Chaos Attraction

TEDx Talks

2013-05-18, 1:39 p.m.

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I spent my weekend going to a bunch of awesome lectures and conversations. Saturday is gonna have to be a 2-parter entry.

On Saturday afternoon, I finally(!) got to go to our local TEDx event. I've wanted to go for the last 3 years, but the first year the people running it wanted you to apply to get in......and it was being held around my birthday and my mom decided she wanted to go and I knew damn well she wasn't even likely to fill out the application and there would be Drama...so never mind. Last year they sold out before I could get the stupid shopping cart to work. This year, huzzah!!!!!

It's kind of ridiculous how much I like this sort of thing. I'd really love to do it myself, but damned if I know how one gets to. It's run by different students every year, and they tend to go for people with like, qualifications. Every time I go to some kind of awesome lecture-type thing, I spend a fair chunk of it thinking in my head what I'd do in my own speech.

Anyway, until they put videos online or something (I presume that will happen here), here's what I wrote down from the talks I went to today. Pardon my halfassed notes, I did the best I could:


Larry Bogad: Tactical Performance: Thinking Theatricality for Powerful Protest: This guy is a "professor of political performance" here. I did not know that even existed. He started out by talking about how the civil rights protests in the 60's worked: you'd have a man and a woman quietly sitting at a counter while a mob screamed at them...and then the cops would come and the quiet people would get arrested. Seems wrong, right? But it set up the cops and the mob as bad guys because it went against our usual cultural narrative. He talked about applying theatrical values to create activism--you know, like costumes, narrative, suspense, etc. How did the activists win in a David vs. Goliath scenario? Because they thought theatrically. They rehearsed ahead of time so that they were used to dealing with the screaming. They wore their Sunday best, they had to "stick to the script" and not yell back. They set it up as protagonists and antagonists. You disarm the other guy and make him look bad in your scenario that you created.

* Being right isn't enough.
* Defy expectations-break the rules.
* Storytelling
* Avoid cliches
* Protest is an art form, treat it as such.
* Surprise can earn you a moment to make your point.

This guy, with a lot of other people, founded the "Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army." They were all about playful disobedience. He showed us a lot of photos of clowns kissing cops and writing happy faces in lipstick on their face shields. Which makes for an irresistible image n the newspaper.

Quote of the lecture: "It's politically costly to club a clown."

In general, I get annoyed at protests most of the time because I don't think they are done right (see this one for the most recent local example of "I don't see how this is going to get you what you want here"), but this sounds promising. Doesn't count for my usual cry of "please protest against the people who can change that thing, not just the nearest administration office that can't do shit except get you on television," but putting some drama and thought into protests could help.


Vishal Gurbuxani: Do You Really Want to be a Marketer's Wet Dream? (No!)

Quote of the lecture: "There are too many people punching the monkey." I....don't really know where that one was going.

He was talking about how we tell kids to (a) not talk to strangers, and (b) don't judge a book by its cover--but we talk to strangers online all the time now, and the data the Internet collects on you is judging you. Are you buying something because you want to or because the marketing seduced you into it?

He pointed out that the Netflix TV show House of Cards was an engineered success--already a hit elsewhere, product placement, stars, etc.

There is a cost to personalization--the more they know about you, the more they can sell to you. Your choices are expressing yourself, but....

How do you want something more than you need it? These companies make models of emotion and turn you into a passive producer. You think you're in control, but you're not--we let the marketers lead the path for us.

He showed a slide of a 1950's-ish ad featuring a baby wrapped in cellophane because the advertisers thought this would make consumers feel warm and loving towards this product. Um....

He talked about the Target knows if you're pregnant story, and how some woman was tracked by her doing specific searches about her dog.


They showed this video by Shane Koyczan.


Johnson Cheng: The Art of Movement: This fellow has worked at various animation studios AND took up the dance form of popping--and demonstrated moves for us, along with three of his friends. Yup, there was a dance performance! I wasn't expecting that. Pretty cool. I wonder if he watches The LXD?


Stewart Long: Aerial Image Mapping Goes Mainstream with Public Lab. This was probably the lecture that I comprehended the least, technology-wise, so bear with my fail. He was talking about aerial photography and how they were doing it with balloons and kites in the age of digital mapping--they use a balloon like a plane flying across, except the balloon stays below the cloud layer when a plane can't.. He mentioned oblique vs. vertical imaging. I'm still not sure what that is. He was the fellow who took this photo, which he says they got because it was taken below the fog and from the ground.


Aaron Watkins: Why Mobile Data Should Be Free: After introducing himself in relatively great detail, including showing his first driver's license, he talked about how advertisers target you--and showed a photo of a gnome with a spy camera in it. He talked about the Privacy Tax, i.e. we get stuff for free because advertisers are collecting your data and selling it, and that's what funds the free. He pointed out that 85% of Facebook's money and 96% of Google's comes from advertising.

Meanwhile, we pay for data (net access, smartphones, etc.) so we can get this free. He thinks businesses should stop charging us for data because we can all connect to it--except for the people in poor areas who are forced to only use phones for phone calls. Phones themselves are cheap, it's the $60/month for data that's expensive. How can we improve the lives of poor people with free data--they can get educations online with Khan Academy and other things like that to learn some skills. Access to the web is like teaching someone to fish. The poor are too poor to pay the privacy tax because there's no market for them. If you act in the best interests in humanity, that can be good for profit, such as advertising on free apps.

He pointed out that Gillette sending him a razor for free as a teenager got him to be a loyal customer years later.


Carl Whithaus: A Peculiar Balance: Robograders and Writing Teachers. As you probably guessed, he's the director of the University Writing Program and has to deal with this issue a lot. He talked about automated essay grading software, such as Natural Language Processing and Latent Semantic Analysis (which reads for content). Of course, computer scoring doesn't work so well...

Quote of the lecture: "The future of writing is this peculiar cyborgian balance."


After that, we had a half hour break. They provided a fair amount of free snacks. There were folks taking pictures with the X. There were people taking pictures of people--one guy was up in a tree like he was paparazzi, which was quite odd.

And there were two activities going on:
(a) people writing on chalkboards--this is a thing that both TEDx and some other org I saw at Whole Earth have been doing lately, having people write down what they want to do before they die. I love taking pictures of the answers.

Memorable ones to me:
* ride the California speed rail
* push Regina George in front of a bus (????)
* meet The Doctor (of course)
* work on the Star Trek Enterprise (pretty sure one of the presenters wrote this one)
* graduate from Starfleet Academy
* live on Mars
* sip champagne in low earth orbit
* hug a koala
* wrestle a sloth
* swim with whales
* be called crazy (yes, I was the one who helpfully wrote, "You're crazy!" Anything I can to help :)
* be my true self in front of my family (awwww)
* invent time travel (ME TOO)
* understand a women (...sigh)

(b) They'd taped woodcut things to the back of everyone's passes, and you were supposed to find your cutout's empty slot on one of four boards and put it back into the hole.This didn't work so well for mine, so I took it out and kept it. Some of the cuts were darned strange, I must say.

I normally hate "mixer" crap, but this was actually good and not mandatory or uncomfortable to do. Huzzah!

After we came back into the theater, they started showing people's tweets on the screen. I....am still not impressed with the "brilliance" that is supposed to be on Twitter.


On to round two!

Amy Williams: Exploring the Final Frontier: She's doing Ph.D. research on geobiology and working on the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover mission here. Quote of the lecture: "I want to know if there are little green bugs on Mars." Where are the Martians? Clearly we need to modify our expectations of what life we might find on Mars--more bacteria than anything else, since the building blocks of life are there such as water and carbon!

The Viking life detection mission has so far been inconclusive. She works on the Curiosity rover, programming it to do things like drill holes on Mars. If there's been life on Mars, it was probably left behind in the rocks. She looks for large bacterial structures in rocks and preserved biosignatures.


Slater Penney and Christine Germain: Le Projet Migration Dance Performance. Again, hard to take notes on a dance performance...but (a) they were an adorably cute couple dancing together in various cute poses, (b) she can lift him as many times as he lifts her during their dual performance, and (c) they seriously looked like they were about to make out on stage. It was adorable and awesome to watch.


Alison Ledgerwood: Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and How to Get Unstuck): I think this was my favorite one of the night, and definitely the most relevant to me as a human being (since I'm a total whiner here and all, you know this). She's a professor in the psych department here. She first said this was inspired by her own life--how she'd start out borderline, get happy when a paper of hers got published, then go back to baseline, then sink down when one gets rejected...but she stays down, and never quite bounces up to borderline again when another paper gets published. Why is this? Why does failure stick in our minds a lot longer and harder than success? Our brains seem to get stuck on the negative.

She did a series of experiments on gain frames vs. loss frames. She'd ask the participants about some scenario which is framed in terms of gains and losses. (For example, saying a surgery has a 70% success rate or a 30% failure rate.) Of course the first group is happy about it and the second group isn't. But when she switches who's told what--it's 30% failing or 70% succeeding--the satisfied first group is no longer happy...and the second group stays unhappy. They are stuck in the initial loss frame and never switch back--more positive news didn't seem to matter.

Quote of the lecture: "Once the loss frame gets in there, it sticks."

It is literally mentally harder to convert your brain to looking on the bright side once something has gone wrong. They did a scenario requiring them to do math--how many lives saved vs. lost. When the math when from gain to loss, it took 7 seconds for participants to figure it out--and 11 to go from loss to gain. Once we think about something as a loss, it sticks in our heads and we resist going back, and our world tilts toward the negative--it's harder work to not do that.

She thinks that venting without also talking about the good stuff isn't good, and we need to do stuff like gratitude journals (though really, I am super beyond tired of hearing about gratitude journals and no, I'm still not gonna keep or read one) and sharing more good news when we have it.


Cynthia Schumann: Autism Research Takes Brains: This woman's job is to convince people to donate their brains (or someone else's) to science, whether their brain is autistic or normal.

There's still no biological test for autism--it's a behaviorally defined disorder and they have very few biological treatments to offer anyone and the disease is on the rise--1 in every 88 kids (or 54 boys) born around now are going to have it. She studies it at the molecular level. They want tailored biological treatments. As far as they can tell, it seems to come from the brain growing too large and too quickly, and then it may shrink in size later on. There's changes across a lifespan--overgrowth to degeneration. Genes in blood work differently than those in the brain, so they need to study brains (which are a lot harder to get ahold of than blood). They can't do more research on this without more brains--they've gotten less than 150 brains to study in the last 30 years. Her job is to get ahold of brain tissue through a program, Brain Endowment for Autism Research Sciences (Yup, BEARS.) They can't tell if a brain had autism during life, so they need typical brains for comparison.


Second video shown: Aaron O'Connell on quantum objects.


Bryan Enderle: Science vs. God: I loved this one, but there was only so much I could get written down (and probably inaccurately) in time. I really wish I could have gotten more direct quotes down. My reporting of this is going to be sadly sketchy and halfassed, so again, bear with me.

This fellow is a chemistry instructor here who has degrees in chemical engineering and theology. He brought out an Erlenmeyer flask on a hot plate to warm up on stage. Hmmmmm, bubbling beaker! He starts out by saying that atoms are 9.9999999999999% empty.

Quote of the lecture #1: "In modern science, you're pretty much nothing. Tell that to your therapist."

As per all of his degrees, he seeks the nexus of science and God, and he thinks the two are integrated (I would agree).

Probability = energy
How can God act in miraculous ways?
There's a finite probability that God can act miraculously--but it acts within the bounds of nature and science.
The faster you go, the slower time goes. If you go really fast, time no longer progresses--light is outside of time. He cited the Hafele-Keating experiment.
If God describes itself as light...how is he omniscient? God may be outside of time if light can be outside of time (but God is not a photon). Don't be surprised at this.
Entanglement and omnipresence:
Entanglement can still exist despite having the two entities separated by distance. The two entities can be separated by 88 miles and still be interacting with each other.
Photon teleportation = beam me up!
God can interact with people over variable distances if particles can.
Yes, analogues aren't proofs.

What was the flask for? After going into an explanation of how water boils....it's there so he can drink some tea. (demonstrates).
You need both science and a deeper meaning explanation to get the full picture of reality--you don't get either as well without it.

Quote of the lecture #2: "Maybe we need to work towards a reality that's bigger than that."


Bill Habicht: Crowd Sourced Placemaking and the Common Good: This guy is a local pastor and started by talking about how he went to West Africa, where he was the first white guy in the village EVER and people tried to scrub the white off him and peeped at him in the shower--"He's white ALL OVER!"

"Have you ever been in that place where it's so dark and so lonely, you feel like you may never make it out of there?" He felt like that in Africa. Then one day he came home to find a bowl of corn on his doorstep that came with a note, "My hand is in the bowl." This was a local phrase they used in the village to mean that they were sharing in dealing with problems, and the fellow who left the gift wanted to share in his loneliness.

This dude is (of course) into the common good of having everyone join together. He's not into "silo-ization," which is small groups all isolated in their ivory towers and not relating to others outside the group. He pointed out the Pareto Principle of 80% of decisions are being made by 20% of the population, usually the government officials. Meanwhile, all the muggles have relatively little say and minimal influence, so they stop giving a shit (my phrasing, not his, of course). But now we have the Internet, so we can crowdsource things out and get everyone to team up.

This dude works on this new website that collects ideas that will be funding by the downtown business association--they are dedicated to actually implementing ideas. There were papers taped to every seat in the house, and he asked us to take them out, write down a potential idea, fold it into a paper airplane, and shoot it onto the stage.

This is how that worked out. I suspect next year, they will not finish out the conference with that move--especially since I got an e-mail this morning saying to please send whatever suggestion you wrote on the paper airplane to the website.


All in all, it was an excellent event. I really love hearing awesome speakers, especially ones in science doing things that I wish I could do. I wanna do a TED talk...though I really have no credentials to do such a thing and beats me how you get to do one (I guess you're recruited?). But it would be awesome. Every time I watch a good speech, I start thinking of things I'd want to say....


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