TED Talks

TED 2013 finished recently and they rolled out a new feature on their site where they prominently feature a new talk everyday. Thus far almost every one has been really good.

This is also a great example of how a tiny change to a website / product can make me many times more likely to use it.

These are the best talks I've seen recently:

The Internet is Dead, Long Live the Internet

If you're at all interested in the evolution of internet technology and human computer interaction then you should watch this TED talk. The beauty of this particular talk is that the speaker, Roger McNamee, gives names and assigns trends to a lot of the phenomena that I think a lot of us have felt in our interaction with the web - but haven't, up until now, had a name for.

This Weeks Videos

This Carl Sagan video is a must see. I've blogged about him before as he is easily one of the most insightful humans to have every existed.

An interview with Al Jean, the executive producer of the Simpsons, explains to the NYT the now infamous Banksy opening.

One of the better TED talks I've seen in a while. It's about mycelium - mushrooms.

Architectural TED Talks

Here's an interesting portfolio site that's trying to dematerialize portfolios called first-stop.org. There's some really great graphic work on there too.

I visited this guys firm over the summer in Copenhagen. It was pretty magical. He and some friends kind of founded the firm by accident. Him and some friends entered several design competitions in their "free time" while working at another office. They won all of them and had to basically quit their jobs and hire-up.

On Crowd Accelerated Innovation

Chris Anderson, the guy who founded TED - not the WIRED writer, has an interesting article on what he deems "crowd accelerated innovation." I won't hash out all the details but the basic idea is that people in certain areas (dance and architecture are two I remember) are able to innovate faster vis a vie the internet and specifically videos. The idea came to him when he realized that by publishing TED talks online the quality of future talks was improved. People invited to speak at TED poured over the archive and practiced their speeches and it showed.

This idea appeals to me because one, I have first hand experience with this which I will get into in a moment and two, it dispels the myth of the lone genius which is rarely if ever the case. Einstein had his first wife Mileva who was perhaps smarter than himself, Edison ran innovation like a factory, Kalashnikov (of AK47 fame) was the head of a design team which was played down by the Soviets to trump up the hero card, etc. Tesla may be an exception but come on, it's Tesla. He was barely human.

As usual I digress to a paintball story. Back in the day - that is, roughly the late 90's paintball tournaments were played in the woods. This made for some pretty bad spectating. You could rarely get a good glimpse of what made good teams good. The sport evolved and by the time I started playing national tournaments (NPPL, when there was one league) in roughly 2000 woods fields were a thing of the past. What this allowed more than anything was for amateurs to see how the pros played. It used to be the case that all teams at a tournament would play teams of other classifications - of which there were three - Pro, Amateur A, and Amateur B. In 80-90% of the match-ups the team in the higher division would win handily. But as time progressed and classifications went from 3 divisions to 4 (Pro, D1, D2, D3) and 5 (+semi pro) this wasn't the case at all. The gap in skill decreased. Of course some of this could be attributed to various factors - lower cost of paint, widening of classifications, smaller teams (from 10 man to 7) which means more chance, but by far and away I believe it was because everyone could see what the pros were doing. You could literally stand next to the net at a national tournament without paying admission for the cost of gas to get there. A paintball education became cheap.

You could see where they ran off the break, where they shot, how they shot, how they moved, how they talked, and the young kids started to mimic them. It really cannot be overstated how much it changed paintball. In 2002 if a pro team lost to an amateur team it was the talk of the tournament, but by 2006 it was entirely common for a good amateur team to beat a top ranked pro team - we did it repeatedly.

Just Some Reading

Joshua Prince-Ramus, an architect, gives a talk at TED. He starts by talking about the control that architects have forfeited over the last 50 or so years because they have been unwilling to deal with the liability that goes with being involved in the construction process. To paraphrase his great insight, "where there is liability there is power."

$25 balloon goes 70K feet up. I really like these DIY projects that take cool photos. One of the more interesting ones was that kid and his dad who built radio controlled units that attached to a kite so they could take photos from above.

This is R128, that same home I keep talking about by Werner Sobeck (who teaches at IIT). It seems that if someone builds something which in many ways induces negative externalities on society unwittingly, perhaps it should be required that buildings produce a certain amount of their own energy themselves and can be recycled. It just seems logical that you should be responsible for that which you bring about. I'm aware that legislating such things would be difficult and there would be loop-holes, corruption, and the like and it would also mean that many people could not afford homes. But really, aren't we fooling ourselves when we build these little shanties with poor insulation, ventilation, longevity, and light penetration? It's essentially like a credit card; available to anyone, good times now in exchange for a high maintenance rate for its duration, and in the end you are worse off for it.

Interesting Wikipedia entry: Avicenna, kind of like a Persian version of Da Vinci.

GOOD's Slow Issue

GOOD Magazine - The Slow Issue

Q&A with Aubrey de Grey.

GOOD discusses building things that last with Saul Griffith. He's spoken at TED a few times; short and long.

Architecture that forces you to be more active. This is something that I think about fairly often. Our society is so ridiculously good at removing all physical activity from our daily lives; we don't have to scrub our clothes, climbing stairs is done by escalators and elevators, our walk or bike to work is easily done by train and car, etcetera. It's so hard to find physical activity that we design special buildings where we go to run in place and lift heavy objects for no real purpose. It's kind of hilarious and sad at the same time.

Interesting take on investing locally from GOOD. They promote investing locally in socially responsible businesses and being involved with local agriculture which according to them generally comes with a steadier 4-5% interest rate. Hm. Study after study has shown locavorism (eating locally) to be worse off for the environment. Not that I'm entirely against it, just that I think people go a bit too far in requiring all their food be sourced locally. The reality is that our food delivery system is just incredibly efficient and the energy involved in transporting food makes up a really small percentage of the total energy needed to create that food. I do support investing in a socially responsible way, but that's a tricky one. It could probably be reasonably argued that the higher interest rate that most people expect (7-9% as opposed to 4-5%) is just a negative externality being shoved off on someone/thing else that you are then capturing. So really isn't the solution to change laws regarding negative externalities? Basically you're getting left in the dust by those that are willing to play the grey area. And of course it's not that simple, but usually doing the right thing pays off. Who gets the benefits is the question and my argument is that it should go to those doing the right thing.