Techman: Let cutting-edge thinkers cut into your Net viewing time

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What if I told you there is an annual conference to which were invited cutting-edge thinkers in many disciplines?

And what if I told you that videos of their presentations are posted on the Web for anyone to watch?

Well, there is, and they are.

The conference is called TED (Technology Entertainment Design) and has been held yearly since 1990 in Monterey, Calif. Next year it will move to Long Beach, Calif.

The conference was founded by Harry Marks and architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman, and is now run by Chris Anderson, a former magazine publisher, and owned by his Sapling Foundation.

If you are planning a vacation in California and think you might drop in on the 2009 conference and hobnob with the likes of Bono from U2, Bill Clinton, Archie Bunker's creator Norman Lear, billionaire Richard Branson or DNA discoverer James D. Watson, hold up a minute.

Up until 2007, attendance was by invitation only. Now you must apply for membership to the TED conference. Your $6,000 annual fee gets you an invitation to the conference, conference DVDs, club mailings and networking tools. TechMan thinks for $6,000 you should get an Intellectual of the Month who comes to your house and talks to you for an hour.

But you can experience the presentations of these fascinating people almost as if you were in the $6,000 club. To carry out the motto, "Ideas worth spreading," TED Talks were started. These are video clips of presentations by people ranging from author Amy Tan to Al Gore to physicist Stephen Hawking available at ted.com. They also can be downloaded from iTunes.

Many of these videos are short, and almost all are fascinating. Not only are they talks, but also musical performances and photo shows.

There are funny ones, such as the New York Times' technology columnist David Pogue's talk on simplicity in technology or eccentric astronomer Clifford Stoll's ramble.

There's science historian George Dyson showing documentation of a top-secret project in the '50s and '60s to send a huge spacecraft to Saturn. There's game designer Will Wright demonstrating his new game, "Spore." And brain anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor describes in detail what it felt like to have a stroke.

The conference also gives out awards each year called the TED Prize. In addition to $100,000, the winners get a wish about how to change the world. TED then tries to recruit people to help make the wish come true.

Scientist E.O. Wilson won a TED Prize in 2007, and his wish was, "I wish that we will work together to help create the key tool that we need to inspire preservation of Earth's biodiversity: the Encyclopedia of Life."

To this end, work has begun on the Web site eol.org -- an effort to document all the species of life on Earth.

So the next time you have a few minutes to spare, instead of turning on the boob tube, sit down at your computer and watch a short video at ted.com.

TechMan guarantees you'll be fascinated and entertained.


Correction/Clarification: (Published May 6, 2008) Richard Saul Wurman was one of the founders of the Technology Entertainment Design conference. His first name was incorrect in this TechMan column as originally published May 3, 2008.

Want to send a question to TechMan? Just fire an e-mail to techman@post-gazette.com . Please include your name, hometown and a daytime phone number. Visit Techman's blog at post-gazette.com/techman and listen to the Tech Talk podcast at post-gazette.com/podcasts .


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