Monday, 12 March 2012

TEDxGranta 9 March - part one

Apologies for not posting often - my life has been hectic. Despite getting a bit more of childcare through an afterschool club, I have been busier than ever juggling writing/indexing with volunteering and family commitments. I am trying to get a better work-family life balance while being active in my local community (currently at a breastfeeding clinic and at my daughter's primary school). I recently did a course to become a reading buddy (Better Reading Partnership scheme) and am training as a breastfeeding supporter in London on alternate Thursdays. So being able to attend two conferences in two days (TedXGranta and No Going Back! at Anglia Ruskin) was a great treat! I will start with TedxGranta.

For TEDxGranta's official website, click here. 

TedXGranta was on Friday 9 March at the Junction. Ironically my daughter's school was closed for staff training, so my partner had to stay home and look after Michela. I went to the first TedXGranta conference last year (click here for last year's blog - it's in three parts and quite detailed) and as soon as I heard it was going to happen again I snapped the early bird ticket. I arrived just before it started, but managed to register and have a quick cup of tea due to traffic problems. As anybody who lives in Cambridge knows, any street close to the station is impossible at rush hours.

First session: Alive
It started with a short demo by Ross Sargent from Cambridge Kung Fu of mindful movement, where physical activity meets mental concentration and Eastern philosophies (judging from the workshop Ross held in the afternoon, to me it was like a mix of Yoga, Pilates and martial art techniques). Then a recorded TED talk introduced us to creative improvisation comedy - their witty stunts did get a lot of laughs. Check out the Best Buy and No Pants Subway Trip pranks.

Tim Morley, an ex computer programmer who teaches English and French talked about Esperanto. It reminded me of curricula afternoons at my daughter's primary school, where teachers explain why they are using a certain teaching system to baffled parents (in our school why all the children are learning to sign and why they use a system called Numicon to foster numeracy). As with those school talks, it all makes sense when you know what the benefits are - Tim's tongue-in-cheek approach was quite fitting and engaging. I studied foreign languages in Italy (English, French and German, plus as bit of Latin), so this time I knew what he was talking about. Constant memorisation and the slow acquisition of a vocabulary are for sure the main reasons why people are put off by languages.

Next up was one of the most-talked-about man-of-the-moment in technology - a great coup to have him as a speaker! - Eben Upton. If you haven't heard of his challenge to bring programming to children through the medium of an affordable computer, click here. I hope this amazing innovation brings in younger programmer into academia and in the industry. My daughter is a bit young for this gizmo, but at the age of four she can already use a computer, which is staggering to me who in my teen years dreamt of owning an electric typewriter.

Interspersed in the sessions were a few witty ads, where branding meets creativity, wit and intelligent thinking. I won't go into all of them, but here is my pick: Sustainable Farming, Your Man Reminder and a cinematic feat featuring a bear director. A full list of ads worth spreading is here.

Second session: Growing
As one of the speaker couldn't be there, we had a really intriguing recorded talk about introversion by Susan Cain. Click here and find out the power of introverts and why society favours extroverts. This talk made me think: am I an introvert trying to be an extrovert, an extrovert with an introvert streak or a shy individual who sometimes tries too hard and comes out as aggressive extrovert? For Susan, being introvert doesn't mean being shy, so I'm not quite sure where I am...

Ross Sargent from Cambridge Kung Fu explained what mindful movement is and what the earlier demo was all about. As mental health is becoming a major issue in the NHS, a natural way of achieving emotional balance without taking medication is certainly a win-win strategy. Having started Pilates recently I am all for mindful movements, especially if it's not about going for 'the burn' but reflecting about what you are doing (handy for those like me who can't switch off their brain). Yes, exercise makes you happier by releasing endorphins, I did feel the same euphoria after swimming, but Pilates is handier in colder weather.

Next was a recorded talk by Aparna Rao, where art meets technology and humour! From art to music with Gil Karpas, who has indeed a soulful voice as the programme promised. The multi-tracking, looping, techie bit was fascinating to behold, a truly perfect TED fit with his very personal mix of creativity and technology.

Third session: Renewal
Merlin Crossingham opened the third session. A climber and acrobat, he is the creative director for Wallace and Gromit (click here for a BBC interview). He started his career animating Morph. I got to know Morph through videos (yes, we still have a video recorder) my partner bought for our daughter. I particularly like the one with the alien baby... But back to the talk, Merlin was quite 'academic' in his definition of entertainment and animation, mentioning concepts I recently heard at a university lecture discussing why we are moved by fictional characters. It also brought home how animation is pure craft work, slower than I could ever imagine - 2 seconds a day is the aim for a single animator!

Next up was Kirsten Lavers, who launched FLACK with a team of homeless contributors. This magazine is very local to Cambridge and I think it's a much more engaging/involving project than The Big Issue ever felt for me when I was living in London. That was several years ago, so if somebody cares to correct me, do leave a comment!

Come back to read the rest and find out what the Anglia Ruskin's conference was about, but in the meantime, if you'd like to visit TEDxGranta's official website and access recorded talks, click here.

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