TEDxChristchurch: Curiouser and Curiouser

Hi. I was at TEDxChristchurch today. If you couldn’t make it, The Press was live streaming the day on their website, and videos will be up on TEDxChristchurch’s website soon. Coming to TEDx each year is like watching a child grow up because the quality of the event gets better every year – like design of the slides introducing speakers, audience participation methods, and the name tag/programme.

TEDx Christchurch 2013 lanyards USB music

Here’s why you need to watch the videos of the talks when they go online… (And also because I’ve missed bits, I’ve misinterpreted and I’ve probably misquoted a little.)


House band: Natalie Slade and The Real (and after each break)

Hemi Tam – Welcome

Chris Anderson‘s video welcome:

Kaila Colbin – Curator’s welcome

There’s 20+ viewing parties happening around the country (or the world?). There’s also many TEDx curators in the audience. Kaila welcomes the sponsor family. Board of Design and Printmax are responsible for the amazing programmes.

Kathryn Ryan – MC’s welcome

Chapter One: Exploration (in which we journey from the molecular realm to the farthest reaches of space)

Dai Henwood – Comedian

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” -Wayne Gretsky

Humans are awesome. And humans fail. Failure is something you need to own in order to succeed.

Ian Shaw – Toxicologist

You might know him from the show “Is It Safe To Eat?”

Sexy chemicals. Chemistry jokes. I’m rethinking my degree choice. There are 88 million chemicals registered up to 2008. Ian shows the chemical used for fillings. It’s the same as the one used for the inside of an aluminium can. And it binds on female receptors in humans. There are female receptors in men which it binds to as well. The world’s sperm count is going down (Carlsen et al.). Connection?

Happy chemicals. Dopamine is the happy chemical. Ian shows the molecules for P, Speed and BZP which are similar in design to dopamine. On designer drugs being able to be legalised now in New Zealand (being able to sell happiness): “actually I have a practical class that designs them. You’re not allowed to make them.” Cue cute photos of mice. Experiments with vitamin B1 points to helping methamphetamine recovery in mice (but the results weren’t statistically significant). Bananas contain 6mg dopamine and 0.04mg thiamine. Food is medicine.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field Video

Haritina Mogosanu – Spacehead

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Carl Sagan

The Drake equation calculates the probability of our galactic loneliness. There is an amazing universe inside of each of us – one million neurons. The Goldilocks zone is between being not too far from the sun and not too close to the sun – and it’s required for a planet to support life.

To be able to survive at a space station, you have to know a bit about everything.

People have started wars in the name of Mars, the god of war. Ironically Mars is the best shot of a planet that might be able to support life.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it is everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar’, every ‘supreme leader’, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mole of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Ellis Emmett – Adventurer

“You know it’s pretty hard to exude confidence when you’re in the midst of shitting your dry suit.” – Quote from an extended version of the trailer for Descending.

“Travel has been my school, my church, it’s been everything I know.”

Only one percent of the oceans have ever been explored.

Adventure is about learning and growing.

We file our sense of adventure, our curiosity away because of our daily lives. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown.

For every challenge we overcome, we build the stepping-stones for future success.

As we approach our invisible comfort line we start to feel more and more fear. Sometimes we get to the line and we turn back. But, we never learn anything from turning back. What if we ask “what’s the worst that could happen?” And “could I deal with the consequences?” That’s when the most valuable lessons are learned.

Fear is not a pleasant feeling. It was designed to keep us alive. But, today it holds us back, from learning and from achieving great things. When we step over the line, we expose ourselves to risk, but close off opportunities for learning.

Adventure is pitting yourself against challenge. And challenge is what helps us grow. We live in a massive playground and we can make it as big or as small as we want.

“Anything that you can ever imagine already exists, all you have to do is connect the dots.” -Ellis Emmett

Danny Syme – Acrobat

“Alone in the world I am exalted.” -Buddha

Sharon McIver – Our Daily Waste

Not a talk, but a reminder about the impact that we have on the environment every day.

“Please use your reusable coffee cups [thanks ASB] for the rest of the day. Actually, for the rest of your life.”

Sharon highlighted something really depressing – takeaway coffee cups aren’t recyclable any more in Christchurch.

Chapter Two: Justice (in which we face evil and discover heroism)

Daniel Walker – Investigator – you might want to skip Daniel’s section, which is about rape and child sex slavery. Want to talk? In New Zealand you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or Youthline on 0800 37 66 33

“Every man dies.
Not every man really lives.” -William Wallace

I think this talk touched a lot of people – many brought this talk up in conversation during the breaks for the rest of the day. It’s a credit to TEDxChristchurch and to the curation team for taking a bit of a risk by including really challenging content as opposed to stuff people can just sit down and nod their heads to (Ben Uffindell touched on this a little during his talk). And also to their credit this talk was positioned after a break (plus not at the end of the day), warning was given, and the audience was given the option of having an extended break and skipping this talk. However, whenever you’re presenting such a difficult topic you have a duty to enable people to realistically opt-out during the presentation, and to advertise appropriate channels to get support regarding the content.

Daniel’s the founder of Nvader and his talk starts out with the headline “choose to be dangerous”.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” – Psalm 23:4

At the age of 12, Maria was approached by a group of men who offered her a job in a neighbouring country. She was not taken to a clothing factory, however, she was taken to a brothel. She was raped. She was told she had a debt to pay. She escaped. The local police took her back to the brothel because they were corrupt.

Daniel went undercover and gathered enough evidence to convict a man involved in the running of the brothel.

Posing as a pedophile or child sex tourist Daniel travelled to 12 countries to investigate slavery and trafficking.

Less than 0.5% of all victims ever get to enter a courtroom to testify against their traffickers. (My question would be if these victims entered a courtroom would the situation be equal or helpful for victims?)

In a village, 40+ children were rescued from sex slavery. The youngest was five-years-old.

Daniel’s conversation with these young girls go something like this: “When are you going home?” “What do you mean you aren’t going home?” “What is the debt that you are talking about?”

Daniel talks about safeguards that aren’t in place for people working in this area. He describes a “moral failure” where he ended up cheating on his wife. His book, God In A Brothel was based on a Police psychologist’s recommendation to “write down your feelings” after his subsequent divorce.

You don’t have to be a superhero to conquer evil. In the face of evil, choose to be dangerous.

Recorded talk: Hans Rosling – The Magic Washing Machine

“Even the hardcore in the green movement use a washing machine.”

Jen Turner – Musician (small world, I went to school with her)

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” – Harvey Fierstein

Chris Clay – Educator

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.” -Pearl S. Buck

“I get to be a pirate.” Chris on his job.

Chris shows this Stuff.co.nz headline: Schools put science in too-hard basket.

Science in schools is lots of remembering facts instead of discovering new things. What if teachers used the rugby team to illustrate the concept of force.

School science is like teaching kids to paint, but then telling them that they’re not allowed to paint their own masterpiece, only copy.

The 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren “for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”. It was a case of challenging what the authority figures were saying – in this case saying Barry wasn’t allowed a human trial, so he used himself.

Chris uses the example of a young New Zealander making a robot to go into the Pike River mine: “why do we have to wait on an Australian?”

We’re not educating students about decisions they’re likely going to have to make, like whether to vaccinate their children or not.

We collectively make decisions that affect our local schools. Like when we choose schools based solely on achievement data.

“How have you gotten so many students to do senior science?” a teacher asks Chris. “Well, we make it interesting for them.” “But then the ‘lower ability’ students will do science and lower our achievement data! ”

Email your schools. Go to parents’ evenings. Ask when your kids get to discover something new.

Let’s put discovery back in the science classroom.

Verna McFelin – Founder and CEO of Pillars

“They handcuffed him in front of our children.” – Verna on her husband’s arrest.

Verna talks about the challenges of trying to keep her family together when her husband was involved in the criminal justice system. There’s no touching during prison visiting time. There’s the stigma that comes with being the family with a husband and dad in prison. They moved to Christchurch to be closer to him.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Pillars, an organisations which helps the families of prisoners.

In today’s age of calls for tougher sentencing (cough Sensible Sentencing cough) we are depriving criminals of their freedom, but we are also depriving children of their parents.

Sometimes families are better off when parents go away. But, often they are worse off, not because of the person’s criminality, but because of their absence.

The children from these families are more likely to go to prison later in life.

Friends are a lifeline for kids, but the stigma of having a parent in prison can break it, like when your friend’s father tells his daughter she can’t hang out with you anymore because you’re that criminal family.

A Children of Prisoners Bill of Rights

Native Affairs – A Pillar of Hope full video

Individuals need to step up to support these children. Children should be central to decisions in society. They need to be led to freedom and peace. And away from a criminal lifestyle. One child at a time.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” -1 Corinthians 1:27

Matt Mulholland – Comedo-musician

“Don’t write in starlight, ’cause the words may come out real.” -Dio

Loop pedal awesomeness with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

“It’s so awesome when that goes well. But it can also go really bad.”

Plus Chicken for Love:

Chapter Three: Citizenship (in which we unleash the power of insubordination)

The goodie bag is actually a bag of goodness. Curated with principles in mind with goods that are some combination of having been ethically produced, locally sourced by a company with community involvement.

Selwyn Pellet – Entrepreneur

“Set no small goals, because small goals will never inspire the heart of man.” -Anon

Think like a granddad.

82,000 Kiwis a year are leaving New Zealand.

Selwyn talked about the society that supported him as a child with remedial reading and with grandparents who sacrificed things for young people.

Success is a very poor teacher. The moments of self-doubt, failure and despair teach you compassion and humility.

“Selwyn is that the sort of person you want to be?” A workmate questioning him on thinking about running away from creditors to Australia.

We think of people in poverty, those who rely on benefits as lazy and talentless (or that’s how they’re portrayed in the media). Selwyn, not talentless or lazy found himself in that position.

With income, assets and influence, Selwyn ended up in the 1%.

He had an epiphany when a street beggar put her hands out in front of him. He realised he didn’t want to be part of the 1%. The inequality bothered him.

His grandparent’s generation had set up the government institutions that he could rely on as a child. He was born into privilege.

Today, ideas are the most valuable things you can have.

His second epiphany: meaningful employment is the single best way to close the inequality gap.

The tradable economy is investing in shared wealth and more jobs compared to the speculative economy (like property) – your wealth, fewer jobs.

Joseph Stiglitz: you can argue against inequality on economic or moral grounds, as the poor allocation of capital is inefficient and leads to poor social outcomes.

Ali Jacs – Poet and Storyteller

“Happiness is not a destination. It is a journey.” -Paul H Dunn

Ali performed a poem about a self-imposed limit of using 25 litres of water a day for a month. But, she didn’t have to walk 16 miles to get it, a task left often to women in developing countries.

We all have stories that need to be told. Real and raw stories of the human experience.

Ali got more results from the three-minute poem on her water conservation challenge she shared than the fact packed presentations she used to give to schools. People came up to her to tell her about their shorter showers and other ways they had been conserving water. She learned the marketing technique of an engaging narrative.

The world wants to hear an engaging story.

Recorded talk: Janette Sadik-Khan – New York’s streets? Not so mean any more

Ben Uffindell – Rabble Rouser

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” -Bertrand Russell

The founder of The Civilian. His introduction by Kathryn Ryan: “someone tried to sue him”. He talked about the response to the article Stewart Island to be renamed Harry Styles as a result of online poll from excited One Direction fans, including this change to the Dutch Wikipedia entry for Stewart Island:

Dutch Wikipedia Steward Island entry changed to Harry Styles thanks to The Civilian article
Dutch Wikipedia Steward Island entry changed to Harry Styles thanks to The Civilian article

“There was a line in here about the sponsors but it was recommended that I remove it.”

Ben points out something about the demographic of the audience – mostly white faces.

Ben talked about having some really low points in his life recently.

Humour can be found in every situation. Even in the darkest places there is light.

Slavko Martinov – Filmmaker

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -George Orwell

In 1999 Slavko was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Weeks to live turned into years to live with a subsequent brain scan. He lived like he was going to die, became addicted to drugs, and hit rock bottom in an airport surrounded by the drug squad.

On questioning God: people who control information don’t want you to ask questions, because an uninformed group of people is easier to control.

From a list of things he wanted to do came a film called Propaganda.

The best propaganda is that which you don’t notice… public relations.

“It’s a feature film. Designed to look like a propaganda film. But which is, in fact, the first-ever mockumentary about propaganda that actually serves as documentary.

Welcome to the propumentary.” –Gabriel Mizrahi, Huffington Post

A South Korean official rang Slavko to ask if he was working for North Korea. “Did you watch the Oprah sneaker part?” he asked the official. “You can tell a New Zealander wrote it because of the digs at Australia.”

Eugene Chang was in the audience, the translator, and an actor in the film. He was targeted for his part in the film, and Slavko says had false accusations made against him. “This man is not a North Korean spy” Slavko wants to make clear.

Questions are the antidote to propaganda.

Chapter Four: Urbanisation (in which we explore the relationship with our city and re-imagine our collective future)

Fifteen people shared their ‘big idea in 30 seconds’ on stage with Andie Spargo. The gender balance was off, but the ideas were quality!

Rudd Kleinpaste – Bugman

“I have never met an ex-environmentalist.” -Ray Anderson

Give insects and the environment a voice.

Bugs run the world. Biodiversity runs the world. The biodiversity of bugs runs the world.

Someone called into Rudd’s radio show and asked how to eradicate ants from their garden. “Eradicate is a big word” he said, but I heard napalm is effective.

We don’t eat bugs, but they would be really nutritious for us.

Waste does not exist in the insect world. Everything is a resource.

Pseudoscorpions are creepy bugs that attach themselves to other bugs. My bug terminology as used in this section is probably off.

Biomimicry is learning from nature without harming it. Like building drones and hopefully nicer inventions too.

Bugs that work together, not in competition. And if humans learn something from bugs, that might be the lesson.

We carry on as if resources are endless.

Someone suggested Christchurch puts bees on top of the buildings in the new CBD. But bees don’t eat rubble. They need the right food. So that’s what Rudd’s done. He’s teamed up with some people and created seed packs based on university and student research of what bees like, made in conjunction with a seed merchant, and sold at farmers markets and other places (and thrown to TEDxChristchurch audience members).

Jessica Halliday – Architectural Historian

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” -George Eliot

Art embedded in life is architecture. You can encounter the everyday art of architecture just by living.

Before you step over the threshold of the new council building in Christchurch you see biculturalism, a modern partnership.

The greenest building is the one that is already standing.

FESTA’s Luxcity was architecture that was interactive and accessible. A beautiful and engaging space is of measurable social worth. Thirty-thousand people came out on one night to see Luxcity. A political statement?

FESTA’s Canterbury Tales is coming up October 25-28 2013.

Right now buildings are valued for their economic worth.

Can we have a conversation more than once a year? Christchurch Centre for Architecture is on Facebook.

Jessie Hillel – Singer

Twelve-years-old, but you probably wouldn’t guess that from her voice.

“Hakuna matata!” -Timon and Pumbaa

Stuart Candy – Futurist

“Whose movie is this?” -Ken Kesey

Stone soup:

“A traveller comes to a small village. Producing a large pot, and a stone, he asks the village folk for some water with which to make stone soup. The reception is sceptical. Stone soup? But someone brings the water, and the stranger sets about making a fire for the pot. Word spreads. A crowd gathers. Soon the stone is bubbling away in water. The unlikely cook asks, might someone be willing to spare a dash of salt or pepper for flavour? The villagers, now intensely curious — the soup is nearly ready — scrounge for a sprig of this, a scrap of that, and slice of something else. All go into the pot; simple garnish for this absurd meal being coaxed from a stone. Yet before long, everyone has eaten their fill, and they can but wonder at the stone that has somehow managed to feed them all.”

Three places you can look to see what the future might be like: science fiction, political conversation, and scientific research.

The different trajectories of change: Growth, Constraint, Collapse, or Transformation.

Stuart talks about Hawaii 2050 – a public discussion in 2006 over what Hawaii would look like in 2050. People were split into four groups and sent to separate rooms. They each saw a different version of what the future might have in store. More info on Stuart’s blog about Hawaii 2050 here.

We get the to future we want not by buying it or selling it, but by enabling its creation.

It’s better to be surprised by a simulation than blindsided by an oversight.

Guerrilla projects fill the gap where official planning falls short (this made me think of Gap Filler).

Stuart spoke about Tunisian media’s brush with the future in 2011:

“Tunis, January 14th 2011. Tunisians put an end to 23 years of brutal dictatorship. It was a moment of intense hope. But we were all too soon brought back to reality. The entire country went on strike and economic activity was soon left to a standstill. … We needed to find a way to encourage the people to get back to work and start rebuilding the country we had all fought for. … So we decided to show everyone how bright our future could be if we all started building it now. … During a whole day, the media acted as if it were June 16th 2014 and presented Tunisia as a prosperous, modern and democratic country. … The media content spread to social media via 16juin2014.com and people began to imagine wonderful futures and called everyone for action. #16juin2014 hashtag was [number one] top trend topic on Twitter all day long. At 6pm, the debate was everywhere on TV, radios, blogs… Getting back to work quickly became an act of resistance.”

Coauthoring our collective destiny is the great challenge of our time.

Dai Henwood‘s recap

“If I had two minutes left to live I’d probably used an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes make two minutes seem like forever.”


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