Can we end pandemics in our lifetime? Larry Brilliant suggests we are getting much closer

Larry Brilliant is a physician who has found a way to track pandemics through the digital surveillance of social media; it’s really neat… check it out!

TED Blog

By tracking social media, it turns out, we can get much better at recognizing pandemics early. Solving epidemics has been the goal of physician Larry Brilliant’s career — and the basis for his 2006 TED Prize wish[ted_talkteaser id=58], which he updated this year in a talk at TED2013, above. His wish called for an “International System for Total Early Disease Detection,” or InSTEDD, a project with the mantra “Early detection, early response” — which included, among other features, tracking stories on the web to watch for patterns that indicate an epidemic is about to break out.

After winning the TED Prize, Brilliant founded InSTEDD, a nongovernmental, multilingual, worldwide digital surveillance system that monitors the web, global news and social media for phrases and patterns that may signal a brand-new pandemic. In this update, Brilliant shares new data that shows … it’s working. In the 1990s, it took hundreds of days to…

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A littleBit rock ‘n’ roll: Reggie Watts rocks the newly launched SynthKit, and electronic music goes mini-modular

Really cool article and interview from TED… littleBits has partnered with KORG to create a customizable, build-it-yourself modular synthesizer. Check out Reggie Watts’ take on the invention in the video and see for yourself!

TED Blog

Above: Reggie Watts demonstrates the littleBits SynthKit

For the last week, the internet has been grooving to the video above of Reggie Watts making some funky noise with the newly launched SynthKit — the latest offering from TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits electronic building block company, and the product of a three-way partnership between littleBits, Watts and world-renowned synthmasters KORG. The SynthKit allows users to snap together a modular synth from 12 easy pieces. Or as Watts himself tells us, “Each bit is a creature unto itself that connects to others of its kin to create strange and wondrous sounds.” The SynthKit can be connected to headphones, computers, speakers and other external devices, as well as to other littleBits kits to add music to all manner of inventions.

If you haven’t yet seen the video (in addition to littleBits and his extraordinary talent, Watts used an EHX 45000), check…

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Why belonging matters: Fellows Friday with Chelsea Shields Strayer

Really cool article by an anthropologist with a lot to talk about. Her life story is interesting (especially how she came to be what she is! Talk about unpredictable), and the stuff she has to say on the placebo effect really tickles my brain (in a good way). Check her out!

TED Blog


How did human emotions evolve to help us survive? For the last decade, cultural anthropologist Chelsea Shields Strayer has studied the indigenous healing practices of the Ashante people of Ghana, discovering that emotional pain serves useful purposes — including the relief of physical pain. In this conversation with the TED Blog, she tells the fascinating story of how she struggled to free herself from her gender-biased Mormon culture to study another culture far away, in the process gathering important information about the physiological basis of the placebo effect, learning how social ostracization affects physical well-being, and getting a new perspective on the community she comes from.

How did you end up studying traditional healing cultures in Ghana?

I grew up in a very conservative Mormon culture in Utah. My father works for the church educational system, and my mother is a stay-at-home mom of eight. None of the women in…

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Sanctuaries of sound in New York City: Fellows Friday with Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra is breaking boundaries in her newest project, “Digital Sanctuaries.” Sanctuaries is an app that integrates visual art, history, architecture, and music; definitely exciting and worth a look. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

TED Blog


Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra is creating virtual sanctuaries for real cities. Working in collaboration with local artists, historians, architects, city planners and musicians, Ibarra and her partner Roberto Rodriguez — who together form Electric Kulintang — have created a musical pilgrimage that takes the public on a sound walk through 12 sites in Lower Manhattan, each featuring an original composition. But more than that, the locations offer respite — they are an invitation to contemplate the special qualities of the built environment.

Digital Sanctuaries, a co-commission for Electric Kulintang by New Music USA, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and The MAPFund, goes live this week with a series of hosted lunchtime walks. Ibarra tells the TED Blog how the project came together, and shares her plans to bring sanctuaries to other cities around the world.

How would you describe Digital Sanctuaries?

It’s a music mobile app sound…

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How is technology changing our experiences? Further reading on the effects of the “digital now”

Interesting TED talk on the “digital now,” and how technology is impacting our lives (for better or worse)… one statement that really caught my attention: “…every digital landmark is an invitation to leave what you’re doing now and go somewhere else and do something else.” Definitely worth checking out!

TED Blog

How long have you been staring at a screen? Chances are this is not the beginning of your day on your mobile device or computer — and it’s very unlikely to be the end of it. You reading this blog post is only a moment in your digital day, nestled among Facebook updates, Twitter posts, Tumblr reblogs, YouTube videos and, of course, more articles. [ted_talkteaser id=1856]You and I are operating in what today’s speaker Abha Dawesar calls the “digital now,” a stream of time that is parallel to the present, but also in competition with it.

It’s becoming increasingly harder to pay full attention to the present, says Dawesar, a novelist. In this poetic talk, she looks at the dangers of our time- and space- warping technologies and what exactly happens when we blur the lines between the past, present and future.

“Technology has altered our flow of time…

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Spring Cleaning

Yesterday saw the release of Mavericks (Apple used to name their OS X line after big cats, but I guess they’ve run out of big cats. Mavericks is named after a popular surfer hangout in the backyard of the company headquarters. At least they’ve managed to keep their chic, modern image alive in the face of taxonomical troubles), Apple’s latest OS X software. In a push to keep ahead of competition, the innovative company made Mavericks free to any computer running the later OS X software.

CNET has put together a great article on what to do before upgrading if you plan on getting Mavericks, and it’s worth a quick read, especially if you don’t update third-party software often or you don’t make regular drive back-ups; the article can be found at the following URL:

Enjoy the new bells and whistles, dear readers – I certainly will be!

Technology as a Gateway (Converting the Masses)

keyboard-177482_640After a long day of classes, I turned on my MacBook this evening and was met with a mysterious visitor. A curious little file, appended to the ubiquitous .band extension, sat waiting in the middle of my sparse, otherwise pristine desktop space. What could it mean? This file was created in GarageBand, but I have no recollection of throwing anything together in that program for weeks. And the filename… “Brother Gregory?” Remembering the name from an inside joke between my girlfriend and I, my mind suddenly makes sense of the puzzle. She must have made a little song sometime during the day, and left it for me to discover. I open the file, hit the space bar, and my ears are awash with the glorious concord of strings and brass. Life is good.

To any stuffy musicians inclined to huff and turn away, I say boo. You must know that my girlfriend is a studio arts major, and a fine one at that. My artistic capabilities are restricted to three-line animal sketches and primary school longhand (nothing beyond four-letter words and my first name, thank you). Exposure to someone with her abilities can be a little intimidating at times, but I can’t help wondering what it is like inside her mind. Wrap your head around this concept: a life, an existence where paintbrushes don’t feel like awkward, over-sized crayons in your inexperienced hands… and your still-life fruit drawings looked like, well… fruit. instead of dinosaurs or whatever your poor, sympathetic mother told you she saw on your canvas. What would it be like? What would you eat for breakfast? Are waffles an artist thing, too, or do they prefer pancakes?

The point I’m trying to make here has nothing to do with carbohydrates before lunch. What I am trying to say is that it does my heart good to see people from all walks of life enjoying music: more specifically, creating without inhibition. Those like my girlfriend, without the slightest nibble of formal musical training, certainly wish from time to time they could write, share, or just listen to the little ditties in their head. Even just throwing together some sort of drum track is oftentimes more than enough. After sharing my favorite components of and thoughts on her composition with my girlfriend, she expressed her humiliation at having to use the pre-recorded loops in GarageBand. She felt that it was sort a cheap shortcut, or means of cheating the system, because she lacked the knowledge and experience requisite for autonomous composition. My response: Why?

No matter what sort of music you make, or the steps you take to get there, you should never feel embarrassment or shame. I couldn’t care less if my girlfriend wrote the loops or recorded the parts in her composition. What makes me happy is the initiative to create music. In being too self-critical, and comparing herself to musicians with more experience than her, my girlfriend missed that, without her unique, innate aural and compositional skills, she would not have been able to make her piece as advanced or interesting as it was.

GarageBand is just one of the many tools people can employ in their compositional quest, especially if they may not have much musical experience. Something as simple as re-mixing a favorite song, or tossing loops into a GarageBand mix, can inspire and direct an individual’s potential interests and life path. The next time you feel ready to criticize another for using “cheap” compositional methods or “shortcuts,” consider their level of experience and why you really feel that way. It never hurts to step in another’s shoes. As conscious and mindful human beings, we must help aspiring musicians to the best of our ability. Negative criticism hurts, and it is the last thing anyone needs when they make themselves vulnerable in sharing their creation(s). Thanks for sticking with me, dear readers. Stay safe, happy, and, as always, feel free to leave a comment below.