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NZ Ted Fellow 2009

Posted on 03 February 2009 by JasonK

It’s true I’m a TEDhead and if we’ve met it would be unusual if I didn’t mention the TED conference videos at some point.

One of the incredible delights of the today is that even though we read less; if we can find time to watch an 18 minute video – paradoxically we have even greater access to some of the best minds in the world  via TED and sites like it.

In my house we call it Teducation and personally I just love being able to get an idea of what the best subject matter experts in the work are thinking about their chosen topics and what they actually care about.

Even better when they have only 18 minutes to express their passion (which is the standard TED format) that is short enough to be useful but not too long if the presentation sucks.

This week TED announced A TED Fellows programme for this year and buried away in the detail was the name Sean Gourley described as  Physicist/military theorist; Rhodes Scholar. New Zealand

Sean has been away in the UK on a Rhodes Scholarship for the past few years but his background from Canterbury University is

Bachelor of Science with Honours and Master of Science in Physics
Sean researched nano-scale blue light lasers for his first-class BSc(Hons) degree in Physics and self-assembled quantum nano-wires, for his MSc before enrolling for a DPhil at Oxford University, researching complex adaptive systems and collective intelligent systems.

Over on younoodle it says that Sean is a

“New Zealander, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, PhD in Physics specializing in ‘networks and complexity’, just finished a research fellowship at Oxford in the quantitative analysis of war and terrorism. “

So what is the Ted Fellow award and how can we be involved?

I think we can all be involved in scouting for the unusual suspects. Anyone can become a member of TED. As at today’s date there are apparently 908 NZ linked members on the network. My TED profile is here but anyone can join – check the joining TED blurb here.

Getting into a conference and paying the $US6k in fees plus the travel and other costs of getting there and back each time takes some serious effort for most of us so it is fantastic that there is a TED fellows sponsorship programme.

Go Sean Gourley @ TED .  For more detail download the TED fellows PDF and check page 21 of 45. Some of the other Fellows like Patrick Awuah we have seen in action before and I have also spent time on Jennifers Brea‘s blogs in the past as well. Her work on Africabeat is worth reading.

If you read this Sean – make sure all of those guests know that NZ is not just a rock in the Pacific or Fiji with snow – but a really vibrant community of creativity and world class thinking.

Update:4th Feb We are following Sean via his twitter feed in the top right sidebar / see comments.

Sean says

  • Talk to me about – Politics, Venture Capital and innovation, Mathematics, Physics, running, single malt scotch, the latest book I have to read or movie I should go see.

For background on the Fellowship programme:

Ted Fellows

“Introducing TED Fellows, our new international program that will bring 50 eclectic, up-and-coming world-changers to our Long Beach and Oxford conferences each year….

All TED Fellows will receive special benefits including pre-conference programs, training from world-class communications professionals, the opportunity to give short TEDTalks at TED University, the opportunity to spread their ideas on, a private social network and more. Of course, TED will cover their conference fees, travel and lodging.

We’re targeting individuals aged 21-40 from all of TED’s many disciplines, including of course, technology, entertainment and design but also science, humanities and the arts, entrepreneurs, NGOs and political and community leaders. We’re focusing on candidates from five regions of the world: Africa, Asia/Pacific, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East. However, anyone 18 and over is welcome to apply. The first application cycle begins February 23rd, 2009.

These men and women were selected for their achievement but especially for their promise. Each of them shows real potential to create positive change in their field — whether it’s technology, entertainment, design, music, art, science, business or the NGO community — in their country, and even around the world.”

However ;  I can’t help thinking that some of our brightest TED prospects are now outside the university systems especially in the creative sectors.

What do you think -?  Who would you nominate as a representative of your sector, company, organisation or country. Who are the unusual suspects?

Here is hoping that Sean enjoys his time at TED and reports back.

TED 2009 Conference starts 3 Feb (today – depending on your timezone.)

If I was at the conference I’d be keen to see Daniel Lebskind, Oliver Sacks, Herbie Hancock, Dan Ariely and Liz Coleman for starters. Jacek Utko thinks good design can save the newspaper? He will be presenting on that — and good luck with that one from me.

For more on the TED Conference 09  speakers

Really I’d love to be at TED one day but the next best thing is helping a smart New Zealander make it there. Lets nominate some more TED fellows for next year and trust that Sean will have a great time this trip.

The third best thing to being at TED are the T shirts. Premo purveyor of T’s to the thoughtful REMO Generalstore is the TED T-shirt supplier so Australia are already doing their bit for TED.

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Founder Remo Giuffré is at TED – Remo on twitter

#TED: My Name Badge. Needs to be worn at all times. Security ... on TwitPic

Footnote: As always if you are at TED 09 – feel free to add a comment here or contact me via TED or LinkedIn.

We really enjoyed David Cowan‘s posts from TED last year (Check the Dave Eggers post) and Brian Sweeney’s notes before that.

The TED prize is webcast live at Thursday 5th Feb at 5 pm US Pacific Time. LA time is currently

For NZ – this makes local time of 2 pm Friday 6th or Friday Feb 6 12 noon for Sydney, NSW readers. For your location you may want to double check the meeting planner.

TED prize winners this conference are deep ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, astronomer Jill Cornell Tarter, maestro José Antonio Abreu.   I’m sure they are all great but I especially like the sound of :

Jose Abreu, a retired economist, trained musician, and social reformer founded El Sistema (“the system”) in 1975 based on the conviction that what poor Venezuelan kids needed was classical music. After 30 years and 10 different political administrations, El Sistema is now a nationwide organization of 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras and 270 music centers.

Update: Some of this post have also been added to Idealog Blog

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Creative generalists rock the tesseract!

Posted on 08 May 2008 by JasonK

Lately I’ve been to some funerals and also lots of births in the form of kids birthday parties. At both ends of the curve there are a number of recurring questions but today really looking at just two.

One of the best questions ever is “What are you going to do when you grow up?”

I especially like it when its’ a kid asking me the question and I always take that as a compliment. The honest answer is always made up on the spot and and is usually along the lines of I’m still working that out-depending on who is asking.

After nearly 50 years I have a pretty good idea of where to focus but I still adore the exploration and rediscovery of old and new ideas and their application to the present.

(By way of background I’m ENFP or ENFJ and fit the Grey Lynn tribe profile – test yourself.)

I feel very lucky to still have an open end on most of my work/life and to be able to re-imagine the future. It seems really obvious but there is a huge difference between conscious knowledge and intelligence.

Some of this comes with age, learning style and a desire to want to keep learning and growing which sadly we all sometimes neglect. In my world view boxes are for things not people, and so while it is good to be able to see some connections it is always better to be able to really think outside the cube and even go really fractal when you need to.

Forget the box and the cube, everyday is a tesseract of opportunities. If we stay awake, and take some notes like keeping a journal for example, we will continue to discover new and exciting ways and means to develop. The life as a mystery box idea appeals to me and I was interested to hear JJ Abrams talk about this on a TED video which you can view over here.

The other question people always ask in various ways is “What do you do for a Job?”

My usual answer for the past few years has been “whatever I want to do” and yes I do have the experience and skills to do a wide range of activities quite well. However there is always a reality checklist close by especially when the car breaks down or some other bill looms large. So the dream always remains but sometimes often there are work projects we all need to do a) pay for the groceries and b) pay for the dreams.

But I really like the in between time/s when I can work on thinking and planning for a cornucopia of projects and my natural inclination is to gravitate towards the creative end of the spectrum even though much of my “education” was designed to minimize those abilities.

BTW I’ve found a new word to partly describe my general learning style and also explains why I can seemingly link a series of invisible dots – “all this stuff is connected” as Chris Anderson mentions in his 2002 Vision for TED video. Multi disciplinary views of space and time just suit me because I’m poly-chronic.

“Plans: from Time Management Basics

The polychronic person will use plans but is quite happy to be flexible in their approach to achieve the desired goal. They may flit from project to project as the mood takes them gaining inspiration from one project to utilise on the other.

Flexibility is a useful trait of the polychronic person”.

Finally an answer as to why I’m happy reading 5 books at once as well as listening to and watching lots of videos on apparently unrelated topics. My brain still enjoys the buzz and it knows what a fractal of a fractal is even if it takes me a while to catch up and articulate that stimulus into a series of useful questions for a client.

So the new answer to the perennial “What do you do?” question is that I’m a polychronic creative generalist (and divergent thinking maven) so chances are good that if you have a great project I can help at some level.

For more on the creative generalist go to Steve Hardy’s wonderful blog which is a real treasure trove of ideas. For example this recent link gives some great examples of the creative generalist concept by Larry Borsato

“I am not trying to suggest that generalists are perfect. If you are building banking software or you are launching a space shuttle, where well-defined processes are essentially repeated over and over in the building of the software, then specialists may be preferred.

However, in the Web 2.0 world we live in, where new products and APIs are introduced seemingly every other week, specialization loses its allure. Six months of experience on a particular platform might turn a generalist into a de facto specialist.

At the same time, a generalist brings a variety of hard and soft skills to the task at hand. They often have the ability to quickly assimilate a new technology or skill, and may be able to quickly accomplish tasks in unfamiliar situations. And, from what I’ve seen in the past few years working with the Web, everything is an unfamiliar situation.” (see

Snap – dude…I am also an entreprenerial marketer, product developer, planning consultant, researcher and more. On any given day I can be writing a marketing plan, developing a website to go with the brand and talking with CEO’s about their industry strategies and / or enterprise level software to go with with their orders as well.

Great to hear from other creative generalists as like OddPodz who are building a community for optimistic creative thought leaders.

Equally I’m at home brainstorming with other mavens and turning the metaphorical map upside down with a sprinkle of physics, architecture and whatever other discipline I may be absorbing at that time. Lifelong learning is not just a bright idea, it’s a way of life.

Somehow it all works out because the challenges along the way help cross pollinate the answers on other projects present and future.

There is a wonderful story that Jim Collins tells about writing down observations on himself in a little notebook “about the bug called Jim.” You can listen to the bio story over here (11mins.) (Hear Jim talk about his path to becoming a self-employed professor.* )

His description of an entrepreneur as someone who is “congenetically coded with the defect that they can’t work for other people” …entrepreneurship is a life idea…starting with a blank canvas.. carving your own path and figuring out how to do that in a unique way…”

And overall the joy of the question is something that keeps me revisiting his website and books. I’ve also learned over many years that if I listen to audio that somehow works better for me personally -which is why I’ll sometimes listen to TED videos in the background while I’m working on something else entirely.

TessearactFinally part of the reason for this post is that I have been making the equivalent of mix tapes by combining and mashing /recombining some of the 80 video clips from my “creative commons” TED collection.

Despite ranging across the full spectrum of subjects from physics, architecture, design, neurology, photography, dance, business, technology, maths, education and so on – it is not differences that I see, rather – it is the connections between all those subjects that matter most.

Off to a conference tomorrow today and inevitably will be asked by many that work question.

I’d much rather they ask the first one about what am I going to do when I grow up—but then you’d expect a creative generalist to have that kind of an answer.

Other related posts here that you may enjoy.

Update: 9th of May – a cross post over at Idealog and the beautiful tesseract at left to check out more in the magazine.

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Lance Armstrong

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Why Alternative Energy Can’t Save Us from Peak Oil

Posted on 10 August 2007 by JasonK

One of the standard responses from Government and Oil companies when faced with the peak oil scenarios is to say that alternative energy sources will make up the gap and we shouldn’t worry. Wrong!

This is Part 2 in a series on Energy futures and this post looks more closely at Chapter 4 of The Last Oil Shock, where author David Strahan goes through many of the alternative supply solutions and checks the math and underlying assumptions. In each case the alternative is too little and too late to really help much at all.

There are also some organisations concerned about climate change who believe the demise of big oil will somehow help reduce the damage from global warming. Oil accounts for less than 40% of total C02 emissions with the balance coming from coal and gas and so with a greater reliance on coal and gas it is extremely unlikely that the oil reduction will be that helpful.

As Strahan discusses most of these ideas are not well thought out and plain wrong.

For example 95% of oil uses are for transport where coal can’t help much and gas could help some (in transport) but gas supplies are highly linked to oil in most cases. Because we want the alternative sources to be “clean” this suggests that the two most feasible options would be hydrogen and biofuels.

Hydrogen – Not a Real Option
The most attractive idea from using hydrogen as an energy source for transport is that a hydrogen fuel cell is much more efficient than a conventional internal combustion engine. A figure of 18% is the useful energy to the wheels with a standard engine, whereas hydrogen offers the potential of 50% due to its much higher efficiency and the lower number of moving parts which reduces friction loss etc. however it is not that easy.

On the minus side the expense of hydrogen technology means it could be 10 years before cars could be below $100k in price which means that won’t help most of us. Safety and the need of plenty of storage space are also issues. Ultimately (fuller details in the book) Hydrogen needs to be super cooled as a gas at -240 ‘C however the trade off is that uses 30% of the energy value and this means that the energy efficiency is back down at 25% while a Toyota Prius is as high as 32%.

There are other ways of producing hydrogen but the short answer is hybrids* and even the new generation of diesels are better at the present time. We could use electricity to generate Hydrogen but the amount needed is prohibitive.

Strahan continues with the math and concludes that 81 gigawatts would be needed to replace current transport energy needs in the UK. As this is more than the current generating capacity in the U.K that is not an option.

Solar and Wind
Check pages 92 and 93 in the book for the math which includes calculations for wind, solar and nuclear with numbers that I haven’t personally checked but you are welcome to try. The short version is that using current technologies even if we could do it the amount of land area needed and the time it would take to get setup in measured in decades and we don’t have that long.

Strahan concludes

“hydrogen as a transport fuel seems to be utterly incapable of mitigating either global warming or the last oil shock…it might work in Iceland, where they have limitless hydro -electricity… but for the rest of the world its back to the drawing board”

Biofuels including Ethanol
We don’t eat enough fish and chips for this one to really help much. 300m litres of cooking oil is just too small compared to 25b litres of diesel needed in the U.K. The NZ numbers would be similar proportions but I’m all in favour of recycling that used frying oil. Alternative versions of biofuel such as biodiesel or bioethanol both generally require large amounts of land at the expense of food production.

A feature at Worldchanging suggests that bio-diesel from algae might be the best bet

“A single acre of algae ponds can produce 15,000gallons of biodiesel — in comparison, an acre of soybeans produces up to 50 gallons of biodiesel per acre, an acre of jatropha produces up to 200 gallons per acre, coconuts produce just under 300 gallons per acre, and palm oil — currently the best non-algal source — produces up to 650 gallons of biodiesel per acre. That is to say, algae is 25 times better a source for biodiesel than palm oil, and 300 times better than soy.”

Cellulosic ethanol might be the bright hope here as it is based on using waste byproducts and not so land hungry. However the amount of “waste” product is not as great as needed. Elsewhere in the book the Fischer-Tropsch process is discounted as a method of supply as well.

In New Zealand bio-ethanol blended petrol just launched comes as a byproduct of milk production from Fonterra via Gullso while it is not cellulosic ethanol it might succeed to some extent in delaying the full shock of oil prices at the pump.

See here for Consumer information from Energywise for NZ motorists.

Note from Dr David Haywood(Thanks David) – It seems likely that NZ *is* one of the few countries where biofuels for transport could be economical, thanks to our massive resource of dodgy-quality wood. See: here for more.

Brazil and Ethanol
The availability of sugar cane and 30 years of experience means that it has been a great success in Brazil but hard to scale up much further although the theoretical numbers are surprisingly high. After 30 years Brazil has replaced up to 30% of its transport needs from Ethanol which show how difficult a goal this is.

Strahan calculates would take 320m hectares to replace 2003 petrol consumption, which is more than 15 times the total area of land in cultivation for sugar cane in 2004. Given that petrol consumption is still growing and even if goals are more modest like a % of the total in countries like Brazil and where that makes sense it could help soothe the transition at least in part.

Consequently environmental, land use and social issues preclude sustainable ethanol production on a large scale for most countries. Bio-diesel from Jatropha is promising but the conclusion is similar. 359m hectares of land planted in that crop just isn’t feasible.

Ultimately with all of these alternatives we can’t come even close in the short term to replacing a significant level of energy for transport regardless of the methodology. We still need massive conservation to be part of any transition plan.

There is much more detail in the book , but you’ll need to buy it now. Hopefully you get a clearer idea of how rigorous the research has been and that arguments like hydrogen or bio-fuels saving the day are simply not correct.

However exploring alternative energy sources is good for business. This note is out of date now but even so the numbers are large and positive motivators for business.

Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France

Another Book Review
This comes from Mick Winter see here for more

“Strahan is first of all a superb journalist. He is objective in his facts, backs up his statements, and offers both breadth and depth in his account of Peak Oil. But Strahan also has a position; one which enhances, rather than obscures, his objectivity. His wry, even biting, sense of humor and his observation of the energy predicament’s ironies and, alas, frequent hypocrisies, come through in a manner that allows his facts to be enjoyable digested all the way through the book.

I highly recommend reading The Last Oil Shock.”

Mini Summary of the Books Key arguments
From this profile piece here is the shortest summary of the book I have found. Most of this post has just barely covered number 1.

1. Biofuels and hydrogen are utterly inadequate to make good the looming transport fuel deficit
2. How ‘running out’ of oil paradoxically will not help but worsen climate change
3. How traditional economics critically underestimates the importance of energy, and therefore the severity of the last oil shock.
4. Why governments, oil companies, and environmentalists oppose the idea, and why they are wrong
5. How the oil reserves of Middle East OPEC countries are almost certainly far smaller than claimed, meaning the global peak will come sooner rather than later
6. How the actions of oil companies belie their predicament, despite their publicly confident positions
7. How the invasion of Iraq was not ‘all about oil’, but all about peak oil.

*Note on Hybrids (Not in the book)
It seems to me that hybrids are great in theory but the cost differential is so high that in New Zealand at least you are still better to buy a much cheaper car and use the balance to pay for fuel. It may be different elsewhere but the going rate for a used hybrid like the Prius is around $25k. My calculations are very rough – in some places tax incentives make the deal better. See here for some more NZ background. To do the calculations properly you need to look at payments over 3-5 years and factor in fuel savings and price rises over that time. It may be for some people who commute larger distances that the payback from a hybrid would make sense.

A similar car could be obtained for $10k and even if/when fuel costs triple you can still buy a whole lot of petrol for the $15k difference. So although I would love a hybrid – suspect that the higher the price of petrol the higher the price (including resale value) of the hybrid goes.

Perhaps there are other technology advances like the pivotal engine which improves on two stroke technology for example. Now a 3 wheeledVespa equivalent with a pivotal engine – that could be something.

See also Why running out of oil could make climate change worse

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series. See these related posts in the series.

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