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The 2009 TED Fellows Video

I’ve been fortunate to be part of the TED Fellows program, starting in Tanzania and then this year in California. It is definitely worth applying for, and I know there are going to be quite a few openings for TED India later this year.

(Watch the high-res version here)

Negroponte on the New (lowercase): olpc

Nicholas Negroponte comes up on stage at TED and tells us that, due to the OLPC, there’s a whole new product line: Netbooks. However, they copied all the wrong things. Next thing you know there are a couple being thrown around the stage, and he’s asking us how well a netbook would stand up to that, or being submerged in water, or being sent to Africa…

My question is about how well an OLPC works when you just open it up…? 🙂

“Commercial markets will do anything they can to stop you, even when you’re non-profit, even if you’re a humanitarian organization.”

Now we want to build something that everybody copies. Go from the OLPC to the olpc (lowercase). That’s what’s going to happen over the next 3 years. Open source hardware: where you publish all the specs and all the designs so that anyone can copy it.

In a side conversation with Ethan Zuckerman here, this is what they should have done 3 years ago, and it would have saved them a lot of heartache.

Cameron Sinclair adds via Twitter, “OLPC to be open sourced. email nn@MIT.edu with ideas about olpc. I suggest adding SketchUp and making it o.l.p.innovator”

Nate Silver: Race, Prediction and the US Election

Math whiz and baseball fan Nate Silver was mainly known for predicting outcomes in fantasy ballgames — until his technique hit a home run calling the outcome of the 2008 election primaries. He’s now a mainstream political pundit with two book deals.

Nate Silver on Prediction and Race at TED 2009

Nate starts off by talking about how big of a win Obama had in 2008’s US elections. He asks, “what’s the matter with Arkansas?” Wondering why it is that certain US states never vote for democrats.

We have negative connotations about Arkansas, typically it’s something like, “rednecks with guns“. We think it’s a problem of race, are we stigmatizing? Well, yes, and he sets out to prove that statistically it is.

One of the classic polling questions for the last couple presidential elections in the US has been:

“In deciding your vote for president today, was the race of the candidates a factor?”

The answers to this poll question have been indicative for which areas of the US tend to vote certain ways.

Is racism predictable? What is the deciding factor? Income, religion, education, etc…
Education is, so is the degree of rural vs urban setting you live in. So, yes, racism is predictable.

The General Social Survey, asks “Does anyone of the opposite race live in your neighborhood?” And, the answers to this are stratified upon density: In the city, yes. In the suburb, mainly yes. In rural areas, not nearly as much.

It turns out that people who live in monoracial areas are twice as less likely to approve multiracial marriages.

The goal is to facilitate interaction with people of other races. Nate is a big fan of cities, because they give a great opportunity for connecting with other cultures of other races. You end up having more tolerant communities. He also says that urban design is hugely important: grids vs the windy streets in many parts of suburbia, where grids are better. At the end of the day, he says cul de sacs lead to conservatives, which is a bad thing to him as well.

Highlights from Day 3 of TED 2009

[Read Ethan’s blog for liveblogging of TED 2009, and check out the “TED2009” tag on Flickr for images.]

I’ve spent most of the day inside the main theatre at TED. It’s been great getting up close to the speakers and performers, watching them go through their paces, putting on amazing performances. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Jennifer Mather asks whether octopuses have intelligence. If they have personalities, play and can problem solve, then they have the characteristics that pass a rudimentary intelligence test.

Nalini Nadkarni tells us how she’s trying to get a new generation to think about trees, especially the upper level canopy, and how she thinks “Treetop Barbie” can help.

Bonnie Bassler gave us a story of light emitting bacteria that live within a certain type of shallow-water squid off the coast of Hawaii. How this squid uses a shutter to let out certain amounts of light beneath its body so that it mimics the sky above. It is the “stealth bomber of the ocean”.

Nathan Wolfe at TED 2009

Nathan Wolfe blew my mind with his talk on viruses, especially when he started describing his research and travel into central Africa (Cameroon), to study bush meat hunting of primates. It really challenged me to think about local communities in Africa and their needs, and I’m thinking hard on what would it really take to replace this type of activity. Read Ethan’s blog for a full rendition of his talk, but please, join me in thinking about this.

Evan Williams of Twitter was on stage for a few minutes, telling about how he didn’t realize how useful Twitter would be, especially in real-time events. He stated, “It seems that when you give people easy tools to communicate, that good things happen.”

Even Chris uses Twitter

Dickson Despommier, shared some incredible slides describing the need for vertical farming. The advantages include:

  • No agricultural runoff
  • Year-round crop production
  • No crop loss due to severe weather
  • Uses 70% less water than outdoors
  • Restoration of damaged ecosystems

Willie Smits has lived in Borneo for 30 years, and he set out to save orangutans. He tells everyone of how he has 1000 baby orangutans saved, but shushes everyone’s applause, claiming that this is a failure by all of us because they are not growing up in the wild. Over the last years he has been reclaiming burnt out/used land in Borneo, working with the local communities to make it happen. My favorite quote of his, “Ensure that the local people benefit most.

TED Prize Winner: Sylvia Earle

Al Gore just introduced deep ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, a fearless leader who engages the public on the crisis our oceans are facing. She started in 1953, when she first started scuba, “when I first learned about fish not swimming in lemon sauce and butter.

The Wish:

I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films! expeditions! the web! more! – to ignite the public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.

Image by Chadk21

Image by Chadk21

This is an amazing lady, one who has led aquanauts and been on the forefront of oceanography. She has designed and built systems to access the deep seas.

A couple years ago she met with the John Hanke, head of Google Earth, and asked them to do something about mapping the ocean. As of this week, Google Earth is now whole, they have mapped the oceans.

(Sidenote: There has been a strong theme on oceans at TED 2009, and for good reason. It’s stunning, and haunting, to see the amount of damage that trash and human waste is causing. It’s like peeing into a water tower that feeds your home.)

Shai Agassi: eMile’s and Electric Cars

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

Shai Agassi is a green auto pioneer, and he wants to put you behind the wheel of an electric car — but he doesn’t want you to sacrifice convenience (or cash) to do it. Check out his amazing project at Better Place, and make sure to read his blog.

How would you run a whole country without oil?

Shai focuses in on the electric car. You need a car that’s more convenient and more affordable than today’s cars. This isn’t a $40k sedan, nor is it something you drive for one hour and charge for 8 hours. So, how do you do this?

eMiles and electric cars

You separate the car and battery ownership. You create a network before you create the devices, a network for charging your vehicle. The second step is increasing the range extension (which currently is about 120 miles). You have a batter swap system, which actually happens less than what people normally stop for fuel in a normal car.

From molecules to electrons:
Gas tank >> Battery bay
Crude oil >> Battery pack

eMile, the new commodity. In 2010 this is about 8 cents/mile. But, in his model they follow Moore’s law, where by the year 2020 he expects it to be about 2 cents/mile.

“Hybrids are like mermaids. When you want a fish you get a woman, when you need a woman you get a fish.”

Where has this been working? Israel, Denmark, Australia, Hawaii and San Francisco.

Shai foresees 10 million electric vehicles by 2015. A future where all the cars will be driven by windmill power (in Denmark) and by solar power in other areas.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Genius and How we Ruin it

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

The author of “Eat, Pray, Love“, Elizabeth Gilbert has thought long and hard about some large topics. Her next fascination: genius, and how we ruin it.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth weaves an insightful story of artists, success and pressure. She asks if she’s doomed. What if she never replicates the success of her past book? Is it rational or logical to be afraid of the work that we were put on this earth to do? Why have artists and writers had this history of manic depressive and mental illnesses? Why does artistry always lead to mental anguish?

“I think it might be better if we encouraged our great creative minds to live.”

“It’s exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me. That’s the kind of thought that can lead a person to start drinking gin at 9:00 in the morning.”

She states that she now needs to create some safe psychological construct. She’s looking at other societies and understanding how they have dealt with this same issue. That led her to ancient Greece and Rome. In their world, the brilliance and genius around ancient artists were attributed to daemons and spirits. It protected them from narcissism in success and suicidal failure.

The big change happened when we decided that the person, who is this artist, is the center of the universe. It’s too much pressure to ask one person to think of themselves as this single vessel of all artistic understanding of the world.

Louise Fresco: The Problem of Romantasizing Bread

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

Louise Fresco is a powerful thinker and globe-trotting advisor on sustainability, Louise Fresco says it’s time to think of food as a topic of social and economic importance on par with oil — that responsible agriculture and food consumption are crucial to world stability.

Bread is a standard diet for people all over the world, not just in the West. She shows Wonder bread and the whole wheat bread and asks which one people like more. It’s overwhelmingly for the whole wheat, home made bread.

Bread

“We have this mythical image of how life was in the rural, aggricultural past.”

The industrial revolution brought us many great advances. But it also created a world of supermarkets. We shouldn’t despise the Wonder bread, because it means that we have created a way to make bread available to all. Even though it is tasteless and has a lot of problems, it has changed the world.

In the last few decades, since the 1960’s food availability has grown by 25%. This means we have more food available now than any other time in human history. As food became plentiful, it also meant that we were able to decrease the number of people who were working in agriculture (in the US, only 1% of the population works in agriculture.)

“Never before has the responsibility to feed the world been in the hands of so few people. And, never before have so many people been ignorant of that fact.”

Bread is now associated with obesity, because we’ve begun to add more and more high calorie ingredients to it. The price of mass production has been the destruction of many of our landscapes, and the costs have been tremendous with regard to the habitats.

How many of you can actually tell wheat apart from other cereals? Do you know how much a loaf of bread actually costs?

The counter movement is to go back to small scale, farmers markets and home made bread (much of that started in California). This is a fallacy, of us romanticizing the past. This is a luxury solution for us. We will be relegating the other agriculturalists around the world to poverty. It puts local food production out of business, and puts the urban poor out of food.

We need more science, and good science, to better understand the technology around pest and disease resistance. We need to think about urban food systems and to combine agriculture and energy. Most importantly, we need a food policy, not just an agricultural policy.

Nina Jablonski on Darwin’s Birthday Suit

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

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Nina Jablonski is author of Skin: A Natural History, a close look at human skin’s many remarkable traits: its colors, its sweatiness, the fact that we decorate it.

She dives into the life of Darwin. Specifically, she is talking about human skin pigmentation. Darwin rejected the idea that skin color was determined by the sun, the environment. Nina states: “if only he lived today, If only Darwin had NASA.”

What Darwin didn’t appreciate, was that there was a fundamental relationship between ultraviolet radiation from the sun and people’s skin color. She shows a map of the predicted skin color derived from multiple regression analysis.

Map of skin color

Darkly pigmented skin is highly protective under intense UVR areas, melanin is a natural sunscreen. She states that as people moved around the world, from high UV to low UV areas, there were skin color repercussions.

On how the globalization of travel (example: a white African’s like me, living in Sudan as a kid) : “We are living in environments where our skin pigmentation is not properly adapted.” There are both health and social consequences.

Golan Levin: Looking at Looking at Looking

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

Golan Levin is an artist and software engineer who is here to talk to us about experiments in interactive art. He asks, “Where is the “art” category in the iPhone app store?” Golan is interested in discovering how to empower people through interactive art.

golan_switz_2002

Currently, he’s walking us through how certain sounds have a higher probability of creating certain shapes. Then, how the tool he created takes people’s voices and throws letters and shapes onto a canvas in real time. This has repercussions for voice recognition software.

This is called Ursonography, and below is an example of it:


Ursonography (Excerpts), Jaap Blonk & Golan Levin, 2007 from Golan Levin on Vimeo.

Now he’s really doing some crazy things with eye-tracking software and the way that it can be used to create art that knows it’s being looked at and creates itself. He calls this Eyecode.

Eyecode

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