Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Why lunch ladies are heroes


Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author/illustrator of countless children’s books and graphic novels, including Good Night, Monkey Boy, Baghead and the Lunch Lady series (http://www.lunchladycomics.com/)


Jarrett, an author and illustrator, went back to his old primary school to attend an event when he noticed that Jeannie, a lunch lady who used to serve him was still working. He approached her and had an eye opening conversation about Jeannie’s children and grandchildren. Lunch ladies don’t actually live at the school, as he once believed.

Jarrett was inspired to create the Lunch Lady graphic novel series. There was a positive reception from the kids but also from lunch ladies who were grateful for the message behind it. The role of the lunch lady in popular culture has not been a popular one and Jarrett was doing something about it. The popularity of the series led to the creation of School Lunch hero day, where kids got creative about how to thank the people who serve them food.

That is the lesson of this talk: It’s important to say thank you. Cafeteria workers, who collectively serve 5 billion school lunches every year certainly deserve appreciation for their work. “A thank you can change the life of the person who receives it, and it changes the life of the person who expresses it.”

My Thoughts

The message of this ted talk was fairly straightforward (be sure to communicate your appreciation), but used an interesting an unique anecdote. This is isn’t a ted talk that I’m planning on rewatching in few months, but nevertheless it was a good reminder.

Hans Rosling and Osa Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world


Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, statistician and global health expert. Ola Rosling is the director and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation (http://www.gapminder.org).


Hans starts his presentation on ignorance by conducting a quick poll of the Ted audience. He asks a few multiple choice questions about trends across history.

  1. How have deaths from natural disasters changed over the last century?
  2. How long has the average 30 year old woman spend in school?
  3. How did the percent of people living in extreme poverty change over the last 20 years

The actual deaths from natural disasters, for example, dropped from 0.5 million (1900) to 0.1 million (2000). But only 30% of the Ted audience and 12% of Swedish public were correct on this question. To further prove his point about ignorance, Hans presents the results from a third survey group: chimpanzees at the zoo. Simply by choosing at random (33%) they choose the correct answer more often than everyone else.  The polling results from the other two questions followed a similar pattern: the trend in education and impoverished people changed for the better while people assumed a negative change.

Hans introduces the Ignorance Project, cofounded by him and his son to investigate what the public knows about basic global patterns.  In their pilot project, they used these very same questions, along with some others, that were picked up by CNN.

CNN asked their readers, what percent of 1 year old children are vaccinated against measles?

The correct percentage is 80%, but predictably, the majority thought it was significantly lower. Only 17% of US public and 8% Swedish public were correct. But more surprisingly, 80% of the US media and 92% of the EU Media were wrong as well. The problem, he says, isn’t that people don’t listen to the media, it’s that the media don’t know themselves.

Hans son, Ola, comes out on to the stage to speak on the second half of their topic: Why are we so ignorant and what can we do about it?

A combination of personal bias (from different life experiences), outdated facts (from school books), and news bias (which exaggerates the unusual) all give people a skewed view of information. And because we rely on our views to generalize about facts, our intuition works against us, giving us an illusion of confidence.

Because people don’t have time to memorize facts every night, the shortcut to managing our ignorance is to turn our intuition back into a strength. To do this, Ola suggests being aware of some misconceptions you might have about how the world works.

  1. Most things get worse

– If you’re sitting with a question in front of you and you’re unsure, guess “improve.

  1. There is a duality of rich and poor

– The world has shifted to a larger middle class

  1. First people need to be rich and then they can do social good

-The majority of countries in the “middle class” send girls to school

  1. Sharks are dangerous

– If it makes you scared/feel afraid, assume you are going to exaggerate the problem

As part of the Ignorance project, Hans and Ola have created a Global Knowledge Certificate. They asked from organizations like Amnesty International and UNICEF what facts they thought the public didn’t know. Then they took that list and cross-referenced it with the facts people polled worst in. They want this shortlist to be used as a certificate, to show to a school or an employer that you are globally knowledgeable.

Ola concludes by reitierating the importance of winning the fight against ignorance. “If you have a fact based worldview of today, you might be able to understand the future. “

Shubhendu Sharma: How to grow a tiny forest anywhere


Eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma is an and his company, Afforestt — create afforestation methods that make it easy to plant maintenance-free, wild and biodiverse forests.


Shubhendu Sharma was an industrial engineer for Toyota when he was introduced to Dr. Akira Miyakki. Dr. Miyakki’s was hired by Toyota to help offset some of the carbon emissions by growing a literal forest at the factory. These forests are particularly practical because they grow 10 times faster, are 100 times more biodiverse and 30 times more lush than convential plants. Sharma grew his own forest in his backyard and became fascinated by the challenge of growing with the same acumen as building cars or creating software.

In a blend of technology and nature, Sharma started a business that grows forests in a way that replicates Toyota’s model for production efficiency. The Toyota Production System revolves around a concept called “heijunka (production leveling), which translates to using a single manufacturing line to make different models of cars.  He simply replaced the trees with cars and can now grow a 300 tree forest in the space of 6 parked cars. Amazingly, the cost of growing a forest is the same as that of an iPhone.

His company, Afforest is also working to make an open source database by publishing all the methodology they uses so that people can grow their own forests.  Additionally, by installing a probe on site, his company would be monitor the growth remotely and provide specific guidance.

My Thoughts

Wow. This speech is shockingly concise and extremely informative and well worth the watch.

Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs


Mike Rowe was the host of Dirty Jobs, a program on the Discovery Channelin, where he is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees.


For one episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike went to work on a sheep ranch in the western US. He found out the day before filming that castration was going to be part of the work. So he thought some research might be in order and called the Humane Society and ASPCA to find out the “proper” way to castrate sheep. He learned that a  rubberband was put on the sheep’s tail and testicles to stop blood circulation and after about a week, they fell off. So with image in his mind, he went to the farm expecting Albert, the rancher, to do the same. But instead of pulling a rubberband from his pocket, Albert pulled a knife. And in a matter of seconds he snipped off the tail, tossed in to a bucket and then split open the scrotum. Then he reached forward with his mouth, and to Mike’s shock, bit off the testicles before throwing them in the bucket as well. Mike adds, that before this incident, he had never stopped filming or done a second take for Dirty Jobs. But he stepped in and had to say, “stop, this is crazy”. Mike said to Albert, “that’s not you’re supposed to do it”, and Albert replied, “well that’s how we do it”. Mike wanted to do it like the humane society, so Albert consented and got his bag of rubberbands. After putting the rubber bands on the second lamb, Albert put it back down, and let it walk away. It took about two steps before falling over, until it eventually huddled up in a corner, clearly in a lot of pain. The first lamb had now stopped bleeding and was frolicking as thought nothing happened. Mike realized how wrong was then, and the experience gave him a bigger realization about how wrong he was all the time.

After that episode, Mike started thinking and speaking about the show in different ways and about topics that were sacrosanct. He questioned whether “follow your passion” is actually good career advice. He says he’s met dozens of people who are happy but definitely did not end up where they were by following their passions. He gives one example of a dairy in farmer in Connecticut who started making millions when he realized the poop from his cows was worth more than the milk if he used it to make biodegradable flower pots. Instead of prioritizing safety first, what if we should be prioritizing it third? What if people who have “dirty jobs” live more balanced lives than white collar workers?

Mike developed a theory from his experience: we’ve declared a war on work. Policy in Washington, telelvison from Hollywood, and advertisements from NY are devaluing manual labor. Mike wants a P.R. campaign to teach people about the forgotten benefits of skilled work. To him, clean and dirty are not opposites, they are the two sides of the same coin.

My Thoughts

Mike Rowe has collected some amazing experiences from his work and his storytelling ability allows him to fulfill his responsibility of sharing them. At the end of the talk I had a hard time following his points, however, and wish his message was a little more clear. But this talk is certainly worth the watch and I recommend you check it out when you want to hear about sheep castration, manual labor, or the job market.

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes


Diana Laufenberg teaches 11th-grade American History at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.


Diana Laufenberg is a teacher who shares a few things she’s learned about how most school’s teach and how most children learn. In the 1930’s, when Diana’s grandmother was in gradeschool, the purpose of going to class was to get information.  Students got all of their information from teachers and stored it all in their brains. When Diana was in school, information became more readily accessible in the form of encyclopedia’s and textbooks.

At the same time the internet became popular, she started teaching in Kansas. After the first year of teaching, she decided she needed to change her approach to teaching. Instead of she posed a challenge to her students: put on an election for your own community. They took ownership of the challenge, exceeded all expectations, and were able to learn while they created something useful and impactful. As her career progressed she was also witness to how meaningful and authentic students were when they were given a chance to speak freely. The final point she makes is about the culture of failure that exists in school. Students are taught that there is one right answer, a way of thinking abetted by the multiple choice tests at the front of academic assessment. Diana says it doesn’t make sense to tell kids to never be wrong when so much can be learned from failure. Kids need to be allowed to fail, process, and learn from their experiences in school.


Diana wants people to let go of the paradigms of the past. Information is no longer scarce and we should realize that education is not about coming to school to learn facts. It is about the student voice, experiential learning, and embracing failure.

My Thoughts

Even though I agree with the points Diana made in her talk, I didn’t find her stories from her teaching experience that compelling.  But her passion and energy is clearly visible and helps make this talk enganging.

My philosophy for a happy life: Sam Berns


Sampson Berns (October 23, 1996 – January 10, 2014) was an American who suffered from progeria and helped raise awareness about the disease.He was the subject of the HBO documentary Life According to Sam.


Sam Berns is a 17 year old highschooler with progeria. The rare disease, which has affected only 350 people worldwide, causes rapid aging, tight skin, and heart disease. A while back Sam was interviewed by NPR, and  was asked, “What is the most important thing people should know about you?” His answer? “I have a very happy life.”

Sam says there are three tenants which he follows that help him live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Firstly, be ok with what you ultimately can’t do because there is so much that you can do. But it is possible to put things in the CAN DO category by making adjustments. Sam tells the story of how he very badly wanted to play snare drum with his school marching band. But the drum and rug weighed about 40 lbs, and he only weighed about 50 lbs. He and his parents worked with an engineer to design a custom rig that was only 6 lbs and ended up performing at half time.

Secondly, surround yourself with people you want to be around. Appreciate you family, your friends, and you mentors, as they all can have a very significant impact on your life.

Third, stay in a forward thinking state of mind. Sam says he always tries to have something to look forward to. He doesn’t waste energy feeling bad for himself, he just moves on.

Sam ends his moving, and well spoken talk by adding in a fourth tenant. “Never miss a party.”

The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans: Daniel Amen


Daniel Gregory Amen is an American psychiatrist, a brain disorder specialist, director of the Amen Clinics, and a New York Times bestselling author.


Dr. Daniel Amen speaks about the intersection of medical imaging and psychiatry. He and his colleagues have been using brain SPECT imaging: A tool used to help psychiatrists understand more about imaging. For the past 22 years they’ve built the largest database of brain scans related to behavior. Shockingly, psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that don’t look at the organ they treat. Consider head trauma, which can have the symptoms like insomnia and temper problems, but show different brain activity. These patients often get misdiagnosed and unnecessarily medicated. Basing treatment on clusters of symptoms instead of individual brains is simply dangerous.

When Daniel scanned the brains of over 500 convicted felons, he discovered that people who do bad things, often have troubled brains. But more surprisingly, he learned that these brains can be rehabilitated. What would happen if we treated these brains instead of warehousing them in a toxic environment? Instead of just crime and punishment, we should be thinking about crime, evaluation, and treatment.

The most important Daniel has learned is that you can literally change people’s brains and when you do, you change their lives. On a study on NFL players, players showing poor brain function were put on a Brain Smart program. After the program 80% of the players improved their memory, mood, and blood flow. It is possible to reverse brain damage. He mentions several other studies including Andrew, a 9 year old boy, who was extremely violent and would draw pictures of himself shooting other kids. He was a tragedy waiting to happen, but instead of blindly medicating him Daniel used brain scans to identify a golf ball sized cyst in his brain. After the cyst was removed, all of his behavioral problems went away. Daniel reveals that Andrew is his own nephew and ends his talk with a picture of Andrew at 18 years.

Think Small: Alastair Humphreys


Alastair Humphreys is an adventurer, blogger, author and motivational speaker. Alastair was named as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his pioneering work on the concept of microadventures. http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/


Alastair is still a little shocked that he decided to bike across the world at age 24. He wasn’t much of an athlete and didn’t have much money, but he just wanted to get going. He didn’t actually think he was going to be able to make, he says. But having to stop along the way was a lot better to him than not trying at all. He started in England and biked down to South Africa, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, then rode up to Alaska, flew across the Pacific Ocean, rode across Sibera and Asia and ended back in England 720,000km later. He was on the road for 4 years and 3 months and spent about 7000 pounds, usually sleeping in a tent and eating banana sandwiches.

When he returned home, Alastair was unsure of what he would do for the next 60 years. His strategy in life had been find what you love and do lots of it, so he decided he would continue these trips. He has since rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, walked across India, and is planning some other very ambitious adventures.

But Alastair says that adventure has little to do with the activity itself. Adventure is only a state of mind. It’s important to do something you’ve never done and to do it with enthusiasm and passion. To show that adventure can be found everywhere, he has spent the last year doing Microadventures. Spend a night sleeping on top of a hill, swim down a river, whatever you can fit into your schedule. You might work from 9-5, but there’s still another 16 hours in a day. You don’t have to think big. It’s ok to start small – but do start.

Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit


Angela Lee Duckworth, an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies intangible concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success


At age 27, Angela quit her management consulting job to become a math teacher in the NYC public school system. After a while she noticed that her best performing students were not always the smartest ones. She asked herself “what if doing well in school in life depends on much more than [students’] ability to learn quickly and easily?”

Angela went to graduate school and tried to find out who succeeds and who does not. She conducted research at West Point Military Academy, schools, private companies, and from these very different contexts concluded that one characteristic was more indicative of success than the rest. And that was grit: having passion and perseverance for long term goals.

The shocking thing, she says, is how little about grit we know. What we do know is that grit is unrelated, and sometimes inversely related, to talent. We also know the effect of the Growth Mindset, understanding that the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort. When kids read about the brain and understand that failure is not a permanent condition, they are more likely to persevere where they usually fail. Promising ideas like this are what we should be testing and measuring. “We need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier.”

Jennifer Golbeck: The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think


Jennifer Golbeck is the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. Her work focuses on how to enhance and improve the way that people interact with their own information online.


About two year ago, a story about Target spread through the news. The retail giant’s mailing system had sent pregnancy related discounts to a 15 year old girl and received some backlash from her father. It turned out that girl was in fact pregnant, but hadn’t even told her parents yet. By looking at little patterns of behavior, like buying extra vitamins or bigger handbags, Target was is able to make very accurate predictions about its customers.

Jennifer’s lab does similar work and can predict things like political preference, intelligence, age, just by using Facebook. One study was done just using people’s Facebook likes (looking at which pages they liked). A list of the top 5 likes indicative of high intelligence showed that one of those likes was actually for the “curly fries” page.  Why? Because the action of liking reflects back to the attributes of the other people who liked it. If someone intelligent created the page, than their friends who like the page are probably smart as well.

The  problem is that people don’t really have any power over how this data is used. Jennifer says that if she wanted to, she could quit her job and start a new company, selling reports to H.R. companies that predict how well you work in teams or if you use drugs or not. This is certainly something you would want control over. A solution she proposes is to develop mechanisms that tell users how risky certain online actions are. “By sharing this piece of personal information, you’ve improved my ability to predict if you use drugs”.

Although the work she does depends on using that very information, she would rather see a user base that is educated and informed. Her goal is not to infer information about users, it’s to improve the way people interact online.