Thursday, March 20, 2014

On the road again: TEDActive, Whistler, day 4

We'll start again with the health report:  I'm not dead yet.  I'm also not well yet.  Each day, I seem to be getting a tiny bit better, so I'm going to hope that trend continues.

Now, on to the conference.

Each day, I've said I was going to write only a short piece, and each day, I've failed to do that.  Tonight, I intend to stick to that goal and hit only some highlights of the day.

The thing is, though, at TED there are a lot of highlights.

After trying to come on first and then encountering technical difficulties, Rick Ledgett, Deputy Director of the NSA, ended the morning session with a long video conversation with Chris Anderson.  Ledgett did his best to answer Anderson's questions, but to my taste he kept coming across as the not entirely trustworthy head of a major intelligence operation--the latter of which, of course, he is.  I doubt he changed anyone's mind on the Snowden issues, but I have to applaud him to joining the discussion at TED.

Earlier in that session, I enjoyed Keren Elazari's defense of the positive role hackers can and often do play in world of the Internet. 

David Epstein's discussion of what has really changed in sports and how much technology is shaping sports records was consistently fascinating.  I am definitely going to pick up his book, The Sports Gene.

Science writer Ed Yong shared with us his passion for parasites, and I learned a great deal. 

In a short talk, Seth Godin argued that we should learn not to hold anything back, at least on occasion. 

A high point of the afternoon was a roundtable discussion, which Kelly and Rives hosted on the stage here in Whistler, with six TED speakers:  Ron Finley, TED Prize winner Charmian Gooch, Raghava KK, Chris Kluwe, Geena Rocerco, and Stefan Sagmeister.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

As it turns out, Sagmeister had originally planned to give his TED talk this week on the importance of beauty but decided to talk instead about the TED intros he had designed.  The audience's applause persuaded him to give us the talk, which left me with a lot to consider.  

The final session of the day opened with Sara Lewis teaching us just how fascinating fireflies really are. 

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins recited two poems from dogs.  The one in the voice of a dog talking the master who had just put him to sleep was lovely, angry, and touching. 

In an entertaining and frequently funny talk, xkcd creator Randall Munroe told us about the questions he gets and the energy he puts into answering some of them.

Andrew Connolly talked a bit about the big-data problems the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will bring us--but with those problems will come amazing pictures of the universe.

Continuing the space theme, in one of the more endearing presentations, Will Marshall, a co-founder of Planet Labs, talked about the cheap imaging satellites his company was launching and the quality and quantity of data those satellites will soon make available to us all.  I love his ambition and mission, but at no point in the talk could I figure out how the company would make money.

Director Louie Schwartzberg showed bits from his 3D IMAX film, Mysteries of the Unseen World.  I definitely want to see this one, ideally in IMAX.

The last act of today was the announcement by XPRIZE co-founder Peter Diamandis and Chris Anderson of the new A.I. XPRIZE, presented by TED.  The challenge is to have an A.I. come on stage (in any way) at TED and give a talk that earns a standing ovation.  The TED community will help create the rules for the talk.  I look forward to seeing this effort play out. 

In the evening, for the first time since arriving at the hotel, I went outside.  I've been avoiding doing that because of my health, but I had to do it to attend tonight's celebration dinner at the top of the mountain.

Did I mention it's beautiful here?  Check out the ski slope that ends at the hotel.

I loved this stream, which we crossed on foot on a wooden bridge.

We rode in gondola cars in groups of six up the mountain for a dinner and party. 

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman came over from TED in Vancouver to do a short, post-dinner show for us. Palmer started by joining a local cover band in the Violent Femmes' "Blister In the Sun," a song I quite like.

Palmer sang a few songs, one without a mic.

Gaiman read a very short story from his Blackberry calendar project; he chose the tale for October.

On the gondola ride down, the town spread out before us like a magic village.

Another fine TED day.

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