TEDYou Session

Each year at TEDActive, we feature one session of speakers curated exclusively from our attendees! Check out what they talked about for six minutes each.


The session started with Andrew Mendelson, self-proclaimed “sitar evangelist.” He first heard the instrument as a freshmen in college, and has dedicated the last 22 years of his life to its sound and beauty. The sitar might seem like an ancient instrument, but it did not appear until the 18th century — 200 years after the violin as it exists in its current form. Unlike Western classical music, Hindustani classical music is improvisational, and the sitar has evolved along the years to a player’s unique style of playing. Traditional sitars are handmade from materials of varying proportions, which means that they require a skilled craftsman to repair. Mendelson instead proposes a design that uses modern composite materials, standardized dimensions, and adjustable and replaceable components – a sitar that could be played and maintained by anyone. “Hindustani music is the music of the present moment. So it demands an instrument that is cutting edge.”


While researching his latest book on the Hawthorne effect, a funny thing happened to Damon Brown: he became a father. When he looked into his son’s eyes, he realized that children will act differently if they feel they’re being observed and loved. “As you enjoy TEDActive this week: do you want to be an attention grabber or an attention giver? Do you want to be future-focused or do you want to be fully present? Do you want to be Pavlovian or do you want to fully responsive to the people around you that you love?”


Laurie Parres shared her hilarious experiences as an American sitcom writer, from an early morning hours writer’s-room-tiramisu-gorging dare to another in which a fellow writer jumped up on a table to sing “Greased Lightning” in order to make his friend laugh. She concluded with some of the wisest words yet: “Being able to make people laugh must be what it feels like to have a penis. It connects you to the most intimate part of another person.”


If you were wondering why there was a bike on stage, it’s because Vlad Savchenko wanted to talk to you about magnets. Traditional bike sensors that gauge distance and speed aren’t equipped for transporting your bike in pieces from place to place. Yet in trying to engineer a solution for this problem, overthinking became an even bigger obstacle. It took stepping back to look at the problem from a wider angle — no more magnets. “What we learned from our experience is that if you have a problem, nature often offers you a solution.”


Brian Smith wanted to us to examine not only the buildings, streets, and parks in our neighborhood, but also the negative spaces — the alleyways, and gaps between buildings in a city space, all illustrated through a series of beautiful photographs. “The French composers said music is the space between the notes, and I’d like to adapt this thought to the city. It is not defined so much by buildings or our intentions, but by the spaces in between.”


Jill Sobule performed “Big Shoes” with her mom, who insisted on adding a rebuttal verse. They were joined by TEDActive host Kelly Stoetzel and her mom, Carole Young.


Jakob Trollback gave us a glimpse into the opening interstitial videos from TED conferences past, from TED4 to TEDGlobal and TED2010. Along the way, we saw the evolution of text and movement, as well as the desire to make these short opening films as cinematic as possible.


Katie Meier told us two truths and one lie: the church made her smarter; she lived with the mafia; she can spot a great opportunity. She told us her story that brought her from a megachurch to UC Berkeley to, yes, living with the mafia for a brief time. “You don’t have to look so hard for takeaways and bullet points. Just look for the next best clue.”


Ramesh Srinivasan told us a story about Papua New Guinea, diversity, and the technologies of indigenous tribes. He asked us if it was possible to create a modern computational technology that could network communities the same way traditional artwork and other ontologies do – to help support and maintain the diversity of culture. “Tribal peoples are not defined by where they live, but by the knowledge they have. The knowledge they have encodes different understandings of the world.”


Scott Gass talked about the extraordinarily cooperative power of the killer whale, especially when taking on prey far larger than it. Killer whales are a highly social species that exhibit complex group interactions in hierarchical systems, and work together to protect their young, their pod, and hunt their prey — no more evidently than a piece of footage which shows one such pod successfully hunting a large blue whale over the course of five hours. “No matter what the challenge, while it may be beyond you or I, it is not beyond us.”


Finally, Jimmy Lin shared the story of his friend’s diagnosis with cancer, and his lifelong devotion to research on the subject. Yet it doesn’t take a medical degree to understand the four Ds to becoming a successful advocate for one’s family in this situation: DNA sequencing, doctors (plural), drug trials, and discovery. “Chris: even though I haven’t been able to tell you in person, you are an inspiration to us all. To everyone who’s fought cancer, or is fighting cancer, or has lost people, let’s continue fighting. You are our hero.”

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