Monday, February 28, 2011

Tommy McCall

I met Tommy McCall in a line-up today.  He's the wonderful information graphics artist I met a couple of years ago at TED.  He did a creative graphic on the spread of TEDx around the world.   On his web site, you can look at how the 1579 TEDx events to date have sprung up around the world.  The world is turning red!

Ideas are the New Oil

I spent yesterday high in the mountains outside Palm Springs, at an outdoor event for TEDx organizers, alternately freezing in the early morning desert cold and burning to a crisp in the hot afternoon sun.  Despite unappealing conditions, the enthusiasm of people from around the world discussing what had happened at their TEDxes was infectious.

Two young men from South Korea described the reception to several conferences there.  Someone from Brazil described a meeting in a hotel deep in Amazonia.  Accommodation was augmented by boats in the river, and some people had to come 45 minutes by boat from another hotel.  The art work in the program design from Athens' TEDxAcademy was awesome - all hand done, with delightful doodles on every page.  A description of a TEDx in a women's school in Pakistan that would bring tears to your eyes.  And a story of women at a TEDx in China opening up in a way they never had before.  

I was a modest success with my description of how hard it is to get speakers to have practice sessions before their talks - people really related to my characterization of nailing Jello to a tree.  And they loved the photo!

We were broken up into regional groups to discuss how different TEDx organizers could work together better in our regions.  Dan Jacob of TEDxToronto did a great summary of the ideas from Canada, including the idea of rolling TEDxes across Canada as a VIA train made its way across the country.  The iconic symbol of exploration and cross-Canada links, linked with exploration  of ideas at every stop and on the train along the way.  Dan did a great job of the presentation and got the Canadians to do a cheer "The world needs more Canada", which earned remarks from the host "Aren't those Canadians adorable?"

The sum-up of the ideas from the Middle East was amazing.  Building on TED's tagline of Ideas Worth Spreading, their spokesperson said the Middle East was experiencing a Revolution Worth Spreading.  And he coined my favourite phrase of the day Ideas are the New Oil.

International Bus to TEDx Workshop

Before TED 2011 opens on Monday, there was a workshop up in Palm Desert for people who had organized a TEDx event.  It brought together an amazing array of people from all over the world. 

The bus ride from Long Beach, where several of us are staying, was an adventure in itself.  The people broke out like this - a lady from San Francisco who had organized a TEDxYouth conference , a guy from Connecticut who runs a series of TEDx events within Pfizer, the woman who masterminded TEDxAcademy in Athens (named after Plato's Academy), the people who organized TEDxIstanbul, TEDxSantiago and TEDx HongKong, and of course yours truly of TEDxIBYork. 

What I found rather amazing, though, was that there were three Canadians on the bus.  You wouldn't think so from the above description, huh?  Well, Leo from Santiago was a Chilean who took refuge in Canada during the military dictatorship in Chile.  He became a Canadian citizen, before he and his parents returned to Chile where he now lives.  And Jose who runs TEDxHongKong (yup - you got it, Jose from HongKong) was born in Mexico.  He came to Canada and became a citizen and still owns his home in Winnipeg while teaching at unversity in Hong Kong.

At the evening party, Jose and Leo and I got to talking about Canada's cultural mosaic and how proud we all were of that culture.  Leo told a funny story.  When he was living in Montreal, he was a fervent left-winger, having fled a country run by a right-wing dictatorship supported by American imperialists.  His best friend was a Pole who was an ardent rightist, having fled a left-wing dictatorship supported by Russian imperialists.  He believed that only in Canada would they have ended up best friends.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TED 2011
Each year, before the conference, TED sends out a booklet with attendee names, titles and pictures.  I just skimmed the this year's book and I got fascinated with the titles.  There was a plethora of CEOs, Founders and Investors, Artists, Designers, Scientists, and Philanthropists. As you would expect. 

And there were a few titles that were somewhat unexpected.  Well, maybe not entirely unexpected at TED, maybe more whimsical.  Would you like to be the CEO and Chief Old Person at your company?  Or maybe you're more of a Former Overachiever.  Of course you could be a Prima Dreamer or maybe a Poet, Wonder-er and Wanderer.  Being an Attitude Co-ordinator sounds a bit like being a Marine!  Is the Chief Logic Bomber from another branch of the military?  Would you rather be a Troublemaker at Google, or a Disruptor at Troublemaker Inc.?  I think I'd enjoy being an Itinerant Mentor.  Or maybe an In-house Philosopher would be more rewarding.  Some stressful days, I'd just like to be the Chief Clock Winder.  But, in the end, many of us probably just wish we were just plain Expert, John Hodgman's title (the actor who plays the PC in Mac/PC commercials).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TED Book Club

Another TED book club mailing has arrived.  It's exciting to get the new books, but a bit frustrating since I haven't finished the previous batch.  I've been dipping into several of the books and loving them all but not quite finished any of them.  This batch includes:
  • Karen Armstrong's Twleve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Armstrong won the TED prize a few years ago and completed her with to launch a Charter for Compassion, which would encompass the precepts shared by world religions, emphasizing their similarities rather than their differences.  This book apparently states what has always seemed to me ot be rather obvious, namely that 'compassion is a human quality that lives outside religious beliefs'.  This should be an interesting read.
  • John Brockman's Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?  This book brings together thoughts from a variety of contributors writing on the role the Internet plays in shaping the way humans think and behave.  Clearly the Internet has changed us; I look forward to reading what these people have to say about it.
  • Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion.  This book apparently challenges us to more past 'cyberutopianism' to a more realistic view of the Net.  As much as we may celebrate Twitter revolutions, the Net can be used just as effectively by ruthless leaders to quell such uprisings.
I hope to have time to read these books after TED!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This seems to be the week for Oscar-nominated foreign-language films for me.  And this is another film I would recommend.   I had seen and liked Babel by Mexican Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. And I enjoyed this latest one.

The movies takes place in Barcelona, but not the Barcelona I know as a tourist.  This Barcelona was gritty, with all sorts of people scrabbling for a living.  At times depressing, this move again uplifted because of the strength of the character played by Javier Bardem. 

I'd recommend this film.

Monday, February 21, 2011


A friend recommended that I go to this movie.  She had gone, not because Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award, but because she would go to see anything of Denis Villeneuve's.  I've now joined the Villeneuve fan club.

Incendies was a complex film with an intricate plot, spanning two generations, two countries (Canada and Lebanon), and two time periods.  It starts with twins who are charged in their mother's will to trace their father and brother.  The quest takes first Jeanne, and then her twin Simon, to Lebanon on a sleuthing mission.  Interwoven with this quest is that of their mother, who lived through the cruel civil war in Lebanon in the eighties.  After being captured during the war, she is brutalized in a Lebanese prison.  Yet she is remembered as 'the woman who sings', a testament to her courage and fortitude. 

Incendies is a powerful film, documenting inhumanity in the name of war and religion.  Incendies is a film of people's ability to rise above their conditions and live a life of meaning, and, ultimately, conciliation.  Two views - take your pick.

Put this on your must-see list.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Edward Rutherford's novel Russka is a great read.  960 pages.  1800 years of history.  A sweeping history of Russia through the tales of several families - peasants to the nobility.  It's a rollicking good story, or rather a series of stories, with each section set in a different time period, linked because they cover multiple generations of the same families.

I would say my knowledge of Russian history is limited to the major facts.  The five families in this book are set against the major events of Russia's history.  And the main feeling I gained was of how backward Russia has been.  It's always been behind the rest of Europe, and it's never had the incredible cultures and accomplishments of other Asian countries.  Serfdom was still in vogue long after the rest of Europe was developing healthy middle classes.  The serf had a miserable life; although not technically a slave, he was not allowed to move to a new farm or work for a new master.

The maintenance of such stiff autocracy by the tsar into the 20th Century meant that at the time of the revolution, there was no history at all in Russia of anything other than completely autocratic rule.  I knew that of course, but this book really got me thinking aobut it and put Russia's current situation in perspective.  They don't have good governance now, but in fact they never did.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise is a book about the early days of World War II, as the Germans are advancing on Paris.  It was written contemporaneously with the events, before the author was sent to Auschwitz, where she died.  The book follows an assortment of characters as they flee Paris before the Nazis.  The majority are a pretty unappetizing bunch, with a highly warped sense of values.  Their characters are revealed through their behaviour:  what they decide to take with them when they flee, and who they decide to take with them.  Will it be the mistress or the faithful servants who get to go?  Will it be valued possessions or food?  And what would I take if faced with the same tortured choices?

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but it had an unfinished quality to me.  Afterwards, when I read that the author was a victim of the Holocaust before fulling polishing off the book, I understood why I felt that way.  Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this book.