Saturday, March 2, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 7

Travel days are seldom fun.  Today wasn't awful, but it definitely didn't start out fun.

I worked in my room up to the minute that I had to leave to check out.  Before I turned to putting away my computer and its power supply, I wheeled my large suitcase to a spot near the room's door and opened the door.  This way, I'd be able to move quickly as soon as I packed the computer stuff in my backpack.

A housekeeper's head appeared in the doorway.  "You leave?" she said.

"In five minutes or less," I said.

She started to pull the door shut.

"Please leave it open," I said.

"Okay," she said.

She closed it. 

At checkout, I asked for a zero-balance receipt, a common request from business travelers.  The woman behind the counter handed me a receipt and said, "We'll charge your card later."

It was not a zero-balance receipt, which I need so I can submit my expenses for reimbursement.  So, I asked again, this time suggesting she charge my card now.  She consulted with a manager and learned that, yes, she could charge me now; in fact, as the manager pointed out, she should have done that in the first place.

The cab ride took a bit longer than the advertised time, but we reached the airport about an hour and five minutes before take-off time.  No problem; PSP is a small airport.

Only one person was working the American counter, and she moved only slightly faster than molasses flowing uphill.  Ten minutes later, I, the only person in the priority line, got to check in.

Still, no worries yet.  A quick dash through security, and then I'd be able to buy some water and lunch to take on the plane.

No such luck.  Security was backed up beyond its normal maximum of five winding aisles and most of the way to baggage claim.  Everyone in the line was nice, but everyone was also on edge.

Forty minutes later, fifteen minutes before departure time, I exited the security area in time to hear the last call for my flight.  I dashed to my gate, handed the woman at the boarding station my boarding pass, failed to scan.

That's when the good news started.  I'd been upgraded, which is why my previous seat assignment no longer passed the machine's muster; another person was in that seat.

On the flight to ORD, I was lucky enough to have a salad with chicken for lunch, drink all the water and Diet Coke I wanted, and work nearly the entire flight.  I can ask no more from a flight.

In ORD, dinner was a bottle of water and a fairly lame "Tuscan" sandwich from a mediocre place in the G terminal.  They can't all be winners.

The second flight was on a commuter jet, so we were all in small seats with no bandwidth.  Nonetheless, I was able to work and read, and the flight attendant, a man with the most annoying voice I've heard in some years, served me Diet Coke, so I can't really complain.

I'm home now and glad to be here. 

No more trips until my sabbatical!

Friday, March 1, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 6

We had only two sessions today, as is the TED tradition.  In the first, we heard 

  • Jim Flynn discuss why IQ scores have risen so much over the last hundred years
  • Jared Diamond talk about the many lessons we could learn from more traditional, older societies
  • Daniel Ogilvie explore how early in our lives we come to believe in the existence of a soul
and many more good and interesting TED talks.

The one that touched me the most was Joshua Prager's very personal tale of tracking down and talking with the man who caused the traffic accident that broke Prager's neck and changed his body--and his life--forever.  

The presentation that intrigued me the most was Dan Pallotta's discussion of why and how we are doing the wrong things with our not-for-profit organizations.  He persuasively argued for higher compensation for their staff and far less attention on their overhead.

Julia Sweeney's satirical TED wrap-up was hilarious while hitting mighty close to home on more than a few talks.

Chris Anderson closed the show with Eric Whitacre conducting his composition, Cloud Burst, with both a choir standing in front of him and one joining via Skype live from something like 35 different countries.  It was beautiful.

After the sessions ended, we enjoyed lunch around the pool, and then we dispersed, the TEDActive physical community once more transformed into a virtual one.

Next year:  Whistler.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 5

The talks today were in general the weakest thus far, except when they weren't.  None was bad, mind you, and none was useless.  I learned at least a little something from all of them. 

A few of today's presentations were particularly intriguing, and two--the final two--were so moving that they brought nearly the entire  audience to its feet.

Among the more routine but still very interesting talks, I'll single out two.  Sydney radio host and math lover Adam Spencer made everyone laugh even as he communicated his genuine love of numbers in a talk that at its core was just an extended bit about large prime numbers. Anas Aremeyaw Anas, wearing a mask to protect his real identity, showed the power of undercover, investigative journalism.

In the penultimate presentation, Hyeonseo Lee, a young North Korean woman who escaped that country and later helped her family escape, recounted, at times with obvious pain, what led her to escape from her homeland and what happened after she did.  Touching, terrifying, troubling, and incredibly moving, Lee moved us all. 

In the final performance of the day, poet Shane Koyczan stood and with passion and heart and fire and vulnerability and above all strength shared with us a poem that started with his youth and that ultimately included the amazing piece you can listen to (and see an animated version of) at the To This Day Project.  When he finished, we all leapt to our feet.  Go listen to this poem.  When his TED talk goes live, as I hope it will, listen to it.  It's a sad tale of what so many of us go through as children, and it's an uplifting testimony to what we can be, what we all can be, if we can learn to love ourselves and to ignore the horrible lessons that bullies and thoughtless adults and mean kids tried to teach us. 

Do not miss this poem.  Listen to it, then read it on his site.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 4

Today was the kind of day that makes me keep coming back to TED.  Not all of the talks were great--in fact, some were weak--but so many were wonderful that I left the last session filled with ideas and exhilarated at having heard so many excellent presentations. 

Before I mention a few of today's talks, though, I want to point you to the talk from this year's TEDPrize winner, Sugata Mitra:  check it out here.  I'll be very curious to see the results after he's set up his school in the cloud. 

Now, back to today.  Let me just skip through a few of the many notable presentations. 

The TED organizers portrayed Amanda Palmer's talk as being about making digital content free and asking fans to support artists on a patronage basis, but what she really discussed was the connection between artist and fan, the truly personal connection, and the power it brings to both parties. 

I lack the dance vocabulary to understand fully the performance that Rich and Tone Talayega choreographed and had performed for us, but I found it mesmerizing.  

Leyla Acaroglu debunked a great deal of environmental folklore and pointed out that if we really want to help the environment, we have to consider the full lifecycles of our goods--and fundamentally reduce our consumption.

Ron Finley discussed his efforts to grow food in small gardens on public land in South Central LA.  He was forceful, strong, funny, and persuasive. 

Allan Savory fascinated us with his presentation on desertification and his experiments that suggest that the best cure is through the careful management of huge herds of grazing, roaming livestock--quite in contradiction to conventional wisdom. 

We saw young scientists--high-schoolers--doing amazing work, artists, and many others. 

The best talk of the day, though, was from Lawrence Lessig.  He discussed a huge American problem:  the unreasonable influence of a very small number of Americans on elections today.  He pointed out that 132 Americans gave 60% of the money that went to SuperPACs.  This is a problem, he noted, that we can and should fix.  I hope we do. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 3

Before I dive into today's events, I owe you a few happy snaps.  Let's start with the view as you step out of my room, turn left, and face the main part of the resort. 

(As always, click on an image to see a larger one.)

Yeah, it's beautiful here. 

The TED swag bag is also a requirement.  This year, they offered four different bags.  I arrived too late to get the Techie bag--it was gone before we reached the resort--so I opted for the Creative one. 

Again, not too shabby. 

The main room where we gather for the talks is a nifty space, as you can see in this photo as we were all rushing to our seats for this morning's pre-session discussions. 

One of the treats of the morning was a bit of traditional Indian dance and then a bit of Bollywood dancing from a tremendously talented Indian woman whose name I am embarrassed to admit I did not get.  After she got the audience going, the TEDActive hosts asked her to come on stage and lead all those interested in a short Bollywood number.  Here's the result. 

Lunch today was outside in the Quad, with food courtesy of three food trucks. 

Again, not too shabby on the scenery front. 

For dinner, we rode buses into old La Quinta and ate from a selection of half a dozen food trucks, while a Cuban band we'd seen from Long Beach played live for us. 

Dessert was courtesy of a cupcake food truck.  I particularly enjoyed the Food Network award-winning bacon cupcake. 

Yeah, no matter what you may think, it was tasty.  Of course, to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I also tried the double-chocolate; I felt I owed it to all of you to make sure multiple cupcakes were good.

Okay, enough of the pictures.  Don't expect any more from me; I just owed you some.

Today's talks ran the gamut from one that wandered relatively pointlessly through many good ones to a few that really touched me in different ways.  The musical performances were also interesting, with Beardyman being fun and interesting but the young Sleepy Man Banjo Boys (the Mizzone brothers from New Jersey; they're 15, 14, and 10, and the ten-year-old banjo wizard is the star) just stealing the show with wonderful bluegrass. 

The cumulative effect of the talks is more interesting to me today than any single talk:  I come away tired but exhilarated, thrilled to have had the time to think about so many different topics in so many different ways. 

Two themes spanned many talks:  how to help the bottom 20 (or greater) economic percent of the U.S. and the world, and how to fix education, a challenge that is related to the first theme. 

As a father of a twenty-two-year-old daughter and a son about to turn twenty, I was also quite interested in what clinical psychologist Meg Jay had to say.  (I don't want to use this forum in any way to try to direct advice to my kids, so I hope they don't think I am.)  Her basic tenet was that thirty is not the new twenty, that instead the twenties are a key time for developing yourself.  She argued that the twenty-somethings should develop identity capital now, that the urban tribe is over-rated, and that the time to pick your family is now.  Interesting stuff, and she presented it compellingly. 

The talk that most touched my heart was by a TED staffer, Lisa Bu.  Staff don't normally give talks, but she had done a version of this at a TED retreat, and after hearing it, they put her on stage.  I'm glad they did.  She talked about how books and her love of reading saved her, and she argued for reading related books in pairs.  She also had one of my favorite lines of TED so far, which I will attempt to quote here but will probably have at least slightly wrong:
Coming true is not the only purpose of a dream. Getting in touch with where dreams come from, where happiness comes from, where passion comes from, is also the purpose of a dream.

I love that.  I sincerely and deeply do. 

Near the end of the day, they awarded the TED Prize to Sugata Mitra, an Indian educator who has done amazing things simply by leaving computers lying around for poor kids to experiment with.  When his talk goes online, definitely check it out.

I could go on and on, but the sessions start early, and I need some sleep. 

In closing, though, I want to say this.  I rarely socialize at TEDActive.  I am one of the older people here.  I don't feel like I belong (of course, I never do).  I wander around feeling alienated and out of place and wishing I knew how to fit in (which is also the norm).  No single talk utterly blew me away.

And I already want to come back next year. 

That, for me, is perhaps the biggest magic trick of TED/TEDActive.

Monday, February 25, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 2

Today I debugged my room.

Bandwidth had been bad last night, but when I got up this morning and began to work, it turned from bad to unusable.  I couldn't hold an email connection, and I couldn't send any messages.  I talked to Bill and learned that he was not having these problems because he had a wired connection.  Unfortunately, my room lacked any such connection.  I then had this lovely exchange with a hotel IT support person. 

Me: I would like a wired connection for my room.

IT: We can send someone to fix your wireless.

Me:  My wireless is working.  It's just slow.

IT:  No it's not.

Me:  Yes, it is.  I can't send any messages.  Text-only Web pages take thirty or more seconds to appear.  It is slow.

IT:  We don't have any wired connections.

Me:  Then move me to a room with one.  I know they exist, because my colleague is in one.

IT:  We can send someone to fix your wireless. 

Me:  As I said, the problem is not that the wireless is not working; the problem is that it's slow.  I need a wired connection. 

IT:  We don't have any, because so many guests are requesting them. 

Me:  Because the wireless is slow.
IT:  Maybe.
Me:  Well, I am one of those guests.  Are you completely out of the wired connections?

IT:  We'll send someone to look into it.  [hangs up]

Ten minutes later, a woman with a Cisco wired modem appeared at my door.  When I asked if the modems were scarce, she said, "We have plenty of them."  She installed it quickly and efficiently, tested it, and left me a note to that effect. 

While she was working, I was doing a client conference call from my closet; I had to be somewhere quiet. 

I have now renamed my closet, "the conference room." 

Now, my bandwidth is merely bad, the usual state of hotel bandwidth.

Next on my room's hit parade was the toilet, a device designed to make me insane.  To make it fully flush, you had to hold down the handle for between fifteen and thirty seconds; I could discern no clear pattern.  Bill suggested I not try to optimize such a small amount of time, but the toilet and the wasted time annoyed me, so I called and asked for someone to repair it. 

Fortunately, no one argued with me this time; they just dispatched a repair person. 

Right after that, the conference began with an hour segment, which ran 90 minutes, on "Inside TED."  In it, various TED staffers talked and ran videos about all the things TED does, its reach, the huge community that makes it work, and so on.

I left this session with the two feelings that often hit me at TED:  I was inspired, and I felt small, a man of no accomplishment. 

I want to use both feelings to do more, to help make my company be more its best self and to spread the lessons we've learned from building it, and to make my writing better, to create stronger works and reach larger audiences.

After the session, we joined one of the three poolside "Welcome home" barbecues, where we chatted with a few new folks and then, our social graces exhausted, retreated to Bill's room and chatted further.

More work filled the rest of the day.

Tomorrow, the sessions start in earnest.  I'm psyched!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

On the road again: TEDActive, day 1

Pre-conference activities start Monday, and the talks begin Tuesday, so today was a travel day. 

It started well enough:  I slept late, packed, grabbed some lunch, and headed to the airport.  The first flight was running late, but not a lot, and I spent the time in the Admiral's Club first working and then watching some of the Duke game.  An upgrade came through, so I flew to DFW in first class.

So far, so good.

In DFW, I had time to eat a delicious small bowl of Red Mango vanilla bean frozen yogurt with strawberries and mango, so I can't complain about the time there.  An upgrade came through on the second flight as well, so once again I was lucky. 

Then, the day turned interesting. 

First, we encountered the worst turbulence I can remember.  Everything was bouncing, the plane was weaving a bit, and I actually had to stop reading--which, for me, is quite a concession to the weather.

The flight calmed, but twenty minutes outside Palm Springs we learned that we could not land because a small plane had some sort of mishap on the runway.  (I still don't know what happened.)  After a bit of circling, we were running out of fuel, so we diverted to LA and landed at Ontario airport.  The plan then was to rent buses for all the passengers, but that was going to take a long time, so we and a few other TEDActive attendees rented a SuperShuttle van and rode to Palm Springs. 

We were originally due to land at 8:45 p.m. PST.  I hit my room a little bit before midnight. 

I am happy not to be traveling. 


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