Category: technology

My very first TED conference

Over the past few months, I’ve started multiple drafts to explain why I joined TED and how much I value the organization’s mission, but never had time to finish writing a complete post. Suddenly, it’s already a year later, and here I am after attending my first TED conference ever.

I am fascinated by how connections happen via technology and art, and I’ve always been inspired by TED’s work to spread important and beautiful ideas around the world. TED is headquartered in New York City, and as a company it is over 200 people small. It’s daunting how quickly we have grown, and there are always whispers of cultural change within any rapidly-growing organization. But what I see is opportunity: we all joined TED because we believe in the possibility of ideas to change an individual, an organization, a world.

Being present at TED2017 last week was a thrilling journey. Over 1900 people attended this year. I love being a part of TED’s tech team (read about some of our mobile app work, how we stay connected as a distributed team, and how we use technology for concierge-style communication and support). I posted up at my daily shifts at the built-by-TED-tech-team TED logo booth. When approached for suggestions, I dutifully gave multiple options for the best poses (see below). “Very applicable,” responded the 6’2″ guy when I said that some people like to pose in the space between the T and the E. “So easy,” said the group when I jokingly suggested yoga poses or the splits while J. photobombed me. Nothing is impossible, you know.

I was lucky enough to see (and be a part of) all the work and sweat and tears that went into the preparation for the conference. Sometimes the dialogue that happens at these types of conferences and events that have been happening for over a decade goes something like this: “Oh, I remember ten years ago when the conference was better because _____ and _____ and _____.” Often people like to reminisce about the good old days: when things were not “overproduced” and maybe therefore more authentic. While it is certainly true that things at TED have evolved and inevitable that things will be different from year to year, I can only speak from my own little tiny perspective of someone attending for the first time.

A recurring thought that many conference attendees shared with me: everyone felt that the people attending the conference were open, honest, and non-judgmental. While I was working all week and did not have a chance to attend all of the sessions, just being in the presence of the energy of ideas made me feel more optimistic about the future. Elon Musk closed his interview with: “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” We need to save our planet, we need to build a future we want the next generation to be proud of.

As I walked the Vancouver Convention Center’s outer loop hundreds of times, I was amazed by the surprise and delight that occurred throughout the week (including watching sessions from a huge jungle gym, handing out (and eating) handmade maple bacon chocolate bars, becoming a Ghostbuster in virtual reality, and meditating in a dome). Thousands of people were coordinating behind the scenes to put together all the complex parts of a huge event. There were mistakes, there were victories, there was progress and improvement. Now, with sore feet from walking that aforementioned loop so many times, I am humbled and honored to have been able to be part of the ripple that touches (and changes) people’s lives. I am painfully aware that at this point, TED talks can often incite eye rolls or quips about pithy statements. But also, I am impressed at the great impact an organization or person can have on the world, as exemplified by TED Prize Winner Raj Panjabi’s talk about his mission to bring healthcare to remote communities. We have come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do — but still I can’t deny the power I felt from being a part of the conversation around difficult yet poetic, concerning yet action-oriented, diverse and artistic, hopeful ideas. Our world is filled with so much tragedy and beauty at the same time — Anne Lamott reminded us that life is “filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

So how can we be better? How can we remind ourselves that we’re all connected? How can we use technology for good? How can we work together to save the world? Even finding just a tiny glimpse into the answers is a pretty good start. Pithy, I know.

“People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually.”
― Elon Musk

“Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude.”

― Pope Francis, Why the only future worth building includes everyone

“I love how the English language is strewn with little signs of tension between the desire to be comprehensible and the limitations of the technology available at the time. Something as small as the dot on an ‘i’ symbolizes how technology influences form.”

― Helen Zaltzman

“You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission. Or you can use it to give courage to people, so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment.”

― Shah Rukh Khan

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. Even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to other people’s outside. It will only make you worse than you already are!”

― Anne Lamott

** PS: The full speaker lineup of TED2017 can be found here. The video recordings of TED talks at TED2017 will be posted on over the course of next year. Up-to-date summaries and coverage of this year’s conference can be found on the TEDBlog. Thank you to all of the incredible TED teams for making the seemingly impossible, possible.

How To Break Open The Web

Good read on the mission to build a web “that works” where “you can do anything you like.”

When we get technology right, it’s a series of incremental advances that make us notice one day that something like a miracle has occurred. To get there now, we should be aware of how all the parts connect—that it’s not a miracle, but a collaborative if complex project—and make sure that we’re not being fenced in in the process. We’ve come to love the convenience of the centralized web, but we’ve failed to recognize how much we now have to ask permission.

— from How To Break Open The Web

Computer science — literacy for the 21st century

The moment a guy says, “I love reading books,” and then gives an example like, “Have you read the latest book by Junot Diaz?” I have to try to walk away and try calm my faster-beating heart. I have a similar reaction when any of the guys in my office have black screens of code open on two monitors.

Strange attractions and (sort of) jokes aside, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to require all public schools to offer computer science to all students. I admire the trend toward increasing emphasis on code as a fundamental literacy.  Whatever amateur coding skills I honed in the past are definitely obsolete by now, but my background has allowed me to at least understand code that other people have written. It’s been immensely helpful, not just in tech but in other areas of life (including writing!). On broadening the application of computer science:

But let’s back up a step: What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.

Unfortunately, the way computer science is currently taught in high school tends to throw students into the programming deep end, reinforcing the notion that code is just for coders, not artists or doctors or librarians. But there is good news: Researchers have been experimenting with new ways of teaching computer science, with intriguing results. For one thing, they’ve seen that leading with computational thinking instead of code itself, and helping students imagine how being computer savvy could help them in any career, boosts the number of girls and kids of color taking—and sticking with—computer science. Upending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.

— From “We Can Code It: Why Computer Literacy is Key To Winning The 21st Century” via MotherJones

It may not be requisite for everyone to deftly write enough code to become a lead developer, but I agree with the Mayor’s statement that “a computer science education is literacy for the 21st century.”

Be brave, little heart.

I received a phone call one night and gazed questioningly at the phone screen, which displayed a name I hadn’t seen or heard for at least a decade.

It turns out Alex was renouncing most forms of texting and email for a period of time, and reaching out to people he hadn’t connected with in a while. To hear their voices, and to have real conversations.

He explained that he had undergone heart surgery recently. Though some time has passed since the surgeries, some complications have resurfaced and he’s been visiting the hospital often since then. He once attempted to track his exercise for 100 days as part of his recovery. People wrote and responded with similar words over and over again via Facebook and text message. He received many “Oh you’re so brave, get well soon!” responses – which, while well-meaning, didn’t seem to offer enough avenues to really reconnect. He wanted to know where life was taking me, what I was up to, and for me to ask the same of him.

There are times when technology distances us rather than fulfilling its (arguable) original purpose – to create connection, whether in business or personal context. Jonathan Safran Foer’s essay in the New York Times is still one of my favorite reflections on this topic. I battle internally with this idea, because ever since computers appeared in our home I have been curious about and enamored by almost all aspects of technology. In my daily life, I strive to help myself and others understand how technology can serve as an enhancement to our relationships, rather than a hindrance.

Alex asked me my address later, and sent me a postcard from his travels.
I sat down in my chair, touched to have received a physical postcard. I marveled at the expression on the children’s faces. It brought back memories of learning sevillanas and the beginning movements of flamenco during the heat of summer when I lived in Granada. The enunciation of the music through our floral hand movements, the emotion in our faces.

The message written on the back admitted that he didn’t know if I still dance or not. But that if I do, he hopes I allow the dance to contain as much feeling as is shown here.

Foer writes:

I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.

Alex’s heart, albeit physically strained and weary, still speaks loudly and lovingly through the ways he has touched me from across the continent. He still writes about facing death daily, and strives to make the most of each moment. He is an avid user of social media to talk about it all, and I admire the bridges he’s built between that and making old-fashioned contact with friends.

As our generation gets older, this reconciliation between two different worlds of connection and communication becomes more important to me. I am lucky enough to have time to tread sweetly on the final days of my second decade – taking this time offline to gather myself and reflect. One of my favorite people has reassured me that the next one will be the best of my life so far. Still, I purposefully stretch out the days under a different kind of sunlight. I move slowly, with a deliberate rhythm (tap tap tap, like the castanets) – and still the decade gets ever shorter. In watching or dancing flamenco you learn to release, to carry the audience and yourself through the rhythmic drumming that often mimics the heart. There was no part of us pent up, unexpressed, to be taken home to ferment.

We only get this one chance, we only get this one heart. “Be brave,” I encourage our little hearts. Don’t be so afraid to talk to someone, no matter the medium – like, really talk. Shed fear. Dance harder. Feel more, and speak now.

wrists and picnics

In case you never read app version update notes (I am tasked with writing them for our app so I try to make a habit of reading them), here’s a funny one from Trello sparked by the Apple Watch update. To preempt anyone with overdue-app-update-anxiety, the 23 updates were taken care of shortly after these screenshots were taken.

  P.S. – I had a chance to try on some of the different Apple Watch styles, and they were certainly more covetable than I had hoped. Well done, Apple. 


In other news, to celebrate spring we’re having an amaro-fueled picnic affair on a Mexican blanket with some tunes on Sunday. Come join. We might procure phumplings. I promise to play Drake and Beyoncé

My friend made a watermelon invite. You can’t go wrong with this.