Chaos Attraction

TED Talks 2

2014-05-04, 9:44 a.m.

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On Sunday, I went to our local TEDX event. It was pretty dang cool. Here's a rundown of the talks.

(Disclaimer: due to a change in venue, I was pretty much writing notes in the dang dark most of the time, so god only knows how much of this is gonna translate.)

This year's theme was 'Pause or Press Play," which to be honest I found to be a little confusing. For example, this year they asked you your "best plays." I answered with theater shows, but apparently they meant "plays" as in "your best life decisions." WISH THEY'D CLARIFIED THAT ONE. I think I'm grateful that despite the intentions of the organizers, nobody really went around looking at my attendee tag making comments on that. The speakers had their "best plays" listed in the program, but I loved Jorge Pena's: "Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right, B, A." Har. I don't feel so bad now. I guess the concept was whether or not you move on or pause and think about things first...or something.... I dunno, I think I preferred last year's "What Do You Work Towards?" better, but that's me and I'm a person who hates slogan-y stuff.

On to the speakers....

Danny Nou, "You-ser Design:" This fellow is currently the ergonomics program administrator here, and he was talking about design and how to make things clear and focused on who's using it. For example, he went to Japan and saw how they do exit signs, which is a lot more clear when they show the proper direction to run in and are in green for "go" rather than, say, this American exit sign. He said that the iPhone caught on despite its price, fragility, and limitedness because it was so easy to use. He used to work at a wheelchair design company and said that parents would claim they wanted a wheelchair that was safe, comfortable, and light. So they'd make the wheelchair out of lighter materials and put a bunch of padding on it and make it bigger and come out with results akin to this. But it turned out that what parents were really wanting, despite what they said, was a wheelchair that didn't impede anyone from living life, and made them feel as "normal" as possible. So his company came up with a wheelchair that basically looked like a baby stroller (plus it folded up nicely) and it looked less medical. (I wonder how well that worked with larger clients, but he didn't answer that one.) You want the use of the product to feel invisible. I thought this was a pretty cool lecture.

Katy Benson, "The Science, Art, and Yoga of Beer:" This chick is working on her master's in food science, specializing in brewing. She expected to love wine when she turned 21, but turned out to love beer and teaching yoga instead. She talked a lot of how brewing beer works and compared it to yoga because monks would brew beer so that they could fast for longer while meditating, and yoga was designed so that people could meditate longer without screwing up their bodies by sitting for hours. Both are supplements to spiritual practice.
As for me, I don't like yoga or beer--I've tried--so I felt kinda bad I didn't share her enthusiasm.

Frank Warren's "Half a Million Secrets" video was shown at this point.

Steven Lucero: "Makerspaces in Academia:" This guy is a mechanical engineer who runs an academic makerspace in the biomedical engineering department, and talked about how having the tech space and the people as resources help his group design funky medical advances.

Marusa Bradac, "Dark Side of the Universe:" I thought this chick was cool--she's an astorphysicist professor who studies dark matter and was very funny about it. Basically she said that dark matter doesn't interact with anything else and pulls the universe together and... other things probably way too technical for me to be able to write down quickly in the dark. She had a lot of great cartoons about it, but I can't really find those online as easily as I can do searches on wheelchairs and exit signs. But it was cool.

Jadoo: This is a band featuring a (usually) metal guitarist, a jazz drummer, a classical violinist, a singer who usually does acoustic work, and another singer who sings Persian cultural music, according to my notes in the dark. They did a mashup of what sounded like the aforementioned Persian sound and "Unwritten" and "Bad Romance." It sounded very cool. I found some band videos here and here and here if you want to check them out.

Richard Pan: "Healthcare Made Virtual:" This guy's got a lot of credentials for being a doctor who also juggles being in the state legislature. He was talking about the concept of virtual health. We normally do healthcare in which he called "episodes of care," in which you take time out from your life to go to the doctor and get tests done and only show up for emergencies. What he thinks we should be doing is using technology to monitor chronic cases in perpetuity. He gave the example of a kid having problems with asthma--with virtual healthcare a team could be collecting data on the kid's losing air flow (because he's got a cold) and how often he's using his rescue inhaler and upping his doses until he gets over the cold, and the kid would get tele-nagged if he started skipping doses. I thought this sounded pretty impressive.

Jorge Pena: "The Cape Makes the Superhero:" This was the one that felt most personally relevant to me this go-round. He was talking about how virtual reality technology changes the way we think about ourselves. Specifically that virtual experiences feel real and spark changes in behavior, and costumes in particular help you change roles. He did a study in which people in a virtual environment met while their avatars were dressed in white or black and then said the ones wearing black were more aggressive and assertive. (Disclaimer: I'm wearing mostly black today while typing this. Hmmm.) Character choices influences your real life and virtual environments have effects, especially if you have an avatar that looks like you. He did another experiment where people used avatars that were aged up and they started behaving like older people while online shopping. Violent games are pretty distressful and distracting and in another experiment, he proved that advertising in violent video games doesn't work so well because you're too busy looking at the blood on the floor to notice the brands and the like. Hah. When having people use avatars on Wii that were thinner, people moved around more.
All of his talk about how gaming influences your reality kind of makes me want to start gaming. I'm REALLY NOT much of a gamer because of my short attention span (nor was I brought up on intensive gaming either--I did not know that Konami code thing until I played Kingdom of Loathing), but this is making me consider it. Except (a) I'm not all that much of a gamer by inclination--you can't have a bouncy ball attention span for games, and (b) so far trying to figure out some game where I can set up an avatar that looks like me and DOESN'T involve "invite your friends to play too!" or MMORPGS seems kind of hard to do. I just want some game where I can dabble for 15 minutes here and there and not like, play with other humans (or get sexually harassed by 'em in the case of MMORPGS once they find out you're a girl). Is that so hard? I think it is.

Ali Bouzari, "The Elemental Ingredients:" This guy is getting his PhD in food biochemistry and is a chef (shocker to hear, I'm sure). He had a cool concept to talk about--essentially he analyzes food to figure out what it does in the cooking. What makes it taste good? What does butter mean to a cookie, and what do eggs do? He thinks of it all as tools in a toolbox. Sugar can only do about 5 things in the kitchen no matter what food it's in, for example. If you can figure out what butter does in the cookie, then you can figure out a reasonable substitute to put in vegan cookies. Good idea.
Quote of the day: "There is no A+ D = Delicious."

Rajeevan Amirtharajah, "A New Life for Mobile Phones:" Old phones may be refurbished, but they only decrease the production of new phones by 5% because people like to upgrade. Recycling only happens with about 15% of phones.This guy was talking about repurposing old phones into other devices such as a parking device, and specifically if it's worth the time and effort and energy to try to do that. Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be worth it, so he said that phones should be designed in such a way that they are more easily remade into something else.

Danzantes del Alma: This is a dance group in our area that has freaking awesome outfits. Towards the end they had some kind of Carnival/Mardi Gras thing going on and everyone loved it. Great outfits and dancing. Yes, I'm preoccupied with the outfits, DON'T JUDGE ME BECAUSE I WANT RUFFLES.

JR's "One year of turning the world inside out" video was shown at this point. I was....not into this. I guess I don't really get what the big deal of this was, plus I kept thinking that JR looked like a French, hairier, slightly darker version of Ben Schwartz, so I kept thinking that perhaps JR was standing for Jean-Ralphio.

Lucian Novosel, "Davis Inside Out:": This guy is part of the local TED team, which did the same kind of art exhibit as JR, i.e. taking people's photos and posting them on a building. Like I said, I was just not into this for whatever reason, plus I duck cameras. So no thoughts here, really.

Harley Litzelman, "A Case for Student Citizenship." This guy is a freshman, and a lobbyist, and he won the student speaker contest. He was a pretty funny guy, and precocious as all hell, obviously. His commentary was that we expect kids to "ripen into democracy," but they're stuck in the horrible high school environment that is all, "shut up and obey." (I agree.) And schools should allow kids to have a voice and actually develop in school instead of only worrying about testing results. He also asked people to not forget what it was like to be a student, which the emcee said was true because once you end up working all day you forget about those things.
Quote from the speech: "We don't expect first graders to unionize."

Linda Katehi, "Two Generations, One Dialogue:" Our infamous chancellor actually brought on a second guest speaker--her daughter Helena. Who...I might have gotten her birth year wrong, but I think she's a year older than I am. But her daughter was brought on for the "Millennial" point of view (note: people around my age aren't supposedly Millenials, if you care about that shit, which I do not) because the chancellor acknowledged that it's hard at her age to get what it's like. So they compared Millenials to Boomers: boomers were defined by 3 wars, millenials were defined by a dead economy. Boomers were inspired by space, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pink Floyd, millenials were inspired by Obama, Steve Jobs/technology, and Kickstarter. Both have been called "the me generation." (Because isn't everybody?) She asked her daughter how boomers could help millenials, and Helena said she originally didn't have an answer to the question, but later suggested (a) platform resources to make decisions, (b) better policies to deal with debt, (c) how do we do more affordable education, and (d) we need practical skill development.

So there you go.


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