Saturday, July 17, 2010

Do Not Fly Air Canada

Over the course of three flights they have managed to lose my luggage
three times and miss a connection once, resulting in an 11 hour delay.
I now count it as the worst carrier I've ever flown.

I just hope I get my bag back.

There's Always One (at least)

I just can't get over one of the last conversations I had at TED. It
started simply enough, with handshakes and introductions and inqueries
into the other's profession. He's an app designer from LA; my badge
labels me a consultant.

"What kind of consulting?"

"Communication and design strategy."

"Give me an example."

"Executives giving keynote presentations, start-ups pitching to VCs,
the speakers here at TED. Everyone needs a story, and they need
graphics to support it. Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth is a great
example of the medium."

And then he said something weird.

"I don't buy into that extreme left-wing global warming stuff. I'm a

Which is the sort of thing that catches you off-guard. In a kind of
same-planet kind of way.

"You mean the idea of man-made climate change that every credible
scientist supports?"

"Not every one. Have you read Ayn Rand?* The economics don't work.
There's no profit in climate change. I'm not explaining it right but I

I was baffled. Was this a rebuttal or some kind of tea party mashup?
Where does one start to deconstruct this? Realizing I was about ten
years too late (much like actions on climate change), I excused myself
to another venison sausage and other, saner conversation.

(BTW, he crashed a Fellows party later and tried to sell his app
services to everyone. Tres uncool.)

Does this sort of thing happen to anyone else? I mean, people
rejecting established, scientific fact because it doesn't fit with
their ideology/Glenn Beck said so? I may not encounter a lot of people
like this in my travels, but I fear they're out there in large
numbers. And they're going to fuck things up for all of us.

* Author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Libertarian darling,
though her economic philosophy has been thoroughly discredited. At
least among the reality-based.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And Then it was Done

After six long but very enjoyable days, TED Global's come to a close. The speakers are spent, the tents are packed, the gardeners have restored the verge, the sun is shining, and I'm packing up.

Great week, great people. More than one fellow TEDster described it as "Summer Camp for Nerds." Which is pretty accurate, considering that the talks spanned topics as diverse as sustainable agriculture, neuroscience, Muslim comics, gaming, astronomy, voting systems, computer science, ethnic conflict, education and entomology.

For whatever reason--I started doing this at TED India--I usually hold off commenting on the speakers until the end of the program. Their talks are being edited and uploaded to the TED site as a write this, and all of them will be available soon. Here are my picks (bearing in mind that I missed a few sessions due to a massive headache):

Matt Ridley, looking on the bright side
Naif Al-Mutawa, bringing superheroes to the Arab world
Eben Bayer, whose team uses mushrooms
Adrian Dolby, likes to play in the dirt
Marcel Dicke, who has a new diet for you (that you're not expecting)
Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International
Sebastian Seung, mapping mouse brains
Sugata Mitra, on educating kids (if you watch only one, make it this one)
Chris Anderson, on the future of TED
Ze Frank, who will make you laugh (and more)

Long list, but they're only 18 minutes (so you could pack in three in the same amount of time it takes to suffer through So You Think You Can Dance).

As usual, TED also makes the most of its surroundings, hosting receptions in venues like the Ashmolean Museum, chock full of European history. Great place for a party.

And, of course, punting. Which is packing up to six people in a Mekong Delta-style boat, giving one of them a pole, and hoping everyone can swim. After a barbeque. No worries: no one ended up in the drink.

There's one final TED Fellows dinner tonight that I'm off to now, likely some pub-crawling after that, and a 9:00 am train back to London with my name on it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Amazing Who You Run Into

Just met Edward Burtynsky. About all I could manage was, "thank you
for the images."

Google him. Seriously. Better yet, add Manufactured Landscapes to your
Netflix list.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lounges and Parties

TED locates its main stage in the Oxford Playhouse, a noble venue to which I have not yet ventured--I'd just got over my weird sleep schedule and had no intention of standing out in the rain for a seat. Fortunately, the Randolph Hotel is located right next door, and if you can manage to navigate past the lovely old ladies enjoying afternoon tea, TED features a simulcast lounge where the show is broadcast live. Plus they have snacks.

It wasn't hard to spot the congregation of Fellows toward the rear. From right to left (the first four):
Olatunbosun Obayomi of Nigeria--the bio-energy inventor mentioned in previous posts.
Boniface Mwangi of Kenya--bringing reconciliation to his country through photo-activism.
Nina Dudnik of USA--a geneticist dedicated to supplying students of developing nations with lab equipment deemed obsolete here.
Roshini Thinakaran of USA--founder of Women at the Forefront, journaling the lives of women in war zones.

I told you these people were awesome.

Su Kahumbu-Stephanou and Joseph Foster Ellis. He's an American artist working in China; she's an organic food entrepreneur in Kenya. For whatever reason, the East Africa delegation has adopted me as their coach/spokesperson. I'm not saying it's my next trip, but I've practically been invited to Kenya to do whatever it is I do. I wouldn't turn it down.

And then there's this. Freud's. An old converted church in the Roman style. Johnny Walker sponsored the party.

And it was a party. Those who followed TED India know of what I speak. BTW, the guy front-and-center in the last picture is Tom Reilly, Community Coordinator for TED. He also runs the Fellows Program. Great guy. I don't know when he sleeps. The typical TED schedule starts at 7:00 and runs to 1:00 the next morning. And he's still gotta take care of all the logistics, speaker considerations, lost and found, etc. I don't envy him.


Careful kids. If you try to download a video off a new camera onto an old laptop/version of iPhoto, it may not work. And if you thought you were being extra smart by automatically deleting files from the camera once they're downloaded, they magically vanish into the ether. Which is what happened to the two videos I shot of the Fellows yesterday.

Don't worry, though: TED will be posting them to the site in the near future. The names you want to look for are Joseph Foster Ellis and David Gurman.


These guys are here, too.

And this video is awesome.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back Among My People

Sorry I haven't posted--the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind. A brief recap: my bag arrived at the hotel in London about 45 minutes before the front desk evicted me (though I must note they extended my stay two hours so I could take a shower, change my clothes and brush my teeth before catching the train from Paddington to Oxford). Sunday was a 24-hour endeavor as I finished and delivered my presentation to the Fellows, then provided feedback to them during their rehearsal, then made myself available for any additional assistance they wanted. On Monday they delivered their material, after which I took a nap. So my sleep schedule is still screwed up.

Here's the more detailed version:

I've never been to Oxford before, but it's as picturesque as you might imagine: grand old buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, pubs tucked away in quiet alleys. The weather is cool and the beer is warm (though I've developed a taste for cider somehow after popping into the Lamb & Flag, which has more than a few local labels on tap).

TED itself--to this point--has been centered at Keble College, just north of the town. Oxford is composed of a series of colleges, each with its own character and history, but the charm is universal.

Each comes with its own chapel as well, outfitted with the usual decor.

Saturday night, after all the Fellows and Senior Fellows arrived, TED hosted a welcome dinner at Jamie's. Didn't know it until we got there, but it's one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants. The food wasn't anything special, but Oliver is notable for having won the TED Prize last year for his work on children's school menus. It's definitely worth a watch, as you wouldn't believe how much sugar we're packing into the next generation.

The Fellows are new at each TED event, but the Senior Fellows return over the course of a few years. Nice having the chance to catch up with a few folks I met last November at TED India and hearing about how their projects have progressed.

Back at Keble the next morning, we were treated to English breakfast in the Harry Potter-style dining hall. Actually, "treated" may not be the right word as it seems a plate full of sausages, rashers, eggs and beans is standard every morning. I'm usually not much of a breakfast person, but I love this. With tea, of course.

As I mentioned, Sunday was filled with Fellows workshops. From nine until noon, TED co-host Rives and I worked with the group to polish them up (while many of the Fellows are accustomed to the limelight, a few have never been on stage or at a conference like this before--you might imagine the pressure when you're a 20-something who's just been flow in from Kenya and you need to describe your biotechnology endeavor that recycles organic waste as a means of energy production--in four minutes). In the afternoon, we ran through a full rehearsal, all 22 of them. There was the good, the bad and the ugly, but that's what rehearsal's for.

As in India, the Fellows are open to--even hungry for--any kind of input that will make them more effective communicators. For many, TED is a rare opportunity to share what they're doing and make connections with people who can offer support or make introductions.

As usual, these long days end with mixing and mixed drinks, this one held at Exeter College. In the background is the library where JRR Tolkien studied while at Oxford.

Then it was World Cup time. I set myself up to provide last-minute help to anyone who wanted it and got about half a dozen interested parties--everything from story advice to design help. Oh, and I was in it for Spain, so it was a good night.

And then it was Monday morning. Showtime. Great talks, all of them. From recycling banana waste as a means to extract heavy metals from drinking water to fighting censorship in Yemen with new web tools to the experiences of women who live in war zones to instillation pieces commemorating civilian Iraqi casualties to open electronics manufacturing to the story of an embedded photographer in Afghanistan who's using social media to bring the war home in the same way that television did during Vietnam four decades ago--the breadth and depth of these individual's experiences inspires, saddens, awes and humbles. For the complete list of speakers and topics, look here.

I shot video of two of the best as well, but Oxford's connection is slow, so I won't be able to upload those until I return. Check back next Sunday or so.

In the afternoon, as thousands of attendees arrived for the main conference, TED set up for the welcoming party. Life-size chess boards, flamingos, Red Queen playing cards. Is this Alice in Wonderland?


Friday, July 9, 2010

Finally Made It

11 hours behind schedule, too late for St. John's Pub, and without my luggage. Also, the iPhone doesn't work, but Karen's trying to set me up with an international plan because she wants to talk to me. Which I think is really sweet.

It's about 80 degrees here, with a forecast of 84 for tomorrow. That's warmer than Mountain View. Good thing I've got some lightwight clothes for the trip up to Oxford. Oh, wait...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Inauspicious Start

The plane departed on time, and it was a beautiful day to fly. We launched north out of SFO, with stunning views of the city, and crested over Oakland. The plane banked left, affording a perspective on the Bay Bridge project, then Alcatraz and the Golden Gate...

Wait! We're going the wrong way!

Sure enough, the captain comes on--something won't close and there's no way to pressurize the cabin. And breathing is, you know, important.

So back to SFO for a two-hour repair job, then back in the air. Air Canada must be commended for comping everyone drinks.

The net result is that we got into Toronto 15 minutes after my connection departed. So I'm stuck here, where it's about 90 degrees at midnight with plenty of humidity and it feels like Texas. But in Canada. Yet, I've got to say, Air Canada came through again. I got off the plane and was immediately greeted by their staff:



"Here is a voucher for the hotel, plus dinner. We've booked you on the earliest departing flight tomorrow morning. Please clear customs, pick up your bags and proceed to this shuttle location."

I love the Canadians. I think American carriers don't do this just so people have an opportunity to get it off their chests at the expense of some poor night-shift employee, but this makes much more sense.

Anyway, the fun began when I noticed passengers off the same flight standing at the wrong baggage carousel, so I guided them to the right one. Then the London luggage got delayed so the group grew and, once the bags were secured, tried to find the shuttle stop. No one wanted to ask for directions. So I did. Then we picked up some stragglers. Then the shuttle didn't arrive for 30 minutes and guess who called the hotel. Not to be all Den Mother about it--I enjoy helping out where I can--but it was like accounting for ADHD ducklings.

Anyway, departing Toronto 8:50, arriving London 21:00. I just hope Fergus Henderson's place is still open by the time I get in.

Oxford Ho!

Loyal readers will recall last November's adventures on the sub-
continent at TED India (and if you don't, just jump back to this
blog's very first entries). Well, it's happening again, this time in
merry old England at TED Global. Once more, I'll be addressing the
Fellows, TED's next generation of world changers, offering my
perspective on effective communications or, as I think of it,
advertisements for yourself. The title of my talk? Distill and Enjoy:
Your Life's Work in Three Minutes that Don't Suck.

That's on Sunday. After that I've got the rest of the week to enjoy
all that TED has to offer.

Unfortunately Karen wasn't able to join me on this one. Maybe next time.

Above is flight #1. Never flown Air Canada before. Hoping the in-
flight meal is poutine and Labatt's.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

XOCO spells sandwich

For breakfast, we headed to Rick Bayless' more casual place, which
serves churros and tortas.


Somewhat surprisingly, we were able to make reservations at Rick
Bayless's place for Karen's birthday. Fantastic. She had the corn
fungus; I had the fermented garlic.

103 Stories Up

Yep, a completely touristy thing to do, especially before grabbing
lunch at Pizzeria Uno. Sorry about the exposure.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Docents rock!

Today we took an awesome boat ride/architectural tour. Our docent was
fabulous. In between her insightful factoids about Chicago
architecture, she was able to highlight the attractiveness of our
captain, as well as frequently emphasizing how much she needed and/or
how much better she would sound, with a drink. The architectural and
alcohol humor abounded--thankfully the boat had a full bar for its

Room with a view

After dinner, we headed to the 96th floor of the Hancock building for
a nightcap and views of the city. This was the view from the floor to
ceiling windows in the ladies room.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Arts & Sciences Day. Spent the morning at the Chicago Art Institute
and the afternoon at the Fields Museum where Sue the T. Rex holds
court. She's the biggest and best preserved of her species, making her
the perfect match for the smallest and worst behaved of ours.

Beautiful Day Here

And swarming with people. It's like everyone took the day off.
Millenial Park, above.


We made it, and the weather is perfect. Walked around the city a bit
last night before heading to the perfect restaurant for vegetarians--
Gibson's Steakhouse.

Actually, by the end of the evening Karen was asking, "Where has this
been all my life?"