Arthur Benjamin: The Magic of Fibonacci Numbers

Speaker: Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin

Length: 6:25

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

Math should be taught for 3 reasons:

  •  Calculation: to work out an answer
  • Application: to apply the method
  • Inspiration: for the fun, beautiful patterns and logical thinking behind it.

Arthur argues Inspiration is underappreciated. He shows the beauty of Fibonacci numbers and how it ties to nature

  • number of petals on a flower tends to be Fibonacci number
  • patterns in numbers: sum of squares of a Fibonacci number equals another Fibonacci, and cumulative sum of all squares equals product of 2 consecutive Fibonacci numbers.

Maths isn’t just solving for ‘x’, it’s also about figuring out ‘y’ (why?).

Critique

Arthur is excited by the numbers, and gets bonus points for being called a ‘Mathemagician’. The idea of the talk was to refocus maths on finding patterns then investigating how they come about – making it more fun and feel relevant to the world around it.

A fun talk, and especially to fit so many interesting points in 6mins.

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William Ury: The walk from “no” to “yes”

Speaker: William Ury

Length: 19:16

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

William discusses the importance of a ‘third side’ in a conflict – the outsiders affected by it. Their role is to keep perspective for the parties, and find the common ground. He especially talks of helping parties take a step back – go for a walk, “go to the balcony” and think together.

In the context of middle east conflict, he talks of finding a common story between the combatants. In this case he suggests Abraham – a common biblical figure known for hospitality between strangers. He mapped a walk along important points in Abraham’s life and the hotspots of the conflict, walking the route together and allowing enemies to experience the kindness of locals together.

Critique

This is a good story with an interesting perspective on negotiation attached. Some is obvious but well phrased “when angry you will make the greatest speech you’ll ever regret”. The idea of calmness “going for a walk” or “going to the balcony” and letting people get alone time away from the conflict was strong in his talk.

His idea of the walk through Abraham’s life didn’t resonate with me, but I can see it working for the middle east. I can certainly see help in people walking through hotspots together and getting to know the locals. This could start to soften the violence associated with religious intolerance, and at least get different people talking together.

Treating violence as a contagious disease

Speaker: Gary Slutkin

Length: 14:09

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

Violence can be modelled as a contagious disease, since typically people exposed to violence are more likely to be violent themselves. It can therefore be treated as an infectious disease, by using ‘case workers’ to  work with the angry people likely to instigate violence, and those directly affected by it.

The intent was to change the norms associated with violence, or to stop the future spread of the “disease”. His method was trialled in the West Garfield neighbourhood of Chicago and saw a 67% drop in shootings, and has since spread to other areas.

Critique

This is one of the best types of TED talks – where a technique from one field (in this case infectious diseases) is used to successfully treat a different problem (gang violence). The results speak for themselves, with each area it is rolled out showing approximately 50% drop in violence.

I think the main difference between this and the normal criminal counselling is that he is pro-actively going into neighbourhoods to look for ‘patient zeros’ – rather than waiting for them to commit the crime. I’d be interested to hear more about how he selects the people to counsel, and the counsellors themselves. If the talk has a flaw it is that it talks a lot about the theory and results without much about the implementation.

I’m also concerned that if the program is funded by governments, a primary health or crime prevention program is often the first thing to be cut around budget time.

Despite these flaws, a worthwhile talk. The need for his solutions is only confirmed reading through the youtube comments defending violence and racism – Maybe he should roll his program out to the internet next 🙂

How to learn anything in 20 hours

Speaker: Josh Kaufman

Length: 19:27

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

You can get to a passable level in a new skill with 20 hrs practise. You just need to

  1. Deconstruct the skill into its important parts. Reduce the skill to an achievable level
  2. Learn enough to know when you are on the right track
  3. Focus, push through the “Feeling stupid” phase of learning, and practise

Critique

A good idea, and presented well. His example of learning to play ukulele from its 4 most common chords was good. Also very inspiring – the idea to just learn what you want – you don’t need to become an expert.

I then went to think about what I want to learn. That’s when it gets tricky. It should definitely work to get to a beginners level for artistic or performance skills – eg music, drawing, photoshop, juggling, martial arts, language.

It’s harder to imagine for tasks which take longer to do or rely on more theoretical knowledge, where you can’t rely on feedback and practise so much. eg learning chemistry, electronics, building. I’d be keen to see an example or a wiki of more people deconstructing and performing a skill, to see if it can be done.

In the end though, his ‘can do’ attitude is inspiring and I recommend the talk.