TED2013: My Top 3 Wednesday TED Talks

Today's TED2013 line-up was once again filled with amazing people with super-charged ideas and skills. I really can’t pick any bests out of the bunch, but here are three talks that stood out for me.

Black: Yo-Yo Performance Artist

Wow! Never has yoyo-ing seemed so elegant, exciting, and dare I say, beautiful. Black is a cross between an amazing yo-yo champion, graceful gymnast, and gasp-inducing magician. He got his first yo-yo when he was 14 and spent hours with it every day. By age 18, after 10,000 hours of practice, he became the world’s yo-yo champion in 2001. But then he quit and became an engineer, thinking that taking the title of World Champ was as far as he could go. He couldn’t, however, squash the yo-yo passion that lived inside him, and by 2007 he was back at it, this time winning World Champion in the Artistic Performance category.

When Black performs, the yo-yo goes from being a toy to a spectacular prop. Wearing black sensei garments, he is precise with his choreography, dramatically moving his yo-yo in time with music that combines percussions with sounds of nature. Later he shoots his yo-yo out towards a nearby table, and suddenly the yo-yo grabs and holds a white cloth napkin, which he reels in with one quick snap. Later the yo-yo is spinning while Black is contorted into a backbend that makes his body seem hardly human.

This video is from the 2011 TEDx Tokyo and only shows a fraction of what he did today. But at least it will give you a peek.

Stewart Brand: Animal De-Extinction

Stewart Brand began his TED talk today with the statement, “Biotechnology is about to liberate conservation.” Before I had a chance to process what that meant, he went on to list a number of birds and mammals that have become extinct in the last few centuries, including the passenger pigeon, which was killed off by hunters in the 1930s. For a moment my mood plunged, as it always does with conversations of human-caused animal extinction. And then he asked the question, “What if DNA could be used to bring a species back?” I felt a tsunami of awe and excitement barrel through the audience. This was as exciting as his declaration about the digital world in 1984 when he said, “Information wants to be free.”

The idea behind de-extinction is to plant DNA of an extinct animal into the egg of a closely related living animal. For instance, in 2003 scientists had their first success in bringing back an extinct animal when they cloned a bucardo -- which had been wiped off the earth three years earlier -- by inserting its DNA (which they got from frozen bucardo skin) into goat eggs. A cloned bucardo was born, and then died just ten minutes later. Around the same time, scientist Robert Lanza took tissue from a Javan banteng (not yet extinct), and inserted it into an egg cell of a closely related cow. The cow gave birth to the exotic banteng, which is alive and thriving.

Brand told us he’s been having private meetings with de-extinction scientists from around the world, scientists who had all been working for the same cause but had been working alone until he helped bring them together. Now with his Revive and Restore project they are working on bringing back specific extinct species such as the European Aurochs, the Tasmanian tigers, the California condor, and even the woolly mammoth.

“Humans made a huge hole in nature,” he said towards the end of his talk. “And we have a moral obligation to repair the damage.”

On March 15 this year, Revive and Restore is teaming up with National Geographic Society to hold TEDx DeExtinction, a one-day event in Washington DC.


Dong Woo Jang: 15-Year-Old Bow Maker

According to 15-year-old Dong Woo Jang, school in Korea is a pressure cooker. “And in the face of constant pressure, I connect with bows.” Jang is a self-taught bow maker who demonstrated his craft and skill for us today. His passion for bows may have started because his parents wouldn’t let him play computer games. So instead of relieving school pressure by zoning out in front of a screen, Jang began to explore the outdoors around his house. He was interested in hunting skills and decided to make himself a bow of his own design out of an interesting tree branch that he had found. But one bow wasn’t enough. He ventured farther away from his house and began to smuggle axes and saws in his backpack to school so that when school let out he could gather his bow materials. In the privacy of his room he’d carve and polish his bows to perfection.

Since his early days of bow-making (not that long ago!) Jang has researched Korean history and has found that the designs he thought were his own are actually very similar to his Korean ancestors. This realization has brought him closer to his heritage.

Making bows for Jang has gone from passion to a kind of magic. “You need to communicate with your materials and have harmony with them to make a perfect bow,” he said. “The bow resembles me and I resemble the bow.”

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