TED 2017: from Me to We

I sit in San Francisco, antisocially staring into a handheld screen, furiously typing to share words surging through my brain before total exhaustion descends and I awake in the morning back in the real world, not TED wonderland. It’s Friday night, ending the last day of a mega week of a TED conference that closed with an interview from the extraordinary and peculiar mind of Elon Musk. Impossible seems nothing.

I think back to Monday, just five days ago feels like ancient history. 15 hour days of absolute bombardment from brilliant brains. It’s mega. It’s meta. You’re walking around and Oh! There is an art installation made of spider webs and to the left there’s a cellist playing Bach on a Stradivarius while outside a dude is literally flying around with jetpacks strapped to his arms while Adam Savage and Jeff Bezos look on (this is all shown in one live 15 min video on my Facebook). Fueled by oddities like coconut ash cream puffs and cricket flour power bars, TED catapults beyond a spectacular sensory experience into a strangely simultaneous marathon and spa for the mind.

Legendary chess player Garry Kasparov opened, followed shortly by Tim Ferris in the early evening hours on that magical first day of TED. Together they set the mood for the week to come, lighting our minds with ideas of shared humanity connected by the curiosities of empathy and reason. Thus began what I see as the thread of TED 2017: a quest to return to We from Me; to pull Us from Other with overwhelmingly evidenced hope for the possibile.

That We includes not just humans but also our future Artificially Intelligent brethren, who it seems will team up with us to build better futures. And after all, the success of AI is not success of only AI but also the humans who created it. There is always the possibility that AI will destroy the world. But total destruction seems unlikely. Rather, prepare for total disruption.

We’re well on our way to eradicating extreme poverty, optimizing personalized precision medicine, and paving the way for clean energy. We understand our brains and bodies and this planet we call home like never before. In our numerous unknowns, I see great opportunities for discoveries and tremendous responsibility to ensure the wows of wealthy countries are more equally distributed both within and beyond borders. Perhaps our greatest challenge as a species is rebuilding – or establishing for the first time – bonds among disparate peoples and setting new foundations as a species that pulls ALL forward. We must take the hard steps, make brave moves, collaborate to beat humanity’s greatest foes.

I feel compelled to share this unbridled amazement and wonder and above all hope for our fine world. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to experience TED and learn and explore and interact with seemingly innumerable stellar people. I’m humbled and grateful and damn stoked for what’s to come. If I may give you one action item, one Challenge of sorts, it’s to seek out someone with a background starkly different than your own and ask them to share their story. Listen, ask questions, and see if it doesn’t just change something for you. Perspective, if used well, can be our most powerful tool.

(Token Pope pic)

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One star’s ash is another sun’s treasure

we are all made of star dust, stardust, we are stardust, great quote, milky way, galaxy quote, milky way quote, star dust quote, star stuff,

A friend just shared a quote from Victor Tenbaum:

The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up the nebulae, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star stuff.

We can all use a little more reason to come together these days, so let’s add to this.

Beyond rote burning, stars fuse atoms, creating the heavier elements – without them, we would live in a universe of hydrogen with a dash of helium. Atoms in your body like calcium and carbon and oxygen (all those larger that the smallest atoms, H and He) are only created in stars.

And even farther: elements heavier than iron are too large to be made by nuclear fusion as occurs in the core of a large star. They’re only made when a star reaches the end of its life and explodes into a supernova, a galactic blast of so much concentrated energy and heat that it creates the rest of the heavier elements in the periodic table.


They then float around in nebular clouds for billions of years, eventually condensing to form new stars, with little planets orbiting them. Some of those planets are rich in water and are juuuust the right distance away from the sun. Some also have metal cores that make magnetic fields that conveniently deflect incoming solar wind, which would otherwise sweep away an atmosphere. An atmosphere like the one we have on Earth, that over time formed a bubble within which turbulent volcanic eruptions finally subsided, giving rise to a stable climate where complicated configurations of stardust atoms formed into molecules like amino acids and RNA and lipid bilayers and eventually…


You!  You evolved from the largest explosions in the universe.


From a cacophony, the elegant complexity of life, and eventually humanity, emerges. Damn wonderful.


PS: “On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in our galaxy, the Milky Way.” – NASA says. Our sun is one of ~100 billion stars in it.
Cassieopea, supernova, remnant
Cassiopeia, a supernova remnant. NASA


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A Better World, Backed by Data

It’s politics season in America. This one is particularly bad. I’ll leave off lamenting our lack of endearing candidates and endeavor to destabilize a bit of the unbridled pessimism that springs forth when two opposing political parties turn a nation into their battleground of divisive plays for power.

The 50 states of America unite not just to advance America but to continuously improve our world at large. As one of the most powerful nations in this world, our responsibility and duty rests first and foremost in the livelihood, intelligence, and worldliness of our populace. That is to say, not just an understanding of the present. We must have the wisdom to look beyond our borders and deeper into history. A broader perspective on time reveals that things may not be as they initially seem.

While the percentage of US citizens holding a passport is growing, it’s still only about 100M Americans. That 1/3 of the county leaves 66% of Americans unable to legally travel outside USA. It’s therefore no wonder that our news is overly nationalistic and tends to lack a cohesive worldview. Let’s take a crack at breaking that trend whilst instilling a healthy dose of rational optimism toward humanity’s shared global future.

The world is much better than it has ever been, as evidenced by the following economic data visualized by Max Roser at University of Oxford.

First, let’s all rejoice that pretty much everyone is living longer. Life expectancy has doubled from 1800 to 2001.

life expectancy, 1800 to 2000, 1800, 2011, economics, data visualization, economics, gif

Play around with this graph to explore changes in life expectancy of countries:

Longer life expectancy may not mean much if quality of life is not also improved. Luckily, nearly every metric is ascending.

The UN’s overall Human Development Index has been on the rise for decades.


Fewer than 10% of people on the planet now live in absolute poverty. We’re not talking about losing a car to a debt collector. We’re talking about raw destitution.

Absolute poverty is defined by the United Nations as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.” In 1900, 80% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty.

drops in absolute poverty, economics,

Just look at these changes in GDP per capita over the past few hundred years! Here it’s shown in purchasing power of the 1990 USD.

GDP per capita, GDP over time, GDP, economics, GIF, Max Roser

Hit play below to watch the world grow wealthier. Hover to see exact GDP per capita and click any country to see a time series of the same change over the past several decades.


Global income distribution is also on the rise. In the late 1990s, the world was clearly divided between rich and poor. Despite the growing wealth inequality problem in America, the global distinction is much less pronounced as wealth creeps ever higher and more evenly distributed.


income distribution 1988 to 2011, income distribution, rich and poor, rich world, economics, our world in data, gif


And what are we doing with this newfound wealth?

We’re educating everyone.


And distributing nutrition.

We’ve innovated tremendously in commodity production, such that most people can afford food,

and electricity,

which if you live in a developed nation and want to turn on a lightbulb, is trending toward free.

Electricity even packs exponentially more punch per kwh.

computation per kwh
Computations per kilowatt-hour over time – Koomey, Berard, Sanchez, and Wong (2011) via Max Roser


Sure, you may say, we have more. But we’re working more for it. Actually..

100 years is not so long ago that we should accept forgetting it. The web is full of posts lamenting the hours in an average workweek and sure, I’m among those who often work passionately for well over 40 hours a week. Yet if we consult historical data, people – including Americans – work on average nearly 20 hours less per week now than the did in the year 1900.

The path to prosperity for many people living during the turn of the twentieth century was a production job in one of numerous new industrial facilities. From farm field to factory meant a steady stream of income. It also meant workers were at the liberty of corporations operating without present day workers’ rights laws. Today’s legal protection is influenced largely by violent labor strikes involving militia that took place in the 1800s and 1900s. This war for the modern workweek claimed thousands of lives. For example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 left 100 dead in a fight against paycuts. The Bay View Massacre, a strike turned bloody, left seven dead in the quest for an eight hour work day. The list goes on and on.


But thanks in part to the sacrifices made by those workers, democracy began to spread across the globe…

word democracy 1980 to 1995, democracy, economics, graph, world GIF, map gif, max roser, amy sterling

About half of citizens around the world live in democratic conditions, compared to a mere 10% in 1901. The percentage of anocracies, unstable governments, has somewhat ironically remained steady. There are still far too many people living in autocracies; however, it is invigorating to see that the relative percentage is on the decline.

percentages of people living in various governmental states, our world in data, max rosies, government, economics, dataviz


Globally, death by war is on the decline. And where it’s not, we’re drawing on clever algorithms to predict and hopefully prevent many of the would-be future deaths.


conflict deaths, war, peace, data, our world in data, rational optimism


We have access to more resources by working fewer hours. Those resources are getting cheaper year by year. Ultimately, a better world means both better quality of life and deeper connections to one another.

These graphs by no means cover everything. Numerous foes of progress thrive; however, we stand to benefit by bearing in mind how far humanity has come since the Industrial Revolution.

As we ponder the future of America, it is important to consider her not in isolation but relative to the world at large and in the broader context of history. May these data catalyze productive conversations. In times of political dissonance, perhaps that’s what we need most.

Special thanks to Dave Ewalt for helping to edit this blog.

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Coins in Slow Motion make Surprising Sounds

I found five dirhams while cleaning a bag and midway through putting them away, I dropped one, then suddenly wondered how it would look to drop a coin in slow motion. Why not, I opened Slow-Mo camera on iPhone and started filming. For 20 someodd seconds I first rolled and jostled then tossed five Arabian coins in my hand. When I watched the footage, I was amazed. Not by how the coins looked but by how they sound!

They sound of giant rolling metal disks and porcelain plates jostling together and great bells ringing. And if one is dropped… its path is heard streaking through the air. A great distant “boooom” echoes as it hits the ground and slowly rings to stillness. Delightfully surprised, I thought to share. Why do you think they sound like this?


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Google Body: the awesome report

Google Body is gone, ladies and gentlemen.  It was lost in a changeover from google labs.  “More wood behind fewer arrows,” says Google.  For now, what was google body is not available for use.  I hope the next version includes deep tissue zoom.

Google “google body” and you find Zygote Labs, the imaging and design firm that created the brain and heart below.

by Zygote 3D anatomy

Zygote is the company behind the 3D human anatomy displayed in Google Body.  As Google Labs winds down Zygote will move forward with Zygote Body.

A “searchable and interactive 3D model of human anatomy.”  Awesome.

I hope that interactive body3D incorporates agility.  I imagine that one could input a movement relative to neutral position and the digital anatomy moves as it were a human body and you can zoom into deep muscle layers etc and see which ones are flexing and how much etc.  zoom from whole body to biomolecular happenings.  I’m thinking.  It’s on now.

Imagination squared.

Notes on a blog:

This is individual reporting.  I think someday I will run these blog posts through a grammatical analytics platform and map the trajectories of my concentrated and directional ideas.  This post is a catalog, occuring over more minutes than you might think.

I’m looking around the Zygote/3Dscience website.  They have a curious program called Human Factors, which

“enables users to use anthropometrically accurate solid 3D male and female models within their SolidWork assemblies to visualize and evaluate …[one hopes musculoskeletal] interaction [of the human body] with the human body [are these hard to read?  I just wrote two varities of the incident sentence. As a reader of these thoughts some time in the future, I wonder what relevance the previous grammatical bifurcation might encourage.]”

$950 licensing fee.  Google body, you were free!  I think humanity is trending toward freedom of innovation.  I think it compounds when shared.  And the best part, action from ideas!

Welcome to my mind.  9:40 on a Tuesday evening. In between writing on this post I did 2 handstands.  Relevant?  Notes for future reference.  I am creating a book.

What else do I do.  What is a blog?

I ask questions.  They give life moguls and amplitude, and curious word combinations.  What does that mean, thinking differently?  Relative to myself, how do my neural networks change relative to how they used to be and where and how and with whom could I explore this?

I learned recently two cognitive curiosities:

  1. Every neuron in your brain has its own capillary.
  2. Dendritic spining is an integral part of your neurons’ function and evolution.
“The modification of synaptic connections between neurons is thought to underlie our ability to form memories and acquire new behaviors. The majority of excitatory synapses in the brain are formed onto specialized cellular structures known as dendritic spines that consist of a bulbous spine head that is separated from the remainder of the dendrite by a thin neck.”

Says Neurobiology Professor Bernardo Sabatini of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Neurobiology.  Dendritic spines seem to serve the purpose of spatially segmenting individual synapses such that signal transductions are not interfered with by neighboring synapses.  The volume of a spine is tiny at <1 femtoliter (one quadrillionth of a liter).  We have only recently been able to image them and observe their interaction in living tissue.  Here is the latest comprehension of how they work:

“spines are dynamic structures that grow, structurally reorganize, and sometimes disappear within tens of minutes and spine motility has been correlated with the ability of animals of reorganize their cerebral cortex..”

This spawns a plethora of thoughts in various directions which I will think more thoroughly through then communicate the most valuable aka curious ones to you, the internet and me, myself.  For now, on with the train of thought.

A blog is self notes.  I think of it as making my mind social.

How do I share how I think?  Is that what I actually think about?  When?  With most passion?  Curiosity?  Time?  How does what I do/what I spend time thinking about (and doing) vary over time?  It is in bursts.  What do I think about in my spare time?  Why do I suddenly experience shyness?

Finishing up, the awesome report: things interesting to me.  Think and discover and enjoy!

“Non-profit global collaborative experiment to collect health and lifestyle information and share it in an open and anonymous way.”

google chrome experimental

Google Experimental. I am testing Google Instant.

“Google is always experimenting with new features aimed at improving the search experience. Take one for a spin.”

Quora:  The Wikipedia of Questions

“A continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.”

New arXiv entries into the journal of Quantitative Biology.

Look at these categories!

  • molecular networks
  • neurons and cognition
  • subcellular processes
  • biomolecules
  • cell behavior

11:56 pm.  Final words, thoughts?  Exist mindfully and intensely.

Life is long if you know how to use it.

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Decide what is important.
Literally, neurochemistry changes during transitions from stress to invigoration relaxation. What does that mean..do more yoga.

Life. What is it? What happens to you as time goes by?
Interaction, conversation, time as self – what do you do when you have time at your exposure? I also think, stretch, google scholar. I do side projects, like TEDx. I do not watch tv. I waste a fair amount ( trying to minimize this, practical. #qs).

I expend concentrated directional bursts of energy (thinking about).

Consciousness. What is it? How do I see that this question is explored on a daily basis? (by the way iPad keyboard is, in my opinion, more efficient to type on than a 3d keyboard, after learning curve surpassed. b. Noticed the other day in conversation it is possible to type without looking at the keyboard while simultaneously not being able to draw out a keyboard from memory {retreading before posting. Deliberate tangential example})

Time, then is the layout of how I spend it. Spatially, electrically, biochemically, what does that mean? Why do I do what I do? Make choices? I see or strive toward some perceived benefit. I know, I think I know, that my mind operates well in creative freedom occasionally expansed or compressed into torrential avalanches of nerve growth factor.

Stream of consciousness thoughts on consciousness, 2011. You, humans, this is a big thing to think about. I think about it a lot, I am blogging it. Imagine with me. Who are you? How do you exist?

You’re a biochemical thing with an electrophysiologal existence reading, thinking these sentences (concepts). Think – I am comprehensible. What does that mean?
Philosophize? Think the absurd, play with ideas. You will stir up humor, fun, intrigue, doubt, bravery, tangents, curiosity, discovery, ideas.

Try it. I do. I wonder how to share. This, is a start.

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onformative design

Browsing Nick Feltron’s blog led me to onformative, a Berlin-based design studio that stunningly illustrates what it means to be creative.  The group’s beautifully thoughtful work ranges from visualizing medicine to projection mapping to kinetic art.  It’s too much just to Tweet about.  Favorites:

“Create a new identity for our brand Actelion. Don’t touch the logo, but create something the world of pharma has not seen before.”

Actelion Imagery Wizard from onformative on Vimeo.

Immateriality as material is currently being discovered, opening up a new poetic field in which to narrate with space and information. Location-based metadata waft through the space, and are thereby redefining contexts and places. A new field opens up to designers.”

Kinetic sculpture + VJing machine

Behind the Screen from onformative on Vimeo.

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Me flying a hydro-powered jetpack

I’m backed up on the blog.  A lot happens, quickly, and I should share more things from my curious and wonderful life with you fine internew browsers.  Below, check out me on a jetpack.

This is Tim Pickens‘s creation.  It works by condensing the thrust on the output of a jetski through a 300’ tube that channels it through two nosels.  Rotate the handle bars to change direction.  Thrust is controlled by the jetski.  Awesome lake toy.  And a really fun day.   Rocket science in a bikini with fighter jets in the background:  Huntsville, Alabama.

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Explore: Music

I’ve been braistorming and working on this global music initiative for several months.

Now that I have leaped into the cool blue sea of human music, I’m enthralled.  I want to know more.  I want to understand why a violin sounds different than a synthesizer.  I want to see and touch sound.  I want to be capable of describing the dynamics of what I can hear.  I have 50 questions and 10 answers and so I’m going social.  I invite the world to share, listen, talk, and explore music.

Learning comes from curiosity, in my opinion.  I love to ponder and bounce around and discover.  Then I think of something it is with a relaxed yet invigorated mind, which makes an instant connection with something I care about – usually one of the “things” (thoughts) that lead to curiosity in the first place.  I wonder.  Life is good.

Explore: Music

Inspired by TED and TEDx.

Longfellow called music “the universal language of mankind.”   In much the same way that the TED Translations expands the reach of TED, the The TEDx Global Music Project aims to share TEDx harmonics with the world.

Explore the song reservoir and sign up for  Tues and Fri releases.  New music to your inbox.   

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 25 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 42 posts. There were 49 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 11mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 30th with 74 views. The most popular post that day was The TEDy Awards.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, facebook.com, healthfitnesstherapy.com, linkedin.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for rosemary, zheng he flagship, jessica jackley, smarter planet, and amy robinson wordpress.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The TEDy Awards July 2010
6 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,


What are you passionate about? August 2010
8 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,


Scholarpedia March 2010


Art Show Like No Other: Lady GaGa February 2010
1 comment


What is TEDx? November 2010

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