Tag Archives: tedx

Ted Cruz, TEDx, and Tea Party

15 Oct

I hope Ted Cruz and all our other Canadian friends enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I hope my American brethren enjoyed being reminded what a genocidal monster / proud Italian explorer Christopher Columbus was. Here are some things. 

1. I posted something last week with specific questions, but although the article racked up 18 comments, no one answered them specifically, so I’ll try again

What do you think our regional priorities should be? How do we sell fundamental, deep regional political, social, educational, and economic change to a conservative and resistant population? How can we sell these big ideas while convincing people (a) that they aren’t going to “lose” while others “win”, and that these changes will benefit them, too?

2. Today is Buffalo TEDx day, and if you can’t be there, you can follow along here

3. The tea party shut down the government over Obamacare. Everything about it has been a disaster for the Republican Party. How many times have you heard these dummies denounce the size and scope of the federal government? How many times have you read how their pledgeholder Grover Norquist wants to shrink the federal government so he can drown it in its bathwater? Yet, when these guys get the government shutdown they want, they hold an unironic protest in Washington, throwing “Barrycades” at the White House? The shutdown and looming default fears have completely supplanted the problems people have had with the Obamacare signup website in the news. A deal is expected to be struck sometime today or tomorrow, and it will be a resounding defeat for Republicans in congress. It’s so bad that some are calling on Democrats to show mercy and help out. When the deal is struck, the government will reopen, the debt limit so our creditors are repaid, and there will be a deal to revisit and soften the harshness of the sequester. But at least Judicial Watch’s Larry Klayman will still try to arrest Obama in November, so that’s nice.

Remember: Brian Higgins opposed the government shutdown and wants the government to pay its debts. Chris Collins supported the government shutdown, and wanted to link defunding Obamacare with reopening government and raising the debt ceiling. He held the government hostage to ensure that average people would have a harder time obtaining affordable, quality health insurance, and maintaining the health care status quo. The government has lost billions of dollars during the shutdown, and small businesses would be devastated by the global shock a default would bring. Collins is simply irresponsible – bad for America and bad for New York.  

4. Ideas for what to do with Buffalo’s Outer Harbor are like assholes – everyone’s got one, and they all stink

TEDxBuffalo: SmartCode and Beer

28 Oct

Two great TEDx talks from TEDxBuffalo.  First, Ethan Cox from Community Beer Works talks about embeering America:


Next, Chuck Banas talks about the new Green Code that is being implemented in the city of Buffalo. This will represent the first overhaul of the city’s zoning and land use regulations in generations.  You can attend “Planning Day in Buffalo” this Saturday at a Green Code open house at Erie Community College’s City Campus, 121 Ellicott St from 9:30am – 3:30pm.  The code will be formally presented at 9am, 10:30am, and 1pm.


The Report from TEDx Buffalo

12 Oct

At first blush, one might find it incongruous to hear a series of modern secular lectures under the ever watchful stained glass gaze of the Virgin Mary and an assembled heavenly host. The Montante Center at Canisius College began life as Saint Vincent de Paul Church, a squat romanesque dome filled with decorative tile and narrow purpled windows. Fortunately, after closing both the college and Montante family saw potential its its wide gallery and vaulted space, and now faintly eastern orthodox scroll work shares at the stage with modern acoustic baffles and suspended sound equipment. The old is new, the worthy refreshed, and a local seat of learning has a remarkable space to continue its centuries old Jesuit tradition of inquiry and thought.

What better place for a TED conference?

Buffalo’s first independently organized TED event met yesterday in grand fashion, despite delays and hiccups, some public and some only known to the dedicated volunteers who put on the show. The TED mothership is careful to curate all three groups that come together at any conference: organizers, speakers and attendees. A Who’s Who of the local technology, design and entrepreneur scene spent seventeen months crafting a day of lectures and ideas. The speakers were local and national change agents. The in-house attendees were selected for their ability to effectively broadcast the conference message, or (even better) to put directly into practice the ideas presented in their own industry leading positions. I snuck in the back door.

For a play by play of each speaker or topic, read Frank Gullo’s convenient summaries and link warehouse, or head to Twitter, the official record of the 21st Century. You can read my past feed, or follow the #tedxbuffalo hashtag to catch up. The video was live-streamed by WNYMedia yesterday as well, and the TEDx Buffalo website should have that edited video of each speaker up soon.

So instead of recreating the event, speech by speech, let me try to draw together some themes that emerged. As the organizers picked presenters for their expertise and ideas, and not for each specific topic, much of what was discussed was not deliberately pre-planned. Rather, any trend in the chaos reflects an evolving shared subconscious mindset, a cultural evolution, a collective perspective on the priority of our world’s problems.

The Return of the Small and Local

It is inevitable in our technologically shrunken world that humans would retreat to a cozy focus on the close and small, our brainstem programmed Dunbar Number, in the face of a vast, flattened, and inter-related global economy. That living close and small also has needed environmental and local economic benefits is either a happy coincidence or contributing cause of this phenomenon, though that is a TED talk for another day.

The majority of speakers addressed how to make change at a micro-level, not country by country or even city by city, but block by block and house by house. Chuck Banas of Buffalo Green Code discussed building neighborhoods and streetscapes through zoning, the legal method by which plans become reality. Eric Walker of PUSH Buffalo took it a step deeper, and using his analogy of the city as a sick patient, advocated working house by house and family by family to build consensus and grassroot buy-in for solutions. Patrick Finan, guru of the BlockClub mini-empire of print magazines, design and marketing, entreated everyone to build as small of a house as possible and put nice things in it. The advice was not entirely metaphorical – he has kept his companies deliberately small to keep quality up, ambitious in performance not size, with no desire to be as American-ly large as possible.

Perhaps not surprisingly in our ever-expanding Food Network culture, the focus on local also naturally turned to what we eat. Patrick Lango of White Cow Dairy sells out of each batch of yogurt and milk-drinks before he even processes them. The draw? Local cows, local grass, lots of sunshine and undiluted milk from a farm in East Otto. To paraphrase Mr. Lango: “People get so excited by our food. And I say, “Relax! It’s just food.” Your body likes it because you got used to eating things that aren’t food. But chill out – all our food used to be like this. And it can be again.”

Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works wants to create a relaxing neighborhood-based biergarten culture in the Third Room, lubricated by fresh, locally brewed beer (preferably his once the brewery opens soon). The higher purpose is to mix cultures and classes, but the local beer is the key facilitator. Even Stacey Watson of Drop-In Nation (more on her in a moment), presenting her ideas of how to best assist high school drop outs, noted that she builds community child by child, usually by eating together. 

The Power of Individual Storytelling

The ultimate distillation of local focus is to place priority on the individual, and several presenters compressed sweeping events into the personal. The Uncrowned Community Builders institute, an outgrowth of the Uncrowned Queens initiative by Dr. Barabara Seals-Nevergold and Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram, is compiling the biographies of pioneers and groundbreakers in minority communities, from Buffalo African-Americans to Alaskan Inuit. Drop-In Nation begins by meeting each child where they are, learning their story, helping them teach their story to themselves, and only then use a circular story-telling culture to help them focus on their own success. The Anne Frank Project at Buffalo State College, led by the dynamic Drew Kahn, is finding the individual in genocide, finding the Anne Frank in Rwanda and Cambodia, to humanize and  illuminate the incomprehensible. 

Key to the success of each venture is the recognition of storytelling at its heart. As a guy who seeks to make his living telling stories, this is a subject near and dear, and where I found the most meaning from a day full of ideas. When Drew Kahn asked Rwandan women how they tell the story of the genocide, they didn’t understand the question. How could they not breathe? How could they not eat? Then he saw for himself, through stomps and claps and songs and hymns to the lost, that theater, that stories, teach all, geometry to the horrors of children being hacked with machetes. 

Note that every theme so far – biergarten culture, a greencode return to walkable streets, old dairy and farming techniques, storytelling as meaning – is a refreshment of the past. An identification of what was inadvisably discarded in the name of progress for incorporation in a desired future. This dichotomy of historic truths versus TED’s oft focus on technology leads us to…   

The Evolution of Education

While few speakers wished to declare our education system broken, it was obvious there are many holes to be filled. We watched a video of a March 2011 TED lecture by Salman Khan, describing his efforts to use video and online software to turn education on its head, so children view lectures at home to free up time to do group “homework” at school. Drop In Nation is addressing the shortfall of assistance to high school drop outs, half the teenage population in Buffalo. No wishy washy Love-All-The-Little-Children venture, Stacey Watson is using the latest research on how the brain learns to pick up the kids whose minds work circularly, not linearly. Karen Armstrong at the Future City Competition is filling a gap in math and science education by getting middle-schoolers to imagine and build urban areas of the 22nd Century.

It struck me that even ideas that focused on the internet and technology were at their heart education based. Remy DeCausemaker’s Open Code and Open Data initiative wants to make the government more transparent, but ultimately as a way to better inform the public, not as an ideal end until itself. And Brandon Kessler, who runs the ChallengePost.com method to solve big problems, is focusing much of that energy on education and children, using apps to get kids to eat better and revolutionizing the classroom.

Our Next Billionaire

I seek to take nothing away from the other speakers, but let me note that only one of them is likely a future billionaire. That distinction belongs to the yet unmentioned John Bordynuik, CEO of JBI Inc in Niagara Falls, who heads up the most important initiative you’ve never heard of.

Mr. Bordynuik, formerly affiliated with the Ontario Legislature and chemical dreamer, has discovered a way to covert average plastic waste into fuel. Currently 7% of our global plastic waste stream is recycled. The leaves 93%, or 29 millions tons, ready to be turned into a potential 7 billion gallons of low-sulfur fuel that can run engines and factory processes of all varieties. Sound too good to be true? Bordynuik himself listed “Disbelief” as his first stumbling block to success. Currently, the JBI factory in the Falls siphons up the majority of the waste plastic stream of Western New York. I would bet it’s a matter of time before we’re mining our landfills for more.

It would be fitting of such a revolutionary TED lecture that it would incorporate the themes of the other speakers as well. The Plastic2Oil process started as a story, a dream of cleaning up plastic strewn beaches and toxic air across the world. The process is scalable and local – not ever bit of plastic need be driven to the JBI plant. Smaller versions can be installed at each local plastic producing factory, converting the waste stream on site to fuel usable on site. And none of this process would be possible except through a hard science education – chemistry and math and engineering – that is becoming increasingly rare.

TEDx Buffalo: Today

11 Oct

Today is the very first TEDx Buffalo Conference. If you don’t have an invitation to the event at the Montante, or can’t make it due to work, you can watch the entire event online here.  The schedule of speakers is here.


TEDx Buffalo: Coming Soon

12 May

Last week, I told you about the efforts of a local event planner and all around awesome person to bring the world renowned TEDx event series to Buffalo.  Susan Lynn Cope solicited feedback from the community about the event, put together a well-written proposal and submitted an application on behalf of Buffalo.

On Monday night, she received notification that her licensing application was approved and Buffalo would be host to a TEDx event.

Well the waiting is finally over. Last night, I received the long awaited email from TED. “Susan, congratulations — you are officially a TEDx licensee!” So it is official Buffalo! The license has been approved!!!!

I asked Susan what the immediate plans were and she is planning to host TEDx Buffalo later this year in the fall.  Her early preference for the venue is Babeville, as she stated in her application.

Babeville was constructed in two phases between 1871 and 1876, and designed by architect, John H. Selkirk. Originally named the Delaware Avenue Methodist Church, Babeville is the last known surviving example of Selkirk’s work and is an impeccable example of High Victorian Gothic Ecclesiastical architecture.

In 1999 Righteous Babe Records offered to buy the historic landmark from the City of Buffalo. Following the purchase of the derelict building, restoration efforts commenced. Seven years later, in 2006 the Delaware Avenue Methodist Church had been reinvented to what is now known as Babeville.

Babeville, today, houses a variety of separate entities. Along with housing the headquarters for Righteous Babe Records, the building also encompasses Asbury Hall, the screening room for Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and a gallery.

This event can serve as a turning point for Buffalo and I don’t think I’m overselling it.  TED events are a celebration of good ideas and powerful energy.  As I said last week, Buffalo is a petri dish in which we are germinating ideas which respond to local socioeconomic problems.  These innovative responses to poverty, hunger, inequality, massive economic disinvestment and deindustrialization will become our major contribution to the national knowledge economy.

Within the region, we find hundreds of people, organizations and companies designing those very responses and struggling to find a platform from which to broadcast about them.  TEDx Buffalo can be that event and serves as a milestone on our long, dark journey towards enlightenment in this city and region.

Thanks to Susan for taking the initiative to bring this event to Buffalo.  WNYMedia has volunteered to sponsor and support the event in any and every way possible.

Until Susan gets the event website up and running, you can follow the event planning and news updates by following @TEDxBuffalo on Twitter or by joining the Facebook Group.

TEDx in Buffalo

7 May

What is TED?

TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.  Since then its scope has become ever broader.  Along with the annual TED Conference in Long Beach, California, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Program, this year’s TEDIndia Conference and the annual TED Prize.

What is TEDx?

TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.” The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.


In short, it’s kind of a big deal.  It’s an opportunity for people to come together, share inspiring ideas and grow an audience around a cause, innovation, or technology.  The TEDTalks website is filled with fantastic discussions about education, humanity, science, beauty, government, logic, religion and our environment.

Susan Lynn Cope, professional event planner and overall awesome person has decided to lead the effort to bring a TEDx event to Buffalo.  She has been asking for input on her website and she just submitted the licensing application for the TEDx event earlier this week.

Andy Warhol once said “They say that time changes things, but you have to actually change them yourself.”  Buffalo, NY was a city born from the railways, trading and industrial revolution.  During the Queen City’s golden age, historic icons such as Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland and Fredrick Law Olmsted all made their mark and have left historic legacies for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

With the passing of time and the relocation of major industries overseas, Buffalo has seen a rapid decline in population. This city now has one of the highest percentages of vacant houses among major US cities.   I was recently moved by a documentary, “Requiem for Detroit,” by director Julien Temple.  Temple tracks Detroit’s past, present and future.  His description of the urban decay within Detroit is “a slow-motion Katrina that has had many more victims.”

The parallels between Detroit and Buffalo were unnerving and shocking to me.  Both cities, once thriving metropolises, are now hemorrhaging citizens while at the same time gaining artists and social pioneers that are repurposing the abandoned urban spaces and creatively uniting together.

Buffalo is a petri dish in which we are germinating ideas which respond to local socioeconomic problems.  These innovative responses to poverty, hunger, inequality, massive economic disinvestment and deindustrialization will become our major contribution to the national knowledge economy.

Within the region, we find hundreds of people, organizations and companies designing those very responses and struggling to find a platform from which to broadcast about them.  TEDx Buffalo can be that event and serves as a milestone on our long, dark journey towards enlightenment in this city and region.

Leave a comment here or on Susan’s website and demonstrate your support for this event.  This isn’t telling America about Buffalo, this is telling ourselves that we have the skills and willingness to create solutions and implement them.