Monday, March 16, 2015

On the road again: TEDActive, Whistler, day 1

The conference cranked up in earnest today.  After way too little sleep, I got up, worked, showered, and headed to the conference center to register and pick up the always interesting TED gift bag.

Speaking of which, here's my obligatory picture of the bag--a very cool backpack from Moleskine, which I didn't even realize did packs--and its contents.

 Click an image to see a larger version.

TEDActive is always chock-a-block with interesting stuff, some of it funky, some high-end, and all of it at least interesting.

Following on Pico Iyer's TED book, which I reviewed in an earlier entry, we have a stillness area.

A video confession booth for discussing nuclear disarmament.

Multiple dispensers of cold water, both sparkling and still.  Snack areas.  Our own coffee bar.

Of course we have a bean-to-bar chocolate tasting area that never runs out.  Doesn't everyone?

The waiting lounge outside the main theater isn't too shabby, either.

Even the staircases at TEDActive are fancy!

As you would expect, the theater where we watch the talks--a few live, most simulcast--is also rather spiffy.

Seriously, the TED folks do a superb job of creating an event that is both luxurious and thought-provoking. 

The first two sessions of the day contained talks from TED Fellows.  All were fairly short, around ten minutes each, and we watched them from yet another space (not the main theater above), one the organizers kept completely dark, so I could not take notes.  I also have no program for it.  The talks ranged from okay to quite good, but I cannot, alas, report more details on them.

The first session of the TED conference proper was Opening Gambit, and it started at 6:00 p.m.  Though no talk in it absolutely blew me away, every single one was strong and interesting.  On balance, I'd call this one of the best first sessions of all the TEDActive events I've attended (which is all but one of the eight; to my ongoing regret, I missed one the year my mom died).  I recommend you watch all of these talks when they become available online.  A few impressions:

A band, Moon Hooch, opened the show with a song.  More on them in a bit. 

Kevin Rudd, a former Prime Minister of Australia, discussed whether China and the U.S. would find a peaceful way forward together or end up in war.  He certainly sounded alarms, but he also left us with a sense of optimism, the notion that we could indeed all build a peaceful future and some broad ideas on how to do so.

Foreign policy analyst David Rothkopf talked about our disproportionate reaction to the tragedy of 9/11 and how we need to focus now on the many huge issues of the day.  That summary really does his talk an injustice; I do recommend it.

Joseph DeSimone, a chemist and UNC professor (now on leave and acting as CEO of Carbon3D) discussed an exciting new 3D printing technology and demonstrated it live on stage.  His company's inspiration was the bad cyborg in Terminator 2; keep that in mind when you one day watch this video. 

MIT computer vision scientist Abe Davis showed a new technology for recovering audio from silent video footage by detecting minute movements in response to sound waves.  The NSA will love this technology, but there's far more to it than just another surveillance tool.

Moon Hooch then returned to the stage.  A drummer and two saxophonists, they combine live performances with real-time computer treatment of their sounds to create what they call Cave Music.  Part jazz, part electronica, and part dance music, I expected from that description to dislike it, but instead I very much enjoyed it.  I'll be buying their CDs.

The final talk of the day came from performance artist Marina Abramovic.  We all had blindfolds on our chairs and had to wear them as she opened her talk with a description of a disturbing live piece she did in 1974.  Shen then talked a great deal about the power of performance art.  I am often skeptical of this type of art, but I very much enjoyed her talk and could see the power in it.  As part of her talk, she asked us all to turn to a neighbor we did not know and stare into each other's eyes, blinking as little as possible, for two minutes.  My neighbor of choice was a guy named Al.  I found it an odd and at times moving experience; how often does any of us stare intently into the eyes of anyone for that long?

After a brief stop at the room, Bill and I walked to the opening-night party cum grazing dinner, where we ate and talked to a few folks.  I never made it to the DIY s'mores area, but I did enjoy brisket, poutine, a small sausage with sauerkraut, and other treats.

As a shout out to Sarah, they even had, next to the sausages, an all-you-could-eat fresh pretzel area.

Sorry you missed it, Sarah.

Always the masters of branding, the conference even had its own lager.

As a non-drinker, I passed on this one.

I ended the day by going back to the room to blog and work and, finally, sleep.

Tomorrow's sessions start at 8:30 a.m. and run all day long!

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