Monday, August 30, 2010

There's a Doctor in the House

Another speaaker is confirmed for TEDx: Dr. Kieran Murphy.  I really enjoyed talking to Kieran to settle the details.  He's a neuroradiologist, and he's also an inventor with over 50 patents to his name.  He's very well traveled - he talked about a recent trip to Kenya for instance - and he particularly focuses on designing simple medical devices that are globally relevant.  Quite a match for our theme What in the World.

Kieran's a fan of, as are his two children, and he uses TED talks in some of his presentations.  As always, it's nice to have a committed TEDster as part of the team.

But Kieran's broad interests don't stop there.  He is a car racer, and the photo he submitted for his bio was taken at Mosport.  I Googled him and saw this report from August 12 of this year:  "Kieran Murphy retook the lead of the Formula Ford B class with his fourth and fifth place finishes in the Class".  So he's successful there too.  He'll be an interesting guy to talk to at the conference!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Want to Run Anyone?

We have another speaker for the TEDx conference.  Ray Zahab is an adventurer who transformed his life as a self-described couch potato into a world-famous adventurer and ulta marathoner.  It all started on his epic expedition across the Sahara Desert on foot.  The journey took 111 days to cover the 7,500 kms. and is the subject of a documentary film Running the Sahara, produced and narrated by Matt Damon.  Not only did the Sahara run whet his appetite for more extreme runs, but it also raised his awareness of the water shortage in Africa.  Ray has since followed up with runs in the Arctic, the Antarctic, Lake Baikal, and Tunisia.

All of these runs have had a tie-in to a good cause, usually associated with the global water issue.  He's also expanded the runs to have an educational component through his impossible2Possible (i2P) organization that aims to inspire and educate youth through adventure learning and though inclusion and participation in expeditions.

When I saw him at TED a couple of years ago, he descibed his recently completed record-breaking unsupported trek to the South Pole.  Since then, he has completed several more exciting runs.  I'll be looking forward to hearing about his latest Youth Ambassadors have participated in the runs.  In addition, his organization provides educational materials for classroom use, and students can follow the trip via the Internet.

When I saw him at TED a couple of years ago, he had just completed an unsupported trek to the South Pole and talked about that voyage.  Since then, he has completed several more exciting runs.  I'll be looking forward to hearing about his latest adventure.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Coincidentally, two of the books I've read lately have hives at their heart. 

The first is the non-fiction You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier.  Lanier may call the book a manifesto; there are times when it verged on a screed.  Lanier's opinions are always strongly held, aggressively stated, and vigorously defended. 

Lanier argues that the much-admired technological advances of Web 2.0 -  broad participation, intense collaborative achievements,  the 'wisdom of crowds' - rob us of our individual creativity and turns us into mere peripherals to a gigantic computing cloud.  He characterizes the result as an undifferentiated hive mind and warns that if we all spend our time on mash-ups, there soon won't be any original material left to mash up.  He uses many examples from music and computing to illustrate his points.

Lanier has a dim view of software development, despite being an accomplished developer in his own right and a pioneer of virtual reality.  He states that 'all computer related technologies built by humans are endlessly confusing, buggy, tangled, fussy and error-ridden'.  

I found this a hard book to read.  I am determined to finish any book I start, and this was one that took all my commitment.  Here I was relaxing at the cottage, and yet every sentence - even every phrase - required intellectual energy.  For instance, when I come across a phrase like 'metahuman technological determinism' I have to stop and think for a minute. Or three.  So this is a good book, but don't undertake it in a lazy mood.

The other book about hives is an old Frank Herbert science fiction book (he of Dunes fame) called Hellstrom's Hive, picked up from the used book table at our local regatta.  It features an underground colony of humans modelling the collective structure of a hive of social insects, and the conflict between the hive and the Outside.  Selective breeding, task specialization, and single-minded commitment to the community as a whole mean the hive humans are diverging from the individualistic humans of the Outside, although the hive inhabitants do sometimes go on foraging sweeps to breed and expand the gene pool.  

This book has the detailed construction of an alien environment that we saw in Dune.  This was a great Summer Reading type of book.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Helping Deaf People Hear Music? What in the World is that About?

Frank Russo wants to help deaf people hear. He and his team at the SMART (Science of Music, Auditory Research and Technology) Lab at Ryerson University have developed the Emoti-Chair, which translates music into tactile sensations. A deaf person sitting in the chair shows similar brain patterns to a person with hearing who listens to music.

His work certainly qualifies as fitting the theme What in the World?

Russo is the latest addition to our TEDx Conference and I'm dying to hear him delve into the relationship between Mind, Music and Technology. We're hoping he can have his Emoti-Chair on display there too.

The Book Bill Gates Sent Me

"Climate change is real. The largest challenge and opportunity of our lifetime is inventing the future of energy - the technologies we will need to push CO2 emissions near zero by 2050. Those who contribute to these discoveries, and there will be many, will have helped lift the poor out of poverty while simultaneously ensuring the long-term health and prosperity of our planet. It's an incredible opportunity to work toward something of this magnitude and importance." ... Bill Gates

Readers of this blog will know that I raved about Bill Gates' talk at TED this year about how the planet might tackle the problem of climate change. Cogent, rational, and well articulated, its message was thought-provoking, and its delivery was a model of how a great talk should unfold. Gates is bringing his analytical mind to bear on the problem of climate change, in the same way he thought out how his Foundation could have maximum impact in improving the world.

During his talk, Gates said he would send TEDsters some relevant reading material. The quote above is from the note that accompanied Sustainble Energy - Without the Hot Air by David MacKay. MacKay takes a hard-headed approach to energy questions. He doesn't comment on the political appropriateness of different kinds of renewable energy - he simply works out the physical coefficients to determine if the projections for renewable energy are physically possible, or simply wishful thinking.

This book got a rave review in The Economist, and I've been intending to read it for months. Now I have the pleasure of having it delivered to my doorstep! With these endorsements, I can't wait. I would love to hear comments from others who've read this book.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sarian Joins Speaker Roster for TEDx

Alex Sarian is passionate about how you can use arts subjects to help strengthen students in their core subjects. In our phone discussion, he talked about how a project in New York where, by involving students in arts education, their grades demonstrably rose in their core subjects. He is working with the ministry of education in Brazil to undertake a simmilar project there.

Although Toronto born, Alex grew up in Buenos Aires, where he graduated from an IB program there. In our discussion, he mentioned that he'd been reflecting recently on how his IB education had contributed to the direction his life has taken. I'm looking forward to hearing his views.

Monday, August 16, 2010

TED Book Club

TED has just sent out the latest books for the Book Club.
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home is Dan Ariely's latest book. I loved his first book Predictably Irrational. It was full of great anecdotes and research about how irrationally people act in practice, although they are convinced they are behaving totally rationally. So I fully expect to like this book too. By the way, when I went to Dan's site to get the book cover image for this post, I discovered his blog, which I really love.

The other book is by Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. This book argues that things are getting better, and we have good reason to be optimistic about the future. Again, this book looks pretty interesting. TED makes a practice of trying to bring forward optimistic themes - this year's TED Global theme was And Now the Good News.

Ridley also has a blog at his site, although it didn't seem as breezy and inviting as Ariely's.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge was a great book. It chronicles the life of Andras, and to a lesser extent his brother Tibor, Levi and their lives through the Second World War. It's a page-turner of a plot, full of ups and downs of fortune, and also thought provoking.

The book opens on the unexpected good fortune of Levi, who has just won a scholarship to attend architecture school in Paris. Soon his brother Tibor is off to Italy to study medicine, while a third brother stays in Hungary and features only lightly in the story. A promising future might appear to await the two young men from a modest family background in a village outside Budapest.

But we know life is not going to be easy for two Jewish-Hungarian brothers on the eve of the Second World War. The story moves from Paris back to Budapest and on to war locales, always interleaving the stories of the two brothers.

Persecution and uncertainty face off against their determination and resilience, and the many acts of kindness and support they meet along the way. As I read it, I couldn't help wondering if I would have the resilience to survive what they did, and if I'd have the courage to be one of the people who held out a hand to help them sometimes at considerable risk to themselves.

This is Julie Orringer's first novel, and it's quite an accomplishment to produce such a book on your first try. Struggle, love, history, suspense - this novel has it all. It was named among Amazon's Best Books for May 2010; it was an Amazon email that alerted me to it.

Because of The Invisible Bridge, I was inspired to read her previous book of short stories How to Breathe Underwater. I would not highly recommend that book, although it received many awards. Perhaps it's just because I prefer novels to short stories.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

McGahan Recognized as Outstanding Educator

Another one of our TEDxIBYork speakers has been recognized for outstanding accomplishment. Anita McGahan is the recipient of the Academy of Management Business Policy and Strategy Division's 2010 Irwin Outstanding Educator Award. The award committee noted her 'outstanding contributions to the students she has taught, to the colleagues whose teaching she has improved, to the courses and course materials she has developed, and to the management understanding that her research has created'. Having seen Anita in action at the Rotman School, I totally agree with this assessment.

In her acceptance speech, Anita conveyed her frustration with the current formulation of MBA programs. While many of her students have gone on to worthy achievements in life, too many (one is too many, of course) have used their skills to engage in financial chicanery or unthinking pursuit of tawdry corporate goals.

McGahan's mother was a Grade Two teacher in the tough South Bronx - one of those special teachers who make a difference. While not offering a prescription for how to fix MBA education, McGahan does end her speech with a reflection of some lessons she learned from her mother. They centre on inspiring students by showing them something better than the narrow world they live in. For the South Bronx kids, it was field trips to open their eyes beyond the constrained environment they lived in. For MBA students, it might be showing them how their skills could be used to better the world. We hope that TEDxIBYork might in some small way inspire its audience to broader thinking about the world.

Registration is Open

Registration is open for the TEDx conference I've been mentioning. You can look at the speakers so far and register here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cleo Paskal Receives Grantham Award of Special Merit

Cleo Paskal, one of our TEDxIBYork speakers, has been recognized with an Award of Special Merit by the Grantham Prize for her book Global Warring (previously mentioned and heartily recommended in this blog). The Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment was established in 2005 to recognize the work of a journalist or team of journalists for exemplary reporting on the environment.

It was a big year for Canadians in this category. In addition to Cleo winning the Award of Special Merit, Alanna Mitchell, former Globe and Mail reporter, took home the big prize ($75,000!) for her book Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. The jury described her as 'reporting it like a demon and writing like an angel'. This is now officially on my must-read list.