TEDx Brussels: My Box Is On Fire

Mattias Geniar, Monday, November 23, 2009 - last modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012

Today, I was lucky enough to be able to experience a TEDx Brussels conference, a local (independant) spinoff of the popular TED. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of "TED", here's a brief description.

TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

In short: it's a conference about innovative people, talking passionately about their idea. This years slogan was "Burn The Box", instead of just thinking outside of it.

Since I unfortunately arrived 45 minutes late (that's a definate shame on me scenario) due to horribly traffic in Brussels and a chronic lack of parking space, I missed the first talk -- and arrived only just as Nicholas Negroponte was descripting the OLPC program.

Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop Per Child

olpc_nicholas_negroponteI was excided to hear his talk (and glad I ventured a 500m spring in order to get there in a reasonable timespan), because of the effort and publicity that has gone in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Nicholas Negroponte explained not only the concept, but since the launch of the project nearly 1.2 million XO laptops have already been distributed to third world countries, allowing for a great "show and tell" -- living proof the project works. With it, truancy has dropped from staggering 50% to nearly 0%. Children are motivated to go to school, and learn more. Every XO laptop also has access to 1.6 million E-books, right off the shelf. It's an amazing tool for education, that has already shown great improvement in the way children today can learn.

The motivation Nicholas has shown during the presentation, and the amount of energy he can poor into the project, really is mind-boggling.

David McCandless: Information Is Beautiful

david_mccandless_information_beautifulOur current situation (newspapers, internet, radio, television) give us a largescale information overflow. It's up to us to manage that information, and if it were up to David McCandless, we'd use our ability to visualize data to help us with that. A very interesting and practical view of the visualization of abstract data, in order to detect trends, and make the data more readily available to anyone.

The notion of "perception" or "awareness" is based by some key factors: our vision, our taste, our sight, ... The combination allows our mind to combine those senses into something we are "aware of". Something that can have meaning to us. By using new methods of displaying data, beyond the classic Pie Chart/Bar Charts/..., we can more easily identify problem areas, place ideas into context, draw comparisons, explore timelines, ... Some interesting examples from him are The Billion Dollar Gram, Left vs Right and Mountains Out of Molehills. Each gives unique insight into topics that would otherwise just be a collection of boring data. It gives meaning to otherwise meaningless data.

Conrad Wolfram: I Calculate, Therefore I Am

wolfram_alphaAnother person of great interest, mathematician Conrad Wolfram, who is largely responsible for the highly innovative search engine Wolfram Alpha, as well as the computational software program Mathematica. The presentation talked about the mystery revolving the following question: "Is it cheating if I use Wolfram Alpha for my homework?". While it does seem like a fairly simply question, the implications are profound. He makes the claim that our current education of math is fundamentally wrong by teaching us only the methods to calculate, and not the tools to do so. While there's a general basic knowledge of math we should all possess, we can make much greater progress if can we learn to use the computational tools available. Our current education fails in the sense that we cannot put math into context, where the practical use of math to most is not immediately relevant.

Noam Perski: Carbon Neutral Clouds

cloud_computingWhile you'd expect a mostly environmental talk, his presentation was largely about the concept and advantages of Cloud Computing. Since TED is classically a technically skilled audience, the concept could be explained exactly as it is -- without having to place everything into a metaphore (which is something that's caused a lot of confusion about the ability of cloud computing nowadays). The obvious advantages were discussed (consolidation, power saving, optimization, pricing, ...), as well as the evolution towards cloud computing and Amazons EC2 product. Since I'm very familiar with Cloud Computing (both due to work, and personal interest), I could greatly sympathize the subject.

Djamel Laroussi: Three Marabouts

djamel_laroussiThe musical intermezzo was provided by Djamel Laroussi, a leftie guitarist. An amazing display of improvisation on stage, as well as a general musical experience. He though himself how to play the guitar, but bought himself a right-handed guitar and played it left-handed -- without switching the strings (which means he new plays the guitar "upside down"). A wonderful show!

Here are some movies that might inspire you:

A break from the classic 2/4 rhythm, and an entry into the 3/6 african rhythm music.

For The Talks I've Missed

Above are just a few of the innovative talks I experienced. There were great others given by

  • Dambisa Moyo (about the government aid we're sending to Africa hurting progress more than it's helping -- more info)
  • Marc Van Montagu (about bio-enhancing seeds to grow in Africa)
  • Michael Bauwens
  • Pedro Brugada
  • Clayton Schaeffer (about land/property ownership rights in third world countries and government influention)
  • Serguei Krasnikov (on the subject of Time Travel, and how we can most probably only find a time machine, and never build one -- more info)
  • Marc Millis (the discussion of traveling to distant stars and planets several lightyears away -- more info)
  • Catherine Verfaillie (stamcell research and the future of regrowing organs from own cells -- more info)
  • R. U. Sirius (pronounce this one! -- more info).

While I've left out quite a few as a detailed description, it's worth noting that every talk was impressive and kept us hanging on every word mentioned. Since I'm more biased towards tech-savvy subjects, I'll be mostly sticking to those.


TED stands for interesting presentations, given by passionate people. It's about reaching out, and meeting new people -- networking. It's an inspiring event, that I feel can be summed up in the following quick comparison:

  • Parking fines I got in Brussels: 30€
  • Ticket to TEDx: 50€
  • Experiencing a TED: priceless

I'll be there for next event, where the slogan is "Great Balls Of Fire" as inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Hi! My name is Mattias Geniar. I'm a Support Manager at Nucleus Hosting in Belgium, a general web geek & public speaker. Currently working on DNS Spy & Oh Dear!. Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar.

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Steffest Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 07:53 - Reply

I’m glad you liked it!
(And a shame we didn’t meet, reading through your blog we have lot’s of common interests like your TV-show torrent RSS feed thing and such)
If you like TED, I can really recommend to check out the barcamps in Belgium (as I did in my blogpost): It’s roughly the same concept as TED but it’s an “unconference” meaning that everything is organised on the spot and everybody is free to give a 20 minute talk about any topic they desire (and anyone is free to listen to it, or not)
There’s only one rule: if you attend, you HAVE to participate in one form or another.
As you are a developer and a geek, I’m quite sure you’ll like it :-)

Hope to meet one day! (maybe at the next TEDx Brussels)

Steffest Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 08:30 - Reply

Volgende Barcamp Antwerpen zal trouwens op zaterdag 6 maart zijn.
Inschrijvingen zijn nog niet helemaal open maar zullen op http://www.twikilist.com/BarcampAntwerpen2 staan.
zie ook http://www.barcampantwerpen.org

Tot dan ! :-)

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