Tuesday, April 27, 2010

David Hanson: Robots that "show emotion"

By Carlee C.

In this day and age we know robots as things of destruction, and associate them with war and violence. David Hanson has provided me with a very different outlook. He has created robots that can mimic your emotions and share your feelings; he has looked into the future of friendly robotics.

Mr. Hanson has built twenty robots in the past eight years while getting his PHD. The robots he invented have many characteristics and abilities that are identical to the ones we posses. They can mimic emotions, share feelings, make eye contact and generally behave and appear as normal human beings. This is his passion and career to create and build these robots that can, "model how you’re feeling and who you are and build a relationship with you." Mr. Hanson has used two major ideas to produce these robots to be so much like ourselves; "one, and the perception of people. Two, the natural interface so that it’s more intuitive for you to interact with the robot." In David Hanson's presentation he gave a demonstration with one of his robots that copied his facial expressions. This robot, like many of his creations was made of a material called "Frubber" which allows the robot to make a variety of facial expressions. These robots have an enormous amount of potential in surpassing our human intelligence while appearing like the human race. David Hanson has a very creative outlook on the future of robots and produces them in ways to help better your life.

During this talk, Mr. Hanson provided the viewer with an extensive amount of information and proof to support his findings and logic for the entire idea of his take on robots. They are using a new material called "Frubber", working with a Machine Perception Lab in San Diego that has a "remarkable facial expression technology that recognizes what facial expressions you'rr making. It also recognizes where you’re looking, your head orientation and controlling it with the software that we call the Character Engine." He also validates his information and technology by giving the audience a demonstration on what the final outcome is. First he shows us, the viewers, an example of the robotic head miming the expressions on David Hanson's face. Then, he had pictures and explained the big picture of everything with the model of Philip K Dick. "We put a collection of his interviews and correspondences in a huge database of thousands of pages and then used the natural language processing to allow you to have an actual conversation with him. Another project he is developing is a "little character which is a spokes bot for friendly artificial intelligence, friendly machine intelligence." They are working with low cost materials so that the robot could become a part of the average person's life. It is around $299 and it gets smarter over the years; as the child’s intelligence grows, so does the robot's. Overall, David Hanson's presentation was very informative, interesting and well supported with examples. He seemed confident in what he was talking about and gave a great presentation.

In the long run, I think this technology and product will be successful. It is interesting and new to the general public, would make a wonderful companion to children who are the only child in a family or say, someone who has just lost their partner. David Hanson has invested a great amount of time and effort into these robots and presents an appealing idea to the public.

Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world

By Makayla L.

Paul Stamets is a mycologist that is interested in perusing new creations that are more environmentally friendly through a micro-organism called mycelium. In his Talk, he explains different ways in which a fungi can help save our earth. His research is so advanced, that he has brought new ideas to our world that have the potential to save our ecosystem with a fungi called Mycelium.

Mycelium is the “mother” as Stamets refers to, that gives nutrients through soil to our trees and other plants. He explains that Mycelium is the earth's global Internet. He explains that mycelium connects plants through the ground to one another, and there are many different living organisms within the fungi. He believes that our version of the Internet is a copy of the natural mycelium Internet that has been on earth long before other plants and animals, even the dinosaurs. Through his experiments, he has received over 22 patents from mushroom-related technologies. He has proven that mycelium (a type of mushroom or fungi within the ground) can help our soil become more fertile. He demonstrated this when he compared contaminated soil with mycelium to contaminated soil with fertilizer. Interestingly enough, the soil with the mycelium created a lively environment where plants began to grow, then insects and birds wandered to that pile of soil. The fertilized one sat there with no signs of life at all. This is only one example of how Stamets is proving his new found mushroom technologies. Others include how this fungi contains many important antibiotics that can help cure illnesses such as small pox, H1N1 and other flu-viruses. Stamets also morphed the cultures of bacteria in the fungi into a form with no spores that would attract insects that were raiding his home. With a possitive result, the ants came to the fungi which actually killed the insects and created mushroom-ified ants; that’s right the mushrooms actually grew through the ants dead bodies. There was no reinvasion of any little critters into the house, making the experiment very successful. The pesticide industry called this the most disruptive technology, apart from their 100 million dollar bait stations- which did not have as great of an impact. After many impressive statistics, Stamets stated, “I believe that we can make the argument, that we should save the old growth forest, as a matter of self defence.” Though this seems like a lot to digest, the list goes on. Stamets introduces a new idea of “econol gas”, which could be the fuel of the future. The fuel comes from the energy created by the carbohydrates of a fungi invested plant. This would be a very economically friendly solution, replacing fuels and energy sources that aren’t as environmentally friendly. Staments strives to make the world more economically friendly. He is also very passionate about his profession; it is almost like a hobby for him to discover and research these jaw-dropping organisms. Who knew that something so little could help our gigantic issue - Global Warning. 

Stamets proves his point, making his presentation a very persuasive one. He demonstrates thorough knowledge of mycelium. His experiments are very impressive; so impressive that in the video you can actually hear reactions from the crowd with “wows” and a big applause with a standing ovation at the end of his presentation. I think that Stamets’ work is remarkable. I think it is absolutely attainable in our lifetime to save our earth and Stamets has delivered ways to help us. When I was first watching the video, I was not impressed whatsoever as I felt that the presentation had a very boring start. My feelings towards the presentation turned around when he brought out the statistics about how his research could help in the health care industry. I think that if he had done this sooner in his presentation he would have captured the audiences attention faster, or at least mine. A part of the presentation that I liked was when he explained to the audience that he wasn’t just talking about your everyday mushrooms such as Portobello’s, but a fungi way more advanced that can have more uses in the future than just food. His use of technology was smooth with no glitches and his use of colour in his pictures was very appealing to his audience. However, I felt that he rushed his ending in the presentation. He did not go into as much detail about “econal” fuel as he did with the pesticides and I was looking forward to learning more about the fuel. To contrast that idea, his ending was well delivered in the way that he left his audience thinking about the future of this technology.

At the beginning of his presentation Stamets stated, “I love a challenge, and saving the earth seems like a good one.” If Paul Stamets continues with his experiments and goes farther into his research, imagine how our earth could be changed. Imagine the possibilities within our forests’ and ecosystems that we could obtain. Maybe the world will be a better place to live in.

David Perry on video games

By Nolan M.

David Perry, a video game designer, says that future of video games will be more involving, more complex, and more meaningful. He uses the information he knows as a game developer, but also the statistics that can prove to us where video games are going.

He begins the speech by giving his personal information related to his speech topic. He began his career while in school when his school got a Sinclair ZX80; he and his friends got the programming manuals and began to make games. From there video games went from 1K to 16K, and in that amount of memory someone made a full flight simulation game. David Perry went on to make many different video games including "The Terminator", the "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Then the last game he did was to get the video game industry and Hollywood to work together, instead of licensing from each other. One thing he did well was he provided statistics. He provided statistics on the amount the video game industry is getting, the amount some games are making, and the popularity of gaming among people of all ages. He states that video game graphics are on a curve and are obviously going to continue to get better. David Perry showed a video made by a student who was addicted to video games at an early age. He describes the feelings he experiences while he plays video games, and his real life experiences. He lets us know how fun they are to him, and how he can become hooked on a game. For the closing thoughts David Perry states that "for those who like to look a little deeper, the new paradigm of video games could open entirely new frontiers to creative minds that like to think big".

David Perry opened up his speech with personal information on how he became involved in video games, which lets the viewers know he is truly passionate about the speech topic. He also used specific statistics, showing the amount of money the video game industry is bringing in. I found it interesting how he was able to show where video games are headed, by providing a timeline video, showing where graphics started and where they are today. Out of that video he wants us to realize that graphics are going to continue to get better. It is quite clear that David Perry is passionate about the topic, he is confident, and has a great explanation on the world of video games. One thing I really liked is he used the opinion of a student by showing his video as part of his speech. He tried to tell us we need to be aware of what video games will teach us and how they will leave us feeling when we finally unplug. David Perry's message was to tell the viewers that video game graphics and audio are obviously going to get better.

In conclusion, David's talk was very persuasive and informative. I am someone who is always interested in the video game industry, so I was very interested in the speech. I recommend "David Perry on Video Games" for anyone who is fascinated about video games, or knows someone who is. It makes you think where video games are going to take us in the real world.

Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live

By Kaitlynn S.

The TED talk that I chose to analyse was “Your health depends on where you live” by Bill Davenhall. “Bill Davenhall would like to improve physicians’ diagnostic techniques by collecting the patient’s geographic and environmental data (where they have live and where they have lived in previous years) and put it together with medical records.” [Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live | Video on TED.com]

Where you live impacts your health as much as your diet does, but where you live does not show up on your medical records. In this TED Talk by Bill Davenhall, he makes you look at the big picture of your health. “In 2001, I got hit by a train. My train was a heart attack. I found myself in a hospital in an attentive care ward cooperating from an emergency surgery. And I suddenly realized something; I was completely in the dark. I started asking my questions: Why me? Why now? Why here? Could my doctor have warned me? So what I want to do here in the few minutes I have with you is really talk about the formula for life and good health.”[Bill Davenhall] The formula for life is “Genetics plus lifestyle plus environment equals risk.” [Bill Davenhall] People know that genetics and lifestyle affect your overall health, but do not realize how much the environment affects it. Through out the talk, Bill Davenhall makes you think about where you have lived, where you have been throughout your life (work, home, vacation, etc.) and where you spend most of your time. Are they at risk to you health? For nineteen years, Bill lived in Scranton, PA, and then he moved to Louisville, KY, neighbour to Rubbertown where they manufactured plastic; letting toxic particles out into the air. Then Bill moved to Los Angeles, Ca, one of the highest polluted areas in the United States. “The one thing that never happens in my doctor’s office, they never ask me about my place history. No doctor, that I can remember ever asking me where have I lived? What is the quality of water that I put in my mouth or what food do I ingest in my stomach. Look at the kind of data that is available. Countries spend billions of dollars investing in this kind of research. I have circled the places I have been in and by design I have been in the right places to have a heart attack.” [Bill Davenhall] Bill Davenhall then asked the audience where they have been the most: the white, which are the lucky people, or the red, the unlucky people. To my surprise, most of the audience had their hands up for the red parts of the United States. In conclusion, he left the audience with two prescriptions; “We must teach physicians about the value of geographic information, it is called geo-medicine.”[Bill Davenhall] and “While we are spending billions and billions of dollars all over the world building an electronic health record, we need to make sure we put a place history inside that health record.” [Bill Davenhall]. Doctors must know exactly where you have lived and where you have been so they can use the information and make more accurate diagnoses. “Geography is Destiny in medicine (Jack Lord, MD). Geography always matters, geographic information can keep you healthy” [Bill Davenhall].

I think this talk is very inspirational and a big eye opener for many people. Before I heard this talk, I had no idea that where you lived affects your health and I am almost certain that many other people feel the same way. It is scary to think that the place where you have lived your whole live is potentially slowly killing you. Bill Davenhall clearly made the point that if we do not do something about this issue, we will have big problems in the near future. He used great visuals and really hooked the audience, and myself at the beginning my telling us that he was hit by a train, and then explained exactly what he meant by this. The suggestions that Davenhall made (educating physicians about how the environment affects your health and making sure that we put a place history inside every health record) will have a big impact on the improvement in our health. When I was thinking about how this talk was about how your health depends on the environment you live in, it made me think that my aunt and uncle both grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and they both developed cancer and died from it in the same year. Also my neighbours had family members that lived in Sarnia, Ontario as well, and the husband, wife and their eldest child out of two developed cancer and sadly died as well. Physicians did not look at the environment as a factor of them getting this cancer but it makes me think that it could definitely be one because Sarnia is a big industrial city that pollutes the environment.

In conclusion, we need to work together and educate the world about how the environment affects your health. By educating physicians about this factor to our health and making sure that we start putting place history into our health records so physicians can make more accurate diagnoses and maybe people may start to realize that what you are putting into the air is affecting your health and someday may kill you.

Kartick Satyanarayan: How we rescued the "dancing" bears

By Joe A.

You are probably asking yourself the exact same question i asked, what are the dancing bears? Dancing bears are part of a barbaric act in which bears are beaten and forced to 'dance' for tourists. They spend their entire life on a four foot rope that is attached through a piercing in their nose. They are dragged from town to town to financially support their owner.

Kartick Satyanarayan discusses the issue of dancing bears in India. Dancing bears are bears that are beaten and tortured to perform for tourist. The bears are stolen from their mothers at a very young age and usually sold on the black market. Once they have fully developed, their teeth are knocked out and a metal wire is pierced through their muzzle for the rope to be inserted through. The rope is used for the owner to maintain control of the animal and punish by a quick tug. The bears are then dragged from town to town, and beaten to perform for tourists. Tourists can get a quick chuckle out of the "dance" and then give the owners some money. This seems like a very barbaric tradition but this is the only source of income for many families. Kartick knew that they could not simply just take the bears away from the families. He proposed and implemented a few options for the families such as helping them start up shops, bike repair centers, or even jobs at local tourist spots in exchange for custody of the bear. At first they were concerned about the outcome but after the first exchanges they knew that the idea was an excellent one. They opened up a bear sanctuary where the bears were inspected by veterinarians then released into the wildlife sanctuary for recovering animals. Within eleven years they have put a complete stop to the act of dancing bears and have helped over 400 families and bears with new hope for the future.

When I first watched the talk I was quite amazed by the way one man's thinking could help so many people and bears. Kartick could have just simply called law enforcement to take the bears out of the owners' possession but that would have lead to many families with no source of income. He had to compromise with many owners by proposing new career options for the owners to support their families. After Kartick was done, the owners were better off than when they had the bear because they had a more stable sources of income while not abusing animals. I think that Kartick has accomplished a lot for he has completely eliminated the dancing bears and replaced them with better sources of income for the people of India. Some people could argue that the act of the dancing bears is a tradition and that they are stealing the tradition from the people when they take the bears away, but I believe that it is for the better that they take the bears away so they can live a better life. Kartick was not overly persuasive but he got his point across quite nicely.

Dancing bears is a very cruel and barbaric act that Kartick has been able to eradicate in India. He replaced many bears with new careers and new hope for bears and families alike. I would like to see if he could extend this idea to other forms of animal cruelty and if he could save more species of animals. I would like to see if he could use this same method to eliminate other cruel acts such as puppy mills or shark finning. I am actually amazed that one man has been able to accomplish as much as he has and am excited to see what the future holds for Kartick

Monday, April 26, 2010

Irwin Redlener on surviving a nuclear attack

By Dominic P.

When everyone thinks of a nuclear war, they will think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They will think of the cost and total destruction, and how there is no way that they will be able to survive. Irwin Redlener shows that if you are wise, and lucky enough, you will be able to escape the area of a nuclear bomb almost completely unscathed.

In this talk Redlener shares many facts about nuclear threats across the world. He starts by saying that ever since the Cold War the amount of nuclear warheads has gone down a considerable amount, although there is still a massive amount in the world; over this period of time the amount went down but the number of countries to create nuclear bombs has gone up. The speaker stresses that even though we are not in a war with a "nuclear threat" there is still a threat of being attacked with nuclear weapons. The only thing that stopped either country from bombing the other was the knowing that as soon as they bombed the enemy to destroy their country they will send bombs right back and destroy ours. Some other facts he shares is that a very small amount of enriched uranium or plutonium will be needed to create a bomb like those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'm sure most people would agree that to get some uranium or plutonium would be very difficult, but this is false. In Russia and the old Soviet Union territory there are many areas with unprotected materials. Over the past few years there has been a large amount of theft of these ingredients to make a nuclear bomb. He then gets to the main topic of his speech, how to survive. In the Cold War there used to be commercials to tell the public to "duck and cover" under desks if they are being bombed. What good would this do from a nuclear bomb? Well if you are too close to the bomb that is the only thing you could do. Also, the government made an evacuation plan of the city that was to be bombed. This would have worked only if there was a few days warning! Irwin began to talk about real ways to survive. If you are not too close the the bomb you have to get as far away as you possibly can, cross-wind, before the huge mushroom cloud comes down and puts large amounts of radiation everywhere. If you are too close to flee but not close enough to be killed by the initail impact you can survive by getting in the ground as deep as you can, or get as high in a building as you can - the tenth floor or higher. You will have to stay in that area for 48-72 hours. These are the best ways to survive a nuclear attack.

In my opinion I believe that this speech was very good. Irwin Redlener convinces the public that although the Cold War is over and the amount of warheads are down, there is still a threat of a nuclear attack. The speech is very informative, telling the public how they may be able to survive a nuclear attack, and also eye-opening information, showing that even terriorists groups are able to get their hands on materials to make a nuclear bomb. He shows us that the "ideas" the government had are not very well designed and have a small chance of working. The speaker delivers the speech very well. Although it gets boring sometimes because it is just slide after slide, he keeps it intresesting by showing us how real and awful nuclear war is. He captures the audience right away by asking a serious question, getting them hooked and wanting to know the answer. He keeps the audience interested the whole time by sharing facts and describing awful scenarios that are possible to happen.

As a result of this speech he is able to show us that in the event of a nuclear attack, we are still able to survive with the right knowledge, and yes, there must be some luck.

Anthony Atala on growing new organs

By Kayla H.

"Wouldn't it be great if our bodies could regenerate? Wouldn't it be great that we could harness the power of our bodies to actually heal ourselves?". Those are the questions stated by director Anthony Atala and his research team of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine focusing on growing and regenerating tissues and organs.

Anthony Atala starts off his talk with an introductory to the first organ ever transplanted - the kidney, back in 1954. He then begins that the amount of patients waiting for organ donation has doubled in the last decade. Though medicine has been doing a better job at keeping us alive, we grow older and our organs tend to not work as well as they use to, limiting the supply of not only organs but as well as tissue transplants. Atala states that every 30 seconds a patient dies from a disease that could be treated with tissue replacement. He confides that regenerating happens ever day on this earth, using the example of a salamander regenerating its limb within days after it was injured using timed photography.

"Why can't humans regenerate? Well actually, we can," Anthony states. He explains that humans can regenerate, giving examples such as our bones and how they regenerate as we grow with age, or our skin and how it regenerates every 2 weeks. Our bodies are constantly regenerating, when we are sick or when we get a disease, the body wants to seal itself off with scar tissue to fight infection whether it's with organs inside your body, or skin on the outside of your body.

He explains that he and his research team had successfully repaired an injured urethra in 1996 using natural bio thermal material within 6 weeks time. The bio thermal material had acted like a bridge, where cells could take over in the process of healing the urethra. Even with the success, he says that the material can only be used on small injuries that are within 1 cm distance.

For larger structures research has shown that to repair organs and tissue, they can use cells. For example, a patient has an injured organ, the research team would take a small sample of the cells from that tissue, no larger than a postage stamp and break it down into its two types of cells, and look at the basic components of the patients own cells. You grow and expand those cells outside of the body in large quantities, and then use scaffold materials used as a vehicle to bring the cells inside of the body. An example of this technique was of a muscle bio-reactor, showing muscles being exercised in the piece of machinery, so that the piece is already well developed and in full condition. Before being exercised, the piece of tissue is put in a type of oven, same temperature as the human body to also help in the progress of development. Another example shown was a man-made blood vessel from your neck to your brain, using the same similar strategy as used for the muscle.
More complex organs or tissues were a bladder, a heart valve, and one of the many complex, hard organs, where the example's were an ear, and the beginning of a bone structure. The hardest organs to develop are ones that give high vascular support such as the heart, liver, or the kidneys. For those organs one of the strategies used is a type of printer that instead of using ink, they use cells to print off the organs. The example shown was a two chamber heart being printed off, one layer at a time, taking about 40 minutes to print. Approximately 4-6 hours later, you see the muscle cells contract. This technique however has not been varified yet, it is for experimental purposes only.

Another experimental strategy that was used was cellularized organs - discarded/donated organs, used with a liver in this case, where cells were taken out of the organ entirely, leaving a sort of "skeleton" left over, all made up of callogen. They can then retain the blood vessel supply of the organ, and inject contrast into the organ. You can then see the vascular tree that remains intact, where after they inject the patient's cells into the organ, and on the outside. In development are kidneys, using a similar technique as the liver.
Overall, Regenerative Medicine are limited with distances, and if they cannot use natural bio thermal material, then it is preferred to take samples of cells from the specified organ of the patient. Although in the video everything looks like it is working, but in reality the technologies are not that easy. Some of the projects performed took over 700 researchers at the institute over a 20 year time span. "Once you get the formula right, you can replicate it, but it takes a lot to get there," Anthony exclaimed.

As a result, Anthony verifies that for 14 years, the clinic has been implanting the different structures of organs and tissues into patients, and it so far has been a success.

Overall, I find it as a well done presentation. Anthony Atala shows that he is a comfortable speaker, and knows what he's talking about. But, the expense of the surgeries has not been said, making me wonder if poorer countries would be able to afford this, and how much it would even be for the more stable countries. That little bit of information I find is a major piece of information that should have been shared.

Dennis Hong: My seven species of robot

By David S.

A long time ago when I was a little boy I developed a mad obsession with technology and ever since then anything that has anything to do with technology has drawn my interest.

Most people today don't think of robots as something that could ever have any real life application other then standing on the moon or Mars, driving around and taking samples of rock. In this Amazing TED Talk, Dennis Hong introduces the audience to seven different types of robots that he and his company have been building. An example of one of these robots is called STriDER or Self-excited Tripodal Dynamic Experimental Robot. This robot is based on nature, but when i saw it for the first time I laughed and thought "how could this be based on nature". To my surprise it was. The reason I thought it couldn't be based on nature was because it has 3 legs, and looks like a giant 3-legged spider. It seems that the robot is indeed based on a concept from nature; it is based on the walking motion that most humans use to walk forward or backward. There are many other easier to understand robots, like the amoeba robot that uses whole skin locomotion to move around which means that it makes its skin move to make it move. This robot looks like a freezie being squished out of its plastic. Dennis Hong chooses to end his Talk by referring to another Talk that said that education kills creativity. Dennis Hong doesn't believe that this is true. He believes that education is what takes you from being a hobbyist, to someone who really knows what they are doing, like him.

In conclusion, I believe that his is a very amazing, ingenious and informative Talk. I feel this way because it increased my knowledge of some of the amazing things that scientists are doing with robots and how robots are advancing. I learned a lot from this video even with a decent understanding or robots based on the course I took at the University of Alberta about robots and basic coding. This Talk really showed how robots are advancing. This video made me think about what robots might be able to do someday.

Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes

By Luke D.

Although there are always going to be people that don’t believe in it, today, evolution is almost universally accepted by scientists as the explanation of diversity of life on our planet. However, scientists are always creating different theories and these often come into conflict until one is proven.

Elaine Morgan’s theory of human evolution from Aquatic Apes has yet to have any solid evidence but she definitely gives some strong and thought-provoking arguments that challenge the theory that mankind evolved on the plains of Africa and the forests of southern Asia.

In her Talk, Morgan presents a series of observations that support her theory. This includes the fact that human beings lack the fur that is found on every other species of primate. She points out that most aquatic and amphibious mammals today such as the dolphin, the manatee, the walrus, whales and hippopotamus all have very little or no fur and that creatures like the elephant and the rhino both had aquatic ancestors and they too have a significant lack of fur and hair. She argues that, if these large naked herbivores had an aquatic origin why not humans, the naked apes? There is also the matter that humans have a fat layer under our skin that great apes lack. Aquatic mammals have a similar layer of fat (known in some cases as blubber) used to maintain heat in the water. Morgan argues that we could have inherited this fat layer for the same reason.

Morgan also presents the fact that apes do not have the mammal diving reflex. Humans have an imperfect version of this tactic that we all know simply as diving. She also points out that apes and monkeys always walk on two legs (which they can only do for a short time) whenever they wade through water, whereas humans generally always swim in a dog-paddle manor (unless of course they’ve taken swimming lessons). This could very well be related to the vestigial webbing that humans have between our fingers, which are something, that, yet again, other primates lack. All of these facts are quite thought-provoking, the kind of information that makes you go “Oh yah! I forgot about that” out loud.

It’s quite clear that Elaine Morgan is passionate about this argument. She is confident and has a believable explanation for the weird features we exhibit as a species. She often draws upon the thoughts of Charles Darwin and at one point, even Richard Dawkins, not for their actual support of her statement but more so their thoughts to help people open their minds to new and bizarre theories. I admire her vision of open mindedness and her passion for creativity and thinking outside the box very much. However, I’m going to be honest. I’m still really skeptical of her theory. Not because I think it’s implausible. I actually found her arguments very well thought out and I’d certainly be willing to believe them if it weren’t for the fact that there is simply not enough proof. There is to date, no fossil evidence that suggests humanity had an aquatic ancestor. And there is a mountain of fossil evidence for the theory that humans evolved on the African Savannahs that Morgan seems to be completely ignoring. It’s basically an evolutionary fact that we originated from plain dwelling apes in the same way that the “theories” that birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs or that mammals evolved from primitive reptiles are. But even when this problem comes up Morgan has a way to fall on her feet in this situation too. At one point in the Talk, she says she hopes that one day the two theories of mankind’s origins will come together in one way or another. And this actually isn’t too far-fetched. Although there still is a lack of proof for this, it’s not too crazy to think that at some point, as mankind’s ancestors (keeping in mind that they were still evolving) were migrating out of Africa, they moved along the coast (it would be a good place to find easy food, after all) and at one point became very fond of swimming.

I’m positive, and agree with leading scientists, that there never was an aquatic ape that we descended from, but it’s not too hard to imagine that we had an ancestor that led a slightly amphibious lifestyle along coasts and in estuaries. Perhaps that was where we attained some of the features to which Morgan was referring too. There isn’t any evidence to support that yet, but it’s plausible and we’re always discovering new things about prehistory. Elaine Morgan has a great understanding of this and uses the wonder of that notion to her argument's advantage.

In the end, Elaine Morgan shows us an interesting and well thought out scientific argument. Anyone who is interested in biology, zoology, natural history or interesting debates in general should watch this video. Of course, it presents a theory that at first seems somewhat crazy but one doesn’t have to agree with her to appreciate her wit, knowledge of biology, and skill at creating a convincing argument.

Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food

By Sarah S.

In the TED Talk, Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food, the speaker is an English chef who has had many TV shows about food. Lately, he has been focusing on changing the way America eats, as seen in his show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Jamie gives some very good ideas on how to change the way we eat.

Jamie starts off with a startling fact: in the time it takes to complete his talk, 18 minutes, four Americans will die from obesity. This is because, as he says, America is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world. He shows a chart of the highest causes of death in the United States; in the top six, four are related to obesity. The show, Food Revolution, starts off in the most unhealthy state in the U.S., West Virginia. Jamie shows pictures of the people from Huntington, West Virginia. One that stands out the most was of a 16 year old girl who only has 6 more years to live because of her weight. He then looks at how coffins have changed to accommodate the obese size of people.

Jamie places blame for obesity on 3 things, main street, home, and the school. Main street refers to fast food restaurants and the food that they serve. Home is where parents are feeding their children unhealthy food everyday. Finally, he places most blame on the schools. Because of tight budgets, they choose to buy cheap, unhealthy food. Most kids eat breakfast and lunch at school, and Jamie says the food they are served is just like fast food. A quick video clip from Jamie's show, shows how the kids from Huntington do not know anything about food, and could not identify most of the vegetables he showed to them.

His goals to fix the problems are: to have someone in grocery stores showing people how to cook fast, healthy meals, and for big businesses to put food education at the front of their business. Also, for the fast food restaurants to slowly take the fat and sugar out of their foods, and for the schools to have fresh food from local growers in the cafeterias. Lastly, to teach children how to cook at least 10 meals before leaving school.

"My wish is for you to help a strong sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again, and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity.
" That is Jamie's goal, and wish on how to improve the problem of obesity.

Jamie Oliver delivers a very strong argument. At the start he states scary facts, and shows unnerving pictures that creates a desire in the audience to know how to fix the major problem that we are all facing. His solution is to go directly to the next generation, all the children, and make them healthy; to teach them about food, so that they can continue living healthy and show their children how to be healthy too.

The talk is very persuasive. There are always people around that are obese, and we all know it is wrong since it is shortening their life and it affects all their family and friends. Jamie makes you see the bad in how we eat, and makes you want to help change the problem.

I think this talk was very good. The problem is very prevalent in today's society, and it needs to be addressed if we ever want it to be fixed. Therefore, after watching the Talk, it makes me realize how our society has to change. That is a big challenge to take on, but we can do little things like making our own family healthier, encouraging our parents to buy healthy food, and writing to our school administrations asking for fresh meals that include all the food groups.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other's minds

By Rebecca C.

Rebecca Saxe has an interesting job, studying one's mind and how we react with other people's minds. She addresses how we often want to change people's minds and the ideas they have and how it is so hard to read one's mind. She also states that she is going to discuss the other side of this idea and how easy it is to read one's mind and how we do so. We are all, as humans, equipped with tools in our brain to know what other people are thinking; differences in these regions of our brain trigger different judgments within adults and it takes a long time throughout childhood and beyond, to develop these skills and use this region of our brain.

Rebecca discusses how it is easy for us to read one's mind just from one snapshot. She displays a picture of a man jumping off a cliff into water, and a woman smiling as she holds a baby, and the audience realizes that yes, it is easy for them to figure out what those people are thinking. Her job is to "try to understand how you can put together simple messages over space and time in a network and get this human capacity to think about minds." In her talk, she addresses the first few steps of dissecting the problems of other people's minds. One is the special brain region that we have, two is the late development of our minds, and lastly how the differences between people and their judgements, can be explained by this brain system. We have a special region or part in our brain, who's job it is to think of other people's thoughts. It is called the RTPJ and it is above and behind our right ear, and we don't use it to solve any other problems other than reading other people's minds. She now goes on to say how as adults, we all have a developed RTPJ, but it took us a long way to get there and how from the young age of 3, it is a slow and long process to develop. From the ages of 5 -8, the RTPJ is much less specialized in doing nothing else but reading people's minds, compared to a developed adult RTPJ. Even at ages 8-11, they don't quite have the adult specialized region of the brain. So as children get older, their RTPJ gets more specialized in only thinking of other minds, as they learn more about what other people would be thinking. As you also know, adults differ from each other in how well they are able to read other people's minds or how often they do so, and this, as Rebecca says, has to do with the RTPJ brain system. The high amount of activity in an adult's RTPJ as they think of other people's minds make them have judgments that differ from the ones that have low activity in their RTPJ. Rebecca also uses an example to support this idea. She then states that with this information, they wish to be able to interfere with this function of the brain, and see if they could change people's moral judgment. As of now, they do have a tool to do so; it is called TMS and it sends a magnetic pulse through one's skull, into one region of the brain, and temporarily disorganizes the neurons in that brain region. This is an alarming thought, but she states that you can't be TMSed without knowing it and that also, the changes that the machine can make, are very small compared to the moral judgments we have and make in our brains. Also, with this machine, what they are doing is not changing people's minds when they make their own choices, and decisions to act upon something; rather their judgements upon what other people's actions are.

This research on the RTPJ and how we can think about other people's minds is so fascinating to me. When Rebecca displayed the pictures of the man jumping off the cliff, or the woman holding her baby, I was surprised at how easy it actually was to read their minds. I never realized how something we do naturally, has such a big impact on the way our society runs, on the way we all interact with each other. The way Rebecca explains it and the way she delves into the sole reason we judge other people, I don't think I can ever think the same way about someone again. When I say that, I mean when asked to judge what a person has done, after what Rebecca has said about judgements we make and how it associates with how much we are using our RTPJ and paying attention to the problem, I think I would certaintly pay attention and try to think more clearly about the situation in which I am asked to evaluate. In other words, I would try to use my RTPJ to the fullest, after now knowing what is really going on in my mind. Also, I feel as though I will look at children differently in a case of reading other people's minds. Often, when children think a certain way about who is to blame, we think they are being ridiculous, sometimes selfish, when truly, it is their non-developed RTPJ. Children do not have the capacity that us adults have, of judging one's actions correctly because it takes so long to develop this region of the brain. I believe that Rebecca, and other scientists like her, are extremely intelligent. I was blown away with how much they already know about such things, and how they have already found a tool able to change how people judge!

This is definitely a huge step in knowing the human mind, and it's another huge step in what I know about the human mind. Rebecca has taught me something new, that I don't think I could forget, considering judgement of other people is so common in high school and will probably continue throughout the next 10 years of my life, and even beyond. I know now that we have a specialized region of our brain to read other people's minds and that judgement is based on this region of our brain, and that it takes many years of adolescence for us to develop this ability in our own minds. It is a difficult idea to grasp, and I hope scientists continue to gain further success in finding more information on the human mind.

Keith Barry Does Brain Magic

By Darby A.

Magic: a simple word that holds many meanings. Add 'brain' to that and you have yourself some Keith Barry. "Keith Barry does brain magic" is a thrilling demonstration full of surprises. Keith shows us how our minds can be used to fool and amaze everyone else, with a few examples that keep us all on the edge of our seats.

Keith Barry starts out with a brief explanation of what brain magic is. To get the audience more open to the idea of brain magic, Keith demonstrates how easy it is for our minds to be fooled with a warm-up activity involving their hands. This is one of the few examples Keith exhibits throughout his Talk. Some examples he presents are a sensation example, pressure, a shattering coke bottle, driving through someone else's eyes, and the cup and needle demonstration. In all of his examples, except two, Keith uses a technique with his hands. During the pressure example, Keith does the same movement with his hands three times over the spot where he wants his volunteer to feel pressure. After that, he merely just raises his hand or lowers it, depending on whether he wants his volunteer to feel the pressure increase or release. With the coke bottle example, Keith gets a woman volunteer to focus all of her negativity towards an ex on a shard of glass. As she's doing so, he has his hands above and below the shard, moving them slightly, but not touching her or the shard. During the sensation example, he does movements around the spot he wants his one volunteer to feel. He then touches his other volunteer and the other feels it even though they were not touched. Finding the needle under the cups is one of his most surprising examples. For this one, Keith does have to hold onto the volunteer's hand, but neither of them know where the needle is. The result is funny and shocking. All his concentration is focused on his hands while he's doing his thing, but when the actual example is taking place, he seems to be looking at something nobody else can see. He gets so into it that it makes his audience get into it as well.

From the moment Keith Barry started talking, I was interested. When he got to the audiences warm-up(which I tried), I wanted to know more. For me, the talk was quite enjoyable. He had a few surprises, and all the outcomes were not what I though they would be. I became a believer and wanted to see more. Keith was showing us that brain magic is possible. That if we know what we're doing, then we could fool anybody's brain. By the end of the show, I think most of his audience members were believers, if they weren't already before. The overall effect that he gave me was that he was really into brain magic, and that he had worked hard to get to where he is now. He is actually a very nice speaker and keeps the audience with him at all times. Keith's talk made me want to watch the video again. If brain magic never existed before, I believe it could be argued that it exists now.

Brain magic: you may think many things when you hear the word, but when you see Keith Barry do "brain magic" it's an incredible thing to see. He is able to capture his audience, right from the beginning, making them want to see what comes next. I would highly recommend "Keith does brain magic" to anyone who believes, doesn't believes, or just wants to laugh. Whatever mind set you come with when you go to watch Keith Barry doesn't really matter. If you're interested, then check out Keith Barry's talk. It will surely get you thinking.

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

By Crystal O.

Everyone has either experienced being called or has called someone "childish" at least once in their lifetime. But, has anyone really looked further into the past, present or future, to figure out how this simple word has affected humans?

Tons of people use the word to an advantage of criticism but, is it truly correct or is this just the fun and games of being a mature person? Even Adora Svitak, a 12 year old girl can tell you the wrong tone this word has taken on. Adora starts off with a bland, wide statement of "When is the last time you have been called childish? For kids like me, being called childish can be a frequent occurrence." Now obviously, being told that you are acting like a 6 year old is not the greatest phrase you might want to hear. Adora explains that even though we are exhibiting normal human emotions, we are considered to be childish. She uses some major, worldwide events to show how being childish is "apparently" not what adults do, but rather what kids like her decide to do. Examining further, you find out that terrorizing actions have been made by "non-childish" adults. Adora states, "Imperialism, World Wars, George W. Bush, ask yourself whose responsible, adults!" She then looks at specific examples of so called "childish" children and how they have effected the world, telling a totally different story. From Anne Frank to Ruby Bridges to Charlie Simpson, none of them have caused World Wars or any other adult-like destruction.

Moving on, Miss Svitak conquers the thoughts on dreaming. When dreaming, kids strive towards perfection, like making the world a better place even though those things might not be possible. On the other hand, adults know that these things won't work, and stop dreaming about things they believe
won't become reality. She shows some of the stained glass made by adults that were designed by kids and elaborates on how once again, kids don't think of the tough work behind making the glass, they think of good ideas. "Kids already do a lot of learning from adults, and we have a lot to share." The sad thing is, not many adults believe in the imagination of children.

Next in line, Adora speaks on the topic of trust. The reason most adults don't try to learn from kids, is because of the lack of trust. She then tells a true but funny story of the lack of trust between her and her sister. Adora believes that the adult population should take into terms the needs and wants of the younger population as well. She analyses the truth of how kids love challenges but, when underestimated by adults, aren't up for much of a competition. She ends off with a quick analogy between what kids are today and what they can be in the future and asks the present adult population today to lend an ear for the leaders of tomorrow.

Adora Svitak, being a kid herself, can make a lot of clear, unsuspected points that are oblivious to the adult population. I love the true fact she makes on how wide and creative a child's imagination can be. She understands that a young one's mind doesn't struggle with the restrictions and limitations the world has, but rather tends to think of strong, creative, amazing ideas that make the world seem easy to live in. Now, this is the part that confuses adults. All of these cool ideas haven't been introduced to them since they lived their childhood. Adora encourages the adult population to travel back to the easy times, when being a kid meant the world was a fun place, and a huge place to explore. She is exactly right when she justifies that adults learning from kids should be reciprocal to kids learning from adults. Being a kid, we are always told what to do and when we do something wrong. Adults bring back that nasty word - childish.

I believe kids should have more room to think, and be able to share their ideas with adults, without being judged on what they think. You never know, there could be an idea a child might have, that could change the whole world. Children need time to grow and think; it's the choices that we come up with, that make us who we are today. Like Adora was explaining, if we are the leaders of tomorrow, the leaders of today need to trust us, and collaborate with us, in order for everyone to learn to make this world a better place. The statement "The way progress happens is because new generations, and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones, it's the reason why we aren't in the dark ages anymore." shows the trust that different age groups shared with each other. So, why can't we be like that today?

In conclusion, without teamwork and collaboration in this world, civilization would have been completely destroyed. All we need to do now, is take away that word "childish" and replace it with new words like "trust," "care," "imagination," and "encouragement" because the future brings new ideas and those ideas, come from the children of today.

Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture

By Hannah W.

"[S]and is a magical material, of beautiful contradictions. It is simple and complex. It is peaceful and violent. It is always the same, never the same, and endlessly fascinating." Magnus Larsson, a British architecture student, has created a bold new plan to stop desertification. Larsson's plan is to create a 6000 km wall (roughly the size of the Great Wall of China) just south of the Sahara Desert made entirely out of sand dunes. In order for the wall to function the way they want they must turn tons of sand into sandstone.

Larsson got his idea from The Great Green Wall, where 23 countries in Africa have joined to help stop desertification by planting trees, shrubs etc., but the people along the wall are so poor that they will end up using the vegetation for fire wood. Realizing this, Larsson set out to find a more stable and secure way to stop this devastating force. This is when he found tafoni, which are ellipsoidal rock cavities which can have spaces from the size of a baseball to the size of a truck. From this he got the idea to solidify the dunes and create caverns beneath that help support trees, are able to collect condensation, and allow a place where people are able to live with regulated temperature.

At this point in the talk I was still doubtful. How on Earth he was going to take tons of sand and turn it into sandstone? Larsson had already come up with a solution to that problem - Bacillus Pasteurii. It is found mainly in marshes and wetlands. This bacteria, when mixed with sand, will create sandstone within 24 hours. Putting it into the dune, however, would be tricky, they could either balloon the bacteria putting it in the sand or they could inject it with metal rods.

The cost to this project is probably far less than anyone would ever expect. Initially you would have to buy the bacteria for 60 dollars but you would never have to buy them again, and so for a cubic meter of sandstone it is only 90 dollars. This I believe is quite reasonable considering the fact that in a century we will not be able to use 1/3 of the land because of desertification.

Larsson has come up with an ingenious solution to a potentially devastating problem. I think that if his plan does go through it can make a world of difference. People living in desert areas will be safer from the elements, and they won't have to keep moving their villages because of drifting dunes. Not to mention the desertification will stop and perhaps the desert itself will even recover from the centuries of drought.

Larsson has a bright future ahead of him in the field of architecture, or perhaps even natural preservation. I hope that the wall will be built, it has the possibilities to change live for the better. Larsson ended his inspirational talk with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, "Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone."

Ueli Gegenschatz soars in a wingsuit

By Jason L.

Ueli Gegenschatz is a very adventurous and courageous man. He tackles the most dangerous and scenic mountains, buildings and cliffs. Ueli began his adventure trying out many different types of skydiving and base jumping, but once he found the one he preferred, Ueli wanted to pursue it and break a world record.

Paragliding was the start to Ueli's dream to fly. He would takeoff from the top of a mountain, and he would soar cross-country only by the use of thermals. From their, Ueli embarked on Skydiving, he and three others would do acrobatic moves while fly at over 100 MPH. Together they would put on a show, while being filmed their entire flight down. Next Ueli established a new love for flying: they call it Wingsuit Soaring. Ueli is a part of the testing of Wingsuit, and he has enjoyed every second of it because it is the "leading edge of extreme sports, an exhilarating feat of almost unbelievable daring, where skydivers soar through canyons at over 110MPH". The Wingsuit has been used all over the world, Ueli soared off the top of a hot air balloon in Austria, and three famous mountains in Switzerland. Ueli is now on the mission to break a new world record of the longest distance ever flown.

Ueli Gegenschatz was very persuasive by using some breathtaking footage. Ueli demonstrated the functions of the Wingsuit by showing a variety of videos that he and his crew took while he was in flight. He illustrated the speed and path of his flight by attaching a orange smoke release mechanism, often found on acrobatic airplanes. However, I found the persuasiveness of the talk alone to be the opposite of his video. Ueli was very vague on most of his adventures leading up too the Wingsuit. I wanted to hear more about prior experiences. Ueli seem nervous and not a seasoned public speaker, but he did tell some very interesting stories. He was most descriptive on his jump off of the top of a Hot Air Balloon in Austria, and showed a lot of footage and pictures. In addition, the stories about places were he had been base jumping were also entertaining. Ueli wanted to jump off objects that no one has ever base jumped off of before, including Matterhorn Mountain in Switzerland. He climbed three different mountains and base jumped off each of them in one day, and finally in 2008 he jumped off the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In conclusion, Ueli Gegenschatz's Talk was inspiring and very breathtaking, due to his incredible stories and amazing footage. He is very brave and courageous when it comes to jumping from thousands of feet above, but he does not seem to have the same level of comfort and confidence in front of an audience. A worthwhile Talk to see.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Beginning

Over the next eight weeks, my 28 grade 10 Academic English students will be analyzing a total of 224 TED Talks.  Each student will write a written summary for each of the 8 TED Talks they are analyzing.  Each of their summaries will be posted here.

The Project is outlined on our class wiki if you are interested in learning more about the assignment.  Here you can find the individual assignments, project outline, and important dates.

The project is a model of the TEDxProject that Christian Long is doing with his classes.  Check out his blog to see the great work his students are doing.

The first 28 entries will be posted by Wednesday of next week.