly small inventions to help with big problems. He showed a vaccine carrying device that could keep vaccines cold without external power for up to six months, and then he demo'd a laser mosquito zapper. I want a pair of those, but I want them controlled by joysticks so Scott and I could zap bugs when we tired of killing zombies or online opponents.

Andrew Bird's strange one-man-band approach to music is better heard than described. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it, but you are unlikely to have heard much like it.

Mark Roth discussed suspended animation and the role hydrogen sulfide may soon (years, but not tons of them) play in keeping trauma patients in low metabolic states--so low that they appear dead--until doctors can treat and then revive them.

At the end of the day, my head was full and stretched in unusual ways--which is exactly why I came to TED.

In the evening, I failed the socializing test once again, but this time, it wasn't entirely my fault. Bill and I had skipped the group dinners and planned to spend the evening talking business, but work ate our time.

Speaking of work, it and a book are calling me, so I'm heading back to them. More tomorrow from sunny Palm Springs!


Elizabeth said...

LXD are awesome, aren't they!? That's Alex's and my newest favorite dance troupe. Check out this youtube video from when they appeared on so you think you can dance.
The level of synchronization on the martial arts looking flips is just astonishing.

Mark said...

They truly are amazing. Thanks for the URL.


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