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TEDx Canberra 2010 - part 1

October 24th, 2010 Posted in General

Yesterday I attended the inaugural TEDx Canberra event at the National Library of Australia, exploring the theme of ‘Thinking Way Beyond’. Seventeen live speakers and some more via video. These are my initial impressions of a very full day.

The opening

For those unfamiliar with TED, I’ll quote from the Wikipedia page: TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences curated by the American private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”. Do go and read the Wikipedia entry, but the important part is that TED is a platform for one of our oldest forms of idea sharing, an orator and an audience. The lower case ‘x’ appended to the name of the Canberra event denotes a TED conference organised and run by locals rather than by the parent organisation. TEDx events still have to work within the guidelines set down by TED, but this seems to work out as a positive thing rather than an onerous constraint (at least from an attendee’s point of view).

I have watched quite a number of TED videos online via YouTube and indeed this is a feature of TED - talks are all licenced quite liberally and made available online in order to help spread the ideas. If you have never seen a TED talk, stop reading right now and go to YouTube to watch one.

To some extent I knew what I had signed up for when I registered to attend. An array of speakers had been assembled and each would have 18 minutes in a tightly scheduled day to make a compelling presentation. For the most part, I had no idea in advance of the subjects the speakers would address. It’s fair to say that the speakers who came to TEDx Canberra 2010 did not disappoint.

As the rain began to drizzle down on a grey Canberra Saturday, eager TEDx attendees crowded into the foyer of the NLA to register.

Lara Brindley registering

And that’s where I caught up with Linuxchix and Haecksen’s Lana Brindley. Lana is a technical writer for Red Hat, a regular blogger and a well known advocate for involving women and girls in open source and technical pursuits. We quickly realised that the downstairs cafe was open and made our way downstairs to join the beverage queue.

The social atmosphere at TEDx is amazing. We’d been in front of the cafe for moments before we met Emile Victor (an aeronautical engineering undergrad from University of Queensland, down for the day), Brendan Jurd (a rather dapper fellow Canberra Linux User Group member I’d never met face to face before) and last but far from least, Liz Dawson - advocate for the homeless. Liz was to speak later in the day but she immediately engaged us in a discussion of funding for services for the homeless, the background to the Common Ground project and her vision for a similar project in Canberra. Lana and I both immediately gave her our contact details to get involved.

And the conference hadn’t started yet.

We made our way into the NLA’s 300 seat auditorium and sought seats somewhere near the middle. The big screen admonished us:

The rules of engagement

Our host Stephen Collins made us all feel welcome and through the day delivered the perfect laconic balance of respect, wonder and awe to every guest speaker in his careful, though brief introductions.

Stephen first introduced Dawn O’Neil AM, CEO of Lifeline Australia.

Dawn Oneil

Dawn spoke about suicide in Australia in the context of what it means to be Australian. As a nation, we are incredibly good at pulling together to help each other through natural disasters, through physical injuries and through hardship. We are terrible when it comes to mental health and in particular, suicide. Twice as many Australians die each year through suicide than die on our roads. Dawn espouses a culture of suicide awareness and a suicide First-Aid mentality where each and every one of us feels ready to help anyone in a suicidal frame of mind. There are online resources to educate all of us in suicide awareness which we should all be aware of and suicide should be a key component of every workplace OH&S agenda.

Next up was Dr Mitchell Whitelaw from the University of Canberra.

Mitchell Whitelaw and data visualisation

Mitch was one of the preconceived reasons I’d had for signing up to TEDx. I’m familiar with the work he did in visualising the content of the National Archives’ (my employer’s) collection in 2008 and I have been watching his work since. I have at least one rich conundrum (and perhaps several) in my current work for the NAA that might benefit from innovative data visualisation. I was looking forward to Mitch’s presentation as a vehicle for learning something, and while he delivered an interesting and engaging talk, I’d seen most of it before.

In this context, that wasn’t a problem. TEDx speakers are very, very accessible and I was able to take my interests up with him during a later break. We agreed that the area I need to work on falls within his area of expertise and we will work out ways to apply his skills and those of his students to addressing some complex visualisation issues.

Following Mitchell, we attendees learned that the covenant a TEDx crew enters into, involves screening a number of well known TED videos from prior conferences.

The first of these was a very powerful presentation from Kevin Bales about slavery in the present day. There are 27 Million real slaves in the world in 2010.

Did that affect you like it did me? Twenty seven million people in slavery.

Kevin spoke about the ways in which vulnerable people are harvested into slavery, the slave value of a human being in 2010 (about $90 vs $40,000 in days of yore) and about how slaves can be made truly free. Slave liberation is not just a matter of money, it involves education and the opportunity of citizenship. Making the whole world slave-free and slave-proof would cost approx $10.8 billion, which is a lot of money but a pittance in global terms against what slavery represents.

Free slaves of course pay a freedom dividend by becoming a contributing part of their local economy. Kevin also made the point that the modern world has made slavery illegal almost everywhere and pushed it to our periphery where it represents in global terms, fewer people and less money as a proportion of global population and cash than ever before. But it’s still evil and we need to wipe it from the face of society.

More to come..


  1. 2 Responses to “TEDx Canberra 2010 - part 1”

  2. By Stephen Collins on Oct 27, 2010

    That’s probably the only time I’ve ever been referred to as laconic! Thanks :)

    That you enjoyed yourself, were engaged by our presenters and had thoughts to take away means we probably did our job.

    Thanks for coming to TEDxCanberra!

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