Friday, April 20, 2018

TED 2018 - Days 4 & 5

It has taken me a few days to get over my TEDache (a combination of a brain too full of new thoughts and exhaustion). I finally felt up to putting together this final entry based on my notes from Friday and Saturday. Worth noting, I've never been a good note taker. Some of my favorite sparse entries describing talks included "Crazy flying lady," "I'm 18 and I understand AI," "Born in Korea, raised in Argentina, educated in US, whatever," and "Hip hop meets indigenous peoples--too bad." Suffice to say, there were plenty of things I'm not going to bother to write about!

TED fills both your brain and belly 
You should definitely keep an eye on TED as they post more videos from the conference. I just looked and saw that they posted Robin Steinberg's talk on the problems with our current bail system and how she plans to change it and Zachary Woods' one on the importance of listening to people you disagree with. I also found the other Audacious Project videos including GirlTrek's. I plan to see how I can support at least the second one. These videos are ones well worth watching.  

The last day and a half were fairly dreary days with plenty of rain and cooler temperatures. The sessions were good, but my exhaustion and the weather seems to have affected my mood. I moved my flight home a day earlier. I couldn't wait to get home and have a little time to rest and digest all that I'd heard. 

There were some great quotes from the sessions that I have to call out. Dylan Marron told of his attempts to reach out the writers of Internet hate responses to him and stated, "Empathy is not endorsement." Chetna Gala Sinha who started a bank for poor women in rural India said, "Never provide poor solutions to poor people." Both are lines I plan to use in the future.   

Lots of folks put off spending their TED coin
The first Friday session was called Insanity. Humanity. Three of the talks stood out to me. One of those was James Bridle who told about the many egg opening videos with millions of views on Youtube, mostly by children. He also showed another vast array  of "finger family" videos based on a silly song. The number of videos and views is mind boggling. The videos are not so much troublesome in and of themselves as they are really boring and innocuous. The reason for the views is machine learning recommendations. As Bridle put it, "machine learning is just software we don't understand how it works." Though he spoke only about Youtube, he believes the issue is much broader. I feel sorry for my grandson because we will be cutting back his Youtube watching!

Emily Levine gave an entertaining talk that started out by telling us that she had cancer. She said reassuringly, "Fortunately, my cancer is like the Democratic leadership, not very aggressive." Her talk covered lots of ground and included fun lines like, "I don't have goals, just fantasies--they are similar, but a lot less work." Her attitude toward her mortality was refreshing and I hope that I am half as funny as she was if I manage to live to be her age!

Frances Frei is Harvard Business School professor who specializes in trust. As a result, she did a short stint with Uber to help them restore the trust of their employees and customers. She explained that trust has three components: authenticity, logic, and empathy. She gave some simple ways to restore each of those components such as empathy by not looking at your cellphone, logic by starting with your point rather than rambling, and authenticity by being yourself. Hers was a talk I need to rewatch and think about how to incorporate elements of it in my life and work.

The Latin fusion group LADAMA performing
Body electric was the title of second morning session and included a number of good talks as well as a fun performance by the female Latin group LADAMA. 

Mary Lou Jepsen talked about her work on low cost (and small compared to current MRI machines) brain scanning using the translucency of our bodies (hold a bright flashlight to the palm of your hand and note the red light that gets through) and some magic with holograms. She also brings lots of experience in building low cost devices. If she pulls this off, the changes would be enormous.

In one of the more exciting and scary talks of the conference, Dan Gibson described his work on printing (he called it teleporting) vaccines and other drugs. The device which does this is relatively small (think large desk size) and will shrink as the technology develops. Basically, you send a file with the genetic sequence to his device and a couple days later you have a vaccine. Or drug. Or virus to kill everyone on the planet. (OK, he didn't talk about the last one, but obviously, this technology could be misused.) The ability to quickly get a vaccine to a remote corner of the globe is exciting as is the ability to produce vaccines without using the current antiquated technique of growing it in eggs. The possibilities and possible abuses are ones to be excited by and wary of.

Along the same line, but a little less exciting/scary was Floyd E. Romesberg. His told of his work in adding additional letters to the existing four (CGAT) bases of DNA. His team created semi-artificial life with DNA containing what he referred to as bases X and Y. The ability to synthesize different amino acids, and thus proteins, than what can be done with the existing bases opens a lot of possibilities.

Al Gore sharing the current state of the battle
against climate change
Mark and I attended a lunch by the Climate Reality Project which featured Al Gore. He gave plenty of harrowing information about changes in the world's climate as well as some encouraging signs brought on largely by the changing economics of rapid technological advances in things like solar and wind power, electric vehicles, and energy storage.

We also went to a workshop on impromptu speaking. The moderator made some good points. She felt that the term impromptu should be a misnomer as you should always speak to what you know. You should use whatever time you can to prepare, even if that is only the time it takes to walk from your seat to the podium. During that time, you should decide where you are going to go with what you say and pick the organizational strategy to get there. 

The late afternoon session was Personally speaking and, indeed, they were largely personal talks. Three of them stood out to me.  

Chetna Gala Sinha told of her experiences in rural India. When banks refused to help women looking to save small amounts of money, she stepped in and tried to open a bank for them. When the banking authorities refused because the women could not read, she helped them learn how to read. The results of her (and the women around her) efforts in the face opposition are an inspiration to anyone looking to fight against the status quo.

Jason B. Rosenthal is the husband of the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal whose touching essay, You May Want to Marry My Husband, went viral last year. His talk was an equally touching tribute to his wife and the love they shared. It was not quite a tearjerker for me, in part because he came across as so well composed. I'm pretty sure he will have no trouble finding women who want to marry him!
Oskar Eustis is the director of New York's public theater and was one of the driving forces behind bringing Hamilton to the world. He explained how he sees theater and democracy as intimately linked as they have been since Greece invented both over 2,500 years ago. He told fun Joe Papp stories and came across as the erudite, entertaining speaker I would expect him to be. He also seemed very much the elitist theater insider. Near the end of his talk, however, he destroyed that notion. He lamented that theater has "turned its back on a large part of the country." Rather than American theater being the province of the coastal elites, he argued that to fulfill its role it must reach the whole country. I came away impressed with him and hopeful that he is able to see his plans come to fruition.

The final session on Saturday morning was titled What matters. I had to leave before the end as I moved my flight a day earlier to get home sooner.

I was particularly struck by the talk by Gary Liu, CEO of the South China Morning Post. He told stories of how technology is transforming China, in ways both good and bad. For example, technology is helping make easier the vast migration of hundreds of millions of Chinese city dwellers to their rural villages for New Year's. He told how the government is adding facial recognition to 170M closed circuit cameras. Liu described Taobao villages--rural communities where at least 10% of their income is from online sales. Because this is China, this has caught on and there are now over 2100 such communities. He also told of 55M rural students in really small schools that are now able to stream classes. In many ways, China is leapfrogging the US in its use of technology. And, bringing online the remaining 600M people will probably lead to even more innovation.  
Chris Anderson conducted an engaging interview with Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. Hastings related lots of inside nuggets of info about Netflix such as spending $100M for the initial season of House of Cards and investing $8B in content in 2018. He told about how he loves the competition of business and relishes the challenge of trying to beat Disney and HBO. 
I'll close my commentary of TED 2018 with an experience from the Friday night party that made a strong impression on me. In many ways, it summed up what the TED conference is for me. Mark and I sat at a table with a man and a woman who we did not know and did not know each other. The conversation turned to our contention TED is a reflective bubble where people tend to reinforce each other's opinions and not be open to dissenting ones. The man said that he disagreed. 
We discussed a video, which the other people had not noticed, shown before one of the sessions the day before that had some disturbing (at least to me) images depicting Jesus in very unflattering ways. I said that I did not think such images would be used about Islam or other groups. He then spewed a bunch of expletives while contending that such treatment was appropriate. (My snarky side wanted to shout to the avowed liberal that he owed me a trigger warning!) He was at least consistent in that he thought all religions should be disrespected in such ways. He felt his tone was appropriate because of what he had experienced at the hands of the Catholic Church and because he was Italian and that was how he was. After some further conversation he came to the conclusion that it was acceptable to insult anyone in power, but not those that were not. He left shortly afterwards. 

We talked a bit more with the woman in a much friendlier vein. When she had to leave, she came over to me and was very kind. She said some encouraging words and told me to keep speaking out. In those two people is the spirit of TED. And, possibly of discourse in America. I just hope her tone wins out. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

TED 2018 - Day 3

Day 3 at TED was a good one. I listened to lots of good talks, rode a bike around Vancouver on a beautiful spring day, and had some good conversations with other TED attendees. If only there was more time for sleep, I would be feeling great!

The beauty of Vancouver, a bustling city
nestled beside the water
One thing to note, the first talk from this year's conference is now available on TED's Web site. I would not have picked Jaron Lanier's as the one to post first, but it is worth monitoring their site as the talks they think are most important begin to roll out over the coming days and weeks. 

The day's first session of seven talks was titled Space to dream. The talks were all interesting, but none really excited me. The most interesting ones, however, were Nora Atkinson's which showed amazing pictures of the large art installations at the Burning Man festival and Vishaan Chakrabarti's explanation of the impact of cars (wide streets and barriers to pedestrians), tall-ladder firetrucks (large intersections for turning), and wheelchairs (no steep steps or inclines) on city design and how things might change in the future as those technologies evolve.

What on earth will we do? was the title of the second session of the day. It included a number of interesting speakers like Jennifer Wilcox on the possibility of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, Angel Hsu about China's strides in battling pollution, Penny Chisholm on a microscopic organism in the oceans called prochlorococcus and its important role in the planetary ecosystem, and Rodin Lyasoff regarding Airbus' Vahama, an autonomous, electric, flying "taxi".

Not all art is beautiful, even in Vancouver
One exciting talk was Aaswath Raman's in which he described a new material (created using nano-photonics) that allows cooling without using energy. Basically, it allows infrared light (and thus heat) to escape. I confess I could not really understand, but the impact it could have on air conditioning and refrigeration, if it can be economical, would be enormous. 

Enric Sala showed how oceans can recover using the example of Cabo Puloma where after only ten years of no fishing, it was teaming with fish. He showed how they can use satellite imagery and big data to see who is fishing in the high seas and how much money they are making or losing on the endeavor. They found that countries are giving big subsidies to make up for small profits. He felt that this data may be used to bring about a ban high seas fishing. The data was compelling and I hope he proves to be right.

The most thought provoking talk for me was by Charles C. Mann, the author of two books I really like (1491 and 1493). His topic was the one he covers in his new book--the conflicting approaches that wizards and prophets take to solving the world's problems. Wizards are basically the technologists who think everything can be solved with technology and the prophets are those who think everything can be solved by consuming less and living closer to nature. Mann convincingly showed how the only real answer is for those two groups to work together. I will definitely need to read his new book. 

Great weather for a spring bike ride through Vancouver
After lunch, I took advantage of one of the optional activities at TED, an 8-mile bike ride through Vancouver. There were about 30 people and the weather was wonderful--a little cool in the shade and gorgeous in the sun (which we have not seen much of so far this week). I got to explore much more of Vancouver than the few city blocks I've walked in the past. The ride was not so much exercise for my body as a welcome respite for my brain--nothing clears my head like cycling. 

I also had the opportunity to talk with a few folks. Near the end I got to talk with a woman in a hijab. She looked familiar, but I could not place her. For a moment, I thought maybe she was the same woman I had ridden with years ago in a quintessential TEDActive moment

She turned out to be Dalia Mogahed, a TED speaker from a couple years ago. (I wrote about her talk in 2016 that brought tears to my eyes. I would recommend you watch it if you haven't done so already.) I told her about the impact her talk had on me. It was not a life changing conversation, but it was one of those I am unlikely to have any where else. 

They called the final session of the day Wow. Just wow. It was a good group of talks which did have plenty of wow. The highlights for me included Pierre Barreau on how deep learning can create music. He played some music that I would not have been able to identify as composed by a computer. He told of how such AI generated music could be the soundtrack of our lives. I'm not really sure I like that idea, but the talk was intriguing. 

There is food between all the sessions
to make sure we don't starve to death
Luhan Yang described her work on xenotransplantation--using pigs to grow organs for transplantation into humans. This is something that folks have long talked about, but there are two hurdles that have been insurmountable--a porcine virus that can be fatal to humans and organ rejection. She has used CRISPR gene modification to create pigs without the virus. The next step is to work on modifying the genetics so the organs are not rejected by the human body. The results are probably ten years away, but her work is encouraging. 

Luke Sital-Singh sang a couple melancholy songs. The second was about his grandmother living on after his grandfather died. It was hauntingly beautiful and very moving. 

Alex Honnold told about his free solo climbs of Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite. Climbing thousands of feet without any ropes is pretty much crazy, but hearing how he did it and the dedication it required was captivating. He said that his life has been centered on climbing for over 20 years and scaling El Capitan was the best day of his life. I can't say as that I agree with either of those, but it was interesting to hear and the photos were scary enough to make everyone fidget in their chairs!

Dinner was one where groups of about 15 to 20 people signed up to discuss a topic. The topic at mine was What is the future of spirituality? We had an interesting conversation, but I doubt it moved anyone's opinions. In truth, we never really agreed on the definition of spirituality, let alone truth. I felt that a few of the folks were there to listen and learn, but most had a particular idea to push whether that was organized religion is evil, Christianity is the answer, dark matter/energy will be shown to be god, love is true spirituality, or everyone just wants to be part of a tribe. I tried to listen and not be one of the people pushing an agenda, though obviously I have one. All-in-all, it was interesting, though at times frustrating. 

One interesting thought I had is related to TED's tag line--Ideas worth spreading. That sounds great, but I wonder if most people consider that in order for an idea to spread, it must displace other ideas. If the idea is that growth must be limited in order to save the planet, then it only spreads if people put aside the idea that growth is the goal. Spreading ideas means changing minds. I'm not sure most folks are willing to have their minds changed. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

TED 2018 - Day 2

Chris Anderson about to kick off the day's first session
Day 2 of TED 2018 was one that began well and got stronger as the day went on. It was one of those days at TED where it will take me a long time to process some of what I heard. It was also a day where writing this blog entry will be very helpful in processing, as well as remembering, later what I heard as subsequent days will make me forget much of it. Unfortunately, it was a long day where I will not have time to write about much of what went on. 

The first session's title was After the end of history... The talks were generally good and covered ideas including Poppy Crum on the use of technologies that can infer our internal state (feelings and emotions) from external clues like our body temperature and the composition of the air we exhale, Cesar Hidalgo on the possibility of using AI bots rather than elected officials in a representative democracy, and Kate Raworth on the need to balance economic growth with our impact on the planet. 

Yuval Harari giving a fascinating explanation of the
difference between fascism and nationalism
The highlight of the session for me was Yuval Harari. He spoke via a hologram from Tel Aviv which worked and was minimally distracting. There were some audio glitches at the beginning, but once they went away, it really was as if he was on the stage. If you look closely at the picture, you may be able to see the transparent screen his image was projected onto. 

I enjoyed reading earlier this year his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The topic of his talk, however, was instead the difference between fascism and nationalism and what those might look like in the future. He sees nationalism as the love of country, and possibly seeing your country as better than all others. In contrast, fascism is the love of your country to the exclusion of all other countries and things. In fascism, not only is your country more important than other ones, but more important than art, family, faith, and friends. Anything that detracts from your country's goals is to be suppressed or eliminated. 

His caution is that we are wrong to think of fascism as an easily identifiable and ugly thing. He quipped that he never understands how Voldemort and Darth Vader have any followers--they are ugly and mean to everyone around them. Who would sign up for that? In contrast, fascism succeeds because, at least initially, it is attractive. It is about belonging to a beautiful nation. He further cautioned that in the future, control of data may lead to fascism and that corporations rather than the state may be the agents of such a future. His talk is definitely one I will have to re-watch when it is available. 

The second session, Nerdish delight, consisted of folks talking about cool technology they are involved in developing. Though a couple felt like blatant ads (the Light L16 camera and Token's identity/security ring), they were effective ones that made me plan to look into them further. The talks included Giada Gerboni telling about how soft robots can succeed where traditional rigid ones cannot, Dina Katabi told how weak wireless signals can be used to detect breathing and sleep patterns, Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX talked about their future plans for larger rockets, going to Mars, and 30-minute flights across the earth, and Supasorn Suwajanakorn showed the technology that was able to produce videos of Obama and Bush speaking just using audio with the obvious implications and possible remedies.

The best talk for me was Simone Giertz of Youtube and bad robots fame. It was not inspiring, new, or informational, but it was both fun and funny while still conveying a useful message of being willing to fail. She showed her famed toothbrush helmet as well as a large, circular collar for eating popcorn and drinking water while speaking. It work as well as you might expect one of her gadgets to work! She had a great quote on how she choose her current line of work, "The easiest way to be at the top of your field is to pick a very small field." It is hard to adequately describe her talk, but her abundant enthusiasm made it work. 

99% Invisible's Roman Mars' workshop
on how to create a podcast 
After lunch, Mark and I attended a workshop given by Roman Mars called So you think you can podcast? He conducted a short interview of graphic designer who had recently published a book on signs used in protest movements. It was about a 5-minute interview about the I AM A MAN posters used in Memphis during the civil rights movement. He then went through the steps he takes to turn that interview into a 2-minute segment such as he would use in his 99% Invisible podcast on design. It was fascinating and made me very much want to try my hand at podcasting and also made me realize that to do it well would mean using an audio engineer as I can't see myself learning all that would be necessary. 

The final session was dedicated to TED's Audacious Project, the successor to the TED Prize. I had grown skeptical about the TED Prize over the years and was not sure what I felt about the new format. Now, my main concern is whether they will be able to replicate this in the future. There were five winners and each had already been pledged a significant amount of money. The goal is for each of them to use the resources of TED and the TED community to use that significant start to gain more moment and raise the full amount of money necessary for their audacious goals. 

The winners included Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund whose goal is launch a satellite that will detect methane leaks in the hopes of significantly reducing methane emissions and having a measurable impact on growth in global warming by 2025. Caroline Harper, with Sightsavers, described her audacious goal of eliminating blindness caused by trachoma. Heidi Sosik's goal is to explore the deep ocean to better understand its inhabitants so that they can be appropriately protected before it is too late. 

Two of the winners stood out to me and are ones that I hope to find ways to support in the future. The first was Robin Steinberg who goal is to "combat mass incarceration in the US by disrupting the money bail system." Over half a million people are in jail because they cannot afford to post bond which can often be as low as a few hundred dollars. That jail time costs the United States 14 million dollars. She has been working in the Bronx to post bond for such people. She found that 96% of them returned for their trials and thus got back the bail. In contrast to the 90% of people who make a plea deal when they can't post bond, only 2% of the people she posted bond for were convicted. Her new organization (The Bail Project) aims to pay bail for 160,000 people and thus make a significant impact on incarceration rates.  

The other winner that stood out to me was the team of T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison (who spoke last year) and GirlTrek. Their goal is to make an impact on female African-american obesity by encouraging women to get out and walk in their communities. To illustrate the problem, they told about Erica Garner, the 27-year-old daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police in NYC and famously said, "I can't breathe" before dying. She died of a heart attack. 

They told a story of their walk of over 100 miles along the route of the underground railroad. At one point, they were somewhat frighted by a group of gun-toting hunters in pickup trucks and camo. A little later, a man in a pickup truck pulled over in front of them. Their initial fears proved unfounded when he offered them water, granola bars, and tissues. His actions renewed their faith in God and humanity. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I loved hearing them comfortably talk about God on the TED stage. (They were the first people that I noticed who even mentioned God on the TED stage this year.)

The day ended on an even higher note for me with TED Believers' dinner. Chris Evans and Nancy Duarte organized it, as they have the breakfasts in previous years. In many ways, the dinner was just like any gathering of newly acquainted Christians. Folks each shared a little bit about who they are and told stories of what God was doing in their lives. People shared about things like their struggles with wayward teenage children and family members with cancer as well as their personal triumphs. 

It always amazes me how Christians who have just met have the freedom to share in this way. The difference is that this group of people was much more extraordinary than at most such occasions. These are people making real impacts with the companies and philanthropies they work with. At the same time, they are--and know they are--flawed sinful human beings relying on the grace of God. It was an honor to be able to spend time hanging out with these folks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

TED 2018 - Day 1

I’ve been attending the TED or TEDActive conference for over ten years. I come to have the TED talks and participants force me to think. I do my best to attend all of the talks and even try to speak with some of the many interesting attendees.

Obligatory photo with the TED logo
What I never know is what I will learn, what Mark and I will decide to do based on what we learn, and how I will change. It is always a bit scary, but something I have come to treasure. It also forces me to write some blog entries. 

This year is different, however, as the week comes near the end of my 7-week sabbatical. That means I’m way more rested and less pulled in different directions than usual. I’m not sure how that may change things.

Last year, one of my goals was to wear Limit Your Greed (LYG) T-shirts and try to have conversations about LYG. Now that the book itself is out, I’m hoping to have conversations about it and hand out a few copies.

Steps at the entrance to the conference 
I registered yesterday and got my gift bag this morning. They have changed the way they do the gift bag this year. Basically, I got a nice piece of carry-on luggage from Rimowa, a water bottle, and a bag. Instead of lots of stuff folks may not want, we each got $125 to spend at a couple TED stores. So, I don't actually know yet what I will get! 

The day started off with two TED Fellows sessions of a little under two hours each. The program for the talks described TED Fellows as a "program supports exceptional, iconoclastic individuals at work on world-changing projects, providing them with access to the global TED platform and community as well as to tools and resources to amplify their vision. The TED Fellows program now includes 453 Fellows who work across 96 countries, forming a powerful network of artists, scientists, doctors, activists, entrepreneurs, inventors, journalists, and beyond—each dedicated to making our world better and more equitable.”

Around 25 members of the 2018 TED Fellows class each spoke for about six minutes. The talks were not great, but a few of them were very good. 

We heard from people working in the areas of migrant rights, glaciers, gender violence, mathematical models of infectious disease, astronomy, evolution, preserving the Cubango river in Africa, urban ecology, low-income energy costs, and human tissue regeneration. 

TED Senior Fellow Joshua Roman 
A few of the talks stood out. These included Romain Lacombe, a self-described environmental entrepreneur, who developed a smartphone-enabled air quality monitoring device. The goal of the device is two-fold. First, it allows people to see where and when air quality is poor and change their behavior in response. So, if someone sees that running in the evening on a particular road encounters a lot of pollution, the person can run at a different time or location. The other goal is that when enough people utilize the devices, city-wide maps can enable policymakers to see in real time the pollution in their cities and take appropriate action. 

Rola Hallam is a doctor who told of the tragedy of hospital bombings in Syria. She works with healthcare professionals in Syria doing heroic work attempting to provide aid to people in these facilities. They get very little outside funding, so she created the CanDo foundation to help funnel money to them for the cause of providing healthcare to the Syrian population in desperate need of it. By using locals to do the work, they have managed to open new hospitals in Syria for the relatively low cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It helped remind me that there are important causes in the world on which individuals can have a real impact with relatively small amounts of money. 

Essam Daod is a child psychiatrist who tries to help children who are part of the flood of refugees into Europe. Among the over one million such refugees are hundreds of thousands of children. He described himself as a first responder to the psychological stress of young refugees. He stressed the importance of intervening with these children as soon as they arrive to help them reframe their traumatic journeys as heroic rather than tragic. 

Paul Rucker opened the second session by playing the cello in a very non-traditional, but enjoyable way. He later spoke in the session and was the only TED Fellows speaker that I gave a standing ovation. As an artist, he described how he collects artifacts of slavery such as branding irons and shackles. Seeing them really helped me understand in a new way the horror of slavery. He also showed KKK robes that he created in different colorful materials. In trying to write about his talk, I can't adequately describe its impact on me. Suffice to say, I was moved by it and left wondering what I can do to foster racial reconciliation. 

In the early evening, the week began in earnest with the first session of the conference and the ominous title of "Doom. Gloom. Outrage. Uproar." The first two speakers were late, and very topical, additions. They were well received by the audience, but I didn't feel they had much to add to the discussions in their hot topic areas. 

Tracee Ellis Ross, the star of the TV sitcom Black-ish, told a story of a friend who while in line at a Post Office had a man pick her up and move her aside to get to something. The woman could not understand her emotions, but she was furious. Ross attributed it to bottled up rage because of centuries of "men helping themselves to women's bodies." While the story was thought provoking, her call for women to unleash their fury did not sit well with me. I don't think the world needs more fury, it needs more dialog and understanding. I (and other men) need to hear about the things that women experience, including their fury. However, holding individual men accountable for centuries (come on, it has to be millennia at least) of loutish behavior by other men is unlikely to help anything. Individuals need instead to be held accountable for their own behavior and need help to understand when they have behaved poorly. 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher on gun control
Diane Wolk-Rogers is a history teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She told of her experience at the recent shooting at her school. It was an understandably emotional talk where she spend the bulk of the time arguing for gun control and against the NRA. Unfortunately, I didn't feel she said anything different than folks have been saying for years. 

The middle of the session consisted of Jaron Lanier decrying social media which he prefers to call "behavior modification empires," The Soul Rebels playing some fun New Orleans jazz fused with hip hop, and Zachary Wood calling for people to dialog with folks who they strongly disagree with. Neither Lanier or Wood were great speakers, but they did say some things well work thinking about. 

The final speaker was Steven Pinker. His talk was basically a nicely done summary of his book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. What he did in his talk (and his book) is to use data to show that we are safer, wealthier, healthier, and happier than we have been in the past. This flies in the face of most people's general feeling that things are getting worse all the time and we are headed for doom. I'm currently reading that book and would whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone. If you don't feel like reading it, wait for the TED talk to come out and watch it instead. 

What party is complete without a logo wall of donuts?
The day finished with an evening party. The food was good and the desserts included a wall of yummy donuts in the shape of the TED logo. There were dancers performing on ropes suspending them outside the windows and there were fireworks that I did not stay late enough to watch. It was a good party! 

Neither Mark and I are big minglers, but we did have an interesting conversation with the CEO of an oil and gas company who saw his quarterly revenue go from $200M to $20M in the last bust cycle. He was proud of he managed to not go bankrupt and survived by transforming his company into an environment/technology company. There really are a wide array of interesting folks here at TED 2018. 

Tomorrow, is a long day of sessions and opportunities to meet more such folks. And, to give out copies of Limit Your Greed to such influencers. I need to get some sleep to be ready for it! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Limit Your Greed: The Book

Many of you have heard either me or Mark Van Name talk or write about the book we’ve been working on, Limit Your Greed. At this point, my guess is that the book sounds about as imaginary as Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, there is a book!

Mark and I first started working on Limit Your Greed at least six years ago, but we had been thinking and talking about it before then. To finally have a copy in my hand feels like an accomplishment. 

The hardback book is available now on our LYG Web site and the ebook is available both there and on Amazon. In a few days, the hardback will be available at Amazon and the ebook at other outlets as well. 

Despite our sense of satisfaction at having completed the book, we’ve accomplished little at this point. The goal of the book is to start conversations. That is where we need your help. Please spread the word, buy a book, and start talking about what it says. You may well not agree, but if people at least start talking then we will have accomplished something. 

I’m excited at the prospect of the book having an impact on the world, but it is truly out of my hands. It is sort of like your kids going off to college. You’ve done what you can and now they are on their own. 

It feels, yet again, like God is trying to get me to understand that I am not in control of the universe and that I need to trust Him. I am a very slow learner. 

Mothers always seem to know how to put things in perspective. A few days ago, I triumphantly handed my 93-year-old mom a copy of the book. She looked at it and said, “Are you saying I’m greedy?” “No, it’s mine!” “Are you greedy?” “No, I mean it is the book I wrote!” She did not seem impressed. 

The next morning when I saw her, she said, “Your picture is on the cover. I don’t like how you look with a beard.” She is hard to impress, but I know she has shown it to some of her friends. 

So, yes, my hope is that Limit Your Greed makes a difference in the world. But, even if that doesn’t happen, at least my mom gets to show off, and complain about, my picture on a book!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gracias para Bolivia y Bárbara

This is the time of year when I am especially aware that I live an amazingly blessed life and have so much to be thankful for. One of the things I’m thankful for is the opportunities I’ve had to visit Bolivia.

I’ve been thinking about Bolivia and why it means so much to me since my most recent visit to Cochabamba in July. I first visited in 1999 and have returned once a year since 2011. (You can read about an earlier trip or watch my sabbatical video to learn more about previous trips.)

People in the States often ask why I keep going back to Bolivia and I am somewhat at a loss to explain. I say things like, “I go to spend time playing with kids in an orphanage.” While that answer is totally true, it is mostly a deflection. It makes me sound like some wonderful, giving person.

Sometimes I'll say something like, “It is a great way to disconnect and rejuvenate from the stresses of work.” Though true, that explanation emphasizes my importance and the stress of my life rather than giving the actual reason.

I sometimes describe these as mission trips to a third-world country. While I do feel closer to God on these trips, that description that makes the trip sound like some sort of sacrificial pilgrimage. Instead, I take warm showers, eat well, play with kids, hang out with Bolivian friends, and generally have a good time.

With Nicki behind the Christ statue
I go on the trips with people I enjoy being with. This past trip, I got to travel with a fun group that included my niece Nicki. It was a treat to be able to show someone I care about the people and places that are very special to me. It was also an opportunity to better know her and the others on the trip.

I go to be somewhere with people who have few expectations of me. To be with children who expect little more than a couple Jolly Ranchers and to be lifted over my head. To be with adults who are content to be friends based upon a few ill-constructed sentences in my broken Spanish. To be with young adults who care about me for reasons I cannot truly discern. I go to receive from people who materially have little.

Normally, I like to be in control and the one giving, not receiving. That is not the case when I am in Bolivia. Maybe, while there, I get to be myself. Or, at least, a different version of myself. I get to be not in charge, quiet, silly, and even tearful.

As the trip was drawing to a close, I decided that I love going to Bolivia for selfish reasons—not to help the people there, but for myself. After all, my being there one week a year leaves me refreshed, but is unlikely to make much impact on the children in the orphanage. I was comfortable with that conclusion and shared it with the others in our group. 

I was wrong.

Bárbara's Facebook post
As I was saying my goodbyes, one of the older children in the orphanage, Bárbara, asked if she could talk to me. She is studying architecture in the local university and is my favorite of the children. I realize I shouldn’t have favorites, but there is no point in hiding it because everyone at the orphanage knows it. When I show up the younger children immediately go and find Bárbara. Her artwork hangs in my office and my house. Over the years, we have done a lot more sitting next to each other than talking, but it works. Her English is now much better than my Spanish, but we still often enjoy just being together without talking. Between trips, we keep in touch via Facebook.

Bárbara wanted to ask me if it would be OK for her to call me “Daddy.” I said “Of course!” as tears rolled down my cheeks. Obviously, God had much bigger plans for my trips to Bolivia than I imagined.

I am already looking forward to next year’s trip in March. It will be a time when I can disconnect from my job and life stresses, play with children in an orphanage, and hang out with friends. And, to be called Daddy. 


Saturday, April 29, 2017

TED 2017 - Day 5

The final day of TED 2017 consisted of a single long session and it was a good one. It has been an amazing week, but my head is full of ideas and thoughts and I'm exhausted. I'm looking forward to being home. 

Before getting to Friday, there is one thing I didn't mention from Thursday. The day started off for me by attending a Christian prayer breakfast. It was great to get to talk with 30 or so other Christian TED attendees including several speakers. I felt very humbled to hear from many of the folks about the things they were doing such as working inner city gang members, arranging for organ donations, and leading large churches in unlikely places like Hollywood Boulevard in LA. It was good to have the opportunity to spend time with these folks and pray with them. 

The day on Friday started with a new experiment of letting some of the attendees come on stage and give feedback. They asked people during the week to send their thoughts if they wanted to speak. The TED staff choose about 15 people limited each to a minute. 

One attendee felt that the questions asked of Serena Williams were a missed opportunity. She noted that one of the greatest athletes of all time was on the stage and most of questions were about her pregnancy, wedding plans, and the like. The woman asked if a man would have been asked the same questions. 

Another attendee argued that red/blue diversity is severely limited at TED. He cited one of the talks which was a pure attack on Trump comparing him to a devil in a painting and would not have been tolerated about a blue politician. 

The questioner caused me to think about the week. This year did have more mentions of God than in the past. After all, they had a rabbi, the Pope, and someone who prayed to started their talk. At the same, TED showed a video from Steven Colbert about what it might be like if Jesus spoke at TED. They certainly didn't do that about atheists or Muslims or any other group. There is a double standard of what is fair game and what is not. 

If the TED organizers have the feedback session again next year, I need to attempt to say something about my thoughts on that issue. 

The first talk was a late addition by Tristan Harris which was one of the most thought provoking of the day. Harris was a former design ethicist at Google and earlier was at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. He told about the groups of people whose jobs are to get the attention of over one billion people around the world.

He mentioned the oft quoted recent line by the head of Netflix that their biggest competitors were Facebook, YouTube, and sleep. Talked about how app notifications schedule little bits of our time. Getting our attention is the key and outrage draws attention better. He said that content is precisely targeted at the most susceptible people. The attention economy is a race to the bottom, seeing who can go lower, faster. 

He stated that the Internet is not evolving at random. Instead it is the intentional action of the Facebooks of the world to get our attention. He gave the example of how Snapchat gamified their friend connections. They keep track of the streak of how many days in a row you've chatted with each friend. To keep the streak alive, users reorder their lives. Kids give their password to friends to maintain the streak if they can't get to a phone. 

He thinks that persuasion should only be in the direction people want to be persuaded. I found this very troubling. The problem is who decides what direction people should be persuaded. I'm not claiming we are being persuaded in a good way now, but I'm not sure we can find agreement on how we should be persuaded. 

He believes that we need to first acknowledge that we are susceptible, implement new accountability models, and foster a design renaissance to avoid many of these issues.. The first is definitely true. The second sounds like a good idea, but I have no reason to believe it will happen. The final one I am very skeptical will happen. 

Chris Anderson interviewed Elon Musk on stage. You know you are special when you get to speak at TED without preparing a talk. (Serena Williams also got that treatment.)

The talk began with a standard joke about Musk's new company for boring tunnels under cities to alleviate traffic congestion. Musk made a plausible case for how he can reduce the costs and make it work. He also noted that there are dangers with flying car. Should you worry if a loose hub cap will fall and decapitate you? 

He stated that Model 3 was still on schedule for July manufacturing start. I wonder when they’ll get to my reservation? He said that he expects a Tesla to make a journey from LA to NYC fully autonomously by the end of 2017. Musk showed a picture of an electric semi truck. He claimed it would have more torque than a diesel engine and in a tug of war could pull a diesel up hill.

He talked about the solar roofing tiles that he expects to debut in a few weeks, initially just two of the four designs. He expects them to be very cost competitive with standard tiles. (Is it bad that I’m now hoping my roof needs replacing?)

Musk figured that we will need about 100 gigafactories to meet the world’s battery demand. and plans to announce two to four more later this year around the world. 

In regards to attending Trump advisory boards: I brought up immigration and climate change. He had no idea what effect that had, but “At least the words were said.”

Musk felt that sustainable energy is inevitable and that Tesla is merely accelerating things by five to ten years. He felt that technology advancement and colonizing Mars are not inevitable. Answering why he is attempting projects like going to Mars, he responded, “I’m not trying to be a savior, I just want to look at the future and not be sad.”

Jim Yong Kim in front of a photo of the
impoverished South Korea of his youth
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank spoke. I assumed it would be a boring technical talk about interest rates or such. Instead, it was an inspiring and hopeful talk. He started by talking about how smartphones are raising the aspirations of people around the world faster than their incomes. The internet increases satisfaction and reference income. 

He explained that when he was a small child in South Korea, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. By spending time in the US, his father's aspirations were raised and he eventually emmigrated to the US with his young family. 

Kim told of his work with Paul Farmer in forming Partners in Health. (Tracy Kidder's book on Paul Farmer, Mountains beyond Mountains, is one that inspired me to want to do something more with my life.) Kim often ran into arguments with the World Bank while doing that work. Since 2012 he has been the head of the World Bank and is working to make it more supportive of the world's poorest. 

Kim told of some troubling trends like the possibility that two thirds of all jobs in developing nations could be lost to automation. That coupled with the stunted development of children's brains in those countries (such as 38% of the children in India) will make the necessary retraining difficult. 

His answer is to get money that is doing little to invest in those countries. He noted that almost half of the world's wealth is invested in low-interest loans, negative-interest loans, or conceptual mattresses. 

The World Bank is trying to utilize that capital by de-risking loans that help the poorest people. They are working with projects such as solar power financing and drones in Rwanda that deliver blood to remote locations. Both are money makers, given the necessary financing. World Bank de-risks the financial by pledge to take the initial losses (if there are any) which qualifies the loans to be of investment grade. 

It was quite exciting to hear someone in a person of real influence using that influence to make real progress in the world. 

The author Anne Lamott gave a delightful talk about the things she knows to be true. Mostly. These things ranged from all truth is a paradox to chocolate with 75% cacao is not food to almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes (including you). She had many quotable lines and great comedic timing. The talk was at times serious, funny, touching, and insightful. Sometimes she managed to be all of those at the same time. The talk, however, was one  thatmy attempt to write about will most certainly fail. Watch for it to come out as a TED video and enjoy it. 

Noah Feldman is a constitutional law scholar. He talked about strong parallels between today and a time early in American history. James Madison had been the main architect and implementer of the Constitution. At that time politics where very partisan (Republicans, led by Madison versus Federalists, led by Hamilton). The country was divided between the traders in coastal cities who wanted to look outward and the agrarian land owners away from the coasts that wanted to look inward. The problems seemed intractable. There are obvious similarities to today. His conclusion is that our Constitution provides the necessary mechanisms to resolve the issues. 

The speakers gathering on stage for a final farewell
The TED staff gathered all of the speakers in the audience onto the stage. It was quite impressive to see how many of them were still in attendance. 

Another party followed the session. I made a point of telling both Chris Anderson and Kelly Stoetzel that they had done a great job and that it was probably the best TED that I had attended. 

So, what are my conclusions and takeaways fro the week? Though I had no where near as many conversations about Limit Your Greed as I had hoped, all the ones I had convinced me that trying to get that message out and get the book published are more important than ever. 

I also came away convinced that I need to put in place some rules on my screen usage such as limiting my usage at meals and remove most (or all) of my notifications. Pretty much everything can wait a few minutes. 

I also plan to start studying Chinese, whether that is because of my trips to China or to lessen my odds of Alzheimer's is beside the point!

Thanks to those of you that read these blog entries. My final takeaway is that I need to get back to writing them more regularly.