November 5, 2009

TED India - day 1, session 3: wonder. wonders.

pawan sinha talked about project prakash, his efforts to combine outreach, treatment, and study to help cure vision disorders in poor indian children.  as part of his presentation, he showed us the "baby cam" he set up on his son to understand how a child sees the world (photo below).  the most interesting insight from the talk were clips he played that tracked a child's vision path while playing a game of pong.  a "normal" child's vision searched the entire screen, picking up cues everywhere to predict the ball's trajectory.  contrastingly, the vision of a child with autism consistently trailed behind the ball, simply looking where it had just been.  thought-provoking implications there.

TED veteran david bolinsky shared a beautiful medical animation of the H1N1 virus' life cycle.

the highlight of the session was clearly pranav mistry's talk (VIDEO) about his "sixth sense" innovations that use a camera to project interactive web-based apps onto almost any surface.  project a key pad onto your hand to dial a phone number, scan a book cover to get reviews and pricing information, take a photo with your hands just by making a square with your fingers (photo below).  i thought the innovations were amazing, but i don't think i was as blown away as the rest of the audience, notably because i wasn't totally sold on the practicality of the innovations and/or the implementation.  for example, one of the innovations would allow you to hold a piece of paper in your hand, and your head-mounted camera would project a movie onto it.  well, don't we already have devices that allow you to watch a movie in the palm of your hand?  also, he showed an example of someone "scanning" their boarding pass and then having the flight delay projected onto the paper.  but in practicality, how would it know that was the information i wanted?  what if i wanted to know if there had been a gate change or if there was a starbucks in the terminal?  would the real product project all of that information?  if so, seems like it wouldn't be as aesthetically clean and navigable.  if it gave me a list of options and i had to scroll through them to pick one, at that point it's the equivalent amount of work as looking it up on your blackberry.  i don't mean to be a wet blanket about a talk that everyone else seemed really into, but those were just some of the thoughts i had.  that said, i definitely recommend checking out the talk on  it's one i'm most excited to share with others.  very, very neat stuff.

anindya sinha shared photos of the new monkey species he found, and romulus whitaker (self-proclaimed "rabid, hippie conservationalist") brought us into the world of the king cobra (VIDEO).  his research team has implanted small radio transmitters in some snakes to track their behavior.  favorite quote: "now we can follow them and learn their secrets."

srikant sastry gave a really interesting 3-minute talk about absenteeism in india, and he recommended using a technology that's currently used in the consumer products industry -- something i actually know a fair bit about because of my day job as a strategy consultant for a CPG company in los angeles.  the premise is that community volunteers use PDAs to audit absenteeism, sending in reports about teachers, doctors, and store owners who don't show up when they're supposed to.  as we've seen in the beverage industry, inspection and audits tends to lower absenteeism.

mystic and yogi sadhguru vasudev spoke about his introduction to deep mediation.  he told a story about when he was younger, after he'd suffered a heartbreak, he went and sat down on a rock and ended up sitting there for over 4 hours.  when he was done, tears were pouring from his eyes for the first time in his life, and he felt "more blissful than ever."  on another occasion, he sat on a rock for what seemed like 15-20 minutes.  turns out he sat on that rock for 13 days.  when he came to, people were covering him with flower garlands and worshipping him.  he talked about curing his asthma and injured leg through meditation.  i liked his description of eating:  "i am capable of taking a piece of bread and, within a few hours, turning it into something i experience as myself."  favorite quote:  when asked how he felt about the rise of materialism, for example the popularity of cars, he responded, "i'm okay with it. they get to their destinations faster so they can meditate."  something i noticed about him when i met him and then again when the host asked him questions after the speech:  when asked directly about what he actually does to teach people to meditate, he refuses to answer the question, instead he gives vague answers that are unrelated.  interesting.

the session closed with some beautiful music by anil srinivasan and sikkil gurucharan.  they endeavor to make what duke ellington called "music of the good kind."

after the close of the first day, we had dinner on campus with a performance of indian music in the outdoor amphitheater.  afterwards, i checked out the pool right around the time the underwater lights came on.  beautiful.

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