Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aimee Mullins on running

By Amber H.

Aimee Mullins is a remarkable young women who has achieved a great amount for having a disability. She expresses her difficulty in her running journey and explains how she overcomes it.

Miss Mullins is a double amputee she was born without fibula's in both legs and overcomes surgery when she was a year old. During her years of growing up she was involved in softball and skiing. After she was finished high school she got accepted into Georgetown in the foreign service program. Since she had played sports through out her high school career she was getting a little edgy on not playing any sports in college. When she got to her college, she started getting a little bit interested in track and field. She had never competed on a disabled level even for having a disability. Since she had never run any distances before, she flew to Boston and ran a fifty meter run. After she was completely breathless. For the remaining of her legs she wore a leg that was made of wood and plastic attached with Velcro straps. Underneath the wooden/plastic leg she wore giant wool socks, the combination of wooden legs and wool socks isn't the most comfortable thing to wear when running but it's all she's ever known. When she approached the race, looking at her competition she thought "well, we all know who's going to lose this race", but still didn't give up her confidence. She saw something before her race that was completely remarkable. A man with one leg hoping towards the high jump and cleared it at six feet two inches, with one leg. Mullins compared herself to the man with one leg; with her heart pounding she lined up for her race and began to run. When she finished the race, she placed first. She beat the national record by three hundredths of a second and became the new national record holder on her first try-out. She continues about how she needs more training and calls the track coach in Georgetown who has coached many Olympians. She started training with him, and by the winter time of '95 she was invited to run on the women's track team. She ran in a competition which happened to be a championship - the Big East. Mullins explains that while she's running the sweat acts like a lubricant and almost launches her out of her leg. She begged her coach not to let her run the next race "so what if your leg falls off, you pick it back up and finish the race!" She showed the audience her different types of legs, which was actually quite interesting.

In my opinion I think this talk was very well done except the volume of the audio. Anything they said was very hard to hear because the volume had to be turned up. Other than the issue with hearing the presentation, I found this talk very interesting. If this was me personally in her situation I would not have been able to overcome my disability and pursue a career in the field where I'm most disabled in. I thought she handled the loss of her legs exceptionally, even though it was something she was born with. Having to deal with the comparison of her to everyone else would have been hard for me to handle, but she dealt with her problem and even overachieved. Sometimes during her presentation she would involve the audience while telling her story. The only other thing she did to grasp the attention of the audience was showing them the different types of legs she has. One of the things that interested me the most was her different types of legs for different types of events. She had a leg that does not look anything like legs for running, and has one of the only pair of natural looking legs that actually look real in the world. Overall, I thought her presentation was rated a seven out of ten.

Lalitesh Katragadda: Making maps to fight disaster, build economies

By Stephen M.

Lalitesh Katragadda begins his talk with a reference to Cyclone Nargis, a tropical storm that hit Myanmar in May 2008. He goes on to explain the meaning of his talk: that maps are an important part of disaster relief and economic growth. In this piece of writing I will summarize the talk, how it was presented, reaction and my personal opinion along with a recommendation.

As I stated before, the presentation is initiated by a reference to Cyclone Nargis. He describes how maps could have played a crucial role in assisting victims of the disaster. Sadly, no maps were available for UN personnel. Katragadda describes the problems that this created "But there were no maps, no maps of roads,no maps showing hospitals, no way for help to reach the cyclone victims." He then states an astounding fact to the audience "When we look at a map of Los Angeles, or London it is hard to believe that as of 2005 only 15 percent of the world was mapped to a geocodable level of detail." This brings him to Google's response to the crisis "At Google, 40 volunteers used a new software to map 120,000 kilometers of roads, 3,000 hospitals, logistics and relief points. And it took them four days. The new software they used? Google Mapmaker." Google mapmaker allows people to map their local surroundings that is then added to the huge database of maps. He uses the ideals of Nobel Prize winner Hernado De Soto to emphasize his point that mapping land can still help people: " For example, a trillion dollars of real estate remains uncapitalized in India alone." He then shows some maps being created by Google mapmaker users at the moment of the talk. Lalitesh ends his presentation with a testament to the success of the program "This is an invitation to the 70 percent of our unmapped planet. Welcome to the new world."

Katragadda's opening statements to his talk are related to his point that maps can be used to ward off the effects of a natural disaster. He describes how the cyclone's victims suffered due to the lack of accurate geographical documentation that would have allowed United Nation's aid into Myanmar. He then uses drastic percent of the world that is not mapped (85%) to ensure the audiences interest in the topic. This is followed by more figures proclaiming the effects of the 40 volunteers that illustrate how fast maps can be made with Google Mapmaker. He then moves on to his second topic: That maps can be used to build both developing and developed country's economies. Katragadda is a big fan of numbers as more of them prove his point here when he reveals the monetary potential for land in India (over a trillion dollars). Lalitesh ends his talk by referring back to his original statement that only 15 percent of the world was mapped in 2005 with a surprising new number "This is an invitation to the 70 percent of our unmapped planet. Welcome to the new world." This was the most tastefully done part of the talk in my opinion due not only to the reference of one of the opening statements, but also by the phenomenal increase in the sheer amount that was mapped in that time!

I believe that Katragadda presented with a fair degree of effectiveness though wasn't engaging enough with the audience and relied heavily on cue cards. The engagement was lost mainly though the absence of bodily movement, tone, and humor. On the contrary, the statistics were impressive and the slides that he used gave insight on not only the conditions that the victims face but how Google Maps look when being built. The online crowd seemed more interested in the technology than the actual talk so I estimate that his goal of getting people interested in the program succeeded. Overall I would rate this performance as a 7 out of 10 due to the stated reasons.

To conclude this report, I would like to recommend this talk to someone who is interested in being part of a collaborative map making group or interested in them, anyone wanting to enhance their knowledge of geography, and people wondering how to assist in disaster relief efforts online. I think that the talk elaborated as well as it could on the point in its 2:55 span but would be greatly ameliorated by adding more gestures and humor.

Rives on 4 a.m.

By Kayla H.

Four in the morning... some people consider 3 a.m. to be the latest someone could stay up to, while to others 5 a.m. in the morning being the earliest someone would have to get up at during the day. So 4 a.m. being stuck in the middle; what really happens at that time? "Did you ever notice that four in the morning has become some sort of meme or shorthand? It means something like you are awake at the worst possible hour. A time for inconveniences, mishaps, yearnings..." that line really says it all, as to what Rives has noticed about the time four in the morning.

"I've crossed a lot of different media from a lot of big names. And it made me suspicious. I figured, surely some of the most creative artistic minds in the world, really, aren't all defaulting back to this one easy trope like they invented it, right? Could it be there is something more going on here? Something deliberate, something secret, and who got the four in the morning bad rap ball rolling anyway?" Rives states. But really, after he says this, it does make you wonder even more than before. How did the mentioning of 4 a.m. really begin? Rives says Alberto Giacometti, an artist known to have sculpted the famous piece, "The Palace at Four in the Morning" in 1932, which is found at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Although, this is not the earliest piece of evidence that he has found involving four in the morning, but he explains that this piece of evidence, to his knowledge, is believed to be the key to other artists' relations to four in the morning, and he has called it the "The Giacometti Code, a TED exclusive".

It works a little something like this: "This is a recent Google search
for four in the morning. Results vary, of course. This is pretty typical. The top 10 results yield you four hits for Faron Young's song, "It's Four in the Morning," three hits for Judi Dench's film, "Four in the Morning," one hit for Wislawa Szymborska's poem, "Four in the Morning."" So what is the relation between a Polish poet, a British Dame, a country music hall of famer besides this totally excellent Google ranking? "Well, let's start with Faron Young -- who was born, incidentally, in 1932. In 1996, he shot himself in the head on December ninth -- which incidentally is Judi Dench's birthday. But he didn't die on Dench's birthday. He languished until the following afternoon when he finally succumbed to a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 64 -- which, incidentally, is how old Alberto Giacometti was when he died. Where was Wislawa Szymborska during all this? She has the world's most absolutely watertight alibi. On that very day, December 10, 1996 while Mr. Four in the Morning, Faron Young, was giving up the ghost in Nashville, Tennessee, Ms. Four in the Morning -- or one of them anyway -- Wislawa Szymborska was in Stockholm, Sweden, accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. 100 years to the day after the death of Alfred Nobel himself. Coincidence? No, it's creepy. Coincidence to me has a much simpler magic. That's like me telling you, 'Hey, you know the Nobel Prize was established in 1901, which coincidentally is the same year Alberto Giacometti was born?'" This connection that Rives has made can not be taken as a coincidence. At first maybe, but when he shows solid evidence of how these 3 people are connected in relation to four in the morning, it's hard to disagree.

Throughout the rest of his presentation, Rives continues to give evidence towards four in the morning. One of his examples being a clip from the Simpson's. The clip showed the Simpson's family at a resort, and Homer asks the guy who is showing them around "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait -- let me see if I got this straight. It is Christmas Day, 4 a.m. There's a rumble in my stomach." Rives stops the clip and says to the audience that "When Homer Simpson needs to imagine the most remote possible moment of not just the clock, but the whole freaking calendar, he comes up with 0400 on the birthday of the Baby Jesus. And no, I don't know how it works into the whole puzzling scheme of things, but obviously, I know a coded message when I see one." This clip shows even more evidence towards four in the morning.

Overall, Rives demonstrates a strong ability to present in front of an audience. He sounds confident in what he is talking about, especially when it came towards "The Giacometti Code". He shows numerous pieces of evidence, making the audience wonder more and more about four in the morning. "The Giacometti Code" for example, is not something that you could just stumble across and find a connection between with all 3 persons, all linking back to four in the morning. It would require a lot of research, and when he presented this code, I found that the evidence was hard not to believe. With evidence such as this being presented, Rives makes the audience give off a mix of emotions, myself included. Mostly in curiosity, but laughter as well, because you've got to admit, "The Giacometti Code" does sound a little strange, but Rives does make the audience understand after he presents. In summary, I found that this talk had solid evidence, and it made me wonder more about four in the morning as well. I can also agree that even before this talk, I thought four in the morning really did seem like an odd time to be up at. And now that I've watched this talk, with the evidence behind it, I can agree even more.

Ron Eglash on African fractals

By Makayla L.

Dr. Ron Eglash is a mathematician that studies how math and cultures from around the world are connected with one another. His profession is called ethno-mathematics. In his presentation, Dr. Eglash starts by giving his audience some background knowledge of how “fractals,” which are mathematical patterns, were discovered. He tells the audience about how he, when doing research, noticed fractals exist throughout many African villages. Wanting to learn more about his discovery, he earned a year scholarship to travel around Africa and explore different towns' and villages' architectural structures, patterns, etc. On a daily basis he would travel village to village. He would ask people (in his very poor French) if he could stand on top of their buildings to catch a better glimpse of the structures for his research, and of course the nice African people would let him. He noticed the same patterns over and over again in every structure. Dr. Eglash started to ask himself how this was possible and he describes it as “absolutely mind blowing.” These buildings were built way before the late mathematicians had discovered any sort of fractal so how could this possibly be? What he did was he started to ask people in the African villages how they thought the patterns had started. He normally got the answer, “it just looks good that way,” or something along those lines. Another day, he went to the chief of a palace in a small village and asked if he could stand on the roof. The two went up to the roof and they started talking about how the rooms within the palace were fractals. The chief said, “Oh yes, we know all about the rectangles within rectangles.” Dr. Eglash later went on to find out that in the Royal Insignia, there is a path which is shaped as a spiral. To get closer to the middle, you have to become more and more polite, so not only are they using this for mapping the social scale, but it is also geometric scaling at the same time without knowing it when it was built. Dr. Eglash looked into other cultures and different parts of the world’s designs, but only Africa managed to have fractal patterns. He found out that these patterns were not made from mathematical sense, but from Self-Organizing Algorithms, which are very important in today’s life. He discovered that every little digital circuit of technology we use today, started in Africa through these Self-Organizing Algorithms. Things we use everyday like Google, PDA’s, and cell phones. I think that this is a discovery Dr. Eglash should be very proud of and his name will for sure be going into the books for this.

I thought that Dr. Eglash delivered his presentation with a very clear voice. He stood by his computer and showed the audience a number of examples of fractals and discoveries he had come up with that were very effective. He gives an example to the audience so that they can connect to what he is saying by showing them that fractals exist within their fingers and other parts of the body. This is a very good way to get the audience involved and he did it at the start which hooked them into the rest of the speech. However, through his speech, he does not leave his podium once, which makes the speech boring and stiff. He does use hand gestures quite a bit as well. Other speakers I have seen really catch the attention of the audience by walking around while presenting and make eye contact with the audience throughout the presentation. His presentation lacked this. He also made too many references to discoveries of other mathematicians, which I found to be extremely boring. His word choice was very creative and structured and let me know that he is a very intelligent man. I felt that some of the mathematics he was explaining to the audience could have been explained more thoroughly. All in all, I think that Dr. Eglash had a fairly decent presentation in my mind, and I would like to see him progress in his research and listen to another amazing discovery being unraveled by him one day.

Nate Silver: Does race affect votes?

By Jake Mc.

In this talk, math whiz, Nate Silver, has answers and conclusions to controversial questions of how race affects politics. The stats from previous elections and myths collide in this talk that leaves you puzzled about how race affects votes? However it seems to bring another question out of this topic.

Nate Silver opens by telling us that he wants to talk about the election involving John McCain and Barrack Obama. He presents stats from the election results; mostly about the victor, Barrack Obama. He compares Obama's results to the election of Democrat, John Kennedy, by showing us political maps of the victors of each state and also the election map of 1996 when the Democrats were last in power of the White House. He draws his first comparisons when he shows the 2008 election map is more controlled by the Democrats as the map is mostly blue, from the 2004 map that is mostly dominated by the red Republicans and the 1996 map controlled by the Democrats. He shows this comparison so later on in the presentation he can refer to it and make conclusions about why he believes that some factors could perhaps contribute to how race affects votes. Silver then tells us "We know that race was a factor." He backs this up by telling us that out of 50 states 37 conducted polls and ask,"In deciding your vote for President today, was the race of the candidate a factor?". This is a fairly direct question about race and overall many votes were directed towards either candidate because of race; however since Barrack Obama being the victor and an African American he was the focus of many votes being not directed toward him. Silver back this up by sharing with us: "In Louisiana, about one in five white voters said", "Yes, one of the big reasons why I voted against Barack Obama is because he was an African-American." So Silver does have primary sources from the people of Louisiana. Silver then starts to compares the 1996 election map results to the results of the 2008 map. He first tells us that the democrats both won the elections but he's more focused on the Southern States where Obama did slightly worst then the 1996 election. From this Silver pulls out many factors of why race in fact could affect Barrack Obama's running in the election. First he states "states like Arkansas and Tennessee is that they're both very rural, and they are educationally-impoverished." Silver backs up this statement by telling us that "you see the states with the fewest years of schooling per adult, are in red," Silver believes that more rural neighborhoods with less diversified races are more likely to adapt these trends of racial based voting, and with neighborhoods that are more diversified, like a Smarties box, tend to most likely not adopt these trends. This brings Silver to his next question, "is racism really predictable?" Silver then tells us that this is great news that racism is as predictable as he stated. " You can start thinking about solutions to solving that problem." This is very encouraging for all races so everybody in America can live in harmony. Silver gives suggestions how we can solve the problem from the roots and solve the behaviour trends of racism based voting. Overall, Nate Silver uses past election results to compare to the most recent to see if there is a race trend.

What I thought first about this talk was the question in the title, dose race affect votes? Yes it certainly affects votes. What I also agreed with was that racism base voting was found in the Southern States like Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana. What made me believe this is the history of those States, from the first Klan to the private organization's that still exist today expressing their beliefs of white supremacy. I also felt that Nate Silvers delivery of this presentation was quick to the plate as he tells us straight away " I want to talk about the election"

Overall I felt Nate Silver had taken on a subject that didn't interest him like his favourite sport baseball, but he uses techniques and facts just like his baseball fantasy games to help him draw conclusions and watch myths collide in the exciting game of politics. If you are interested in politics and how one's race can effect the results of any election I suggest watching this video.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music

By Evan T.

In this TED talk, Jose Abreu talks about his music program El Sistema, and what it has done for the poorer children of Venezuela and how music is so important in the life of a child.

Jose Abreu starts off by telling how he is overjoyed that he has been awarded the TED prize. He then begins talking about how in his childhood, he always wanted to be a musician and that he thanks God that he did make it as one. He had all the necessary support from his teachers, family, and his community; and that all of his life he has hoped that all children in Venezuela have the opportunity that he had. It was from that desire that the idea for the program and to make music a deep and global reality for the children of his country came from.

Jose then tells about the first rehearsal, and how he saw the bright future ahead because of the challenge that it meant for him. At the first rehearsal he had received a donation of 50 music stands to be used by 100 boys, but when he arrived only 11 children had shown up. At that moment Jose thought to himself whether he should close the program or multiply these kids, and he decided to face the challenge. He made a promise to those kids to turn their orchestra into one of the leading orchestras in the world. Jose remembered that promise when he read an article mentioning four great world orchestras and the fifth was the Venezuela’s youth Symphony Orchestra, which meant that art in Latin America is no longer a monopoly of elites and that it has become a right for all people. The talk then gives a clip of a member of the Orchestra saying that in this program there is no difference between classes and that the only things that matter are that if you have talent and vocation.

Abreu then talks about how he has seen in the recent tours, how their music has moved the audiences greatly, and how the public would greet the people in triumph and that it has been an artistic triumph and an emotional symphony between the public of the most advanced nations of the world and the musical youth of Latin America.

Jose then talks about how El Sistema helps kids improve their lives and who they are. Jose talks about how the orchestra and choir teach more than just learning artistic structure and they also are a place where kids can learn how to be more social. A quote I liked that Jose said was, “to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence.” He then talks about how it helps your self-esteem, which I agree with because I have noticed it in myself when I play in music class or when I jam with my friends; it helps you get rid of the nervousness you get around others, because each practice you have to play your instrument in front of everyone in the class, or when I am jamming with friends, I have to get over what they might think of my playing in order to play good music. I also agree with what he then says about music being important in the forging of values in the children, because I know from experience that from when I first started getting really into music to now, I would say I have better values than I did before.

Jose Abreu talks now about how each teenager and child in El Sistema has their own story, and particularly talks about two kids named Edicson Ruiz and Gustavo Dudamel. Edicson Ruiz came from a parish in Caracas. He was passionate about music and taking his double bass lessons at the San Agustin’s Junior Orchestra. Edicson had full support from his family and community and became an important member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Gustavo started as a young member of the children’s orchestra in his hometown and grew as a violinist and conductor, and today he conducted the finest orchestras in the world. “He’s an unbeatable example for the young musicians of Latin America and the world,” says Jose.

Jose then goes on to talk about how El Sistema teaches the children to be a role model for even their parents. This is very important, because if the child realizes they are important to the family, they want to improve themselves and their community, which is a great thing. Also, when kids become good at something, in this case playing an instrument, they want to be better at other things, and help others get better and embrace their dreams and goals.

One thing that I disagree with that Jose goes on to talk about and say is; “only art and religion can give proper answers to humanity.” I don’t agree with this because of the part about religion, because religion is the worst tool to use when seeking answers to humanity in my opinion because with the amount of beliefs in the world today, you can never know which is true or if any of them are true.

Jose Abreu finishes his talk off with another thank you and showing of his appreciation to TED for being awarded the TED prize. The talk then goes live to Caracas to get Jose Abreu’s TED prize wish. Jose Abreu said, “I wish that you help to create and document a special training program for 50 gifted young musicians passionate about their art and social justice and dedicated to bringing El Sistema to the United States and other countries.”

Jose Abreu was a very good speaker, despite the language difference and that I had to watch the subtitles, I could hear that he spoke with emotion and showed passion for what he was talking about. Also, throughout the talk Jose uses great hand gestures which were effective in showing his passion for what he has done.

In conclusion, I think that what Jose Abreu has done and is doing with El Sistema is wonderful and I hope his TED wish comes true.

Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, reality's riddle

By Robert C.

In this Ted Talk, University of Oxford mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy, explains how the world connects all of its places and items through symmetry. Sautoy states the world revolves around symmetry, and he theorizes that our physical and mental desires are heavily influenced by symmetry.

Marcus du Sautoy claims that people instinctively desire to be symmetrical. One of his first examples is a picture of a woman and man, in their normal body. He proceeds to show and compare the normal picture to a revamped symmetrical version of the photo. The symmetrical version is much more attractive he claims, as it is closing in on mankind’s general desire to be perfect, or complete. He then dives into the math and science of symmetry, further divulging the main types of symmetry: reflective and rotational. Reflective symmetry is shown through a mirror, or water; it replicates an image through reflection. Rotational symmetry is when an object can be spun in any direction but still remains the same shape as before. However, he claims there is one other kind of symmetry. This other symmetry is “Zero Symmetry.” This is when the object is only moved in height; up and down, and does not change from its previous form. Sautoy finishes by acknowledging that non-symmetry makes buildings, places, and people more interesting, borrowing this knowledge from a Japanese proverb.

Marcus du Sautoy is overall a very effective speaker. He is obviously experienced in giving lectures as he is a professor at Oxford, one of the world’s most prestigious universities. The long, uninterrupted talk he gave was one he has either done a lot, or he is very charismatic, evidenced by the many strong talking techniques he used. Sautoy capitalized on illustrating exciting stories related to symmetry, such as opening with a story about a young mathematician who created the main theory of symmetry being shot in a duel. His stories and humour were apparently effective, shown through the audience’s obvious engrossment in his speech. Finally, at the beginning of his talk he gave the audience an idea to consider for the whole talk (an idea about how many symmetries a rubic's cube contained) and this just made the listeners happier to be involved.

To conclude, this talk proved to be very interesting and educational. Marcus du Sautoy did a wonderful job on giving insight on the very confusing subject of symmetry, and my view on the world’s layout will be changed forever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Benjamin Wallace on the price of happiness

By Carlee C.

Can money really buy happiness? Is the most expensive item often the best? In most cases, no, but we are just now starting to realize how our brains connect happiness with money. This is the focus of Bejamin Wallace's TED Talk.

Mr. Wallace began his speech by explaining his incentive behind doing this study. "I became increasingly, kind of voyeuristically interested in the question of you know, why do people spend these crazy amounts of money, not only on wine but on lots of things, and are they living a better life than me?" To answer this question of his he, "...decided to embark on a quest. With the generous backing of a magazine I write for sometimes, I decided to sample the very best, or most expensive, or most coveted item in about a dozen categories." Some of the things he tested were; beef, clothing, vehicles, lavish deserts, and expensive hotels rooms. He reported that several of the food products that were advertised to be amazing were simply a disappointment. This also goes for clothing. The magazine paid for a pair of $800 pants made in Japan from organic materials and he had not received one complement during the period of 8 months. This just goes to show that no matter what the price is, the final outcome could be very similar as something of that same nature.

The main focus of Benjamin Wallace's talk was emphasizing his opinion on the many different products he tried. He did not explain why we are automatically drawn to the higher priced items. At the very end of his speech he gave some statistics and a study that was done to explain briefly the reasoning behind the thinking of the more expensive, the better. " which came out earlier this year from some researchers at Stanford and Caltech. And they gave subjects the same wine, labeled with different price tags. A lot of people, you know, said that they liked the more expensive wine more -- it was the same wine, but they thought it was a different one that was more expensive. But what was unexpected was that these researchers did MRI brain imaging while the people were drinking the wine, and not only did they say they enjoyed the more expensively labeled wine more -- their brain actually registered as experiencing more pleasure from the same wine when it was labeled with a higher price tag." Overall, he spoke clearly and confidently. He used humour and gave an entertaining speech. However, it was not very informative and did not have serve much of a purpose.

In conclusion, I do not believe that you can put a price on happiness. There are many ways manufacturers portray items to the public to persuade them that the more expensive products are always better. As we can see through Mr. Wallace's experience trying out the most "exquisite meals" and "comfiest beds," happiness cannot be bought. Although, happiness can be heavily influenced by expensive and lavish items.

Evan Williams on listening to Twitter users

By Rebecca C.

Evan Williams has helped create one of the most popular communication sources of the 21st century. It started from such a simple concept, and grew from media, from need for communication at times of natural disasters, and from the Twitter users themselves. Twitter has become something that millions rely on to express to the world serious news and issues or one’s own thoughts and feelings. It has been one more thing to shape the world of technology and Evan wants to share Twitter’s potential and all it has to offer on TED.

Evan Williams started out on a TED stage discussing his company, ODEO. This led to an article in the New York Times and other media attention. He became CEO of this company and hired an engineer, Jack Dorsey. When trying to decide where to go with ODEO, Jack pitched an idea he had for a side project. It was based around sending simple status updates to friends. Turns out, in 2006, ODEO launched Twitter as a side project that did exactly that. Evan was skeptical on whether it was a good idea to start up with a side project but he had experience from doing the same with another side project “Blogger” with his previous company. Blogger ended up taking over his life and the company itself. Evan says, “So I learned to follow hunches even though you can’t necessarily justify them or know what they are going to do. And that is what has happened with Twitter, time after time.” (Evan William | Video on

Twitter can be used for a variety of different messages, whether they are special occasions (Evan shows an example of news of a child being born) or mundane messages (Evan shows an example of someone tweeting “My phone fell in the toilet!”). People can say what they are doing or feeling in 140 characters or less and it makes them feel more connected to the world around them. This was what the company saw as the primary use, to help people stay in touch despite distance. They did not, however, realize the many other uses Twitter would become beneficial for. Evan says, “When the wildfires broke out in San Diego, in October of 2007, people turned to Twitter to report what was happening and to find information from neighbors about what was happening around them.” (Evan Williams). Not only was it individuals who used Twitter for these purposes but the L.A. Times, as well as the Fire Department and Red Cross started using it to dispense information and updates. Politicians have even started "Tweeting," including 47 members of congress who have Twitter accounts. At events or occasions, thousands of people follow on Twitter because they want to know what it feels like to be there or know what’s happening.

One of Evan’s fascinations is how users have shaped Twitter. In the beginning, you could send out updates, and receive ones from people you were interested in, but people started to respond to other updates by putting a “@username” before their messages. Evan gives an example of Shaquille O’Neal using this to respond to one of his fans. This became popular and was created by the users themselves. Twitter didn’t actually build it into their system to make it easier until after it became so popular. Another is the API. Twitter has created an application programming interface that goes into pieces of software to send twitter updates. Now they have these in Mac, Windows, iPhones, Blackberrys, etc. There are even devices that will let an unborn baby Twitter when it kicks or a plant Twitter when it needs water. One of the biggest developments based on Twitter though, came from a little company in Virginia called Summize. They created a search engine just for Twitter and what everyone on Twitter has “tweeted.”

Twitter has gone beyond what they originally had thought it was going to be; just a way to communicate with family and friends, and it has become a way for people to help one another. When there was a gas shortage in Atlanta, people would tweet when they found good gas so others could go where they had gone. Also, people on Twitter have raised money for homeless people, or have dug wells in Africa. “It seems like when you give people easier ways to share information, more good things happen.” (Evan Williams). Evan tells us that he doesn’t know where Twitter will go next… but he knows to always follow the hunch. After Evan says “Thanks” to his audience and dismisses himself, Chris Anderson comes onto the stage and brings Evan Williams back on. During Evan’s talk, Chris had gone onto Summize and searched Evan Williams. Chris pointed out that as Evan was speaking, already 50 people had “tweeted” about listening to Evan William’s talk! He points out that there is almost no other way to get instant feedback like that, and what Evan has helped created is a great and interesting thing.

As much as Evan’s talk was fascinating, it was also a little monotone. Evan didn’t talk with a lot of expression in his voice and had no facial expression. I don’t know if I saw him smile once, or even change the look on his face. He didn’t connect with the audience very well and I think that affected his talk. He had pictures and picked tweets that gave humour to his talk but I felt that he didn’t display them in a humourous enough way. His pictures and his tweets were funny, but he was not. Evan Williams had good facts, and an interesting story on how Twitter started out from just a basic idea, but I don’t feel, with his lack of facial expression and lack of enthusiasm in his voice, that he was selling his company very well. He stood still for most of the presentation and didn’t use gimmicks, or a hook to reel the audience in.

All in all, Evan, with his facts, proved Twitter to be a world changing phenomenon. People all around the world use Twitter, and you can communicate with anyone! Our world is changing so fast and technology is a big part of that change. If we don’t learn how to communicate over these systems and help one another out in serious situations, we are going to fall far behind the rest of society. People don’t always know what they can do to help, but with systems like these, it makes it easier to help and easier to communicate with the rest of the world.

Frans Lanting's lyrical nature photos

By Luke D.

Frans Lanting is extremely talented. Not only is his photography incredible in quality and artistic vision, but his writing and oral communication creates a very engaging atmosphere. His commentary in his “Ted Talk” is both scientifically informative and artistically romantic. He also displays incredible talent in sharing his vision with the world, using whatever resources he has. How? Set to a beautiful new-age soundtrack by Philip Glass, Lanting shows us the history of life on our planet by using only photographs taken within the last century. Time travel may not be possible physically, but trust me, when you see Lanting’s slideshow, a part of you will be there. It goes a little something like this…

Some of the first pictures shown in Frans Lantings slide show don’t look like they are of Earth. Any volcanic planet from Star Wars maybe, but not Earth. It was a simpler time. It was a hotter time. Until the heat from within resulted in the eruption of geysers, leading to the birth of the oceans. And then, as Lanting explains to us in his narration, something emerges from all of this. Like lighting in a clear sky, life appears. At first, the most simplistic of bacteria and stromatolites, living, breathing structures created by the coming together of microorganisms. Then, Lanting suggests that meteors crashed into our planet, delivering the chemistry needed for life to create membranes. Life needs a membrane to contain itself in order to replicate itself and mutate. This led to the origins of plankton.

In the shallow seas of the days that followed, life advanced. Defensive and armored coral evolved. Jellyfish and sea cucumbers learned how to move by themselves. And with the first predators, the trilobites, came the first eyes. Life could now see the world that it had been living in, blindly, for millions of years. Horseshoe crabs improvised upon this vision (no pun intended) when they crawled upon land to lay their eggs, as they still do today, in an age where they don’t have to worry about massive sea scorpions following them.

Plants such as lichen and moss took the leap from water to land, transforming the barren, life-less landscape into a green wonderland. Eventually true land plants emerged from this garden, in the form of primitive ferns and foliage.

The trend of leaving the water caught on. Predators followed curious prey. Prey left behind aquatic predators. This is the time when the iconic image of the fish leaving behind the water came about. Some fish eventually abandoned the sea and evolved into amphibians. Amphibians became just as at home in swamps and floodplains as they were in the ocean. Photos of frogs almost completely submerged in mud and water illustrate this time period for us.

Then came a leathery skinned class of animals called the reptiles. With them, life had turned tough, with shells, spikes and scales so it could venture farther inland. As Lanting tells us with his photos, today’s leatherback turtles and lizard-like tuataras are echoes from the era of reptile dominance. He also illustrates to us that land-bound life still sometimes wants to go back to the ocean with a photo of massive tortoises wading around in a pond. Several awe-inspiring pictures of lizards such as Galapagos iguanas, chameleons, and thorny devils are presented to show just how diverse life was getting.

It didn’t take long for reptiles to become kings of the Earth. When the dinosaurs finally evolved, the Earths landscapes had become a breathtaking sight. Lanting shows us pictures of modern day Madagascar and Brazil. The landscapes that we are shown here are breathtaking and evoke thoughts of a lost world. And to think, they were taken in this century. The picture shown of a plain in Madagascar looks as if a herd of sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs) could be grazing in it. One of a sunset in Brazil would not look strange with a pterosaur in the sky. As Lanting says, “Jurassic park still shimmers.”

As any natural history buff will tell you, birds evolved from dinosaurs. The missing link between the two was a creature called Archaeopteryx that looked like a small, meat-eating dinosaur but with the wings and tail of a bird. In the introduction to birds, Lanting shows us the iconic fossil of the Archaeopteryx and then beautiful images of birds on wing. Sea birds, flamingos, and water fowl are shown soaring and migrating across a sky that very well could have belonged to the late Cretaceous period. He also shows us flightless birds such as the kiwis of New Zealand and a flightless species of hawk from islands close to Antarctica.

Birds were followed shortly after by flowering plants. These began as water lilies but later evolved into thousands of different species. Some even became trees like the silver sword plant in Hawaii and a grass tree of Australia. Frans moves on to the breaking up of Gondwana, a super continent that had contained Antarctica, South America, Australia, Africa, Madagascar, India and New Zealand. With this continental shift, a new diversity of plants and fungi emerged. Amazing flowers had begun to grow and develop genitalia for luring insects. We are shown the largest one on earth, the Rafflesia. Lanting also tells us of the interdependence between birds and insects to flowers and pollination with some awesome shots of hummingbirds.

Then from this Eden comes an apocalypse. Something, an asteroid perhaps, has caused the planet to go up in flames. We see amazing pictures of a volcanic lava field and forest fires to see how devastated the world was during this time. But, even with the world on fire, there were survivors. Crocodiles are captured, huddled together in the dark, waiting for the storm to end.

When the dust and ashes cleared, it was a different world. The mighty saurian dynasty had all but been erased save for the birds and crocodiles. There was more room now. But for what? The answer lay hidden in burrows, underneath bushes and in the branches of the recovering trees…mammals. At first in tiny forms like shrews and tenrecs. But it wasn’t too long before mammals became the new rulers of the world in as many shapes and sizes as one could imagine. Bats began to fly in the sky. Small creatures like civets developed in forests. Predators like the ones we know today began to develop. Images of hyenas and cheetahs illustrate what life was producing at this time.

Grasslands appeared all over the world and created new ways of life for mammals. Living in herds was a good way to develop sharpened senses. In the cases of giraffes and elephants, growing big was the answer. Some mammals, the most advanced form of life, went back to water. Hippos, walruses, seals and cetaceans all have returned to the cradle of life in some way or another. We’re shown how diverse mammals have become today with a series of pictures consisting of a kangaroo in Australia, a horse of Asia and an anteater of South America. To think, it all started with just one self-replicating cell in primeval mud. And here is life now.

Lanting saves the evolution of the strangest animal for last. At first it’s a photo of a very cuddly looking primate called a tarsier (the being looks like a cross between a kitten, a monkey and Dobby the house-elf), clinging to a tree. This is followed by pictures of lemurs, the tarsier’s decedents, exploring the world around them. Lanting tells of how, a million years later, the forests began to dry out, forcing advanced primates out into the open plain. It was there that the next landmark of life’s journey would take place. The ability to walk upright. The rest is the celebrated evolution of mankind.

Only one other time in my life have I seen such a brilliant, moving and captivating account of the history of life on our planet. This would be Disney's Rite of Spring from 1940's Fantasia. That magnificent piece of art, like Frans Lanting's slide show shows the origins and chronology of diversity of life on our planet. What sets the two apart is that Disney's work, being animated, was able to show the viewer many majestic and fascinating animals that no longer exist on our planet.

However, I don't think this makes Lanting's pale in comparison. If anything, it makes his presentation look even more amazing. The man is able to tell us the story of life on earth, right from its humble beginnings to what it is now, with just photos from our own time. It’s amazing. The photos may not actually have shown me dinosaurs or mankind’s ancestors but I still saw them very clearly in my imagination as I watched this amazing video. Only by looking at nature today and applying our human imagination to what it shows us, can we truly envision and appreciate lost species that we never saw. Lanting succeeds in giving us inspirational photos to spark the imagination.

Lanting closes with a very inspirational passage about humans, our planet and the force of life itself.

So who are we? Brothers of masculine chimps. Sisters of feminine bonobos. We are all of them, and more. We're molded by the same life force. The blood veins in our hands echoed a course of water traces on the Earth. And our brains -- our celebrated brains -- reflect drainage of a tidal marsh. Life is a force in its own right. It is a new element. And it has altered the Earth. It covers Earth like a skin. And where it doesn't, as in Greenland in winter, Mars is still not very far. But that likelihood fades as long as ice melts again. And where water is liquid, it becomes a womb. For cells green with chlorophyll -- and that molecular marvel is what's made a difference -- it powers everything. The whole animal world today lives on a stockpile of bacterial oxygen that is cycled constantly through plants and algae, and their waste is our breath, and vice versa. This Earth is alive, and it's made its own membrane. We call it atmosphere. This is the icon of our journey. And you all here today can imagine and will shape where we go next.

These words are very beautiful and inspirational. It’s a subtle but very powerful reminder that the planet gave birth to us, and we’re part of it. There is a force from within the Earth keeping everything we know going. This force, and what Lanting’s “Ted Talk” so wonderfully celebrates, is called “Life”.