This is my TED2009 story [TED = technology, entertainment and design]. It aims to give you a sense of what it feels like to be there. Some of this may seem like an insider’s story and I apologise for that.

For 3.5 days we watched, heard, tasted [those who got the bread in Long Beach and all of us with the Vosges chocolates] as well as felt many wonderful performances. That chocolate with beer was such a novel taste!

As is now becoming a tradition @TED satellite event we started, carried on and finished on a funny note – thanks to Rives and Kelly and a team of comedians. TEDsters – us community members in attendance – were invited in the beginning to get on stage to get the interactive thing happening. The deal was that we had 30 seconds to tell the audience a story around “Once I got caught….”.

My story started with how I am passionate about understanding what makes us people tick and I have now made it my business – Hunome [not yet launched] – to improve that understanding for many; how it is exciting to gain insights to what we are, who we are, why we are. Naturally TED is a wonderful home away from home for me on these topics. I then moved on to talk about a milestone in my life that probably has something to do with me wanting to know more about us humans….. I…. once…. got caught…. peering into my parents bedroom……..when they were at it ……………and it was not the missionary  —-

All you Pop Psychologists trying to analyse – I was old enough to 1/ know better than to barge in and 2/ not be forever scarred or whatever.

I’ve got a great mum, she laughed when she heard what I had revealed and dad is no longer in any position….to protest. And you know what, it was a good one as the story scored me a spot in the TED finale skit from Palm Springs – one of the guys mysteriously whispered into my ear the code word Mr Pink…..and that was my entry to some FUN participation.

Nothing much is out of bounds @TED, which is why it is a wonderful place to have a conversation about anything with anyone attending. Is this because TEDsters tend to come from a point of emotion and rationale and hence often deep understanding and focus in their fields of endeavour or a verocious curiosity and yearning to learn? Feed me feed me! Amazingly this sense of recognition among the participants extended to rather private conversations about life situations and the like. Fascinating.

This was my second TED. It was different in that this time I knew a number of people already, I knew some basics about how the whole thing works, I could prepare myself beforehand with more ease and TED had thought of ways to assist us get launched into it. I’d say my system was working at a calmer level than last year. Despite the 10.30pm rehearsals for the skit I still got to meet about 10% of the people in Palm Springs whom I had not met before.

Feelings are my filter to make sense of what happened, what impact the performances had on me. The toughest question posed was which performance did you like the best? Oh come on how can I possibly distinguish between Elizabeth Gilbert [writer] and Willie Smits [eco revitaliser] and Jamie Cullum [jazz revitaliser], all of whom made me smile – that deep aaaaah smile.


Artists are so good at leveraging trance inducing language. I was mesmerised by the sculpture world of Olafur Eliasson – “we look at something and our brain is talking back”, “the viewer co-produces and becomes the author, taking responsibility for what we see”, “the waterfall as a means to measure space, giving a city a sense of space and making that space accessible”.

Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist. I met Dan before at EG and loved his talk then and loved this one too. It is not just what he talks about, in this case it was how we all tend to lie a little as shown through his studies but also how, with humour, he delivers his message. Thanks Dan!

Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu, for El Sistema, is one of the TED Prize winners. He has worked for years on building means to help poor children through music. Around Venezuela he has saved many lives from drugs and misery through his youth orchestras. These kids play wonderfully and the delivery is a joy to watch as the rhythm of the music is infused into the choreography of the players while they play, for some of the pieces. He is looking for assistance to spread the ‘system’ around the world.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert was one of the popular speakers @ TED2009. She spoke to us about the poem that chased the poet who was not quite ready, to illustrate a disembodied genius rather than the genius we ‘are’ or might be, which puts such huge pressure on an artist/creative person that it kills. If we think of the creative spirit something which we welcome when we’re ready it takes some of that pain away. This was not a case of lazy artist waiting for inspiration, as Elizabeth told us she works hard at her art, but rather an artist who accepts that it takes more than hard work. This disembodied source allows us not to get cocky when success hits like for Elizabeth with her Eat, Pray, Love book and also it allows us to be comforted when things don’t go as expected. Keeps a good balance. Very helpful! You need to listen to it.


I just sang Happy Birthday to my brother-in-law, as I do. This time I had a special something to add to it, courtesy of Ben Zander who conducted us @TED to sing happy birthday to Ross – an audience member who got to sit in front of a few thousand people while we sang happy birthday, several times. We started off the usual way – barely uttering the words properly. As Ben told us we were crap we got better. And did it again and again. In the end we had a beaming Ross in front of us feeling the luuuuv. [NB In front = as in a screen from PS].

On the last day Kent of AskaNinja fame happened to mention that he needed to go as he had his birthday party to go to. In a matter of seconds we had the room full of TEDsters singing Happy Birthday to YOU, as one should. He beamed too!!!


I am younger than Bill Gates but I want to say “I am proud of you” or something of that ilk. Here is a man who has had good advice, influencers and within himself has a good sense of meaning and understanding of what matters. So there he is in the early days of his second major contribution to the world. Most of us are happy to have our one living legacy come to fruition but this guy has two. Thank goodness though that I was at the satellite event – as there is nothing worse than trying to concentrate on something so important and be distracted by a mosquito buzzing, let alone being inoculated by one. [follow link provided to see what I mean]


When we cannot agree [e.g. science is not ‘done’ on earth until we’re finished] we really should err on the side of caution. No? Whether we’re talking about climate change [Al Gore update], ocean fish depletion [TED Prize winner Sylvia Earle] or poverty. We keep arguing about potentially devastating aspects of human existence. So if the climate change is part man made and part sun spots – just saying – wouldn’t it then be better to take action on the side that says let’s do what we can and enjoy the side benefits, like cleaner air to breathe or variety of fish harvested in a sustainable manner. But unfortunately often short termist excuses or agendas stop us.


When one theory is discussed as the answer [ theory of everything included ] I see red. Perhaps this is back to the fact that we learn new things until our existence is finished.  In this case it was a presentation on game theory, predictability and claims of success every time. That is not so bad as there is some history to the claims but when there is very little given of a broader context and when the terms predictable future = actionable future are linked in the way they were then I know a few people in this world who’d say come on guy, how about we discuss the other means for foresight too so that we don’t confuse people of the possibilities for dealing with our long term decision-making. To Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s credit he did say that not everything is predictable, i.e. some things in this world can be set up for leveraging game theory to provide ‘answers’ or predictions, e.g. complex negotiations where stakeholders, positions, engagement level and focus of interest can be clearly laid out. What he did not say though is that there are many other ways to deal much better with the future than many do today. Talk to a professional/skilled futurist around you and you’ll find out more.


One man gave me more hope that all the other performances put together. That was Willie Smits, a conservationist, who over only a few years altered a whole ecosystem in the Indonesian Borneo. His knowledge of the intricate details, which go into making such a delicate shift happen was deeply felt. Not only did he do this to save his much loved orangutan population but also to make life better for people. He thought carefully about the win-win in the model that would work for all and how to get the engagement and support he needed. Why did this one give me so much hope? There were many other presentations which gave me hope like Bonnie Bassler on bacterial quorum sensing, i.e. bacterial communication which can lead to a novel approach to our resistance to antibiotics and also Shai Agassi with his matter of fact clear program to start transitioning countries to Green Auto. Perhaps the one thing that set Willie apart was the – done it, can be done anywhere, is an answer to the question posed by many and his delivery – so modest and passionate and sensitive to the needs of the community.


Thank goodness this event was not another woe me woe me we’re doomed event, although there was some urgency around environment and oceans. Davos was enough from what I hear.

That thing about whether we’d rather be pessimists or optimists in this situation and how it is the optimists who get things done. I think it was Craig Venter who said that. Smart man that Craig.

We heard from a military strategist P.W. Singer whose talk was on how to make war better for the soldier, i.e. increasing robotics and the like but what about how to get so clever that we avoid one in the first place?

I wouldn’t mind hearing some well put together alternatives for the broken economic system – no currency, what would that look like, could it work? [not just barter, something else]. Apparently we could end all poverty if we didn’t have our economic system – gosh – that sounds like a pretty good incentive. I know it is not so simple but hey, worth a dig. World currency – how would that work and what would need to change. Perhaps next year under the TED title “What the world needs now” besides smiles, me thinks, it is good for you …. and me.


Besides all the wonderful people @ TED with whom one basks in some form of spiritual love for the potential of human kind, there were some performances around love or related topics.

Jill Sobule’s new CD ‘California Years’ will be released shortly. She sang some of those songs for us. Thanks Jill. Jill has such a wonderful observational skill on the human foibles around love. Love is wonderful and when taken with her humour even the painful aspects become bearable.


I could’ve spoken about Cindy in the segment on despair. Her experience of the ‘young talent show’ on sex has put her in a state of despair. But fear not, Cindy has decided to do something about her despair and she has founded the site makelovenotporn, which has as its aim to enlighten those who have grown up thinking that sex equals porn or the other way round. In fact this four letter word is popping everywhere.

In twitter after TED @TEDchris “Maybe this is our new mission statement. 😉 RT@jpsherman have you checked out Porn for critical thinkers”.

Peter W. Singer was talking about bots at work in war, future of war and our relationship to war as a curious case of ‘war porn’. So if we take Cindy’s message to work on all these other places and ways in which the word is used…what does that give?

Mary Roach was hilarious in her delivery of ten things we may not know about orgasm. Things like we have them in utero, we don’t need genitals. One woman has them when she brushes her teeth and another thinks herself to orgasm, you can have them when you’re dead – huh?, orgasm can cause bad breath and cure hiccups…Then we saw a video of a pig farmer at work, artificially inseminating a sow as it so happens that the chance of conception increases if one – even a sow – has an orgasm. What we did not get to was woman or man first and does that matter, I vaguely remember something on that from when I was in that life stage and in the case of the sow it was a lot of ‘make believe’. I cannot possibly describe the video, suffice to say that it was ‘graphic’….


Passionate people talking to other passionate people is a very attractive scene. TED provides much in the way of specifically influencing our sensibility to beauty in movement, in music, in achievement, in nature and in plain old human behaviour on stage and off stage.

Human mind is a wonderous world of beauty even when the source is hallucinations. Oliver Sacks spoke to us about an important syndrome, which is present for some hearing or visually impaired people. It is called the Charles Bonnet syndrome and causes visual hallucinations in 10% of visually impaired people and musical hallucinations in 10% of hearing impaired. The hallucinations take many forms depending on the impairement’s connection in the brain. The sad side of this story is that many who have these hallucinations are afraid of mentioning them for fear of being labeled loopy. “The theatre of the mind generated by the machinery of the brain”.


I cannot believe how human robots look or can look now [ David Hanson short talk ]. These robots are conversational and can learn from interacting with humans and so in essence start developing a relationship. The Einstein looking emotion mirror on display in Long Beach was great fodder for the skit later.

Also I was surprised by the complex production of the lead character in Benjamin Button, wow. [ Ed Ulbrich ] The first hour of the movie is computer generated from the neck up. The effort that goes into something ground breaking like that is huge. For example one person focused on the eye system for 2 years. One person focused on the tongue for one year. This is in Ed’s words “The digital botox effect”. It took 155 people over 2 years to create a digital human, including the ticks and idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. And in the case of the digitised Benjamin Button it was a acted idiosyncrasies from Brad Pitt.

How about some kite generated power? [ Saul Griffith ].


“Naturally seven” is a human voice generated full on band. The seven guys do vocal play to create the instruments. The only way to really understand that this is the case is that they go through a fun process of turning each of the instruments and singers out one by one and back ‘on’ again. Truly awesome!

Herbie Hancock – you rock 🙂

Jamie Cullum – “Imagine” – a new twist is forever possible with imagination, in this case for jazz.

When one is born without arms and one leg only half the length of the other would you suggest that this poses some limitations to the kinds of things one can do in this life and how one feels everyday? Well if you answer was anywhere near ‘ofcourse it does’ go talk to Lena Maria Klingvall a painter, a famous singer and an Olympic athlete. She smiles through her life. Do you?


JoAnn Kuchera-Morin from the University of California Santa Barbara introduced us to the ‘Allosphere’. They combine teams from arts, sciences, engineering and IT for creating a data immersion environment. Some of the goals are create an ‘Allobrain’ to quantify beauty [well well that’ll be the day], research in to self-assembly and finally creating the “ultimate TED machine”, only a matter of time.

I am busting to get siftables from MIT. These are small screen blocks, which can be connected to create a full story. I have so many wonderful uses for those. Hurry up David Merrill!!

Margaret Wertheim, from Brisbane Australia, ‘the figurer’, showed us how she, her sister and a growing collective around the world are crocheting the coral reef. Margaret’s background is in science and she explained to us how crocheting is the only way to recreate the shape of a coral – in hyperbolic geometry. She enlightened us about the failings of the Euclidian mathematics, which this experiment would’ve shown but I guess one could say that helas the women were not in science at the time……

John LaGrou has worked for a number of years on an invention, which he unveiled not so long ago and got recognised with an Innovation award for it at CES. His innovation allows homes to be fitted or retrofitted with a system, which cuts off electricity if it detects overheating. This innovation can prevent 80% of residential fires as that is how many are electrical fires. It also allows businesses to turn off power centrally. Important and urgent!

Quotables – a few among many

“Make technology that makes people more human not less”, Randy Gleason

“Understand the detail the statistics give”, Hans Rosling – I am not a big fan of stats as often they are poorly put together and used but when they are used the way Hans Rosling does, now I am listening! He busted so many myths along the storyline of ‘Africa is like this…..’

“Optimism drives architecture forward, toward complete ecstasy” and “I don’t believe in the idea that simple is good, space is complex and cannot be reduced to the simplicity we tend to admire” and “human heart cannot be simulated”, Daniel Libeskind

“The fear laden approach to creativity has been killing artists” and “the maddening capriciousness of the creative process”, Elizabeth Gilbert

Thank you TED, until next time.

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