Friday, March 21, 2014

TEDActive 2014 – Day 4

A mountain stream on the walk to Whistler Village
Stuff happens at TEDActive, surreal stuff you just don't see every day. Stuff like a panel discussion of people discussing their first encounters with Al Gore and Bill Gates. Or, standing in line for a gondola overhearing a conversation between an Albanian and a Malaysian about their favorite places to live. Or, being served hors d'oeuvres and drinks on a gondola as it briefly stops halfway to the top of a mountain. Or, listening to a decent local band at a party on top of a mountain and watching Amanda Palmer jump in and help them finish out their song.  
Some of the ski trails visible from Whistler Village

In the midst of all that surreal stuff, it was a slightly saner day. I even had a little time in the afternoon to walk over to Whistler Village and snap some photos of the beautiful scenery. The bulk of the day, however, was attending sessions and trying to keep up on email. 

The day started off with Chris Anderson interviewing the deputy chief of the NSA, Rick Ledgett, about the earlier interview with Edwin Snowden. The rebuttal largely consisted of Ledgett sounding reasonable and making some good points, but largely sidestepping the questions. If you are curious, it is already posted

Actually, there were a number of technical glitches with the Ledgett interview, so they postponed it until the end of the first set of talks. Those talks included Marco Tempest performing magic along with a robot, David Epstein giving a fascinating look at the impact of technology on sports, Ray Kurzweil discussing the evolution and future of the neocortex in humans, Keren Elazari giving her take on the importance of hackers, Seth Godin saying why it is important to choose to care and push yourself, and Ed Yong describing parasites using their hosts to reproduce through amazing stories and pictures that included the pun "Eat, Prey, Love." Yes, it was that kind of day! 

There were a number of talks by people who dedicated their lives to studying things as diverse as ants (Deborah Gordon), fireflies (Sara Lewis), and stars and planets (Andrew Connolly). 

TED speakers panel led by Kelly and Rives
In the afternoon, there was a fun panel discussion with six TED speakers (from this and previous conferences). The panel included a beautiful transvestite model (Geena Rocero), an NFL punter (Chris Kluwe), a woman attempting to unmask corporate corruption (Charmian Gooch), an artist (Raghava KK), a leading designer (Stefan Sagmeister), and a man pushing the idea of urban gardening (Ron Finley). As Rives put it, they look like a Benetton commercial. They answered all manner of questions and told stories about their personal lives and TED speaking experiences. It was very enjoyable. 

Among the more interesting and thought-provoking talks of the day was one by William Marshall on his company's ( goal of launching over 100 low-orbit satellites to give daily updates to satellite imagery of the earth. I also particularly liked Masarat Duad's explanation of why she chooses to wear a burqa. While I don't think (nor does she) that forcing people to dress that way is right, it was good to understand that she and others can have rational reasons for doing so. 

The 71-year-old author Isabel Allende spoke movingly and humorously about the issues of aging. I can relate to her assertion that you always feel younger than you are. And, I share her fear of becoming dependent on others with age. 

The talk that hit me the hardest was the one by Mellody Hobson on race. She started with a story of appearing at an event with an African-american Senate candidate and the pair of them being mistaken for late-arriving kitchen help. She threw out lots of sobering statistics that I had heard before, but I was really convicted by her exhortations to "be comfortable with the uncomfortable discussion of race" and to be "color brave rather than color blind." In particular, she spoke about the importance of being color brave in the hiring of people in an effort to create a more effective workforce through diversity. I'm not exactly sure how to go about doing that, but it is something I plan to think more about in the coming weeks. 

The day ended with dinner and a party on the top of Whistler Mountain. It took about 25 minutes in a gondola to reach the summit. The ride up gave beautiful views of the town at dusk and the ride down allowed me to watch small drops of light slowly grow into the town I had walked through earlier in the day. 
Amanda Palmer joins the local performers

The party was exactly the sort of thing that makes me uncomfortable, but I quite happily stood alone and watched people interacting. There were lots of young folks dancing and having fun. Other people were trying to talk over the music. As the party was nearing the appointed time to end, but by no means ending, Amanda Palmer showed up and joined the pair of musicians on stage. 
Amanda Palmer plays her ukelele

She then performed on her own while standing on a table directly in front of me as many of the people joined in on chorus to her song. I'm not a fan of her music, but it was fun being in the middle of it. Her husband, the science fiction writer Neil Gaiman, read a short story about a genie encountering a contented person who didn't have any wishes. Palmer then performed some more as I sneaked out and back down the mountain to my room. 

Yeah, at TEDActive, stuff happens. I'm very glad I was privileged to see some of it!

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