Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Review: TEDx Bristol

TED ('Ideas Worth Spreading') is basically a festival of talks on all kinds of interesting things, by all kinds of interesting people, online, free. TED started in California in 1984, and stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED franchises out mini-TEDs all over the world, which are independent from Big TED but work on the same principles.

The first one of these 'TEDx Bristol' events was held last week and I was lucky enough to get a ticket. It's totally free to watch TED talks online, but the prospect of a day hanging out with 100 really interesting people tempted me to part with £35 for the ticket. It was well worth the money.

The theme of TEDx Bristol was 'The World Around Us' and was split into three sections: sustainability, innovation and creativity. The best talk in the sustainability section was Arthur Potts Dawson talking about the People's Supermarket in London. I suspect we may be seeing one of these institutions in Stokes Croft in the future, as apparently you can't get a potato or a pint of milk for love nor money down there at the moment. Also, Harsha Kansara got very excited about sustainable buildings, of which more on a later blog, at some point.

Well-known atom-fiddler, Mervyn Miles
The innovation section included what was for me the highlight of the day, Professor Mervyn Miles from the Bristol University Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information. Professor Miles, who clearly has more fun in his job than any human deserves, has a microscope which works like an old-fashioned record player, except it has a stylus one atom thick, and can read, by touch, a pattern of atoms. Not only that but they have actually invented a way to move atoms around, one by one, by touch. Prof Miles cheerfully admitted he had no idea how this might be useful, but that it was very cool anyway. Which probably means that he'll retire unknown and in 200 years, turn out to be the man who made intergalactic travel possible. I had no idea that there was such exciting science going on in Bristol, and it made me feel really proud.

Yes, they did get a tune out of it
Wikipedia talking about museums were also very interesting, though I suspect Roger Bamkin, Chair of Wikimedia UK, won't be getting free coffee in the M-Shed cafe. “You lot spent £27m on this place, and it looks rubbish online!” he declared. Ahem. And some chaps had invented a new musical instrument, called an alphasphere, which was very cool.

By the time it got to the Creativity Section I had taken in so much information, my brain was approaching terminal melt-down. Chris Chalkey talked about The People's Republic of Stokes Croft, which went down very well, though it was probably more interesting for those who hadn't lived in Bristol over the last few years. There was a talk by some chaps from Aardman Digital, which seemed great but I am going to have to watch it online, since all I remember was that they gave me a piece of plasticine.

It's worth saying that not every talk was as interesting as these. I had a bit of a bad moment when the first talk was not only dull but also factually inaccurate, and was afraid I might spend the day seething with pedantic rage. Fortunately that was the low point got out of the way early on, but with so many talks there was always going to be some variation in quality. Probably the most frustrating element of the day was the same as the most exciting: it is really rare to be a roomful of people that mixes science, business, and arts; every person there seemed to be up to something interesting, and there simply wasn't time or opportunity to talk to more than a handful. There was an after-party, but I think a lot of people didn't know about it, and it wasn't in the best venue. Hopefully they will sort out the afterparty next year. The event itself was fantastic.

All the Tedx Bristol talks will be made available online, but obviously it takes a few days for all the techy stuff to be finished, so I will post some links when they are available. In the meantime, here's a link to one of the online talks we watched on the day, from a previous Tedx festival, in Oxford.

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