TED talks and why TV is the new tobacco

We live in an amazing time. Just a few years ago the only access for a layperson to inspiring information from cutting edge science and technology was.. nothing. Books were out of date, and not everyone can go back to school. But now the internet is finally achieving what TV never could. Good intelligent content is not being overrun by mainstream pop culture. They can live in parallel. The niche markets of the internet are huge and growing. I read about interesting new inventions, scientific discoveries and interesting political opinions and debates every day. I credit my newly found intellectual connectivity not to blogs, although that's where most of my information comes from, but to RSS. I read hundreds of headlines a day in mere minutes and pick out about 10 articles or blog posts to read. This takes me just an hour a day and I learn so much more than what I would get from an episode [popular hour long TV show].

I think the Hollywood writers strike is a great opportunity for everyone to finally cut their TV watching habits. Do you really need to see the shows you watch? Why TV? There is so much more quality content on the web without the interrupting commercials. If you desperately need to see a show, wait for it to come out on DVD and netflix it. I have no qualms with this service, used in moderation (no more than 2 at a time!) I understand that some shows, like movies, can be intellectually and emotionally fulfilling as well as a good time killer. But I think TV is a seriously horrible thing. I think of it as I think of smoking. It is a waste of time and money. It isn't good for you, but won't really hurt in moderation. Where smoking pollutes with smoke and chemicals, TV pollutes with noise (especially commercials). Both are antisocial; sure you can do it with your friends, but is that a good argument for smoking? What about your non-smoking friends that you force to breath your smoke or listen to your sports channel?

Going to a restaurant with a TV playing (especially with sound) is as annoying for me as sitting in the smoking section. I can't concentrate on my own thoughts let alone a conversation. Sure I could try to ignore it, and I do, but at the end of the day when I'm tired from work it's hard and frustrating. And frankly I shouldn't have to.

Japanese TV is so horrible. It is complete trash. I often get youtube links from friends in America with clips from TV shows here that are amusing, but a few amusing sketches does not make up for the horrendous editing, directing, acting and mindless chatter that spews out of NHK. Dramas are the only saving grace of Japanese TV, and even those, like anime, quickly become tiresome when you see enough to establish the cliches and you realize that each new show is just a rehashing of old ideas with and characters.

American TV's strength is what makes it worse, in my opinion. In Japan the TV is easy to not watch. It is so bad that I never even consider watching it. But American TV has quite a bit of good content. The great satire of Comedy Central and FOX [the Daily Show, Colbert Report, South Park, the Simpsons, Family Guy], and the addictive dramas of today [24, House, Grey's Anatomy ...] make it hard to not watch TV. But I challenge you to do just that. The Daily Show is mostly available online now, as is the Colbert Report. Rent your favorite dramas and shows with netflix and save time and money! Stop buying into the currupt cable companies that artificially raise prices. Say no to intrusive advertising and yes to useful content generated ads that you will actually use from time to time.

If you don't know where to look for good content on the web, let me point you in a very good direction. I spend most of my time watching talks, seminars, reading design, tech and science blogs, and occasionally a few comics. Recently I came across what is what I consider the most inspiring, informative and stimulating collection of videos I've ever seen. They're called TED talks. TED is a meeting once a year of 1000 remarkable people and each one gives an 18 minute talk. I've watched about 30 and over half have been good enough to recommend to everyone. Here is a list broken up by category. Watch at least one please. They are all about 18 minutes on average. Please leave comments!

Bonobos, Chimps, and the Origin of Man.
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man
Jane Goodall: What separates us from the apes?
Zeresenay Alemseged: Finding the origins of humanity
I love just about anything in this catagory and all these are well worth a watch. Check out just how amazing Bonobo's and Chimps are in the first two videos. I promise you'll learn something new. Also, listen to the guy who found the oldest child ancestor of modern humans and why that is so important to our understanding of evolution.

The Human Brain.
Jeff Hawkins: Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing
Vilayanur Ramachandran: A journey to the center of your mind
I love reading about neuroscience as much as I love reading about paleoanthropology. And in case that doesn't mean anything to you, that means I love it a lot. The first one is Jeff Hawkins (famous for designing all kinds of hand held devices), who has a great new way of looking at how the brain works. The second is about new discoveries in how the brain works based on rare brain injuries and their bizarre results. I think these two videos have changed my outlook on things more than any other TED talks. Truly amazing.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
This is a great video about why we should be concentrating less on math and science and more on dance and the arts in school. This really clicked for me and I really got chills at the end. I never learned how to draw or paint. I never learned how to dance or sing. I had to choose and go way out of my way to study music. Is there a reason why learning Geology in elementary school is required but no one ever taught me any pencil shading techniques? I could go on all day on this one alone.

Architecture and Design.
James Howard Kunstler: The tragedy of suburbia
This is a great and funny talk about the horrible state of American suburbia. Anyone who has been to Europe or, well most of the world outside of the US, knows that there are amazing places in almost every city or town to hang out. These places are not malls, but natural city centers created by good architectural design and city planning. I love architecture, design and the idea of city planning, so this one really hit home for me. I also love the way things are set up in Europe. Japan, unfortunately, is another story.

Greener Design in Buildings and Cities.
William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle
Once again I love the idea of city design. I always had a dream to do a real life sim city type of thing except to make everything really good for the environment and create a really great place to live for everyone. I always thought it was a far fetched idea, though, because no one can create a city from scratch without a government helping them out. Well, it turns out China is the one doing just that.

Global Warming and Green Tech.
John Doerr: Seeking salvation and profit in greentech
John Doerr gives a great and emotional talk about how many great things have been happening in regard to green tech, and why it's still not enough. One amazing example was Walmart going green. I hadn't heard about this, but it certainly has changed my impression of the "evil" giant.

Old Laws Governing a New Medium.
Larry Lessig: How creativity is being strangled by the law
This video really describes the problem with the way the government and big corporations are looking at digital content. It kind of speaks for itself. If this kind of thing interests you, it is a must see.

The Third World Myth.
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen
This is great. It really shows a new way to look at statistics and how things have changed drastically in countries like China recently. Also a good tech demo. For those of you who think that the "third world" still suffers from short life expectancy and extremely low income, check this out.

Energy and Biology.
Juan Enriquez: Why can't we grow new energy?
Good video about how we really haven't advanced much in energy production and we really should reevaluate what energy is and how we can make it.

Fabrication and Building things with DNA
Neil Gershenfeld: The beckoning promise of personal fabrication
Paul Rothemund: Casting spells with DNA
These talks overlap a little because the guys are working in the same group. This has huge implications. I am most fascinated by the DNA building blocks and programming because I think this is truly a huge step toward a Star Trek style replicator. I predict by 2050 we'll have 3D printers in every home and in another 50 years replicators that can make food (although I think not out of thin air).

Pandemics and hope for the future.
Larry Brilliant: TED Prize wish: Help stop the next pandemic
This video is really inspiring. I don't have a whole lot to comment on, but I really think you should watch.

Photosynth Tech demo.
Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Jaw-dropping Photosynth demo
This is amazing. I think Photosynth really has potential to change the computing world. Imagine if you could go anywhere from your computer just by harnessing the power of the millions of photos from everyone on the internet. Imagine the power here. You could potentially tour a city before going there, or see what things look like in real life instead of just the map. Integration with a mapping program would be the ultimate here, but you could take it one step furthur and allow time travel into the past. Images tagged with dates could allow you to see buildings that are no longer there or see how a landscape has changed over time.

"Self Aware" Robots.
Hod Lipson: Robots that are "self-aware"
These robots are programmed to figure out their own structure by experimentation and then they have to figure out how to move. It kind of reminds me of the game coming out Spore where you can create a creature and the game figures out based on the limbs you give it how it should move.

Marketing and Design.
Seth Godin: Sliced bread and other marketing delights
David Pogue: When it comes to tech, simplicity sells
Seth Godin really tells it well for those of you interested in starting a business or anything like that. The basic idea is that in the modern market, ordinary doesn't sell. You have to be remarkable or you'll be ignored. Playing it safe is risky. Then comes David Pogue (NY Times video blogger/comedian) who gives a funny talk basically just bashing Microsoft and Praising Apple for design choices. It wasn't too informative but I found it entertaining.

Cheap Architecture for the Third World
Cameron Sinclair: TED Prize wish: Open-source architecture to house the world
Good story of how the internet can really do amazing things. Not much to say here, just watch it for yourself.

Ways the World Could End.
Stephen Petranek: 10 ways the world could end
This is 30 minutes and fairly interesting, but you probably won't learn anything new.

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