TEDxUChicago 2012

It was just like TED on YouTube in real life! Except not at 2x speed like I normally watch them...

My sister Alyson and I attended TEDxUChicago 2012 on Sunday and had the opportunity to listen to Code Academy alumnus Raghu Betina, as well as several other notable speakers. The theme for TEDxUChicago 2012 was “Revolution,” and the talks covered everything from social revolution to the revolution of a bike’s wheels.

A few highlights:

The Coding Revolution

Raghu Betina

Raghu’s main point was that programming today is much like literacy in the middle ages. Reading and writing used to be a specialized skill, such that only specialized scribes were able to access the mysteries of the written word. Literacy allowed us to spread ideas quickly and accurately. Similarly, learning to talk to our computers enables us to amplify the use of our greatest asset, our brains, by many orders of magnitude.

Today, we have a wide gulf between developers and “technical” people and non-technical people. As 8th Light Craftsman Doug Bradbury noted in his talk “For All Without Discrimination,” there were 200,000 Computer Science related jobs and only around 40,000 Computer Science majors graduated in INSERT YEAR. The skill is in demand, and applicable to all fields involving the transfer of knowledge (read: all fields) and eventually, it will become a necessary skill for everyone to have.

The Design-It-Yourself Movement and DFA

Elizabeth Gerber

Elizabeth talked about the Do-It-Yourself movement and how she believes it is time for the Design-It-Yourself movement’s time in the spotlight. She founded an extra-curricular activity at Northwestern called Design For America that seeks out problems and solves them using innovative design.

Take the White Path

Gary Erickson

Gary talked about the founding of ClifBar and how he walked away from a $60M exit to sell the company to Quaker Oats. It came down to a simple choice – take the white path, or the red path? In Gary’s biking adventures, the red paths were the quickest, the most obvious route, while the white paths meandered through mountains, making them difficult and far less traveled. But they were the ones that were the most beautiful and brought him the most joy.

Also, ClifBar was founded out of frustration with Power Bar. At one point during a bike trip, Gary stopped to buy anything to eat besides a Power Bar and ended up with powdered donuts. He brought a pack with him to demonstrate and threw it into the crowd for one lucky guy to eat:

I’m probably biased because I love anyone who gives me food, but I thought the talk was great!

Revolution in Tunis

Mohamed El Dahshan

Mohamed talked about Tunis and the teetering balance of power between the government and the people. It was really inspiring to see the role hiphop played in revitalizing the people. Graffiti and political rap enabled people to express themselves, to reconcile themselves with and show defiance to the constraints placed upon them by the government. Some great quotes:

“The opposite of fear is not bravery. It’s imagination.”

“Fear changes sides. If it’s not on the peoples’ side, it’s on the government’s.”

As an example of the last quote, the Tunisian government had apparently heard that people were protesting downtown. The solution, of course, was to tell the army, “Go, destroy downtown.”

Brilliant problem solving XD

Combating Aging

Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey’s 18 minute talk whisked by. He is a very engaging and charismatic speaker. He talked about the approaches that Geriatrics and Gerontology take to the aging problem, each attacking it from a different angle – reversing damage or metabolically preventing damage respectively. The third way, he espoused, was to maintain the body by “cleaning up” the damaged parts of the body. It was simpler and easier than understanding metabolic pathways (gerontology) or reversing damage (geriatrics) which is always a losing battle.

Also, I asked Aubrey a question on behalf of my friend, Michael Looby, while we were in the sidelines. The question was “What is the value of eternal life?” and Aubrey’s answer was very surprising. He is often seen as an advocate of immortality, which is contentious. His answer was far less contentious: he sees no value in eternal life. He just doesn’t want to get sick, which is something everyone can agree with. As a side effect of combating aging as a sickness, we might attain eternal life, but there is no objective value to living forever.

It also gave me an interesting thought – contentious ideas can be far less contentious when you focus on just one facet of them.

Relief 2.0

Carlos Miranda Levy

The host introduced Carlos Miranda Levy as the man who wants to end charity. As shocking as it was, I think a great deal of the audience agreed with his assessment of relief as it stands today, and what it could be.

Basically, Carlos advocated peer to peer relief, as opposed to the centralized relief efforts we have today. It might best be expressed in his quote:

“It is the conventional relief system that turns survivors into refugees.”

Survivors are hardy, resourceful, and proud. Refugees are cared for, babied, and useless – a burden on society.

“Engage, Empower, Enable, Connect.”

So Carlos invented Relief 2.0, which uses small, mobile teams of relief volunteers to find and address survivors’ problems using peer to peer technologies like twitter. Solutions are nearly self-organizing and self-solving with greater connections. Furthermore, empowering survivors enables them to boost the local economy through businesses that aid in recovery.

Carlos’s talk was incredibly inspiring, and definitely and idea worth spreading.


TEDxUChicago was a great experience, and one I’ll repeat next year. Hopefully as more than an attendee ;p