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A TED talk about what's wrong with TED talks: "Middlebrow megachurch infotainment"

Benjamin Bratton, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, explains what's wrong with TED—at a TEDx event in San Diego. "My talk is about TED: what it is, and why it doesn't work." [via Gawker]

Flashes of stoner "brilliance" as TED Talks

Some TED talks give me the feeling of a stoned college conversation. Seems that CollegeHumor agrees. Please enjoy "High TED Talks."

Lessig's TED talk on fighting corruption in politics with campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig presented at TED his new project, an effort to curb the corrupting influence of money in American politics with a reform to campaign finance, so that the government depends on the people alone. It's a wonderful talk:

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

TEDxWTF

The Harvard Business Review has an interesting look at what has happened as TED Talks has expanded to ever-wider audiences and (in doing so) has lost control of its own brand. It's also an excellent object lesson in why slapping the TED logo on something doesn't make it true. Maggie

Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing

Here's Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group (whence the kids' programming language Scratch comes) doing a TedX talk about the role of programming in education, arguing that kids should learn to code so that they can use code to learn:

Most people view computer coding as a narrow technical skill. Not Mitch Resnick. He argues that the ability to code, like the ability to read and write, is becoming essential for full participation in today's society. And he demonstrates how Scratch programming software from the MIT Media Lab makes coding accessible and appealing to everyone -- from elementary-school children to his 83-year-old mom.

As director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Mitch Resnick designs new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and finger paint of kindergarten, engage people of all ages in creative learning experiences.

Reading, Writing, and Programming: Mitch Resnick at TEDxBeaconStreet (Thanks, Mitch!)

Augmented reality card routine

MagicPeaceLove sez, "'Virtual Magician' Marco Tempest is a pioneer in fusing the magical with the technological and he blows it out of the water with this augmented card routine recently posted at TED. The routine is an updated version of a classic called 'Sam the Bellhop,' in which a clever narrative story follows random cards dealt face-up one-by-one from a shuffled deck. Tempest, however, spins a much more poetic narrative and the augmented reality element is a wonder to behold."

Marco Tempest tells the secret story of a deck of cards (Thanks, MagicPeaceLove)

Building a computer from scratch: open source computer science course

Here's an absolutely inspiring TED Talk showing how "self-organized computer science courses" designed around students building their own PCs from scratch engaged students and taught them how computers work at a fundamental level.

Shimon Schocken and Noam Nisan developed a curriculum for their students to build a computer, piece by piece. When they put the course online -- giving away the tools, simulators, chip specifications and other building blocks -- they were surprised that thousands jumped at the opportunity to learn, working independently as well as organizing their own classes in the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). A call to forget about grades and tap into the self-motivation to learn.

TEDx Meta

The New Yorker's Nathan Heller looks at five of the most popular TED Talks of all time and uses them to explain why, exactly, this series of public lectures is so much more popular than all other public lecture series. Maggie

Massimo Banzi: How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination at TEDGlobal 2012


Massimo Banzi is the co-creator of the popular electronics prototyping system called Arduino. He spoke at TEDGlobal 2012 about the cool things people are making with Arduino.

Massimo Banzi helped invent the Arduino, a tiny, easy-to-use open-source microcontroller that's inspired thousands of people around the world to make the coolest things they can imagine -- from toys to satellite gear. Because, as he says, "You don't need anyone's permission to make something great."

Massimo Banzi co-founded Arduino, which makes affordable open-source microcontrollers for interactive projects, from art installations to an automatic plant waterer.

Massimo Banzi: How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination at TEDGlobal 2012

Race and justice in America: inspiring TED talk

Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who defends poor African-American people caught in the US justice system. In this incredible, moving, inspiring TED talk, he discusses the way that race and injustice are entwined in the US legal system:

In an engaging and personal talk -- with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks -- human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America's justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country's black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America's unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.

Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice (Thanks, @gnat!)

Download the Universe: Reviews of science e-books and apps

I'm really happy to be a part of Download the Universe, a new group blog dedicated to reviewing science e-books and apps. No dead trees allowed. It fills a long-ignored niche, helping readers find high-quality science writing in the digital realm, and my partners in this little side project are all top-notch. Download the Universe will feature reviews written by best-selling authors like Sean Carroll and Deborah Blum, new media gods like i09's Annalee Newitz and Not Exactly Rocket Science's Ed Yong, and some of the best science journalists at work today.

The whole thing was organized by Carl Zimmer, who also wrote the most recent review on the site—all about Controlling Cancer: A Powerful Plan for Taking On the World's Most Daunting Disease, by Paul Ewald.

Ewald's basic thesis: What if cancer is really a virus? We know that viruses do cause some cancers. For instance, most cervical cancer is pretty definitively caused by the human papillomavirus. But Ewald theorizes that this virus-cancer connection could be a lot further reaching than we now think—and it could have profound impacts on how we treat and prevent cancer in the future. The document is published by TED Books, and Zimmer says it bears the pretty obvious imprint of the TED brand—really provocative ideas that may or may not be correct, but are definitely fascinating.

[Ewald] has long been an advocate for putting medicine on a solid foundation of evolutionary biology. In the 1990s, for example, he came to fame for his ideas about domesticating infectious diseases. The deadliness of a parasite can evolve, and in some situations, it may pay for parasites to be milder instead of meaner. He went on to argue that many supposed chronic diseases--from heart disease to schizophrenia--are triggered by pathogens. Ewald's work has been mostly theoretical--extrapolating from what we know about evolution in general to diseases in particular. His ideas are tough to test, if only because our bodies are so complex. But they have certainly been influential, as scientists have developed better tools for detecting microbes in our bodies and probe their effects on us.

Controlling Cancer is a quick read, without any photographs, videos, or other ornaments found on other ebooks. It does include footnotes, where Ewald back up most of his points. The citations are a good thing, but sometimes it's hard to tell when Ewald citing well-established cases of pathogens causing cancer and when he's only pointing to suggestive hints. The scientific literature is loaded with papers in which researchers describe tumors brimming with viruses. These associations could be evidence of viruses triggering cancer, or they could be evidence that tumors are good places for viruses to breed.

Read Carl Zimmer's full review of Controlling Cancer

Check out Download the Universe for more science e-book reviews

Bruce McCall explains the artist's drive for absurdist retrofuturism

Here's artist Bruce McCall explaining the aesthetic of his retrofuturistic "serious nonsense" illustrations, which nostalgically recall futures that never came to past. It's a very sweet TED talk, and really nails the appeal of old ads, especially old technology ads.

Bruce McCall: Nostalgia for a future that never happened (via Making Light)