Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On the road again: TEDActive, day 2

The only way I could remotely do justice to a day of TED sessions would be to blog constantly throughout the day, and then I'd miss much of the experience. What I can do instead is offer a quick summary and then verbal snapshots of some of the presentations. In those short takes, in the interest of time I'm not even going to try to provide the URLs of all the presenters; you'll have to Google them on your own.

I enjoyed today very much. I thought only one presentation was weak, many strong, and a few quite moving. Nothing stretched my brain and made me think completely differently, but all made me think, which is why I am here.

The TED 2011 house band played a lot of Stevie Wonder, which was quite good, but what was most impressive is that its members range in age from 14 to 17. Wow, they sounded good.

Astronaut Catherine Colman opened by welcoming us (in a talk recorded a few days ago) from the International Space Station. The views were, of course, amazing, and it rekindled my long-suppressed desire to go into space. NASA is streaming the TED talks live to the ISS, a very cool move indeed.

Jenna Levin postulated that the universe has a soundtrack and played some of the sounds she believes that black holes in various states would make to our ears via gravitational waves--all ignoring, as she of course noted, the fact that we'd be crushed before we could hear anything. One of the first bits she played evoked a human heartbeat and was thus instinctively touching.

Sarah Marquis, who has walked alone across various parts of the Earth for twenty years and tens of thousands of kilometers, spoke to us via cell phone from a remote part of China.

David Brooks offered a somewhat scattered and rambling but nonetheless entertaining and provocative talk on why we as a society need to pay more attention to the emotional side of ourselves.

In the talk that moved me the most, composer Eric Whitacre reviewed for us the origins of his virtual choir project, Lux Aurumque. This one has been around for a while, but watching it still brought a tear to my eyes. Check it out.

He then debuted the first couple of minutes of Sleep, the next virtual choir project. It will feature over two thousand different voices. As someone who always wanted to sing but has a terrible singing voice and a rough childhood past when I even tried, this one really touched me.

Wadah Khanfar, the head of Al Jazeera, argued that real change is coming to the Middle East, and though his outlook was surprisingly simplistic, I hope he is right.

Architect Thomas Heatherwick discussed and showed examples of the extraordinary buildings (and a bus) that his studio has created. Had I seen his talk at age 12, I would have pledged my soul to architecture and design.

The combination of the vocal-free house band and listening to Bobby McFerrin perform made me rethink my claim to Elizabeth that I could not like jazz. If what McFerrin is doing with his voice is jazz, I'm at least open to listening more.

Chef Homaru Cantu of Moto, where I've eaten (and, yes, it's worth the money), and his partner, Ben Roche, talked about flavor transformation and other topics related to and in some ways beyond molecular gastronomy. On each of our chairs was a small box with three pairs of things--a piece of paper, a truffle, packing material--and a lemon. We ate one of each and licked the lemon. We then let a small pill dissolve on our tongue for a bit, and ate the remaining items. Each tasted completely different. Fun stuff, but more than fun, a rethinking of the way we could make food and flavors.

Magician Franz Harary spoke and performed a few illusions in an entertaining presentation. Like so many folks, for a brief time as a child I wanted to be a magician, so I very much enjoyed the bits he did.

There was more, a great deal more, but that will serve for me for today.

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