Dave Meslin: The antidote to apathy


Dave Meslin is a Toronto-based artist, activist, community organizer, writer and the Creative Director of PigeonHat Industries.


Often it is said people are too stupid, selfish, or lazy to care about local politics. Dave proposes the opposite view: that people do care but there are barriers put in their way to prevent action. These barriers are:

  1. City Hall: ‘community engagement’ for a project may be by placing an ad in the local paper, but the ad is in tiny font with the details (what is proposed, how to object) hidden within a page full of pointless text. If people were supposed to be involved, the ad would have just a picture, large font next to it with the proposal, and contact details – similar to when a business advertises. When people don’t respond, it isn’t because they are apathetic: they have been intentionally excluded.
  2. Public Spaces: Public advertising goes only to the highest bidder. But some important messages are unprofitable to say.
  3. Media: Media subtly discourages engagement. When they review theatre or a restaurant they often include a short paragraph describing price, address, opening hours in case people want to go. For political campaigns or messages there is no similar way for people to get involved or read more (eg a website address). This sets the tone that politics isn’t something that people can be involved in.
  4. Heroism: movies teach us that heroes are ‘chosen’ by prophecy. In truth leaders voluntarily step forward, form a collective team and work to achieve their goal.
  5. Political parties: They should be an entry point to getting involved in politics, but are so poll-driven they just tell us what we want to hear. This feeds cynicism and shows they cannot be trusted to be bold leaders.
  6. Charitable status: (In Canada) Charities are not allowed to politically advocate. This prevents some of the most passionate people from getting involved.
  7. Elections: (Canada’s) system creates random results, with the winner someone who most people didn’t vote for. It’s no wonder people struggle to vote.

If we believe people are NOT too stupid, selfish or lazy to care, then we can fix each of these issues. We have to redefine apathy as a series of barriers, then identify and dismantle them.

My Thoughts

This is a good list of barriers, but I’m disappointed so few solutions. His solution is to identify then dismantle each one, but that process is blocked by the same barriers he identifies, and the political process itself. Major Political Parties benefit from the election system: and people will (probably rightly) greet attempts to change it with cynicism. Other vested interests will also fight against any change, especially if noone can propose something fairer. Given Canada has a first-past-the-post system with 3 significant parties, so a preferential system would probably work better, but plenty of people will fight to prevent that.

‘Community engagement’ has been reduced to fine print ads to make things easier for people implementing projects. While the ads are one barrier in the process, would they really take on board community suggestions anyway? Would you expect them to?

Marco Tempest: A cyber-magic card trick like no other


Marco Tempest is a Swiss magician based in New York City. He is known for his multimedia magic and use of interactive technology and computer graphics in his illusions and presentations.


Marco introduces artificial reality glasses then shows us some card tricks from his point of view. He spins a fun tale as he deals the deck and reveals cards corresponding to the story he tells. As this happens, special effects explode from the cards and the computer voice acts as a foil – revealing probabilities and talking back to him.


My Thoughts

Fun video, and at 6 minutes long is worth a watch. I’m unsure if the special effects improve a magic show: it seems to make it easy to trick people when anything can be modified at a whim – taking some of the skill out of magic. Even so, the novelty of special effects and interesting story he tells makes it worthwhile.

As for how he does it, I think the cards appearing in order are ‘real’, with the deck in order before he starts and the shuffles all a trick.

Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?


Philip George Zimbardo is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect


Guys are dropping out educationally, wiping out emotionally with girls and sexually with women. They are 30% more likely to drop out of school, and outperformed by girls at every level of education. Psychologically, they are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and make up 2/3 of special education students.

Emotionally, there is a fear of intimacy and women. Male college students are getting increasingly shy and have difficulty in social situations (especially with females). Boys and men seem to prefer the company of other males, and prefer the internet to spontaneous social interaction.

The problem is video games and pornography. Boys watch on average 50 porn clips a week and play 10,000 hrs of video games by the age of 21. These cause an ‘arousal addiction’ – constantly looking for novelty and new experiences. Arousal addiction is different to more classic drug addictions, where the addict seeks the same experience again and again. This is at odds with real relationships and classrooms, which build up more slowly and subtly over time.

What’s the solution? Philip doesn’t know: this short talk is to alarm not solve. But he believes ‘real’ men are important to keep the species strong and that everyone benefits – especially the women who want men that can make love slowly and properly.

My Thoughts

As Philip says: this talk isn’t about solutions, it is all about shock. The internet certainly has its plusses and minusses: people drawn to easily searching anything that comes to mind, and they will always find a result. This encourages novelty in both sex and education. On the educational side: people craving different sorts of knowledge should be able to be harnessed: an enthusiasm to learn should be seen as an asset rather than a liability. It seems like a weakness in our education system if it is struggling to get people interested.

Philip’s talk references other TED talks, and regarding video games (and especially violent FPSes that teenage boys are likely playing) there are talks that are positive on the benefits of video games to the brain (https://tedsummaries.com/2014/12/30/daphne-bavelier-your-brain-on-video-games/). However addiction levels are distracting from other pursuits.

Catherine Crump: The small and surprisingly dangerous detail the police track about you


Catherine Crump is an assistant clinical professor at Berkeley Law School who focuses on the laws around data and surveillance.


Police are using military style weapons, and collecting NSA style data. Automatic license plate readers mounted on police cars or beside roads are letting local police track where people are at all times. If anyone passes a plate reader, their records are kept for years. When a citizen requested their records, they found a series of photos including one of their daughters inside his driveway. The cost of storing these photos is getting lower, so the photos tend to be kept for years.

These plate readers can be abused with highly targetted tracking attempts. New York Police have driven past mosques to track attendance, and UK police have put a sketch artist on a watchlist after he drew attendees from a number of political demonstrations.

Beyond plate readers, people are tracked by mobile phone usage. By tracking who connects to a tower or multiple towers, police can get a good idea of where you are. They can also use ‘stingray’ to track a mobile phone signal within your home.

Catherine states that this is a civil liberties threat – in the past as police gain access to new technology it gets abused for criminal purposes (blackmail or political advantage) or simple curiosity / voyeurism. She wants governments to pass laws compelling police to dispose of data about innocents while allowing them to keep those under investigation.

My Thoughts

I am glad information is getting out there about what police are capable of – it is sensible to understand how our personal information is collected and used. While informative at a high level, this talk was too short to really give details, and often seemed to have an underlying paranoia / fear to it. I’m not averse to passive use of occasional license plate trackers – and the example photos given in the talk had time stamps many months apart. What is more worrying is how it is used to draw conclusions – especially if mosques are being targeted and conclusions drawn about attendees.

This is the real concern – in most cases this data will not be useful for identifying crimes. Where I travelled today will not solve anything – we are therefore taking privacy risks (and potential misuse by officers) for no gain. There is also the issue of data being used to track people who are committing no crime but violating societal convention – if they are secretly gay or having an affair this could embarrass them (or leave them blackmailed).

Reading more into Stingray (which was briefly mentioned): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker it mimics the actions of a mobile phone tower to force devices to connect to it. It can then track users and intercept communications.

ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese … with ease!


ShaoLan is an entrepreneur, investor, writer, and creator of ‘Chineasy’.


Chinese characters are part of a beautiful language, but to outsiders can be difficult to learn. A Chinese person would know 20,000 characters, but only 1,000 are used frequently. Knowing 200 will let a traveller get by, to work out road signs, menus, timetables. Shaolan goes through 8 basic characters and explains how to chain them together to form more complicated characters.

8 basic hanyu

From top left, left to right

  • Fire – think of a person flailing their arms while on fire
  • Tree
  • Sun
  • Moon
  • Person
  • Mouth – open wide
  • Door – looks like a Wild West saloon door
  • Mountain

Put 2 people next to each other and it represents follow. Put 3 people in the same character and they are a crowd. You can continue to chain images together to get more complicated characters:


hanyu - fire


hanyu tree


hanyu - sun


hanyu - people


hanyu - door


hanyu - woman

From the first 8 radicals (parts of a character), we have formed 30 characters. We can then chain 2 characters together to form phrases. For example a fire mountain is a volcano,

hanyu phrases


Japan is the land of the rising sun, so sun character combined with foundation. If you take these characters and add ‘person’ character afterwards, it becomes Japanese person.

hanyu Japan


Chinese emperors used to send their political opponents across the mountains, to exile – so mountains represent exile. An opening (mouth) that leads to exile is the exit.

hanyu exit

My Thoughts

As a long time learner of Chinese for ~12 years who came away from it knowing very little, this was a much more interesting way of learning it. To see how the characters are formed makes it more memorable than rote learning.

A wonderful talk that makes me want to learn the language again (and that is quite an impressive feat).

David Grady: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings


David Grady is an information security manager who believes that strong communication skills are
a necessity in today’s global economy. He is known for a video online about ineffective conference calls


David talks about meetings, especially large meetings with no agenda, and no clear reason why each person is there. He blames “Meeting Acceptance Syndrome” or MAS – the urge to instinctively accept a meeting invite that is sent to you. Meetings are important, but accepting mindlessly costs your most important resource: time.

He showed excerpts from his Youtube video (linked above).

People feel powerless to resist these meetings. David suggests “¡No Mas!” that instead of always accepting: if you don’t know why you were invited or what the meeting is about, you should instead reply ‘Tentative”. You can the call the organiser and offer your assistance, but get more details about how you can help. By doing this, people will hopefully start to think more before sending out an invitation – publishing an agenda or rethinking why they need to set up a meeting at all.

My Thoughts

Short and to the point, David is an entertaining speaker. His point is important, but not much to it. Worth a quick look, or for subtly forwarding around at work. You know who you are 🙂

Joe Landolina: This gel can make you stop bleeding instantly


Joe Landolina is a young, full time student at NYU, and inventor of a gel that can instantly stop traumatic bleeding — without the need to apply pressure. He is CEO of Suneris, which aims to bring the product to market.


A soldier shot in the femoral artery can die in 3 minutes. If a medic gets to him, their tools take 5 minutes to stop bleeding, and require the medic to apply pressure throughout. Joe has been working on bio-products that work with the body to stop bleeding quickly.

Cells are the most basic unit of life, but these are surrounded by the extra-cellular-matrix (ECM) which is what is damaged during a cut. A scar is a symptom of poorly formed ECM. ECM is different for different parts of the body, so it is difficult to design a product that is compatible with all the different ECMs. Most technology is only a crude approximation of ECM, but Joe’s gel is derived from plant products and can re-form to replicate any type of ECM once applied. Wherever the gel is applied, it forms the shape it needs. He shows an example of a serious ‘cut’ in a piece of meat, with a pump pushing blood through it. By the time he finished applying the gel (~10secs), the bleeding is completely stopped.

The product is already being used by vets, and Joe hopes it will be used on humans within a year.

My Thoughts

Wonderful product. Reading around, some animal-based products are used in surgeries for a similar effect, but some people refuse for ethical reasons. There are also others that cannot be stored at room temperature, but Joe’s gel seems superior to most alternatives.

If the summary interests you, or you want to hear a 5-minute description of how the body responds to cuts, it is a worthwhile watch. Not too much detail on how it works though.

Kamal Meattle: How to grow fresh air


Kamal Meattle is an Indian environmental activist and CEO of Paharpur Business centre & Software Technology Incubator Park based in New Delhi, India.


Kamal is allergic to Delhi’s polluted air. He discovered a combination of 3 indoor plants that can filter it, and give him all the fresh air he needs.

  • Areca Plant in the living room: converts CO2 to Oxygen during the day. You need 4 shoulder-high plants per person, and need to wipe the leaves daily in Delhi (maybe weekly elsewhere).
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue in the bedroom: converts CO2 to Oxygen during the night. You need 6 waist high plants per person.
  • Money Plant where necessary removed formaldehyde and other volatile chemicals from the air.

With these 3 plants, you can live indefinitely in a sealed room by rebreathing the air. Kamal had these plants installed in a 50,000 sq ft office building in Delhi. While in this building for 10 hrs, 42% of people’s blood oxygen increase by 1%. It is the healthiest building in New Delhi, and its occupants have

  • 52% less eye irritation
  • 34% lower incidence of respiratory issues
  • 24% fewer headaches
  • 9% less asthma

Human productivity also increased by 20%, and energy reduction by 15% (due to less air requirements). As more humans move to buildings and buildings are one of our largest energy sources, this recipe for fresh air could reduce that significantly.

My Thoughts

Good recipe if you live in a polluted city, and useful conclusion for all offices with large air-conditioning requirements.

Joy Sun: Should you donate differently?


Joy Sun is a veteran aid worker and COO at http://www.givedirectly.org


As an experienced aid worked, Joy often felt the urge to give money directly to the poor (rather than through programs). However, she believed that her programs would benefit them more: by spending money for the poor rather than letting the poor spend money. Recent research shows that this is not true – when people are allowed to spend money themselves, pregnant women will buy food for stronger babies, businessmen will invest directly in their business and increase their income. Studies showed people didn’t spend more on alcohol, or slack off and work less. People prioritised their own needs well, and usually got a direct benefit.

It begs the question: are aid workers worth the extra cost? Are the poor better at spending their money than we are at choosing what they want? As an example, in India a program gave livestock to the ‘ultra-poor’, and 30% then sold their livestock for cash. To add to the inefficiency, for every $100 spent on livestock, another $99 was spent in administration of the program.

New technology allows us to send money directly to the poor. This payment amount could allow people to send money directly to the poor. Joy’s latest program will firstly verify how poor a person is, then sell them a cheap cellphone and donate $1000 per family directly to them. It avoids issues of corruption, and allows people to invest in themselves.

Aid efficiency tends to have a very low threshold of success- we tell ourselves that it is successful if we do some good. Or that we are better off giving than not giving. This increases the amount lost to plane tickets, reports, studies. The new bar should be “can we choose how to spend this money better than the recipients?”.

Direct money cannot eradicate disease or build up institutions, but could be a more efficient way to improve the lives of individuals. Joy believes in aid, but isn’t convinced that most of it is more efficient than directly giving to the poor. She hopes some day it will be.

My Thoughts

Very thought-provoking. As someone who could donate more, but is cynical of the agencies delivering programs, the idea of direct payments is intriguing. I am also curious how this aid impacts those who do not receive it: are whole villages targeted, and if so does it simply cause inflation? Or does involvement in this aid pick winners? I admit my ignorance of economics in this area. I would also be concerned about the verification process – giving money is a concept that is open to fraud, and donators should feel confident that it is being given to those who need it.

Nonetheless, I agree with her that it is a very good way to bypass inefficient organisations and government corruption.

Derek Sivers: How to start a movement


Derek Sivers is best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, an online CD store for independent musicians.


Derek shows a video of a crowd forming around a single shirtless dancer (the leader). He dances alone for a while, then someone else comes forward. They dance together for a while, and are embraced as equals. Then a couple more come over and start dancing, and soon a large crowd forms around them.

So what can we learn from this?

  • As a leader, you must encourage your first followers. Embrace them as equals and treat them well.
  • The first follower is the one who turns someone from a shirtless nut into a leader. The leader will get the credit, but the followers are brave for getting it started.
  • Once a group is formed, the rest will start flocking towards it. Suddenly it isn’t weird or risky – if they’re quick they can still be part of the ‘in’ crowd, rather than feeling left behind.
  • For this reason, an early follower is a special kind of leadership.
  • If you see a single person with a good idea, be that first follower.

My Thoughts

Fun short talk, with some nonetheless useful messages. Nearly half of the video is the opening and ads that accompanied older TEDs.