At the moment my partner lives in Canberra. So when I saw Leslie Cannold, who I follow on twitter, mention that she was going to be speaking at TEDx Canberra on 8 September I took notice. From following Leslie’s tweets and reading a few of her articles, I was pretty keen to hear her speak. Plus I subscribe to the TED talks podcasts on iTunes and know that generally TED and TEDx events are full of lot of pretty interesting speakers. It turns out the tickets were in demand so when the day came that they were available we hopped online and purchased them as soon as they were released. And so I came to spend the weekend in Canberra with my love and the day at the Playhouse yesterday watching a bunch of great speakers. I will give you my thoughts on all the talks below and I believe that they should all be available on the TEDx Canberra website link above in the foreseeable future so if any of them seem interesting, keep your eye out.
The first speaker was Daniel Kilov, who is a memory athlete and came runner up in the 2011 Australian Memory Championships where they do things like memorise lists of numbers, pictures, cards, etc. Daniel talked about making mundane facts into a story in order that it becomes more memorable and gave us an example where he made up a pretty weird story out of all the names of the speakers for the day. I think the main take away from Daniel’s talk was that ‘poor memory’ doesn’t have to be something that we just accept and that there are ways to train our brain to be much better at remembering. My partner is quite keen to read up more on the concept and maybe I’ll just see what I can learn from that :)
Next up was Karen Barlow, who is an ABC journalist. Karen mostly talked about her two trips to Antarctica as a journalist and the beauty of the place and the climate research that is being done there. While there was clearly a serious message about climate change, she also had some really cool pictures of penguins.
Clive Summerfield gave an audience talk, which meant that it had to be less than 2 minutes, but he managed to get me excited in that time. Clive works in voice biometrics and was telling us about the possibility of all our passwords being replaced by voice commands. Apparently our voice is 3 x as unique as our fingerprint. Did you know that? I know I didn’t…
Then Brian Schmidt came on to talk about uncertainty. Brian has won a Nobel Prize for Physics and talked about probabilities and uncertainties and other related interesting things. He showed how the polls on the PM’s popularity that are taken each week, and reported as going up or down and analysed as though they are based on something, anything. However the actual fluctuations are small enough that they actually show no discernible change whatsoever. But of course, that kind of thing doesn’t make news, does it? He also showed some figures relating to climate change and the numbers that are coming out relating to that. While there is a lot of uncertainty relating to climate change, due to climate being a chaotic system, there are still general trends that are clear. These numbers are frightening whichever way you look at it and something definitely needs to be done …
Stephen Walker talked about global poverty and the difference that we can make if we all commit to giving 10% of our incomes, or whatever we can afford, to charities that are working to fight poverty. He wasn’t representing any particular charity and recommends that everyone do their own research and select a charity that you feel you can support. Stephen opened the Australian chapter of Giving What We Can on the day, which is an international organisation set up to get people to pledge to fight global poverty. Definitely something to ponder on there.
After morning tea, the first presenter was Hannah Coleman, an inspiring and feisty 18 year old who has battled with Lyme Disease all her life, was told 2 years ago that she would only survive a few days and has managed to not only survive but thrive since then and is determined to continue doing so. While I did think that Hannah is an amazing young woman and by any measure is certainly fighting the odds and is really inspiring, I have to admit the comment she made several times that it proves anyone can do anything didn’t sit quite right with me. No disrespect to Hannah, but there are many people who simply don’t have the means or other options of escaping from their particular situation. Hannah clearly has very supportive parents, especially her dad who she mentioned several times having gone above and beyond to help her with her dreams and of course, living in a country like ours where essential health services are covered by the government certainly can make a big difference too.
The next session was from Vic Peddemors who was talking about sharks and initially about the number of humans killed by sharks (hardly any) as opposed to the number of sharks killed by humans (at the very least 38 million pa, most likely closer to 70 million pa as China do not report numbers). While some of the facts were interesting, I was quite disappointed that the whole thing was ultimately framed in terms of what was best for fish ‘production’ in both the short term and long term. Frankly, while I think we should be concerned at the number of sharks being killed, it should certainly not be for reason of having more fish around for humans to kill instead. The whole term ‘fish production’ frankly irks me as a vegan as these are sentient beings we are talking about and they do not exist for us and therefore their numbers are not ‘production’ and I see looking at it in this way problematic. Then again, as Vic works for the Department of Primary Industries, I guess that’s exactly what one would expect him to focus on.
Then Julie McKay came on to talk about the gender pay gap. While I hadn’t heard of Julie before yesterday, just reading her bio I was quite interested in what she had to say and I wasn’t disappointed. It was interesting to know that from the age of 5, girls are given less pocket money than boys. So from 5 years of age, the gender pay gap begins. Wow… That just baffles me to be honest and makes it clear that there is definitely a long way to go and that there are people that claim we’re in a post feminism world, well…. I’m not sure where they’re seeing that. As Julie said, if we do nothing we might, just might have gender pay equality by the time our granddaughters’ granddaughters are in the work force. Might. I don’t know about you, but that sure doesn’t seem good enough to me. Julie suggests that we support businesses that are actively promoting gender equality over those that aren’t and speak out about why you’re doing it. I guess it can’t hurt.
And then Andrew Jaspan, founder of the Conversation, was up to talk about how journalism has changed and what he’s doing to bring back credibility to the profession. I already follow the Conversation on Twitter and really enjoy a lot of the articles they post. It seems to be so rare these days to get truly honest, unbiased information in the news media that the Conversation is definitely a breath of fresh air. It is journalists and academics working together on the same side of the table and is helping to rebuild the trust between the journalists and the academics, as well as building trust with readers by always declaring the background, affiliations and any funding of the authors on any articles. I highly recommend checking out Andrew’s web site if you are interested in looking at some independent journalism in a time when our major newspapers have fired all their subject experts and are expecting less inexperienced people to somehow keep doing more with less.
The last speaker before lunch was Upulie Divisekera who is a molecular biologist, science communicator and dinosaur evangelist. I know that other people got more out of Upulie’s talk but my only real take away was that Upulie thinks science is really cool. And I don’t disagree with her on that point at all :)
I was going to try and cover the whole day in one post but it’s getting late (what! it’s 8pm, and it’s been a big weekend, ok?) So I will try and get part 2 up in the next couple of days. My 2 favourite speakers, Peter Kennedy and the woman who brought me there in the first place, Leslie Cannold, were both in the second half so definitely stay tuned. And if there’s a TEDx event in your town sometime, check it out. There were apparently 20 running in the world at the same time as the one we went to so I think wherever you are you’d probably find one.