Julian's blog: TEDGlobal 2009 Day 1

July 21st, 2009
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It’s a joy to be back at TEDGlobal in Oxford, and what an excellent first day we’ve had. Where else do you see Stephen Fry (who was winging it, albeit in his usual witty and learned fashion), followed by a 17 year old euphonium genius called Matthew White, followed by Gordon Brown? The PM actually impressed me and everyone else I’ve spoken to with a passionate and articulate speech about the great opportunity we have at the confluence of global communication, global problems and a shared ethical basis for global action. I hope he speaks as eloquently in Copenhagen.

This morning (seems like a lifetime ago as I write – that’s TED) I spoke about sound to a packed house of 270 as part of TED-University, where 24 TEDsters did a series of short talks – a mini TED which achieves the same effect of simultaneously stimulating and boggling the mind. I loved Rachel Armstrong on saving Venice with a protocell reef and Sam Martin on manspaces. Some kind comments about my talk, so a good start to the week.

Session 1: What we Know and Session 2: Seeing Is Believing
Sound has featured on the main stage already – not surprising given the conference theme of “The substance of things not seen”. Evan Grant intrigued me with his talk on cymatics – the study of wave phenomena and specifically the patterns produced by sound waves, for example in sand grains on resonating metal plates or in water. Some of these patterns are identical to snowflakes, starfish and even living cells. There is something wonderful here… We also had Mark Johnson of Playing For Change with the YouTube-friendly video of Stand By Me. I would have been more in tune with this if he had credited 1 Giant Leap, whose modus operandi and video style he has clearly borrowed wholesale. I applaud the charitable intentions of his project, but in terms of musical worth the first 1GL album is out on its own. If you don’t own it, go straight to Amazon and get yourself a copy of the DVD. It is truly inspiring.

We also had James Geary juggling (literally) as he advocated aphorisms (my favourite: no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible); Andrea Ghez making supermassive black holes intelligible and exciting; Willard Wigan showing his extraordinary nanosculptures (the Statue of Liberty in the eye of a needle!); Steve Truglia planing a parachute jump from 120,000 feet; and a wonderfully urbane and intelligent talk by Alain de Botton on the myth of success and the devastating effects of envy.

Just another standard day at TED. I have met upwards of 70 fascinating people so far – but that’s just 10% of the number here. Only three days left…

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