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On Saturday I drove down the hill to meet up with some of my former Maricopa colleagues at the TEDxPHX, the local independent TED event. If it were not for the CybersalonAZ pals, I might not have gone. Previously, I made have thumbed my nose at what looks like an elite crowd among the TEDdies. Lats year I had tried to get tickets to the TEDx in Austin, and you had to fill out an application I guess yo see if you were hip enough to be allowed inside the ropes (I was not).

The Phoenix version had no such application (maybe we’re not hip enough); you just had to get word early enough to buy tickets (though I saw people were still abel to get them last week).

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This event was held at the PBS studies at the ASU downtown campus, a very modern building on the burgeoning university campus where previously stood empty lots and run down buildings in this are just north of the tiny downtown part of Phoenix. A bonus thrill was my first ride on the Phoenix Light Rail to get there.

I have to say over all it was a very stimulating day. Some was the mix of presentations in the 18 minute short form, but mostly it was fresh stuff beyond what is feeling more like in education conferences the way adults sound to the Peanuts kids.

A downside, is that for the audience, it is purely passive. Well, yes, we could tweet. But at TEDthings, the audience is there to be in audience. If it is Ideas Worth Spreading, well, someone has to be the toast where the jam gets spread.

That said, the speakers were very approachable, and they stayed the day. What was rewarding was seeing that there was a lot of innovation, creativity, and good ideas that are local. That’s no surprise, given the size of this city, but I had to stop the gasps of “wow” during a number of the sessions.

There was some mundane sessions, some sub par, and some that did not really spark me. But there others more than made up for it. A few quick highlights.

Maybe one of the most inspiring people was Helen Neville, who had just turned 50, and as a nurse, decided to take on a challenge to raise awareness of health issues- she ran across the country on the southern route– in the summer. That’s insanity squared. No woman had ever done that route, and she not only finished, she set the record. She was so down to earth (and even more so when I had a chance to chat during the break for like 20 minutes). I’m still in my I Hate Running state of mind, and was dreading the 10k run I was signed up for the next day. Here was a woman who would run 25 miles a day in the summer heat (sometimes 50), and still would afterward go out to visit hospitals.

She’s not resting; she told us she was planning her next route, from Vancouver to Tijuana.

Louis Basile started out what sounded like a typical corporate blah blah speech talking about his philosophy as running Wildflower Bread Company, a wildly successful Arizona chain of excellent food/coffee stores (I keep forgetting they are not nationwide, they seem that successful). But he has a bigger spark, and extends a refreshingly humane operation to his company that must be inspiring down to the employee that cleans the toilets. He’s part of a movement of Conscious Capitalism, which, if I had to make a summary, says, its okay to make a profit as a business as long as you are doing something with ti to better society.

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Jay Rogers was electric in his message about Local Motors, a new kind of car company that completely breathes and embodies the principles of open source- for designing and building cars. He made an interesting case for how co-creation was a different, and maybe for this, more effective concept than crowd sourcing.They have more than 8000 contributors to their car designs, and I dare say that people into building cars have as much passion, or more, than people who are into building linux kernals. I’d say it would be well worth it to attend one of their Burgers, Cars, and Welding sessions every week.

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Goran Konjevod folds paper.

Into some insanely unreal sculptures, from single sheets of paper, in what he described as “organic orgami” that goes way beyond paper swans. It’s all very mathematical and artistic at the same time. Plus he must have a zen guru level of patience! Check out hos work at http://organicorigami.com.

Syed Toufeeq Ahmed made a case for the power of search beyond what we can do via google- he has ideas how to enable people to get more quickly to results that might take days through current Google capable searches. He has focused on the online published articles and abstracts (e.g. PubMed) that are mostly unstructured data. His Bioeve Discovery Engine goes beyond search by fully indexing these articles and making cross references via key terms that act like tags. He showed in a demo how quickly one could narrow from a general search on a symptom with hundreds of results, in 4 clicks down via specific symptoms or drugs, to get to 1-5 key papers.

Bioeve is open for use; what I was curious about is if the software that produces it is also something one can use for other information domains (probably not, it seems worth being purchased by a wealthy search company).

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I really dug the energy and unique musical sounds of the Dry River Yacht Club– a bit of stomp, a bit of ska, a bit of other musical styles beyond my scope. The lead singer was great even if she sang in some incomprehensible scat style- the words did not matter as much as the music.

Among the interstitial TED videos were some gems, like Bjarke Ingels crazy but real ideas on 3 warp speed architecture tales- wild wild ideas.

You have to see the invasion of the Pixels at http://www.onemoreproduction.com/video/209.html.

And for over the top, see Lies, damned lies and statistics (about TEDTalks) where Sebastian Wernicke shows how analyzing the data around TED talks can be reverse engineered to create the most optimum (or worst) TED Talk via how talks are favored among viewers on the TED site.

Heck you can create your own with is tool at http://www.get-tedpad.com/ – here’s mine:

It makes you yearn for coffee that is quite nuanced in the same way that our neurons are. Efficient trimming causes the brain to weigh emotion and experimental evidence. You don’t have to like it, but a mirror can stop us from being so unbelievably disrespectful. (Applause.) Thank you very much. It’s just that in the middle of all this routine, creativity is essential. How many of you would challenge that? You can see the beauty sink in once you take the time. Then all of a sudden it becomes easy for the brain to weigh emotion and experimental evidence. You don’t have to like it, but a mirror model is needed of the United States. Therefore, this mirror might be helpful the same way that it has been before. I then remembered the story of a patient who hated art. I told him “you don’t have to worry about it”, because in the middle of the income distribution, there’s equality.

Well…. maybe

Probably the most impactful session for me was the message of Kimber Lanning on the damaging effect of not buying products from local companies. Her research on state contracts showed how giving contracts for say office products to outside chains reduces the return to state funds from 30% for a local company to 10 or even less- factors being that large chains do not pay as well or offer full time jobs, do not give secondary benefits to local sub contractors (like graphic design, etc), and do not give back as much (or at all). to the community.

The message (and title) was Buying Ourselves Broke– and she extends it to our consumer spending; that by going for the cheap pricing at the Big Box stores we are torpedoing our own economy. It was all very sobering- there’s a lot of information at http://www.localfirstaz.com/, and I’m looking seriously at being part of their effort Shift Arizona which shows what a massive impact we could have on shoring up the ship wreck of a state economy by shifting 10% of our purchasing to local businesses.

I buy into it, and see how it can be done easily if you live in Phoenix or Tucson, but wish they would consider the challenges of doing this in the smaller communities away from the big burgs.

I got a lot out of this day! It was so fresh from the eduYawn stuff.

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The post "A TEDxPHX-cellent Day" was originally slapped on the butt by a cigar smoking doctor yelling "It's a post!" at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2010/11/tedxphx-cellent/) on November 7, 2010.

8 Comments

  • Chris Lott chrislott.org

    I’m jealous you got to see Goran Konjevod — he’s a legend in the paper-folding crowd.

  • Hi Alan,

    I’m really digging the thorough recap and am glad you drove in from Strawberry to attend the event. Also glad that you’ll be reusing the goodie bag for groceries. ;)

    As for your comment that the experience was purely passive for the audience, I totally hear you and that’s the kind of feedback I need to hear as we really want this event to be different than the “sit and watch” events that most people are accustomed to having. It’s something that needs to be highly prioritized and focused on for future events so thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

    BTW, when I was speaking with Goran over the phone (he now lives and works in NorCal) I swear I could hear paper rustling in the background while we were chatting… I can only assume that he was folding paper while he was on the phone. :)

    Sincerely,
    ~Tomas

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      I’d love to see a video of him folding. I believe him, but that stuff looks impossible to make! He must have infinite patience.

      Thanks for the fantastic job organizing TEDxPHX (and dealing with bad mics!)

  • A little more positive than I would have painted it in some regards (largely by not mentioning some of the very disappointing speakers), but overall I agree that it was an event which I’m very glad I had the opportunity to attend.

    Kimber, Goran, & Dry River Yacht Club were the supreme highlights for me. Not to say that there weren’t other good-to-great speakers, too, i just don’t want to rank them all out :)

    Thanks for all the hard TEDx-y work Tomas, if you’re reading this!

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      Well, they can’t be all “off the charts!” ;-) I was not hugely disappointed, but a few of them left me saying, “meh”– that’s why I carry a smartphone so I can entertain myself.

      • Hey Sean I appreciate the kudos and honesty – I’m thinking of putting together a little post event blog post or maybe a vid to share my thoughts as I’ve received a lot of constructive criticism that definitely has some merit, and it would be great to address some of the items as I’m sure all the attendees would appreciate it. ;)

        Sincerely,
        ~Tomas

  • @takuya_hikichi MesaBlogger.com

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for this post – I was there on the 2nd floor, giving out water bottles during the break before 5pm session.

    Thanks!

    Tak

  • Dana Kennedy

    Love this recap- I was out of town and not able to attend. First time on your blog – I got a tweet about it and had to read it since I know a coupld of the speakers. I met Helene randomly prior to her first run and I followed her on facebook and ended up cashing in my FF miles for a ticket to Florida to run with her across the finish line. She now has me inspired to going to the gym almost everyday, I am eating healthier and I realize that I make choices everyday and it is up to me to eat well and exercise. You can go to her website http://www.oneontherun.com or follow her on facebook. She breaks down the barriers to be the best that we can be, it is up to us! Love Kimber too! We also have a lot of power in how we spend out money. Shop local!

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