Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 6

TED 2010 is over. As usual, I'm mentally exhausted, full of notions and emotions that will take me a long time to process. And, yes, I'm already looking forward to 2011's conference, for which I registered and paid a couple of weeks ago.

Before I give today's verbal snapshots, I need to mention an important observation from yesterday that I forgot to include in last night's post: Sergey Brin, like Kyle, wears toe shoes. Sergey was sporting his black pair when Chris Anderson interviewed him on the TED stage yesterday. Kyle, you are not alone!

Now, on to a few highlights from today's two sets of sessions.

Philip K. Howard made a compelling and well-considered case for major legal reform. At the risk of upsetting him or some other lawyer, I'm going to reproduce here his four propositions:

"1) Judge law mainly by its effect on society, not individual situations.

2) Trust in law is an essential condition of freedom. Distrust skews behavior toward failure.

3) Law must set boundaries protecting an open field of freedom, not intercede in all disputes.

4) To rebuild boundaries of freedom, two changes are essential:
* Simplify the law

* Restore authority to judges and officials to apply the law."
Yes, I know that's really five points; he is a lawyer, after all.

Seriously, when his talk appears on, definitely check it out.

Chip Conley argued that rather than focusing so much on our GDP, we as a country should pay more attention to our Gross National Happiness. I know it sounds like a hippy-dippy notion, but it's not; he uses real metrics to gauge this very thing in his extremely successful business.

James Cameron's eighteen minutes were illuminating, interesting, insightful, and very definitely worth watching. He was a childhood SF fan who never stopped being one. One thing I learned is that one of his major motivations for making Titanic was to get a studio to pay the expenses for him to dive the original wreck.

He also supplied one of my favorite lines of the conference, one I am going to be working hard to take to heart:
"In whatever you're doing, failure is an option, but fear is not."
Okay, I've changed my mind: James Cameron, would you please direct Will Smith in the first of the many Jon & Lobo movies?

John Kasaona showed us how he had attacked so successfully the problem of conservation in Namibia and how the lessons of his work could help all of us.

In a talk filmed at a Tuesday morning Palm Springs TEDYou session I now regret having skipped, Glenna Fraumeni, a Nurse Practioner student, discussed the brain cancer that will kill her in less than two years. Her choice of how to spend the time: living normally, going to school, helping others. To say she was inspirational is, of course, to indulge in vast understatement. Remarkable.

Perhaps the most polished of the conference's many speakers was the remarkable Sir Ken Robinson, who spoke eloquently and entertainingly on the need for massive education reform. He said that we've created a fast-food, factory model of one-size-fits-all education, and instead we need a vastly more customized system that accommodates the incredible diversity of human talents and passions. His TED talk from some years ago was one of the first to go public and has since drawn a huge audience, and I definitely understand why.

Youg Adora Svitak noted that education should be reciprocal and that grown-ups should be learning from kids. She was amazing.

Ze Frank gave a wrap-up talk/comedy act that mashed up a great many of the previous presentations and was vastly entertaining. I was dead impressed by this guy's skill at weaving the talks and his commentary into a routine that left us all laughing until we hurt.

We at Palm Springs closed the show with a made-, written-, drawn-, performed-, recorded, and edited-here music video, "What the World Needs Now." To my surprise, I quite liked it.

We then migrated to the pool for lunch and final conversations.

I'll definitely be back.

For now, though, I have some of the remastered mono Beatles albums playing on the JBL travel speakers via my iPod nano, I'm catching up on work, and I'm hoping I will emerge from this experience a better person. I aim to try.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 5

The sessions started early again today, so I was up even earlier doing email and working. This morning was different from all the others, however, because the sessions were part of what the TED organizers call TEDYou, which here at Palm Springs meant a set of talks by people in our group.

First up, though, was a surprise visit from TED's Curator, Chris Anderson. In a move he should have made last year, he came here, thanked the attendees, spoke for a while, and answered some questions. Good on him.

The on-site speakers who followed generally did good jobs. Though I didn't have time to get their names, which were also not in the program, two stood out.

One gave a very funny presentation in which he analyzed the text and appearance of many TED talks and used the results of that analysis to offer recommendations for ways to give the best and worst TED talks. (Want to dress the way the previous best speakers did? Wear your hair slightly longer than usual for your gender and dress up slightly more than the rest of the TED attendees.)

Another talk showed off the new ability of some SeaWorld dolphins to create bubble rings. These rings are beautiful, and the dolphins play with them. After one dolphin, Calypso, figured out how to make them, other dolphins learned from her--but only female dolphins. Males can't do it.

From the main TED program, which resumed after TEDYou, here are the usual few visual snapshots.

John Underkoffler demonstrated a working version of the UI from the film, The Minority Report. Cool stuff, though I'm not yet convinced it would be as efficient for most normal business tasks as a mouse and keyboard.

Bill Gates focused on energy and presented us with a major challenge: We have 20 years to begin deployment of the technologies that will take carbon emissions to zero and 40 years to be at zero. He made a compelling case for making nuclear power a key player in this future.

Temple Grandin's talk was a wild ride but an interesting one. I really do have to wonder if we're not trying way too hard to use drugs to make all our minds fit some putative norm.

Chris Anderson of Wired magazine (and not the TED Chris Anderson) demoed his publication's upcoming (in the summer) iPad version, and it was very cool indeed. As paper magazines die, what will replace them has the potential to be visually stunning.

David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, and Ethel opened the last session, which focused on entertainment. I loved their music, found Sarah Silverman as funny and as offensive as always, continued to think Eve Ensler is nowhere near as good a writer as most people seem to find her, and enjoyed Natalie Merchant's performance, though I wish she could have been a bit nicer to the audience and the stagehands.

After the sessions, we dashed to our rooms, called home, and then boarded a bus for our last-night-of-TED desert party. We rode for half an hour or so and finally came to a very tourist-y place set right on the San Andreas fault. Despite the faux Western structures, the atmosphere was cool and even at times trippy, as you can see in this first photo. The colored lights certainly amplified that effect. The food was tasty, and the band, String Theory, played some music I quite enjoyed.

I even socialized, so relax all who wrote me concerned that I wasn't doing so.

We left on the early side, because work and the book beckoned, but I enjoyed seeing the place, listening to the music, and talking to a few of my fellow TEDsters.

The morning--and final--sessions begin in just over six hours, and I still have work to do, so off I go.

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!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 3

The talks began today, though at a more gracious hour (11:00 a.m.) than in the upcoming days (8:30 a.m.). I didn't take any pictures, so you'll have to settle for verbal snapshots of some high points of the talks:

Thomas Dolby, the TED Musical Director, opening the day in steampunk regalia, with leather cap, goggles, and a Victorian-looking top and vest. He began by conducting a lone bagpiper, but within a minute or so he, the bagpiper, and the string quartet, Ethel, were madly--and beautifully--playing.

Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, the founder of behavioral economics, talking about our experiencing selves vs. our remembering selves, how the two relate--and sometimes argue, and the power of endings. The future as anticipated memories. Much to consider here.

David Cameron, the man who is quite likely to be Britain's next Prime Minister, in an unannounced live presentation from London, discussing his views on how to build better societies in the future without spending much more money. I know embarrassingly little about Cameron, nor do I have a clue if I would want him as my PM were I British, but he certainly came across as intelligent and thoughtful.

Jake Shimabukuro playing a flamenco piece, "Ave Maria," and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the ukulele. I'll be adding a CD of his to my want list.

Dan Barber giving an amazing talk about the way we need to change how we eat. He was wonderful. His tale of a Spanish fish farm that uses no feed, measures its success by the health of its predators, and fishes only extensively, not intensively, was intriguing and full of hope.

Jamie Oliver, whose TV shows I've always carefully avoided, proving to my surprise to be passionate, funny, and truly on a quest to improve the way Britain and, now, America eat. I have gained a new respect for him and will be pondering how to support the work he's doing. I also feel even worse for being obese.
The usual amenities were present, though changed this year. The exhibits were more extensive and fairly interesting, with multiple strange interactive art presentations.

Gone was the Vosges chocolate tasting. In its place was something far better, at least to me: cupcake tastings. Today's contestants were Valrhona and red velvet, both of which were very good. (Hey, I had to try them, just to cast my verbal vote.) The cupcakes, by the way, were from More, which does deliver nationally. I very much recommend them.

The mid-afternoon snack was sushi--quite tasty--and edamame. Very TED-like.

Did I mention that the bassist in last night's band was Don Was?

The central problem of TEDActive for me is the social side: I suck at it. Lunch today consisted of picnic baskets for six. Bill had to go to phone meetings, so I was alone. Rather than try to join a group or organize one on my own, I grabbed lunch from one of the freestanding baskets and ate in my room as I worked. At the breaks, Bill and I talked. We spoke with others only when they talked to us. I worked for a while after the last talk, then went to the buffet dinner and spoke only to Bill and the woman from More who worked the cupcake stand. (She was very nice.) I didn't go to the Bollywood dance. I didn't mingle. I didn't join a group. After I ate, I went back to my room and started working, which I'm still doing.

Put me in a group I know, and I'm fine.

Put me on a stage with a microphone in front of any size crowd, and I'm fine.

Here, though, I somehow return to high school and become the oddball facing crowds of kids all cooler than I am, all happy and chatting and partying and completely, utterly inaccessible to me. I know this is in my head, and I could probably successfully join some groups, but with my mind full of nifty stuff to contemplate, my heart touched by what I've seen, and tons of work waiting for me back in my room, I just surrender to these old feelings. This very minute, I can hear the band playing from the party, but they're out with the crowd, and I'm here in my room, writing this entry and about to go work on my book. I'm just better at this than trying to be there, but sometimes I do wish I weren't so damn awkward and insecure.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 2

Today began unfortunately early with a work phone meeting at 7:30 a.m., which, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is way too damn early for me. (Don't give me any grief about how it's much later in NC; I worked until the single digits Pacific time last night, so it was still early.) After a morning of work and then a nice lunch with Bill, I set out on my first TED activity: a tour of the huge local wind farm.

I had a very good time. We mostly sat on the bus and listened, but that was fine; our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and a good storyteller.

We got out twice. The first time brought me a bit of magic: We stood in the rain in the desert and listened to the wind turbines sing. I know the noise is not song, and I realize that even though it wasn't very loud, people who live very close to it quite reasonably probably hate it. I still found it magical.

On the second stop, we got fairly close to some turbines and had clear skies for picture taking. The first photo here is an example of one of the large wind turbines. The second photo helps put it in scale: note that in the first you barely even notice the truck is present.

One of my favorite terms I learned today is "wind gypsies," the name for the groups of people who travel around the country cleaning turbines and doing training. The concept is natural and obvious, but I wouldn't have thought of it on my own. Expect something like it to show up in a book one of these years.

Speaking of books, I continue to charge ahead on my latest, Children No More. Today, Dave finished his review of the second draft. He gave me many good points to consider, for which I am quite grateful. He also called it a very good and important book, for which I'm also grateful.

A few folks have asked me to explain The Big Red Binder. Here it is, sitting on a chair in my hotel room. I do my third draft by printing the book on three-hole-punch paper, putting it in a binder, and editing it with a red pen. Seeing the book on paper is somehow still different to me than seeing it online, so this draft takes advantage of that different experience. As you can tell from the second picture of TBRB, I make a fair number of changes at this stage.

On the fourth pass, I will key in all these changes and re-read key sections and edit them as necessary.

I don't think I'll need a fifth pass this time, so after the fourth, I will send it to Publisher Toni.

Earlier this evening, I wandered out of my room and followed the music I'd been hearing faintly through my windows. I ended up in the bar, where Jill Sobule and a band of TEDsters were playing. I caught the last two numbers, including the finale, "What the World Needs Now."

Wind turbines singing, people signing, magic.

As I head off to edit the book, here's a tiny reward for those who've bothered to read this far: If you click on any photo, you'll see a bigger version of it. Do that to the last picture, and you can read a still-not-final, don't-expect-it-to-stay-the-same (I've already spotted a word I didn't like and changed it), random page of the book; the picture is clear enough to make that possible. Enjoy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

On the road again: TEDActive, day 1

After a completely unsatisfactory hour of sleep (though to be fair to it, how could only one hour of sleep in a night ever be satisfactory?), I got up, showered, and headed to the airport for the trek westward. Raleigh was cold. Dallas felt colder and was definitely nastier. Palm Springs, where I am now, was and is gorgeous. I packed only long-sleeved shirts, which may have been a mistake.

TEDActive (the official name for the satellite TED I'm attending, my third such gathering) kicks off tomorrow with some group activities. I'm joining a trip to a wind-power station because I've never seen one. There are some informal social gatherings Tuesday night, and then Wednesday morning, the talks begin. I'm usually terrible at the social gatherings, but I always learn a great deal from and enjoy the talks.

I actually spent three hours in bed last night, but for the first two of them, I couldn't sleep. Part of the reason was early travel, but a bigger reason was a notion that came to me and which I spent a lot of time exploring. I haven't decided yet whether to act on it, but if I do, you'll hear about it first here.

I'm chugging steadily through the book, as is Dave, who's now given me his comments on about three quarters of it. I expect he'll finish it in the next day or two; I'll take more than a bit longer. Still, it's all downhill now, and I expect to work my way to the end of Children No More well before the end of February. I'm psyched--so much so that I'm now heading offline to join The Big Red Binder on my room's sofa for a little editing session.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

UFC 109: How we did

Kyle and I tied this time around, with each of us picking correctly one of the two fights in which we had made different choices. Kyle's win came on the co-main-event, however, so I have to give him the slight nod overall.

Here's how we did on each fight. As always, I'll start with the undercard, which is often very hard to call, because we don't know the fighters as well as we do the bigger names. In the cases of our errors here, though, we really can't use that excuse; we were just wrong.

Joey Beltran vs. Rolles Gracie

I don't know anyone who picked Beltran to win this fight, and when I saw the two of them in the octagon--the UFC showed this fight on the PPV after the main event--I was doubly certain Beltran would lose. Gracie was significantly better and appeared to be in far better shape.

The fight began the way Gracie wanted, with some stand-up and then a trip to the ground. At that point, I figured Kyle and I had called it right, with the only question being how Gracie would submit Beltran. Instead, Beltran worked his way free. He then won the striking war, which wasn't hard, because Gracie moved like Frankenstein's monster. In my opinion, Beltran ultimately carried the first round. In the second round, Gracie gassed, tried to entice Beltran into playing the ground game again, and failed. Finally, Beltran just got on Gracie's back and beat on him until the ref stopped the fight.

Chalk up one bad call for both of us.

Tim Hague vs. Chris Tuchscherer

This bout didn't make it to TV, so I have to go with the text summaries. From what I read, it went pretty much as we both guessed it would: Tuchscherer's wrestling let him carry the day. Interestingly, though Tuchscherer won the judges' decision, called it two rounds to one for Hague.

Brian Stann vs. Phil Davis

Kyle and I both bucked the odds and picked Stann to win. We were wrong; the oddsmakers were right. Davis, who is an amazing physical specimen, completely dominated Stann for all three rounds with his wrestling and did a fine job of avoiding Stann's strikes. Davis has incredible potential, and I look forward to seeing him fight again.

Phillipe Nover vs. Rob Emerson

This is another fight I didn't get to see, but it brought me the tie with Kyle as Emerson won by unanimous decision. In all truth, I dislike Emerson's behavior enough that I would have been happy had Kyle been right and Nover won, but from what I've read, Emerson earned this victory.

Melvin Guillard vs. Ronnys Torres

I had no clue Guillard had been training with Greg Jackson and rooming with Joe Stevenson. If I had, I would have chosen differently and picked him to win--and then I would have been right, because win he did.

Instead, I chose Torres, as did Kyle, and we were both wrong. Guillard earned a unanimous-decision victory, and though called it for Torres, I agree with the judges.

After the fight, Guillard praised his camp and said that as far as he was concerned, he was starting over his career and was now 1-0. If Jackson really can teach Guillard to use his enormous physical assets, Guillard could become a force among the lightweights. It'll be interesting to see.

Mac Danzig vs. Justin Buchholz

We both chose Danzig, and indeed he won. I thought he'd submit Buchholz, but instead he had to settle for the judges' decision. Buchholz fought a good fight, but Danzig was just better.

So, as the undercard ended, I was up one fight over Kyle, but we'd both made some mis-calls. Kyle came back on the main card.

Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg

I said Serra was likely to win by strikes, and Kyle said he wouldn't be surprised if Serra repeated his KO of GSP. Serra almost did, as he knocked down Trigg in the first round and then hit him a few more times before the ref stopped the fight and awarded Serra the TKO.

Demian Maia vs. Dan Miller

We both correctly called Maia as the winner, but that's the only way in which we were right. We both said Maia would get Miller down and submit him, but that never happened. When Maia did take down Miller, he couldn't submit him. Maia rarely bothered, though, and instead stood and struck with Miller. After the fight, Maia said he'd decided to do that and make it tougher on himself, which he did--but not so tough that he didn't win. Training with Wanderlei Silva clearly paid off for Maia.

Mike Swick vs. Paulo Thiago

Another fight we both called wrong: I figured Swick to win by decision, while Kyle thought Swick would KO Thiago. Instead, Thiago won the first round, beat on Swick in the second, and then submitted Swick. Thiago looked way better than Swick en route to a very impressive victory.

Nathan Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen

Kyle was right: Sonnen won by unanimous decision. I don't think he was correct about Sonnen setting a pace that Marquardt couldn't manage, however, as Marquardt's best minute of the fight was its last, when he nearly submitted Sonnen and then beat on him. Marquardt also badly cut Sonnen in the second round, but it didn't matter. Sonner was the wrestling Terminator, taking down Marquardt at will and just dominating him from the top. I was more impressed with Sonnen in this fight than I've ever been.

Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman

Here's what I wrote:

"I expect an entertaining first seven or so minutes, and then Couture will take down Coleman or pin him to the fence, feed him a lot of punches, and eventually the ref will stop the fight."
I was mighty close, except that after about that much time, Couture put Coleman on the ground, hit him a bit, and then submitted him.

Kyle had expected an early storm from Coleman, and so had I. There was no storm. Coleman was never in this.

Couture looked better than in his last two fights, with by far the best striking he's shown in recent years and superior cage control. I have no way to know if Couture can use these new skills effectively against the elite light heavyweights, though I suspect he won't be able to do so, but we'll find out when he gets his chance at the light heavyweight title after Machida and Rua have their rematch.

A song before bed

It's coming on eight a.m., and I'm still awake and feeling good. I know I need to go to bed so Sunday can start, but I'm in the groove and sleep is hard to come by. Still, I'll do it.

As a treat, have another song from Patti Scialfa. Enjoy.


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